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How About a Dolores Huerta Day?

| Mon Mar. 31, 2014 4:38 PM PDT

March 31 is Cesar Chavez's birthday and a national holiday honoring his pioneering activism (which is the subject of a new feature film) around farm-workers rights. He is perhaps best known as a founder of the National Farm Workers Association (NFWA), now the United Farm Workers, a labor union. His cofounder Dolores Huerta, though still alive, is not nearly as well known. So who is she? Born in 1930 and raised in Stockton, California, Huerta, who is portrayed by Rosario Dawson in the Chavez film, has been arrested more than 20 times during peaceful protests, and is still out on the front lines taking part in civil rights actions. Here are five things you should know about her.

1. She's the mother of the farm-workers movement.
After quitting her teaching job in 1955, Huerta helped register people to vote and became an organizer in the Community Service Organization, a Mexican-American association in California where Cesar Chavez was the statewide director. The pair eventually branched off, in 1962, to found the NFWA, and the rest is history.

2. She was instrumental in winning key protections for workers.
Only a year after launching the NFWA, Huerta secured disability insurance for California farm workers, and was central in the creation of the Aid for Dependent Families, a federal assistance program that stayed in effect until 1996.

3. She led a historic boycott against the grape industry.
In 1965, a group of Filipino workers went on strike for better working conditions, a cause that became known as the "Delano Grape Strike." Huerta suggested to Chavez that the National Farm Workers Association boycott all California table grapes in support of Filipino workers. In 1970, the grape industry signed an agreement that increased wages and improved working conditions.

4. She originated the phrase, "Si se puede."
Translated as "Yes we can," this expression should be familiar to anyone who's ever attended a labor protest in California. Although it is often misattributed to Chavez, Huerta told Makers that she came up with it. "It's important for women to be able to take credit for the work that they do," she said.

5. She helped put Latinas in power.
After a life-threatening assault by a police officer at a protest rally when she was 58, Huerta took a leave from the union to focus on the women's movement. She campaigned across the country for two years as part of the Feminist Majority's project to encourage Latinas to run for office. According to Huerta's website, it had a significant affect on the number of women in government.

So, Happy Cesar Chavez Day, and don't forget to give Huerta her due! Here's a trailer for the film:

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What's Wrong With the Fed?

| Mon Mar. 31, 2014 3:32 PM PDT

That's the question Ryan Avent asks today. The reason is simple: In 2012, the Fed announced an inflation target of 2 percent per year, as measured by the PCE index. But they haven't come close to hitting it. Why not?

The chart on the right shows the most recent inflation data. In 2011, PCE inflation measured 2.4 percent. In 2012, it came in at 1.8 percent. That's a little low—especially during a supposed economic recovery—but it's easy to see why no one was alarmed. It's something to keep an eye on, but no one ever said the Fed could fine tune inflation to a few tenths of a point.

But then came 2013. There was a fair amount of monthly variability in the data, but the year-end number clocked in at 1.1 percent. That's way too low, especially considering that (a) the previous year had come in below target, (b) inflationary expectations were still well anchored, and (c) the labor market was still noticeably loose. What this means is that the Fed has failed to meet its employment mandate for six full years and is now failing to meet its inflation target too. Avent wants to know what's going on:

This is an extraordinary period of time during which the Fed has failed to meet even the rather lax definition of the mandate it has set for itself by a rather substantial margin. How can we explain this? Some possibilities are:

1) The Fed is technically unable to meet its mandate.

2) The Fed is staffed by incompetents.

3) The Fed is actually pursuing a goal outside its mandate without explaining what that goal is and what the justification is for pursuing it.

4) America's statistics are all wrong. The Fed knows this but has refused to tell anyone else.

Whichever of the above you favour as an explanation, it suggests a need for meaningful reform, either to the personnel at the Fed or to the distribution of macroeconomic responsibilities across government.

My own guess is a little bit of #1 and a lot of #3. I suspect the Fed really is having technical trouble meeting its goals—at least, in a way it's comfortable with. But that's just a guess.

It's less of a guess that the Fed is pursuing goals outside its mandate. It's hardly a secret that there are plenty of Fed governors who are still living in the 70s, petrified of inflationary spirals and determined to keep inflation as low as possible. Not 2 percent. As low as possible. What's more, they consider full employment not a virtue, but a threat. It leads to higher inflation, after all.

I think 2014 is something of a watershed year for the Fed. The hawks can argue that a single year of 1 percent inflation is nothing to worry too much about. This stuff bounces around. But at the very least, they should be on board with getting the inflation rate back up to their stated goal. Given the current employment level and the state of the global economy, this poses little risk. If they aren't willing to do it, they need to come clean that they don't really care about their statutory mandates and are simply substituting their own timeworn fears and class loyalties for the expressed will of Congress.

It's Time to Start Quoting Our Public Figures Accurately

| Mon Mar. 31, 2014 12:12 PM PDT

Jesse Sheidlower makes a point near and dear to my heart today: it's time to get rid of the dashes. You know the ones: f---, n-----, s---, etc. This is not a plea for reporters to write like Hunter S. Thompson, it's a plea to fully report the obscenities uttered by famous people that our news organizations are too delicate to report:

There have been numerous cases in recent years when the use of offensive language has been the news story itself. In 1998, Representative Dan Burton referred to President Clinton with an offensive word. In 2000, a microphone picked up George W. Bush using a vulgar term to describe the New York Times reporter Adam Clymer. In 2004, Vice President Dick Cheney insulted Senator Pat Leahy on the Senate floor with yet another vulgarity. In 2007, Isaiah Washington was kicked off the television show “Grey’s Anatomy” for referring to his fellow actor T. R. Knight with a gay slur. This January, Representative Michael Grimm threatened an aggressive reporter, using an obscenity.

These stories were covered widely, but in most cases, the details were obscured. The relevant words were described variously as “an obscenity,” “a vulgarity,” “an antigay epithet”; replaced with rhyming substitutions; printed with some letters omitted; and, most absurdly, in The Washington Times (whose editor confessed this was “an attempt at a little humor”), alluded to as “a vulgar euphemism for a rectal aperture.” We learn from these stories that something important happened, but that it can’t actually be reported.

When a public figure uses an obscenity, it's news. Readers deserve to know exactly what was said. Consider my favorite obscene quote of all time, courtesy of Richard Mottram, a British civil servant:

We're all fucked. I'm fucked. You're fucked. The whole department is fucked. It's the biggest cock-up ever. We're all completely fucked.

You just don't get the flavor if you don't spell out the words. And in the US, we often don't even get the quote with the dashes. As Sheidlower says, we get "a vulgarity" or "a long string of obscenities" or something similar, making us feel like everyone else knows what happened and we're being deliberately left out. It's long past time to knock this off. News outlets should print the news, full stop. If an obscenity is part of it, accuracy and integrity are more important than delicate sensibilities.

LA Times: 9.5 Million Newly Insured By Obamacare

| Mon Mar. 31, 2014 10:44 AM PDT

So how many people are newly insured thanks to Obamacare? Noam Levey of the LA Times provides the current best estimate, based on the latest enrollment and survey data:

As the law's initial enrollment period closes, at least 9.5 million previously uninsured people have gained coverage. Some have done so through marketplaces created by the law, some through other private insurance and others through Medicaid, which has expanded under the law in about half the states.

The tally draws from a review of state and federal enrollment reports, surveys and interviews with insurance executives and government officials nationwide.

....Republican critics of the law have suggested that the cancellations last fall have led to a net reduction in coverage. That is not supported by survey data or insurance companies, many of which report they have retained the vast majority of their 2013 customers by renewing old policies, which is permitted in about half the states, or by moving customers to new plans.

Rand's latest survey data suggests that the share of uninsured adults has declined from 20.9 percent last fall to 16.6 percent as of March 22. Gallup has also shown a decline in the uninsured, and its March poll will show a further decline, according to Gallup Editor in Chief Frank Newport. More details at the link.

Apple Has Patented Clicking on Phone Number to Dial a Phone? Seriously?

| Mon Mar. 31, 2014 9:15 AM PDT

The New York Times tells us today that Apple's lawsuit against Samsung is really just a proxy for its war against Google's Android operating system. That's not news. But this just makes me want to pound my head against a wall:

In the case set to open this week, Apple’s legal complaint aims at some of the features that Google, not Samsung, put in Android, like the ability to tap on a phone number inside a text message to dial the number. And although Google is not a defendant in this case, some of its executives are expected to testify as witnesses.

I know we all mock some of the things that seem to be patentable these days. I sure do. And who knows? Maybe those things really aren't quite as obvious as we all think they are. But tapping a phone number on a phone in order to dial it? There is no plausible universe in which several thousand designers wouldn't think of doing that. Somebody needs to put a leash on Apple before the venomous ghost of Steve Jobs drags them into a rabbit hole of techno-legal vengeance from which they never recover. Enough.

Elton John Is Getting Married: "We're Living in Extraordinary Times."

| Mon Mar. 31, 2014 8:58 AM PDT
From left to right: David Furnish, Elton John, and Bill Clinton.

Singer/songwriter Elton John and filmmaker David Furnish are officially getting hitched. The couple, who have been in a British civil partnership for nearly a decade, announced that they intend to marry in an English registry office in May, in an intimate ceremony, with their two young sons and a few friends.

In an interview with the Las Vegas Review-Journal, Furnish referred to the recent legalization of gay marriage in England and Wales (Saturday was the first day gay couples could legally marry in England):

We don't feel the need to take an extra step legally. But since we're committed for life, we feel it's really important to take that step, and take advantage of that amazing change in legislation. We all live by example...We're living in extraordinary times. My god, 20 years ago, when I started seeing Elton, if you asked me if I'd be able to get married, if I'd be able to have children, it was unthinkable, literally unimaginable.

You can click here to watch Elton John denounce Russia's anti-gay law during a Moscow concert last December.

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We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for March 31, 2014

Mon Mar. 31, 2014 7:55 AM PDT

U.S. Marine Lance Cpl. Justin A. Green rappels down 50-foot tower March 18 during the first day of the three-day Mountain Warfare Training Course at the Mountain Warfare Training Center in Pohang, Republic of Korea. During the training, ROK Marines instructed U.S. Marines in Australian rappelling which is used as a military assault technique where the Marine faces down the descent and is positioned to fire a weapon downwards. Green is a field radio operator with 7th Communication Battalion, III Marine Expeditionary Force Headquarters Group, III MEF. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl. Cedric R. Haller II/Released)

Who's Really Behind Newsweek?

| Mon Mar. 31, 2014 7:50 AM PDT

When Newsweek reappeared on newsstands a few weeks ago after publishing its last print edition in 2012, it provided a jolt of instant credibility for its purchaser, International Business Times, the publisher of a website of the same name. But who is IBT? There have been rumors for some time that it was founded—and is still directed—by David Jang, the charismatic Korean leader of a Christian sect known as "the Community," but those rumors have never really been confirmed.

Until now. In the latest issue of Mother Jones, Ben Dooley reports on the results of a multi-year investigation based on financial statements, thousands of internal messages, and dozens of sources. It turns out that IBT's ties to Jang go much deeper than previously established:

  • The Jang-founded Olivet University and IBT are linked to a web of dozens of churches, nonprofits, and corporations around the world that Jang has influenced or controlled, with money from Community members and profitable ministries helping to cover the costs of money-losing ministries and Jang’s expenses.
  • IBT’s CEO and chief content officer have been in frequent contact with Jang about the direction of the company, receiving advice on personnel decisions, business strategy, and font selection.
  • Money from other Community-affiliated organizations funded IBT’s early growth.
  • Olivet students in the United States on international student visas say they worked for IBT full-time for as little as $125 a week.
  • Jang sees Community-affiliated media organizations, including IBT, as an essential part of his mission to build the kingdom of God on Earth.

As Dooley says in his article, there's nothing unusual about business leaders associating with people or institutions that share their values. But if there's nothing unusual about the ties that IBT's leaders have to Jang and the Community, why have they been so eager to downplay them? Click the link to learn more.

Johnny Cash and Merle Haggard Stand the Test of Time

| Mon Mar. 31, 2014 3:00 AM PDT

Merle Haggard
Okie from Muskogee 45th Anniversary Edition
Capitol Nashville

Johnny Cash
Out Among the Stars
Columbia/Legacy

Merle Haggard album

Great singers sound better with time, regardless of genre, and country icons Johnny Cash and Merle Haggard hold up especially well, which makes these two vault-scouring projects noteworthy. Still, more than four decades on, it's impossible not to cringe at the small-minded, hippie-baiting sentiments of Haggard's signature hit, "Okie from Muskogee," but look past that unfortunate episode and rewards aplenty await on his reissue. (If it helps, Haggard later tried to distance himself from the song and embraced a more nuanced form of populism.)

Captured in his prime, Hag is a magnificent singer, boasting a rich, supple and stirring voice that could embrace western swing, honky-tonk and softer, nearly countrypolitan sounds with equal expressiveness, while his nimble band never loses the groove. This '69 live set—which sounds like it's been "enhanced" by extra overdubbed audience noise—includes some of Haggard's most soulful efforts, including "Mama Tried," "White Line Fever," and "Sing Me Back Home." The second disc offers another, less-successful live outing, "The Fightin' Side of Me," intended to capitalize on the higher profile generated by "Okie from Muskogee" the year before.

Johnny Cash album

As for the man in black, Out Among the Stars, a collection of previously unreleased recordings from '81 and '84, finds craggy-voiced Johnny Cash on the verge of separating from Columbia Records, his longtime home, and entering a period of artistic uncertainty that would end in the '90s with the career-reviving intervention of producer Rick Rubin. If the songs don't add up to a coherent album, there are still moments that entice, among them the heartbroken "She Used to Love Me a Lot," a rollicking duet with Waylon Jennings on Hank Snow's "I'm Movin' On" (also covered on Haggard's set), and "I Came to Believe," a moving statement of faith. Among the musicians recently recruited to fill out some of the originally uncompleted tracks are Buddy Miller and Cash's stepdaughter, Carlene Carter, who returns with an excellent new album of her own next week.

Music Review: "SLC" from Holly Golightly & the Brokeoffs' All Her Fault

| Mon Mar. 31, 2014 3:00 AM PDT

TRACK 1

"SLC"

from Holly Golightly & the Brokeoffs' All Her Fault

TRANSDREAMER

Liner notes: "Don't get your hopes up in Salt Lake City/'Cause you ain't gonna have a good time," sing Holly Golightly and Lawyer Dave (a.k.a. the Brokeoffs) on this jaunty country-blues shuffle, adding that you "can't get fucked up, can't get shitty" there in the heart of Mormon country.

Behind the music: The British-born Golightly, a former member of Thee Headcoatees and onetime Jack White duet partner, has 20 solo albums to her name. She recorded All Her Fault at home outside Athens, Georgia, where she shelters rescue horses.

Check it out if you like: Rootsy acts such as Pokey LaFarge and Alabama Shakes.

This review originally appeared in our March/April 2014 issue of Mother Jones.