‘Look, You Can Live on Minimum Wage!’ Say Modern Slavers

[Sample budget via McDonald’s and VISA]

Jesus fecking Christ on a pogo stick. I can’t believe McDonald’s and VISA were stupid enough to put together this oh-so-helpful budget estimate showing how fast food workers can get by and still have money left over.

After looking it over, here’s my assessment: A couple corporations need to do drug testing among white-collar staff. Somebody had to be be out of their gourd to think this was accurate, let alone an effective marketing tool to promote their businesses.

As many folks have pointed out, an immediate glaring error on this ‘budget cheat sheet’ is the lack of heating/cooling expenses. Sure, some apartment complexes included HVAC in the rent they charge, but this can’t be assumed as a norm.

Every line item included is grossly flawed. I’ll look at three points:

1) First job’s NET salary of $1105 based on an estimated 21% income tax equals ~$1400 gross salary. Based on current federal minimum wage of $7.25 per hour, that’s ~193 hours worked in a month, or ~44.6 hours a week.

This is NOT a part-time job. Most fast food jobs are deliberately limited to under 32 hours a week to avoid paying unemployment taxes or other benefits.

2) Second job’s NET salary of $955 — HAHAHAHAHAHAH Right. That’s another ~167 hours of labor per month at current federal minimum wage and 21% income tax rate.

To make this sample budget work, either two people MUST live together, MUST work a combined ~83 hours a week at current federal minimum wage. Or one person must do all this and simply have no time to do anything beyond eat/sleep/bathe/maybe laundry.

If two people lived together to make this budget work, they MUST share a tiny/cheap/ratty car, or hope like hell there’s public transportation which costs less than $150 a month to get to/from ~83 hours of work, grocery store, school, so on.

The rest of the assumptions in this budget are just plain trash. Like health insurance for two people versus one. Or savings of $100 which is really half that, spread between two people, as is the discretionary daily spending.

Some trollish account said, “But nobody stays at minimum wage forever! They get pay increases!” Sure…now person working First Job only has to work 43 hours a week instead of ~44.6. The average wage at McDonald’s is $8.25 — but does that include assistant managers and shift managers? Does this include people who’ve worked at McD’s for years? Let’s be real: most fast food workers are closer to the federal minimum wage.

Perhaps with pay increase a person working BOTH jobs only has to work ~80 hours a week instead of ~83. Give me a fucking break.

3) Transportation and insurance combined = $250 — HAHAHAHAHAHAH Right, again. I checked Progressive’s website calculator for insurance on a vehicle only, assuming a 2007 4-door Honda Civic, personal use, unmarried single male driver age 18-24 living alone, who lived in the same rented home for 1-3 years, had driven for more than 3 years, had insurance for 1-3 years, assuming a 20-year old male student living in Lansing, Michigan. Car insurance alone was $219 per month AND +$400 was required upfront before coverage began.

Maybe bundling renter’s insurance would help but the cost McDonald’s and VISA used in their example budget for insurance and a used car loan is simply unmoored from reality.

And perhaps insurance is cheaper in other parts of the country, but I will bet good money some other line item in that budget increases. Like the cost of an annual automobile license (higher in FL than MI) or a mandatory vehicle emissions test (required in CA but not MI).

Roughly 50% of Americans can’t get their hands on $400 cash for an emergency. Imagine if your insurer dropped you and you’re a fast food worker living to this prospective budget. That’s where VISA comes in with an opportunity to finance your emergency, compounding the stranglehold minimum wage has on your life.

God help you if you’re trying to put yourself through college without scholarships or family assistance. Even the imaginary example student attending Lansing Community College will pay more than $65,500 for four years. How long will it take to get through a four-year degree if one works ~83 hours a week? How long will it take to pay off school loans if one manages to break out of fast food service work after graduation — let’s say they double or triple their wages to $14.50 or $21.75 hour? This prospective student faces somewhere between 12 and 15 years of payments ranging from $950 to $1050 per month, and payments may begin as early as NOW while attending school at $650 per month.

You will be in debt for much of your adult life. There will be no extra money for anything.

Maybe the rare avocado toast, if you can find one marked down in the Damaged bin or live someplace warm where fallen avocados can be found for free. And maybe if you can afford bread this week.

“But millennials buying pricey iPhones!” some out-of-touch jackass might say. Let’s say you’re a fast food worker who might have to change housing at any time because rent has increased dramatically in your city. Even my example dude in innocuous Lansing faces a +7% increase in rent each year though his wages have been stagnant. Your entire life — telephone, computer, internet access, records, more — resides in a single, portable device. Of course you’ll pay more for a phone which hails a tow truck when your ratty little car breaks down, or finds you a quick cash gig (or a plasma blood bank) to pay for repairs. That phone is your lifeline, the lifesaver you can count on unlike white-collar jerk-offs who have no clue what you’re going through to survive.

And God help you if you get sick or injured. You can’t count on your elected officials to make sure you’ll be healthy enough to show up to work those ~83 hours a week.

Indentured servitude, without a contract, that’s what this budget reflects. Product marketing by modern slavers.

And they can’t understand why millennials are killing so many things like fast food businesses. They simply can’t afford them.

Blogger since 2002, political activist since 2003, geek since birth. Opinions informed by mixed-race, multi-ethnic, cis-female condition, further shaped by kind friends of all persuasions. Sci-tech frenemy, wannabe artist, decent cook, determined author, successful troublemaker. Mother of invention and two excessively smart-assed young adult kids. Attended School of Hard Knocks; Rather Unfortunate Smallish Private Business School in Midwest; Affordable Mid-State Community College w/evening classes. Self-employed at Tiny Consulting Business; previously at Large-ish Chemical Company with HQ in Midwest in multiple marginalizing corporate drone roles, and at Rather Big IT Service Provider as a project manager, preceded by a motley assortment of gigs before the gig economy was a thing. Blogging experience includes a personal blog at the original blogs.salon.com, managing editor for a state-based news site, and a stint at Firedoglake before landing here at emptywheel as technology’s less-virginal-but-still-accursed Cassandra.

The Future of Work Part 4: The Kinds Of Jobs That Are At Risk

Recent improvements in hardware, a massive increase in the number of processors available, and new math tools have increased concerns that computers may soon replace millions of workers. The shorthand for this is Artificial Intelligence, although the term seems like hyperbole considering the kinds of things computers can do at present. The Obama White House issued a paper on this issue, Artificial Intelligence, Automation and the Economy, which can be found here. It cites two studies of the impact of AI on automation over then next 10 years or so. One, by the OECD, estimates about 9% of US jobs may be lost to automation. The other is a more interesting 2013 paper by two professors at Oxford, Carl Benedikt Frey and Michael A. Osborne, estimating that as many as 49% of US jobs could be lost or seriously affected over 10 or so years.

The Frey-Osborne Paper is here. Frey is a professor in a public policy college, and Osborne is in the engineering college; they aren’t economists. Perhaps for that reason, the introductory sections are instructive on the history of technological change and some of its effects on society. The technical approach of the Frey-Osborne Paper is to identify the bottlenecks that make it difficult to automate the tasks needed in a specific job. They use machine learning to identify patterns in the skills needed by specific jobs.

The authors identify three main bottlenecks to automation:

1. Tasks requiring perception and manipulation. P. 24
2. Tasks requiring creative intelligence. P. 25
3. Tasks requiring social intelligence. P. 26

The O-NET database of jobs is managed by the US Department of Labor. The current version contains detailed descriptions of job tasks for 903 occupations. Here are the top eight tasks of 21 listed for forest firefighter, one of the bright future jobs according to O-NET,:

Rescue fire victims, and administer emergency medical aid.

Establish water supplies, connect hoses, and direct water onto fires.

Patrol burned areas after fires to locate and eliminate hot spots that may restart fires.

Inform and educate the public about fire prevention.

Participate in physical training to maintain high levels of physical fitness.

Orient self in relation to fire, using compass and map, and collect supplies and equipment dropped by parachute.

Fell trees, cut and clear brush, and dig trenches to create firelines, using axes, chainsaws or shovels.

Maintain knowledge of current firefighting practices by participating in drills and by attending seminars, conventions, and conferences.

Frey and Osborne describe their methodology as follows:

First, together with a group of [machine learning] researchers, we subjectively hand-labelled 70 occupations, assigning 1 if automatable, and 0 if not. For our subjective assessments, we draw upon a workshop held at the Oxford University Engineering Sciences Department, examining the automatability of a wide range of tasks. Our label assignments were based on eyeballing the O-NET tasks and job description of each occupation.

They identified nine variables related to the three bottlenecks and assigned levels of difficulty of the variables in carrying out each task, high, medium, or low. Then they verified their data, and used it as training data in a machine learning program. The paper gives a description of the way they prepared and ran the rest of the O-NET data through the trained machine to estimate the likelihood that each job would be automated over the next 10 years or so. They produced a chart showing the likely effects of AI on categories of jobs. The following chart shows the results of their work.

The authors say that large numbers of transportation and logistics workers, office workers and administrative support workers are at risk. They also think many service workers are at risk as robots become more efficient. They think people whose jobs require great manual dexterity and perception, or high levels of creativity, or strong social intelligence are reasonably safe in the near term. They assert that low-skill workers will have to move to jobs in the service sector that require these skills, and will have to sharpen their own through training and education.

There have been several articles on this issue lately. This one by Reuters says that investors think the future is in automation. Since the election shares in companies working in that area are up dramatically as is an ETF in the sector. Reuters says that this means that investors think that Trump’s assertion he will increase jobs in the manufacturing sector will not happen. Instead, as the cost of advanced technology drops labor becomes expendable. Any increase in manufacturing will have little effect on overall unemployment, as displaced workers move to other jobs with the same employers doing “value-added” tasks.

Matthew Yglesias goes a step farther in this 2015 post at Vox. He says the big problem in job growth in the US is the lack of increase in productivity due to inadequate automation. He thinks rising productivity is essential to higher wages, or more likely a reduction in the time spent working. Yglesias lays out the case for not worrying. He ignores, as all economists do, the possibility that the returns from work might be shared more equitably between capital and labor. His relentless optimism contrasts with the lived experience of millions of Americans, the real lives that gave us Trumpism.

I wonder what Yglesias makes of this article in the Guardian discussing the efforts of the billionaire Ray Dalio to create software to manage the day-to-day operations of the world’s largest hedge fund in accordance with “… a set of principles laid out by Dalio about the company vision.” The article provides a more pessimistic view of the future even for management work.

I don’t have an opinion about these forecasts or the reasoning behind them. Yglesias says people will work less, but doesn’t explain how workers who have no bargaining power will be able to increase their income enough to have free time. Dalio must think that he is so wise that his AI automaton will replicate his success forever, and that his competitors won’t take advantage of the rigidity of his principles.

Suppose that the investors described by Reuters are right, that manufacturing increases but without increased employment in the sector. What will all those Trump voters do next? Change their minds about what they want from the economy and the government that fosters it, and live happily ever after?

I think both Yglesias and Dalio are so steeped in neoliberal economics with its model of human beings as Homo Economicus that they assume these changes will come about smoothly. Nothing else will change; there are no dynamic tipping points. No large number of human beings will raise hell. There will be no feedback effects. The displaced of all ages will just retrain to some other job and/or resign themselves to their reduced lives. They won’t resist, or riot, or insist on government protection, or demand a completely new system. Investment bankers will blandly accept the judgment of computers as to their value and will not insist on being treated like superstars even if the machine says they are just gas giants.

Yglesias and Dalio are wrong. That is precisely what history says won’t happen.

Notre Dame undergrad (math); JD, Indiana University at Bloomington; 1st Lieutenant, US Army.; private practice in corporate and securities law; Assistant AG in Tennessee for consumer protection and securities; Blue Sky Securities Commissioner, Tennessee; private practice, bankruptcy and corporate law.

I have had a lifelong interest in economics. For most of my career, that interest was practical, focused on the problems in front of me. Lately I have been more interested in economics as a theory, especially its impact on the lives of people like those I met in my bankruptcy practice, and on the politics of money in the US. I also enjoy reading philosophers, starting in college and steadily expanding my reading ever since. I wrote at FireDogLake for a number of years.

Generally, I think the problem facing the US is the dominance of neoliberal discourse. I think it clouds the vision, and limits the kinds of problems that can be identified and solved. For example, the existence and danger of climate change can easily be identified in a scientific discussion. However, the problem does not fit the neoliberal discourse because science insists that the pursuit of individual and corporate self-interest will lead to devastation. In neoliberal discourse, the pursuit of self-interest always leads to Eden.

The neoliberal project has two prongs. One is the police function of crushing dissent and alternative views. The police function is provided by government agencies and private and institutional actors. The counterpart is the economic system , which is operated by government and by private and institutional actors. Some of these actors operate in both spheres. I focus on the second prong.

The Future of Work Part 1: John Maynard Keynes

As the global depression spiraled towards its depths in 1930, John Maynard Keynes wrote a cheerful article on the future of work: Economic Possibilities for our Grandchildren. He argued that it wouldn’t be too long before capital accumulation and technological change would come near to solving the economic problem of material subsistence, of producing enough goods and services to provide everyone with the necessities of life and largely relieving them of the burden of work.

The paper begins with a very brief description of the problems of the time:

We are suffering, not from the rheumatics of old age, but from the growing-pains of over-rapid changes, from the painfulness of readjustment between one economic period and another. The increase of technical efficiency has been taking place faster than we can deal with the problem of labour absorption; the improvement in the standard of life has been a little too quick; the banking and monetary system of the world has been preventing the rate of interest from falling as fast as equilibrium requires.

This statement anticipates the views of Karl Polanyi in The Great Transformation, and of Hannah Arendt in The Origins of Totalitarianism. They argue persuasively that massive technological changes led to changes in social structures which were profoundly upsetting to large numbers of people. Polanyi says that a decent society would take steps to relieve people of these stresses, perhaps by forcing a slower pace of change, or perhaps by legislation to protect the masses. Arendt claims that for a while, imperialism offered a solution by absorbing some of the excess workers. Both believed that the stresses of constant change and displacement of workers played an important role in the rise of fascism.

Keynes then points out the history of growth in world output. From the earliest time of which we have records, he says, to the early 1700s, there was little or no change in the standard of life of the average man. There were periods of increase and decrease, but the average was well under .5%, and never more than 1% in any period. The things available at the end of that period are not much different from those available at the beginning. He argues that growth began to accelerate when capital began to accumulate, around 1700.

It’s interesting to note that this sketch of economic history accords nicely with that provided by Thomas Piketty in Capital In The Twenty-First Century. This is Piketty’s Table 2.5. Compare this with Figure 2.4, The growth rate of world per capita output since Antiquity until 2100.

Keynes argues that since 1700 there has been a great improvement in the lives of most people, and there is every reason to think that will continue. Certainly there was the then current problem of technological unemployment, with technology displacing people faster than the it was creating new jobs. But he says it is reasonable to think that in 100 years, by 2030, people will be 8 times better off, absent war and other factors. He says there are two kinds of needs, those that are absolute, and those with the sole function of making us feel superior to others. The latter may be insatiable, he says, but the former aren’t, and we are getting closer to satisfying them. In so doing, we are getting close to solving the ancient economic problem: the struggle for subsistence.

That problem is indeed ancient. It shows up in Genesis, 3:17. Adam and Eve have eaten the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, and the Almighty punishes Adam with these words:

To Adam he said, “Because you listened to your wife and ate fruit from the tree about which I commanded you, ‘You must not eat from it,’ “Cursed is the ground because of you; through painful toil you will eat food from it all the days of your life.

To be relieved of this ancient curse should be a wonderful thing. Keynes doesn’t think it will be an easy transition though. The struggle for subsistence is replaced by a new problem: how to use the new freedom, how to use the new-found leisure. He thinks people will have to have some work, at least at first, to give us time as a species to learn to enjoy leisure. He thinks that those driven to make tons of money will be seen once again in moral terms: as committing the sin of Avarice. They will be ignored or controlled in the interests of the rest of us.

As it turns out, this wasn’t one of Keynes’ better predictions. It isn’t clear that there is such a thing as a minimum absolute needs, for example, and technology has not yet removed the need for all work. Still, the goal of solving the economic problem seems sensible, and his discussion of the problems of a possible transition seems accurate.

People want to work, and they want everyone else to work too. There have been a number of reported interviews with Trump voters, many of who claim that this has become a give-away society. People complain that it pays better to be out of work than in work because of all the free stuff you get, health care (Medicare), free phones, food stamps, SSDI, free housing and so on, so they voted for Trump thinking he’d fix it so that only the deserving poor would get that free stuff. They think people don’t want to work, which feels like projection, and if they have to work, everyone should. Work has a number of social benefits, including a sense of purpose, responsibility, and pride. How are these to be handled in Keynes’ Eden?

The pace of technological change has picked up. It not only affects blue-collar workers, it’s starting to hit on doctors, lawyers and even translators. Here’s an article on improvements in translation based on neural network machine learning from the New York Times Magazine; and here’s a report from the White House on the impact of artificial intelligence on jobs. And here’s an article in the NYT’s Upshot column discussing the White House Report, and a rebuttal from Dean Baker.

These problems are crucial to the future of democracy. They concern the nature of our institutions and our social structures, as well as questions about our nature as human beings. I’ll take these up in more detail in future posts in this series.

Update: Here’s a link to the Keynes paper discussed in this post.

Notre Dame undergrad (math); JD, Indiana University at Bloomington; 1st Lieutenant, US Army.; private practice in corporate and securities law; Assistant AG in Tennessee for consumer protection and securities; Blue Sky Securities Commissioner, Tennessee; private practice, bankruptcy and corporate law.

I have had a lifelong interest in economics. For most of my career, that interest was practical, focused on the problems in front of me. Lately I have been more interested in economics as a theory, especially its impact on the lives of people like those I met in my bankruptcy practice, and on the politics of money in the US. I also enjoy reading philosophers, starting in college and steadily expanding my reading ever since. I wrote at FireDogLake for a number of years.

Generally, I think the problem facing the US is the dominance of neoliberal discourse. I think it clouds the vision, and limits the kinds of problems that can be identified and solved. For example, the existence and danger of climate change can easily be identified in a scientific discussion. However, the problem does not fit the neoliberal discourse because science insists that the pursuit of individual and corporate self-interest will lead to devastation. In neoliberal discourse, the pursuit of self-interest always leads to Eden.

The neoliberal project has two prongs. One is the police function of crushing dissent and alternative views. The police function is provided by government agencies and private and institutional actors. The counterpart is the economic system , which is operated by government and by private and institutional actors. Some of these actors operate in both spheres. I focus on the second prong.

Vox Media, Where You Can Make $15 an Hour to Insinuate Fight for $15 Is Just about Alliteration

A lot of people are bitching about the sheer snottiness of this passage in a Vox piece arguing that fighting for $15 minimum wage will lead, instead, to the automation of those minimum wage jobs.

The McDonald’s experiment with touchscreen ordering systems illustrates the potential problem with making high minimum wages effective across big states like California and New York — both of which passed minimum wage increases this year. If McDonald’s automates its locations in Manhattan, San Francisco, and Silicon Valley, displaced workers shouldn’t have too much trouble finding alternative work in the booming economies of these cities as barbers, servers at full-service restaurants, nannies, and so forth. With lots of wealthy customers around, there’s a robust demand for unskilled service workers there.

But the outlook might not be so rosy in cities like Fresno, California, or Rochester, New York, where the economy is not booming and average wages are much lower. If a $15 minimum wage causes fast-food jobs to be automated in these cities, workers may not be able to find alternate work. A law designed to put more money in workers’ pockets could wind up putting a lot less money in their pockets instead.

It’s easy to get people fired up about an alliterative slogan like “Fight for $15.” But alliteration isn’t necessarily a good way to choose a policy goal. The implicit idea here — that people everywhere should get the same minimum wage whether they live in a booming, expensive metropolis or a struggling town with a low cost of living — doesn’t make a lot of sense. [my emphasis]

The Fight for 15 has more to do with what is a living wage than poetic devices. Indeed, even $15 actually doesn’t pay enough to rent an apartment, even in the hinterlands.

But I’m just as disgusted by the suggestion that if people live in booming economies, they can get jobs making $15 an hour as a barber or a restaurant server.

They also could, with some prior experience, apply to be Vox’s “race and identities” writing fellow for … $15 an hour.

screen-shot-2016-11-30-at-5-51-27-pm

And that’s to live in NYC or DC, cities where $15 an hour is well below a living wage.

Maybe Vox just plans on automating their race coverage if no one will take this job?

Update: Vox’s Managing Editor just announced on Twitter they will be increasing the rate for this and other fellowships. Good!

Marcy has been blogging full time since 2007. She’s known for her live-blogging of the Scooter Libby trial, her discovery of the number of times Khalid Sheikh Mohammed was waterboarded, and generally for her weedy analysis of document dumps.

Marcy Wheeler is an independent journalist writing about national security and civil liberties. She writes as emptywheel at her eponymous blog, publishes at outlets including the Guardian, Salon, and the Progressive, and appears frequently on television and radio. She is the author of Anatomy of Deceit, a primer on the CIA leak investigation, and liveblogged the Scooter Libby trial.

Marcy has a PhD from the University of Michigan, where she researched the “feuilleton,” a short conversational newspaper form that has proven important in times of heightened censorship. Before and after her time in academics, Marcy provided documentation consulting for corporations in the auto, tech, and energy industries. She lives with her spouse and dog in Grand Rapids, MI.

Killer Football Is Trashing Its Real Capital

So we are on to week two of Trash Talk for the nascent NFL season, and week three for the NCAA. There is a ton that could be unpacked as to the particular players, plays and whatnot but, as was the case with the first week, I have little inclination to do so anymore, at least not at great length. Maybe just a little later on, but there are more pressing matters at hand.

Football is hard to turn away from, it is great pageantry and spectacle. It is incredibly compelling sport. But the game is at a crossroad as to its deadly nature and its decimation of its real capital: the players. A stunning article came out yesterday from PBS Frontline:

A total of 87 out of 91 former NFL players have tested positive for the brain disease at the center of the debate over concussions in football, according to new figures from the nation’s largest brain bank focused on the study of traumatic head injury.

Researchers with the Department of Veterans Affairs and Boston University have now identified the degenerative disease known as chronic traumatic encephalopathy, or CTE, in 96 percent of NFL players that they’ve examined and in 79 percent of all football players. The disease is widely believed to stem from repetitive trauma to the head, and can lead to conditions such as memory loss, depression and dementia.

In total, the lab has found CTE in the brain tissue in 131 out of 165 individuals who, before their deaths, played football either professionally, semi-professionally, in college or in high school.

Wow. We have known for quite a while about CTE and its debilitating, and sometimes deadly, effects on football players. But the starkly presented facts portrayed in the PBS piece are really eye opening. And people are talking about it. It is in the regular news rotation at CNN this morning, and you know how muchit had to pain the programmers and producers at CNN a LOT to eat into their All Trump, All The Time philosophy.

But the NFL is being a good corporate citizen and proactively protecting their players, right? No, maybe not so much. While Roger Goodell and the NFL paint a happy face on their “improvements”, the real fact of the matter is that their “progress” is mostly just another Roger Goodell and NFL PR shitshow. Do take a look at the above trailer for the movie “Concussion” set to be released in December. It looks fantastic.

Again, from the PBS Frontline article we started out with:

The film, Concussion, starring Will Smith, traces the story of Bennet Omalu, who in 2005 shocked the football establishment with an article in the journal Neurosurgery detailing his discovery of CTE in the brain of former Pittsburgh Steelers center Mike Webster. At the VA lab and elsewhere, CTE has since been found in players such as Hall of Famer Junior Seau, former NFL Man of the Year Dave Duerson, and Colts tight end John Mackey, a past head of the player’s union.

While the story is not a new one, for the NFL, it represents a high-profile and potentially embarrassing cinematic interpretation of a period in which the league sought to refute research suggesting football may contribute to brain disease.

From 2003 to 2009, for example, the NFL’s now disbanded Mild Traumatic Brain Injury Committee concluded in a series of scientific papers that “no NFL player” had experienced chronic brain damage from repeat concussions, and that “Professional football players do not sustain frequent repetitive blows to the brain on a regular basis.”

In the case of Omalu, league doctors publicly assailed his research, and in a rare move, demanded a retraction of his study. When Omalu spoke to FRONTLINE about the incident for the 2013 documentary, League of Denial: The NFL’s Concussion Crisis, he said, “You can’t go against the NFL. They’ll squash you.”

“THEY WILL SQUASH YOU”. Yes, that is exactly the consistent message from the oh so “fan friendly” good ‘ole NFL of Roger Goodell, and the billionaire owner baby tyrants he works for. Little different than coal mine owners, the NFL cares primarily about their bottom line. First they look at the purse. This is why the Brady/NFLPA case is so important. And why Bountygate, Ray Rice and Adrian Peterson’s cases before it, were all so important. And, yes, even the disciplinary travails of James Harrison. They all reflect the ad hoc, arbitrary and capricious, and self serving nature of the treatment of labor by owners and management in the NFL.

You may see them only as millionaire malefactor petulant football players out doing bad things and think they deserve what they get. And maybe that is true in most cases. Ray Rice absolutely assaulted his fiancé and now wife Janay. Adrian Peterson, engaged in punishment of a child that was pretty common when I was a kid, but is entirely medieval by today’s standards.

Say what you will, where there is wildly disproportionate power between ownership/management and labor, and where there has been a collectively bargained agreement to protect labor, that must be jealously protected. That is exactly why Tom Brady is so critical. Brady is no gangster nor domestic abuser. He is the furthest thing from it; indeed, Brady is Mr. Clean Cut GQ All American. If Roger Goodell and the NFL he represents can arbitrarily, capriciously and imperiously take out Tom Brady – on trumped up junk with no credible evidentiary basis whatsoever – and can do so in a biased and unfair process, then all of labor loses. Not just high flying football players, but teachers, autoworkers, miners, and rank and file employees of all stripes and colors.

I digressed a little from today’s CTE issue, but the labor issue is intertwined. The players need more honesty, more protection, and more complete future medical coverage from the NFL because of the disease that is CTE. That, my friends, is a labor issue, and a huge one. And Roger Goodell and the NFL are already acting in bad faith in their “settlement” efforts as to long past players. It is simply pitiful.

So, what about this week? I dunno. The Broncos looked like toast through 7 of their first 8 quarters of the season. But, the Donks are 2-0. If Manning and Kubiak can find a mutual equilibrium, watch out, because Von Miller, Aqib Talib and the defense are some flat out ball hawks. Yak all you want about Peyton’s decline and fall, and maybe it is true. But do NOT sleep on these guys.

Cowboys, Gents or Iggles? Yeah, I have no clue there either.’Boys looked best week one, not sure I buy it. Why is RGIII still on the active roster of the Washington Professional Football Franchise? Seriously, the Washingtonians are like the Duggars of football; it is on public view, but it is all horrible. The Eagles? Hmmm, Chip Kelly’s troops better show up this week or else the great hype is dead.

Aaron Rodgers is a renaissance man (this is a fantastic article). Oh, and Go Pack! against those pesky Seasquawks. This time it is at Lambeau in title town. There are other games of note too, including, of course Bill Bel and the Brays at the Wagon Circling Bills. That is shaping up to be some big fun.

So, go whoop it up and have some fun. The game goes on, even if a reckoning is necessary. The music number today is First I Look At The Purse by the J. Geils Band, and is in honor of the craven Roger Goodell and the NFL I described above.

Bmaz is a rather large saguaro cactus in the Southwestern Sonoran desert. A lover of the Constitution, law, family, sports, food and spirits. As you might imagine, a bit prickly occasionally. Bmaz has attended all three state universities in Arizona, with both undergraduate and graduate degrees from Arizona State University, and with significant post-graduate work (in physics and organic chemistry, go figure) at both the University of Colorado in Boulder and the University of Arizona. Married, with both a lovely child and a giant Sasquatch dog. Bmaz has been a participant on the internet since the early 2000’s, including active participation in the precursor to Emptywheel, The Next Hurrah. Formally joined the Emptywheel blog as an original contributing member at its founding in 2007. Bmaz grew up around politics, education, sports and, most significantly, cars; notably around Formula One racing and Concours de Elegance automobile restoration and showing. Currently lives in the Cactus Patch with his lovely wife and beast of a dog, and practices both criminal and civil trial law.

Beyond Deflategate: The NFL Season Begins

Hi there! How ya doing! Because I have been oppressed with this Tom Brady porn bullshit from blog partner and sister, that Wheel person. Very ugly and unnecessary. But I am going to let it stand for all of posterity, not to mention both of our posteriors. Still, you have to wonder when enough is enough (like when she hijacked my last post).

I used to love her, but….

So, enough about yer local riff raff, and about #Deflategate (which was bullshit from the inception) let’s get on to the game at hand. That would be the Patriots versus the Steelers.

Yes, Brady has a giant chip on his shoulder. Yes the Pats are defending Superbowl champs and Big Ben and the Steelers are not. Nevertheless, this is one hell of a season opening game. In fact, it is pretty hard to imagine a better one under the circumstances. Say what you will about how any got there, there are only a precious few at the top of all time winners in the Super Bowl era. They include the Steelers and Pats. And, yes, the Steelers, for all the Pats glory in the last 15 years, are still winning that overall matchup. The 49ers, Packers, Cowboys and Gents are totally in there, but the more recent elite are pretty clear.

So, here we are. Steelers have Big Ben and….what? Ben Roethlisberger and Antonio Brown are as good a duo as you can get. But without Bell, who is suspended, in the backfield, that is going to place some extra pressure on the Steelers offense. A face Bill Belichick undoubtedly knows. By the same token, the Pats pass defense rests on a backfield without either Darrell Revis of Brandon Browner. Pretty easy to see Malcomb Butler continuing to become a stud above and beyond his one play Super Bowl XLIX heroics, but similarly hard to see there not being some early hiccups in that road. Would not want to be Butler on Antonio Brown tonight.

But will DeAngelo Williams, who will sub for Bell and Cody Wallace, who is subbing for center Maurkice Pouncey, be able to pick up the slack? Yes, I think so, but not nearly enough.

That said, the Patriots are without LeGarrette Blount, due to a one game suspension. I think that Dion Lewis (who is potentially breakout star) and Travaris Cadet will come out of nowhere to semi-carry the load. So, both sides have some issue at running back, but, hopefully, capable backups. I’d give a slight edge to the Pats, but by a VERY slight margin.

We all know the QB’s on these two respective teams. They are both great. Hard to see an edge here other than the psychological harden that Brady may have. But I am not putting that much in that, Ben will come to play too.

Comes down to defense. Call me crazy, and probably you should for this, but I think the Pats have the edge on the new, dick LeBeau-less, and untested, Steeler’s defense. Troy Polamalu and Ryan Clark ain’t walking through that tunnel. Especially so with the questions in the Pittsburgh offensive line. If there is a win here, that, and a pissed off Brady, are where I see it. And that is where I see it, the Steelers are good, but the Brady’s come out roaring and winning tonight. don’t make me regret this Deflators!

So, there you have it. #Deflategate is still a legal pile of dubious garbage manufactured, as is now even more clear, by an arbitrary and capricious, if not arrogantly craven, Roger Goddell and the NFL. We shall deal with that more later. For now, trash it up and let loose the dogs of football war.

And that is that. On top is an incredible Taiwanese animation on the latest ESPN slanted bunk trying to give cover to the NFL for #Deflategate. It’s really awesome. Lower is one of my newest favorite bands, this one from down under, specifically Perth, Boom! Bap! Pow! Yeah, that is their name, and they are killer.

The real football season is upon us folks, rip this joint.

Bmaz is a rather large saguaro cactus in the Southwestern Sonoran desert. A lover of the Constitution, law, family, sports, food and spirits. As you might imagine, a bit prickly occasionally. Bmaz has attended all three state universities in Arizona, with both undergraduate and graduate degrees from Arizona State University, and with significant post-graduate work (in physics and organic chemistry, go figure) at both the University of Colorado in Boulder and the University of Arizona. Married, with both a lovely child and a giant Sasquatch dog. Bmaz has been a participant on the internet since the early 2000’s, including active participation in the precursor to Emptywheel, The Next Hurrah. Formally joined the Emptywheel blog as an original contributing member at its founding in 2007. Bmaz grew up around politics, education, sports and, most significantly, cars; notably around Formula One racing and Concours de Elegance automobile restoration and showing. Currently lives in the Cactus Patch with his lovely wife and beast of a dog, and practices both criminal and civil trial law.

The Dolphin Code: NFL Gangsta in Miami

We are going to take a little detour in our weekly lighthearted football trash talk here at the Emptywheel Blog. I will return to the actual games at the end of this post, but for now I want to discuss a hideous and, hopefully, transformative moment in football – the abusive workplace environment to which the Miami Dolphins subjected Jonathan Martin.

As you may know by now, Jonathan Martin is the second year Miami Dolphins offensive tackle who has left the team because of harassment, primarily by fellow offensive lineman Richie Incognito, but apparently by other teammates as well.

The official statement by Martin’s lawyer, David Cornwell (a fantastic attorney by the way), gives a pretty fine synopsis of the situation:

Jonathan Martin’s toughness is not at issue. Jonathan has started every game with the Miami Dolphins since he was drafted in 2012. At Stanford, he was the anchor for Jim Harbaugh’s “smash mouth” brand of football and he protected Andrew Luck’s blind side.

The issue is Jonathan’s treatment by his teammates. Jonathan endured harassment that went far beyond the traditional locker room hazing. For the entire season-and-a-half that he was with the Dolphins, he attempted to befriend the same teammates who subjected him to the abuse with the hope that doing so would end the harassment. This is a textbook reaction of victims of bullying. Despite these efforts, the taunting continued. Beyond the well-publicized voice mail with its racial epithet, Jonathan endured a malicious physical attack on him by a teammate, and daily vulgar comments such as the quote at the bottom. These facts are not in dispute.

Eventually, Jonathan made a difficult choice. Despite his love for football, Jonathan left the Dolphins. Jonathan looks forward to getting back to playing football. In the meantime, he will cooperate fully with the NFL investigation.

Quote from teammate: “We are going to run train on your sister. . . . She loves me. I am going to f–k her without a condom and c– in her c—.”

That was on top of the fact direct racial animus evidencing epithets from Incognito to Martin were already known to be in play.

“Hey, wassup, you half n—– piece of s—. I saw you on Twitter, you been training 10 weeks. [I want to] s— in your f—ing mouth. [I’m going to] slap your f—ing mouth. [I’m going to] slap your real mother across the face [laughter]. F— you, you’re still a rookie. I’ll kill you.”

This is beyond ugly conduct, and, frankly, beyond simple “harassment”. Worse, it appears that it was a pattern of conduct not only encouraged, but requested by Dolphins’ management. They ordered a code red on Jonathan Martin.

Jason Whitlock had a very provocative take on the effect of incarceration and thug culture in general at play, a take that rings all too, uncomfortably, true. Dave Zirin at The Nation has a fine take on what the “Bully Solidarity” of the Dolphins organization in the Martin matter means.

So, this hideous and intolerable conduct is legally actionable against Incognito (and the Dolphins via vicarious liability) by Jonathan Martin, right? Sure, anybody can sue anybody else, and Martin can certainly bring a civil complaint here. But the chances of success are far more tenuous than you likely think Read more

Bmaz is a rather large saguaro cactus in the Southwestern Sonoran desert. A lover of the Constitution, law, family, sports, food and spirits. As you might imagine, a bit prickly occasionally. Bmaz has attended all three state universities in Arizona, with both undergraduate and graduate degrees from Arizona State University, and with significant post-graduate work (in physics and organic chemistry, go figure) at both the University of Colorado in Boulder and the University of Arizona. Married, with both a lovely child and a giant Sasquatch dog. Bmaz has been a participant on the internet since the early 2000’s, including active participation in the precursor to Emptywheel, The Next Hurrah. Formally joined the Emptywheel blog as an original contributing member at its founding in 2007. Bmaz grew up around politics, education, sports and, most significantly, cars; notably around Formula One racing and Concours de Elegance automobile restoration and showing. Currently lives in the Cactus Patch with his lovely wife and beast of a dog, and practices both criminal and civil trial law.

Today’s Labor Heroes Are Working Today

Unless there’s some breaking news (like this AT&T story, which I’ll get to tomorrow), I’m going to take a break from surveillance and Syria war posts today. The day is supposed to pay tribute to the great contribution organized labor has made to this country.

But I couldn’t help but think that, while many Americans have a day off thanks to fights waged in the past (fights those Americans often forget), some of today’s most important labor heroes will be at work today.

Just about the bravest, most exciting labor fight being waged today is the slowly growing series of protests by fast food workers — with strikes in 60 cities last week — who are demanding the right to organize and calling for a $15 hour wage. The fight is more than just a battle for wages, it’s a battle for the principle that a job should provide a livable wage, and a battle for the principle that even laborers spread out across the country, potentially at franchises owned by small businessmen, should have some representation.

But today, many of these poorly paid workers will be at work, providing Americans a quick bite to eat as they head off to have their fun.

As you’re enjoying your day, take note of all the fast food restaurants that are open today and remember how many don’t even benefit from the battles won in the past.

Update: Fixed my spelling error, thanks to RTL.

Marcy has been blogging full time since 2007. She’s known for her live-blogging of the Scooter Libby trial, her discovery of the number of times Khalid Sheikh Mohammed was waterboarded, and generally for her weedy analysis of document dumps.

Marcy Wheeler is an independent journalist writing about national security and civil liberties. She writes as emptywheel at her eponymous blog, publishes at outlets including the Guardian, Salon, and the Progressive, and appears frequently on television and radio. She is the author of Anatomy of Deceit, a primer on the CIA leak investigation, and liveblogged the Scooter Libby trial.

Marcy has a PhD from the University of Michigan, where she researched the “feuilleton,” a short conversational newspaper form that has proven important in times of heightened censorship. Before and after her time in academics, Marcy provided documentation consulting for corporations in the auto, tech, and energy industries. She lives with her spouse and dog in Grand Rapids, MI.

In These Times We Can’t Blindly Trust Government to Respect Freedom of Association

One of my friends, who works in a strategic role at American Federation of Teachers, is Iranian-American. I asked him a few weeks ago whom he called in Iran; if I remember correctly (I’ve been asking a lot of Iranian-Americans whom they call in Iran) he said it was mostly his grandmother, who’s not a member of the Republican Guard or even close. Still, according to the statement that Dianne Feinstein had confirmed by NSA Director Keith Alexander, calls “related to Iran” are fair game for queries of the dragnet database of all Americans’ phone metadata.

Chances are slim that my friend’s calls to his grandmother are among the 300 identifiers the NSA queried last year, unless (as is possible) they monitored all calls to Iran. But nothing in the program seems to prohibit it, particularly given the government’s absurdly broad definitions of “related to” for issues of surveillance and its bizarre adoption of a terrorist program to surveil another nation-state. And if someone chose to query on my friend’s calls to his grandmother, using the two-degrees-of-separation query they have used in the past would give the government — not always the best friend of teachers unions — a pretty interesting picture of whom the AFT was partnering with and what it had planned.

In other words, nothing in the law or the known minimization rules of the Business Records provision would seem to protect some of the AFT’s organizational secrets just because they happen to employ someone whose grandmother is in Iran. That’s not the only obvious way labor discussions might come under scrutiny; Colombian human rights organizers with tangential ties to FARC is just one other one.

When I read labor organizer Louis Nayman’s “defense of PRISM,” it became clear he’s not aware of many details of the programs he defended. Just as an example, Nayman misstated this claim:

According to NSA officials, the surveillance in question has prevented at least 50 planned terror attacks against Americans, including bombings of the New York City subway system and the New York Stock Exchange. While such assertions from government officials are difficult to verify independently, the lack of attacks during the long stretch between 9/11 and the Boston Marathon bombings speaks for itself.

Keith Alexander didn’t say NSA’s use of Section 702 and Section 215 have thwarted 50 planned attacks against Americans; those 50 were in the US and overseas. He said only around 10 of those plots were in the United States. That works out to be less than 20% of the attacks thwarted in the US just between January 2009 and October 2012 (though these programs have existed for a much longer period of time, so the percentage must be even lower). And there are problems with three of the four cases publicly claimed by the government — from false positives and more important tips in the Najibullah Zazi case, missing details of the belated arrest of David Headley, to bogus claims that Khalid Ouazzan ever planned to attack NYSE. The sole story that has stood up to scrutiny is some guys who tried to send less than $10,000 to al-Shabaab.

While that doesn’t mean the NSA surveillance programs played no role, it does mean that the government’s assertions of efficacy (at least as it pertains to terrorism) have proven to be overblown.

Yet from that, Nayman concludes these programs have “been effective in keeping us safe” (given Nayman’s conflation of US and overseas, I wonder how families of the 166 Indians Headley had a hand in killing feel about that) and defends giving the government legal access (whether they’ve used it or not) to — among other things — metadata identifying the strategic partners of labor unions with little question.

And details about the success of the program are not the only statements made by top National Security officials that have proven inaccurate or overblown. That’s why Nayman would be far better off relying on Mark Udall and Ron Wyden as sources for whether or not the government can read US person emails without probable cause than misstating what HBO Director David Simon has said (Simon said that entirely domestic communications require probable cause, which is generally but not always true). And not just because the Senators are actually read into these programs. After the Senators noted that Keith Alexander had “portray[ed] protections for Americans’ privacy as being significantly stronger than they actually are” — specifically as it relates to what the government can do with US person communications collected “incidentally” to a target — Alexander withdrew his claims.

Nayman says, “As people who believe in government, we cannot simply assume that officials are abusing their lawfully granted responsibility and authority to defend our people from violence and harm.” I would respond that neither should we simply assume they’re not abusing their authority, particularly given evidence those officials have repeatedly misled us in the past.

Nayman then admits, “We should do all we can to assure proper oversight any time a surveillance program of any size and scope is launched.” But a big part of the problem with these programs is that the government has either not implemented or refused such oversight. Some holes in the oversight of the program are:

  • NSA has not said whether queries of the metadata dragnet database are electronically  recorded; both SWIFT and a similar phone metadata program queries have been either sometimes or always oral, making them impossible to audit
  • Read more
Marcy has been blogging full time since 2007. She’s known for her live-blogging of the Scooter Libby trial, her discovery of the number of times Khalid Sheikh Mohammed was waterboarded, and generally for her weedy analysis of document dumps.

Marcy Wheeler is an independent journalist writing about national security and civil liberties. She writes as emptywheel at her eponymous blog, publishes at outlets including the Guardian, Salon, and the Progressive, and appears frequently on television and radio. She is the author of Anatomy of Deceit, a primer on the CIA leak investigation, and liveblogged the Scooter Libby trial.

Marcy has a PhD from the University of Michigan, where she researched the “feuilleton,” a short conversational newspaper form that has proven important in times of heightened censorship. Before and after her time in academics, Marcy provided documentation consulting for corporations in the auto, tech, and energy industries. She lives with her spouse and dog in Grand Rapids, MI.

The Internet Didn’t Kill the Middle Class; Laxity and Apathy Did

KodakBldgAtlanta_mcclanahoochie-Flickr_modIn tandem with the release of his book, Who Owns the Future?, Jaron Lanier’s interview with Salon generated a lot of hand-wringing across social media. It seems Lanier, one of our so-called intellectual visionaries, believes that the collapse of Kodak and its 140,000 jobs, and the rise of Instagram and its 13 jobs, exemplifies the killing field of the internet. Lanier theorizes good paying jobs that once supported a thriving middle class have disappeared as internet-enabled firms replaced them. As these jobs vaporized, so did necessary benefits. Here’s a key excerpt from the interview:

“Here’s a current example of the challenge we face,” he writes in the book’s prelude: “At the height of its power, the photography company Kodak employed more than 140,000 people and was worth $28 billion. They even invented the first digital camera. But today Kodak is bankrupt, and the new face of digital photography has become Instagram. When Instagram was sold to Facebook for a billion dollars in 2012, it employed only 13 people. Where did all those jobs disappear? And what happened to the wealth that all those middle-class jobs created?”

What a crock of decade-late shit.

Where the hell was Lanier in the late 1990s and early 2000s, when the U.S. manufacturing sector nose-dived due to government policies created by corporate-acquired elected officials and appointees?

It wasn’t the internet that killed the middle class. The apathy of intellectuals and the technology elite did; too few bothered to point out the potential repercussions of NAFTA and other domestic job-depleting policies. In the absence of thought leaders, corporatists sold the public and their electeds on job creation anticipated from globalizing policies; they just didn’t tell us the jobs created wouldn’t be ours.

It wasn’t the rise of digitization that killed the middle class. It was the insufficiency of protests among U.S. brain power, including publicly-funded academics, failing to advocate for labor and home-grown innovation; their ignorance about the nature of blue collar jobs and the creative output they help realize compounded the problem.

Manufacturing has increasingly reduced man hours in tandem with productivity-increasing technological improvements. It wasn’t the internet that killed these jobs, though technology reduced some of them. The inability to plan for the necessary shift of jobs to other fields revealed the lack of comprehensive, forward-thinking manufacturing and labor policies.

It all smells of Not-My-Problem, i.e., “I’m educated, technology-enabled, white collar; those stupid low-tech blue collar folks’ jobs aren’t my problem.”

Until suddenly it is. Read more

Blogger since 2002, political activist since 2003, geek since birth. Opinions informed by mixed-race, multi-ethnic, cis-female condition, further shaped by kind friends of all persuasions. Sci-tech frenemy, wannabe artist, decent cook, determined author, successful troublemaker. Mother of invention and two excessively smart-assed young adult kids. Attended School of Hard Knocks; Rather Unfortunate Smallish Private Business School in Midwest; Affordable Mid-State Community College w/evening classes. Self-employed at Tiny Consulting Business; previously at Large-ish Chemical Company with HQ in Midwest in multiple marginalizing corporate drone roles, and at Rather Big IT Service Provider as a project manager, preceded by a motley assortment of gigs before the gig economy was a thing. Blogging experience includes a personal blog at the original blogs.salon.com, managing editor for a state-based news site, and a stint at Firedoglake before landing here at emptywheel as technology’s less-virginal-but-still-accursed Cassandra.