Tapped

From #BlackLivesMatter to the Bureau of Land Management, Oath Keepers Aim to Intimidate

In the early morning on Tuesday, about half a dozen men armed with assault rifles began walking the streets of Ferguson, Missouri, which was under a state of emergency following protests on the August 9 anniversary of the killing of Michael Brown.

They were members of Oath Keepers, described by the Southern Poverty Law Center as a “fiercely antigovernment, militaristic group,” and they said they were there to “keep the peace”—as if their presence was meant to be anything other than intimidating. St. Louis County Police Chief Jon Belmar said their arrival was “both unnecessary and inflammatory,” but apparently no police officers confronted the group. The men were all white, of course—as if they could have possibly been met with the same response if they were black or brown.

(Photo: AP/Jeff Roberson)

Heavily armed members of the Oath Keepers arrive in Ferguson early on Tuesday, August 11, to "protect people and property."

 

CNN was gracious enough to grant one member, John Karriman, the chance to explain his organization’s mission in Ferguson. “We had a calming presence on the crowd because they remember us from last year,” he said. “We were here for them, protecting people and property.” In the interview, Karriman said the Oath Keepers made their presence known to police, who simply asked that they not get in the way. Before the militiamen arrived, the police had told protesters to disperse, arresting those who did not comply.

Oath Keepers interpret political reality through the same prism as the tinfoil-hat-wearing, black-helicopter crowd, except with a special emphasis on using their weapons to disobey and resist unconstitutional government overreach and the imminent and tyrannical imposition of martial law.

They’ve also been freelancing their paramilitary and weapon-wielding skills to mining companies in the West. Just last week, Intermountain Mining requested the group come to the White Hope Mine in Lincoln, Montana, to stage a “security operation” and protect the mine from “unlawful action by the United States Forest Service.” The Forest Service and the mine owners are in a dispute over who controls the surface rights to the mine, with Intermountain Mining claiming ownership under the original 1872 General Mining Law and the Forest Service citing noncompliance regarding a structure built on the property.

It’s worth talking a bit about this 1872 law, which is, incredibly, still on the books: Passed by President Ulysses S. Grant—yes, Grant—to encourage western development, the law lets mining companies buy land (at 1872 prices) and extract valuable minerals from public lands without paying any royalties (an estimated $100 million a year, according to the Pew Charitable Trusts). The taxpayers are left with the bill for environmental damage and abandoned mine cleanup, which is considerable. Last week’s dam breach in Colorado that leaked millions of gallons—and counting—of contaminated wastewater into the Animas River happened when the EPA was performing a cleanup of the Gold King Mine, abandoned since 1923.

It is this industry Oath Keepers are defending in Montana, just as they defended rancher Cliven Bundy’s refusal to recognize the federal government or pay years’ worth of fees for having allowed his cattle to graze on public land. A report released on Tuesday by the Center for Western Priorities, which describes itself as a nonpartisan conservation group, linked the efforts of extremist groups like Oath Keepers to Western state lawmakers who use anti-government rhetoric in their efforts to transfer ownership of federal lands—and the minerals underneath them—to state and local government.

But rhetoric is one thing, and assault weapons are another. The founder of Oath Keepers, Stewart Rhodes, wrote on the group’s website after the shooting in Chattanooga that Oath Keepers should “Go armed, at all times, as free men and women, and be ready to do sudden battle, anywhere, anytime, and with utter recklessness.” The group has denied that its mine protection in Montana is a “standoff,” though if I were a Forest Service employee, I would be a bit reluctant to approach armed men who not only believe my agency is unconstitutional, but also are prepared to “do sudden battle” with supposed agents of tyranny.

And if I were a protester in Ferguson, or one of the countless unarmed victims of police violence, I would also be more than reluctant to believe this country has an accurate idea of what constitutes a threat, or of who or what needs protecting.

Using Tech to Improve Government

In the modern digital era, a growing number of individuals and organizations are trying to figure out how to harness technology to improve democracy. I have written previously about the Personal Democracy Forum—an annual conference of civic tech groups in New York City—and while these spaces can certainly give rise to overblown hype (think HBO’s Silicon Valley but for Washington, D.C.), some innovations really do create opportunities to improve civic life.

One interesting new tool is called Balancing Act. Created by Engaged Public, a Denver-based company, Balancing Act is pitched as a public-budget simulation that local residents can use to better understand how their tax dollars are being spent. It also allows users to share their personal budget priorities, and to explore how to make that work given the available amount revenue. So, for example, if someone wants to see more money allocated for park maintenance or education, they’d have to take money from some other budget line, or indicate that they’d be willing to increase taxes elsewhere.

The tool should not be confused with “participatory budgeting”—a process first developed in Brazil in 1989—in which local community members come together to deliberate how a portion of a public budget should be spent. Balancing Act is about helping citizens engage with the entire budget, and reckoning with how governments really spend the bulk of their tax dollars.

After launching this past spring, Balancing Act is currently being used in HartfordSan Antonio, the state of Colorado, and the Meridian Library District in Idaho. Governments pay annual fees to use the technology—ranging typically from $891 to $3,141 per year—and from there, the governments transfer their data and budgeting info into the system.

I am a bit skeptical of civic tech tools that prioritize engagement over power. This summer, I read Democratizing Inequalities, a terrific book that looks at how we have increasing levels of inequality alongside an ever-expanding number of opportunities to “participate” in civic life. Some scholars have rightly noted that many digital tools offer the illusion of openness and inclusion without actually providing more political power to those who have the least.

Right now, governments can claim to be “transparent” or “open” if they publish extremely long PDFs on their websites; few citizens actually have the time or expertise to comb through these dense documents and make sense of what’s going on. Democracy is consent of the governed, but if citizens can’t understand what their leaders are doing, then consent means little. Balancing Act breaks the information down in a way that is easier for the average citizen to sift through, and that’s important.

“We want to help create the basis for a much more intelligent and thoughtful conversation that reflects people’s actual priorities,” said Chris Adams, the president of Engaged Public, who also thinks that these types of tools can foster more trust between citizens and government. According to the Pew Research Center, just 5 percent of Americans think state governments share data very effectively, and only 7 percent think local governments share data very effectively. When trust in government is low, participation drops.

Adams hopes this tool will be attractive to adults, but he acknowledges that it can be challenging to get people to actually use it. Playing around with budgets, even accessible and comprehensible budgets, isn’t exactly fun. The tool may turn out to be much more valuable for teachers, who can use it as a way to augment civic education. Even if kids don’t want to use the budget simulations after they graduate, at least they’ll have developed a deeper understanding of how budgets actually work.

It’s possible that government agencies will eventually work to make their information more accessible in-house, rather than contract out these responsibilities to various companies. But technological change within the government moves quite slowly, so I wouldn’t expect that any time soon.

Lawrence Lessig's Curious Candidacy for Campaign-Finance Reform

Last night, The New York Times reported that prominent campaign-finance reformer Lawrence Lessig is considering a Democratic run for president.

His civic-minded platform is simple, and his plan is rather curious. If he can raise $1 million in small donations by Labor Day, Lessig will run for president with the sole purpose of passing legislation—the Citizen Equality Act of 2017—that would make Election Day a national holiday, end gerrymandering, and institute a robust public campaign-finance system based on vouchers and matching funds. If elected, Lessig says he will resign after passing the act.

Lessig is comparing his candidacy to that of Eugene McCarthy in 1968, who ran a single-issue campaign against the Vietnam War because he feared the Democratic Party wasn’t making it a prominent part of its platform.

The most prominent Democratic contenders—Hillary Clinton, Bernie Sanders, and Martin O’Malley—have all pledged their support of overturning the Citizens United decision. Last week, Sanders took it a step further and introduced legislation that would expand the public campaign-finance system to all federal elections.

Clinton and O’Malley have both voiced support for public campaign finance but have not come out with any sort of particular policy or plan.

Lessig is the former head of the Mayday PAC, a super PAC to end super PACs that support candidates who are committed to reforming campaign finance. The group’s efforts in 2014 were largely unsuccessful. A couple weeks ago, I spoke to Lessig’s replacement, Zephyr Teachout, about the presidential race and she made it clear that paying lip service on finance reform isn’t enough.

“[I]f you are silent on private financing in elections and aren’t actively supporting some model of public financing, that’s a problem—you’re a pro-corruption candidate,” Teachout said.

It’s interesting to note that Lessig has already targeted his most pointed critiques to Sanders’s candidacy, whose policies and supporters are most comparable to Lessig’s.

In an interview with Bloomberg’s Emily Greenhouse, Lessig articulated exactly why he thinks he is a better candidate than the Vermont senator:

“Bernie is pushing a different equality. Bernie is talking about wealth equality, economic equality. And while personally I agree with much of what he says about the incredible harm that’s been done by the incredible inequality that’s been produced, the reality is: America is not united around the idea of wealth equality the way America is united around the idea of equality among citizens. So what I’m pushing is a big idea that I think could actually unite America—and what Bernie is pushing is a big idea that, while many of us in the progressive part of the Democratic Party love it, all of America does not love.”

That’s a bold assertion to make, and he places a lot of faith in the saliency of such wonky, unsexy issues like public campaign finance and gerrymandering. But if he ends up running, it will be worth seeing what kind of impact Lessig has on Sanders’s surging momentum—and whether Hillary Clinton’s campaign will even acknowledge his existence. 

The CEO Lobby Is Mad About the SEC's Pay Ratio Rule

When Congress passed Dodd-Frank in 2010, the most substantial piece of Wall Street reform in years, it included a provision that required most publicly traded companies to disclose the compensation ratio between its CEO and its average worker—a symbolic measure that Democrats included as a way to shine light on income inequality. 

Last week (more than five years later), the SEC finally approved, along party lines, a rule that requires such disclosure. As a way increasing transparency over exorbitant executive compensation and allowing for more informed, socially-responsible investment, most publicly traded companies will now be forced to show in simple terms how many hundreds of times more its top executive is paid than its employees.

As research from the Economic Policy Institute (EPI) has shown, it will likely not be a favorable number for most corporations. In 1965, the average CEO-worker pay ratio was 20 to 1. In 2014, it was 303 to 1. The average compensation for a CEO in 2014 was $16.3 million.

The SEC rule’s passage is being lauded as a big win for financial reform advocates like Elizabeth Warren, who consistently berated the commission for taking so long to pass the mandated rule. But Republicans and the CEO lobby are feeling a little victimized and upset. A Republican SEC Commissioner, Daniel Gallagher, quipped, “To steal a line from Justice Scalia: This is pure applesauce.”

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce has dubbed it a “name-and-shame tactic,” saying in a statement: “Congress added this disclosure to Dodd-Frank as a favor to union lobbyists who misguidedly think it will help their organizing efforts. When disclosure is used to advance special interest agendas rather than provide investors with better information, it is a step in the wrong direction.”

While the SEC has said it will cost companies a measly $73 million to comply, the Chamber of Commerce contends that the costs will be an “egregious” $700 million a year.

“It’s cost without a purpose,” John Engler, president of the Business Roundtable, a Washington association of CEOs, told The Los Angeles Times.

No doubt, the powerful business lobby will continue to sound the hyperbolic alarms, claiming what seems like some pretty basic arithmetic amounts to a costly and burdensome government regulation that will stoke the class-warfare fire and force CEOs to spend their hard-earned income on anti-pitchfork insurance.

But maybe it’s a good thing that big business is a little uneasy about making public just how large its pay disparities are. While transparency doesn’t always lead to change, there are those who are optimistic that the new rule will have a real impact.

“I used to think this was symbolic,” Larry Mishel, president of the EPI, told The Los Angeles Times. “But the fact is, the pay of people in publicly held companies drives the executive pay market—for people in privately held firms, for universities, for hospitals.” 

Bernie Knows Repealing Citizens United Isn’t Enough. Does Anyone Else?

Earlier this week, Vermont Senator and Democratic presidential contender Bernie Sanders announced that he will introduce legislation that will create a robust public campaign-finance system in an attempt to beat back the unhinged influence of big money in the U.S. electoral system.

“The need for real campaign finance reform is not a progressive issue. It is not a conservative issue. It is an American issue,” Sanders said on the Senate floor. “Let us be frank, let us be honest, the current political campaign finance system is corrupt and amounts to legalized bribery.”

The announcement comes in light of a New York Times blockbuster report that as of June, roughly 130 families and their businesses are responsible for more than half of all money raised for Republican candidates and their respective super PACs.

“We are talking about a rapid movement in this country toward oligarchy, toward a government owned and controlled by a handful of extremely wealthy families,” Sanders said. 

This new bill will come on top of Sanders’s marquee policy position that calls for a constitutional amendment to overturn the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision. He also recently pledged that, if elected president, he would only appoint Supreme Court justices who are committed to overturning the decision.

Still, despite grassroots support for a constitutional amendment, such a route remains more of a political pipedream than reality. Sanders’s new call for a public campaign-finance system is reflective of a shifting strategy within reform circles—one that emphasizes not only a repeal of Citizens United, but also gives imperative to changing the funding mechanisms of elections.

“What that means in terms of electoral races is that we’re not going to let any candidates get away with saying that they’re pro-reform unless they’re talking about public financing,” campaign-finance reform advocate Zephyr Teachout told me in an interview last week. “They cannot, like Hillary Clinton, talk about a constitutional amendment and not talk about the most obvious and easiest thing to do, which is switch to a public-financing model. You’re not an anti-corruption candidate if you’re not talking about public financing.”

The thinking is that even if Citizens is repealed, it would only be going back to the campaign-finance world of 2009—hardly a democratic utopia. By instituting a robust public-finance system, small donors’ concerns would be amplified through matching funds and the reliance on mega-donors would be minimized.

So while Sanders makes it clear he understands that campaign finance reform isn’t one-dimensional problem, has anyone else?

Most Republicans have remained mute on the subject of campaign-finance reform and it’s rather unthinkable to imagine a conservative supporting the use of public money to fund campaigns—Mitch McConnell has likened it to “welfare for politicians.”

And while the current Democratic frontrunner, Hillary Clinton, supports the overturning of Citizens United, she’s refrained from articulating a position on public campaign finance. 

Former Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley is in favor of overturning Citizens United, and has voiced support of public campaign finance—though he’s yet to come forward with a formal proposal. “I think a lot of cities are moving to publically financed campaigns and as more cities successfully do that, it’d be nice to see that kind of bubble up,” O’Malley said at a New Hampshire campaign visit in March. “I haven’t advanced a proposal on this; I’d certainly be open to it.”

Other public campaign-finance bills have been recently introduced in the House, but so far to no avail. So while the feasibility of Sanders’s getting any kind of similar bill pushed through a Republican Senate is unlikely, he is bolstering his surprising campaign surge by acknowledging what most in the campaign-finance-reform world have been saying for some time now: Repeal doesn’t mean much if there’s no public financing that goes with it.

A Toast to John Kasich, the GOP Debate's Token "Moderate"

Tonight, 17 Republican presidential candidates will take the stage in Cleveland in an attempt to differentiate themselves from the competition, or, if all else fails, offer entertainment during a highly anticipated primetime event. Public health officials are even warning viewers of the danger of playing drinking games while watching such predictably unpredictable candidates as front-runner (!) Donald Trump.

The decision to host the GOP debates and convention in the blue, working-class, and majority–African American city may be jarring to some liberals, though the swing-state location makes perfect sense. So goes Ohio, so goes the nation, as the saying goes. But as noted in a well-timed report released Wednesday by the Center for American Progress, so goes the state’s middle class.

According to the CAP report, titled “Ohio’s Struggling Middle Class,” the state’s median household income in 2013 is lower than it was in 1984, and below the national average. At the same time, income inequality has widened between the top 20 percent of earners and the bottom 20 percent.

I doubt bringing up the report will be one of the “doozies” moderator Chris Wallace has planned for tonight, though it would be a particularly good question for Ohio Governor John Kasich, who was recently excused from the 5 p.m. debate and offered a place at the big-kids’ 9 p.m. table with the other nine highest-polling candidates (replacing Rick Perry).

While Kasich has a sort-of home-field advantage at this debate, he’ll have his work cut out for him in increasing his name recognition and convincing primary voters that he’s not as moderate as everyone says. He supports Common Core, oversaw the state’s acceptance of Medicaid expansion under Obamacare, and once said, quite radically, that he believed that helping the poor was a Christian virtue.

Of course, most of those stories about his moderate policies generously leave out Kasich’s devastating support for anti-abortion legislation, from 20-week abortion bans to restrictions on providers. And as the CAP report lays out, the governor’s recent budget slashes, including cuts to education, earn his moderate label the modifier of “relatively.” The Ohio tax system under Kasich has seen a decrease in income tax and increase in sales tax, which effectively means that low-income residents pay a higher share of their income in taxes than the wealthy. And in 2011, Kasich championed a restrictive law that curtailed public-sector workers’ collective-bargaining rights. Later that year, Ohioans overwhelmingly voted to repeal the law, but the decline in union membership in Ohio mirrors the decline in middle-class household income, as it does in the rest of the country.

But with nine other candidates, and one of them being the scene-stealing Donald Trump, it’s unlikely Kasich will have much time to justify those policy decisions at length. Still, get out the whiskey and pour yourself a shot every time he proudly says the word “budget,” “abortion,” or “Ohio.” Just be careful.

NLRB Rules Teach for America Members Have a Right to Unionize

In another interesting development for the movement to unionize charter schools, the National Labor Relations Board ruled last week that Teach for America corps members should have been allowed to vote in a Detroit charter union election earlier this year.

Detroit 90/90, a charter management organization for the University Prep charter network, said that Teach for America teachers shouldn’t be permitted to vote because they are not professional employees. Instead, they argued, TFA members should be viewed as long-term substitute teachers.

Patrick Sheehan, a Detroit TFA-er told MLive that he and his fellow corps members are really pleased with the NLRB’s decision. “U-Prep hired us to teach just like other teachers. Making the legal argument that we are not professionals means one of two things: Either Detroit 90/90 doesn't respect the work we do with students or they lied to prevent us from organizing a union.”

Shaun Richman, the AFT’s deputy director of organizing told The Prospect that University Prep’s argument was an insult to all TFA corps members and alumni around the country. “Nobody would have dared to say that TFA corps members are not really teachers even a year ago,” said Richman. “But now that they want a union, suddenly those kinds of insults are apparently on the table.”

While Teach for America does not officially take a stance on unionization efforts, Takirra Winfield, TFA’s head of national communications, praised the NLRB’s decision. "We’re pleased that the National Labor Relations Board acknowledged that our teachers are professional, qualified educators who are deeply invested in their school communities and are able to make individual choices about their union membership,” she said. “As a TFA network, we know there is tremendous strength in the diversity of perspectives among our talented corps members and alumni as they work to help make certain that every child has access to an excellent education.”

There are roughly 11,000 current TFA teachers and more than 37,000 alumni around the country. About 60 percent of Detroit Teach for America corps members work in charter schools. Nate Walker, AFT-Michigan’s K-12 organizer and policy analyst, was a former Detroit TFA-er himself.

It’s likely that we’ll continue to see more union campaigns launched at charter schools, and more Teach for America members among them. Many TFA-ers are progressive and young, and national surveys find that young Americans are among the country’s most ardent union supporters. According to Pew, fully 55 percent of Americans aged 18 to 29 held a favorable view of unions, while just 29 percent held unfavorable ones.

On Its 50th Anniversary, the Case for Restoring the Voting Rights Act

It’s been 50 years since Lyndon B. Johnson signed the Voting Rights Act into law, guaranteeing blacks the right to vote after decades of disenfranchisement. The landmark legislation came at a crucial time in American history; the civil rights movement was in full swing and progress was slowly being made. But in 2015, voting rights are again under an unprecedented assault.

In 2013, the Supreme Court ruled that the section of the VRA requiring that certain states with a history of voter discrimination seek preclearance with the federal government before making changes to their voting laws, is no longer necessary.

Tomorrow is the 50th anniversary of the law and Democrats are commemorating it by advocating for its renewal. The Obama administration is trying to make progress on voting rights and has been discussing strategies on how to move forward with legislators. On Thursday, the president will participate in a video teleconference with citizens to speak about the importance of restoring the law. Congressman John Lewis, who marched for voting rights in his youth and was present at the signing of the law, will join Obama, Attorney General Loretta Lynch and other voting rights advocates in calling for a restoration of the VRA in the wake of an unparalleled assault on the right to vote in recent years.

Since 2010, 22 states have made it harder to vote. In 2015, 113 bills that would restrict voting access have been introduced or carried over from last legislative session in 33 states. Next year, the presidential election will take place with 15 states enforcing stricter rules than they did during the 2012 election.

In Texas, strict laws about IDs—accepting concealed carry permits but not state-issued college IDs—have made it harder for college students (who vote for Democrats in droves) to vote. Reducing the amount of early voting days and a ban on same-day registration effectively disenfranchised thousands of North Carolinians in 2014.

Democrats have been saying that the onslaught of new voting laws is designed to make it harder for their base—racial minorities, the elderly, and young people—to vote. But Republicans claim that the new laws are intended to fight voter fraud—even though it’s nearly nonexistent.

The Voting Rights Act of 1965 is considered a turning point in the civil rights movement, signifying change in a country that had long discriminated against blacks. Now, with the 2016 presidential election season under way, Republicans want to erode that hard-won progress.

Will We See More Suburban Opposition to Fair-Housing Rules?

According to a Fair Housing complaint filed last month by the Department of Justice, Palmdale and Lancaster in the northern section of Los Angeles County are the latest satellite cities to be found discriminating against African American Section 8 voucher holders. This comes as disturbing but not unsurprising news as communities of color, particularly in coastal and rust-belt cities, are pushed out of gentrifying urban centers and into increasingly more-affordable suburbs.

Since 2004, according to the DoJ, the Los Angeles County Housing Authority (HACoLA) and the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department have colluded on a variety of tactics intended to scare African Americans out of the two Antelope Valley cities, including conducting random armed investigations of African American Section 8 residents, discouraging landlords from accepting Section-8 vouchers, and making statements that fuel local opposition to the influx of African Americans. (There was an “I hate Section 8” Facebook group, which has been taken down.) Los Angeles County’s actions indicate that the days of discriminatory housing practices are far from over.

On July 20, HACoLA agreed to pay $2 million to the hundreds of families who have been harmed by the discriminatory enforcement of the Section-8 voucher program; five families will be reinstated into the voucher program. The settlement also requires reforms to the county’s voucher enforcement patrol procedures, and that the illegal practice of sharing voucher holders’ information with outside parties, such as the sheriff’s department, is discontinued.

While $2 million is a big win for the victims, it’s doubtful that this settlement means the end of discriminatory housing practices in Lancaster and Palmdale. Recent Fair Housing Act cases show that the terms of settlements are hardly ever met or enforced, especially in communities where discrimination denial is prevalent and public officials like Lancaster’s mayor voice opposition to enforcing fair-housing laws.

The coming years will likely see more cases of suburban opposition to fair-housing practices, and not just because of the rising real-estate prices that push low-income residents out of cities. Last month, the Obama administration announced some changes to the “affirmatively further fair housing” rule, which requires jurisdictions to actively work toward dismantling segregated housing patterns. In efforts to provide Section-8 residents with greater opportunity for social mobility, the revamped rule includes a set of new tools for housing-rights activists to lobby for Section 8 housing in high-income and largely white suburbs.

No doubt this announcement is in many ways a big win for fair housing activists. But instances of law enforcement corrupted by white suburban fear and racism may still be a regular occurrence. 

The Gray Lady Agrees: Southern Workers Are Cheaper Than China's

Today’s New York Times features a front-page story on Chinese textile firms opening new factories not in China but in the American South. With the steep rise in the wages of Chinese workers and the stagnation (at best) of the wages of American workers—Southern workers most particularly—and with the higher levels of productivity and lower energy costs that U.S. factories enjoy, it actually is cheaper to manufacture in Dixie than it is in Guandong.

The Times article echoes my piece in the current issue of the Prospect, in which German union leaders on the boards of that nation’s auto and aerospace manufacturers stated that it was cheaper for their companies to operate low-wage assembly plants in the South than it was in China. What the Times piece doesn’t echo is the thesis of my article: that low Southern wages have had the effect of bringing down wage levels across the nation, both in manufacturing and in retail (for which Walmart’s move north, while maintaining Southern wage levels, is largely responsible).

There’s nothing wrong in the Times piece not looking at the macroeconomic consequences of the story it documents; that would entail writing and editing an entirely different article. Where the Times piece fails on its own terms, however, is in omitting any reporting on the wages paid to the workers in the Chinese-owned factory in South Carolina that is the subject of the article. The piece does report that local residents are “desperate for work, even at depressed wages,” but it neglects to specify with a dollar figure just how depressed those wages are. It does cite the national average for manufacturing wages, but that’s an average that runs from, say, skilled operators of sophisticated machinery at Boeing’s plant in Seattle to, it’s probably safe to assume, workers like the employees at the South Carolina textile factory that is the subject of the Times piece.

The article further omits the fact that South Carolina is one of five states never to have passed a minimum-wage statute, or that the rate of unionization there is 2.2 percent—the second-lowest in the nation. It omits the nationwide effects of low Southern manufacturing wages—one of a number of factors that contributed to the 4.4 percent decline in the median U.S. manufacturing wage between 2003 and 2013, and a leading factor in the decline of the hourly wage differential between all Midwestern and Southern workers (not just those in manufacturing) from $7 to $3.34 between 2008 and 2011, according to Moody’s Analytics.

Still, missing the broader implications of its own story is one thing. Missing the key fact of what the workers’ pay is in the very factory the piece reports on is something else—particularly at a moment when the Times is increasingly running stories on the stagnant or declining wage levels of the vast majority of American workers. Don’t the reporter and editors who worked on this otherwise commendable story ever read the Times? 

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