Will Winking and Nodding Work on the New Overtime Rule?

Actors protest minimum wage hike that they say will kill small theaters in LA. March 2015

Actors protest minimum wage hike that they say will kill small theaters in LA. March 2015

New Orleans   The fallout and positioning over the doubling of the salary requirement for exemption from overtime to more than $47,000 continues unabated, and you can just feel the strain starting to burst the seams of the new rule. The complaints are just not coming from the usual crowd of corporate exploiters but also from creative and nonprofit outfits.

Publishers, magazines, editorial departments, writers’ unions, and Hollywood film operations are all saying out loud what others may be thinking, and that’s whether or not there’s a way around the new regulations. Many of them have specialized in semi-unpaid internships and a grueling diet of long hours and low pay as younger, inexperienced workers try to earn their chops in essentially work-based apprenticeships, sometimes subsidized by wealthier families and well-greased connections. If you look carefully at the masthead of some of the publications you see coming into your own homes, often you can find a listing of the current interns who come and go as regularly as widgets off the assembly line.

Much of this has just been standard operating procedure to get ahead, a way in Drake’s works of “starting at the bottom, but we’ll all here now.” A friend of my daughter’s was lucky to get a clerical job in a production studio. A cameraman for a documentary shoot, originally from Kansas City, but now in Brooklyn, told me he had been in the industry for 10 years, starting by bringing coffee, and the last 5 years with his hands on the camera. A daughter of close friends jumped around as an intern at the Boston Globe and Chicago Tribune before writing her way into a regular position as a journalist.

Nonprofits like the US Public Interest Research Group, the old Nader outfit, on the progressive side and Judicial Watch on the conservative side both raised objections about what overtime would mean to blocking their work and the responsibilities of junior staff. Both argued from their differing perspectives that this would be a problem.

And, it is. Recently I’ve had several conversations about whether it would be possible to build a Farmworkers movement or an ACORN in the future. The UFW famously paid $5 per day and room and board. ACORN for years advertised widely for organizers willing to work “long hours for low pay,” and both were true. For decades we defined the hours as being “until the work was done” be it 5 hours one day or 15 the next. When the limit was raised to $23000 plus, we raised everyone over that, which wouldn’t be possible at $47000 plus.

One Hollywooder, said he suspected there would be a lot of “winking and nodding” to try and get around the regs, but there’s risk there. For everyone that finds opportunity that way, there will eventually be someone who is disgruntled, and a quick trip to the Department of Labor Wage and Hour Division will end up as one of those situations of “pay me now or pay me later,” but either way, people will be paid.

I suspect the seam that might allow mass-based organizations to still develop lies somewhere at the nexus of informal work and self-employed, Uber-style contracting, but there’s a lot of tearing the hair and lectures from lawyers awaiting the organizations at the threshold of this brave new world before they jump into that dark and deep water. Nonetheless, I know I can’t be the only one standing at the dock trying to see the bottom and what might work.

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Please enjoy Eric Clapton’s Can’t Let You Do It. Thanks to KABF.

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Grandiosity and Self-Delusion Gone Wild, O’Keefe Has the Money to be Dangerous

Project Veritas 990

Project Veritas 990

New Orleans       Vigilance knows no holiday, nonetheless I don’t want to be a bore even while I write, Paul Revere style, from door to door crying out the alarm that James O’Keefe and his copycats are dangerous to democracy and chilling the efforts of mass organization and support. I beat this drum regularly, but found myself reading Jane Mayer’s article in The New Yorker called “Sting of Myself: Amateurish spies like James O’Keefe III attempt to sway the 2016 campaign” and forced to yell “Wolf!” everywhere I can be heard. I just sent the piece out to all corners where I work in the spirit of “be prepared!”

I’ve been arguing that O’Keefe’s credibility has been shot to smithereens, but I’m making the mistake of assuming that we are living and working in a rational political environment and that is clearly my bad. Most recently, he was caught amateurishly once again while trying to scam Open Society, the George Soros foundation, when he mistakenly kept babbling on his target’s voice mail. In a more normal world that might be the final straw, but, oh, no, not with this bad penny.

O’Keefe’s dark money funders have such deep pockets that putting some bets on him is the equivalent of picking up the bar tab on major league politics like a presidential campaign and therefore a trivial matter. His misnamed, Project Veritas, which gained an IRS tax exemption for charitable and educational activity, turns out to be raking in the dough. Mayer clearly looked at his IRS Form 990 filings and found that he took in $1.2 million in 2103 and then doubled down with $2.4 million in 2014. Likely when the 2015 filings become public, he will have added to that stash as well.

Justin Bieber has a new hit about a girl where he sings, “if you like the way you look that much, Oh, baby, you should go and love yourself.” He could have written that song about O’Keefe who is on a Trump-style ego trip of self-delusion, self-promotion and grandiosity, but like Trump and Bieber’s ex-girlfriend, that doesn’t mean he’s not very dangerous, especially now that he has a bank account to fuel his pomposity.

He claims he has the money to have buried his operatives in numerous campaigns, and that’s likely true though the notion that they are at the heart of anything rather than the periphery is unlikely, but that’s OK for O’Keefe, because that his modus operandi anyway. Taking trivia from low level, public-facing staff and volunteers and trying to make political scandal mountains from molehills is his shtick. I used to advise organizers to start with lower targets in a campaign to build momentum, saying metaphorically that they should “hit the meter reader” on their way to the top in utility campaign for example, but O’Keefe never gets above the meter reader because for all his big talk about upending politics, he’s really just trying to break back into the rightwing echo chamber that still listens to his line.

So, why not ignore him, as even Glenn Beck now does? Well, because the biggest problem with O’Keefe is that his presence on the scene is chilling to real work. He breeds caution in organizations that need to be aggressive. He and his imitators still leave many organizations afraid to engage in voter registration and engagement for fear of attack and infiltration by scurrilous means and reputational damage from public attack. He forces organizations and campaigns to spend time and money in internal training and self-protection rather than pursing their objectives and doing the work. For fear of seeing these sentences quoted in an O’Keefe fundraising pitch to some conservative, billionaire zealot, I should add that increasingly organizations have tightened up to the new reality of such scammers, caulked the holes, and stepped out again, and Jane Mayer’s effective outing of O’Keefe in such a prominent publication helps inoculate opinion makers, donors, politicians and others not to fall for this stuff in the future, which acts to effectively reinsert backbones where they were starting to sag under the constant assault of similar attacks.

His day might not be quite over, but hour by hour it’s coming closer to the end.

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Leaders Taking Charge in Rapidly Growing ACORN Canada

ACORN Canada leaders national board meeting in Ottawa

ACORN Canada leaders national board meeting in Ottawa

Toronto    Pushing thirteen years old, ACORN Canada is like a teenager going through a growth spurt, making it exciting to hear the passion and discussion of the ACORN board as they debated new directions, campaigns, and other initiatives. It was a time of transition with new leaders coming on board in full strength for the first time from Nova Scotia, new delegates elected from Ottawa and British Columbia and summer plans that could expand the organization into Winnipeg and Calgary in the western states for the first time. Yippee, kayay, here we come!

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The reports from the testimony made throughout the country via Skype teleconferencing to the Canadian Radio-Television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) on our demands for “internet for all” were, believe it or not, moving. And, they moved the head of the CRTC, who was honest enough to say so himself. The new delegate from Ottawa repeated the testimony that brought tears to her eyes, when one of the members had told the story of her 7-year old coming to her and asking if he could be sent to a foster home. A foster home, what in the world?!? The child said, if he were able to live with another family, then he could get a tablet and connect to the internet. Her face turned red as she told the story, and tears came to her eyes. Were the rest of us not so jaded, we all would have been weeping – such a sad, terrible, true story. We’re going to win something, but we may not win all we need to make sure 7-year olds never say this again, but we won’t stop until that day!

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There was also an exciting discussion, as I listened carefully, about the need for a national housing policy in Canada. Yes, inclusionary zoning and landlord licensing were huge issues everywhere, but the leadership wanted to figure out a way to double down, to increase security for tenants, to open up opportunities for home ownership, and to dramatically increase the pool of affordable housing. The discussion was so animated that lunch was late and the queue for more points to be made saw everyone around the board table throwing out suggestions. I was excited when the board passed a motion to investigate, research and move forward on finally doing what it took to win a community reinvestment act in Canada along the lines available in the United States for almost forty years. As importantly, the board unanimously demanded in the same motion that banks fully disclose not only their lending statistics for home mortgages but also for smaller consumer loans. Movement in this direction seemed natural since the refusal to by banks to lend small sums was forcing our members into fringe banking outfits like our payday lending nemesis of long standing.

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So sure, there were internal decisions made that were necessary to keep the big wheels rolling: officers elected or re-elected, a decision on the location of the 2017 national convention, and clarification, given the growth of the board, on different rules and best practices for all levels of governance. There was discussion of a huge summer program which will pace student organizer-trainees in new cities and provinces as well as Ontario and British Columbia. Mainly, though even as the reports were given and the leaders analyzed the progress in the last year, there was a spirit and a conviction that the organization was taking off and the members – and the country itself – hadn’t seen anything yet!

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Please enjoy Eric Clapton’s Catch the Blues. Thanks to KABF.

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Buying, Rather than Building, Affordable Housing

demo3-460x250Ottawa   In one city after another we’re getting closer to winning landlord-leasing rules, some rent controls, and inclusionary zoning programs. But, even as victories come closer to hand, the scale of the need for affordable housing is overwhelming our capacity to deliver change. It is not that our eyes are bigger than our stomach anymore. Our stomachs are ravenous and are outstripping the vision we can see with our eyes.

Social Policy does a trade-out with Shelterforce, and I happened to have a recent copy in the stack of things I brought to read on the plane and started flipping through it over breakfast at Carleton University before the beginning of the ACORN Canada national board and annual general meetings. Some of the pieces were a bit out of my league. I wasn’t sure what to make of something called “trauma-informed community building” or TICB, as they proceeded to call it, but I knew I was uncomfortable having poverty medicalized, no matter how good the intentions

On the other hand there was a fascinating piece by Alan Mallach, a senior fellow at the Center for Community Progress and the National Housing Institute that looked at a different direction that the French had taken to developing affordable and mixed-income housing. They were buying it, rather than building it. Mallach discussed the disastrous and well-documented French housing policy in the 1970s when many projects were built on the outskirts of the city and went down from there. The good news, according to Mallach, is that the French learned something from the experience that might teach us something in the United States and Canada as well.

“Now, when French developers build subdivisions or condo projects, nonprofit housing corporations enter into turnkey contracts with the developer to buy blocs of apartments or houses, up to a maximum of 50 percent of the units in the development. Based on those contracts, the nonprofits apply for a package of government loans, grants, and tax breaks so they can both buy the units and make sure they remain affordable. When the projects are completed, the nonprofit buys the units and operates them as affordable rental housing.”

In transferring the French lessons to the USA, Mallach made a couple of comments that made sense in many cities. First, he noted that “most parts of the United States have large inventories of good-quality existing housing available.” If Low Income Housing Tax Credit (LIHTC) funds could be utilized by nonprofit housing developers to buy blocks of these houses either from developers or on the market and convert and manage them as affordable housing, it would both save money, and immeasurably diversity communities, benefiting our families, and potentially serve as a bulwark against blight as well by keeping the housing maintained, viable, and affordable. He also made the case that private sector market developers can create reasonably good quality housing for a price point that is often significantly lower than nonprofit developers utilizing LIHTC monies. Maybe so? Maybe no? I haven’t really looked at that closely, but where I think he is absolutely right is that buying existing housing stock or buying into developments already in motion, drastically reduces the lead time and opportunity cost, meaning more affordable housing is developed now. And, now is when we need it!

This is worth a good look in a lot of places.

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Please enjoy Eric Clapton’s Alabama Woman Blues. Thanks to KABF.

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Pine Bluff’s Maxine Nelson and Susie Thomas, Great ACORN Leaders

Susie Thomas, Pine Bluff ACORN leader, 102 years old

Susie Thomas, Pine Bluff ACORN leader, 102 years old

Pine Bluff   Often I get gas on my way from Little Rock to New Orleans at an exit off ramping on the same highway that the Watson Chapel School District administrative office calls home. I realized this coincidence when I had the excuse to visit there. A documentary film crew wanted to talk about how the first organizing committee meeting of an ACORN group in Pine Bluff was disrupted by representatives of the Klu Klux Klan. I wanted to talk about the great ACORN leader, Maxine Nelson, so here’s how they were connected.

The group meeting that was disrupted in 1971 was being organized by an early ACORN organizer from the area, Herman Davenport, in a mixed area, of low and moderate income homes in the Watson Chapel area. The first drive was troubled by these episodes, but eventually ACORN took hold and developed deep roots in the area. Maxine Nelson merged as one of the leaders of the Pine Bluff chapters. She was an African-American RN at the Pine Bluff hospital and ready to make change. She was also fearless when it came to politics. She ran and won a seat in 1989 on the Watson Chapel School Board, and held the seat until her untimely death in November 2013, serving several terms as President of the School Board as well. Maxine was also the chair of the ACORN Political Action Committee (APAC) and the elected secretary of the ACORN Association Board nationally for many consecutive terms. For that matter, she was also on the KABF board as well and even while leaving that board was prodding me in 2011 and 2012 to do something to help stabilize the station.

I thought it was a great ACORN story from the KKK to Maxine Nelson and her leadership of ACORN, but there was more. Rechecking the date of her service before driving down to Pine Bluff, I stumbled on an article in the Pine Bluff Commercial Appeal reporting on a meeting of the Watson Chapel board in late 2014, and they were talking about naming the administrative building after Maxine. Walking in there to alert the clerical staff that I was outside with a film crew, they quickly – and enthusiastically – walked me into the board room to see a picture of Maxine with a plaque over the board dais.

I also visited Susie Thomas, who joined ACORN in Pine Bluff at the very beginning, 45 years ago, and stayed as a member and leader throughout those years. Sister Thomas attended every ACORN convention, and when visiting her, I asked about her favorites. She liked lobbying in Washington, DC she said, and remembered telling off one of Arkansas’ US Senators about cutting back food stamps. She remembered a squatting action in Chicago at the 20th anniversary convention in 1990, when they all ran for it. I gave her a Los Angeles convention t-shirt, and that got her talking about the LA convention. She pushed me on getting ACORN rolling again in the US. We remembered Maxine and their years together. She remembered that I had last seen her when she came to a book signing with Maxine in 2009 at Little Rock’s Community Bakery, and that I had called her on her birthday two years ago. Did I mention that she is now 102 years old!

I called Neil Sealy, the executive director of Arkansas Community Organizations, the former Arkansas ACORN, as I pulled away from Susie’s house. He mentioned that they were getting some letters and a petition together to help show community support for naming the administration building after Maxine. It will be fun to get the word out and easy to find support for that in Pine Bluff, Arkansas, and for that matter around the country.

It seems the right thing to do.

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Please enjoy Paul Simon’s The Riverbank.  Thanks to KABF.

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If PayPal Billionaire Thiel Wants to Fund More Lawsuits, Here’s a List

Hulk Hogan with Thiel paid for counsel at trial

Hulk Hogan with Thiel paid for counsel at trial

Little Rock    Paul Thiel, the libertarian billionaire, co-founder of PayPal, board member of Facebook, and venture capitalist, Trump delegate, and Silicon Valley community leader, went public about the fact that he is the money bags behind the Hulk Hogan lawsuit that is trying to put the on-line scandal and news sheet, Gawker, out of business. He says the price tag is in the range of $10 million to the lawyers so far. He swears it is not just for revenge over a now defunct Silicon Valley blog that had outed him in 2007, but more about privacy and setting limits on scurrilous press abuse. He had referred to the Gawker blog previously as the Al Qaeda of journalism or words to that effect. He was not a fan. Observers knew there was an angel behind Hulk and his lawyers when they agreed to let the insurance company for Gawker off the hook. In wrestling, they would call this a “death match.”

With a billion dollar bank account he very accurately described himself as having the resources to defend himself and noted that that was not always the case for many others somewhat slandered in one way or another. He also says that he is financing other litigation as well but didn’t reveal it. He was educated as a lawyer himself, and supposedly asked a team of legal beagles to find some areas where he could make a difference at this interesting juncture of self-described philanthropy, vengeance, and politics.

Dude, where were you when we needed you a couple of years ago when ACORN was fighting for its life over the unconstitutional Congressional “bill of attainder” in 2009? Well, never mind there are always other issues, and I’d encourage brothers and sisters everywhere to make a list and send it over to Thiel so his team can saddle up and defend our liberties and lives as well.

You take the recent report for example by ACORN International and its partners about the lack of democracy and diversity in membership-based, rural electric cooperatives. I’ve talked to one lawyer after another who are convinced this ought to be against the law, and I’ve even tried to track down lawsuits that have recently been filed in Alabama on this issue, but it’s one of those Gordian knots where I can hear my friends on the other side of the phone kind of sighing because they know it’s wrong, they suspect it’s illegal, but who has the time or money to wage such a fight. A colleague send me a picture of the all-white, male, mostly elderly board of the Mississippi land bank supposedly soliciting interest from all the farmers out there who might want loans. A lot of them can look at the board makeup and not bother, but is that legal. I guess I’m sighing now!

Or how about the discrimination against the poor on getting their tax refunds at the same time as everyone else if they happen to qualify for an earned income credit? Going after the taxman, isn’t that a libertarian issue, too?

Or how about all of this voter mischief? A federal judge in Ohio allowed people to register and vote on the same day, declaring the effort to prevent such activity was discriminatory to black voters. There’s a lot of that and rollbacks on voting rights in one state after another. Voting is equal to individual liberty isn’t it? Sounds like someone financing more of these lawsuits would be a good libertarian philanthropy.

Hey, pile on! If this isn’t just a piece of Silicon Valley revenge, there’s a long list of injustices where some cash could help us get some of these issues before a judge and settle some scores for millions.

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