Newswire

Why the GOP Really Fears Minimum-Wage Hikes

In These Times - April 22, 2014 - 3:43pm

Republicans in America suffer a crippling anxiety. It’s the terrible fear of corporations paying poor workers too much.

The GOP is so afraid that the nation’s lowest wage earners will get a raise that Republican politicians across the country are working overtime to outlaw wages above $7.25 an hour for these workers. 

They’re passing legislation forbidding towns and counties from raising the minimum wage in their jurisdictions. Republicans insist: no pay bump for those raking in $15,080 a year! On the other side, however, there’s no amount of pay, perks, private jets, premium health plans and golden parachutes that Republican politicians believe could possibly be too much for a CEO.

That Oracle CEO Larry Ellison took home $78,440,657 last year is completely reasonable in the minds of Republicans. That it would take a minimum wage earner 5,201 years to earn what Larry took out of his company for one 365-day period is, according to Republican-think, a morally correct calculation.

That is why Republicans are working so hard to prevent Walmart and McDonald’s workers from earning more money while, at the same time, doing nothing but congratulating Time Warner Cable CEO Rob Marcus for grabbing $79.9 million for six weeks of work.

Republican Mary Fallin, governor of Oklahoma, is among them. She signed a law last week forbidding towns in her state from increasing the minimum wage. Fallin, whose state lays claim to the third highest proportion of minimum wage earners in the country, a percentage that rose from 2011 to 2012, justified denying these workers a few extra pennies an hour by saying that would raise prices.

She and her GOP cohorts haven’t fussed at all, however, about the cable bill increases likely to result from Marcus’ proposed merger of Time Warner Cable and Comcast, the corporate marriage which would result in that $79.9 million dowry payment to him.

Republican state lawmaker Chris Kapenga of Wisconsin responded like Fallin to a proposal by the Milwaukee County Board to raise the minimum wage for county workers and contractors. Kapenga’s legislation would prohibit local governments from doing that—even though two other Wisconsin counties already had. Kapenga’s proposal, which would slice the paychecks of hundreds of Wisconsin workers, has not passed. The Democratic-sponsored proposal to raise the rate in Milwaukee to $11.32, the amount necessary for a full-time worker to stave off poverty for a family of four, did pass.

Republicans are on the wrong side on this. Seventy-one percent of Americans would vote to raise the federal minimum wage to $9 an hour if given the chance, Gallup found last year. And it’s happening. As Republicans in the House block President Obama’s proposal to increase the minimum to $10.10 an hour, states and cities are doing it themselves.

A dozen states and four cities increased their minimum wage rates beginning Jan. 1. Since then, five states and the District of Columbia approved raises. When all of these take effect, half of the states will mandate wages higher than the federal minimum. And, in November, eight more states are expected to offer voters referendums on raising their rates. 

Still, Republicans inveigh against advances for the poorest. They say increasing the minimum wage would hurt businesses. They don’t care how much an unreasonably low minimum wage hurts workers. And at the same time, they believe James A. Skinner is worth every penny of the $28 million McDonald’s paid him in 2012.

They don’t believe that there are a dozen Wharton School MBAs who could take his place tomorrow and, frankly, sell hamburgers just as well for say, $280,000 rather than $28 million. They don’t see how his excessive pay might affect dividends to shareholders or the cost of fries. They’re blind to the fact that the majority of McDonald’s fans are willing to pay a few more cents for a Happy Meal if it means a higher wage for the struggling young mother serving the fast food.



Republicans don’t believe in paying a living wage to workers they disrespect, like the home health aides providing loving 24-hour care to the frail grandmas of GOP politicians across this country, like the housekeepers who clean GOP presidential hopefuls’ hotel rooms as they campaign across the nation, like the McDonald’s workers denied paid sick days who make extraordinary efforts not to cough on the fries that super-sized Republicans stuff in their faces. 

Republicans do believe, though, that the $31 million CVS hands CEO Larry J. Merlo has no effect on the pharmacy’s prices, that the $26 million Ralph Lauren hands its namesake CEO has no effect on the heart-stopping prices he charges for his foreign sweatshop-sewn clothes, and that the $31 million Estee Lauder grants CEO Fabrizio Freda has no effect on the eye-popping prices Lauder charges for its powder and perfume.

The GOP believes CEOs deserve to pocket in one year what it would take the average worker 331 years of labor to earn—a ratio calculated by the AFL-CIO Executive Paywatch team this year. CEOs are just so important, so special, so irreplaceable, according to the GOP.

They’re so much better than the heart surgeon who spends all day every day meticulously saving people’s lives. They’re 331 times as important as the firemen who rush into a burning home to save a woman’s life.  They’re 331 time more valuable than the policemen and paramedics who ran toward the sound of an explosion a year ago in Boston to rescue bomb victims. To Republicans, those CEOs are 331 times more precious than the teacher who nurtures the shy child, encourages the faltering student or refuses to abandon the recalcitrant pupil.

Republicans’ fear of paying too much is terrible. Not because of GOP angst. No, because it causes underpaid workers to suffer. Because it means Republicans are so enthralled with the 1 percent who write supersized campaign checks that they devalue the contributions of everyday workers to the welfare of America.  Because it means Republicans will continue to blockade efforts to resolve the growing income inequality that is rupturing the economy and the social cohesion of this nation.

Categories: Newswire

Government Is Now a Protection Racket for the 1%

truthout - April 22, 2014 - 2:35pm

Our now infamous one percent own more than 35 percent of the nation’s wealth. Meanwhile, the bottom 40 percent of the country is in debt. Just this past Tuesday, the 15th of April - Tax Day - the AFL-CIO reported that last year the chief executive officers of 350 top American corporations were paid 331 times more money than the average US worker.

Categories: Newswire

Florida Supreme Court Recognizes Anti-Discrimination Protections for Pregnant Workers

Feminist Daily News - April 22, 2014 - 2:30pm

The Florida State Supreme Court ruled last week that pregnancy discrimination is a form of sex discrimination under Florida employment law.

via Shutterstock

The 6-1 decision allows Peguy Delva to proceed with her lawsuit against her employer, real estate developer Continental Group. Delva alleged that her employer, real estate developer Continental Group, denied her extra shifts after she became pregnant and failed to reschedule her to work after maternity leave. A lower court dismissed Delva’s case, finding that the Florida Civil Rights Act did not extend to discrimination in employment on the basis of pregnancy. The Florida Supreme Court rejected that ruling, noting that the Florida law does provide protection against discrimination based on sex and that this protection extends to pregnancy.  The court cited similar rulings in Massachusetts and Minnesota.

The Florida decision puts Florida state law in line with the federal 1978 Pregnancy Discrimination Act – whose passage was championed by the National Organization for Women (NOW) and Eleanor Smeal, then-president of NOW. The Pregnancy Discrimination Act explicitly recognizes discrimination against pregnant women as a form of sex discrimination and prevents employers from legally discriminating against pregnant women in hiring, firing, pay, job assignments, career development, or benefits. “Florida law will now finally recognize the state of the law as established by the federal government,” said Smeal, now president of the Feminist Majority Foundation. 

The Pregnancy Discrimination Act expanded economic opportunities for women, helped women maintain job stability, protected women against lost wages and costs associated with job loss, and contributed to families’ overall financial well-being. Yet, pregnancy discrimination in the workplace persists. A report released last summer by the National Women’s Law Center demonstrated that many pregnant women are not given even basic accommodations during pregnancy, and many pregnant workers—especially those in lower-paying jobs or jobs traditionally held by men—are fired or forced to take unpaid leave when they request these adjustments.

In response to this continued discrimination, Congressman Jerrold Nadler (D-NY) and Senators Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) and Robert Casey (D-PA) introduced the federal Pregnant Workers Fairness Act last May. The Act would clarify that pregnant women are guaranteed the same workplace protections that are in place for other workers temporarily unable to perform job duties without reasonable accommodations.  The Act would also prohibit an employer from forcing a pregnant worker to use unpaid leave if she is able to work with a reasonable accommodation.

Media Resources: Miami Herald 4/17/14; RH Reality Check 4/21/14; Feminist Majority 10/31/13; National Women’s Law Center 6/18/13

Categories: Newswire

US Ranks 16th in 2014 Social Progress Index

Feminist Daily News - April 22, 2014 - 2:01pm

The Social Progress Imperative recently released its 2014 Social Progress Index, ranking the United States in 16th place among 132 countries.

Harvard Business School Professor Michael Porter, a Republican who led the report team, told CNN’s Fareed Zakaria that he was surprised by the ranking. “I think this was not the picture of America that I think many of us Americans have,” said Porter.

The United States ranked particularly low in health and wellness, coming in at 70th place, and ecosystem sustainability, 69th place. In the category of access to basic knowledge, the US ranked 39th, although it ranked 1st in access to advanced education, perhaps showing a relative lack of access to primary and secondary education among vulnerable populations.

In terms of access to information and communication, the US ranked surprisingly low at 23rd place, coming in 83rd on mobile telephone subscriptions, 21st on freedom of the press, and 17th on internet use. “At some level in America, we have incredible access to information and communication,” said Porter, “but if you look at objective measures of whether that’s penetrated very broadly throughout our population and to, really, all of our citizens, that’s where we start to come up short.”

The index evaluated 132 countries on 54 social and environmental indicators, taking into account basic human needs, foundations of well-being, and opportunity. It defines social progress as “the capacity of a society to meet the basic human needs of its citizens, establish the building blocks that allow citizens and communities to enhance and sustain the quality of their lives, and create the conditions for all individuals to reach their full potential” [PDF].

Using this framework, the three top-performing countries on social progress are New Zealand, Switzerland, and Iceland.  The rest of the top ten include several Northern European nations, Canada and Australia. The United States falls into the second tier of countries, in company with Germany, the United Kingdom, Japan, and France. Yemen and Chad fell in the fifth and lowest-performing tier.

The index demonstrates that economic development alone is not sufficient to explain social progress outcomes. While the index shows a positive correlation with economic performance, there are other factors in play.

“A society which fails to address basic human needs, equip citizens to improve their quality of life, erodes the environment, and limits opportunity for its citizens is not succeeding. Economic growth without social progress results in lack of inclusion, discontent, and social unrest,” the report states.

Its authors aims to create a more holistic framework for measuring national performance that can be used by leaders, and they envision a “world in which social progress sits alongside economic prosperity as the twin scorecards of success.”

Media Resources: The Social Progress Index 2014

Categories: Newswire

Corporations' Religious Beliefs

truthout - April 22, 2014 - 1:13pm
Categories: Newswire

Sipping Lattes on the Edge of a Volcano

In These Times - April 21, 2014 - 8:55pm

The international news coverage of the Israeli-Palestine conflicts often dwells on the disputes among diplomats or dramatic actions in the street. What’s missing, however, are the realities residents face as they go about their daily lives. Even as the United States-prompted negotiations between the country’s leaders grow uncertain in the face of an April 29 deadline, those in the region—including human rights workers, elected officials, intellectuals and government workers—don’t anticipate that the personal consequences of occupation will diminish anytime soon. In the second part of a two-part series, here are the voices of varied groups of Palestinians and Israelis with whom I spoke last fall, as they share their experiences of occupation and how they think it will end.

The human rights workers

Robert (not his real name) is a European who moved to Ramallah, Palestine six years ago to work with Military Court Watch, a legal aid group that advocates for Palestinians subject to the dual court system Israel has imposed in the West Bank.

Whereas Israelis—whether they live in Jerusalem or in the West Bank—are usually tried by civil courts, Palestinians accused of a crime will most often face the Israeli military courts that have jurisdiction in the two-thirds of the West Bank under Israeli control.

Robert’s work primarily focuses on youth—including the 500 to 700 young people, some as young as 12, who are prosecuted by the military courts each year. More than 99 percent of those cases end in conviction. He finds the work compelling, he says, because “for me, the court system provides the clearest case for ending occupation.”

“When a fight breaks out between children in Israeli settlements and Arab villages,” Robert says, “a summons is issued by the police, and the Israeli child is told to report with his parents to the civil authority [the police station]. He is read his rights, has a lawyer and proceeds to court.”

But that isn’t the case, he explains, for Palestinian children. After such an altercation, he says, “There is a raid on the [Palestininan] family home in the middle of the night, during which the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) take the child away to a military encampment and interrogate him, without his parents or a lawyer.”

Robert says that with this system in place, it is no surprise that 800,000 Palestinian men, women and children have been prosecuted in Israeli military courts since 1967. A large percentage of male Palestinians, he continues, will have spent some of their lives in jail, usually as a result of relatively minor crimes.

Ending occupation, Robert feels, is the key to combating this distorted court system. He doubts, however, that the current talks will yield a solution.

“Everyone put faith in the Oslo Accords [finalized in 1993], believing that there would be an independent Palestinian state in three years,” he points out. Instead, he says, “The Accords have been used by the Israelis to justify and expand occupation for the past 20 years.”

Robert and other rights activists believe that any agreement made by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu would only be one that prolonged occupation, thereby continuing to enable expanded settlements or the dual court system.

When I asked what the solution to occupation would be, he says, “We’ll just have to wait for a new generation.”

Sam, the Palestinian-American immigrant

Sam is an American: the son of a Palestinian who immigrated to the United States in the 1950s and a Lebanese-American mother. In 1993, he married a Palestinian woman and moved to the West Bank, determined to help build the economy of the nation that he believed would soon emerge from the Oslo Accords.

He settled in his family's century-old home in Al-Bireh, had three children, built a $100 million telecommunications firm, and earned an MBA from a joint Tel Aviv/Northwestern University program. The one thing he didn’t have was the residency permit that would allow him to live in the West Bank permanently.

His American passport allowed him to travel freely in Israel and the West Bank, to see friends and conduct business. Every three months, he would leave the West Bank to have the visa he needed renewed.

All went well until 2006, when he was issued a visa that read “Last permit” in English, Hebrew and Arabic. Sam learned that had three choices: leave for good, live in Israel illegally (risking deportation and a permanent ban), or fight for the permanent residence status he had first applied for in 1993. He chose the latter course.

After months of work and with help from Israeli friends, he prevailed. However, Sam explains, “When I went to the IDF to claim my residency card, I brought my American passport as required. When the IDF returned my passport, it had a new stamp: NOT VALID IN ISRAEL.”

“Overnight,” Sam continues, “I lost the rights that all other Americans enjoy in Israel. I could no longer drive my Israeli-registered car in the country, nor on any of the special Israeli roads in the West Bank.”

In fact, Sam could also no longer enter Israel without a permit. And like most Palestinians, he could only get a short-term permit—in his case, one that lasted only a day. With the added travel times and uncertainty about even attaining a permit¬ in the first place, this made conducting business meetings a major feat.

Eventually, he learned from friends that it was possible to get a three-month permit. “But says Sam, “When I applied … I was told my residency card and passport were not sufficient ID. Instead I needed a different, ‘magnetic ID.’”

Sam obtained the magnetic ID—essentially a magnetized version of his residency card—and applied again. “Unbelievably, the same officers rejected my application again,” he says. “They told me I also needed a ‘businessman’s ID’: not my business card, but a special ID that only they issued.”

This too, he obtained; armed with his residency ID, his magnetic ID and his businessman’s ID, he applied for a three-month permit yet again. As far as I know, he is still waiting.

In the meantime, to go to his home in America or to a speaking engagement in Europe, Sam cannot drive the 45 minutes to the Tel Aviv airport. Rather, he says, like all Palestinians who are not Israeli citizens, he must travel to Amman, Jordan—adding a day to his trip each way.

Occupation’s influence doesn’t just emerge through the walls erected throughout the West Bank or the armed forces of the IDF; it’s also reflected in the scores of banal rules and regulations that control, constrict and distort the lives of the people and the economy of Palestine each day.

The Palestinian girlfriends

The East Jerusalem restaurant in which I meet a group of mostly Israeli-Palestinian women is packed—but only with Israeli-Arabs. East Jerusalem is predominantly Muslim and Christian; Jews, I am told, don’t come to the restaurant, despite it being only a 10-minute walk from my West Jerusalem hotel.

It is an interesting group. Three are Christian Israeli citizens; one is a German immigrant married to a Palestinian man with Israeli citizenship. All are well educated, have spent time abroad and have more independence than most Palestinians. Sarah, whose real name I am not using, is a renowned intellectual who founded and leads a women's counseling and policy center; she is also a leader in joint Israeli-Palestinian women's efforts for peace and the end of occupation. Sylvia, whose real name I am also not using, and Anna both work for international human rights organizations.

Despite their relative freedom, they tell me, all of them experience the small hardships as well as the outright horrors of occupation every day. Sarah’s family has lost its home twice to the Israeli government—one confiscated in 1948, the second in 1967. The family of another woman, Nadine, owned a famous butcher shop in Jerusalem. They, too, lost their home. However, as her father was the only supplier of pork in the city, she says, they were eventually able to regain it.

Stories like these, the women say, are far from uncommon. “Life for us,” Sarah says, “is an endless round of dealing with the Kafkaesque system of rules and barriers that the Israelis have created.”

“If you want to build onto your home, you must spend months dealing with the bureaucracy,” she continues, “and usually you are turned down.” 

Nadine, meanwhile, talks about the road restrictions that prohibit Palestinians from using the main roads of the West Bank, which can turn 10-minute trips between villages into hour-long treks.

All agree that even traveling out of the country is a nightmare. Even the women with passports, they say, frequently endure detentions and searches at airports, which can cause humiliation as well as missed planes and appointments.

And they scoff at the idea that these strictures are for security. “These rules don’t make anyone safer,” Sarah argues. “The restrictions and regulations have only one purpose: to wear people down and to encourage us to leave the country.” For these women, as with Sam the human rights worker, it is the very banality of the system that makes it so pernicious.

Yet the situations the women describe, as frequently as they may occur for Palestinians, are rarely covered in global media. “The international press is good at writing about the bigger problems,” Sarah says, “But little is written about the indignities every Palestinian—Israeli citizen or not—faces.”

Nadine agrees, “While the media covers the incarceration of children for throwing stones, the gassing of peaceful demonstrators, and land seizures in villages—occupation affects us all.”

Asked about the negotiations, they, like Sam, are cynical. “The only Palestinian state that Netanyahu has in mind,” says Nadine, “is a Swiss cheese-looking state of ‘connected’ villages and cities, surrounded by settlements and totally within the confines of Israel with no external borders.”

Only strong outside pressure would make an acceptable proposal emerge, they suspect—but they doubt the United States has the will or the power to make that happen.

The Palestinian officials

One night, a group of Palestinian leaders makes the time to share their perspective on the talks with our delegation. More than one says the last decade of diplomacy has been the worst one, in which the Palestinian cabinet maintained every commitment while the Israelis broke each of theirs.

One talks about the expanding settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, where, he says, Israeli flags fly “as a statement and a dare.” Another speaks of the travesty of Israel’s claim that it has helped build Palestine’s economy. How, he asks, can anyone believe that, when Israel has defied the Oslo Peace Accords by keeping Area C, which contains much of the West Bank’s water, agricultural and mineral resources, fully under Israeli control.

According to many of these officials, all obstacles to a two-state solution lie on the Israeli side. They consider the issues Netanyahu raises, such as his demand that Palestinians recognize Israel as a “Jewish state” or the refusal to grant Palestinian refugees a “right of return,” to be delaying tactics in order to allow for more settlements. This, they fear, will prevent the creation of a contiguous Palestinian state.

However, they also think Netanyahu isn’t thinking in the long term. He’s blind, they say, to the growing European and American frustration with Israel and to the possibility of another Arab Spring changing the political face of the Middle East, thereby catalyzing the demand for democracy everywhere.

The progressive Israelis

As a longtime progressive leader and former Meretz MP, Naomi Chazan is a fixture of the progressive movement and a constant advocate for women, peace and democracy. As such, she and her work have been a frequent right-wing target, but she remains unbowed.

Commenting on the current round of Israeli-Palestinian talks, Chazan harbors little hope.

“On the one hand,” says Chazan, “there is no question that a ‘final status agreement’… could be achieved.” This, she says, would act in contrast to what she calls an “agreement to agree” by both sides, which presumably would achieve little real progress.

Surprisingly, though, Chazan says that she thinks the cynicism she and others express is a good thing. “The euphoria and hope surrounding Oslo and other rounds of talks turned to bitterness and anger when the negotiations yielded no results,” she says. Today’s public skepticism, she says, is actually a “sign of progress.”

That night, I spend the evening with a young leader of the peace movement in Israel. She enthusiastically talks about progressive Israelis’ hope—thanks in large part to U.S.-based advocacy groups like J Street—that Jews in the United States might help work for a two-state solution.

However, beyond that optimism, she says, there is a sense of growing unease and discontent among Israelis as a whole. She cautions, “Whether that unease leads to the growth of the Left, towards peace and justice, or to the growth of the Right … will depend on the ability of the existing parties—or a new party—to excite, empower and provide [my] peers with a viable, believable path to a better future as a nation of, rather than simply in, the Middle East.”

A few days later, our delegation meets with a broad range of progressive politicians, pundits, former security advisors and university professors. And in spite of their varied backgrounds, I am struck by the homogeneity of their arguments.

Many are skeptical about the progress of the negotiations—and they agree with Palestinian leadership that the barrier to peace resides predominantly on the Israeli side. They rue the government’s use of security as a pretext for settlement expansion as it takes mountaintops in the West Bank as Israel’s own for “strongholds” and expands the line of the “security fence” into Palestinian lands beyond 1967 borders, encircling Palestinian holdings with Israeli land.

Some say that even as public polls show that the Israel people would support a peace agreement, the Israeli government has moved right, empowering the settler movement and increasing its requirements for Palestinians.

While most feel Netanyahu and the right wing want negotiations to fail, they also stress that Israelis are fools if they think the status quo will hold. Israel, they say, is already a bi-national state, with one group’s lives constrained by lack of citizenship or access to resources. They argue, just like the Palestinian-Israeli women of a few nights prior, that if there is forward movement, it will be due to outside pressure. Israel, they say, is unable to save itself.

The settler

We travel to Ariel, a massive settlement of 18,000 on the West Bank predominantly populated by Russian immigrants lured there by generous Israeli government subsidies and grants. Here we meet with Dani Dayan, an Argentinian immigrant who has become a vocal advocate for the settler movement in the international press.

To our generally pro-two-state delegation, he delivers a 90-minute soliloquy about why a two-state solution is not warranted and why Israel deserves to control all land from the Jordan to the Mediterranean.

Dayan’s recounting of history is certainly unique. According to him, only Jews have any historic claims to the land. In his view, a two-state solution is neither possible nor desirable. When asked if he therefore favors a unified state, he says, “of course not.” His reasoning is that Jews won the 1967 war morally—against the totally unjustified quest of the Palestinians, the Jordanians and the Egyptians to “annihilate Israel”— and thus the territory is theirs.

Final reflections

As I sit on the tarmac in Tel Aviv in November of 2013 waiting to go home, the plane delayed so that Secretary Kerry’s plane could take off, I reflect on the places, events and people I’ve encountered throughout the week.

Kerry has been blunt in recent weeks about his impatience with the stagnant peace talks (he traveled to the Middle East twice in March to try to break the impasse, without success). But even in the fall, the Secretary of State ended his trip venting frustration about Israeli behavior, upset that in the middle of negotiations, the Israelis announced their intention to expand the settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem. Meanwhile, I end my trip thinking about the pathway to peace in the region.

Actually, “peace” is a rather strange word to use. For Israelis, peace has pretty much been at hand for quite some time. Despite high prices and housing shortages, life for most Israelis is good. The average income is $32,000, and the construction cranes rising along the road from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem speak volumes about a robust and expanding economy. Israeli citizens have a national healthcare system and generous funding for higher education (in exchange for extended military service).

Meanwhile, in the occupied territories, the majority of land and resources are controlled by Israel. It is here that youth aged 15–29 make up 30 percent of the Palestinian population and face unemployment as high as 36 percent.

Due to these disparate realities, many Israelis understandably feel no urgency to the situation, though an increasing number of progressives are advocating for a shift in the status quo. Yet it is clear that ending occupation is essential for building a nation for Palestinians, for fostering Israeli democracy, and for preventing an escalation of hostility in the region. Astute observers on both sides agree that the situation is a time bomb—and dangerous for Israelis, who, as Gershom Gorenberg, a journalist for The American Prospect, put it to our delegation, “sit sipping lattes on the edge of a volcano."

This is part II of a two-part series. Read part I, "Two Decades After Oslo, A Look at Life in Israel and Palestine," here.

Categories: Newswire

Mad Men, Season 7, Episode 2: Nasty Bitter Career Gals

In These Times - April 21, 2014 - 7:53pm

On Mad Men, there is no such thing as an unmitigated triumph. 

The show’s commitment to something like “realism”—which can dip, at times, into self-indulgent misery for misery’s sake—means that we will almost never get a moment where we can simply stand up and cheer for a character’s good fortune. When Joan became a partner in the firm, she had to do it by agreeing to sleep with the world’s least likable client. When Peggy became a copywriter, she had to have an unexpected Pete Campbell baby during her lunch break. And in this week’s episode Dawn, a woman that most of us have been rooting for since she took the unenviable position of being the first black employee at Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce, finally gets to graduate from put-upon secretary to office manager. But predictably, she can only get there by wading through a waist-high pool of nastiness. And this occurs in an episode where some of the show’s most beloved characters are doing their level best to make us hate them. It’s a long slog, to get to one only somewhat happy ending.

But, hey, there’s a Sally plot line! That’s always fun.

Let’s catch up. Don is still doing the Unemployment Tango: Waking up late, eating Ritz Crackers in front of “Little Rascals,” and contemplating how best to please his new boss, Mr. Gigantic Bottle of Whiskey, with whom he has developed a very close relationship. (“Don! I’m going to need you to submit the ‘chugging me in front of the TV’ project right away!”) He’s taking lunches around town, and even getting a few bites, but seems reluctant to give up on Sterling Cooper & Partners (formerly Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce, formerly Sterling Cooper, currently just SCP to save your humble recapper time and typing effort) as an option. His only friend in exile is Dawn, who is willing to come to his house and update him on the doings at SCP, so that he can plot his re-entry more effectively. Dawn refuses to take money for this service, partially because Dawn is a little too good for her own good—but also, I suspect, because her main job is serving as secretary to the abominable Lou Avery, and she needs to have some non-Lou-related work in order to preserve her mental health.

If it’s easy to feel sorry for Dawn this week, it is remarkably hard to summon up any empathy for Lou’s chief target, Peggy Olson. After having a meltdown about her personal and professional stagnation last week, Peggy has veered, hard, into self-pity and misdirected anger.

It starts with something that looks for all the world like a 30 Rock plot: Roses have been delivered to Peggy’s desk! On Valentine’s Day! Whoever might they be from?! Peggy, naturally, assumes that they have been sent to her by Ted Chaough, attempting to win her back to his perpetually-sweater-clad arms. She therefore sends Ted a series of angry yet inscrutable phone messages about how “the client” is “not interested.” These messages make even less sense to Ted than you’d imagine. For, truly, not only did Ted not send the roses, they’re not for Peggy in the first place. They are for her secretary, Shirley, who is (1) engaged to a man named Charles, (2) the second black employee at SCP, and (3) utterly delightful. We get a wonderful scene of her bonding with Dawn—they have a running joke of mistaking each other’s names, which instantly makes it clear how they’re treated by the other employees—so that we can get a sense of how much both women need each other, and  that Shirley might be the best friend a girl like Dawn could have. While Dawn is so self-effacing that earning extra money for extra work feels “wrong” to her, Shirley is utterly unwilling to let someone else’s neediness define her life and is very aware of how offensive it is that Peggy, knowing Shirley to be engaged, would not contemplate for one second the idea that Shirley is the obvious candidate for that bouquet.

When Peggy starts in on a patronizing attempt to create Galentine’s Day 40 years early—“I should have bought YOU flowers! Out of RESPECT! NOT because of some holiday,” Shirley sets her straight. And in response, Peggy promptly screams at Shirley, venting years’ worth of disappointment right into her face. Peggy becomes a bully: Everything she can’t say to Lou, or to the male co-workers who joke about her masturbation habits, she loads onto Shirley, passing her own oppression and trauma right on down the line.

Under normal circumstances, I would object, strongly, to a plot line about Peggy as a Nasty Bitter Career Gal With No Love Life. We’ve seen enough of those stories in media, and I would assume that we’re all aware of how they’re used to scare women away from professional achievement, or from being single in general.  “Never love your job more than you love having a boyfriend, or you’ll become a miserable bitch” is the message usually conveyed by the Nasty Bitter Career Gal. But the fact is, this has always been an unpleasant facet of Peggy’s personality: She’s bought into the myth of herself as a self-made woman, an oppressed Other who pulled herself up by her bootstraps, and this narrative has routinely rendered her oblivious to the fact that there are people in this world who do, in fact, have a tougher time of it than she does. And because we spend so much time seeing the world through Peggy’s eyes, we run the risk of becoming similarly oblivious. We’re so used to seeing Peggy portrayed as an avatar for women’s empowerment that it shocks and hurts us when we see her suggest that black people don’t need civil rights marches because she did everything by herself (which she has done), or when she assumes Dawn will steal her purse (which she has also done), or when she screams at Shirley for having the gall to be less lonely than she is at the moment.

Every once in a while, it is necessary for us to see the ugly side of Peggy Olson—the self-aggrandizing, self-pitying, casually racist side—simply to remind us that “women’s empowerment” is not something we can put entirely on the shoulders of one professionally successful white woman. Women’s empowerment looks like Shirley too, and it looks like Dawn. And sometimes, women who look like Peggy are a part of their problem. 

Of course, sometimes the problem really is just the white guys. For here comes Sally Draper—one of Mad Men’s many secret MVPs—on a day trip to Manhattan, ostensibly to attend the funeral of her roommate’s mother, but actually to hang out in head shops in Greenwich Village. She loses her bag, and high-tails it to the offices of SCP, where she assumes her father will be working, in order to get a ride home. And yet: Her father is not present. And, when entering his office, she runs head-on into Lou. Who does not even bother to sugar-coat the “Don’s gone” situation.

This means that Sally is now the first and only person in her family to know about her father’s unemployment, and it also means that Sally is being put in the position to lie for her father, again. She confronts Don in his apartment, and he tries a little victim-blaming to get out of trouble—“Why would you just let me lie to you like that?” quoth Don, summing up his entire relationship with Womankind in 140 characters or less—before finally telling Sally that he got in trouble at work because “I told people the truth about myself,” and teaching her how to execute a dine-and-dash. Sally’s future relationships are going to be marked by trust, healthy boundaries and the deep intimacy that only comes from total emotional honesty, I’m sure.

Oh, no, wait: She’s going to associate “truth” with “being hurt or rejected” for the rest of her life, assume 15 layers of deception operating underneath every seemingly benign action taken by another human being, and basically spend the rest of her life assuming that “love” means “being let down.” This scene is Don trying to convince his daughter that she likes that feeling—See? Daddy will help you steal from the restaurant, if Daddy told the truth all the time we couldn’t have fun—and her “I love you” ranks among the saddest things I’ve ever heard. But hey: At least Future Sally will save a ton of money on dining out.

But let us now proceed beyond the increasingly warped psyche of Sally Draper. For Lou, monster that he is, blames Dawn for Sally getting into his office, and Peggy blames Shirley for her own shame, and now both of them insist on Joan taking the time out of her day to re-organize the entire office so that they no longer have to behave like professionals toward their support staff. Burt Cooper also insists that Dawn cannot work the front desk, because “people can see her from the elevator.” At which point, it becomes terribly clear to both Joan and Jim Cutler that Joan has about three jobs, at this company, and that there’s a very fit candidate who could take at least one of those jobs off her plate. And so at last, Joan is moved up to the accounts department, and Dawn becomes the new office manager. It’s hardly a glorious victory—Dawn is taking this job specifically because Joan is sick of dealing with it, and Shirley, rather than being rewarded in any way for her composure, is being shunted off to the horror that is Lou. But it is a victory. And, on this show, the triumphs are rare enough that we ought to applaud them, no matter how messy they may be. 

Categories: Newswire

Ten Governors’ Races To Watch In 2014

In These Times - April 21, 2014 - 7:23pm

A wave of Tea Party governors took office in 2010, propelled by "high unemployment, a demoralized Democratic base, an activist Tea Party, and, thanks to the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision earlier that year, big bucks from oligarchs like the Koch brothers," writes David Moberg in "Toppling the Tea Party," In These Times' June cover story.

This year, those governors are up for re-election, but this time they have records to defends. Below, read about the players and the odds in those races, as well as other 2014 gubernatorial contests that have high stakes for working people. 

1. FLORIDA

Rick Scott (R, Incumbent): The scandal-plagued Scott tried to privatize Medicaid by handing over the health program to HMOs and private healthcare companies, including one in which his wife had a $62 million stake. He’s also enacted laws that will make it more difficult for minorities to vote.

Charlie Crist (D): The former Republican governor of Florida criticized the party for its rightward shift and formally switched to the Democratic Party in 2012. As a governor, he vetoed teacher tenure and supported school vouchers, but he’s now attacking Scott for failing to push the Republican legislature to accept the Medicaid expansion.

The Polling: Scott 38%, Crist 46%

The Stakes: Already expensive and vitriolic, the race offers a good chance for a Democratic governor in the South.

 

2. ILLINOIS

Pat Quinn (D, Incumbent): A self-styled populist who took office after Rod Blagojevich’s fall, Quinn went on to alienate labor by cutting public employee pensions and to clash with powerful Illinois Democrats, including Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel. But he has also made some unpopular-but-necessary moves, such as raising income taxes to address the state’s fiscal crisis.

Bruce Rauner (R): A member of the 0.01%, investor Rauner wants to “run Illinois like a business” by cutting spending and privatizing government services such as education.

The Polling: No meaningful polls yet, but expected to be close.

The Stakes: Whatever faults Quinn has, Rauner’s are likely to be far worse.

 

3. KANSAS

Sam Brownback (R, Incumbent): A former senator and member of Congress, in his four years as governor Brownback has eliminated the state arts agency, cut taxes on the rich and raised them on the poor, passed one of the country’s most restrictive abortion laws, and made recipients of welfare and unemployment benefits submit to drug testing.

Paul Davis (D): Davis, the minority leader of the Kansas House of Representatives, promotes his ability to forge bipartisan agreements. He has called the Brownback tax cuts “reckless,” suggesting he might reverse them if elected.

The Polling: Brownback 40%, Davis 42%

The Stakes: Brownback’s low voter approval rating creates an opening for Davis.

 

4. MAINE

Paul LePage (R, Incumbent): The hot-headed Tea Partier has gotten bad press for his off-color remarks—such as reportedly saying that Obama “hates white people”—and his corporate cronyism.

Rep. Mike Michaud (D): A favorite of labor, Congressman Michaud is a longtime paperworkers union member and a 20-year veteran of the East Millinocket mill. He is one of the few openly gay members of Congress.

Eliot Cutler (I): Cutler, a lawyer, narrowly lost to LePage in 2010.

The Polling: LePage 35%, Michaud 39%, Cutler 16%

The Stakes: A chance to oust LePage, if Michaud and Cutler don’t split the Democratic vote.

 

5. MICHIGAN

Rick Snyder (R, Incumbent): Political newcomer Snyder has pushed through a “right-to-work” law, a tax on public employee pensions, restrictions on gay rights and women’s rights, and the shortest time limit on unemployment benefits in the U.S.

Mark Schauer (D): Schauer is a former U.S. representative and state legislator with strong labor support in his campaign against Snyder. He was pepper-sprayed by police while protesting the 2012 “right-to-work” law.

The Polling: Snyder 42%, Schauer 39%

The Stakes: Snyder’s continued cutbacks vs. Schauer’s plans to improve Michigan’s hard-hit economy.

 

6. OHIO

John Kasich (R, Incumbent): During his 1983 to 2000 tenure as a U.S. representative, Kasich was a budget-cutting hawk and helped prompt the 1995 to 1996 government shutdown. He won the Ohio governorship in 2010, where he continued his efforts to slash public spending.

Ed FitzGerald (D): FitzGerald is a former FBI agent and currently serves as executive of Cuyahoga County. His platform is still sketchy, but he has put Kasich on the spot for failing to stop the closure of an aluminum plant, which cost Ohio 700 jobs.

The Polling: Kasich 43%, FitzGerald 38%

The Stakes: Kasich tried to gut public employee union rights and once promised to “break the back of organized labor in the schools.” If given another term, he might succeed.

 

7. PENNSYLVANIA

Tom Corbett (R, Incumbent): Corbett’s 2012 budget proposal included education cuts so steep that his own party overrode him. He has been deemed one of the most vulnerable governors in the country, with little support from Democrats or Republicans.

Tom Wolf (D): Wolf, a businessman who wants to promote job growth, particularly in manufacturing, shot ahead in March polls after a big advertising blitz.

U.S. Rep. Allyson Schwartz (D): Schwartz strongly supports affordable healthcare, abortion rights and Israel. She resigned as honorary co-chair of the centrist think tank Third Way after its leaders wrote an editorial lambasting populist Democrats.

The Polling: Corbett trails any potential Democratic nominee. Democratic voters poll 36% for Wolf, 9% for Schwartz, and 48% undecided.

The Stakes: This should be an easy Democratic pick-up.

 

8. SOUTH CAROLINA

Nikki R. Haley (R, Incumbent): The wealthy businesswoman has said that unionized companies aren’t welcome in South Carolina. She’s been criticized for a $127,000 taxpayer-funded junket and for allowing 4.5 million Social Security numbers to be stolen from the state’s unencrypted database.

Vincent Sheheen (D): As a state senator, Sheheen has led the effort to expand kindergarten to 4-year-olds and is committed to closing corporate income tax loopholes.

The Polling: Haley 48%, Sheheen 39%

The Stakes: A long-shot opportunity to oust an anti-union governor.

 

9. TEXAS

Greg Abbott (R): If elected, Abbott, currently the state attorney general, says he would end Obamacare, rein in the EPA and enact stronger voter-ID laws.

Wendy Davis (D): Davis is a state senator who became famous in the summer of 2013 for an 11-hour filibuster to stop a bill restricting abortion access. She negotiated an increase in the cost-of-living for retired teachers and supports reducing the number of standardized tests.

The Polling: Abbott 51%, Davis 37%

The Stakes: Many view Davis as a rising star in progressive politics. While Texas is shifting leftward, thanks in part to its growing Latino population, it may not be changing quickly enough to embrace Davis.

 

10. WISCONSIN

Scott Walker (R, Incumbent): Elected in 2010, Scott Walker epitomizes the new wave of Republican governors enacting pitiless austerity measures. He’s gutted government, union rights and any remnants of social democracy in a state that was once moderately progressive.

Mary Burke (D): Despite her corporate roots as a Trek Bicycle exec, Burke has promised to raise wages, protect labor rights and improve education. But so far, she comes across more as a sensitive soul than a tribune of the people.

The Polling: Walker 49%, Burke 44%

The Stakes: Stopping the symbolic leader of the Republican assault on the industrial Midwest. Ending Walker’s presidential bid before it starts.

Want to know more about how labor and progressives are mobilizing voters in key 2014 governors' races? Read David Moberg's "Toppling the Tea Party."

Categories: Newswire

Alaska Governor Signs Law Restricting Definition of Medically Necessary Abortions

Feminist Daily News - April 21, 2014 - 4:00pm

Alaskan Governor Sean Parnell signed a bill last week limiting which abortions can be labeled medically necessary by a doctor and therefore covered by Medicaid under the federal Hyde Amendment. The original bill included provisions for family planning services, but the state House removed them.

via Shutterstock

SB 49 requires doctors to select a reason that the procedure is medically necessary from an approved list of 21 reasons. The list includes threat to the life or physical health of a patient, but does not include anything about mental health. Anchorage Senator Hollis French expects the bill to be placed on hold in the courts “because it’s contrary to our Constitution.”

“SB 49 is a blatant attempt to put politicians between low-income women and access to abortion, and by removing the Medicaid Women’s Health Program, the legislature has made it clear that their only interest is restricting women’s pregnancy decisions–not promoting women’s health or reducing unintended pregnancies,” said Jessica Cler, Alaska Public Affairs Manager for Planned Parenthood Votes Northwest, in a statement.

“There shouldn’t be a list at all,” Erik House, a spokesperson for Planned Parenthood Votes Northwest told RH Reality Check. “It’s up to women and their doctors to make these personal medical decisions–not an arbitrary list drafted by politicians and bureaucrats in Juneau.”

Media Resources: Planned Parenthood Votes Northwest 4/14/14; Alaska Dispatch 4/14/14; RH Reality Check 4/18/14; LegiScan

Categories: Newswire

Arizona Governor Signs Bill Allowing Suprise Inspections of Abortion Clinics

Feminist Daily News - April 21, 2014 - 3:56pm

Arizona Governor Jan Brewer signed a bill into law last week allowing state health authorities to conduct surprise inspections of abortion clinics without a warrant.

via

HB 2284 repeals an Arizona law that requires a judge to give approval for inspections of abortion clinics. Department of Health Services officials will now be able to inspect any clinic during business hours, even without reasonable cause.

Activists are concerned the law will put the state’s nine clinics at risk of abuse by anti-abortion legislators. “House Bill 2284 does nothing but open the door to provider and patient harassment,” Bryan Howard, President and CEO of Planned Parenthood Arizona, said in a statement.

The law was written by the Center for Arizona Policy, a conservative think tank behind three other abortion laws that courts have ruled against. One of them, a law putting restrictions on medication abortions, went into effect earlier this month, but a federal court issued a temporary injunction against it shortly after.

The law could go into effect as early as next week. Planned Parenthood Advocates of Arizona expects there will be a legal challenge to the law, but is unsure if the organization will participate.

Media Resources: Planned Parenthood Arizona 3/4/14; Planned Parenthood Advocates of Arizona 4/15/14; AZ Central 4/15/14; RH Reality Check 4/17/14; Reuters 4/15/14; Arizona State Legislature; Feminist Newswire 4/1/14, 4/10/14

Categories: Newswire

Our Neoliberal President

In These Times - April 21, 2014 - 2:49pm

President Obama’s 2015 budget request last month revived his abortive 2014 budget proposal to privatize the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA). What are we to make of a Democratic president repeatedly proposing to sell off the publicly financed and administered redevelopment program, widely seen as one of the great successes of the New Deal? This move tells us much about Obama.

But to understand what’s at stake, a look back at the TVA’s history is in order. Created in 1933 as a project to revitalize one of the nation’s most poverty-ridden and least developed economic regions, TVA worked economic and social magic. Sections of seven southern states drained by the Tennessee River and its tributaries—Alabama, Georgia, Kentucky, Mississippi, North Carolina, Tennessee and Virginia—obtained essential infrastructure for the first time, including cheap electricity, clean water, sewer systems, paved roads and flush toilets in place of rudimentary outhouses. TVA enabled the region’s residents to heat and illuminate their homes better, to enjoy clean water at the turn of a tap, to farm their land more securely and efficiently, and, in many cases, to find decent jobs in the industries attracted by the region’s low-cost electrical power and improved means of transport. TVA proved a great triumph of Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal, one of the few programs enacted during the “hundred days” that stood the test of time. Few New Deal initiatives did as much to improve the lives of the one-third of the nation that FDR famously described as “ill-housed, ill-clad, and ill-nourished.” So successful was the TVA in developing the region’s economy that the Republican politicians who now dominate the region—and who usually dismiss government initiatives as “creeping socialism” or wasteful expenditures of public funds—have been among the sharpest critics of Obama’s overtures to privatize the TVA.

The TVA’s successes became so admired that successive presidents and numerous legislators suggested similar federal agencies to develop the Missouri and Columbia River valleys. President Lyndon B. Johnson even proposed a Mekong River Authority to unite the peoples of Southeast Asia in a common and peaceful endeavor. No political figure or officeholder in the region served by the TVA dared to suggest its privatization.

Not that the TVA was without faults. The dams it built to tame the region’s rivers and generate power displaced thousands of families from land and homes that had been theirs for generations. TVA had promised to create a participatory democracy of, by, and for the people of the region. Instead, it evolved into a governmental agency operated by professional managers and trained engineers who designed programs for the region’s inhabitants without their input. Whatever its faults, however, TVA served a population that private enterprise neglected, demonstrated that government could provide electricity more cheaply than private utilities and just as efficiently, that public authorities had the ability to control wild, flood-prone rivers, and, perhaps most importantly, that a government agency could lift the curse of poverty from millions of people.

Today most references to TVA link it to FDR and the New Deal. Yes, TVA was enacted as part of the first wave of New Deal reforms. What became TVA, however, was the pet project not of Roosevelt and a Democratic congressional majority but of a Republican senator from Nebraska. Sen. George Norris had been fighting for it since the end of World War I, when a Republican president and Republican congress decided to rid the federal government of the munitions-making facilities it had developed at Muscle Shoals, Ala. Norris and his fellow Republican insurgents and their Democratic allies saw the munitions factory as a model of how the government could invest in the region, and fought persistently during the 1920s to use federal power to serve the needs of the inhabitants of the Tennessee Valley. Hard as it may be to believe today, Norris and his band of Republican mavericks were “Tea Partiers” of a different variety, a faction of the Grand Old Party that believed in the use of federal power and the public purse to improve the lives of ordinary citizens, uplift the least among us, and serve the 99% not the 1%. FDR and a Democratic congressional majority brought Norris’s dream to fruition.

Over time, however, the administrators of TVA drifted from the agency’s original mission of creating a democratically administered public agency. They still provided cheap electrical power to the region and kept the river in check, but they also began to serve regional business interests more assiduously than ordinary citizens, to rely on coal as well as water to generate power, to wreak environmental damage—spewing carbon into the atmosphere and fouling rivers with coal ash and other waster products—and to contract with non-union mines for the delivery of cheap coal, hastening the decline of the United Mine Workers. Such failings likely played a part in Obama’s assumption that TVA might serve its region better were it privatized. The decision was likely influenced by the fact that the TVA, whose mission is not to create profit, spends more than it earns.

A more progressive Democratic president might have proposed instead that TVA remain a public agency but one that reverted to its original mission by involving residents more directly in decision-making. Such a reform might cost money and add to the federal deficit, but it would also restore the utopian vision of TVA’s founders. Obama’s proposals instead convince me that Paul Street’s two books about Obama—Barack Obama and the Future of American Politics, covering his presidential candidacy and The Empire’s New Clothes: Barack Obama in the Real World of Power, on his first-term as president—were prescient. Street (who, full disclosure, is my former student) described Obama as a candidate tied to Chicago’s financial community and in favor of neoliberal economic policies. To Street, these neoliberal tendencies were borne out in President Obama’s early reliance on the advice of such people as Timothy Geithner and other acolytes of Goldman Sachs to forge his administration’s early economic policies.

Obama’s six years in the White House also remind me of Jimmy Carter’s presidency. Like Carter, Obama proves quite willing to provide cost-free (in a budgetary sense) carrots to vital Democratic constituencies on such issues as gay rights and women’s equality. He endorses higher minimum wages and offers rhetorical support of unions and collective bargaining, which cost not a penny of federal funds, but balks at a well-financed public works project that employs workers at good wages but might affect the federal budget. He used his political capital to create a costly new health program for citizens, yet often defended it in terms of the Affordable Care Act’s positive impact on the federal budget. Month after month, year after year, as the labor market remains slack and long-term unemployment worsens, Obama insists that cutting the federal deficit remains more vital than putting people back to work. His proposal that TVA be privatized fits well into a neoliberal framework and satisfies Democratic Party circles in the financial world. As the nation’s first black president, Obama may represent a greater triumph for the dormant Democratic Leadership Council—which moved the party from New Deal politics to neoliberalism—than its original standard bearer, Bill Clinton, the first figurative black chief executive.

Categories: Newswire
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