The “Carefree” Entitlement

US Hunger Belt - InfographicNew Orleans   Even after bingeing on the popular cultural phenomenon of Thanksgiving, we still dove deeper and did a bit of binge watching on the clever, funny, and even somewhat political, new Netflix series by comedian Aziz Ansari called “Master of None.” The title is a giveaway obviously, signaling that this will entail self-deprecation of sorts, but that’s just a head fake, like so much of the show.

There’s a throwaway line that is hardly a spoiler alert, but like so much, gets you thinking when Aziz or Dev, as he’s known in the show, is thrown into a typical bit of existential funk towards the end of the run of episodes and wonders what happened to his “carefree” youth and whether he’s running out of time in his early ‘30’s to still chart a different path for his life. What to do? Work? Relationships? Family and children? Stay or go? Watching the show and laughing where appropriate and thinking where forced, I though little of it at the time. This early-30 decision point was common among organizers and staff I supervised over the years. We would often anticipate the conversations, try to preempt decisions with new plans, deeper commitments, promises around projects and locations, and pretty much throw anything we could in front of the path to keep from losing good organizers at the crossroads of their futures.

But, mi companera asked me later about that notion of feeling “carefree,” and caught me short, and made me think about it harder. I can’t remember “carefree” except in the most episodic and haphazard circumstances since before I had memories I guess, or much of them, maybe when I could count my age in single digits. What a fascinating cultural observation of young, middle and upper class privilege to believe that there is a “carefree” entitlement that keeps ticking through the teens, twenties, and into the thirties.

Somewhere in that sense of entitlement is a bridge too far for billions. Bread for the World issued a report saying that 50 million Americans daily face hunger and good insecurity, where they literally have to worry about what to eat and where their next meal will come from. This is a long way from the dominant cultural fear of FOMO or fear of missing out. For the vast number of people in the huge 60% to 80% of US families and likely way more globally, there’s no FOMO, there’s just missing out period, and there’s definitely not a “carefree” entitlement.

And, once lost, it’s gone forever. It’s not something where we catch up again once we’re old as dirt. In fact, the numbers seem to indicate that somewhere between 5 and 10 million elderly are hardly able, or completely unable, to care for themselves and are bilked and abused when they need to be most “carefree.”

Not sure how we demand the right to be carefree, but the more you stop and think about it, the more it seems to be another huge marker of our inequality and the vast divisions between us both financially, and it seems, culturally now as well.

Domestic Terrorism Requires Federal Protection of Abortion Clinics

plannedparenthood073015_gettyNew Orleans     As horrifying as it was to read about a gunman with an assault rifle laying siege from a Planned Parenthood clinic in Colorado Springs, killing three including one police officer and wounding eleven, it was as unsettling to read that that the clinic, a site of daily protests from a dozen to several hundred, anti-abortion activists, had a special security safe room.  The safe room was equipped with bulletproof vests.  The police even speculated that the killer may have availed himself of one of the vests.  I found that chilling.  To think that as part of the mission of Planned Parenthood they have to prepare, clinic by clinic, for the eventuality of armed assault so serious that they would have to train their staff about getting to the secure room if under attack and grabbing a flak jacket.  This is what we might have been expected to read about in a field hospital in Kabul, Afghanistan or Baghdad, Iraq, not Colorado Springs at the foot of Pike’s Peak in the United States.

            But, I wasn’t thinking.  This must now be standard operating procedure at health care clinics that provide full, legal health services to women, and they have good cause to protect themselves.  Studies have found that threats to clinics have doubled since 2010 with nearly 20% of them having faced severe violence.  Stalking of physicians performing such services have risen from 6.4% to 8.7% from 2010 to 2014.  Since 1990, there have been eight murders of doctors at such clinics.  There have been 41 bombings and 173 cases of arson at abortion clinics since 1977.  This is not something that happens somewhere else, but something that happens almost everywhere.   In recent years, there have been violent episodes in Washington, Louisiana, Mississippi, Idaho, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Indiana, New Hampshire, Florida, Virginia, New Mexico, and the beat goes on.  Everyone has terrorism on the tip of their tongue these days, well this is what domestic terrorism looks and feels like. 

            Make no mistake.  The law of the land, regardless of all of the legislative assault from state to state, is clear that women have a right to protect their own personal health and manage their bodies as they determine best, including the right to abortion.  These rights, no matter how much litigation is pending continue to the affirmed by the United States Supreme Court. 

            In such cases of domestic terrorism and attempts to take away legally protected rights, local and state jurisdictions are clearly failing to provide the protection needed.  Where is the federal government when women’s rights demand enforcement and protection?

            In Buenos Aires, where domestic terrorists have attacked synagogues, police are stationed permanently.  During the civil rights struggles, eventually the FBI and the Justice Department had to play critical roles in protecting the right to vote and ensure that civil rights statutes were respected in integrating public facilities from universities on down.  The National Guard was even mobilized in states where Governors and others wouldn’t protect citizens and enforce the law.

            Terrorism is terrorism.  The law is the law.  Planned Parenthood and others should not be out there alone with targets on their backs and the front doors of their clinics.  President Obama, the Justice Department, the FBI, and the full weight of the federal government needs to assure that women and their health providers are safe and secure.  Whether in coming months or for the number of years it takes to move the culture and enforce the law, public authorities need to step up and make sure that the guns are aimed from the inside out in protecting these clinics rather than being pointed from the outside in from the domestic terrorists living all around us.  The terrorists trying to pretend their violence is in God’s name need to be met by an equal and greater force fully authorized to act in the name of the United States and enforcement of the laws of the land.

            This has gone too far and must be stopped.

Opting out of Workman’s Compensation

thNew Orleans     Given all of the effort of the techies to promote the so-called “gig” economy and create a permanent class of part-time, on-call workers with few to no benefits, it shouldn’t come as much of a surprise that some of the big boys have already found loopholes allowing them escape clauses for compensating their workers, even in the terrible and tragic situations where workers are hurt in the course of serving exactly those same employers. Not too long ago reporters for ProPublica ran a piece in on the way Costco, McDonalds, Walmart, numerous health care companies, and others had figured out loopholes in Texas and passed laws in Oklahoma to write and administer their own self-serving workman’s compensation programs. There was nothing pretty to be found in reading the piece.

This is all complicated, but the simple backstory is that the Texas constitution had pretty much always allowed employers to opt out of workman’s comp, but until some Dallas-based lawyers started pulling and pitching the path out, most had stayed in thinking it protected them as well as their workers. One of the lawyers got so good at this chicanery that he left and formed a company, PartnerSource, to do nothing but scheme and cheat on workers’ injuries. Needless to say there was a ready market, and the shyster has a map pins all over his wall on where he wants to move the opt-out campaign.

What kind of things do they get away with and who does the damage, you might ask? Well, let’s looks at some of the cases with ProPublica:


· For nearly 40 years, every state has covered occupational diseases and repetitive stress injuries, recognizing medical research that some conditions develop over time. But in Texas, a number of companies, including McDonald’s and the United Regional Health Care System, don’t cover cumulative trauma such as carpal tunnel. U.S. Foods, the country’s second largest food distributor, also doesn’t cover any sickness or disease “regardless of how contracted,” potentially allowing it to dodge work-related conditions such as heat stroke, chemical exposures or even cancer.
· several companies, including Home Depot, Pilot Travel Centers and McDonald’s, exclude injuries caused by safety violations or the failure to obtain assistance with a particular task.
· Brookdale Senior Living, the nation’s largest chain of assisted living facilities, doesn’t cover most bacterial infections. Why Taco Bell can accompany injured workers to doctors’ appointments and Sears can deny benefits if workers don’t report injuries by the end of their shifts. Costco will pay only $15,000 to workers who lose a finger while its rival Walmart pays $25,000.


You get the picture?

Add to these horrors the fact that disputes are often forced into arbitration and denied access to courts, the companies are pushing the costs over to Medicaid and Social Security disability and away from their own responsibilities, and all of this is virtually unregulated, and the full dimensions of another assault in state legislatures is clearly on the way. Bills are already pending in South Carolina and Tennessee, and a coalition led by executives at Loews, Walmart, Nordstrom’s and other companies has been formed to promote passage in other areas.

Open the window even a crack and the horrors come roaring in!

Pleading for Player Power

Pic-University_of_Missouri_PlayersNew Orleans    In the United States, from place to place, Thanksgiving comes with its own set of traditions enhanced by families and friends.

One of my first Thanksgivings away from home while on my brief on and off collegiate tour, the details are now lost in the fog of memory, but somehow I ended up, likely with a friend, invited by a generous soul to her Italian family’s late afternoon dinner in the Jamaica neighborhood in Queens, where multiple courses were served, accompanied by wine, all of which seemed revolutionary to me at the time and for which I am still thankful.  Another year, in Springfield, Massachusetts, my brother came over from New Jersey, while we were living there, and Barbara Rivera, one of our spectacular welfare rights leaders invited us all over to her house for a Puerto Rican flavored Thanksgiving dinner, still remembered by both me and her family.

For years when we were young and had grandparents in the delta of Mississippi, Thanksgiving meant a drive up from New Orleans for family and a feast.  There was always divinity fudge, one of the great inventions in candy-land, and jam cake, which has become a family tradition from grandmother to mother to now daughter.  And, in Mississippi before, during, and after a huge, piling heap of food was offered and consumed I now know not only there, but in much of the rest of the South there was football, one game after another.  Now with its increasing popularity there’s basketball, too.  In the South, there’s also the mandatory nap option that has to be squeezed in during half-times or blowouts.   Sometimes it’s even funny to read in the paper as pro-ballers talk about what it might be like to have a Thanksgiving at home.  The crocodile tears are flowing everywhere now, I know they are.

The business of sports though has become simply sports as business, and that’s not something to be thankful about.  Living in the heartland of the big college football power conference, the South Eastern Conference, where football often seems to pass the line between sports and religion, it may be the biggest business of all.  In Louisiana, the coach has lost three games in a row and despite perhaps the winningest record of almost any coach anywhere, a national championship on his record, and several SEC titles, yet some of the heavy breather alums are talking about paying gazillions to buy out his contract that’s good until 2019.

Meanwhile, one of the newer SEC teams at the University of Missouri may not be leading the league in the win-loss column but has shown how semi-professional college players can stand up for themselves and others.  The NCAA fought the Northwestern players hammer and tong, but despite their billion dollar bottom-line mentality, collective action by the players works, no matter what the lawyers might want and wish.  Now some pundits are calling for coaches and basketball players to get into the act to push back at the NCAA and its unaccountable and arbitrary way of dealing with current and prospective players, including recruits from all over the world.  The price of the first coach standing behind his players may have been the heave-ho in Missouri since even though the President and other bigwigs fell by the wayside, the athletic director was still standing, and may not have been a solidarity-forever guy, no matter what the coach claims.

If sports, professional and amateur, is going to be part of our contemporary culture in coming years, and run as a body killing, youth stealing, child labor sweatshop, then the workers,  paid, unpaid, and exploited need to exercise their market power and bring them to their knees.  For my part I think Thanksgiving and New Years’ Day would be the perfect tactical times for football and basketball players to stand up and stand together to force some change.

I would definitely interrupt a nap for that kind of action!

What Goes Around, Comes Around, Even for Presidents like Wilson

John Abraham Davis, center, and his family at their farm in the early 1900s.

John Abraham Davis, center, and his family at their farm in the early 1900s.

New Orleans     A saying with common currency in recent years has been, “haters gonna hate.”  An old one that seems almost timeless from the later part of the last century is, “what goes around, comes around.”  As a matter of long standing record, I’m rooting for campus protestors these days on the issues of race and sexual abuse, and campuses around the country continue to heat up, reminiscent of the good old days of some of our youth around both issues.  

            Coincidentally, I happened to be on a Skype call yesterday with a New York based publisher, who mentioned at the end of our call that he had graduated from Princeton and how proud he was of the protest and sit-in on his old campus around the issues of Woodrow Wilson’s blatant racism.  Though many know Wilson as the World War I president along with his failed leadership to create the League of Nations, which later laid the groundwork for the establishment of the United Nations, fewer are familiar with his hardcore racism, including expressed sympathies for the terrorism of the Ku Klux Klan. 

            Some hearing this unwelcome and tawdry news about a former US President from Virginia might say, “Well, he was a man of his times.”  Hmmm….yes, perhaps, if his times were the mid-1800’s rather than 100-years ago.  Furthermore, the protestors have it right.  They’re not just picking on him long distance from Princeton, New Jersey to Washington, DC, since he was also later the President of Princeton University and is honored widely on campus with buildings bearing his name and an Institute and scholarships as well. 

            What goes around, comes around when the arc of justice bends our way though, and this may be the moment.  In a moving op-ed in the Times, Gordon Davis, a lawyer, wrote of his grandfather, John Abraham Davis, who had passed the civil service exam, along with many other African-Americans in late 19th century when the federal service outlawed discrimination.  He had started on the bottom but had worked his way up to being a mid-level supervisor of many including whites at the Government Printing Office, making decent, middle class wages appropriate to his 30 years of seniority.  Within months of Woodrow Wilson becoming President his administration rolled all of that progress backward as the President and his appointees, including in the Post Office where there had been a deliberate campaign promise to re-segregate especially in the south.  Davis wrote that his grandfather lost the family farm after being demoted to menial jobs at hugely reduced pay, and died a broken man rather than the respected member of the community he had been.

            Princeton should feel the heat, and they must make the change.    The publisher immediately understood that.  My brother with a PhD from Princeton would have been clear about this as well.

            Presidents should worry about their legacy and the judgment of history.  Bill Clinton still has much to do to outrun the pain inflicted by his program to “end welfare as we know it” and kowtow to Wall Street by eliminating Glass-Steagall and helping usher in the Great Recession.  George W. Bush no doubt reads daily of the disasters in Iraq still and the ripple effects throughout the Middle East including in Syria.  Lyndon Johnson knew that despite many legislative accomplishments that there was no way to get Vietnam off of his shoes.  No amount of spinning can ever make Richard Nixon look good, and so it goes on and on.    Barack Obama is wildly trying to sprint faster to make change in the last two years of his term after disappointing so many in his early years.

            The rich and powerful should never sleep soundly without being very, very careful about the certainty that for many, what goes around will indeed come around. 

Redefining Employment Status Is Just Exploitation by Another Name

 lobbyNew Orleans     Tech lobbyists, led by Google, Facebook, and Microsoft are now spending almost as much as the automobile industry on Washington, DC lobbyists.  That’s not good news for the rest of us.

            A lot of the lobbying, according to recent reports, at both the federal, state, and local level is from Uber and the Uber-wannabe companies that have a huge vested interested in promoting the so-called “gig economy,” as if it is a revolutionary and utopian step forward for workers.  It almost goes without saying that anytime companies start claiming that what they think is best for their workers, eyebrows and probably voices need to be readied and raised in protest. 

            Uber, as many urban dwellers know, is the high flying tech company that is hard to define somewhere between being an application that consumers can carry on their smartphones to a huge employer of drivers, according to most recent rulings by labor standards regulators in the state of California.  They see themselves in tech-speak as “disruptors,” and in this case they disrupt the taxi industry and the huge number of drivers who work in that, admittedly imperfect, world where workers are already routinely misclassified as subcontractors already.  Uber’s defense in legal proceedings filed by some of its drivers in California is that people just love this part-time, no benefits, casual, work.  Maybe some do, but many don’t.

            Other tech companies in the wannabe Uber world are also trying to develop apps that will replace full-time workers with casual, contingent workers.  Some, sniffing the legal pleadings and understanding that the breeze is not blowing these days in favor of more worker exploitation even in this Age of Inequality in the USA, actually have done the right thing and classified their workers as employees, just as they should.  Crying like stuck pigs, they have jumped into the lobbying game because they want to see if there’s some way, some loophole, some wink-and-nod that would allow them to reclassify their workers as free agents and on their own.

            You might ask the reason they offer about why this is new and different?  Well, they say, to no one’s shock, that it cost them money:  social security payments, unemployment, health insurance, and workman’s compensation – the whole package.  How does that sound like a “new economy?  In fact it seems word to word like exactly the same complaint that employers have been making for decades as they plead for the right and wherefore to be able to completely exploit their workforce and then walk away when they are out of work, elderly, hurt, or sick.

            The answer from Washington, state capitals, and city halls needs to be the same to these new hustlers as it should be and sometimes has been to the old employers:  shut up and pay up!  Hiring workers is not a license for exploitation.  We have an app for that and it’s called laws that prevent it.