Today's News and Commentary — December 29

Published December 29th, 2014 -  - 12.29.1412


NPR today released an interview recording with President Obama. Among the highlights as reported by the Los Angeles Times, President Obama discussed circumstances in which he would be more likely to veto legislation passed by the Republican Congress. Discussing Republican opposition to Executive Action, he stated, “So the question then becomes, by me having taken these actions, does that spur those voices in the Republican Party who I think genuinely believe immigration is good for our country?  Does it spur them to work once again with Democrats and my administration to get a reasonable piece of legislation done? Or does it simply solidify what I do think is — is a nativist trend in parts of the Republican Party?”

The Associated Press reports that railroad executives are attempting to decrease the number of workers required to operate freight trains from two to one. They argue that advances in technology, including improved safety systems and an automatic braking system under development, could minimize risks. Labor groups have pointed out the risks of such a move. J.P. Wright, co-chair of Railroad Workers United, argues that railroads cannot put all their faith in technology, stating that, “We’re transporting chlorine through your town in the middle of the night completely fatigued with the possibility that the computer is going to make a mistake.”

According to KQRE News in New Mexico, Republican State Senator Sander Rue has introduced right-to-work legislation that would bar private sector employers from mandating that their employees join unions. The legislation would not apply to public sector jobs. Republicans currently control the New Mexico House, with Democrats in charge of the Senate. Rue stated that he believes his legislation is unlikely to pass.

The Washington Post reflects on Mayor Bill de Blasio’s first year in office in New York City. The article highlights the deterioration of de Blasio’s relationship with New York City’s police unions. While relations have soured precipitously in the last month following large scale protests surrounding the killings of Eric Garner and Michael Brown, the de Blasio administration had a difficult relationship with the police union beginning in campaign season in summer 2013, when he came out against stop and frisk.

Jared Bernstein at the New York Times reflects on the tightening of the U.S. labor market over the last year. The joblessness rate fell 0.9 percent, from 6.7 to 5.8 percent in 2014, the same amount the numbers fell in 2014, from 7.9 to 7 percent. Despite comparable numbers, Jared Bernstein at the Upshot argues that this year’s news is better than last year’s due to how the Bureau of Labor Statistics defines unemployment. Individuals who have stopped looking for work are not counted among the unemployed. Whereas in 2013, what appeared to be a tightening of the labor market was actually people dropping out, about .7 of the overall .9 percent decrease in joblessness, this year joblessness fell and the number of people participating increased by .1 percent. He argues that, while there is room for increase in labor market participation, the economy is on the right track.

The New York Times Editorial Board has called for new federal rules that would prohibit anyone under the age of 18 from working in tobacco fields. Child labor in tobacco fields, as we have previously discussed here, is legal in the U.S. Children as young as 7 have been found working in tobacco fields in North Carolina, Kentucky, Tennessee, and Virginia, where they are reported to suffer symptoms of nicotine poisoning. While the Times praises tobacco companies Altria and R.J. Reynolds for recently announcing that they would no longer buy tobacco from growers who use children, the Ed Board argues that individual company initiatives do not go far enough.

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