Saturday, December 24, 2005

Anti-union sentiment and the transit strike

I'm surprised how much anti-union sentiment among people who describe themselves as liberals has been provoked by the transit strike here in New York. This post and thread on TPM Cafe has quite a bit of it (although some of it is clearly from Republican trolls), and today Kevin Drum (who is not anti-union) posted some qualms.

I have to say that I, personally, did not hear anyone blaming the TWU for the stike. Everyone was inconvenienced, of course, and annoyance ran hot and cold, but no one that I heard was lashing out at the union. On MyDD, a SUSA poll showed the 52% of people supported the union, and only 40% supported the MTA.

In online discussions, people's objections seem to be:
  • $55,000, the median wage for TWU workers, is a decent living wage.
    Not in New York City, it's not, considering that it's the 12th most expensive city in the world, and the most expensive in the United States:
    New York City is one of the most expensive cities to live in. Mercer Resource Consulting ranked as the 12th most expensive city in the world with Tokyo at number one, London at number two and Moscow at number three. In 2003, New York was ranked ten but due to currency fluctuations between the dollar and the Euro, 1:1, 0.8:1, European cities have surged to the top. Within the United States, New York remains the most expensive city with Los Angeles at twenty-seven and Chicago at thirty-five. The median income of a New York is $60,765, $10,000 more than the national median. Based on a US average at an index of 100.0, the overall cost of living in New York is 189.1. Housing is almost triple the national average at $314,000 for a house and $2,483.64 for one months rent of a two bedroom apartment. Secondary education is about $2,000 more than the national average at $7,428. Utilities, including electricity and gas, are almost twice the national index at 179.9. Food and groceries is about 1.5x the nation's index at 142.5. A mere cup of coffee with table service is $5.48 while in Buenos Aires, ranked 141st, the same service costs $1.10. In fact, despite attaining a lower ranking than cities like London and Tokyo, one thing remains the most expensive in New York, phone service for one month at $25.99. The cheapest city surveyed by Mercer Resource Consulting was Pittsburgh ranked 112th. According to the index, a person who earns $50,000 in Pittsburgh will need $97,9776 in New York. Overall, New York City is two-times as expensive as any other city in the United States.
    This means that the $55,000 earned by a TWU worker in New York is the equivalent of a worker earning $28,000 in Pittsburg -- hardly a comfortable middle-class income, considering the 2005 Federal poverty threshhold for a family of four is $19,350.

    Many argue that the Federal poverty threshold is too low, and this 2000 report calculates what is called a "Self-Sufficiency Standard", which:
    defines the amount of income required to meet basic needs (including paying taxes) in the regular “marketplace” without public or private/informal subsidies. The Standard, therefore, determines the level of income necessary for a given family—whether working now or making the transition to work—to be independent of welfare and/or other public or private subsidies. By providing a measure that is customized to each family’s circumstances, i.e., taking account of where they live, and how old their children are, the Self-Sufficiency Standard makes it possible to determine if a family’s income is enough to meet their basic needs.
    According to this standard, the monthly self-sufficiency wage for 2 adults with 2 kids (a preschooler and a schoolage kid) in New York City is (by county):

    Bronx - $4,006 per month ($48,072 per year)
    Brooklyn - $4,107 ($49,284)
    Lower Manhattan - $6,328 ($75,936)
    Upper Manhattan - $4,373 ($52,476)
    Staten Island - $4,248 ($50,976)

    (I live in lower Manhattan, and the $76k figure seems about right to me. I've estimated that it takes about $100,000 a year to be comfortably middle class in Manhattan.)

    The bottom line is, however high it might sound in the rest of the country, $55,000 is not in any way, shape, or form an exorbitant wage for New York City.
  • TWU workers can retire at 55 after 25 years on the job.
    To begin to understand why this is appropriate, read this post by a TWU worker, then add the fact that other municipal unions (fire, police, sanitation) have the same retirement age, and that in the last negotiation with the teachers, Bloomberg promised to support them when they went to the legislator looking to lower their retirement age to 55. So when the MTA attempted to change the retirement age to 62 for new workers (taking back for new workers what had previously been negotiated for current ones), not only is that a de facto pay cut for those workers, but it denies the TWU parity with other municipal workers.

    Besides, as a commenter on Washington Monthly points out, $27,000 a year in New York isn't exactly living the life of riley. (The $19,350 national poverty threshold translates into something like $38k in New York). So retired TWU workers aren't living large off their pensions.

As I wrote elsewhere:

I certainly hope that the anti-union remarks in this thread are coming from Republican trolls and not from "new Democrats", because if this is what our party is heading towards, we are well and truly fucked in this country. We may as well hand it over to Bush & Company lock stock and barrel permanently, if the Democrats are going to govern with the lack of empathy and antipathy towards working class Americans that's been demonstrated here. Frankly, I find it disgusting, and a betrayal of what our party is supposed to represent.

Update Since I blew the link to the post by the TWU worker (it's now been corrected above), let me make up by quoting it a bit:

I am a New York City Transit Worker. One of the reason i accepted this job was because of the benefits and the retirement age. Do any of you know that the average life expectancy of a retired transit is no more than 6 years after retirement. We once were able to retire at 50 and at least enjoy a good package. Now it is 55. But MTA wants it to become a 30 yr, 62 age limit. Do u know why? Because we don't live as long as other jobs in the private sector. So if we retire later and work more years for MTA the 6 yr average may drop. Do u know that every day when i blow my nose there is steel dust in my mucous. I never had allegeries until i became a transit worker. i never had asthma until i became a transit worker. I have never been attacked until i became a transit worker. i never had to deal with rats as big as cats or roaches that are bigger than your average house roach. lol. Forget about the restroom conditions. A blind man would not go in there. Since we work in the most horrible conditions we accept the fact that we may be ruining our health and our life expectancy for the chance to retire a little earlier and enjoy the money alitte.

BTW, there's an awful lot of Kevin Drum-bashing going on in the comments to his post on this issue, which I think is totally uncalled for, and definitely not in the holiday spirit.

Ed Fitzgerald | 12/24/2005 02:11:00 AM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Behind the strike

Wayne Barrett looks at the transit workers strike in NYC and, not surpisingly, finds that politics are behind it:
Would this strike be happening if Governor George Pataki were running for re-election next year? Would Mike Bloomberg's city be shut down if the expiration date on the Transport Workers Union's contract were September or October, when he reached pre-election settlements with half a dozen city unions?

If your answer is no to either question, then you believe, as anyone with a memory in New York knows, that politics is the only explanation for this maddening and destructive strike.

It's Pataki and, to a lesser extent, Bloomberg, who are culpable here. The MTA -- a state agency controlled by Pataki -- has a well deserved reputation for dishonesty and financial ineptitude, and it didn't bother to seriously negotiate until the 11th hour (the original 11th hour, just before the contract expired at midnight last Thursday), and they pleaded future poverty at the same time they were bribing riders with holiday half-fares funded from an unexpected surplus that was supposed to be a deficit.

Pataki refused to get involved, preferring to fly off to New Hampshire in search of money for his (doomed) presidential efforts, and attempting to intimidate the union with the Taylor Law (which forbids strikes by unions in the public sector) -- a tactic utilized by Bloomberg as well. Either man could have done something to move the negotiations along if they cared to (Pataki much more so than Bloomberg), but neither obviously gave a damn, thinking, I suppose, that the public's ire will fall on the union and not on them.

Ed Fitzgerald | 12/21/2005 02:30:00 AM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

For parents

As a parent, I was very moved by these three posts by A Rational Being about raising a bi-polar child.

Update: Parts four and five.

Update: The series so far.

Update: The latest entry (with links to previous ones).

Ed Fitzgerald | 12/20/2005 11:30:00 PM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE


Talk about a powerful imperative

Daily routines are discombobulated here in NYC rigtht now, because of the transit strike. This morning, the first day of the outage, public schools had a two hour delayed opening, so instead of my wife bringing our son to school before she went in to work, I took him before I went to my rehearsal. On the way back from the school to stop by our apartment and pick up my bike and ride to the studio, I realized it was much colder than I had thought, and I started planning to add some more layers of clothing during my stopover.

At just about that time, I spotted ahead of me, waiting to cross the street, a young lady wearing a very short coat, under which was an even shorter miniskirt (which could be seen through the slit in the back of the coat), and calf-high boots. This left a considerable amount of nicely-shaped leg on display -- and, as far as I could tell, she wasn't wearing any hose.

She made me feel even colder (and somewhat older) just looking at her.

The imperative to advertise your positive physical attributes, presumably in order to attract a mate, is certainly a strong one.

Ed Fitzgerald | 12/20/2005 10:40:00 PM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE


Kitzmiller grand slam

I've read through most of the judge's decision in the Dover "Intelligent Design" trial, and it's a complete win for the good guys, a true grand slam. As far as I can tell, the judge in the end accepted totally the plantiffs' arguments, and did not accept almost anything offered by the defense. In fact, several of the defendants come in for some very pointed criticism for lying.

There are many good excerpts from the decision, but this is one I particularly liked for its clarity:
After a searching review of the record and applicable caselaw, we find that while ID arguments may be true, a proposition on which the Court takes no position, ID is not science. We find that ID fails on three different levels, any one of which is sufficient to preclude a determination that ID is science. They are: (1)ID violates the centuries-old ground rules of science by invoking and permitting supernatural causation; (2) the argument of irreducible complexity, central to ID, employs the same flawed and illogical contrived dualism that doomed creation science in the 1980's; and (3) ID’s negative attacks on evolution have been refuted by the scientific community. As we will discuss in more detail below, it is additionally important to note that ID has failed to gain acceptance in the scientific community, it has not generated peer-reviewed publications, nor has it been the subject of testing and research.

All of the blogs that have been following the trial have good commentary on it, which I won't attempt to summarize or repeat here. Check out Panda's Thumb, Pharyngula and Ed Brayton's site and browse through them.

It's nice to see things going our way, occasionally.

Update: Questionable Authority has a round-up of media & blog commentary on the case.

Ed Fitzgerald | 12/20/2005 08:56:00 PM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE

Monday, December 19, 2005

What does this mean?

I don't understand what it means when I read that Sen. Rockefeller wasn't allowed to discuss the meager information on the warrantless wiretapping program given to him by the Bush administration.

Not allowed? Rockefeller is a high official of a branch of government co-equal with the President, the one specifically responsible for overseeing the Executive. If he comes across -- by whatever means -- information that the President is breaking the law, subverting the Constitution and trampling on the civil liberties of American citizens, then it is incumbent upon him to GET THAT INFORMATION OUT! Unlike the New York Times which merely has a duty to publish that information under any reasonable code of journalistic ethics, Rockefeller has the absolute responsibility to blow the whistle, because THAT'S HIS CONSTITUTIONALLY MANDATED JOB!, that's the entire purpose of having a divided government in which each branch checks the others.

By meekly submitting to the restrictions placed on him and keeping his mouth shut, Rockefeller certainly preserved his own position of power, but he also subverted the Constitutional plan of the founders almost as much as Bush did.

It's understandable that he would be loathe to take such a drastic step, since there would obviously be repercussions, blowback from the Administration. His security clearance would probably be lifted, and he would be cut off from information he needs to do his job -- but the very act of blowing the cover off this program, and the repercussions that resulted from it, would create a legal case which could then be sent to the Supreme Court to be settled. Without that, there's no case. (Since no one knows who's been wiretapped, because there's no warrant, there's no aggrieved party to sue and create a case which the Supreme Court can review.)

I don't know if I would have the fortitude necessary to take that step, knowing that it could potentially be my downfall, but, then, I'm not a United States Senator, and Rockefeller is. If he can't handle the responsibilities inherent in that position, he had best step down and let someone else have a try.

[Cross-posted to a dKos diary]

Update (12/21): A post on dKos explains the specific reasons that it would be illegal for Rockefeller to reveal the information he was given. I had no doubt that was the case. It was also illegal for Rosa Parks to sit in the front of the bus, and for Daniel Ellsberg to leak the Pentagon Papers. Whistleblowing of corporate wrong-doing is often illegal, involving public disclosure of private matters. The jury in the John Peter Zenger case acted outside the law in refusing enforce laws that were reprehensible. Eeven everyday people sometimes are forced by circumstances to make a dofficult choice: to obey the law or to do the right thing.

When they came to their moral crossroad, Rockefeller and other elected officials chose to acquiesce in a blatantly illegal program of domestic spying, instead of answering to a higher good and blowing the whistle, whatever the consequences to themselves. They behaved legally, true, but selfishly and without regard for the unethical nature of the acts they allowed to continue.

The situation in this country is obviously dire (as this incident points out), and the vast majority of the malfeasance here is Bush's, so I don't advocate actually turning Rockefeller out of office -- we need every Democratic Senator we can get (real Democrats, not DINOs like Lieberman), but the fact that he's saved from the moral repercussions of his inaction doesn't mean that he's excused, at least not by me. This is a black mark against Rockefeller, and I will remember it.

Ed Fitzgerald | 12/19/2005 10:15:00 PM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE

Sunday, December 18, 2005


When the President does it that means it is not illegal.

Richard M. Nixon

Update: MyFriendRoger says: "A simple entry at Fafblog says it all about Shrub's decision to violate the law, and the predictable rightwing defense of same that was the immediate result."

If you want more, take a look at Digby, here and here.

Is it not now abundantly clear, that the legal opinions of this man, UC Berkeley's John Yoo, consistently go against any reasonable reading of our Constitution, and that the cover he provides for Bush and Cheney to do whatever they want to do, whether in violation of legal statute or the Constitution itself, makes him a very dangerous man?

Ed Fitzgerald | 12/18/2005 10:32:00 PM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE


Aristophanes in Birdonia

Update (1/18/06): More here, here, and here.

Ed Fitzgerald | 12/18/2005 10:30:00 PM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE


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Bullshit, trolling, unthinking knee-jerk dogmatism and the drivel of idiots will be ruthlessly deleted and the posters banned.

Entertaining, interesting, intelligent, informed and informative comments will always be welcome, even when I disagree with them.

I am the sole judge of which of these qualities pertains.

All e-mail received is subject to being published on unfutz without identifying names or addresses.

I correct typos and other simple errors of grammar, syntax, style and presentation in my posts after the fact without necessarily posting notification of the change.

Substantive textual changes, especially reversals or major corrections, will be noted in an "Update" or a footnote.

Also, illustrations may be added to entries after their initial publication.
the story so far
unfutz: toiling in almost complete obscurity for almost 1500 days
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the proud unfutz guarantee
If you read unfutz at least once a week, without fail, your teeth will be whiter and your love life more satisfying.

If you read it daily, I will come to your house, kiss you on the forehead, bathe your feet, and cook pancakes for you, with yummy syrup and everything.

(You might want to keep a watch on me, though, just to avoid the syrup ending up on your feet and the pancakes on your forehead.)

Finally, on a more mundane level, since I don't believe that anyone actually reads this stuff, I make this offer: I'll give five bucks to the first person who contacts me and asks for it -- and, believe me, right now five bucks might as well be five hundred, so this is no trivial offer.

original content
© 2003-2008
Ed Fitzgerald


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