Beware Corporate Hotel Chains “Helping” Workers

Maria ShriverPoor Maria Shriver, the long suffering wife of Arnold Schwarzenegger, is out promoting an idea that just shows it wasn’t all that surprising that she married a Republican. According to a press release two months ago, Marriott International Joins The Envelope Please™, A New Initiative Created by Maria Shriver and A Woman’s Nation™ in Support of Hotel Room Attendants. But before getting to what sounds like a worthy campaign, let’s just take a moment to chuckle at all those trademarks. America really needs more trademarks. Like that first sentence would have been some much better like this: Poor Maria Shriver™, the long suffering™ wife™ of Arnold Schwarze™negger™, is out promoting an idea™ that just shows™ it wasn’t all that surprising™ that she married™ a Republican™.

Anyway, the idea here is to put little tip envelopes out in hotel rooms as a way to encourage people to tip the housekeeping staff. All my life, I have been a strong supporting of tipping the housekeeping staff. They do a difficult and disgusting job and generally get paid poorly. I do it because it is one small thing that I can do to help. It takes away a small amount of the oppression that the housekeepers suffer under. But this corporate push to encourage tipping is repugnant in the extreme.

MarriottForget about “A Woman’s Nation”; it is just some group that Shriver put together back in 2011. It seems to be nothing more than a group that doubtless does a little good, but which is primarily involved in allowing companies like Goldman Sachs and Cisco Systems to look like they have the slightest interest in helping poor women. And this new venture, The™ Envelope™ Please™™™, is just a way of making Marriott look like a compassionate corporation.

At Think Progress a week and a half ago, Bryce Covert noted that nationwide, the median pay for hotel maids is $9.41 per hour. But at “compassionate” Marriott, it is even lower: roughly $8.32 per hour. So sure, maids are way underpaid for their difficult jobs. But as Covert noted, “Tips will of course help, but a pay raise would lift their living standards even more.” She added:

Higher pay seems warranted given that it’s a very tough job. Hotel workers have a 40 percent higher injury rate than other service sector workers, and housekeepers have a 50 percent higher rate than other hotel workers. In surveys, about 80 percent had work-related pain. The job is very physical, requiring workers to lift, bend, and twist with heavy loads and clean in awkward positions. They also usually have to meet quotas for how many rooms they clean in a day, often 15 or more.

But the ever brilliant Michael Hiltzik suggested that there might be a much more nefarious aspect to this. Currently, hotel housekeeping is not considered a “tipped occupation” by the federal government. This means that companies must pay at least the minimum wage. But if this campaign is successful, it could be reclassified. And if it becomes a tipped occupation, then Marriott could pay their housekeepers even less than minimum wage!

Tipping is always a scam. I still always tip, because it isn’t a scam being perpetrated by the poor employees. It is a scam by corporations to keep their direct labor costs low. This allows them to post prices that are lower than they really are and skim ever more profits. We should really outlaw the practice at the same time we raise the minimum wage to $15 and peg it to productivity growth (not inflation). I’m not hopeful for anything like this. But the least we can do is push back against this kind of thing. When I go into Denny’s, at least I don’t have to look at signs that say, “Because we are so great to work for, we are encouraging you to tip your server (because we pay them less than minimum wage)!”

Verizon iPhone Ad Doesn’t Speak Well of Apple

Apple SucksI don’t know if you have seen this Verizon Wireless commercial about trading in your iPhone 5 for the iPhone 6. I seem to be getting this commercial everywhere. This has got to be a glitch in the ad serving software. I don’t have Verizon. I don’t have an iPhone. I have never had an iPhone. And I’m on record as being pretty negative toward Apple, which I think is one of the very worst high tech companies.

The problem is not just that Apple has spent the last 25 years doing little other than suing every other high tech company under the sun for copyright violations they are only taken seriously in the United States where the judicial system is strictly pay-to-play. They also are not not not innovators. I don’t know how people can miss this. They are at best a packaging company and at worse a branding company.

At least in the old days, their hardware products were well built. Their computers came with the very best components. This is not so anymore! As other companies have come out with computers that are arguably as sexy, Apple has responded by putting out worse products. I don’t know why. I remember reading a quote from (I think) Steve Wozniak in an old book that went something like this, “Apple isn’t a computer; it’s a lifestyle.” He meant that in a good way. And God knows, this fact is good for sales. So let the lemmings have their overpriced devices and I will still be getting work done with whatever happens to be in front of me (which sometimes is an Apple product).

So I think the fact that Verizon is advertising the hell out of this iPhone 6 upgrade is yet another manifestation of this. Given that the iPhone 6 is not a fundamental improvement on the iPhone 5, you’ve got to sell it as the best thing in the world. It reminds me of grim years when Microsoft kept the world enslaved to MS-DOS. Oh! My! God! Version 3 is out! And it is better than Version 2 because… Did I mention Version 3 is out!

Now this commercial might be great for the kind of people who just have to have the latest and greatest Apple device. It just fills me with guilt and regret and anxiety. In it, Paul reads about this great new deal where he gets to upgrade to an iPhone 6 for FREE. (That’s right: it is all in capitals.) And Paul’s phone acts like the girlfriend who thinks she is about to be dumped. It ends with, “Sure, you loved you old iPhone. But you’ll love your free new iPhone you trade it for even more.”

I hate this commercial because I think breaking up with a lover is one of the worst things in the world. I would much rather be dumped than have to dump someone. I have to have a really good reason. (Sadly, I have.) And this guy is dumping his lover-surrogate for what? Because the camera in the iPhone 6 has a true-tone flash? Because of the supposed 10% increase in battery life? Because of the supposed 20% increase in CPU speed? Because the base model has exactly the same amount of memory? As Trusted Reviews says, even while salivating over the phone, “There isn’t an objective reason, at this stage, to upgrade from an iPhone 5S.”

But am I alone in thinking the commercial is also vaguely sexist? The female voice on the phone sounds like a battered woman. “You’ve always treated me horribly, but please don’t leave me! I’ll be better!” And Paul seems very much like a lot of guys I knew when I was that age who were constantly worried that they was “settling.” When they were in relationships, they were always looking around to see if there wasn’t some other woman who might be better.

Don’t take this as me not getting the ad. I get it. I think it’s clever. I also think it appeals to exactly the market segment that Apple is most dependent on: people who think they can make up for the total lack of a soul through the purchases they make.

The Election of 1800 Transformed to 2012

Michael AustinI’m going to make some predictions about the election between Barack Obama and Mitt Romney. And the first thing I’m going to predict is that the election is going to get nastier. I’m going to predict that they’re going to call each other names — lots of names. Both of these gentlemen have supporters who honestly believe that if the other guy wins, America as we know it will cease to exist. And I am going to predict that they say this with increasing drama and increasing frequency and increasing histrionics — that Mitt Romney should definitely not be president but neither should Barack Obama. Barack Obama, in fact, has ruined this country. And if he’s elected again, this country will not survive. So who should you vote for: Joe Biden. And he’s going to publicly convince people to write in “Joe Biden” and millions of people are going to do it — to the point where nobody’s going to be sure if Joe Biden or Barack Obama is running for president. Which, of course, means that the Romney-Ryan ticket is going to sail to victory. Bear with me — it could happen.

After the election, I predict that Paul Ryan is going to decide that really he should be president. He’s going to get it in his head that vice-presidents can quickly become president. And he’s going to stage in the the electoral college a coup and get them to elect him instead of Mitt Romney. Now all the Republicans are going to know that Mitt Romney is their candidate, so they’re going to vote for Mitt Romney. But all the Democrats are going to see it as a chance to stick it to Mitt Romney. They’re going to support Ryan. Well who are they going to call in? Bill Clinton, of course! Bear with me. I know I’m out on a limb here. But this could happen.

Bill Clinton is going to say, “Well, Romney is a disaster, but he’s an honest disaster. This guy Ryan is a dishonest disaster, so you should vote for Romney.” And Bill Clinton is going to make Romney the next President of the United States! And Paul Ryan is going to get so mad that he’s going to shoot him and kill him. And as soon as he kills him, he’s going to come back on the very next day and preside at the impeachment of Sonia Sotomayor, who of course is going to be impeached because she lambasted Mitt Romney from the bench. How many of you think that’s going to happen?

Because that’s what happened in 1800…

—Michael Austin
Newman University lecture about his book That’s Not What They Meant!

The Latte Salute and the Right’s World View

Obama Latte SaluteMedia Matters brought my attention to, The Media’s Imaginary Coffee Salute Scandal. It seems that Obama had a cup of coffee in his hand when he saluted Marines while exited Marine One. The right wing are freaking out, even though Bush the Younger did the same thing all the time while holding his dog. It is just another thing for partisans to freak out about. And I don’t especially care.

What I have cared about in the past is the habit of our men in uniform saluting the President of the United States. This goes back basically to the beginning. To me it has always smacked of military dictatorships. But it is what we have always done and it does go along with Marines code (pdf) that states that one should salute “all officers senior to you in rank.” The president certainly is entitled as Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces (and not simply Commander-in-Chief). But the Marines mention a number of other civilians who should be saluted, such as governors. Thus this is a sign of subordination of the military to the civilian government — a very good thing indeed. Conservatives want to turn this around.

But the Marines are a practical group and they note conditions under which one should not salute. For example, if you are bent over an engine trying to fix it, you are not expected to salute. But most important in this situation, you don’t need to salute when, “Carrying articles with both hands or being otherwise so occupied as to make saluting impractical.” That would pretty much relieve a president from ever having to salute.

Of course, the president never did salute. You know Colonel Jackson, General Grant, Colonel Roosevelt, General Eisenhower? None of them ever saluted. The tradition started in 1981 when the star of Bedtime for Bonzo did it because he thought it was super keen. He had been in World War II, but only stateside working in public relations. But you know how it is: once they stuck “under God” into the “Pledge of Allegiance,” people assumed it had always been there. Allen West, who really should know better even though he is a total authoritarian nut job, called the “latte salute” disgraceful. But you gotta wonder where West and all the Fox News ranters were when this happened:

Bush's Dog Salute

Of course they were no where. No one cared. And no one cares about the “latte salute.” Brian Adam Jones sums up the issue well:

But recent presidential history hasn’t been kind (or fair) to the president.

When Maj Gen Harold Greene was killed in Afghanistan earlier this summer, critics blasted the president for not attending his funeral. Retired Air Force Col Morris Davis claimed that Obama “bucked tradition” since Richard Nixon attended the funeral of Maj Gen John Dillard when he was killed in Vietnam in 1970 and George W Bush attended Lt Gen Timothy Maude’s funeral when he was killed on Sept 11, 2001. But for one problem — Nixon didn’t attend Dillard’s funeral, nor did Bush attend Maude’s. Davis later said that he was kidding and baiting Obama critics.

Similarly, a story that has plagued the Obama administration is that he failed to visit the D-Day memorial in Normandy on June 6 every year. The story claimed that there were only four occasions in 69 years that a president failed to visit the D-Day memorial on D-Day, and all four were in the Obama administration. In reality, however, no U.S. president visited the memorial at all until Reagan did it in 1984 (he was a real trend-setter). And it had only been visited by an American president six times in total, including a visit from Obama in 2009.

The man can’t win. No Democratic president can win. This is because the right wing in this country has nothing to talk about in terms of policy. The world view of the right is that the nation is divided into the patriots and the traitors. And the Democrats are by definition traitors. It doesn’t matter if any given Democrat is a president or not. Thinking this way doesn’t make those on the right traitors, but it definitely destroys any claim to being patriots.

Cheering Myself Up With Shel Silverstein

Shel SilversteinLet me state right out that last year, I was in no condition to celebrate the birthday of William Faulkner. And on this, his 121st birthday (It is technically possible!), I am in even worse condition. As always, the usual: great writer, blah, blah, blah. I really do love his work. All those Southern Gothic writers are great. But he so depresses me. Was it really necessary?

On this day in 1930, the great writer Shel Silverstein was born. And I’m not even going to talk about him. I’m just going to present some of his work. I don’t do this for you, although I do hope that you will enjoy it. I do it just to cheer myself up. He is always good for that!

Let’s start with a satirical song written by Silverstein, “Cover of the Rolling Stone.” Just to be clear, the band, Dr. Hook & the Medicine Show, is made up of a bunch of spazzes who did a whole lot of work with Silverstein, who wrote their entire second album.

Next we will do a little poetry. Silverstein has often been thought of as a children’s writer, but he never saw it that way. I think we have a similar outlook on life that way. I think people talk down to kids far too much. Just the same, they assume adults aren’t just kids with younger kids. Here’s a poem that is very close to my heart:

Memorizin’ Mo

Mo memorized the dictionary
But just can’t seem to find a job
Or anyone who wants to marry
Someone who memorized the dictionary.

Another one that is sly and silly and yet mystically profound:

Something Missing

I remember I put on my socks,
I remember I put on my shoes.
I remember I put on my tie
That was printed
In beautiful purples and blues.
I remember I put on my coat,
To look perfectly grand at the dance,
Yet I feel there is something
I may have forgot—
What is it? What is it? …

And for our last poem, a little encouragement:

Listen to the Mustn’ts

Listen to the MUSTN’TS, child,
Listen to the DON’TS
Listen to the SHOULDN’TS
Listen to the NEVER HAVES
Then listen close to me—
Anything can happen, child,
ANYTHING can be.

The Giving Tree

And finally, we have an animated reading by Silverstein himself of his sentimental and beautiful book, The Giving Tree. “And the tree was happy.”

Happy birthday Shel Silverstein!