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December 12, 2013

carelessly spoken words on the minimum wage

God, the great thing about these minimum wage sky-is-falling stories that you see running on business pages is that the truth just keeps falling out of these free marketeers' mouths like the rain from heaven above.

Take for example this story from the Wall Street Journal concerning the $15 minimum wage voted in for SeaTac, WA.  If you're wondering the Journal's position on this, clock the headline: "Businesses Stung by $15-an-Hour Pay."  Stung, I say!

Like this fellow, Mike Condon, who runs a coffee shop that will not be required to comply with the new minimum (it excludes airlines and businesses with fewer than twenty-five employees):

But he expects the higher rate to make it harder for him to recruit and retain entry-level workers. "Employees of my own that are well trained can go over to these jobs at the airport now and make more money than I can possibly pay them," he says.

But but... it's a free market, Mike Condon.  Surely, workers seeking alternative employment because of better wages would be a good thing for the workers, right?

And as to the amount Mike Condon could possibly pay them, let's go to Han Kim, part-owner of three area hotels:

"We are running pretty thin as it is so we cannot eliminate positions," he says. Increasing the price of a room is too risky, he adds. "I cannot go around changing prices without my competition [also] changing them. . . . We'll have to make less money I guess."

I wonder what that feels like, having to make less money.  I guess you could probably ask anyone cleaning rooms or working the front desks for Mr. Kim in the past few years.

The article is actually a little bit less than a hit job, as it does note the fast food strikes, and talks to SeaTac workers scraping by on $9 an hour.  But it is revelatory that the basic principles supporting a minimum wage keep being repeated, unasked, by people assumedly opposed.

Posted by mrbrent at 10:06 AM

December 11, 2013


Hey now check out this swank little section of an article on the current state of MOOCs, or massive online open courses as people with time to say long things would say.  You remember, MOOCs, right?  A bunch of Silicon Valley start-ups leveraging relationships with actual institutions, the future of education, that whole song and dance?
A study of a million users of massive open online courses, known as MOOCs, released this month by the University of Pennsylvania Graduate School of Education found that, on average, only about half of those who registered for a course ever viewed a lecture, and only about 4 percent completed the courses.

Much of the hope -- and hype -- surrounding MOOCs has focused on the promise of courses for students in poor countries with little access to higher education. But a separate survey from the University of Pennsylvania released last month found that about 80 percent of those taking the university's MOOCs had already earned a degree of some kind.

Man, that is so much like the jet car we were all promised, if a jet car were a car that neither flew nor drive but was still popular with the TED talk types.

Now is probably a good time to re-recommend Maria Bastillos' gimlet look at MOOCs from nearly a year ago.  If you see Maria, ask her what it feels like to be right all along.

Posted by mrbrent at 9:41 AM

December 10, 2013

richard berman is slimy

On page A15 of today's New York Times you will note an expensive full-page ad attempting to libel Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers on the grounds that high school kids are stupid.  Sassy!  At the bottom of the ad, there's a URL to a website that's full of "facts" about the UFT — basically your run of the mill "unions are bad" claptrap.

So it seems to me that the appropriate thing to do is to try to look at who paid for such nonsense.

The answer is, a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization called the Center For Union Facts.  Obviously, from the ominous doublespeak of its nomenclature, it is an organization dedicated to eradicating that menace to the oligarchy, organized labor.  But, who pays for all of it?  Sadly, that is unknown, because of loopholes in the IRS code.  So long as this company does not engage in a certain amount of "politicking," it is not required to disclose where it gets the cash.

But what we do know is that CFUF is yet another Richard Berman production.  Who is Richard Berman?  Thanks to Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington we know this about the man:

Berman founded and runs four tax-exempt front groups and a number of linked projects, focusing on food, tobacco, alcoholic beverages and labor. He is well-paid by the represented industries to serve as the executive director of all four organizations. Berman then uses his own lobbying and public relations firm to do work for the organizations, thereby channeling between 49% and 79% of all donations made to the groups into his own pocket.

Basically, Berman is a professional non-profit shill for business interests, who eagerly forms seemingly neutral front groups to advocate corporate positions, and skims millions off the top while he's doing it.  Click over to the site provided by CREW and you'll see that some of the positions Berman was handsomely paid to take include opposing drunk driving laws, touting the benefits of high fructose corn syrup, and doubting the dangers of mercury in fish.

So the next time you see some clumsy PR attempt to trick you into a position, a campaign that assumes you're too dumb to think for yourself, think of people like Richard Berman who make our species look bad.

(And as to the allegations that the AFT is a bad thing: go eat a bag of dicks in space.  That's the level of seriousness such charges merit.)

Posted by mrbrent at 9:28 AM

December 8, 2013

thomas frank on mcjobs

A friend of mine and I were talking about how there's been a creeping change in the Zeitgeist.  Namely, income inequality is a much more popular now than it was even during Occupy New York, even though the problem is hardly worse now than it was two years ago.  From the Pope's exhortations to the President's speech last week, to the election of Bill de Blasio and his two New Yorks, to the number of stories pointing out that full-time employment at minimum wage is actually impossible to live on, is is increasingly becoming common wisdom that there is something terribly wrong with the way that the American economy works.

The latest evidence of this is this quality piece of journalism by Thomas Frank (who you may remember from "The Baffler"), considering the recent spate of fast food worker labor actions.  He reports it out down Raleigh, NC, on one of those stretches of highways in the city that is a chain-food corridor, a place that's everywhere and nowhere at all.

It is, as these tend to be, a sad story, but if you can read it and eat fast food ever again you're a monster.

And the extraneously awesome point that Frank makes is that this is not just a story of the exploitation of the laborer, this is a story of how private equity fucks everything up:

Consider Burger King, which (let the shameful record show) I once preferred to certain other ubiquitous burger joints. Today the chain is little more than a shuttlecock for private equity. Acquired in 1997 by Diageo, the liquor multinational, it was sold in 2002 to a consortium of financial institutions -- including, of course, Goldman Sachs and Bain Capital -- which took the company public in 2006. It was next acquired by the Brazilian-backed investment firm 3G Capital, then merged with yet another private-equity outfit, only to be taken public again last year. Along the way, this pointless enterprise duly fumbled its position as the Number Two American burger chain. A long and painful fight with employees can only do it good.

Similar stories are everywhere you care to look. Bojangles', the fried-chicken chain, used to be owned by Falfurrias Capital Partners, which eventually off-loaded it to a private-equity firm called Advent International. Sun Capital Partners owns Friendly's, Captain D's, Johnny Rockets, and Boston Market. Fog Cutter Capital Group owns Fatburger. Consumer Capital Partners owns Smashburger. And then there is Roark Capital -- yes, named after Ayn Rand's individualist architect -- which owns Arby's, Cinnabon, Carvel, Moe's Southwest Grill, and (perhaps tellingly) a trash-collection company called Waste Pro.

That's the scariest thing I've read in a while, and I read scary things as a matter of course.

Posted by mrbrent at 1:49 PM