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“Unqualified” Trump appointee set to take over consumer protection agency

From today’s Los Angeles Times:

If all goes according to Republican plan, this is the week a person with no experience in consumer protection will take over the consumer watchdog agency that the party has been steadily weakening to the point of irrelevancy.

Kathy Kraninger, a White House budget official, received the green light for final approval last week after Republican senators shut down debate on her nomination with a party-line vote of 50 to 49. The only wild card is whether memorial services for former President George H.W. Bush will delay action by a few days.

Kraninger would replace White House budget chief Mick Mulvaney, who has been leading the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau on an interim basis and fulfilling President Trump’s pledge to make the agency friendlier to the businesses it was intended to crack down on — banks, payday lenders and others.

“If the Senate approves this unqualified acolyte of Mick Mulvaney, who has no consumer protection or financial regulation experience, expect her to simply follow his playbook,” said Ed Mierzwinski, senior director of the federal consumer program for the U.S. Public Interest Research Group.

That means Kraninger will “leave service members and their families at the mercy of predatory lenders, work with payday lenders to eliminate the payday lending rule even Congress was afraid to vote to repeal, and reduce enforcement penalties, if any, to parking tickets, not punishments,” he said.

Read the complete article here.

New Domestic Workers Bill of Rights Would Remedy Decades of Injustice

From The Nation Magazine:

There are about 2 million domestic workers in the country, a workforce that is only growing larger as baby boomers age and millennials have children. But despite the size of the workforce and the importance of the work it performs, domestic workers are excluded from basic workplace protections and face rampant abuse and exploitation. Eight states and Seattle have passed bills of domestic-worker rights that extend some of these protections, but outside of those places, domestic workers labor in people’s homes with little recourse if they get hurt or taken advantage of.

That could change under legislation that was just unveiled in Congress. On Wednesday, Senator Kamala Harris and Representative Pramila Jayapal announced a federal bill of rights for domestic workers, the first-ever nationwide legislation that would extend working rights to domestic workers and offer them financial stability and safety. The bill would ensure that domestic workers are covered by some basic labor laws: the right to overtime pay when they put in more than 40 hours a week, to the protections of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, to form unions, and to recourse against harassment and discrimination. It also extends new ones, such as the right to meal and rest breaks, paid sick days, advanced notice of scheduling, written agreements, and privacy and other protections for live-in workers.

As of 2012, domestic workers made less than $11 an hour at the median, while nearly a quarter were paid less than their state’s minimum wage. They very rarely get health insurance or retirement benefits from work. Their schedules are usually dictated by their employer’s whims and wishes, even when this interferes with sleeping and eating. Rates of injury are high, as are incidents of discrimination and harassment.

Read the complete article here.

Sex Workers Say Incel Campaign to Report Them to IRS Won’t Work

From today’s Rolling Stone Magazine:

A few angry men on the internet have launched a campaign encouraging others to report sex workers to the IRS for failing to report income they make online, claiming they’ll get a cut of any back taxes collected as a reward for being “whistleblowers.” The campaign, dubbed the “Thot Audit,” is circulating around misogynist “men’s rights” and incel (involuntary celibate) circles on Twitter and Reddit along with a lot of anti-women, anti-sex worker rhetoric. Sure, it’s cruel — but does it pose a real threat?

“I’m not concerned about being reported,” says Rachel, who works as a financial dominatrix. “The IRS is not only heavily overburdened, I’d be shocked to find someone had even one-sixteenth of the necessary information to file form 3949-A [the form used to report another person for non-payment].”

“The presence of any kind of real threat here seems to be mitigated by people who are more interested in being granted some kind of permission to harass sex workers,” she says. “Boredom will inevitably set in, and the ‘thot audit’ campaign will be put to bed soon.”

Christopher Kirk, a tax attorney who works with sex workers and other alternative communities, agrees that this is likely an empty threat.

“I don’t think that cam girls and other online sex workers are at a very high risk of being audited as a result of this harassment campaign,” he says. “The IRS requires rather detailed information from whistleblowers, including, at the very least, the taxpayer’s legal name and location. While some cam girls and other online sex workers may operate under their legal name, I doubt many do.”

“Moreover,” Kirk says, “the Service wants actionable information about significant tax issues, not guesses, and the program is not a forum for people with an ax to grind. Because the incel trolls engaging in the #thotaudit campaign likely have no idea whether their targets file taxes or report the income from their online work, I don’t think it likely that such reporting will actually trigger an audit.”

He says the best way for sex workers to protect themselves is to file their taxes, reporting their income as accurately as possible, and keeping receipts for any business expenses so they have a paper trail if they ever do get audited.

Read the complete article here.

G.M. to Idle Plants, Cutting Thousands of Jobs in North America as Sales Slow

From today’s New York Times:

General Motors announced Monday that it planned to idle five factories in North America and cut roughly 14,000 jobs in a bid to trim costs. It was a jarring reflection of the auto industry’s adjustment to changing consumer tastes and sluggish sales.

The move, which follows job reductions by Ford Motor Company, further pares the work force in a sector that President Trump had promised to bolster. Referring to G.M.’s chief executive, Mary T. Barra, he told reporters, “I spoke to her and I stressed the fact that I am not happy with what she did.”

Mr. Trump also invoked the rescue of G.M. after its bankruptcy filing almost a decade ago. “You know, the United States saved General Motors,” he told reporters, “and for her to take that company out of Ohio is not good. I think she’s going to put something back in soon.”

In addition to an assembly plant in Lordstown, Ohio, the cuts affect factories in Michigan, Maryland and the Canadian province of Ontario.

Part of the retrenchment is a response to a slowdown in new-car salesthat has prompted automakers to slim their operations and shed jobs. And earlier bets on smaller cars have had to be unwound as consumers have gravitated toward pickup trucks and sport-utility vehicles as a result of low gasoline prices.

In addition, automakers have paid a price for the trade battle that Mr. Trump set in motion. In June G.M. slashed its profit outlook for the year because tariffs were driving up production costs, raising prices even on domestic steel. Rising interest rates are also generating headwinds.

Read the complete article here.

Georgia Set To Remain A Battleground For Voting Rights Ahead Of 2020

From today’s NPR News:

When Democrat Stacey Abrams ended her bid last week to become governor of Georgia and the first black woman ever elected governor of any state, she issued a stinging indictment of Georgia’s voting system, a system overseen by her Republican opponent Brian Kemp, who was the state’s top election official during the 2018 midterms.

“Democracy failed Georgia,” said Abrams in a speech acknowledging Kemp would be the state’s next governor.

“Make no mistake, the former secretary of state was deliberate and intentional in his actions,” Abrams said. “I know that eight years of systemic disenfranchisement, disinvestment and incompetence had its desired effect on the electoral process in Georgia.”

In an interview this week with NPR, Abrams spoke about how she was nearly denied the chance to vote in person this year due to a clerical error.

Abrams said she’s preparing to sue the state of Georgia for “the gross mismanagement” of the 2018 election, and announced the launch of “Fair Fight Georgia,” an initiative to “pursue accountability in Georgia’s elections and integrity in the process of maintaining our voting rolls.”

For months, Kemp resisted calls from Democrats and civil rights groups for him to step aside from his role as the state’s top election official. He was also criticized for policies making voting more difficult for people of color, in order to gain a political advantage.

Read the complete article here.

As Immigrant Farmworkers Become More Scarce, Robots Replace Humans

From today’s New York Times:

As a boy, Abel Montoya remembers his father arriving home from the lettuce fields each evening, the picture of exhaustion, mud caked knee-high on his trousers. “Dad wanted me to stay away from manual labor. He was keen for me to stick to the books,” Mr. Montoya said. So he did, and went to college.

Yet Mr. Montoya, a 28-year-old immigrant’s son, recently took a job at a lettuce-packing facility, where it is wet, loud, freezing — and much of the work is physically taxing, even mind-numbing.

Now, though, he can delegate some of the worst work to robots.

Mr. Montoya is among a new generation of farmworkers here at Taylor Farms, one of the world’s largest producers and sellers of fresh-cut vegetables, which recently unveiled a fleet of robots designed to replace humans — one of the agriculture industry’s latest answers to a diminishing supply of immigrant labor.

The smart machines can assemble 60 to 80 salad bags a minute, double the output of a worker.

Enlisting robots made sound economic sense, Taylor Farms officials said, for a company seeking to capitalize on Americans’ insatiable appetite for healthy fare at a time when it cannot recruit enough people to work in the fields or the factory.

Read the complete article here.

Voting rights groups sue to prevent FL governor from participating in recount

From today’s Jurist Online Magazine:

Voting rights groups League of Women Voters of Florida and Common Cause Florida filed a lawsuit on Monday seeking an injunction preventing Florida Governor Rick Scott from participating in the voting recount for the US Senate race, in which Scott is a candidate.

The plaintiffs filed the suit in the US District Court for the Northern District of Florida.

The governor has “substantial responsibilities for election administration” including being a member on a three-person committee that certifies election results.  The plaintiffs say:

In light of the pervasive opportunities for the Defendant Scott to improperly exercise power over the U.S. Senate race, his continued interventions in the race violate the basic notion of fairness that no man should be a judge in his own cause.

The plaintiffs allege Scott wants to use his power as governor to impede the recount. Scott accused liberals of “trying to steal the election” and said he wanted the Florida Department of Law Enforcement to investigate the recount, which the plaintiffs say could intimidate election officials.

The plaintiffs gave Scott the opportunity to recuse himself from the case in a letter on Saturday, saying they would bring court action if he refused. Scott did not recuse himself from the case.

Upgrade voting systems, restore Voting Right Act, and end voter suppression

From today’s USA Today:

In many ways, Election Day 2018 was a good one for American democracy. Millions of people turned out to vote. An unprecedented number of women are headed to Congress, including the first Native American women and the first Muslim-American women to serve on Capitol Hill. In Florida, voters restored voting rights to more than a million peoplewho had been disenfranchised for past felony convictions. In Michigan and Maryland, they approved same-day registration. In Colorado, Michigan, Missouri, and Utah, they said yes to fair legislative districts.

But at the same time, the election provided evidence of what many activists and experts have been saying for years: the machinery of our democracy needs serious maintenance. Together, aging infrastructure and resurgent voter suppression have jeopardized equal voting rights in the United States, turning what should be a source of national pride into cause for alarm.

The costs of poor preparation and outdated election equipment were plain to see. In downtown Atlanta, voters stood in line for more than three hours because only three voting machines had been sent to serve more than 3,000 people. In Richland County, South Carolina, voters reported that machines were changing their selections. Officials worked to address the issue, but the county elections director told the NAACP Legal Defense Fund that he only had one technician for every five polling sites. In Maryland, two precincts ran out of paper ballots; in Detroit and New York City, malfunctioning machines caused many voters to simply give up.

Read the complete article here.

Kemp Resigns as GA Secretary of State, With Governor’s Race Still Disputed

From today’s New York Times:

Brian Kemp, the Republican who has claimed victory in the Georgia governor’s race, said on Thursday that he was resigning as secretary of state, removing himself from the process of determining whether he had in fact been elected.

With some ballots still to be counted, his Democratic opponent, Stacey Abrams, is just shy of enough votes to force a runoff. Ms. Abrams has not conceded, and The Associated Press and other major news organizations say the race is still too close to call.

Mr. Kemp attracted mounting criticism during the campaign for his management of an election in which he was also a candidate, but he had dismissed repeated calls from Democrats for him to resign in the weeks before Election Day.

Mr. Kemp made no mention of the elections process on Thursday in his resignation letter to the outgoing Republican governor, Nathan Deal, saying he was resigning because he wished “to focus on the transition to my gubernatorial administration.”

Appearing with Mr. Deal at a morning news conference at the State Capitol in Atlanta, Mr. Kemp said, “I think in light of where we are now, this will give public confidence to the certification process, even though, quite honestly, it’s being done at the county level.”

Read the complete article here.

Election Day: Trump and health care key issues in race for control of the House

From today’s Washington Post:

Voters who will decide control of the U.S. House said President Trump and health care were two of the most important factors as they chose their candidates in the midterm election, according to preliminary results from a Washington Post-Schar School survey of battleground districts.

Battleground district polls: What voters are thinking on Election Day VIEW GRAPHIC 

More than four in 10 who cast early or absentee ballots or voted early Tuesday mentioned Trump or health care as the most important or second-most important factor for their vote, the preliminary results showed. The economy and immigration were close behind, receiving mention from over 3 in 10 voters in the results.

Roughly 8 in 10 voters rated the economy positively, after months of job and wage growth, but even so, a small majority said they thought the country was headed in the wrong direction.

The poll was conducted Monday and Tuesday among voters across 69 competitive congressional districts.

As the first national election since Trump’s presidential upset in 2016, the midterms gave Democrats an opportunity to capi­tal­ize on his low, 40-percent approval rating, a restive national mood and frustration with one-party leadership in Washington under the GOP.

Read the complete article here.