Posted by: Doug Henwood | October 24, 2014

Minimum wage politics

I haven’t used this venue to promote my Harper’s piece on the awfulness of Hillary Clinton, but that’s about to change. First this little note, and then some bits from the cutting-room floor that wouldn’t fit next week.

Some Democrats have been saying that a Hillary presidency would almost certainly lead to a rise in the minimum wage and a Republican wouldn’t. Maybe. But here’s the recent historical record. I have to admit I was surprised by this, but here you go:

• The real value of the minimum wage rose 7.7% under George H.W. Bush (measuring from January 1989–January 1993—subsequent calculations follow the same template).

• It fell by 1.5% under Bill Clinton.

• It rose by 5.4% under George W. Bush.

• So far under Obama it’s down 1.3%

This history aside, I’m not saying that the minimum wage is more likely to rise under a Rep than a Dem, but Dems’ faith in the certainty of a minwage increase under Hillary seems misplaced.

PS: Yes, Harper’s is beyond a paywall. They also paid me well and have an excellent staff of editors and publicists. You can’t get that good stuff for free.

Posted by: Doug Henwood | October 8, 2014

More companies dropping health coverage, thanks to Obamacare

Back in 2011, I argued that Obamacare would lead employers to drop existing health insurance coverage and throw employees onto the mercies of the exchanges. (See this post and links therein.) Liberals, including no less than Paul Krugman, denied this. But it’s looking like it’s happening.

Today’s Wall Street Journal reports that Wal-Mart, that paragon of the modern employer, is dropping coverage for 30,000 part-time employees. It joins Target, Home Depot, and UPS, who’ve already cut coverage. And, at the high end, the so-called “Cadillac tax” on generous insurance plans is also leading to cutbacks; JetBlue and FedEx are shifting employees into high-deductible plans.

Obamacare’s popularity

Meanwhile, Gallup finds that more Americans think the cleverly named Affordable Care Act  has hurt (27%) rather than helped (16%) them—though a majority (54%) say it’s had no effect. Almost half (46%) think the ACA will make things worse over the long term, and just 15% think it will make things better.

Maybe they’re wrong. But the typical response of Democrats is basically to say they’re mistaken, and that the Act is the greatest bit of legislated social progress since Medicare. Except almost everyone loves Medicare. It’d be nice if everyone could have something like it.

An hour after I hit the “publish” button on the SodaStream post, the firm’s publicist got back to me with an answer to my question about how BDS might be affecting sales. He referred me to a September 1 JTA story, which reports that the company is thinking of closing its West Bank factory (pictured below)—but purely for “financial reasons.” Those reasons do not include the boycott, which CEO Daniel Birnbaum dismissed as a mere “nuisance.” And, in case you missed the political point, he made the company’s position very clear: “We are not giving in to the boycott. We are Zionists.”

So, they‘d close the plant for financial reasons, but its location in the West Bank has nothing to do with those. Right. Also: it’s not just a beverage—it’s a political statement.

Israeli Soda Club factory

Posted by: Doug Henwood | October 7, 2014

SodaStream: is BDS hitting where it hurts?

[See company’s response here.]

This morning, the Israeli-based fizz merchant SodaStream announced miserable preliminary financial results for the quarter ending September 30. Its stock promptly fell by over 20%, compounding losses over the last year. It’s now more than 70% off its all-time high set in July 2011, and the company may well put itself up for sale.


The company’s explanation of the glum performance was not much of an explanation at all. From their official release:

“We are very disappointed in our recent performance,” said Daniel Birnbaum, Chief Executive Officer of SodaStream. “Our U.S. business underperformed due to lower than expected demand for our soda makers and flavors which was the primary driver of the overall shortfall in the third quarter. While we were successful over the last few years in establishing a solid base of repeat users in the U.S., we have not succeeded in attracting new consumers to our home carbonation system at the rate we believe should be achieved. The third quarter results are a clear indication that we must alter our course and improve our execution across the board. We have already begun a strategic shift of the SodaStream brand towards health & wellness, primarily in the U.S., where we believe this message will resonate more strongly with consumers….”

In other words, sales were off because not enough people are buying the product.

Media reports (like this one) glossed the company’s explanation with the commonplace that Americans are losing their taste for soda. But SodaStream’s fizz-inducing systems could be used to make bubbly water (0 calories) or effervescent fruit juices. You could probably even gas up your kale juice if you wanted to, which is beyond my imagining. According to the company’s nutrition information page, its flavors have about a third the calories of comparable sodas like Coke and Sprite. So if Americans are really losing their taste for the really sweet stuff, SodaStream should already be well-positioned as a possible alternative, not a victim of these changing preferences.

Not mentioned in either the company’s release or any news report I’ve seen: the global boycott of Israeli products. SodaStream is especially vulnerable, compared to a company based in Israel itself, because its major factory is in the West Bank settlement of Ma’ale Adumim. SodaStream has factories in Israel proper and elsewhere in the world, but its presence in the Occupied Territories make it particularly vulnerable to a boycott, a risk the company acknowledged in its most recent annual report.

Earlier in the year, Scarlett Johansson was relieved of her role as her role as an “ambassador” for Oxfam, because the charity believed “that businesses that operate in settlements further the ongoing poverty and denial of rights of the Palestinian communities that we work to support.” That move attracted global attention. It may be that Johansson’s star power did more to publicize the boycott than it did the company’s products.

So is the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) movement against Israel costing a real-world company real money? SodaStream isn’t talking; a query to the firm’s publicist has gone unanswered, which is unusual behavior for a publicist who wants to talk. But it’s looking like the answer may well be yes.

Posted by: Doug Henwood | September 12, 2014

Fresh audio product

Just added to my radio archive:

September 11, 2014 Dana Goldstein, author of Teacher Warson the history of education politics in the U.S. • Christian Parenti, author of this article, reclaims Hamilton for the left (and for climate politics)

Posted by: Doug Henwood | September 8, 2014

Fresh audio product

Newly added to my radio archive:

September 4, 2014 Rebecca Tiger, sociologist and author of Judging Addictson the history of punishment in the U.S., drug courts, and the marriage of the therapeutic culture to the carceral state

Posted by: Doug Henwood | August 28, 2014

Fresh audio product

Just added to my radio archives:

August 28, 2014 Naomi Murakawa, author of The First Civil Right, on the underestimated contributions of liberals to mass incarceration • Amy Binder, author of this article, on why Harvard grads flock to Wall Street

August 21, 2014 Chase Madar, author of this article, on overpolicing/overcriminalization in the USA • Jeff Smith, author of this article, on Ferguson, St Louis, and political science

Posted by: Doug Henwood | August 14, 2014

Fresh audio product

Between vacation and KPFA’s fundraising, I’ve been delinquent at both producing new radio shows and updating the archive. Here’s some catch-up, freshly posted to my radio archive. The dates are links and will take you to the show’s page.


July 10, 2014 Heidi Shierholz of the Economic Policy Institute discusses the flabby, unsatisfying state of the job market • Sean Jacobs (one of the founders of Africa Is A Country) talks about the political economy of soccer.

August 14, 2014 Mark Ames on Silicon Valley wage-fixing and their selective libertarianism • Alex Vitale on broken windows and the militarization of policing

If you like this show, please support KPFA, without which it wouldn’t be possible. If you contribute—and there’s no reason you shouldn’t if you’re not broke—please mention Behind the News.

Posted by: Doug Henwood | July 4, 2014

Fresh audio product

Catching up with a backlog…just posted to my radio archives:

July 3, 2014 Esther Kaplan, author of this article, on a plant closure in Tennessee and the dubious economic logic of offshoring • Alex Kane on what Israel is up to in the wake of the West Bank kidnappings

June 26, 2014 Sarah Stillman, author of this article, on the for-profit probation racket and “offender-funded justice” •Bruce Bartlett on the state of the Republican party after the Tea Party’s series of electoral defeats

June 19, 2014 Jennifer Taub, author of Other People’s Houseson the deep history of the mortgage crisis • Margaret Gray, author of Labor and the Locavoreon the exploited workers behind the local food movement


Posted by: Doug Henwood | June 12, 2014

Fresh audio product

Just added to my radio archives:

June 12, 2014 Suzanna Danuta Walters, author of The Tolerance Trapargues against queer embourgeoisement • Tony Samara, lead author of The Rise of Renter Nationon the affordability crisis for people who rent their dwellings

June 5, 2014 Art Goldhammer on European politics, with an accent on France • Nikil Saval, author of Cubedon the history and sociology of the office

Posted by: Doug Henwood | June 2, 2014

Plutonomy revisited

Business Insider has a write-up of a BoA Merrill Lynch report that declares that, the FT’s quibbles aside, Thomas Piketty is essentially right, and the super-rich is where the action is, so invest accordingly. (Never mind that Piketty utterly destroyed, in the most gracious manner imaginable, the newspaper’s economics editor Chris Giles’ half-assed critique.) The BoA Merrill report was written by Ajay Kapur, who is quoted by BI as saying:

When wealth and income are as concentrated as they are, and expected (a la Piketty) to get even more so, examining the ‘average’ consumer or ‘average’ investor makes little sense. Examining the fat tail – the behavior of the plutonomists, rather than that of the multitudinous many – is more advantageous to investors. Plutonomists determine and dominate spending and investment decisions and their magnitudes. Any analysis that does not tease out the skewed global income and wealth distribution, but focuses on the average is flawed from the start and is incomplete, as we step into its deeper extremes.

The word “plutonomy” rang a bell, and sure enough we’ve been here before. Back in 2005 and 2006, in the bubbly days before the financial crisis and Great Recession, Kapur wrote a series of reports for Citigroup, his then-employer, on the topic. Citi did its best to stem the circulation of the reports, demanding that websites that posted them take them down.

As a public service, lbo-news is reposting them. Evidently, the worst crisis in 80 years is not enough to keep the plutocrats down.

Here are the links (all PDFs—and I changed them since my first posting to confuse Citi’s plutonomy sniffer):

Plutonomy 1 (October 16, 2005)
Plutonomy 2 (March 5, 2006)
Plutonomy 3 (September 29, 2006)

Posted by: Doug Henwood | May 29, 2014

Fresh audio product: Europe and Egypt

Just added to my radio archives:

May 29, 2014 Yanis Varoufakis on the European elections • Mohamad Elmasry on Egypt

Posted by: Doug Henwood | May 23, 2014

Fresh audio product

Just posted to my radio archives:

May 22, 2014 Matt Taibbi, author of The Divideon criminalizing the poor (and dissenters) and letting bankers run free

BtN has been fundraising for KPFA all month. This is the first show with original content since April 24—this interview only, less the fundraising. So it’s short. But please contribute to KPFA if you want to keep these shows coming. Be sure to mention BtN when you do.

Posted by: Doug Henwood | May 7, 2014

Fitchian reflections on today’s news

This is my introduction for Ruthie Gilmore, who gave the third Robert Fitch memorial lecture at LaGuardia Community College in Queens on May 6, 2014. Many thanks to Karen Miller and her colleagues at LaGuardia for organizing the series.

It’s always refreshing to visit LaGuardia College, where the buildings are named after letters. I went to a college where the buildings are named after slavers, financiers, and reactionary politicians.

I’m very glad to be introducing the Third Robert Fitch Memorial Lecture. When I gave the first two years ago, I was worried there wouldn’t be a second. But as it turned out, John Halle did a fine job delivering that last year, and I’m now looking forward to hearing Ruth Wilson Gilmore—the very model of the scholar–activist—deliver the third. We are, I hope, an unholy trinity.

Though I miss Bob’s person every day, I also miss his mind every time I read or hear the news. A couple of current items cry out for Fitchian analysis. First there was the news that the top 25 hedge fund honchos, most of whom live in or around New York City, pulled down over $21 billion among them last year. A little math reveals that that’s close to half the total personal income of The Bronx, home to 1.4 million people. I don’t have the exact numbers, but given the usual contours of income distribution, the hedgies’ collective income is probably equal to the total income of well over a million Bronxites. Life among the 1% of the 1% is very flush these days.

Ah, but we have a new mayor, one who comes out of what Alex Cockburn used to call “pwogwessive” politics, replacing that plutocrat Bloomberg. I’d seriously love to hear what Bob would have had to say about de Blasio; I suspect it would be rather like what he had to say about Obama, which was highly skeptical of the now-forgotten liberal enthusiasm of 2008. But, most relevantly, de Blasio is out with an affordable housing program that’s grabbed a lot of headlines but looks rather thin on the details—and, as any studious Fitchian knows, it’s all in the details.

There are, however, hints in what we’ve heard so far that make one suspicious. First is the predominance of private money, about three-quarters of the alleged $40 billion pricetag. That private money is supposed to be lured with incentives, but private money is never incented, as they say, by anything other than profits. And by definition, affordable housing is rather thin on the profits. Another thing to be suspicious of is that it features building more high-rises: presumably if we build enough high-end housing, some crumbs will fall down into the laps of the poor—with the proper incentives, of course. De Blasio says he’s going to lean on developers to go along, but as the New York Times reported this morning, “how far the city will push developers will not be determined until after a study by the planning department, and the new policy would not come into effect until at least the middle of next year.”

And guess who runs that planning department? The same man that de Blasio picked as co-chair of his transition team, Carl Weisbrod. Weisbrod is a walking embodiment of how this city is run—the perfect fusion of the public and private sectors working together for the enrichment of the so-called FIRE sector, as in Finance, Insurance, and Real Estate. Weisbrod—“anything but the kind of development-averse, ivory-tower technocrat de Blasio might have chosen [but a] real-estate man through and through,” as Steve Cuozzo put it in the New York Post, as if that’s a good thingran the 42nd St/Times Square redevelopment project (itself part of the long-term scheme to push midtown westwards, which Bob wrote extensively about). He then moved on to head the Economic Development Corp., a totally opaque body with the power to condemn and subsidize, that is responsible for things like the South Street Seaport in the 1980s (via its predecessor organization, the Public Development Corporation, which Weisbrod also worked for) and the current upscaling of downtown Brooklyn and western Queens (meaning the area all around us here). And from there he went on to run Trinity Church’s real estate portfolio—something that has nothing to do with a spiritual mission, because it’s one of the largest landowners in Manhattan. So that’s the guy who’s going to have a big hand in running the housing policy for the latest pwogwessive hope.

Oh, and Steven Spinola, head of the Real Estate Board of New York, pronounced de Blasio’s scheme “realistic.” The Times described REBNY as “an influential real estate group,” which is only slightly more pointed than describing the NRA as a club for hunting enthusiasts.

Ok, enough of my Bob Fitch imitation—time to introduce Ruth Wilson Gilmore. Ruthie is a professor of Earth and Environmental Sciences and American Studies at the CUNY grad center. Her most famous book is Golden Gulag: Prisons, Surplus, Crisis, and Opposition in Globalizing California. She was a founding member of Critical Resistance and other organizations whose aim is to undo the imprisonment boom.

Bob used to describe the string of prisons that the father of our present miserable governor had built upstate as The Cuomo Archipelago. After all, when you create a city as profoundly unequal as this one, where the idea of economic development has been decades of squeezing out manufacturing jobs and replacing them with a few high-paying positions in finance and other elite services, and low-paying jobs like bootblacks and nannies for the rest—or for the most unlucky, prison. So here is Ruthie Wilson Gilmore to tell us about “Mass Incarceration, Deportation, Stop and Frisk: The Urban Ecology of the Prison-Industrial Complex.”

Posted by: Doug Henwood | April 25, 2014

Fresh audio content

Freshly, though belatedly (sorry!), added to my radio archives:

April 24, 2014 Heidi Shierholz on the plight of young adults in the job market • Kshama Sawant, socialist member of the Seattle city council, talks about a $15 minimum wage and how to make revolutionary politics practical

April 17, 2014 Trudy Lieberman on how much you’ll have to pay for health care even if you’re insured • Priamvada Gopal on the fascist threat in India

April 10, 2014 Keith Gessen on Ukraine and Russia (article here) • Martin Gilens on how the rich rule and the people have no say (paper here)

April 3, 2014 Jane McAlevey, author of Raising Expectations (and Raising Hell), on the UAW in Tennessee, etc. • Doug Henwood reviews Thomas Piketty (text version here)


« Newer Posts - Older Posts »



Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 13,713 other followers

%d bloggers like this: