Blogs

Unions and Inequality

| Tue Apr. 14, 2009 12:12 PM EDT

The Employee Free Choice Act would make it easier for workers to organize new unions.  This would probably increase unionization in the United States, and unsurprisingly, corporate America is fighting EFCA like a pack of crazed weasels.  But today Lane Kenworthy points out something that's also been in the back of my mind during this whole debate: just how big a deal is EFCA, anyway?  Why the full court press against it?  Right now, private sector union density in the United States is around 8%, and if I had to guess I'd say that EFCA might — might! — increase that to 10% or so.  Maybe even 11%.  Is that really worth going nuclear over?

Kenworthy's own skepticism is mainly based on the chart on the right.  Sure, America has uniquely unfriendly labor laws these days, but outside of Scandinavia, where union membership is required to remain eligible for unemployment benefits, unionization has been dropping like a stone practically everywhere.  So just how much impact do different regulatory regimes have, anyway?

Not too much, probably, and Kenworthy suggests that the bigger issue isn't unionization per se, but laws that extend union wage agreements throughout an entire industry, even to firms that aren't unionized.  This practice is widespread in Europe but practically unknown here.  Kenworthy:

I would like to see EFCA become law. The ability of workers to bargain with management collectively rather than individually is, in my view, an important element of a just society, and these days the playing field is too heavily tilted in management’s favor. But I doubt EFCA will get us very far in reducing income inequality. Extension of union-management wage settlements would likely have a bigger impact, but at the moment that isn’t even part of the discussion.

And not likely to be, either.  We have a long way to go.

Advertise on MotherJones.com

The Los Angeles Times

| Tue Apr. 14, 2009 11:48 AM EDT

We were chatting about the LA Times during dinner on Sunday, and it turns out that pretty much everyone in my family wonders how much longer we're going to read it.  The conversation got started when I mentioned that I used to link to LAT stories fairly frequently on the blog, but that I find myself doing this very rarely anymore.  I deal almost exclusively with national and international news here, and in the past the Times frequently covered different stories, or had different takes on the same story, that provided a perspective the other national outlets didn't.  Today, not so much.  It's mostly just routine coverage of the standard set of major events.  You can read the whole paper in a few minutes.  And the op-ed page is so consistently dull that I barely even skim it these days.

What's more, our subscription costs $42 per month.  Marian pays the bills around here, so I hadn't seen a LAT bill for ages, and I was surprised the cost had gotten so high.  I've been reading the Times since I was five, but now I'm beginning to wonder how much longer I'm going to bother paying $500 per year for a paper that's such a shadow of its former self.

There's nothing new here, of course.  It's just part of the decline of American newspapers generally.  But suddenly it feels an awful lot more real around here.

Somali Pirates=Environmental Avengers?

| Tue Apr. 14, 2009 11:25 AM EDT

Tuesday's Washington Post features a narrative of how Navy SEAL snipers dispatched three Somali pirates to free Richard Philips, their hostage and captain of the Maersk Alabama. In the hours following the operation, pundits hailed it as a master stroke, a surefire way (pun intended) to convince pirates that American vessels are not to be trifled with. Are they right? Certainly not. Yes, hostage-taking is a no-no and must be dealt with aggressively, but in a desperate and anarchic place like Somalia, it's unlikely that the deaths of three low-level criminals are going to do anything at all to alter the big picture--except, of course, to make it bloodier for everyone involved.

Until now, the motivation of Somali pirates has been clear: they want money. But shooting pirates who hitherto had shown little desire to kill their captives so much as ransom them off will likely change their calculations. Already one pirate leader has said that the next time he takes a US-flagged ship, the crew is as good as dead. That doesn't sound like a man cowering in the face of American power.

Quote of the Day - 4.14.09

| Tue Apr. 14, 2009 10:59 AM EDT

From conservative Bernard Goldberg, talking to Sean Hannity about the right's obsessive effort to find fault with Barack Obama's handling of the Somali pirate affair:

"I'm sorry, Sean....but we have to stop going out of our way to find fault with every single thing he does.... If something bad happened here, and thank God it didn't, but if something bad happened here, I guarantee you, I'll tell you who would have been leading the crusade against him: you."

Jeez, even Bernard Goldberg sees this?  Wingers take notice.

Senator Franken, Almost

| Tue Apr. 14, 2009 10:24 AM EDT

Yesterday, 161 days after the 2008 elections, Al Franken was declared the winner of the Minnesota Senate race. Former senator Norm Coleman pressed every angle he could in front of a bipartisan three-member election court, and the end result was that Franken's lead grew about 100 votes, leading the court to rule that Franken is indeed the winner and ought to be seated. "Enough is enough," said DNC chair Tim Kaine, who urged Coleman to concede so that Minnesota could have two votes in the Senate. (The GOP has been silent on the ruling.)

Coleman, of course, has no intention of heeding Kaine's advice. He plans on appealing to the Minnesota state supreme court, and to SCOTUS if necessary. As many have pointed out, the longer Coleman ties Franken up in legal challenges, the longer the Senate Democrats have to scrap and hustle to find an extra vote on all of their major priorities.

It's kind of astounding how long Franken has been at this. I sat down with him in spring 2007 in order to write a magazine profile of him and his Senate chances, and at that time he had already spent 18 months attending every political event he could find in small- and medium-sized Minnesota towns (wellll out of the spotlight) in order to slowly built support for his run. No one can accuse him of not doing the legwork on this one. Now he's closer than ever to realizing his dream; while he waits for the final word, maybe he can work on his vocals.

Photo courtesy of flickr user ohad*.

Ethanol or Water: Which One?

| Mon Apr. 13, 2009 8:17 PM EDT

Growing and producing ethanol costs a lot more water than anyone realized. Nevertheless we make some 9 billion gallons worth every year in the US. That's 13 to 17 percent of US corn production—with more coming down the pipeline.

But we could be a lot smarter about the process. Based on water use alone, some places grow reasonably cost-effective bioethanol while others produce an absurdly environmentally expensive brew.

Previous studies estimated that a gallon of corn-based bioethanol uses from 263 to 784 gallons of water from the farm to the fuel pump. But a new study assessed irrigation data from 41 states and found it's as high as 861 billion gallons of water. And some places cost 2,100 gallons of water to produce one gallon of ethanol.

Bottom line: Colorado, Wyoming, Kansas, Oklahoma, California and New Mexico should not be growing ethanol. In the authors' words: Continued expansion of corn production in these regions is likely to further aggravate expected water shortages there.

Better growing states: Michigan, Wisconsin, Ohio, Indiana, Kentucky. The authors conclude: The time left for improving water consumption is limited… and immediate action needs to be taken in order to prevent a problem shift from energy supply to water sustainability.
 

Advertise on MotherJones.com

Coleman's Appeal

| Mon Apr. 13, 2009 8:08 PM EDT

From USA Today:

A Minnesota court court has confirmed that Democrat Al Franken won the most votes in his 2008 Senate race against Republican Norm Coleman, The Associated Press reports.

But, as the saying goes, it ain't over til it's over. Coleman already had said he would appeal such a decision to the state Supreme Court. He has 10 days to file.

So here's something to watch for: how long will it take Coleman to file his appeal?  He's known this decision was coming for a long time.  His legal team almost certainly knew the grounds on which he was going to lose.  They've had plenty of time to prepare their argument.  They could probably file it tomorrow if they wanted to.

But do they want to?  If they're genuinely trying to win a Senate seat, they'll file quickly.  After all, the faster they file, the faster Coleman can win the case and return in triumph to Washington.  But if they don't think they can win — if they're merely trying to stretch out a losing argument as long as possible in order to deny Franken his seat — then they'll wait the ten full days.  Which do you think it will be?

More "News" About the Oldest Profession

| Mon Apr. 13, 2009 6:57 PM EDT

This weekend, the New York Times Magazine made its contribution to the array of recent reports that some women are having sex with men for money, still, but now have the additional option of setting it up via the internets with websites like SeekingArragement.com. The piece contains some pretty interesting profiles of arrangement seekers of both sexes, from the math nerd with the Pygmalion complex to the businesswoman who doesn't even need the cash but is just a literally money-grubbing whore to the impossibly deluded finance exec who pays women for sex and then asks, inexplicably, "Would she still want to be with me even without the money?"

A year and a half ago, I went on a couple of dates with sugar daddies to report on the phenomenon for MoJo. But to me then, as now, the interesting story was not that people are using the Internet, as they were inevitably going to do, to make these arrangements and so transparently, but that the increased accessibility that the Internet provides has the potential to draw a whole new crowd into such arrangements. I do know some gals who have either considered sugar daddies or slept with them via these sites who wouldn't otherwise have gotten into sex work. And one of the girls in the Times piece, for example, would never have become someone's paid mistress had she not found the website and, subsequently, the man so easily. It's like the correlation between accessibility and usage that opponents of legalizing drugs are always going on about.


Seeking Arrangement has three times as many users now as it did when I filed my story. Today, it "pays to have its ads pop up on search engines whenever someone types in 'student loan,' 'tuition help,' 'college support' or 'help with rent,'" the Times article reports. That kind of visibility plus ease of opportunity plus a recession could add a whole new slew of applicants to the sugar baby pool yet. I wonder how long it'll take before they start linking their ads to searches for "classified" or "Monster.com" or "unemployment."
 

Adorable Singing Puppets Announce Outside Lands Lineup!

| Mon Apr. 13, 2009 5:45 PM EDT

San Francisco's freezing-cold answer to Coachella, the Outside Lands festival, made its debut last year, and despite some organizational problems and nerve-wracking sound issues, a good time was had by all. The organizers have just announced this year's lineup, set for August, but they didn't just post a list on the internet; they managed to get ranger, bison and beaver puppets to sing a crazy little song punning on the names of all the bands. This may be the cutest thing I've ever seen in my entire life, and I've been to Japan. In fact, I'm not even going to tell you any of the bands playing, so you have to watch it.

NY Times: Fairey Not a Crook, Just a Sell-Out

| Mon Apr. 13, 2009 5:05 PM EDT

Well, Jeez, you try making money with spray paint and stickers! The New York Times’ Moment blog had design guy Steven Heller take a look at the appropriative work of graphic artist and Obama “Hope” poster creator Shepard Fairey, and despite what the AP says, he believes Fairey isn’t a plagiarist:

Those who rebuff Fairey’s work are angry that he misappropriates (read: steals) famous art and design works; they argue that Warhol changed paradigms while Fairey makes knockoffs. I did an interview with Fairey for his recent book, “Obey: Supply & Demand,” and I admit that on occasion he has come close to crossing the line from acceptable borrowing into murky infringement territory. But after seeing the satiric art barbs that he aimed at politics, cultural icons and bêtes noires in his exhibition at the I.C.A. (where I participated in a panel discussion on appropriation), I can say this: Shepard Fairey is not a crook.

Heller allows that Fairey’s work involves copying “established works,” but maintains the images are “playfully twisted,” and, at its best, a “critique of image ownership.” However, he seems disappointed in Fairey’s more recent turn towards salesmanship, with the “Obey” designs turned into T-shirts and knick-knacks, and Fairey “aggressively using legal means to stop other artists from appropriating his work.” A few years ago, I had an experience with Fairey that made me feel the same way.