Last Friday Slate published my latest piece on the battle over water fluoridation in Portland, Oregon. It’s a public health measure (in strengthens your teeth) embraced by the vast majority of the medical, dental, and scientific community and almost every major city in the nation. Except Portland. On Tuesday the citizens of that city voted it down for the fourth time since 1956, basically because the opposition was able to use scare words–”industry,” “chemical”–and trust that most people don’t pay that close attention to scientific papers.
Politically, that [the opposition's cherry-picked data] hasn’t really mattered. It’s easy to sow fear about chemicals being dumped in a pure, natural resource. The pro-fluoridation Healthy Kids, Healthy Portland simply seems to have been out-organized. They haven’t done a good job of refuting inaccurate claims, instead mostly sticking to arguing in favor of fluoride’s positive effect on dental health. They’ve brought policy papers to a gun fight.
“The anti-coalition has done a really good job of putting their junk science in mainstream media and in front of people in a really aggressive way, and the pro-fluoride side has been a little too nice,” says Felisa Hagins, political director of SEIU’s 10,000-strong Local 49, which represents janitors, security officers, and health care workers, among others. “We haven’t called bullshit bullshit, we haven’t said that the studies they keep showing, frankly, they are picking and choosing their science. Because [Healthy Kids] has been so eager to be inclusive there has been some hesitancy to do that, but that’s what we need to do.”
At least the pro-fluoride Healthy Kids, Healthy Portland campaign could have showed this clip a few times:
(The piece was picked up by Gawker too.)
My contribution to City Paper last week: On the quasi-public spaces that have sprung up around Penn, which I’ve noticed over the course of my weirdo writer hours, spent transcribing interviews and reading old news articles
I’m sure Rutgers, Camden and Temple have equivalents. (I know Drexel does.) But where?
“The view is nice from here; not scenic or nothing, but nice,” says West Philadelphia resident Curtis Lipscomb, glancing out the second-story window of the Fresh Grocer at Walnut and 40th streets. “This is a social spot, and a lot of people come here. It’s something to do.” The 24-hour supermarket provides seating for customers in a lounge outfitted with floor-to-ceiling windows. It’s almost never empty, drawing workers on break, neighborhood couples on dates and regulars who work on their laptops, play chess and chat.
More importantly, the hours are consistent and far longer than those of Philly’s cash-strapped libraries. The branch across the street from Fresh Grocer is open just five days a week; on three of those days, it closes at 5 p.m. “That’s why I came up here today. I was going there but the library wasn’t open,” says Lipscomb. The Fresh Grocer, by contrast, is open every day, and doesn’t clear the lounge until around midnight — depending on the whims of management, of course.
Sarah Jaffe and Josh Eidelson have a wonderful podcast at Dissent, entitled Belabored. and I hugely recommend you listen to it for a weekly dosage of accessible news about the state of working America. This week they have me on to talk about my recent articles on Atlantic City, employment-at-will, and the anti-sweatshop movement. Listen here.
In the beginning of this year I spent a lot of time in Atlantic City, just a short NJ Transit ride away from Philly. It’s a very bizarre little place, with a population of just under 40,000, an urban feel, and (of course) a skyline of towering casino-hotel complexes. I was first introduced to the place over the course of a bachelor party weekend, but because I don’t gamble, and I’m a huge dork, I picked up a copy of the regional daily newspaper (The Press of Atlantic City) and poked around outside the casinos. And I was fascinated.
Huge thanks to Next City for giving me the time and resources to explore the city and write a long form article on Atlantic City: It’s history, the industry’s current struggle (as casino gaming spreads across the nation), and the uncertain future. Buy a copy of the piece from Next City, but here’s an excerpt that goes into the arrival of casino gaming in AC and its effect upon the rest of the city.
By the mid-1970s elites promoted legalized gambling within the city as a panacea. In 1976, they succeeded in passing a statewide referendum that allowed casino gambling only within the confines of Atlantic City. A “CITY REBORN,” the Press of Atlantic City crowed the morning after the 1976 gambling referendum passed. The owner of local hotspot Luigi’s Restaurant, Curis Kugel, predicted that “[t]he city will turn around and be what it was in the twenties and thirties.” Gambling in Atlantic City was a massive success — for the industry. From 1978 to 2007 the gaming industry raked in profits, with 30 to 35 million people visiting every year and spending their time almost exclusively within the casinos. Most customers came from New Jersey, New York or Eastern Pennsylvania, and until 2007 the city controlled a total monopoly on casino gambling in the region. But monopolistic industries tend to be complacent and, as the money flowed in, the casinos blithely isolated themselves from the rest of Atlantic City. Customers were funneled from the Atlantic City Expressway to the hulking parking edifices which, if they weren’t directly attached to the casinos, are outfitted with glass-encased bridges allowing gamblers to walk from their cars to the slot machines without setting foot on the sidewalk below.
Posted in economic justice, history, housing, journalism, labor, New Jersey, Philadelphia
Tagged Atlantic City, casinos, gambling, Next City, UNITE HERE
…and the only way it got that way is because the business community was kind of into the idea. My story for AlterNet on the idiosyncratic history of America’s only “just cause” law:
How did Montana become a socialist hellscape? The same way most laws are passed: With the backing of the organized business community. In early 1982 the Montana Supreme Court decided that an implied covenant of “good faith and fair dealing” exists when an employer hires someone. Later rulings determined if an employer disregarded that tacit agreement, the spurned worker can sue to recover lost wages and benefits, along with compensatory and punitive damages. The court, in effect, killed employment-at-will in all but name, and workers started suing the hell out of the bosses. (Much of the historical and legal background on the law is found in Barry Roseman’s American Constitutional Society’s legal paper on the law and its effects on employment in Montana.)
“One of the reasons why the bill was necessary is that we did not have employment-at-will in Montana, even though the law said we did,” says Gary Spaeth, former Democratic legislator and lead sponsor of the 1987 law. “There were some outstanding judgments in the neighborhood of $200,000 to $400,000 that were passed down by juries. It was very inhibiting to how you operated your business in the state of Montana, creating almost a fear [of firing] among employers.”
Some members of the business community decided a specific “just-cause” law would be preferable to the court’s de-facto elimination of employment-at-will. But despite the law’s less-than-leftist origins, the protections for Montana workers still go far beyond those offered to non-union employees in any other American state (although both Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands also have just-cause laws).
My review of Star Trek: Into Darkness is up at City Paper. Click the link for the full (still very short) review, but in short it just isn’t that great (but still fun and worth seeing).
Into Darkness relies too heavily on slick action sequences and not enough on the excellent cast, including Benedict Cumberbatch who just glowers his way through the film (and, yes, everyone on the Internet guessed his identity correctly). Into Darkness simply doesn’t give him enough to do, or any space to demonstrate his considerable charisma. And, again, Cumberbatch’s few lines have largely been included in the trailers. It’s a complete waste of a great actor and a great villain.
In the meantime, you should read Matt Yglesias’ overview of the series as our culture’s vision of what a socialist utopia might look like.
As long as I’m re-posting work that was published awhile ago, here’s my first (and so far only) piece for Axis Philly. It’s about transit in Philadelphia, the historical fights over fare increases, why this one isn’t attracting as much flak, and why it should (in some ways).
The continuing existence of high transfer fees is a big reason for protest.
For those who don’t live close to the trolley lines that spider out across West Philadelphia, or the city’s two principal subway elevated lines, transfers are a persistent, costly, and completely unnecessary expense. In fact, for these riders SEPTA’s cheap fares are only so much of a boon: Transfers cost $1, so in the best case scenario, if they have access to tokens (which are inexplicably difficult to access outside downtown hubs), their fare is effectively $2.55. If they use cash it’s $3.00 each way. And that’s before July’s fare hike.
“If you are living far away … chances are your bus route is designed to take you to Broad Street or the El and that’s the way SEPTA wants you to travel because it’s more efficient ,” says Irv Ackelsberg, who was CEPA’s lawyer in a number of fare fights beginning in 1989. “It’s transit 101: The more people on the fast dedicated vehicles, the better off everybody is. Less traffic and everyone moves faster, but they’ve set up the fare structure to penalize the people who are riding the way you are supposed to ride.” The transfer cost gives riders an incentive to take the slower buses all the way downtown, adding to congestion and slowing their own trip, instead of hopping on a subway-elevated line.
My AlterNet article on the historical context for the left-wing terrorist attacks of the late-1960s-early 1980s was published right before the Boston bombings and I decided to refrain from advertising it widely in the immediate wake of those murders.
The article looks at the rise, fall, and continued absence of domestic left-wing terrorism in America. While writing the piece I was reading The Moro Affair, which really drove home how much worse the problem was in Italy (and Germany).
The more exact analogy was probably the violent radical groups in Western Europe which, while just as ineffectual, were far deadlier than their American counterparts. From 1970 to 1981, the Italian Red Brigades killed “three politicians, nine magistrates, 65 policemen, and some 300 others,” according to Tony Judt’s Postwar: A History of Europe Since 1945. A former prime minister, Aldo Moro, was kidnapped on the day of his greatest political victory and held hostage at a “People’s Prison” in Rome. His body was found seven weeks later in the trunk of a car parked in the city center. The Red Army Faction robbed 30 banks, took 162 hostages and killed 28 people including the West German attorney general.
Contrast that with the Weathermen, who only killed each other. On March 6, 1970 a cache of bombs ripped apart a Greenwich Village townhouse, killing three Weathermen before they could deploy the bombs at a dance for officers at Fort Dix, New Jersey. Bill Ayers (who was not present) says in the 2001 profile of Boudin, who survived the blast, “The townhouse knocked us back and forced us to reassess ourselves, pulling us back from that particular abyss.” Before the group broke up in 1976, they carried out over two dozen bombings across the nation, including attacks on the U.S. Capitol building and the Pentagon, but issued warnings beforehand and avoided killing anyone.
A month and a half ago, I wrote a profile of Pennsylvania governor Tom Corbett for Vice. The guy has done a great deal of damage to our state and voters seem to have noticed. The only thing that’s changed since my article was published: His poll numbers are even worse. Only 25 percent of voters supported him in the May 2013 Franklin & Marshall College Poll.
Posted in austerity, economic justice, healthcare reform, Pennsylvania, safety net
Tagged Affordable Care Act, food stamps, healthcare reform, Medicaid, Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, Vice
My City Paper review of Countdown to “BOOM,” part of the Philadelphia International Festival of the Arts, and put on by Kariamu & Company at Temple University. Unfortunately it only ran twice, on on one day.
BRIEF SELF-DESCRIPTION: The bombing of the 16th Street Baptist in Birmingham Alabama on September 15, 1963 was an unprecedented act of “domestic terrorism” long before the term would ever be applied. Countdown to “BOOM” We All Fall Down captur[es] the music, the look, the feel and the movements of a Sunday morning in the South.
WE THINK: The highlight of Kariamu & Company’s Countdown to “BOOM” is a beautiful scene of four mothers preparing their daughters’ hair before church while struggling to explain why the world is such a cruel place. The production works best in this intimate little moment, as parents try to ready their children for the harsh realities of the world without draining them of hope. We are made to feel their reality, rather than just being shown it.
The production is disjointed and not concerned with linear narratives, which is confusing at first but works better as the scenes unfold. Countdown falters when it tries to convey the Civil Rights-era South with too heavy a hand. The montage of still photographs and newspaper clippings that accompany almost every scene can distract from the actual performers and lose their power due to overuse. But the dancing, which is less prominent than expected, is stunning.