Friday, September 15th, 2023


America’s Auto Biography

For the first time, workers at all 3 Detroit automakers went on strike. "Members of the United Auto Workers union began picketing at a General Motors assembly plant in Wentzville, Missouri; a Ford factory in Wayne, Michigan, near Detroit; and a Stellantis Jeep plant in Toledo, Ohio." The strike, while still limited in scope, is a big deal for a few reasons. First, past auto strikes have left a significant mark on American worker rights and wages. The auto biography is a big part of America's autobiography.

+ Second, the economic divide has gotten out of control. CEOs and shareholders are doing better than ever while workers have been getting the drive shaft. One way to pump the brakes on this trend is to strike. David Leonhardt in the NYT (Gift Article): The action by the United Auto Workers is part of a burst of labor activism attempting to reverse a decades-long trend. Past "strikes helped create the American middle class. Without at least the possibility of a disruptive strike, companies are often able to keep wages relatively low. They can bet that workers won't quit for higher-paying jobs elsewhere. This bet often pays off, particularly when industries are highly concentrated with only a few large companies. That's essentially what has happened over the past few decades as unions have withered and companies have consolidated. The economic trends have been the opposite of what they were in the mid-20th century: Executive pay and corporate profits have grown faster than the American economy — and much faster than wages for rank-and-file workers." And from Robert Reich: Five big reasons the UAW is going on strike. Long story short, workers are tired of being the crash test dummies of the American economy.

+ Third, this strike is part of a much bigger political story of how Biden's federal subsidies are being diverted from blue states to red states where non-union work is allowed. Ronald Brownstein with a very interesting look at the real issue in the UAW strike. "Fear that the shift to electric vehicles will reduce the number of quality jobs in the auto industry is the backdrop for the strike the UAW launched at midnight today. In both public and private, union officials have made clear their belief that the auto industry is using the technological transition to mask a second, economic, transition. They worry that the companies are using the shift from internal-combustion engines to carbon-free electric vehicles to simultaneously shift more of their operations from high-paying union jobs mostly in northern states to lower-paying, nonunion jobs mostly in southern states."

+ Biden has chimed in: "Auto companies have seen record profits, including in the last few years, because of the extraordinary skill and sacrifices of UAW workers,. But those record profits have not been shared fairly, in my view, with those workers." Here's the latest from CNN.


My Cup Runneth Over My Shirt

I admit it. I'm a bad person. I prefer drinking coffee out of a paper cup. For some reason, when I use a mug, coffee ends up dribbling down the outside of it or onto my shirt. I admit that I have this common drinking problem. I also admit that the use of paper cups, especially when deployed in mass numbers by a company as ubiquitous as Starbucks, is a big environment strain. Starbucks realizes that as well. AP: Citing sustainability, Starbucks wants to overhaul its iconic cup. Will customers go along? (We're so addicted to the buzz, customers would drink coffee out of an old shoe.)

+ It's not the paper in paper cups that's the problem. "Supposedly eco-friendly cups are still coated with a thin layer of plastic." WiredUK: Sorry, Your Paper Coffee Cup Is a Toxic Nightmare. (Everything you enjoy is terrible.)


Don’t Shoot the Messenger

Here's some truly shocking news. Hunter Biden was indicted on federal firearms charges for lying about his drug use when he bought a firearm in October 2018. The shocking part isn't that Biden got indicted for an offense almost never charged in the absence of a gun-related crime such as a shooting. The shocking part is that, apparently, America has gun laws. Who knew?


Weekend Whats

What to Movie: I loved the campy, fun, heartfelt comedy Theater Camp, starring Molly Gordon and Ben Platt, when I saw in the theater. It just started streaming on Hulu.

+ What to Show: Sacha Baron Cohen is used to pretending to be someone else, from Ali G to Borat. But in The Spy on Netflix, Cohen plays an Israeli undercover agent in Syria. It's a really good limited series.

+ What to Pod: I'm not a fan of talkshows breaking the Hollywood strike and coming back on the air, sans writers. I am a big fan of the way Jimmy Kimmel and the other late night hosts are handling the situation. They joined forces on a new podcast (and a live show coming to Vegas), with all the proceeds going to their staffs. Check out Strike Force Five.


Extra, Extra

Failed States in the Time of Climate Change: Even in an era when natural disasters are becoming more extreme, the Libyan flooding stands at as something truly horrific. "The center of the eastern city of Derna is like one big graveyard — a mass of flattened buildings, wrecked lives and upended vehicles amid torn trees. Huge nine-story buildings have been ripped off their foundations and smothered by volumes of mud." 'We saw friends being swept away': Inside Derna, Libya's devastated city. "The climate crisis, counterintuitively, will make these storms rarer. But, when they do hit, they could be bigger than ever before." Libya's Deadly Floods Show the Growing Threat of Medicanes. While the flooding was a natural disaster, it was also a very unnatural one. Time: How Libya Fell Victim to a Most Unnatural Disaster. "It's never good to be in a failed state, but it's even worse to be in a failed state during the Anthropocene epoch."

+ Whereabouts Known: "Adolescence is a time when teens begin to develop a sense of self that is independent from their parents. That's a necessary, messy process, and one that's probably best left less examined than constant monitoring allows for." In The Atlantic, Devorah Heitner argues that Surveilling your kids will only backfire. (I don't really worry that much about my kids. But I do find tracking their location to be just about as addictive as every other app on my iPhone.)

+ A Daily Constitutional Away From the Constitution: Tom Nichols reflects on some the comments Mitt Romney made about his party. "Millions of American citizens no longer believe in the Constitution of the United States of America. This is not some pedestrian political observation, some throwaway line about partisan division. Leave aside for the moment that Romney is talking about Republicans and the hangers-on in the Trump movement; they are also your fellow Americans, citizens of a nation that was, until recently, one of the most durable democracies on Earth. And they no longer care about the fundamental document that governs our lives as Americans." When Americans Abandon the Constitution. I shared my take on the Romney retirement yesterday. I highly recommend it. Spartacus Has Left the Building.

+ Exx Post Facto: "Exxon's public acceptance in 2006 of the risks posed by climate change was an early act of Rex Tillerson, an Exxon lifer who became CEO that year. Some viewed him as a moderating force who brought Exxon in line with the scientific consensus. The documents reviewed by the Journal, which haven't been previously reported, cast Tillerson's decadelong tenure in a different light. They show that Tillerson, as well as some of Exxon's board directors and other top executives, sought to cast doubt on the severity of climate change's impacts. Exxon scientists supported research that questioned the findings of mainstream climate science, even after the company said it would stop funding think tanks and others that promoted climate-change denial." WSJ: Inside Exxon's Strategy to Downplay Climate Change.

+ Dining Haul: Mike Pence said he'd definitely be open to selecting a woman as his VP. However, he wouldn't go so far as to say he'd dine alone with her. (I gotta hand it to Pence. Even after all these years, he can still make me laugh uncomfortably before racing to scrub my unconscious with a wire brush.)


Feel Good Friday

"Football players have the Super Bowl. Actors have the Oscars. For rabbis, it's Rosh Hashana. The Jewish New Year is a time of reflection and celebration. But for clergy, who preach to pews swelled with once-a-year attendees, it is a high-pressure moment: All eyes are on them to come up with the pitch-perfect sermon that will keep congregants inspired, engaged — and awake." NYT (Gift Article): The Rabbi Whisperer: A Playwright Helps Sermon Writers Find Their Voice. (This year, all a rabbi really has to do is rewrite a couple Deion Sanders' pregame speeches.)

+ "Curious about why geologists lick rocks or how many nose hairs there are on a human cadaver? Perhaps you'd like a snazzy dead wolf spider to use as a biodegradable robotic gripper? How about a 'smart toilet' that analyzes your urine stream and fecal deposits while taking a picture of your anus for good measure?" Meet the winners of the 2023 Ig Nobel Prizes.

+ "What does one do in the face of the unfathomable? The lives lost, traumatizing escapes, homes and livelihoods vanishing in an instant?" WaPo: Healing after the Maui fire starts with a surfboard.

+ Psychedelic drug MDMA eases PTSD symptoms in a study that paves the way for possible US approval.

+ The app teaching Somalis to read and write.

+ 12-year-old saves drowning man, credits CPR learned from 'Stranger Things'. (This is why I always encourage my kids to watch more TV. Also, it distracts them from their phones...)

+ The iPhone Alarm as a Piano Ballad.