If the prospect of her being confirmed as the next Supreme Court justice weren't so grim, Amy Coney Barrett's recent zipped-lip approach on her views about abortion and Roe v. Wade would be hilarious.
Are there doubts about where she stands in the matter, or how she would come down on any ruling to undermine or obliterate the 47-year-old decision that legalized abortion nationwide? Although she was picked for the nomination because she's an ultra-conservative on many issues, the biggest cheers attending the announcement of her selection came not from the Federalist Society, but from the forced-birther brigades who have sought for decades to get enough justices on the Supreme Court to kill (or at least maim) Roe. As a law professor at the University of Notre Dame, Barrett was a member of University Faculty for Life, a vigorous foe of abortion.
Her unwillingness to talk about her views with senators, and her initial failure to mention on her Senate Judiciary Committee questionnaire that she signed a 2006 anti-abortion advertisement calling for "an end to the barbaric legacy of Roe vs Wade" won't provide any cover for what's she's truly about. And on Friday there was a new revelation. She hadn't told senators about a lecture and a seminar she gave in 2013 to two student forced-birther groups when she was teaching at Notre Dame. The lecture was called "Being a Woman After Roe" and advertised on Facebook. Titled "The Supreme Court's Abortion Jurisprudence," the seminar was a project of Jus Vitae, the university's "right to life" law student organization.
Barrett wouldn't, of course, be the first nominee to omit information that could have a bearing on confirmation. Intentional or accidental? You decide.
Late Friday, the Senate Judiciary Committee released a supplemental update to Barrett's questionnaire that includes the lecture and seminar, as well as the hard-nosed advertisement, according to CNN. So far, it's not known what she said at the two events. CNN also reported that in 2014 the university removed a video of a campus talk Barrett gave to coincide with the 40th anniversary of Roe v. Wade titled "Roe at 40: The Supreme Court, Abortion, and the Culture War that Followed." She disclosed this talk in her original Senate paperwork. A school spokesman said that video is now lost. How very convenient.
Will there be consequences for the omissions? In the past, Republican chairmen of the Judiciary Committee have halted the confirmation process when relevant material was left off a nominee's questionnaire. But for current Judiciary Chairman Sen. Lindsey Graham to take such action would require integrity and consistency that the South Carolina Republican has demonstrated he lacks.
When Barrett appears for her hearing before the Judiciary Committee on Monday, you can expect her to assert, as nominees have in the past, that she cannot say how she might rule on a future case, abortion or otherwise. Such a pretense of anticipatory objectivity has served other nominees well in the past, with enough senators willing to ignore the obvious and hand over a life-time appointment on the bench.
Based on unnamed sources, Peter Baker and Maggie Haberman at The New York Times report that Donald Trump could move as quickly as next week to name his nominee to the Supreme Court to fill the vacancy left by the death of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.
Trump made clear with a Saturday morning tweet that he wants to move fast. “We were put in this position of power and importance to make decisions for the people who so proudly elected us, the most important of which has long been considered to be the selection of United States Supreme Court Justices. We have this obligation, without delay!” He didn’t give any specific timing for “without delay.” Before the election? He surely wants this in hopes that, if nothing else, the death of Ginsburg and his choice to undo much of her decades-long efforts to bring justice to marginalized people will shore up his support among voters who have drifted away or are thinking of doing so because of the pandemic, the pandemic recession, and other issues over which he has made them unhappy.
President Trump said Saturday that he plans to announce his nomination next week. “It will be a woman — a very talented, very brilliant woman,” Trump said at an evening campaign rally in North Carolina. “We haven’t chosen yet, but we have numerous women on the list.”
It was not immediately clear whether Mr. Trump would push ahead with the gamble of a Senate showdown before the election that would cement his legacy or wait to confirm a choice in a lame-duck session that would follow the election. Some Republican strategists said it would make more sense for the president to name a choice right away and proceed with hearings but wait for a Senate vote until after Nov. 3 to give Republicans who have soured on Mr. Trump because of the coronavirus pandemic or other reasons an incentive to turn out to vote.
Not quite a handful of Republican senators have made statements indicating they would not vote on a nominee before the election. But with the possible exception of Sen. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, their statements are weaselly enough to leave them some wiggle room. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell sent a letter Friday urging Republican senators to “keep your powder dry” and not “prematurely lock yourselves into a position you may later regret.”
Four Republicans refusing to vote on a nominee before the election is at least a possibility, and that would mean no confirmation until after the ballots are counted. But if the confirmation vote came after a Trump defeat in the election, it’s certain the vast majority of Republicans would vote for his nominee regardless. Maybe two can be counted on to say no, but getting more on board will be tough since Republicans don’t want to lose the chance to trample on much of what Ginsburg had stood for on the court and pressure on reluctant senators will be immense.
The Department of Labor reported Thursday that 2.38 million workers filed new claims for unemployment benefits in the week ending May 16. That brings the total count for the past nine weeks to a seasonally adjusted 38.3 million. Adding to this the unprecedented 4.8 million that the government defines as having left the labor force in the past two months—but say they want a job—would put the current seasonally adjusted unemployment rate at 26.3% by my calculation. As shown in the chart above, this would make it higher than the worst of the Great Depression at 25.6% in May 1933. Almost three times worse than the Great Recession at 10% in October 2009.
Beyond bad, but still less than the 30% or more that many analysts expect the government will announce in the May jobs report to be released on June 5.
How many of these people have already returned to work as states reopen their economies is uncertain, but the number is almost certainly small so far. Besides the 38.5 million applying for benefits, 6.4 million workers left the labor force from mid-March to mid-April. While some of these drop-outs no doubt retired or enrolled in school or left to take care of an aging relative or a new infant, those millions are a dozen times higher than the number who typically join or leave the labor force each month. Which means the actual number of those who left with no intention to return when the economy improves is wildly skewed.
It’s not hard to figure out why. BLS statisticians count anyone who is out of work but hasn’t looked for a job in the past four weeks as no longer in the labor force. That’s a problematic definition even in “normal” times. But it’s especially so now because many abruptly jobless people have found it impossible (or thought it impossible) to look for other work in the midst of a pandemic shutdown when millions of businesses aren’t even open, much less hiring. Accurately counting these leavers and returners in a timely manner in the midst of our current chaos simply isn’t possible.
Let me be clear. Although new benefit claims show the situation is truly bad, the Bureau of Labor Statistics does not use benefit claims—new or recurring—to calculate the unemployment rate. It does so with the monthly Current Population Survey conducted in the week that includes the 12th of each month. The most recent bureau calculation for the mid-March to mid-April period placed unemployment at a seasonally adjusted 14.7%. Because of the timing of the CPS survey, those data were three weeks out of date by the time the report was released May 8. That made for a serious undercount. The next monthly jobs report is due June 5, and those data—collected in the middle of this month—will also be three weeks out of date.
Normally, month-to-month changes in the job count are relatively small, so the out-of-date information doesn’t affect the overall picture that much. But changes now are unprecedented both in absolute numbers and the speed at which they are occurring. Getting a handle on the actual situation is thus much harder than in more stable times.
There’s nothing they can do about the time-lag, but Jason Faberman and Aastha Rajan at the Chicago Fed have proposed a new BLS category to provide a more helpful look at what’s happening in the labor market. They label it the U-Cov rate. This includes underemployment as well as unemployment, as does the BLS U6 category, plus all the people on unpaid leave, plus the people who have left the labor force but say they want a job. Faberman and Rajan calculate the U-Cov unemployment rate at a not-seasonally-adjusted rate of 30.7%.
Comparisons of now with the Great Depression of nine decades ago are inevitable. However, the pandemic recession and economic response to it are unique. For one thing, we have a safety net that didn’t exist in 1929 when the Great Depression got underway. Republicans, who haven’t been fans of the safety net since it was established, apparently plan to make it more rickety by their unwillingness to do any more than has already been done to shield the most vulnerable from outright economic disaster of the Pandemic Recession. Their view: reopening the economy will fix everything, vaccine or no vaccine.
Given the purpose of the shutdown, no reason exists for the Pandemic Recession to run for an entire decade the way the Great Depression did. However, ensuring that a lengthy recession isn’t in our future requires aggressive action now. Republicans nonetheless appear ready to force most of the populace to tough it out while they provide billions in assistance to the fossil fuel industry and their other favorites. Just as Donald Trump thinks the coronavirus will vanish without a vaccine, they think the economic impacts will disappear with no need for further government intervention.
Down that path lies deep pain and lasting economic wreckage.
In a recent interview, former IMF chief economist Kenneth Rogoff, a conservative who in the past advised John McCain, said: “It’s a little bit as if you were in a war and saying, ‘I’m not going to grade how you’re doing on the battlefield. I’m just going to grade how you’re hiring extra workers at home.’ Obviously how you’re doing on the battlefield is driving everything.” He went on:
I liken the incident we’re in to The Wizard of Oz, where Dorothy got sucked up in the tornado with her house, and it’s spinning around, and you don’t know where it will come down. That’s where our social, political, economic system is at the moment. There’s a lot of uncertainty, and it’s probably not in the pro-growth direction. [...]
It’s probably going to be, at best, a U-shaped recovery. And I don’t know how long it’s going to take us to get back to the 2019 per capita GDP. I would say, looking at it now, five years would seem like a good outcome out of this.
Such a “good outcome” means immense damage.
The most recent near-term assessment of the Congressional Budget Office—which projects a slight improvement over its previous assessment—says gross domestic product will contract at a 37.7% annualized rate in the second quarter that ends June 30, with a rebound in the second half of the year. Katia Dmitrieva at Bloomberg writes about one long-term impact:
[...] the unemployment rate is seen averaging 11.5% this year and only improving marginally in 2021 to 9.3%, just under the high reached in the 2007-2009 recession. The effects of the coronavirus on the economy will stick around for years to come, particularly for those just entering or new to the labor market.
“The reduction in the number of people employed in 2020 and the persistence of high unemployment through 2021 may have a negative effect on the job prospects and earnings of younger generations that will be felt long into the future,” according to the CBO.
Heidi Shierholz at the Economic Policy Institute writes:
Despair is an understandable and reasonable response to all this. We should despair for the millions who have lost jobs, for their families, and for the immeasurable amount of lost potential. But then we must demand our policymakers do much, much more. The one bright spot in the recent jobs numbers is the fact that as of mid-April, about two-thirds of workers who are out of work as a result of the virus report they were furloughed or on temporary layoff—in other words, they expect to be called back to the jobs they had before the coronavirus shock. Whether they will actually be called back or whether those furloughs will turn into layoffs is the fork in the road upon which we are now standing as a nation. [...]
If the federal government provides sufficient aid during this crisis so that people’s income doesn’t drop dramatically (even if they have been unable to work), so that businesses stay afloat (even if they have been totally or significantly shuttered), and so that state and local governments whose tax revenues are plummeting are not forced to make drastic cuts that will hamstring the economy, then those furloughed workers could get back to their prior jobs and the recovery could be rapid because confidence and demand would be relatively high. But if the federal government doesn’t act, then those furloughs will turn into permanent layoffs and the country will face an extended period of high unemployment that will do sweeping and unrelenting damage to the economy—and the people and businesses in it.
Waiting to see how what many epidemiologists say is a premature reopening of the economy turns out before passing any further relief legislation runs a risk similar to a delay in action on the climate crisis. The longer we wait, the worse the long-term outcome.
New England Journal of Medicine publishes letter from doctor explaining how FBI and DHS almost grabbed the medical masks his hospital was buying
The New England Journal of Medicine has begun a new series called “Covid-19 Notes,” which is focusing on the innovative responses to the dealing with the coronavirus. On Friday, the journal published a letter about acquiring N95 masks written by Dr. Andrew W. Artenstein, M.D., of Baystate Health in Springfield, Massachusetts. Here’s an excerpt from the letter:
As a chief physician executive, I rarely get involved in my health system’s supply-chain activities. The Covid-19 pandemic has changed that. Protecting our caregivers is essential so that these talented professionals can safely provide compassionate care to our patients. Yet we continue to be stymied by a lack of personal protective equipment (PPE), and the cavalry does not appear to be coming.
Our supply-chain group has worked around the clock to secure gowns, gloves, face masks, goggles, face shields, and N95 respirators. These employees have adapted to a new normal, exploring every lead, no matter how unusual. Deals, some bizarre and convoluted, and many involving large sums of money, have dissolved at the last minute when we were outbid or outmuscled, sometimes by the federal government. Then we got lucky, but getting the supplies was not easy. [...]
Hours before our planned departure, we were told to expect only a quarter of our original order. We went anyway, since we desperately needed any supplies we could get. Upon arrival, we were jubilant to see pallets of KN95 respirators and face masks being unloaded. We opened several boxes, examined their contents, and hoped that this random sample would be representative of the entire shipment. Before we could send the funds by wire transfer, two Federal Bureau of Investigation agents arrived, showed their badges, and started questioning me. No, this shipment was not headed for resale or the black market. The agents checked my credentials, and I tried to convince them that the shipment of PPE was bound for hospitals. After receiving my assurances and hearing about our health system’s urgent needs, the agents let the boxes of equipment be released and loaded into the trucks. But I was soon shocked to learn that the Department of Homeland Security was still considering redirecting our PPE. Only some quick calls leading to intervention by our congressional representative prevented its seizure. I remained nervous and worried on the long drive back, feelings that did not abate until midnight, when I received the call that the PPE shipment was secured at our warehouse.
It would be nice to have federal leadership that doesn’t make acquiring essential medical equipment seem more like buying a heroin shipment.
Michael Schwirtz at The New York Times reported Thursday afternoon that there were only 20 patients on the 1,000-bed Navy hospital ship docked in New York harbor specifically to take the pressure off the city’s hospitals overwhelmed by COVID-19 patients. The news infuriated hospital officials. Last week, President Donald Trump showed up in Norfolk, Virginia, to send the USNS Comfort to New York City, saying it would play a “critical role” in the fight against the virus. Said Michael Dowling, the head of Northwell Health, New York’s largest hospital system: “If I’m blunt about it, it’s a joke. Everyone can say, ‘Thank you for putting up these wonderful places and opening up these cavernous halls.’ But we’re in a crisis here, we’re in a battlefield.”
On Friday, the Department of Defense announced that, at the request of FEMA, it would change its protocol for accepting patients on the Comfort and two other facilities, in Dallas and New Orleans. There was no word about the USNS Mercy, a hospital ship docked in Los Angeles for the same purpose as the Comfort. That ship had 15 patients on Thursday.
In coronavirus-beleaguered New York City hospitals, health care workers have been told to reuse protective equipment, a practice that would have gotten them fired two months ago. Officials say the city’s hospitals will run out of ventilators used to treat the most seriously afflicted within a week or less. There are so many COVID-19 patients now being treated that they are dying in hospital hallways.
No COVID-19 patients were to be treated on the Comfort. The idea was to take care of patients with other problems to clear space in the city hospitals for those infected with the virus. But there were strict rules for who could and could not be accepted as a patient. Those measures were complicated by the fact that much of the usual patient load—from car accidents, violence, and the like—is far less than normal because so much of the population is staying home out of personal caution or because of state mandates.
The press release from the Department of Defense states:
These three DoD-supported locations will now provide support to COVID-19 positive patients in convalescent care, as well as low-acuity patients. These patients, who require a lower level of medical care, must first be screened at a local hospital.
We understand that introducing COVID-19 positive patients into the FMS environments elevates the risk of transmission to other patients and our medical providers. This decision was risk-informed and made to ensure that DoD can continue to provide these local communities the type of medical care they most need. Force health protection is a top priority and our medical professionals will have the required personal protective equipment needed for this mission.
Too bad city health care workers don’t also have the proper equipment needed for their mission.
Trump's helping Moscow muck with our elections. Here's why that fits the strict constitutional definition of treason
Throughout the history of the Republic, traitorous and treasonous have held a broader, more generic meaning for treason than the one found in the U.S. Constitution. The rebellious founders, having themselves been traitors to the British Crown—and being fully familiar with how English treason laws had been extended and abused in what was then the not-very-distant past—the drafters wisely kept to the narrowest of definitions in the first paragraph of Article III, Section 3:
Treason against the United States, shall consist only in levying War against them, or in adhering to their Enemies, giving them Aid and Comfort. No Person shall be convicted of Treason unless on the Testimony of two Witnesses to the same overt Act, or on Confession in open Court.
Thus, while many Americans have been harassed or imprisoned on suspicions of disloyalty, something wrongly but popularly equated with treason, trials have been rare, convictions rarer, and none has included a president. Not even, as it turns out, the president of the Confederate States of America who conspired with others to initiate the bloodiest war ever fought on U.S. territory. Andrew Johnson made sure neither Jefferson Davis nor the top generals nor other prominent rebels ever would be prosecuted when he granted amnesty to all Confederates before leaving the presidency in 1869. That leniency factored in spurring these obvious traitors into becoming iconic heroes. Statues of some of the worst aren’t just rampant in town squares across the South, they are also still displayed like heroes in the nation’s Capitol.
Since even the leaders of the slavocrats’ rebellion were given a pass a century and a half ago—with at least 900,000 people moldering in the ground from the slaughter they started—how could I possibly suggest that the man who now sits in the big chair in the Oval Office should be treated more harshly than they? And, besides, how does anything Donald J. Trump is doing qualify for the justifiably and thankfully narrow constitutional definition?
On the first point, I would argue that failing to try the leading Confederates and deconstructing Reconstruction were mistakes that have paid horrible dividends to the African American population ever since. It was meant to reunite, to reconcile. But reconciliation without truth paves the way for future evil. Our nation’s political and social dynamic today is still profoundly affected by that decision.
Secondly, U.S. intelligence services have concluded and explained to selected members of Congress that Russia is interfering in the 2020 election. There’s a difference of opinion over whether or not they said the Russians are specifically working to help Sen. Bernie Sanders get the Democratic nomination as a means of getting Donald Trump reelected. Whatever the Russians’ specific strategy, what matters is that they are meddling.
The public hasn’t yet learned the classified specifics of exactly how the interference is happening. But if it is like 2016 plus the honing and polishing of the four years since, we can assume that in addition to the deluge of disinformation, the fake news, and the whole social media assault, the Russians will be hacking into pieces of our insecure electronic election infrastructure. Perhaps this will be to alter results or simply to create chaos by persuading people they can’t trust their vote to be tallied correctly, so why bother to show up?
Cyberwarfare is war. Kremlin attacks on U.S. elections in hopes of advancing the interests of Vladimir Putin and other Russian oligarchs by weakening America are clearly as much a threat to national security as would be, say, an attack on the software of a few chemical plants or the electrical grid—potentially lethal acts achieved without firing a shot. Attacks on our elections and on the election apparatus that Senate Republicans won’t allow to be made secure can have lethal impacts on what is becoming an increasingly fragile democracy. One of the many faces of 21st century conflict. Sun Tzu would recognize its value immediately: “In the midst of chaos, there is also opportunity.”
Donald Trump has chosen to abet Moscow's attack on U.S. national security via election meddling. By purging the veteran intelligence experts who have done their job and by appointing a right-wing toady without a shred of relevant experience to oversee 17 intelligence entities—plus calling the assessment that Russia is at it again a “hoax”—the man in the White House has adhered to, if not an American enemy, certainly an adversary. He is giving Russian meddlers the comfort of knowing that he’s doing all he can to smooth the way for them to meet whatever meddling quotas they are assigned, and he aids them by making it obvious that anybody who reports the meddling is happening will be fired.
What Trump has done, what he is now doing, meets the strict definition of treason in the Constitution. No doubt the lawyers will tell me I am full of it. That including cyberwarfare as the same as a declared war is bogus, even though we’ve had plenty of wars but none declared since 1942. They’ll also remind me what just happened with the impeachment vote in the Senate.
No way will Trump ever be tried for treason, of course, so why bother to bring it up? Because Trump is a traitor. Because he’s thrown open the door to bad actors, not sneakily the way he has done so many things, but in broad daylight. This isn’t speculation about something that will happen someday down the road. It’s happening right damn now.
Trump knows the Republican He-Did-It-So-What? Caucus will never convict him for treason or anything else. If it got as far as another impeachment, Alan Dershowitz would argue that Trump can order the strafing of an entire U.S. Army division on Fifth Avenue and not be liable for prosecution. The GOP would have no trouble if Trump made a deal for Russia to write software for swing state voting machines and made a fat commission off it.
Trump’s protectors will shield him no matter what and he will do whatever. The word for that in these circumstances isn’t supporters, it’s accomplices. If the constitutional machinery of the Republic is inadequate to oust this traitor, if he can’t be defeated at the polls or won’t leave office if he is defeated, then “street politics” will be all that remains. That’s far from a happy prospect.
Unemployment is the lowest it has been in 50 years. Economic expansion since the Great Recession ended has been going on for 126 consecutive months, and net gains in job growth have been going on for 111 consecutive months. Both figures break the record for the 80 years that good statistics in such matters have been kept. The stock market is soaring. Every day we hear the economy is booming.
It’s true that most acute problems of the Great Recession have been overcome, although some Americans have still not fully recovered from the damage caused to their finances a dozen years after that gigantic downturn, and there will be those who never do. But while the acute problems have mostly vanished, the chronic ones predating the recession remain with us. These will not be resolved by business as usual.
All too rarely do we hear these days about two of most troublesome chronic problems—the number of rotten jobs and the percentage of low-wage jobs, with the Brookings Institution putting the latter at 44%.
One example was released by the Bureau of Labor Statistics last Tuesday, a report on real average earnings. “Real” as in adjusted for inflation. Most of the time we only hear in the media about changes in nominal wages, their face value. That fails to tell a key part of the story. As every minimum-wage earner knows, $7.25 in 2020 is not worth what it was in 2009, the last time the federal government reset the minimum. Inflation has since knocked down its buying power to $6.09.
For all employees, real average hourly earnings fell 0.1% from November to December 2019, seasonally adjusted, according to the bureau.That result came from a rise of 0.1% in average hourly earnings plus a rise of 0.2% in the Consumer Price Index for All Urban Consumers (CPI-U). In addition, real average weekly earnings fell by 0.1% over the month because the average workweek didn’t change.
The year-over-year tally shows a bigger hurt. Real average hourly earnings rose 0.6%, seasonally adjusted, from December 2018 to December 2019. But those earnings have to be placed against the 0.6% fall in the average workweek. In other words, as the BLS puts it, this “resulted in essentially no change in real average weekly earnings over this period.”
Or more succinctly: wages were flat in 2019. And the situation is actually worse because including the gains of the top 10%-20% of earners skews the average upward.
Bankrate’s Financial Security Poll for December puts some flesh on that skew: 51% of American workers received no raise in 2019. That’s about 82 million people. In 2018, 62% got no raise—99 million workers.
As the U.S. dug out of the hole of the Great Recession, wage growth gained some speed in 2015 and early 2016, flattened out, and then picked up again in 2017-2018. Finally some real wage growth is happening, said the experts who had been speculating so long on why, with the jobless rate so low, employers weren’t feeling the need to raise wages faster. Yet the “finally” turned out to be a mirage. In December, average hourly earnings of all employees on private payrolls were a nominal 2.9% higher than a year earlier. But cranking inflation and a shorter workweek into the calculation produced that zero gain for the year.
Elected officials in 24 states have decided to stop waiting for the federal government to act to partially improve the situation, some having raised their minimums as high as $15 an hour under pressure from labor activists. That will certainly make life easier for that cohort of Americans. But plenty of workers who earn more than the minimum age—even if it’s just barely more—aren’t seeing raises.
Tying productivity to wage growth is the key to providing all workers with a higher standard of living. The center-left Center on Budget and Policy Priorities points out:
Productivity has grown faster than compensation adjusted for producer prices since the turn of the century, indicating that producers have been able to increase their profit margins, raising capital’s share of nonfarm business income at the expense of labor’s share. [...]
Over the course of the expansion, output per hour has risen at an average rate of 1.2 percent per year, compensation per hour adjusted for consumer prices has risen 0.6 percent per year, and compensation per hour adjusted for producer prices has risen 0.9 percent per year.
Workers would earn considerably more if wage growth were tied to productivity growth. This would go a small part of the way to reducing income inequality. But given the doctrinaire views about the “proper” role for government involvement in the economy, not just among Republicans, but many Democrats as well, seeking to legislate such a link would surely encounter titanic opposition from corporate lobbyists and politicians, and if passed, from litigators determined to prove the whole idea unconstitutional and unAmerican.
For nearly four years in the mid-1970s, I worked as a printer, a union job that demanded good mechanical ability and focused concentration. At the time, the industry was on the cusp of big technological changes in printing, with computers and photocopying eventually forcing massive changes on work flow and reducing the level of skills needed to do the tasks. But these changes didn’t appear at the relatively small shop—40 people with two dozen of us running presses—until years after I left.
One benefit of that job was the schedule. The pressmen (we were all male) worked a 13-hour-a-day schedule three days a week, and then had four days off. For me that usually worked out to one day of recovery with a late sleep-in, followed by a three-day weekend. Not everyone can handle such a schedule, and admittedly, around the 10th hour on the third day, even the youngest of us in the shop would be dragging. But those days off made up for it. For the owners, it meant having two fresh crews, each operating the presses for half the six-day week the shop was open.
Returning to a five-day-a-week routine was a bit of a shock. And then there were the 60-hour weeks when I stepped into management.
In a survey by the Workforce Institute at Kronos, 40% of U.S. workers say they would prefer a four-day week. Lately, talk about moving that direction has been growing. In a September report from the AFL-CIO Commission on the Future of Work and Unions, the nation’s largest federation of unions noted:
Our commission’s Service and Retail and the Federal Sector Subcommittees recommend strengthening the labor movement by mobilizing around such big issues as shorter work days and workweeks with no reduction in pay for workers. Work hours can be reduced by bargaining or legislating a four-day workweek; earlier retirement; stronger overtime protections; paid holidays; paid vacations; partial unemployment benefits for workers whose hours are reduced (“short-time compensation”); and the “right to disconnect” from digital devices and work. Most of these policies would redistribute work hours to those who have too little work.
The federation doesn’t mean a four-day, 40-hour workweek, but one consisting of 32 hours.
Back in 1866—when it wasn’t unusual for factory and other workers to put in six-day weeks on 12- to 16-hour shifts—the National Labor Union called on Congress to mandate an eight-hour workday. That went exactly nowhere. Then, in 1926, Henry Ford cut the workweek in his auto factories from the 8-hour-a-day, six-day-a-week schedule he instituted in 1914 to five days a week at 40 hours. Industrialists were aghast. But Ford wasn’t being a kind and caring boss: He had concluded workers were more productive if they did not work so many hours. A quarter-century later under heavy union pressure that included the first sit-down strike at the GM plant in Flint, Michigan, Congress passed the Fair Labor Standards Act, amending it in 1940 to mandate a 40-hour workweek in most industries.
Fast-forward nearly 80 years and Americans put in more hours on the job than the other developed nations of the OECD. On average, the OECD reports, a full-time U.S. employee works 1,768 hours per year, or 38.6 hours per week. Europeans work up to 19 percent fewer hours annually, or about an hour per working day. Last year, according to the OECD, Americans worked 106 more hours than Japanese workers, 248 more than the British, and 423 more than Germans. But respondents in the Gallup Poll’s annual Work and Education Survey for 2019 put the average American workweek at 44 hours. Salaried workers self-report an average of 49 hours a week. Whichever statistics accurately reflect the situation, Americans put in more hours on the job than most of Europe and even the notoriously overworked Japanese.
Alexia Fernández Campbell at Vox points out that the idea of a four-day workweek isn’t new or radical. In 1993, Boston College economics professor Juliet Schor proposed shorter workweeks in her book, The Overworked American. In its future of work report, the AFL notes that Shor puts forth a three-point argument, asserting “that reducing overall working time has the potential to produce a ‘triple dividend’: (1) spreading work hours to more employees, thus minimizing unemployment; (2) lowering stress levels, increasing leisure time and improving workers’ quality of life; and (3) reducing adverse impact on the environment.”
Where shorter workweeks have been tried, the results have been mixed. Here are a few examples cited by Campbell and reporter Niraj Chokshi at The New York Times:
- France mandated a 35-hour workweek in 2000 that has irked businesses, who say it costs them more to hire extra workers. But the law has been laced with so many loopholes that many employees easily circumvent it. And now, French unions are putting up a stink about additional relaxation to the law.
- In New Zealand in 2018, Perpetual Guardian, a will and trust firm, chose to experiment by having its workers put in 32 hours a week instead of the 40 they had been doing. Chokshi notes the company “said the change actually boosted productivity among its 240 employees. They spent more time with their families, exercising, and cooking. Those employees reported a 24 percent improvement in their work-life balance. Supervisors said the staff work attendance and creativity improved too. [...] The experiment suggests that simply giving workers more time to enjoy their lives makes them better workers.” After two months, the change was made permanent. Perpetual’s owner Andrew Barnes says “You’re not just getting the same productivity, you’re getting higher productivity.” He and a colleague, Charlotte Lockhart, have set up 4-Day Week, a nonprofit that aims to push the idea globally.
- The city government chose the Svartedalens nursing home in Gothenburg, Sweden, to run a trial, switching from an eight-hour to a six-hour day with no pay cut. Both staff and nursing home residents say this is better and improves how they are cared for. An audit for the first year under the program found less absenteeism and higher productivity. Not everybody thinks this is a good idea. Said Maria Rydén, Gothenburg’s deputy mayor, “It’s the type of economic thinking that has gotten other countries in Europe into trouble.” If the plan were adopted for all of the city, much less all of Sweden, she says, the costs to business would be disastrous.
- The orthopedics unit at Gothenburg’s Sahlgrenska University Hospital put 89 nurse and physicians on a six-hour day and hired 15 new staff members to fill the gaps this created and be able to keep operating rooms open more hours. There were costs: $123,000 a month. But the move cut absenteeism and boosted efficiency, the executive director told the Times. The unit is performing 20% more operations and has cut waiting times for surgery “to weeks from months.”
- Last summer Microsoft ran a month-long trial of a four-day work week with the 2,300 people in its Japan offices. Workers enjoyed five Fridays in August off without a cut in pay and the results showed employees were not only happier, but significantly more productive. More results: productivity went up 40%; workers took of 25% less time; electricity use fell 23%; and 92% of the employees said they preferred the revised schedule.
At the website of NYS Society of CPAS, Chris Gaetano writes:
The criticisms leveled against reducing the work week to four days, or even 32 hours, are similar to those raised other times there has been a reduction in the standard work day. A text from 1919 noted that British textile manufacturers greatly protested even reducing the work day from 12 hours to 10, saying it would kneecap productivity to the point where investments in the industry would no longer be worth it. In The Quest for Time, which outlines international movements for an eight-hour workday in the 19th and early 20th century, says that there was vicious resistance in France to a bill mandating one half-day off of work per week for women, with 10 of 28 local chambers of commerce formally opposing the measure; opponents thought it was an unwelcome intrusion into how they ran their businesses and said it would increase costs in the long run from having to hire more workers.
Despite these critics, however, the idea of a four-day work week, even one that retains 40 hours per week, is quite popular. A Rasmussen poll from last year found, for example, that 53 percent of Americans would rather have a four-day work week with 10-hour days than five days of eight-hour shifts.
Three-day weekends EVERY weekend and fewer hours each week for the same pay would obviously make a huge difference in workers’ lives, but getting there won’t be easy. After all, the AFL has nowhere near the clout of the Chamber of Commerce.
Three years into what can only be hoped is his sole term in office, one of Donald Trump’s key promises and desires—expanding the barrier between the United States and Mexico along the full length of their mutual border—is still partially hung up in numerous legal entanglements. That includes the ruling earlier this month that he cannot transfer funds from the Pentagon to build the border wall and an investigation into construction contracts being handed out to Republican campaign donors.
Trump’s vow to complete 450 miles of new wall by the end of his first term seems as far out of reach as his DOA plan in January 2017 to build it and make Mexico pay for it. But as part of the budget compromise agreed to in Congress this month, $1.4 billion is being set aside to build the wall. Estimates run as high as $12 million a mile.
So far, just 93 miles of new wall has been built. Most of that is on federal land where ramshackle barriers existed previously. The exact path the wall will take has not yet been decided, but of 162 miles that will wind through South Texas, 144 miles are on privately owned land, according to Customs and Border Protection. Only three miles of that has been acquired.
The wall is being built well back from the border, and that means many land owners will see their holdings split. While some have voluntarily said okay to government plans, others are holding out, suing or planning to do so, or giving in resignedly rather than engage in a fight over eminent domain that they will almost inevitably lose in the courts. Zolan Kanno-Youngs tells the story at The New York Times of Richard Drawe and his wife, who reluctantly agreed to allow the government to build the wall on land his family has owned since the 1920s:
Mr. Drawe, 69, doubts the wall will do much to stop illegal immigration, and though he supports the president who ordered it, he believes that the construction will “ruin” his life. But selling the land early on seemed better and cheaper than facing the government in court, only to have it take the land anyway, he reasoned. The wall, the lights and the roads will be built on about a dozen acres that his grandfather bought in the 1920s, and that will cut him off from the priceless views of the Rio Grande that he cherishes.
“We just finally gave up,” he said. “If they offered me a million dollars to build the wall, I would refuse it if I knew they wouldn’t build it. I don’t want the money. This is my life here.”
Once the government makes its request, landowners don’t have many options, according to experts in eminent domain law. They can go to court to get more than the offered compensation. But their chances of winning the right to keep the government from taking the land are slim to nil, especially when eminent domain is undertaken in an emergency, which is what the Trump regime has labeled the situation at the border—a situation that the White House has done a great deal to exacerbate with rotten, inhumane policies. The government can start building on land it wants before payment arrangements are settled, which often take years of litigation.
Kanno-Youngs notes that after President George W. Bush signed a 2006 bill to install fencing along the border, the feds filed more than 300 cases to pry land from its owners. More than a decade later, 46 of those cases are still being argued, according to the Texas Civil Rights Project. Trump’s team has filed 48 new lawsuits as the government seeks to build on other properties.
The feds plan to build the wall on 12 acres of the Drawe family’s land, for which it has agreed to pay $42,000. But this will cut the Drawes off from 350 of their 525 acres that will lie between the wall and the Rio Grande River, which marks the international boundary. They are getting $197,000 to cover the lost value to the property the wall will cause.
All these piles of money spent to build a barrier that will not solve our immigration problems.
Pamela Rivas has been in court fighting the government for 11 years, Kanno-Youngs reports. The feds took her to court in 2008 to acquire some of her land at Los Ebanos, Texas, an entry port to Mexico. She refused to agree to payment for the land that’s been in her family since 1890. Construction of the wall there hasn’t started yet, but it could at any moment. Rivas’ son, Michael Maldonado, said maybe elections will make a difference: “The longer that we can endure it, maybe something might change. Maybe a new administration comes in and says, ‘you know, we’re not going to deal with this.’”
For so many Americans and would-be Americans, that particular hope covers a lot more than the border wall.
- Trump accused of withholding data needed to reunite families separated at border: 'Unconscionable' - Alternet.org ›
- Efforts to stop Trump’s border wall construction could extend long past Inauguration Day - Alternet.org ›
- Companies hired to build Trump's border wall imported illegal armed guards: whistleblower - Alternet.org ›
- DOJ lawyers admit the Trump administration is openly defying a court order to stop deporting migrant children - Alternet.org ›