“Anti-intellectualism has been a constant thread winding its way through our political and cultural life, nurtured by the false notion that democracy means that 'my ignorance is just as good as your knowledge.'” — Isaac Asimov
Katrina vanden Heuvel blasts Kristol and “armchair warriors” over Iraq VIDEO
Bill Kristol and Katrina vanden Heuvel on ABC’s “This Week”(Credit: screenshot)
On ABC’s “This Week” Katrina vanden Heuvel called out Bill Kristol for his hawkish stance on the Iraq war.
“We’re sitting here at a moment, George, where we’re talking about John Boehner, but the central question of war and peace for the country — there’s no military solution to Iraq,” vanden Heuvel stated. “And I have to say — sitting next to Bill Kristol, man — the architects of catastrophe that have cost this country trillions of dollars, thousands of lives — there should be accountability.”
“If there are no regrets for the failed assumptions that have so grievously wounded this nation, or politics and media accountability,” vanden Huevel continued.” We need it Bill, because this country should not go back to war. We don’t need armchair warriors. And if you feel so strongly, you should, with all due respect, enlist in the Iraqi army.”
“That’s a very cute line, Katrina,” Kristol shot back. The two then argued about the war and Kristol eventually went on to blame the current crisis on President Obama pulling troops out in 2011.
Ikea workers scored a big victory Thursday when the purveyor of inexpensive Scandinavian furniture announced it’s raising its minimum wage at all U.S. stores starting next year. The average base pay for an Ikea employee will increase to $10.76 an hour, the company said.
So some businesses, like Ikea, are taking matters into their own hands and raising wages without a federal mandate telling them to do so. The move doesn’t just reflect a concern for workers’ quality of life — it’s also a shrewd business tactic that helps retailers attract top talent, an economic analyst told The Huffington Post earlier this week.
Although Ikea’s move appears to be a powerful endorsement of a higher federal minimum wage, Rob Olson, chief financial officer and acting president of Ikea U.S., was quick to distance himself from party politics. “We’re not advocating for a federal or state movement,” Olson told HuffPost. “We’re more focused on our co-workers and doing the right thing for them.”
Here are seven major companies taking that philosophy to heart:
Ikea will peg its minimum wage in different stores to MIT’s Living Wage Calculator, which estimates the minimum living wage a worker needs to make depending on where he or she lives. IKEA said none of its wages will fall below $9 an hour. The new rates are expected to take effect Jan. 1, 2015.
2. Gap Inc.
In February, Gap Inc. announced that it would raise minimum hourly pay for workers across all of its brands to $9 in June 2014, and to $10 an hour in June 2015. The company hit its first milestone this week when the $9 minimum wage took effect.
“With more than 65,000 workers getting an increase in their hourly pay rate [by 2015], we are making a positive impact for our employees,” Gap spokeswoman Paula Conhain said in a statement. “And, it is good for business; it is helping us to attract and retain the best talent in retail, which is a real competitive advantage for us.”
Costco’s starting pay is $11.50 an hour, and the average employee there earns $21 an hour, not including overtime. About 88 percent of Costco workers also benefit from company-sponsored health insurance, David Sherwood, Costco’s director of financial planning and investor relations, told HuffPost last year.
4. In-N-Out Burger
The West Coast burger chain starts its employees off at $10.50 an hour and provides workers paid vacations and 401(k) plans, according to its website.
“We strive to create a working environment that is upbeat, enthusiastic and customer-focused,” a company spokesman said in a statement. “A higher pay structure is helpful in making that happen.”
5. Shake Shack
This East Coast eatery has a starting salary of $10 an hour in New York and $9.50 an hour elsewhere. The chain also offers health care benefits for full-time employees and a 401(k) matching program.
6. Ben & Jerry’s
Need another reason to love the makers of Chunky Monkey and Half Baked? An entry-level Ben & Jerry’s worker makes $16.29 an hour, according to company spokesman Sean Greenwood — more than double the current federal minimum wage. “As we as a business prosper, those around us should prosper as well,” Greenwood said in an email.
At Whole Foods, workers earn a minimum starting salary of $10 an hour. The average hourly wage is $18.89, while the average annual salary is $39, 289. A company spokeswoman told HuffPost in an email that the chain’s wages have contributed to a low employee turnover rate of less than 10 percent.
Accused of paying its workers too little, Walmart has responded in the most 2014 way possible: by being snarky on the Internet with a “fact check.” Unfortunately, it is longer on snark than on facts.
Walmart rep David Tovar recently took a digital red pen and marked up a New York Times opinion column by Timothy Egan that suggested Walmart could help fix America’s income inequality problem simply by raising wages for its low-paid workers. It was a fun idea with a lot of viral potential, and way cheaper than actually paying a living wage.
So. Hilarious. At least to right-wingers: The Wall Street Journal’s in-houserape apologist James Taranto called it “devastating.” NewsBusters called it not just “devastating” but also “spirited.” Tucker Carlson’s Daily Caller called it “EPIC.”
In the face of such success, it seems almost unsporting to fact-check Walmart’s fact-check — almost, but not quite. (Tovar’s full fact-check can be seen at the end of this story.)
Egan accused Walmart of draining U.S. tax coffers because its workers make so little that they have to go on food stamps and other public assistance to make ends meet. “We are the largest tax payer in America,” Tovar countered. “Can we see your math?”
Actually, we would like to see Walmart’s math, because Exxon Mobil, Chevron, Apple and Wells Fargo paid more in taxes than Walmart, according to a January study by 24/7 Wall Street. That study used 2012 data in some cases, but fresher numbers haven’t changed the picture much, according to HuffPost’s review of company financial reports. It could be that Tovar meant that Walmart has the biggest U.S. tax bill, but that would also not be correct — Apple paid more in U.S. taxes than Walmart in the latest fiscal year. Wells Fargo, too, if you count deferred taxes, as the bank does, taking a hit to earnings.
Walmart spokesman Kory Lundberg said in a phone interview that the company was looking into the discrepancy.
Walmart does pay a lot in taxes, for sure — more than $6 billion in U.S. federal taxes alone in its latest fiscal year. But by not paying its workers a living wage, which does force some unknown number of them onto public assistance, its policies also arguably eat into a lot of tax revenue. A recent study by Americans For Tax Fairness estimated that Walmart workers cost the U.S. government $6.2 billion a year. The group also estimated that Walmart and its founding Walton family cost the government another $1.6 billion in tax revenue through various tax loopholes.
Walmart has repeatedly disputed the ATF’s $6.2 billion number, and Tovar did so again in his fact-check. Trouble is, Walmart never offers any numbers of its own. Tovar claimed, “We see more associates move off of public assistance as a result of their job at Walmart.” But that is not a particularly informative statement. “More” than what? Do more associates move off of public assistance than move on to it? How many move in each direction annually? Tovar’s link takes you to one person’s story in a YouTube video — which, thanks, but without hard numbers, this is not so much a fact-check as it is an unsubstantiated assertion.
Walmart’s Lundberg said the company has studied the number of its workers who are on public assistance, but declined to share its data.
“There are people that come to Walmart on public assistance, and through their job at Walmart, we see that most are able to move off of it within a couple of years,” he said.
Regarding a 2013 study by House Democrats that estimated that one store in Wisconsin costs taxpayers nearly $1 million per year in assistance, Tovar claimed the fact-checking website Politifact has declared it “mostly false.” But Tovar’s claim is mostly misleading — Politifact was addressing an Ed Schultz segment on MSNBC that cited the study, not the study itself.
Tovar also claimed that the company pays hourly employees $12.91 an hour, and that this figure does not include the pay of any store managers. But Walmart’s pay figure has not changed much from what it was in previous years, when it did include some store managers who are paid hourly.
In a phone interview, spokesman Lundberg conceded that the latest figure does include some department managers who are paid hourly. Tovar’s fact-check is not factual.
Egan’s column cited a November 2013 story by Fortune reporter Stephen Gandel, which argued that Walmart could “give workers a 50 percent raise without hurting shareholder value.” In his “fact check,” Tovar questioned the credibility of Gandel, an established journalist, without offering any reason to do so. He suggested that we should instead listen to Jason Furman, chairman of President Barack Obama’s Council Of Economic Advisors, as if Furman had recently written something that countered Gandel’s argument.
Tovar did offer a link to an unrelated piece by Furman from 2006 about how Walmart helps the poor by letting them buy cheap stuff. Furman’s piece was flawed — Walmart could probably also help the poor by giving them better wages — but, more importantly, it has no relation to Gandel’s argument.
In the past, Walmart has also pointed to a 2005 paper by Furman that calls Walmart a “progressive success story.” But in that paper, Furman also wrote that Walmart “does not pay enough for a family to live the dignified life Americans have come to expect and demand” and that the company had tried to shred the social safety net on which many of its low-paid workers rely.
Tovar did not dispute a recent Lake Research Partners survey that found Walmart has a 28 percent disapproval rating among Americans. Instead, he used math to point out that this result means that Walmart has a 72-percent approval rating. He did not mention that rivals Target, Costco and Amazon have far, far higher approval ratings than Walmart.
Tovar also rather desperately tried to co-opt some of the corporate goodwill that has been accumulated by Starbucks over the years, by marking up an Egan sentence about Starbucks’ OK pay and benefits to make it look as if Walmart offers OK pay and benefits, too.
Tovar wrapped up his rebuttal by suggesting that Egan write a different story. This story would be one about how Walmart is helping bring back the American Dream by buying more U.S.-made goods — which is pretty ballsy, after Walmart has spent decades helping to wreck America’s manufacturing base by selling us cheaply made foreign goods. This alternative story would also explain how Walmart is “expanding training, education and workforce development programs,” all stuff that Walmart says is more important than just paying a boring old living wage.
This is the standard corporate objection to raising wages: We’re not going to pay people more now, we’re going to train them so they can earn more in the distant future. But you can’t eat education, or pay your mortgage with a workforce development program. Why can’t low-wage workers have some of both?
I’m going to have to declare Walmart’s fact check “Mostly Bullshit.”
For a country where everyone drives, America has shoddy roads
THE Pulaski Skyway is a bridge of beauty, a lattice of steel held high above the river that separates Newark from Jersey City. It is also a bit rickety. Some of its struts have begun to resemble the pastry on a millefeuille. Its structure is described as “basically intolerable” by the National Bridge Inventory. The thousands of motorists who cross it each day probably agree. With no money to pay for its maintenance, New Jersey re-classified the Pulaski as an entrance to a tunnel that maps suggest lies miles to its north, so that the Port Authority could be tapped for funds. For this, Chris Christie, the state’s governor—who has had other troubles with bridges recently—finds his administration under investigation by the Securities and Exchange Commission and New York’s District Attorney.
New Jersey’s scramble to find money for basic repairs is not unusual. The Highway Trust Fund, a pot of federal cash that covers a quarter of spending by states on infrastructure, will have to start withholding money this summer to keep its balance above zero, as required by law. “The problem with the trust fund,” says David Walker, a former head of the Government Accountability Office, “is that it’s not funded and you can’t trust it.” A short-term fix may be found: Congress has already passed ten of these, shifting money from elsewhere to make up for a persistent shortfall in revenue from fuel taxes, which have been held constant since 1993. But such hand-to-mouth financing makes planning difficult and encourages city, state and local governments to put off repairs for as long as possible.
America saw two great booms in infrastructure spending in the past century, the first during the Great Depression, when the Pulaski skyway was built, and the second in the 1950s and 60s, when most of the interstate highway system was. Since then, public infrastructure spending as a share of GDP has declined to about half the European level. America is one of the most car-dependent nations on earth, yet it spends about as large a share of GDP on roads as Sweden, where public transport is pretty good (see chart). The federal government scrimps on airports and sewage pipes so it can pay for pensions and health care.
A recent Chevrolet ad made its LGBT-friendly message clear: Against a montage of different families, including single and same-sex parents, a voice-over intones, “While what it means to be family hasn’t changed, what a family looks like has.
Of course, it’s not entirely new for mainstream brands to participate in gay pride parades or advertise in LGBT media. But as Gay Pride Month comes to an end, ads like this drive home the fact the last year has seen a sharp uptick in gay representation in mainstream ad campaigns. And these new ads, like Chevy’s “The New Us,” don’t rely on the coded messages of earlier gay-oriented ads.
The history of gay people in advertising isn’t that long. Rich Ferraro, vice president of communications at GLAAD (an LGBT organization that watches the media), says back in the ’80s brands like Bud Light and Absolut Vodka were among the first to include the LGBT community in their advertising.
It was “mainly spirit brands market[ed] directly to gay men at the time,” Ferraro says. “You saw images running in gay magazines or at gay events that featured a lot of shirtless white guys on beaches, or drag queens, and played up on stereotypes of the community.”
KIEV, Ukraine — From behind her black ski mask, Maria’s bright blue eyes light up when she’s asked if she is ready to go to the front lines of Ukraine’s battle against an increasingly violent insurgency in the eastern part of the country.
“I’m ready to leave in the next five minutes,” said the 22-year-old volunteer for the Donbass Battalion, a paramilitary group formed just a few months ago to counter the pro-Russian insurgency.
“Fear is for those who are sitting at home eating potato chips in front of the television news,” said Maria, who would not give her last name for fear of retaliation by the rebels against her family. “But I’m not scared because I’m out here doing something, and it’s time for Ukrainians to stand up and do something to save ourselves.”
The Donbass Battalion is named after the country’s heavily industrialized eastern region, now roiled in a brutal war between pro-Moscow rebels and an underfunded and poorly equipped Ukrainian military.
But the battalion, in the words of its commander, may prove to be one of Ukraine’s strongest weapons in the fight against the separatists.
“We’re better equipped and better trained to deal with the sort of guerrilla warfare that Ukraine is seeing in the east,” said the commander, Semyon Semenchenko. “We are what Ukraine needs.”
The researchers, who are affiliated with Facebook, Cornell, and the University of California–San Francisco, tested whether reducing the number of positive messages people saw made those people less likely to post positive content themselves. The same went for negative messages: Would scrubbing posts with sad or angry words from someone’s Facebook feed make that person write fewer gloomy updates?
They tweaked the algorithm by which Facebook sweeps posts into members’ news feeds, using a program to analyze whether any given textual snippet contained positive or negative words. Some people were fed primarily neutral to happy information from their friends; others, primarily neutral to sad. Then everyone’s subsequent posts were evaluated for affective meanings.
The upshot? Yes, verily, social networks can propagate positive and negative feelings!
The other upshot: Facebook intentionally made thousands upon thousands of people sad.
Facebook’s methodology raises serious ethical questions. The team may have bent research standards too far, possibly overstepping criteria enshrined infederal law and human rights declarations. “If you are exposing people to something that causes changes in psychological status, that’s experimentation,” says James Grimmelmann, a professor of technology and the law at the University of Maryland. “This is the kind of thing that would require informed consent.”
Ah, informed consent. Here is the only mention of “informed consent” in the paper: The research “was consistent with Facebook’s Data Use Policy, to which all users agree prior to creating an account on Facebook, constituting informed consent for this research.”
That is not how most social scientists define informed consent.
Only 36% of Americans have staunchly partisan views. The majority fall somewhere in the middle – and the challenge for politicians will be figuring out how to tap into these groups, who have different combinations of progressive and conservative opinions.
The funniest thing about the legacy of Moneyball, the 2003 Michael Lewis book and the 2011 Brad Pitt movie, is that it quickly became an ongoing leadership seminar about losers.
Back in 2003, before disrupt became a buzzword in every Silicon Valley start-up, Billy Beane and the Oakland A’s truly disrupted the baseball world. It was never just about discovering on-base percentage, which scouts hadn’t noticed before, or learning to love players who didn’t look good in jeans. It was about a small business maximizing every resource available in order to compete with more established, wealthier brands. The book and movie were such a hit because, as confusing as some of their plot points might be—why exactly is Jeremy Giambi being traded? Oh, and who is Jeremy Giambi again?—the fundamental narrative was universally relatable: Little guy takes on big guy and wins. How do you routinely trump competitors that have twice the budget you do? Billy Beane can show you how, trumpeted a website that booked Beane’s speaking engagements.
Except: The A’s didn’t actually end up trumping anybody. Moneyball the movie and the book are the rare inspirational sports stories that end with a big game … that the little guys lose. And, all told, after Moneyball came out, the A’s went through an eight-year stretch where they made the playoffs only once. This led to some mockery inside the baseball industry, particularly among those scouts so maligned by the book (a book Beane has had to repeatedly point out that he did not, in fact, write). “So much for the genius,” sneered one scout to ESPN in June of the A’s 2009 season, in which the team won only 75 games and finished last in the American League West. “He doesn’t look so smart anymore, does he?”
The strange thing was that Beane’s comeuppance was in fact a result of his success: As with any insurgent, once his tactics became known, they were co-opted by the powerful. Nowadays, every front office in baseball has a stat-head crunching some sort of numbers, many of them in the GM’s office. On-base percentage has gone from an underpriced asset to an overhyped one; even the guys in the broadcast booth are familiar with it now. The Yankees and the Red Sox (at least briefly) became the A’s with money—Beane’s worst nightmare. Which has all landed the A’s right back where they started: as a decrepit franchise with a cheap owner, low revenues, and the worst stadium situation in the game (with the threat of relocation ever hanging above them).
And that is why it’s so deeply satisfying to see, of all teams, those Oakland A’s dominating the baseball world again this year. Beane’s A’s are comfortably atop the American League West—the division they’ve won the past two seasons—and have the best record in Major League Baseball. They’re still in the same stadium, with the same uncertainty, with the same owner. They have the sixth-lowest opening-day payroll in the game. Everyone knows their old tricks. And yet here they are: on top of the baseball world again.
How have the A’s done it? Well: new tricks. Let’s look at the three takeaways that might fit best on a rotating paperback display in an airport Hudson News.
First, don’t spend a lot on a little; spend a little on a lot.
The emotional through-line of Moneyball is Beane learning from his experience as a failed prospect and applying it to today’s game. The idea: Scouts were wrong about him, and therefore they’ll be wrong about tons of guys. Only trust the numbers.
That was an oversimplification, but distrusting the ability of human beings to predict the future has been the centerpiece of the A’s current run. This time, though, the A’s aren’t just doubting the scouts; they’re also skeptical that statistical analysis can reliably predict the future (or that their analysis could reliably predict it better than their competitors). Instead, Beane and his front office have bought in bulk: They’ve brought in as many guys as possible and seen who performed. They weren’t looking for something that no one else saw: They amassed bodies, pitted them against one another, were open to anything, and just looked to see who emerged. Roger Ebert once wrote that the muse visits during the act of creation, rather than before. The A’s have made it a philosophy to just try out as many people as possible—cheap, interchangeable ones—and pluck out the best.
Thus, when Sean Doolittle faltered as a hitting prospect thanks to injuries, they tried him on a mound; he’s now one of the best relievers in the game. Brandon Moss bounced around the league for years before serving as a terrific platoon hitter at first base. Josh Donaldson was a prospect past his expiration date; the A’s, mostly as a matter of throwing stuff against the wall to see what sticks, were the ones who benefited when he exploded into an MVP candidate.
The second big takeaway is to focus on what your employees can do, not what they can’t.
The A’s do one thing more than any other team: They platoon. Most teams would look at players like A’s catchers John Jaso and Derek Norris and lament how badly they struggle against pitchers who throw from the same side of the plate as they hit. This is seen as a liability. But Beane and the A’s see it as a potential strength. Thanks to platoons, you can send a left-handed batter to the plate to face a right-handed pitcher and get a favorable matchup anytime. Which is what the A’s do. Oakland has 12 players with more than 100 at-bats this season, tied for the most in the majors, and last season, according to Baseball Prospectus, Oakland had the second-highest percentage of “favorable-handedness matchups.” And in baseball, every little bit matters.
It is difficult to find players who can do a ton of things well, and if you find them, they’re quite expensive. But it’s not as tough to find guys who do one or two things extremely well. And this has another advantage: Platooning keeps the players’ “counting” stats down, which means it keeps them inexpensive. Jaso is a valuable hitter, but he’s not even in the top ten among catchers in homers, RBIs, or hits. That’s because he’s 17th in at-bats. Arbitrators—who determine player salaries for the first part of players’ careers—look at these stats, and value them, more than they should, which means part-time players will cost relatively less than they should. It’s another market inefficiency Beane exploits.
Third, if you can’t change the game, let it change on its own.
In late June, there are probably only three teams (the Cubs, the Astros, and the Diamondbacks) who have given up on the season. Thanks to revenue sharing and the sheer amount of money in the game, teams that used to wave good-bye to their best players when their contracts were up now get to keep them: Andrew McCutchen is still a Pirate, Evan Longoria is still a Ray. The game was truly stacked against the A’s in 2003. It is less so now.
After all, that annual payroll that the A’s have, the one that’s among the six lowest in baseball? It’s still more than $80 million, the highest in the history of the franchise. That allowed the A’s to sign Cuban defector Yoenis Céspedes for only $36 million over four years in 2012 and bring in closer Jim Johnson for $10 million. That would have been too pricey for the A’s in the past. Not now.
The question for Beane & Co., as always: Will any of this matter come playoff time? “My shit doesn’t work in the playoffs,” Beane famously said inMoneyball. But the A’s have come back from the brink and taken over baseball, again, in an entirely different way. This time, everyone was watching—and still no one could figure out how they were doing it. Moneyball is not being sold nearly as hard this time. But it’s working better than it ever has.
*This article appears in the June 30, 2014 issue of New York Magazine.