Five Underreported Stories That Inspired Me This Week
by Dax-Devlon Ross
In a nutshell, the Port Authority of New York/New Jersey forced a toll hike to pay for the new World Trade Center project. It elected to propose the hike on the eve of the ten-year anniversary of 9/11 knowing that few would have the will to contest it given the emotional and moral implications. AAA, which was savvy enough to wait until the 9/11 festivities died down, is charging the PANYNJ with violating the Commerce Clause by impeding interstate commerce. Making bridge and tunnel users, many of whom are not New Yorkers, pay for an New York project could be unconstitutional if the Port Authority’s main purpose for raising the tolls is to pay for commercial real-estate development that has little to nothing to do with the bridges, tunnels or roadways. It’s a clever, spirited, last-ditch effort, and it may not have the desired effect, but it does shine the light on the PANYNJ at a time when Americans from all walks are struggling to make ends meet.
Muslim cab drivers in New York won the right to veto the placement of racy ads on their cabs. The gist of their complaint was that the ads are offensive and embarrassing. “If you’re a taxi driver who owns his or her own car, you take it home, your neighbors see it,” said Taxi & Limousine Commissioner David Yassky. This is a pretty big deal. Of late New York cab drivers have been organizing themselves and standing up for their rights in an unprecedented way. This new ruling may seem minor to most of us, but it isn’t. In an effort to bring more dignity to their profession, cab drivers are asserting their right to have some say-so over their labor and their self-representation. In the broader scheme, the victory is a direct challenge to the assumption that cabs are free game for advertisements.
In a time when union labor, the backbone of the middle class, is under unrelenting assault, GM workers have struck what’s being called by most observers a favorable deal with the company. The new labor contract will award $5,000 bonuses to the 48,500 workers, preserve benefits, ensure (some) wage increases, reopen plants and create thousands of new jobs. Is it perfect? No. Is is encouraging? Without a doubt. What’s more, GM’s two and a half year turnaround is directly attributable to the much-maligned Obama administration. Said UAW President Bob King, “[L]et’s be completely clear about this: None of this would have been possible without the efforts of President Obama, who invested federal funds to help turn the company around, protect the auto supplier base and keep good-paying jobs in America.”
Forget that it’s about sports and college for moment. Forget the cynicism you probably feel about the sports industry in general. The piece, though long, is a must read for anyone who cares about the value of human labor. Big time college sports is a business built on and justified by the same power relations that built slavery. It’s that simple. We all sort of know it, but Branch does the reporting to tie it all together. The key parts of the piece for me:
- The term student-athlete was deliberately ambiguous. College players were not students at play (which might understate their athletic obligations), nor were they just athletes in college (which might imply they were professionals). That they were high-performance athletes meant they could be forgiven for not meeting the academic standards of their peers; that they were students meant they did not have to be compensated, ever, for anything more than the cost of their studies. Student-athlete became the NCAA’s signature term, repeated constantly in and out of courtrooms.
- Last year, CBS Sports and Turner Broadcasting paid $771 million to the NCAA for television rights to the 2011 men’s basketball tournament alone. That’s three-quarters of a billion dollars built on the backs of amateurs—on unpaid labor. The whole edifice depends on the players’ willingness to perform what is effectively volunteer work.
- Last year, Electronic Arts paid more than $35 million in royalties to the NFL players union for the underlying value of names and images in its pro football series—but neither the NCAA nor its affiliated companies paid former college players a nickel.
- Without logic or practicality or fairness to support amateurism, the NCAA’s final retreat is to sentiment. The Knight Commission endorsed its heartfelt cry that to pay college athletes would be “an unacceptable surrender to despair.” Many of the people I spoke with while reporting this article felt the same way. “I don’t want to pay college players,” said Wade Smith, a tough criminal lawyer and former star running back at North Carolina. “I just don’t want to do it. We’d lose something precious.”
Sparked by social networking and the spirit of protest spreading across the globe, The U.S. Day of Rage’s plan to occupy Wall Street may have been curbed by NYPD and ignored by most of the mainstream press, but it is a hopeful glimmer of pissedofness in an remarkably passive moment. Citing corruption and greed, among other gripes, the USDOR seeks to foment a movement that rolls back the corporatization of politics and restores the core principle of democracy: “One citizen. One dollar. One vote.”