Opinion

The Great Debate

It’s harder to reach the American dream if you’re reaching all alone

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“Hours of chaos” is how the New York Times described the work reality of more and more Americans. It highlighted Jannette Navarra, a Starbucks barrista, who is regularly forced to work part-time with fluctuating hours. She usually gets her work schedule three days ahead of the workweek, so she is always scrambling to arrange childcare for her son. Any hope Navarra has of advancing by pursuing a degree is shattered by her inability to schedule classes.

These sorts of lousy jobs are the increasing reality for many American workers. They are labeled “contingent” workers — part-time, temporary, on contract, on call. They generally earn lower wages than fulltime employees, with little or no benefits, and constant insecurity. They now represent one-third, perhaps as much as 40 percent of the workforce.

The Times focused on new technology that allows Starbucks to micro-manage worker hours to fit outlet demand. This really isn’t about technology, however. It’s about power. Workers have less power in the workplace in part because of continued high unemployment. When jobs are scarce, workers have learned to accept what they can get.

It’s is also due to the absence of a worker voice on the job because of the virtual disappearance of unions, particularly in the private sector.

No job is inherently marginal. Lousy jobs in places like non-union Phoenix are middle-class jobs in unionized New York City. Economist Robert Kuttner, writing in the American Prospect, described the very different reality of New York hotel workers, represented by the Hotel and Restaurant Workers Union. New York employers, faced with variable demand for rooms, would also want workers to be on-call. But as Kuttner notes, in this case workers have a union to speak up for them. Through tough negotiations the union has guaranteed workers regular hours, decent pay (a housekeeper gets roughly $50,000 a year), paid vacation, pension and health benefits

Finding hell in Syria’s Qusayr

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Click picture for a gallery of James Palmer’s photographs

In the summer of 2012, I spent three weeks in the besieged Syrian town of Qusayr working as a freelance photographer and writer with a group of young anti-Assad activists in a second-floor apartment next door to a field hospital. Regardless of whether I was working or sleeping, I raced downstairs to shoot photos whenever I thought heard casualties arrive.

The shelling victims often arrived from the countryside plastered in earth and crumpled along the backs of pickup trucks. They were often working in a field when the shell hit and the layers of dirt on them were often so thick you could barely see their faces. One day I saw a small girl who appeared less than 10 draped with soil and speckled with blood. She refused the nurses’ pleas to lie down and kept sitting upright to view the grey, motionless body of the man on the table next to her who appeared drained of his last drop of blood. After every glance she cast upon the corpse, she turned back toward me and screamed louder.

Despite such cries, the most haunting sound in Qusayr was the chopping whirl of the propellers atop a Syrian military helicopter gunship. They echoed over the town nearly every morning after sunrise during my stay.

Crossing paths with James Foley in Syria’s desperate war

PzxkuFKh30zIFwrseFS7uQ-ljcnLRdu59URJQOlVX94.jpg Click the image for a full gallery of James Palmer’s photographs from Syria. I prefer to work alone because I’ve found from past experience it’s just easier.

Still, it was hard not to cross paths with other journalists in Syria in the late summer and fall of 2012, where you were free to roam without government restrictions.

I first saw James Foley – whom the Islamic State executed last week — at a demonstration in Aleppo, a rebel stronghold. He was standing perfectly straight and steadily holding his camera as he filmed a handful of men dancing while drums were pounded and scores of people sang.

He arrived at the ad hoc police station another day seeking an interview with one of the leaders there while I was shooting photos. We shook hands and introduced ourselves then returned to our work. Apparently, neither of us could afford the time to chat.

The best weapon to fight the Islamic State is already in Iraq

A Kurdish Peshmerga fighter stands guard at the Bakirta frontline near the town of Makhmur

In 21st century Iraq, the enemy is not a state, though it calls itself one. The Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) is a group of Islamist insurgents whose presence stretches across the border between Syria and Iraq.

The only way to defeat the Islamic State is through military force, but Americans will not be doing the fighting on the ground. General John Allen, who commanded NATO forces in Afghanistan, has observed that, “the Kurds, the Sunnis and the Free Syrian resistance elements of the region are the ‘boots on the ground’ necessary to the success of this campaign.”

Make no mistake: dismantling a nascent Islamic State is a serious undertaking, involving thousands of U.S. personnel and a robust interagency effort. The insurgents are ruthless, resourceful and are adept at weaving themselves into the fabric of the region, making them virtually undetectable until they strike. If President Barack Obama’s strategy is to “contain” ISIL, not destroy it, as the New York Times reported on Aug.  22, he will fail.

As if things weren’t Badenov: Even in good times, Russians are villains in Hollywood

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The fact that Moscow is behaving badly — with President Vladimir Putin meddling in Ukraine’s presidential affairs last December, annexing Crimea in March and now, despite denials, likely supporting pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine — has validated Americans’ view of “evil” Soviets lurking in the new Russian empire. Even before Putin took back Crimea, more than 60 percent of Americans regarded Russia as a bad guy on the world stage.

Politics is largely to blame, but Hollywood may be the true villain in this drama. American culture never adapted to Moscow’s friendlier face. Though the Cold War was over, movie executives decided to ignore that memo. Russia may have been trying to leave behind its bad old days, but in the movies, Russians were still the bad guys.

In Air Force One (1997 – six years after the Soviet Union’s dissolution), a Russian nationalist psycho hijacks the plane of the U.S. president (Harrison Ford) in order to overthrow post-Soviet democracies. In The Saint (1997), based on a suave 1960s British television series starring Roger Moore, the heavy is a communist mafioso intent on diverting Russia from its new liberal course.

Perry’s indictment: Crime and punishment, Texas-style

Texas Governor Perry, a possible Republican candidate for 2016 presidential race, answers questions from reporters following appearance at business leaders luncheon in Portsmouth

It’s a big country, where states have their own legal peculiarities, political cultures and definitions of what makes a debilitating political scandal. Take Texas, for example, where the Republican governor, Rick Perry, has been indicted for abuse of office.

In the past 25 years, we’ve seen politicians and government officials increasingly treat scandal less as catastrophe and more as just another cost of doing business. Perry, however, has taken this to a completely new level: He is wearing his indictment as a badge of honor and has smoothly returned to his 2016 presidential campaign without missing a beat.

His is a compelling change of pace. Consider: It’s been a hell of a decade for scandal among state governors — and virtually all reacted with an advanced degree of alarm. In 2004, Democratic Governor Jim McGreevey of New Jersey, threatened with a lawsuit by another man, promptly held a press conference, revealed himself as a “gay American” and announced his impending resignation. In March 2008, news broke that New York’s Democratic governor, scourge-of-Wall-Street Elliot Spitzer, had patronized call girls. Another press conference, another resignation. Later that year, Illinois Democratic Governor Rod Blagojevich was arrested by federal agents and charged with corruption for his attempt to sell Barack Obama’s vacated Senate seat. Blagojevich launched an animated attempt to clear his name before he was impeached, removed from office, tried and sent to prison.

from Jim Gaines:

Waiting for the cold light of day in Missouri and the Middle East

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Aside from the strange fact that both the Ferguson Police Department and the barbarians of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria are using U.S. armor and weaponry, the shooting death of Michael Brown and the murder of James Foley would seem to have little in common, about as little as the Midwest and the Middle East.

Yet the similarities are evocative. Both frame enormously complex problems in the context of a single, riveting incident. Both were deaths in the American family, calling every parent to feel something of the Brown and Foley parents’ bottomless grief and to think, if only for an instant, “there but for the grace of God….”

Both events draw attention to life-and-death issues that call on every resource of our minds and hearts: What to do about racial divisions at home and the horrific outbreak of lethal sectarianism abroad.

from Stories I’d like to see:

The cost of unlawful convictions, cable news’ sharp focus and reporting on kidnapped journalists

Demonstrators shout slogans as they march towards the Ferguson Police Department to protest the killing of unarmed teen Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri

1. Becoming a millionaire the hard way:

Last week, the New York Times published this article about a man receiving a $10 million settlement from New York City after Brooklyn prosecutors’ misconduct resulted in his spending 16 years in prison for a murder he did not commit.

This is the latest in a series of recent payments that New York has made to settle similar claims, including those of the five men exonerated following their wrongful convictions in the infamous 1989 Central Park jogger rape case.

I’m curious about what happens to these newly minted millionaires. For starters, how much money do they actually get after their lawyers deduct fees and expenses?

Ferguson: America’s cultural segregation fault lines

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What’s wrong with living in your own private America

The crisis in Ferguson, Missouri., has refocused attention on racial divisions in the United States, specifically segregation. On a police force of 53, only three officers are black in a town that is roughly 67 percent African-American. Yet in some ways this attention obscures an even larger form of segregation that has been overtaking us for the past 40 years — cultural segregation.

Americans have managed to fracture themselves into clusters of the like-minded, the like-looking, the like-earning, the like-music listening, the like-TV watching and the like-movie-going.

Visitors play "Hearthstone" at the World of Warcraft exhibition stand during the Gamescom 2013 fair in Cologne We don’t live in America anymore. We live in thousands of Americas, many no farther away than our computer screens and the Internet. These are self-identified Americas. Beyond the usual suspects, Fox America and MSNBC America, we have hip-hop America, gun America, tree-hugging America, Tea Party America, drug America, sci-fi addict America, and on and on and on.

Tragedy in Ferguson: What the Justice Department can do next

Protesters walk through smoke as police clear a street after the passing of a midnight curfew meant to stem ongoing demonstrations in reaction to the shooting of Michael Brown, in FergusonThe tragic killing of Michael Brown by Officer Darren Wilson has brought to the surface long-simmering tensions between the Ferguson Police Department and the Missouri community it serves. In the shooting’s immediate aftermath, the focus has been on whether Wilson will be prosecuted criminally and convicted for the shooting. In the longer term, however, the focus must ultimately turn to a broader agenda, including substantial reforms in the Ferguson Police Department if it is to regain the full trust and confidence of the community.

After Attorney General Eric Holder traveled to the St. Louis suburb on Wednesday, he vowed that the Justice Department would stay involved to help heal the relationship between the police department and the public.  While many of the essential facts of the encounter between Brown and Wilson remain unknown, we do know that criminal convictions of police officers for shooting people are few and far between. The killing of Brown may turn out to be the rare incident that results in a criminal conviction by state or federal prosecutors, but statistics suggest that outcome is unlikely.

So what more can Holder and the Justice Department do?  Fortunately, whatever the outcome of the criminal process, they still have important tools at their disposal.

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