Gleanings: July 6, 2016

Fear of slave revolts and the Declaration of Independence. Ohio nearly last in public transportation funding. Anti-transit conservatives funded by the Koch brothers are a growing threat to public transit. Teachers union and hedge funds at war. Minimum wage: battles, birth weight, and the greed of Major League Baseball.

Fear of slave revolts and the Declaration of Independence

Portrait of George III of the United Kingdom (1738-1820) by Johann Zoffany (1733-1818). Public domain.
Portrait of George III of the United Kingdom (1738-1820) by Johann Zoffany (1733-1818). Public domain.

British incitement of slaves and Indians against the colonists was the last of the 27 grievances issued against King George III in the Declaration of Independence, Robert Parkinson, assistant professor of history at Binghamton University, reminds us in a New York Times op/ed.

This last grievance, contends Parkinson, was the most important to its writers–Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin,  and John Adams.

“To them, separation from Britain was as much, if not more, about racial fear and exclusion as it was about inalienable rights,” writes Parkinson.

Ohio nearly last in public transportation funding

“Ohio is the seventh most populous state with the 14th highest public transit ridership rates, yet we rank 47th in public transportation funding,” reports Policy Matters Ohio. The state spends only 63 cents per person per year on transit while neighboring states spend an average of $24 to $85 per person.

Licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.
Licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.

Anti-transit conservatives are growing threat to public transit

“Anti-transit conservatives are gaining funding and allies,” reports Alan Ehrenhalt, senior editor of Governing magazine, a publication for state and local government officials. In particular, the Koch brothers network of think tanks, nonprofits, and political organizations like Americans for Prosperity are reported to be aggressively opposed to local transit projects.  

Anti-transit groups scored a big victory in Nashville in 2014, Ehrenhalt reports, when they persuaded state legislators to kill a local streetcar project supported by the city’s business community and the leadership of Vanderbilt University.  According to StreetsBlog USA, “The Nashville example got us wondering where else Koch-backed groups are attacking local transit projects.”

Teachers union and hedge funds at war

Billionaire investor Daniel Loeb and dozens of hedge fund managers want to end defined-benefit pensions for teachers, reports the Wall Street Journal.

A defined-benefit plan is an employer-funded plan that provides fixed regular payments starting at retirement over an employee’s lifetime.

Many employers have switched to defined contribution plans which are cheaper and do not carry the long-term obligations of a defined-benefit plan.

Under a defined contribution plan, employers typically contribute a percentage of an employee’s annual salary to a mutual fund owned and controlled by the employee. The employee can also save pre-tax money in the fund. However, the amount an employee has for retirement is much less certain because it depends on several factors.

Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, challenges member unions to withdraw investments from hedge funds that are hostile to teacher pensions.
Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, challenges member unions to withdraw investments from hedge funds that are hostile to teacher pensions.

Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, regards this attack on pension benefits as an attack on teachers.

Weingarten has influence over $1 billion in teacher pension funds, many of which invest with hedge funds. She has asked member unions to pull their investments from the offending hedge funds.

Hedge funds argue that unions have a fiduciary responsibility to earn the highest returns possible, while AFT claims that hedge fund fees dilute the returns substantially. And Weingarten was quoted to say, “Why would you put your money with someone who wants to destroy you?”

Some teacher pensions have withdrawn money from hedge funds, and some hedge fund managers have stopped funding groups that attack teacher pensions. But the fight continues, and the field of battle has been enlarged to include legislative efforts, lawsuits, and personal attacks.

“The battles are rooted in a political fight over how to improve public education” in which public school teachers and their unions have been portrayed as obstacles to improving education, according to the WSJ.

Minimum wage: battles, birth weight, and the greed of major league baseball

Battles: The battle over minimum wage increases continues across the nation. On July 1, the minimum wage increased in two states–Maryland and Oregon–and in a dozen cities including Lexington and Louisville in Kentucky.

20120704-IMG_0272The Enquirer reports that Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine issued an advisory opinion on June 30 that home rule cities like Cincinnati cannot adopt a minimum wage that differs from the statewide rate adjusted annually by the state’s Department of Commerce.  The Hamilton County prosecutor’s office requested the opinion based on a request to Joe Deters by an unidentified person. The opinion does not affect the wage increase for city workers that council adopted in April.

“In Alabama, one of five states—all in the Deep South—without a minimum wage, the Republican legislature balked at efforts by Birmingham, Huntsville and Tuscaloosa to set a city-wide minimum wage,” reports The Economist. The state quickly passed a preemption law to block local efforts but, as the WSJ reports, fast food workers and civil rights advocates filed a federal suit to overturn the state law.

“Since January 2011, legislators from 31 states have introduced 105 bills that aim to repeal or weaken core wage standards at the state or local level,” the National Employment Law Project reported in Feb. 2013. “Of these 105 bills, a total of 67 were directly sponsored or co-sponsored by ALEC-affiliated legislators from 25 states.”

Birth weight: A working paper by the National Bureau of Economic Research finds that increasing the minimum wage by $1 an hour increases average birth weights by 0.39 ounces, among babies born to women with minimal education.

“Birth weight is not only connected to babies’ health through infancy and childhood, but also to their educational and financial prospects in the rest of their lives,” reports the Washington Post.

Greedy MLB: “Who makes more money at a minor-league game than a minor-leaguer?” asks Paul “Doc” Daugherty in a recent Enquirer article.

“Everybody. Everybody makes more money, per hour. Ticket takers, scoreboard operators, public address announcers, official scorers. Groundskeepers, team publicists. Mascots. The person in the dragon suit makes more,” says Doc.

This is a logo for Minor League Baseball. It is believed that the use C4AD's use of this logo may qualify as fair use under copyright law of the United States.
This is a logo for Minor League Baseball. It is believed that the use C4AD’s use of this logo may qualify as fair use under copyright law of the United States.

Minor league players allege in a federal suit that Major League Baseball, whose teams often pay the wages of minor league players, has violated minimum wage and overtime laws. As many as 10,000 current and former minor league baseball players, most of whom are not represented by the players’ union, could join the class action suit.

In June, Rep. Brett Guthrie (R-Ky.) introduced legislation–Save America’s Pastime Act–to amend the federal Fair Labor Standards Act to specifically exempt minor leaguers from overtime and minimum wage standards and effectively defeat the lawsuit.

“Greed isn’t pretty,” says Doc of the MLB, a $9 billion industry.

 

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