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Does Amazon Have to Pay Workers for Going Through Its Security Lines? The Supreme Court Is About to Decide

| Tue Oct. 7, 2014 3:00 PM EDT

Here's the newest front in the war to pay low-wage workers even less:

The latest battle, which goes before the U.S. Supreme Court on Wednesday, was launched by former warehouse workers for Amazon.com, who argue they should have been paid for the time they spent waiting in security lines after their shifts....Those security lines could take more than half an hour, the workers said, and that was time when they should have been getting paid.

....Amazon said it would not comment due to the pending litigation, but a spokesperson said the "data shows that employees walk through post shift security screening with little or no wait."

Well now. If employees truly walk though security screenings with "little or no wait," then it wouldn't cost Amazon anything to pay them for that time. So why are they fighting this? Perhaps it's because Amazon is lying. Sometimes the wait really is substantial, and Amazon doesn't want to (a) pay more security guards to speed up the lines or (b) pay workers for the time spent in slowpoke lines.

So this really does seem like a simple case. If Amazon is telling the truth, they should have no objection to paying employees for time spent in line. If they're lying, then they should be given an incentive to speed up the security process—and the best incentive I can think of is to pay employees for time spent in line. Either way, the answer is the same: pay employees for time spent in security lines.

Needless to say, the Supreme Court will figure out a way to spend a hundred pages making this more complicated so that they can justify a different ruling. After all, it wouldn't do to allow workers to get above their stations, would it?

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Chart of the Day: Overweight Teenagers Earn Less as Adults

| Tue Oct. 7, 2014 1:14 PM EDT

Here's a stunning chart for you. It comes from a paper by a team of Swedish researchers, and it shows the relationship between earnings and weight among men. As you can see, adult earnings reach a peak around a BMI of 23—smack in the middle of the normal weight range—and then steadily decline as you get more overweight. But here's the kicker:

In particular, we contribute to the existing literature by showing that there is a large labor market weight-related penalty also for males, but only for those who were already overweight or obese in adolescence. We replicated this pattern using additional data sets from the United Kingdom and the United States, where the results were strikingly similar. The UK and U.S. estimates also confirm that the penalty is unique to those who were overweight or obese early in life.

The earnings penalty for overweight (and underweight!) men isn't due to simple discrimination. Men who become overweight as adults face no special career penalty. It's only a problem for men who become overweight as teenagers. The Economist summarizes the paper's conclusions:

At first glance, a sceptic might be unconvinced by the results. After all, within countries the poorest people tend to be the fattest....But the authors get around this problem by mainly focusing on brothers....They also include important family characteristics like the parents' income. All this statistical trickery allows the economists to isolate the effect of obesity on earnings.

So what does explain the “obesity penalty”? They reckon that discrimination in the labour market is not that important. Neither is health. Instead they emphasise what psychologists call “noncognitive factors”—motivation, popularity and the like. Having well-developed noncognitive factors is associated with success in the labour market. The authors argue that obese children pick up fewer noncognitive skills—they are less likely, say, to be members of sports teams or they may face discrimination from teachers.

In other words, social ostracism of both underweight and overweight teenagers produces lower cognitive skills and lower noncognitive (i.e., social) skills, and this in turn leads to lower earnings as adults. It may seem like harmless teenage clique behavior, but it has real consequences.

Wisconsin's Strict Voting Law Requiring Photo ID Upheld

| Tue Oct. 7, 2014 12:42 PM EDT

On Monday, a federal appeals court upheld Wisconsin's harsh voter ID law, which requires voters to provide specific types of government-issued photo identification at the polls.

A district court judge had struck down the law in April, deeming that it unconstitutionally violated the rights of minorities and low-income voters. The appeals court panel disagreed, ruling that the law, one of the strictest in the country, did not amount to racial discrimination.

The AP has more:

State elections officials are preparing for the photo ID law to be in effect for the Nov. 4 election, even as opponents continue their legal fight. The American Civil Liberties Union and the Advancement Project asked the U.S. Supreme Court last week to take emergency action and block the law.

Opponents argue that requiring voters to show photo ID, a requirement that had, until recently, been on hold since a low-turnout February 2012 primary, will create chaos and confusion at the polls. But supporters say most people already have a valid ID and, if they don't, there is time to get one before the election.

The ruling gives Republican incumbent Scott Walker a major lift in his fight against Democratic challenger Mary Burke. As The New Republic explains, Republican voters are much more likely to have the required identification.

Scott Walker Wants to Totally Outlaw Abortion. In This Sneaky New Ad, He Pretends He Doesn't.

| Tue Oct. 7, 2014 12:09 PM EDT

In one of the nation's most hotly contested campaigns, incumbent GOP Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker has recently been slammed by a new ad blitz highlighting his staunch opposition to abortion rights. He and his campaign consultants are obviously worried about this line of attack: On Monday, they issued one of the slyest ads of the campaign season. Titled "Decision," the ad attempts to depict Walker as a reasonable fellow on this issue. It's a brazenly misleading spot—almost a flip-flop—that is designed to create the false impression that Walker respects a woman's right to choose. The ad is camouflage for the fact that Walker has supported outlawing all abortions, even in cases of rape of incest.

In the ad (seen above), Walker, talking straight into the camera, starts off by saying, "I'm pro-life." He then defends the bill he he signed in 2013 that required women seeking abortions to first obtain an ultrasound and that required abortion providers to possess admitting rights at a hospital within 30 miles of their clinic. This law—which remains tangled in legal challenges—could greatly restrict abortion access in Wisconsin. But in the ad, Walker characterizes the legislation as a measure "to increase safety and to provide more information for a woman considering her options." Then comes the whopper: "The bill leaves the final decision to a woman and her doctor." With that statement, a viewer could easily conclude that Walker is personally opposed to abortion but supports the right of a woman to decide (in consultation with a doctor) to choose an abortion.

But Walker is as hard-core on abortion as a conservative anti-choice politician can be. In 2010, he told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel editorial board that he wants to ban abortion entirely—no exceptions for rape or incest. Here's that exchange:

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: You oppose abortion even in cases of rape and incest.

Scott Walker: (Nods)

MJS: Tell me if I got that right.

SW: That's correct.

For some reason, Walker neglects to mention this absolutist stance in his new ad. The ad is a clear sign that Walker and his strategists believe that this position won't help him get reelected and that his best shot at winning depends on the most sophisticated of campaign craftiness.

Spending During a Recession Is an Even Better Idea Than We Thought

| Tue Oct. 7, 2014 10:59 AM EDT

Matt O'Brien points today to a new paper that tries to estimate the value of the fiscal multiplier during recessions. The multiplier is a number that tells us how effective government spending is. For example, if the government spends a dollar on donuts, and then the baker uses part of that dollar to buy sugar, and then the sugar distributor uses part of that to pay her truckers, then the original dollar of government spending might spur total spending of more than a dollar.

On the other hand, if government spending simply takes a dollar out of the pockets of taxpayers, the net effect might be zero. Total spending might not change at all.

The value of the multiplier during the Great Recession has been a subject of considerable dispute over the past few years, but a new trio of researchers has produced an estimate higher than most previous ones:

Riera-Crichton, Vegh, and Vuletin took this analysis a step further. They focused squarely on countries that, between 1986 and 2008, had both been in a recession and increased spending. This last point is critical. Stimulus, remember, is supposed to be countercyclical: the government spends more when the economy shrinks. But historically-speaking, countries have actually cut spending about half the time that they've been in a slump. So counting all that austerity as "stimulus," as most do, gives us a misleadingly low estimate of the multiplier, something like 1.3. But it turns out, based on this new better sample, that the multiplier is really around 2.3 during a garden-variety recession, and 3.1 during a severe one.

Hmmm. I can't say that I understand this. Every estimate of the fiscal multiplier I've seen acknowledges that it's different during recessions. And why would previous research have included countries that cut spending during a recession? This is a bit of a mystery. Nonetheless, if this new paper really does do a better job of estimating the multiplier, then it makes a very strong case that stimulus spending during a recession—especially a severe one—is critical to recovery. America's obsession with austerity starting in 2011 is probably a big reason our recovery was so weak, and cutting spending now, as the eurozone is doing even as its economy decays yet again, is the worst thing they could do.

More infrastructure spending, please. After all, why not do it now when it's practically a free lunch?

We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for October 7, 2014

Tue Oct. 7, 2014 10:52 AM EDT

Soldiers in the US Army National Guard compete in the Best Warrior Competition in Arkansas. (US Army National Guard photo by Sgt. Maj. Danette Rodesky-Flores)

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Here Are All the Dumb Ways Conservatives Are Freaking Out About Ebola in the US

| Tue Oct. 7, 2014 6:00 AM EDT

When a Texas hospital confirmed last week that it was treating a patient for Ebola, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention dispatched teams to trace any people the patient had contact with, vowing to stop the disease "in its tracks." But conservative politicians rushed to overreact. Here are a few of the lowlights:

Mike Huckabee, former governor of Arkansas and current host of Huckabee: "When the government says it can't keep people out of the US, it means it won't keep people out. And why should we be surprised? We've seen our borders routinely ignored, so if someone with Ebola really wants to come to the US, just get to Mexico, and walk right in."

Bill O'Reilly, host, The O'Reilly Factor: "Thinking ahead, and taking precautions is simply responsible policy. Time and again, the Obama administration has failed to do that...There is no reason on earth, on this earth, that right now we should be accepting anyone in this country with a West African passport."

Donald Trump, conservative gadfly: "Let's not kid ourselves. I mean with the five billion dollar website for Obamacare, which is still not working, frankly, and it's a disaster. And so many other things: Benghazi, wars...IRS."

Rush Limbaugh, host, The Rush Limbaugh Show: "The people in Liberia only went there because they had to get out of here 'cause they were slaves...Therefore if Ebola ends up here, it's only payback, folks...Unfortunately we have elected people in positions of leadership who think this way. The president is one of them."

Mark Levin, host, The Mark Levin Show: "Of course we should profile! It doesn't have to be based on race or anything of that sort. We have a right as a people in this country— it's our right...our country! We have a right to say 'No' temporarily— or permanently— to people coming into this country from certain parts of the world, so that our families, our children, our grandchildren, our society, isn't at risk. That's just natural...and yet the opposite goes on here." 

Michael Savage, host, Savage Nation: "There is not a sane reason to bring infected children into a nation other than to infect the nation. There is not a sane reason to take three or four thousand troops into a hot Ebola zone, without expecting at least one of them to come back with Ebola, unless you want to infect the nation with Ebola.... This actually exceeds any level of treason that I've ever seen."

Michelle Malkin, syndicated columnist: "In the wake of the Ebola scare (not to mention renewed jihadi threats from abroad), worried Americans are heading to the drugstore to stock up on face masks, hand sanitizer, and gloves. New vaccines are in the works for emerging global contagions. Unfortunately, there is no antidote for our government’s blind and deadly diversity worship. Political correctness is a plague on us all."

Glenn Beck, host, The Glenn Beck Program: "You want a reason to have food storage? You want a reason to have gold? You want a reason to have guns? You want a reason to have God? It's called 'Ebola.'"

BREAKING: Wall Street Is a Sinkhole of Corruption and Fraud

| Tue Oct. 7, 2014 1:26 AM EDT

The New York Times reports on the latest in Wall Street malfeasance:

With evidence mounting that a number of foreign and American banks colluded to alter the price of foreign currencies, the largest and least regulated financial market, prosecutors are aiming to file charges against at least one bank by the end of the year, according to interviews with lawyers briefed on the matter. Ultimately, several banks are expected to plead guilty.

....The charges will most likely focus on traders and their bosses rather than chief executives.

Ha ha ha. That goes without saying. Everyone knows that the CEOs of big banks know absolutely nothing about what's actually going on in their banks.

In any case, I think we might all have an easier time from now on if we wrote stories explaining which areas of banking aren't under investigation for collusion and gobsmacking levels of fraud and corruption. You know, just to save time.

Scott Brown Promises Women He Has Supported Contraception Since He Was Barely Legal

| Mon Oct. 6, 2014 7:16 PM EDT

In an effort to defend his record on supporting women's access to contraceptives, Scott Brown has potentially shared more information than any single voter wants to know.

"To think that I don't support women's rights and ability to get contraception is just a false premise," Brown said during a Monday debate with Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH). "I have since I was 18 years old."

Brown, who is the GOP senate candidate in New Hampshire, was responding to a question regarding his past co-sponsorship of legislation opposing Obamacare because of its requirement mandating employers provide healthcare coverage (birth control being the most controversial) to workers.

He did not elaborate on the exact fundamental shift that occurred when he turned 18. Perhaps, Brown was overwhelmed by his newfound civic duty to vote in a presidential election?

But hey! In the case, you are reveling in Brown's likely personal detail, here are some photos of the former senator working out and loving it.

Your Lesson for the Day: If You Decline to Use Military Force, You've "Kind of Lost Your Way"

| Mon Oct. 6, 2014 6:45 PM EDT

Today the Washington Post summarizes a new book by Leon Panetta, former CIA director and secretary of defense in the Obama administration, as well as an interview Panetta gave to Susan Page of USA Today:

By not pressing the Iraqi government to leave more U.S. troops in the country, he “created a vacuum in terms of the ability of that country to better protect itself, and it’s out of that vacuum that ISIS began to breed,” Panetta told USA Today, referring to the group also known as the Islamic State.

....The USA Today interview was the first of what inevitably will be a series as he promotes his book, “Worthy Fights: A Memoir of Leadership in War and Peace,” which is sharply critical of Obama’s handling of the troop withdrawal from Iraq, Syria and the advance of the Islamic State. “I think we’re looking at kind of a 30-year war” that will also sweep in conflicts in Nigeria, Somalia, Yemen and Libya, he told the paper.

My first thought when I read this was puzzlement: Just what does Panetta think those US troops would have accomplished if they'd stayed in Iraq? Nobody ever seems to have a very concrete idea on that score. There's always just a bit of vague hand waving about how of course they would have done....something....something....something.....and stopped the spread of ISIS. But what?

My second thought was the same as Joe Biden's: would it kill guys like Panetta to at least wait until Obama is out of office before airing all their complaints? Do they have even a smidgen of loyalty to their ex-boss? But I suppose that ship sailed long ago, so there's not much point in griping about it.

In the end, what really gets me is this, where Panetta talks about Obama's foreign policy legacy:

"We are at a point where I think the jury is still out," Panetta says. "For the first four years, and the time I spent there, I thought he was a strong leader on security issues. ... But these last two years I think he kind of lost his way. You know, it's been a mixed message, a little ambivalence in trying to approach these issues and try to clarify what the role of this country is all about.

"He may have found himself again with regards to this ISIS crisis. I hope that's the case. And if he's willing to roll up his sleeves and engage with Congress in taking on some of these other issues, as I said I think he can establish a very strong legacy as president. I think these next 2 1/2 years will tell us an awful lot about what history has to say about the Obama administration."

Think about this. Panetta isn't even a super hawkish Democrat. Just moderately hawkish. But his basic worldview is simple: as long as Obama is launching lots of drone attacks and surging lots of troops and bombing plenty of Middle Eastern countries—then he's a "strong leader on security issues." But when Obama starts to think that maybe reflexive military action hasn't acquitted itself too well over the past few years—in that case he's "kind of lost his way."

That's the default view of practically everyone in Washington: Using military force shows strong leadership. Declining to use military force shows weakness. But most folks inside the Beltway don't even seem to realize they feel this way. It's just part of the air they breathe: never really noticed, always taken for granted, and invariably the difficult but sadly necessary answer for whichever new and supposedly unique problem we're addressing right now. This is what Obama is up against.