Sunday, June 30, 2019

Last Call For the Death Of The Village

I can't help but notice while the American media continues to cede more and more ground to Trump on facts, on coverage, and on propriety, local newspapers are dying at such a rate that ten years from now they won't be around.  The latest victims: the Youngstown (OH) Vindicator and the New Orleans Times-Picayune, as Philly Inquirer columnist Will Bunch observes.

On Friday night, the Vindicator stunned the journalism world when the family that owns Northeast Ohio’s largest newspaper (having resisted the chain ownership that’s gobbled up many similar news orgs) announced it will stop printing in late August, killing off 144 full-time jobs and also delivering a blow to 250 part-time news carriers. It’s another hit for a region that’s suffered 40 years of industrial job losses and is still reeling from GM’s shutdown of its giant Lordstown assembly line, but there’s a much deeper significance to this news.

Ever since the rise of the internet sped up declines in print newspaper circulation and blew up that business model in the 2000s, media pundits have speculated when and where a significant American city will no longer have a daily newspaper, and now we know the answer: Youngstown, Ohio, in 2019. It’s hard to imagine a worse place or a worse time.

Even sadder, the grim announcement from Youngstown was the exclamation point on a Black Friday for journalism in the United States. On the same afternoon, the New Orleans Times-Picayune, one of the most iconic nameplates in American journalism history, was absorbed into the rival Advocate, a move that will also shrink the number of journalists covering a city coping with poverty, murder and climate change. But scores of other news orgs -- including the one you now hold in your hands -- are also coping this year with job losses, and this is in the so-called good economy.

But journalism’s problems transcend mere dollars. Friday was also a painful day for American journalists because it marked the one-year anniversary of the newsroom shooting by an angry local resident that claimed five lives at the Capital Gazette in Annapolis, Md. — highlighting the rising threats to a free press in this country. Halfway around the world, President Trump chose this day to joke with Russia’s Vladimir Putin — who’s had more reporters killed than the monster of Annapolis — about “getting rid of” journalists who produce what these two autocrats both call “fake news.”

All of this is a reminder that the closing of Youngstown’s only daily paper is a blow not just to a struggling city that needs information, but to American democracy.

As more and more news sources are lost and replaced by deliberate disinformation, corporate PR and Trump state news, we run the risk of a populace that falls below a critical threshold of being able to maintain anything resembling a democratic state.

Of course, that's the point.

Korean Off The Track

After his G20 Summit checkin with his boss Vladimir, Trump decided to etch his name into the history books with a stunt to visit the DMZ and to become the first US leader to set foot in North Korea, a massive coup for Pyongyang and an embarrassing nadir for America.

With wide grins and a historic handshake, President Donald Trump and North Korea’s Kim Jong Un met at the heavily fortified Demilitarized Zone on Sunday and agreed to revive talks on the pariah nation’s nuclear program. Trump, pressing his bid for a legacy-defining deal, became the first sitting American leader to step into North Korea.

What was intended to be an impromptu exchange of pleasantries turned into a 50-minute meeting, another historic first in the yearlong rapprochement between the two technically warring nations. It marked a return to face-to-face contact between the leaders after talks broke down during a summit in Vietnam in February. Significant doubts remain, though, about the future of the negotiations and the North’s willingness to give up its stockpile of nuclear weapons .

The border encounter was a made-for television moment. The men strode toward one another from opposite sides of the Joint Security Area and shook hands over the raised patch of concrete at the Military Demarcation Line as cameras clicked and photographers jostled to capture the scene.

After asking if Kim wanted him to cross, Trump took 10 steps into the North with Kim at his side, then escorted Kim back to the South for talks at Freedom House, where they agreed to revive the stalled negotiations.

The spectacle marked the latest milestone in two years of roller-coaster diplomacy between the two nations. Personal taunts of “Little Rocket Man” (by Trump) and “mentally deranged U.S. dotard” (by Kim) and threats to destroy one other have given way to on-again, off-again talks, professions of love and flowery letters.

“I was proud to step over the line,” Trump told Kim as they met in on the South Korean side of the truce village of Panmunjom. “It is a great day for the world.”

Naturally, Minister of Propaganda Tucker Carlson was there to record the event for Trumpsterity.

Fox News host Tucker Carlson was spotted with Donald Trump at the Demilitarized Zone on Sunday during the president’s historic meeting with North Korean leader Kim Jung Un. The American contingent for the trip also included Trump’s daughter and son-in-law, Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner, both senior White House advisers. Carlson was present when Trump walked into the pariah nation, and became the first sitting president to set foot into North Korea. The controversial host is reportedly a guest of the White House press pool on the trip, and will interview the president at some point on Sunday for a segment that is scheduled to air Monday night.

FOX News is state television, let's get this out of the way first.  Imagine how fast the impeachment would come if a Democratic president dragged Rachel Maddow around as a "special guest" of the WH press pool and repeatedly gave her interview access.

We accept whatever Trump does as the new normal and shrug.

Sunday Long Read: Labor Pains

Adjunct professors in Florida are paid a pittance, because here in America we believe that actually paying academics to teach only encourages the horrible sin of more academics.  But these ivory tower types got together and applied some history to form a brand new union in today's Sunday Long Read from Splinter's Hamilton Nolan.

“Two half-time adjunct jobs do not make a full-time income. Far from it,” Ximena Barrientos says. “I’m lucky that I have my own apartment. I have no idea how people make it work if they have to pay rent.”

We are not sitting on a street corner, or in a welfare office, or in the break room of a fast food restaurant. We are sitting inside a brightly lit science classroom on the third floor of an MC Escher-esque concrete building, with an open breezeway letting in the muggy South Florida air, on the campus of Miami Dade College, one of the largest institutions of higher learning in the United States of America. Barrientos has been teaching here for 15 years. But this is not “her” classroom. She has a PhD, but she does not have a designated classroom. Nor does she have an office. Nor does she have a set schedule, nor tenure, nor healthcare benefits, nor anything that could be described as a decent living wage. She is a full-time adjunct professor: one of thousands of members of the extremely well-educated academic underclass, whose largely unknown sufferings have played just as big a role as student debt in enabling the entire swollen College Industrial Complex to exist.

As Barrientos chatted with another adjunct in the empty classroom, the conversation turned to horror stories: the adjuncts forced to sleep in their cars; the adjunct who was sleeping in classrooms at night; the adjunct who had a full mental breakdown from the stress of not being able to earn a living after all of the time he had put in getting his PhD. Such stories are common, from campus to campus, whispered by adjuncts who know deep down that they themselves are living constantly on the edge of personal, professional, and financial disaster. Other than academic credentials, most adjunct professors don’t have much. But recently, Ximena Barrientos, and her 2,800 colleagues at Miami Dade College, and thousands of others just like them throughout the state of Florida, have acquired, at shocking speed and on a grand scale, something of great value—a union. And they want nothing less than dignity.
When thinking about the struggles of thousands and thousands of people who are both employed as college professors and hardly able to pay their own bills, it is useful to keep in mind the fact that, as a rule, none of these people are supposed to exist. The accepted story of what an “adjunct professor” is—the myth that has drawn so many hopefuls into the world of professional academia—is that adjuncting is not a full-time job at all. It is something that retirees do to keep themselves busy; something that working professionals do on the side to educate people in their field; something that, perhaps, a young PhD might do for a year or two while looking for a full-time professorship, but certainly nothing that would constitute an actual career in itself.

In fact, this is a big lie. The long term trend in higher education has been one of a shrinking number of full-time positions and an ever-growing number of adjunct positions. It is not hard to see why. University budgets are balanced on the backs of adjunct professors. In an adjunct, a school gets the same class taught for about half the salary of a full-time professor, and none of the benefits. The school also retains a god-like control over the schedules of adjuncts, who are literally laid off after every single semester, and then rehired as necessary for the following semester. In the decade since the financial crisis, state governments have slashed higher education funding, and Floridais no exception. That has had two primary consequences on campus: students have taken on ever-higher levels of debt to pay for school, and the college teaching profession has been gutted, as expensive full-time positions are steadily eliminated in favor of cheaper adjunct positions. Many longtime adjuncts talk of jealously waiting for years for a full-time professor to die or retire, only to see the full-time position eliminated when they finally do.

Students at Florida’s enormous community colleges (Miami Dade College alone has more than 165,000 students) may not be conscious of this dynamic, but they sit at its center, and they pay the price—not only in their student loan bills, but by sitting in classes taught by teachers who are overworked, underpaid, given virtually no professional resources or continuity of scheduling, and who are often forced to rush from job to job in order to make ends meet, leaving little time for helping students outside of classroom hours, much less for publishing work in their fields to advance their careers. Now, Florida’s higher education system sits at the center of another trend as well: the unionization of those well educated but miserably compensated adjunct professors.

It has long been common for full time college faculty members to be unionized. Over the past decade, adjuncts (and grad student workers) across America have begun unionizing in earnest as well, as they come to realize that their stories of woe are not unique. In just the past few years, one union has organized close to 10,000 Florida adjuncts, in what is one of the most remarkable and little-noticed large scale labor campaigns in the country.

College professors aren't making six figures to sit around and eat lotuses.  They're paid less than McDonald's managers.  And now they're fighting back.

Village Idocy, Or The Hit Dog Hollers

NY Times columnist Bret Stephens goes full white nationalist in his latest piece, screaming Trumpian dog whistles at rock concert loudness after last week's debates in Miami.

In this week’s Democratic debates, it wasn’t just individual candidates who presented themselves to the public. It was also the party itself. What conclusions should ordinary people draw about what Democrats stand for, other than a thunderous repudiation of Donald Trump, and how they see America, other than as a land of unscrupulous profiteers and hapless victims?

Here’s what: a party that makes too many Americans feel like strangers in their own country. A party that puts more of its faith, and invests most of its efforts, in them instead of us.

They speak Spanish. We don’t. They are not U.S. citizens or legal residents. We are. They broke the rules to get into this country. We didn’t. They pay few or no taxes. We already pay most of those taxes. They willingly got themselves into debt. We’re asked to write it off. They don’t pay the premiums for private health insurance. We’re supposed to give up ours in exchange for some V.A.-type nightmare. They didn’t start enterprises that create employment and drive innovation. We’re expected to join the candidates in demonizing the job-creators, breaking up their businesses and taxing them to the hilt.

This is full-on Trump rally racism that could have been written by Stephen Miller or Steve Bannon or Sean Hannity.  What prompted this tirade?

Sen. Kamala Harris daring to stand up to former VP Joe Biden.

Throughout the debates, I kept wondering if any of the leading candidates would speak to Americans beyond the Democratic base. But Joe Biden seemed too feeble, oratorically and intellectually, to buck the self-defeating trend. Pete Buttigieg was, as always, fluent, knowledgeable and sincere. But his big moment — a mea culpa for a racially charged policing incident in South Bend — felt like another well-mannered white guy desperate to put his wokeness on display.

Harris, meanwhile, came across as Barack Obama in reverse, especially with her scurrilous attack on Biden for the sin of having had a functional political relationship with two former segregationist senators in the 1970s. This was portrayed as a clever debate move but it will come to haunt her.

Obama’s political genius was to emphasize what Greg Lukianoff and Jonathan Haidt, authors of ‘The Coddling of the American Mind,” have called “common-humanity identity politics”— he made you feel comfortable no matter the color of your skin. Harris’s approach, by contrast, is “common-enemy identity politics.” Making white Americans feel racially on trial for views they may have held in the past on crime, busing and similar subjects is not going to help the Democrats.

None of this means that Democrats can’t win in 2020. The economy could take a bad turn. Or Trump could outdo himself in loathsomeness. But the Democratic Party we saw this week did even less to appeal beyond its base than the president. And at least his message is that he’s on their — make that our — side.

Democrats!  Don't you dare make white voters uncomfortable or they'll vote for Trump so that you suffer!

Of course, that's true.  Stephens's message is clear and he is correct.  White voters will vote for Trump just to hurt those people.

2014 and 2016 showed us that.  Black Lives Matter showed us that.  Barack Obama saying "If I had a son he'd look like Trayvon Martin" infuriated millions of white voters.

We have to turn out more than they do in 2020.  Period.
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