Thursday, July 17, 2014

New edition of The Nation's The Curve: The Supreme Court's economic war on women

For the latest edition of The Curve, Sarah Jaffe, Sheila Bapat, and I look at recent Supreme Court decisions in which the Court expanded its economic war on women: Hobby Lobby, McCullen, and Harris. In my piece, I write about the Harris v. Quinn decision, which invented out of wholecloth a separate-but-unequal class of worker known as the "partial public" employee, and then granted this type of worker far weaker union protections.

I focus on an aspect of the decision that has not attracted nearly the attention it warrants: its blatant sexism. I wrote, "With its decision in Harris v. Quinn, not only did the Court target this largely female workforce [of home care workers], but it also undermined broader feminist goals. In granting a second-class legal status to labor that is performed in the home, the Court reinforced patriarchal norms that devalue domestic work and care work. It also attacked the larger feminist project of advancing women’s economic equality by recognizing care as work and insisting that our society compensate female workers fairly."

The other major point I make in my piece is that the Court is hardly likely to stop here. Though they have shrewdly and carefully tailored this ruling to just one group of vulnerable workers (home care workers, who are overwhelmingly low-income women of color), the Roberts Court, as the New Yorker's Jeffrey Toobin has noted, often decides a case in a relatively narrow way, then uses that ruling as a precedent for far more sweeping decisions. Clever bunch, these boys are. Next time, they'll be coming after public sector unions more broadly -- make no mistake. And after that, who knows?

Friday, July 11, 2014

From "defining issue of our time" to flavor of the month: the Dems abandon economic inequality talk

As you may have heard, the Democrats have abandoned economic inequality as a campaign theme. Now the Dems' talk is all about "mobility" and "creating opportunity" and that holiest of holies, the "middle class," and oily Wall Street middle men like Chuck Schumer, as well as various Third Way wankers, are practically wetting themselves with excitement.

In my latest Baffler piece, I explain that, contrary to the claims of Schumer et al., polling data on inequality actually show a solid basis on which to build an anti-inequality politics. Did you know, for example, that 65 percent of Americans believe that economic inequality continues because it benefits the rich and powerful? That 69 percent say the government should act to reduce inequality? That given a choice, a whopping 92 percent of Americans would prefer to live in a society with a wealth distribution that resembled Sweden’s, as opposed to the one we have here? Oh, and for decades in public opinion polls, some 45 percent of Americans have consistently identified as working class -- about as many who identify as middle class.

Sadly, however, most Democrats have no real interest in doing anything about inequality. They'll support an increase in the minimum wage and some mild welfare capitalism, but that's it. And it's hardly enough.

Thursday, July 3, 2014

My new Daily Beast piece on Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis's possible mayoral run against Rahm Emanuel

Here's my piece on why Karen Lewis, president of the Chicago Teachers Union, should go right ahead and do what she recently said she's "seriously thinking" about doing -- jump into the race against Mayor One Percent, aka Rahm Emanuel. Lewis said she's "a little sick of" Rahm -- aren't we all? As I argue, there are solid reasons why a Lewis run would be good for the city, even if she doesn't win.

This is my first piece for the Beast, and they definitely Beasted it up with the tabloid-style headline and teaser. Also, they gave me the tiniest byline I have yet received as a professional writer! But they pay better than most other places, and it's a high-traffic site, so I suppose I shouldn't complain.

Here's a paragraph that was cut for space, but I think it makes an important point. Read it, and then read the rest of the piece. And if Karen Lewis does indeed run for mayor and you live here in Chicago, please consider volunteering for her. She's pretty great.
Governing as an elected official is, of course, different from leading a big labor organization like CTU. It demands weighing the interests of all voters rather than advocating for the interests of just one group. But both roles require many of the same skills, such as negotiating and coalition building, and numerous labor leaders have gone on to successful political careers. Two of the most effective progressive political leaders of our time, Bolivia’s Evo Morales and Brazil's Lula, got their start as trade union leaders. Closer to home, the current mayor of Fayetteville, Arizona, Lioneld Jordan, had been president of his AFSCME local. Other labor leaders-turned-politicians include Coleman Young, former mayor of Detroit (who had been active in the UAW) and, um, Ronald Reagan (who served as president of the Screen Actors Guild).

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

The Democrats' policies on work and family: less than meets the eye

Today at The Baffler, I have more on the Democrats' economic agenda for women and the big White House Summit on Working Families that was held on Monday. The bottom line is that while Democrats are talking the talk, they're not walking the walk. The ratio of CEOs to labor-affiliated types who spoke at the summit was approximately 5 to 1. And leading Democrats like Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton are not supporting vital policies such as a national paid family leave law, comprehensive child care, pay equity (it used to be known as comparable worth), or even an executive order that would improve the pay of low-wage employees who work for federal contractors.

It's encouraging that Democrats are finally starting to talk about these issues again, after more than 20 years of putting them in the deep freeze. But sadly, the Democrats' economic agenda for women is more about paying lip service than about getting real.

Orange Is the New Black and the women's prison film

Here's my latest Baffler piece, in which I review the Netflix series Orange Is the New Black in the context of some classic Hollywood-era women's prison movies. My take, basically, is that while the show is enjoyable and has moments of real power, ultimately it falls short by indulging in too much audience-pleasing sentimentality and comedy shtick. For a far tougher look at a women's prison that does a much better job at looking at prison as a system, I strongly recommend the classic 1950 film noir Caged. The critic Jonathan Rosenbaum called Caged “probably the most ferociously effective and politically potent women’s film ever made.” He was right.


Eleanor Parker in Caged (1951)

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

New discussion at The Nation's The Curve: Will the Democratic Party Deliver for Working Women?

Here's our latest feminist economic roundtable at The Nation's The Curve. This one is on the Democrats' economic agenda for women. Joining me this week is a motley crew of extremely smart and interesting women: journalists Bryce Covert, Liza Featherstone, and Zerlina Maxwell and economist Deirdre McCloskey. I'll have even more to say about the Dems and economic feminism in a piece for The Baffler this week -- it will probably go up tomorrow or Thursday.

Suffice it to say I'm skeptical. One data point: at yesterday's much-ballyhooed White House Summit on Working Families, speakers and panelists who were CEOs outnumbered workers and labor movement types by a ratio of approximately 5 to 1.

Our online conversation took place last week, before the summit. Enjoy!

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Debtors' prisons and other catastrophes

Last week, a 55-year old mother of seven was found dead in her Pennsylvania jail cell. She was thrown in the slammer because she was too poor to pay legal fines stemming from her kids' truancy cases. In my latest Baffler post, I explore this ghastly case in more detail. In particular, I look at three insidious trends it exemplifies: sticking poor people with exorbitant legal fees and fines and depriving them of their freedom if they can't pony up, jacking up those costs further even through private probation debt collection firms, and finally, dealing with truancy cases via the criminal justice system. In short, a perfect twenty-first century horror show, American-style.