Category Archives: Labor

Another sign of the death of mainstream journalism


What if they held a public hearing about a plan to slash the pensions of more than a quarter of a million American workers and but a single journalism showed up to cover the event?

Moreover, what if that heaving was held in the American city hardest hit by the collapse of American manufacturing, and the pension fund involved had been the subjects of countless books, magazine and newspaper articles, and films?

Well, that’s precisely what happened.

From Andre Damon of the World Socialist Web Site [emphasis added]:

The Obama administration is pushing ahead with its plans to slash pension benefits for up to one million participants in “underfunded” multiemployer pension funds as part of its drive to make defined-benefit pensions a thing of the past for all US workers.

The White House campaign, carried out in a conspiracy with the major trade unions and multinational corporations, takes place in the wake of the 2013–2014 bankruptcy of Detroit, which set a precedent for slashing the legally protected pension benefits of retirees.

Kenneth Feinberg, the Obama administration’s appointee to oversee the pension cuts, held a hearing on behalf of the Treasury Department in Detroit Monday to hear objections to the plan to slash the pension benefits of some 270,000 retired truck drivers, package handlers and other members of the Teamsters Central States Pension Fund.

The hearing, which took place at Wayne State University, drew an overflow crowd at a 500-seat lecture hall, with up to 1,000 people participating in total. With the exception of the World Socialist Web Site, the media ignored the event, with no US video crews present.

Such is live in 21st Century America, where Kim Kardashian’s ass rate more coverage than the loss of secure futures for a quarter-million workers.

Class cleansing, history, race, and the Super Bowl


A short but notable segment from Democracy Now! how issues of the issues of class and race are integral to America’s most iconic sporting event.

No Super Bowl in recent decades has evoked their spectral present more than the game’s 50th extravaganza, held in San Francisco, the nation’s most expensive city to inhabit, yet a city haunted by the issues of race and class.

It was, after all, San Francisco that brought the nation its first drug law, created in 1875 to repress a hard-working Chinese population by banning the use of opium, the drug which helped numb the pain brought on by long hours of physical exertion.

The San Francisco ordinance, quickly adopted by most other California cities with large Asian populations, didn’t halt sales of the drug; instead driving it underground and causing the price to spike.

Nor, as any visitor to modern San Francisco can attest, did it succeed in driving out its Chinese residents.

[The nation’s prohibitions of cocaine, marijuana, and heroin were all based directly on overt racist hysteria, as noted here.]

The San Francisco Bay Area was also the birthplace of the most prominent African American militants of the mid-20th Century, the Black Panthers.

And it was the Panthers who were, remarkably, celebrated in Sunday’s Super Bowl halftime show by one of the nation’s most popular singers.

But before the game was held, another cleansing of San Francisco took place, this time one based on class and not race.

And with that by way of preface, from Democracy Now!:

Beyoncé Wins the Super Bowl: Pop Legend Invokes Black Panthers, #BlackLivesMatter at Halftime Show

From the transcript:

AMY GOODMAN: Dave Zirin joins us from Washington, D.C., sports columnist for The Nation. His latest article, “The Streets of San Francisco: ‘Super Bowl City’ Meets Tent City.”

Thanks so much. His books include The John Carlos Story: The Sports Moment That Changed the World, which he co-wrote with John Carlos. Your response to all that happened last night, Dave?

DAVE ZIRIN: Well, there’s on the field and off the field. I mean, on the field, you had the Denver Broncos exhibit one of the great defensive performances in Super Bowl history. Off the field, what you had was really an unprecedented sweep of the homeless before a Super Bowl contest. And, you know, every Super Bowl in the host city has a narrative that exists outside the game. In New Orleans, it was “How will the city recover after Hurricane Katrina?” In New York, if you remember—we discussed this, Amy—it was the sweep and harassment of sex workers before the big game that took place in the Meadowlands.

And in San Francisco, it’s the fact that you have this city of only 800,000 people that has a homeless population of 10,000. Sixty-one percent of the homeless in San Francisco were working at the time they lost their homes. And one-third of these 10,000 people are children. And yet, the response from San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee was: You better get off the street. You better get gone, because we’re about to have a party for the 1 percent. We’re about to have a Woodstock for the wealthy and celebrate the Super Bowl and celebrate our conspicuous consumption. There’s no greater symbol of this year’s Super Bowl, to me, than the fact you could go to the game and buy a delicious hot dog with real gold flakes sprinkled on top, so you could eat gold with your hot dog while people are literally hungry outside the most unequal and, by some metrics, the wealthiest city now in the United States.

AMY GOODMAN: And can you talk about what happened inside, at halftime, Dave Zirin? Can you talk about not only what Beyoncé—

DAVE ZIRIN: Yeah.

AMY GOODMAN: —did there with her song, the homage to the Black Panthers—

DAVE ZIRIN: It was too short.

Map of the day: Jobless rates, above/below average


From the Bureau of Labor Statistics [PDF], the latest map of metropolitan areas where jobless rates are above and below the national average:

BLOG Jobs

Panopticon profiteering hits Texas highways


From the Electronic Frontier Foundation [emphasis added]:

Vigilant Solutions, one of the country’s largest brokers of vehicle surveillance technology, is offering a hell of a deal to law enforcement agencies in Texas: a whole suite of automated license plate reader (ALPR) equipment and access to the company’s massive databases and analytical tools—and it won’t cost the agency a dime.

Even though the technology is marketed as budget neutral, that doesn’t mean no one has to pay. Instead, Texas police fund it by gouging people who have outstanding court fines and handing Vigilant all of the data they gather on drivers for nearly unlimited commercial use.

ALPR refers to high-speed camera networks that capture license plate images, convert the plate numbers into machine-readable text, geotag and time-stamp the information, and store it all in database systems. EFF has long been concerned with this technology, because ALPRs typically capture sensitive location information on all drivers—not just criminal suspects—and, in aggregate, the information can reveal personal information, such as where you go to church, what doctors you visit, and where you sleep at night.

Vigilant is leveraging H.B. 121, a new Texas law passed in 2015 that allows officers to install credit and debit card readers in their patrol vehicles to take payment on the spot for unpaid court fines, also known as capias warrants. When the law passed, Texas legislators argued that not only would it help local government with their budgets, it would also benefit the public and police.

David Horsey: Rebel rancher is a pitiful casualty


From the editorial cartoonist of the Los Angeles Times:

BLOG Militia

And a related development, via the Guardian:

Cliven Bundy defies son Ammon in call for Oregon militia to stand their ground

After Ammon Bundy called on final occupiers to leave refuge, his father sent a letter to government officials declaring armed militia would not back down

Chart of the day III: We suspect a correlation


From the Economic Policy Institute:

BLOG Labor

Greek tragedy and dreams of a Star Trek future


Yanis Varoufakis is a political hybrid, perceived as so a dangerous radical by the financial powers of Europe that they forced his ouster as finance minister in the supposedly radical leftist government of Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras, who had be voted into power precisely to resist that Troika of European Central Bank, the IMF, and the European Commission.

His term in office lasted less that six months, from 27 January to 6 July of 2015.

Varoufakis now serves as Professor of Economic Theory at the University of Athens and as private consultant for Bellevue, Washington, video game  development and software distributor Valve Corporation. He’s also a prolific blogger and Twitterpater.

In a 3 August 2015 profile by Ian Parker of the New Yorker, Varoufakis described one incident during his brief tenure a Greek money manager:

At the White House, Varoufakis repeated a line that he had used at Brookings: “Mr. President, my government is planning, and I am planning, to compromise, compromise, and compromise, but we’re not going to be compromised.” (“He liked that,” Varoufakis recalled.) Varoufakis told him, “Mr. President, of course one has to suffer costs in order to get the benefits, but the question is the balance. There has to be a positive balance.” He went on, “We are being asphyxiated for trying to simulate what you did, right?”

Obama showed more solidarity than Varoufakis was expecting. “I know — austerity sucks,” Obama said. (“He used those words. Very un-Presidential.”) According to Varoufakis, the President was referring less to austerity’s unpleasantness than to its ineffectiveness. Obama meant that austerity “doesn’t work — it creates misery, and it’s self-perpetuating, and it’s self-defeating.”

Varoufakis told Obama that he hadn’t felt quite the same comradeship when speaking with the U.S. Treasury Secretary. “Jack Lew is not toeing the Obama line,” he said.

Lew’s views prevailed.

In the following interview for The Real News Network by Canadian lawyer, journalist, and environmental activist Dimitri Lascaris, Varoufakis details the pressure on Greece and the reasons he abandoned his office:

Yanis Varoufakis: How The Greek People’s Magnificent “No” Became “Yes”

From the transcript:

LASCARIS: Let’s talk a little bit about the future, what the future holds for Greece in particular. As you know, I’m sure all too painfully, the Syriza government has been implementing a series of so-called reforms at the insistence of the Troika, which many regard as being harsher than the terms previously dictated to the right-wing New Democracy-led government. And recently Alexis Tsipras, the prime minister, expressed the view that 2016 would mark the beginning of the end of the economic crisis in Greece. Do you think that that’s a realistic assessment in light of the nature and harshness of the austerity measures being implemented?

VAROUFAKIS: Dimitri, a simple one-word answer: no. Look. This program that was agreed in August, and which I voted against in Greek parliament, was designed to fail. There is precisely zero probability that it will succeed. The prime minister himself, Tsipras, said so back in August. He described the treaty that he signed, the agreement that he signed on [I think] the 13th of July, as a document that was extracted from him by coup d’etat. These were not my words. These were his.

Now, the great disagreement we had, we had this personally, as well, in a very comradely and friendly way, but it was nevertheless a strong, intellectual disagreement, was this. He said to me, and he said to the parliament, and he said to the public, that we have to accept this toxic, failed program that is never going to work, because if we don’t then the banks will never open again, and we’ll then have blood on the streets, more or less.

Well, what he intended to do was to introduce a parallel program, legislative program, comprising his own, his own government’s agenda for looking after the weak, sustaining those on very low pensions and income. A parallel program, he called it. So there is the [proposed] failed program, which is the price we have to pay according to Prime Minister Tsipras, for the surrender, the defeat. But we introduce a parallel program which justifies why you are staying in power to implement the toxic program.

Now, it is indeed the case that Prime Minister Tsipras and his government tried to do that. In early–late November, early December, they did table in Greek parliament the parallel program. Two days later, the president of the Euro Working Group, which is the effective functionary of the Troika, it came out and said, uh-uh, you have to withdraw that. And a Greek minister humiliated himself and the Greek government by making it sound as if it was his own idea that they should withdraw this parallel program. So this parallel program now has been withdrawn by the Greek government itself, at the behest of the Troika.

So even by the logic of the prime minister, the answer to your question is no.

If you’re curious about Varoufakis’s political and economic beliefs, here’s a December TED talk in which he expounds of a set of ideas that he believes is simultaneously libertarian, Marxist and Keynesian, via his post on Social Europe:

Why Capitalism Will Eat Democracy

Program notes:

Have you wondered why politicians aren’t what they used to be, why governments seem unable to solve real problems? Economist Yanis Varoufakis, the former Minister of Finance for Greece, says that it’s because you can be in politics today but not be in power — because real power now belongs to those who control the economy. He believes that the mega-rich and corporations are cannibalizing the political sphere, causing financial crisis. In this talk, hear his dream for a world in which capital and labor no longer struggle against each other, “one that is simultaneously libertarian, Marxist and Keynesian.”

A transcript of the talk is posted here.