A Future Without Unions Is a Terrifying Dystopia – by Matt Taylor (Vice) 29 June 2018

From even crazier rent to low pay to no weekends and shitty bosses, it’s a lot like the world we live in now—just worse.

It’s mid-afternoon in late June two decades from now, and the weather in New York City is gross: hot, humid, slimy. You’re trying to find your way to a job interview when you pass a child yanking on her father’s arm, confused by a throng of people marching in a circle in front of them. They seem angry—there’s a lot of yelling and chanting and jockeying going on—but the most confusing part, at least to the toddler’s eye, is a giant inflatable rat.

“Dad, what’s that?”

You know what it is, of course. Maybe your mother was a labor organizer way back when. Maybe your cousin helped unionize an online postcard startup that went bankrupt before any employees could see the benefits of a contract. But the child’s father, perhaps 35 years old and gainfully employed at an Amazon subsidiary, doesn’t know or doesn’t care. He shrugs and pulls the kid down a side street to avoid the hubbub.Many Americans today would recognize what was going on back there as a picket line. Labor unions and impassioned workers interested in forming them—or winning concessions from management without an official union—have picketed workplaces across the United States for well over a century. Along the way, as documented in countless films, books, songs, classic Simpsons episodes, and even memes, they won incredible victories: the 40-hour workweek, healthcare benefits, an end to child labor, and much more. Union density—the percentage of American workers who belong to one—peaked at over a third of the total labor force in the mid-1950s, thanks in part to a sort of pact between business and organized labor after World War II. Unions were institutions stitched into the fabric of mainstream America just like churches or Rotary clubs.

About seven decades later, unions are in decline and workers are in as much trouble as they have been since the 1920s. Inequality is out of control, right-wing populism is on the rise, and, thanks to a bombshell Supreme Court ruling Wednesday, organized labor is about to shrink. Union members and advocates hope the latest frontal assault from the right could help rally its membership to put up a renewed fight, but that fight is going to be a brutal one.

Despite the downward trend, the worst-case scenario is rarely contemplated: What would happen if unions actually disappeared entirely? It might seem like a crazy proposition, since polling data shows young people are high on organized labor. On the other hand, breaking unions is pretty clearly an end desired by the right-wing billionaires dictating who gets to serve as judges in the courts and hold elected office.

Obviously, if unions were erased from America, the income of unionized workers would fall. But according to research from left-leaning think tank Economic Policy Institute (EPI), declines in unionization are linked to a drop in the pay of nonunion workers, too. And the implications of organized labor’s total collapse go way beyond paychecks. Without unions, racism and tribalism might get worse, cities could look physically different, rent would likely be even harder to keep up with, and weekends might become a thing of the past.

More than anything else, what emerged from conversations with economists, labor experts, sociologists and futurists is that a society without unions would look a lot like the increasingly gilded-age reality we live in now—just worse. And it’s not nearly as implausible as you might think.

“We don’t have to sort of wonder and fictionalize it,” Celine McNicholas, director of labor law and policy at EPI, told me. “History gives us an indication—before we had meaningful labor representation and unions—of what our economy looked like.”

LESS MONEY AND MORE DANGER

McNicholas was referring to the era before the 1935 National Labor Relations Act (NLRA), which enshrined collective bargaining in American law at the height of the Great Depression. The preceding era was not a pleasant one. Strikes were brutally and bloody put down by private security forces contracted by nervous—or just plain vindictive—bosses. Labor actions could resemble actual combat, like West Virginia’sMine Wars.” Workers were literally locked inside factories, sometimes resulting in their deaths. And pay was often so low as to make them wonder how they might endure next day, much less the next week or year.

“Paychecks would very much continue to erode because labor standards would be under attack,” Jared Bernstein, a former economic advisor to Vice President Joe Biden now at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, a left-leaning think tank, told me.

There’s a potential 2038 where you might find yourself trying to cope with postmodern versions of those same pre-NLRA forces. Maybe your gig at on online retailer’s “fulfillment center” that paid you five dollars an hour would require dealing with 80-plus degree temperatures in a windowless warehouse with no one around in the event a machine impaled a worker against a wall. Why would the bosses bother with basic safety protections if the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) had been trimmed down to a shadow of its former self by a corporate-dominated Congress?

To wit: Unions don’t just negotiate pay-rates or basic benefits like healthcare for workers. They also hold bosses accountable for shady shit going on at the workplace. “Unions are a political force, particularly public-sector unions, which is exactly why the right has been tilted against them for so long,” Bernstein explained.

Right-wing interest groups like ALEC and Republican politicians like Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker have long framed their dismantling of collective bargaining as a matter of fairness or budget issues. Why should union workers have it better than everyone else, especially if—as in the case of public-sector workers—their generous contracts come at the expense of taxpayers? But these seemingly practical concerns mask a deeper agenda: transferring wealth from workers to their bosses and the investor class. Unions effectively siphon money from management and government and give it to workers; if you could keep more of the money produced by your business—or the government you consider an extension of it—wouldn’t you? It’s no surprise that the relentlessly pro-business Republican Party has been on an anti-union crusade for decades. And if unions did not exist—and labor protections were further weakened as a result—the slope could get slippery, fast.

RACISM AND TRIBALISM WOULD BE ON THE RISE

Unions’ dissipation wouldn’t just affect the lot of people at the workplace or their economic life—it might change the face of American culture. Among other things, experts said, it could unleash even more ethnic tension and foment the kind of nativism preyed on by demagogues like Donald Trump. Suffice it to say it’s probably not a coincidence that the reemergence of straight-up white nationalism in mainstream American politics came after decades of union decline.

“The solidarities that feel real to people tend to be tribal,” said Todd Gitlin, a social-movement historian at Columbia University. “There’s a lot of evidence that unions are the best anti-racist institutions we have.” One study by historian Timothy Minchin found that membership in the AFL-CIO* made white voters who might otherwise have been reluctant to embrace the first black major-party presidential nominee more willing to give the new guy a shot.

By their very nature unions bring people together to talk about their shared problems. Workers of the future may be in dire need of that—remote work is on the rise, and a lot of app-enabled occupations are solo endeavors where you’re basically taking orders from your phone. In the post-union future, there’s no reason for you and your fellow “independent contractors” to actually gather in the same physical—or even online—space to chat. In fact, your boss won’t allow that kind of scheming. Without your workplace exposing you to people from diverse backgrounds, your knowledge of other ethnic, gender, and cultural identities will largely be confined to what you see when streaming internet content from one of the two providers that will enjoy a joint monopoly over such services.

“The retreat into more tribal identities fills the gap when you have no set of durable organizations to bridge those divides,” explained Washington University in St. Louis sociologist Jake Rosenfeld. Specifically, white men have sometimes been brought into the fold of modern social tolerance in part by affiliations with labor. “Even today, with unions at their weakest state, unions are the only organization that brings that otherwise very conservative on all dimensions part of the body politic”—white men—”in a more progressive direction, and tempers those other passions.”

Of course, it hasn’t always been true that pro-union elements were forces for social tolerance. The William Jennings Bryan-led populist revolts of the 1890s and early 1900s often leaned in to white supremacy. But in the last century, as the progressive era gave way to the Civil Rights movement, unions have often been a partner in fighting for people of color, women, the LGBTQ community, and other groups seeking equal protection under the law. An end to unions means those voices will be more difficult to hear.

DAILY MISERY WITH NO WEEKEND IN SIGHT

Of course, a union-less future might not exactly be devoid of workers’ groups vaguely devoted to something resembling solidarity. But such organizations might be like the weak Independent Drivers Guild that formed in 2016 to represent Uber workers in New York. That group gave drivers a voice on issues at their workplace, helping them advocate for minimum-pay rules and even win changes to tipping policies, but denied them the power to collectively bargain contracts with Uber. That means it can’t secure full-time employee status for its members, much less demand better, more structural pay or health or other benefits. And it should be noted it only seemed to come into existence at all because an actual union—the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers—helped organize for it.

The total elimination of organized labor might seem like a fantasy, but everyone from union skeptics to pro–labor movement historians suspect the way workers band together, if they do at all, is due for a change soon.

“Our disrupted society is going to need some different way of having workers, somehow, respond,” Joel Kotkin, a presidential fellow in Urban Futures at Chapman University in Orange, California, told me. Kotkin actually believes workers currently do better in low-union-density environments like right-to-work Texas where housing is cheaper on average than union bastions like Washington State and New York. But even as he cheered the idea of public-sector unions’ power being reined in, he painted a dark picture of an America where gig workers who lack unions essentially rely on the goodwill of rich people who want to keep things calm.

“If you look at the long-term vision of the oligarchs, it’s really a society where very few people make money,” he told me. “Everyone else is propped up to live a decent—they don’t live in hovels, but they never accumulate anything, and they become essentially serfs, which is where we’re headed.”

Whether you like or hate unions—or have mixed feelings about them, as Kotkin does—it seems perhaps most clear their continued demise or outright vanishment would not only affect inequality but what every American’s daily life looks like. In a not-implausible 2038, you and your partner might struggle to pay the $4,000 rent on your halfway-decent one-bedroom apartment in a large city. Unions and their allies in the Democratic Party and broader progressive movement have tended to be at the forefront of forcing the business community to include affordable housing in their latest massive projects. If the rent is too damn high now, it’ll get higher still once that movement is kneecapped. And if your pay is minuscule and you have no one fighting to guarantee you halfway plausible living expenses, things could get ugly.

“If I didn’t have a union job, I would not be able to pay my rent,” said Rosy Clark, a 30-year-old DSA member living in Brooklyn whose public-sector teachers’ union will be affected by the recent Supreme Court decision. “I would have to live differently. I would have to live with more people. I would have to live further away from where I work. And I would have to have a less comfortable living situation by leaps and bounds.”

Unions have been instrumental in securing things we now take for granted like a 40-hour work week. Without them, businesses might try to roll back even basic benefits, especially for lower-paid workers. In a union-less future, Clark suggested, you might not even have a weekend.

POLITICS WOULD GET UGLIER AND EVEN MORE TILTED TOWARD THE RICH

If the study earlier this year that found a 3.5 percent decline in Democratic presidential vote-share in “right-to-work” (or anti-union) locales was on point, it’s fair to assume the drop-off would even bigger were unions to fold entirely. If unions weren’t around to provide tens of millions of dollars and tens of thousands of foot soldiers every election day, progressive candidates would face an even heavier climb, especially outside big cities. The Democratic Party would suddenly be struggling in ways it’s hard to imagine today.

“The party would not collapse because its base of support is much broader than only organized labor—the coalition includes civil rights groups, feminist organizations, immigrant right groups, suburban educated voters and more,” Julian E. Zelizer, a professor of history and public affairs at Princeton, told me in an email. “That said, it would be devastating since—even in 2018—organized labor still is one of the few sources of mass mobilization that exists for the party.”

Thanks to the collapse of the labor movement in recent decades, we’re already getting a sense of what this looks like in states and localities nationwide.

“For many American workers, unions are kind of a foreign concept,” Neil Gross, a sociologist at Colby College who has written about the intersection between the decline of unions and the rise of Trump, told me. “It’s hard for them sometimes to grasp what it is they do and why they should have to be a part of it.”

If you wanted to run for office 20 years from now as a progressive in an America without unions, doing so would be an even heavier lift unless you were able to fund your own campaign. The study that showed how the collapse of union protections could erode Democrats’ political power also found that as a consequence of states passing anti-union laws, fewer working-class people sought—and won—positions of power.

The complete disappearance of unions is not an absurd hypothetical—this is a near-term possibility that is effectively already the case in some southern states that have always done everything they can to crush labor.

“For a lot of people in a lot of places, we already live in a union-less society,” Peter Frase, an editor at Jacobin magazine and author of Four Futures: Life After Capitalism, told me.

Frase cautioned, like Gross and some other experts and activists, against assuming workers wouldn’t find new ways to organize even in union-hostile states. More than one pointed to the teachers’ strikes in Oklahoma and West Virginia and hotel workers in Nevada as examples of how people can build solidarity even when the law is stacked against them.

On the other hand, people are increasingly working independently or in jobs that don’t build solidarity through physical proximity, as factory gigs once did. That would make building some kind of new model from scratch increasingly difficult. And if cities that currently have unions helping advocate for affordable housing were to suddenly be free to let the forces of capital develop as they see fit, places like Seattle and San Francisco might be even more unlivable, further complicating the project of gathering like-minded liberals in one place to force change.

Kotkin, for his part, anticipated an “increasingly feudalistic society” where the Mark Zuckerbergs of the world might believe, say, that “everybody should get a rent subsidy so they can live in a little one-bedroom apartment.” On the path we’re on, he suggested, tech gurus will essentially be left to set social policy on their own. Who knows, sometimes that might work out to their benefit if the guru in question wanted to help them.

“But they’ll never own anything and they’ll never have their own company,” he told me. “They’ll just be serfs to the lord.”

*AFL-CIO is the umbrella union that includes VICE writers and editors.

Public Sector Union Fees Are Dead. What’s Next? (Bloomberg Law) 13 Sept 2018

A potential ruling that could block public sector unions from representing nonmembers would deliver another blow to organized labor, which is still reeling from the U.S. Supreme Court’s recent decision that cut off the collection of union fees from public workers who are not members.

A conservative advocacy group’s effort to upend exclusive representation in the public sector will get its first test later this month in federal court.

The Buckeye Institute is supporting plaintiff Kathleen Uradnik, a political science professor at St. Cloud State University, in her First Amendment lawsuit challenging the Inter Faculty Organization’s authority to represent her and other workers who aren’t union members. A Minnesota federal judge on Sept. 20 will consider her request for a temporary order to block the union from acting as nonmembers’ sole bargaining agent.

A ruling in Uradnik’s favor could put the poli-sci professor and her university in uncharted territory, potentially leaving her on her own to negotiate wages and benefits while freeing the school from its obligation to bargain with the IFO. And more cases are in the pipeline.

The Buckeye Institute has filed federal lawsuits on behalf of public employees in three different states, challenging a union’s authority to act as the sole representative for all workers in a bargaining unit.

Union Power in a Post-Janus World

The Supreme Court’s Janus v. AFSCME decision in June banned public sector unions from collecting fees from nonmembers that would be used to pay for nonpolitical expenses while also calling exclusive representation into question.

Justice Samuel Alito wrote in the Janus majority opinion that a state’s requirement that a union must serve as public workers’ exclusive bargaining agent is a “significant impingement on associational freedoms that would not be tolerated in other contexts.”

Relying on Janus, Uradnik’s lawsuit says the Inter Faculty Organization’s designation as her exclusive bargaining representative violates her rights to free speech and association protected by the First Amendment.

“This is about the free speech rights of workers and whether they can be compelled in matters of public concern,” Buckeye Institute President Robert Alt told Bloomberg Law. “Janus dealt with one part of this question—can you be forced to subsidize a union’s speech—and raised grave questions about whether you can be forced to associate with a union.”

An injunction against the Inter Faculty Organization would extend beyond just the representation of Uradnik and other employees at St. Paul State University, Alt said. The union represents professors, coaches, librarians, and other employees at seven state university campuses in Minnesota.

IFO President Brent Jeffers cast the lawsuit as “part of a nationally coordinated strategy by powerful forces aiming to destroy collective bargaining.”

“It is a direct attack on our shared values and collective voice,” Jeffers told Bloomberg Law in a prepared statement.

The other lawsuits backed by the Buckeye Institute were brought on behalf of a public university professor in Maine and a public high school teacher in Ohio.

Spillover Effects in Private Sector

It’s unclear whether public employers would have an obligation to negotiate with unions that aren’t designated as a bargaining unit’s exclusive representative, University of North Carolina labor law professor Jeffrey Hirsch told Bloomberg Law. States with anti-union officials would likely resist negotiating unless they absolutely had to, he said.

Abolition of exclusive representation could also open the door to multiple members-only unions representing different factions of employees working alongside one another, Hirsch said.

Catherine Fisk, a labor law professor at the University of California at Berkeley, said a successful First Amendment challenge to exclusive representation in the public sector also could eventually bleed into the private sector.

A state action that violates the First Amendment is more obvious when it’s the government acting as an employer, Fisk told Bloomberg Law in an email. But there might also be state action in the private sector because government agencies, through the authority of the National Labor Relations Act or the Railway Labor Act, appoint unions as exclusive representatives if the unions win majority support of workers in bargaining units, Fisk said.

Union Armored With Knight Precedent

The IFO says the Supreme Court has already rejected a First Amendment challenge to a union’s exclusive representation of faculty in the Minnesota community college system. It cited the high court’s 1984 decision in Minnesota State Board for Community Colleges v. Knight in its bid to kill Uradnik’s motion for a preliminary injunction.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit also recently reaffirmed the constitutionality of exclusive representation under Minnesota law in its Aug. 14 ruling in Bierman v. Dayton, the union said. The circuit court said in that ruling that Janus didn’t mention Knight nor supersede it.

But Uradnik said in her motion that Knight doesn’t support the IFO’s exclusive representation of nonmembers. While Knight upheld a restriction on exclusive bargaining representatives in certain bargaining activities, there was no issue of compelled speech, she said.

The case is Uradnik v. Inter Faculty Organization, Dist. of Minn., No. 18-cv-01895, motion for preliminary injunction filed 7/31/18., D. Minn., No. 18-cv-01895, motion for preliminary injunction 7/31/18.

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The Next Big Legal Case to Weaken Unions Is On The Way – by Hamilton Nolan – 6 Dec 2018

This summer, the Supreme Court gutted America’s public labor unions with the Janus ruling. Now, another case has the potential to further destroy the very basis of organized labor in America. This is serious.

Uradnik v. Inter Faculty Org is a case brought by the right wing Buckeye Institute with the specific aim of dismantling a key part of U.S. labor law. The case seeks to end the practice of exclusive representation in public unions—the rule that a union represents all of the workers in a workplace. In the case, a college professor is arguing that the requirement that the union in her workplace negotiate on her behalf even if she does not want to be a union member is an infringement of her free speech. The case is a part of a long-term strategy by right wing groups to use the pretext of free speech as a way to destroy protections for organized labor. The Janus case—in which the Supreme Court ruled that nobody has to pay public unions for representing them (not even “agency fees,” which just cover the cost of representation) if they don’t want to—was the most successful manifestation of this strategy.

The Uradnik case could be the next step. It has just been appealed to the Supreme Court. If they decide to hear it, the outlook is not good. (And if they don’t decide to hear it, there are more identical cases in the pipeline.)

Both Janus and Uradnik deal exclusively with public employees, not private employees. But that just means they have the most potential to damage the union movement in America, because public employees are unionized at a far higher rate than private employees; and on top of that, it is quite possible that the blows to public unions can be translated down to private employee unions in time. This Bloomberg story from September lays out the implications of the Uradnik case, should the Supreme Court choose to pursue it:

It’s unclear whether public employers would have an obligation to negotiate with unions that aren’t designated as a bargaining unit’s exclusive representative, University of North Carolina labor law professor Jeffrey Hirsch told Bloomberg Law. States with anti-union officials would likely resist negotiating unless they absolutely had to, he said.

Abolition of exclusive representation could also open the door to multiple members-only unions representing different factions of employees working alongside one another, Hirsch said.

Anti-union forces know that the Janus ruling will make it much harder for public unions to sustain themselves financially. Add in the abolition of exclusive representation—and add to that a sustained, well-financed campaign targeting public employees to try to convince them to abandon their unions, which is already underway and is sure to intensify—and you will absolutely see a serious decline in union power in public workplaces, which they will then try to translate into private companies as well. If this case is successful, unions that were solid and powerful one year ago could soon find themselves underfunded, with their membership riddled with defectors and free riders and stupid or completely cynical competing factions in the workplace, and on top of that, with employers refusing to even negotiate at all. It would be bad.

If there is a silver lining to this possibility, it is this: the entire structure of modern labor law was to a large degree set up to enable collective bargaining because it was considered better than endless labor strife in the streets. If business interests think that they will win a decisive victory over working people by destroying collective bargaining, they will find themselves again facing angry workers whose only outlet is street protests, wildcat strikes, and other direct action that grinds business to a halt.

Right wingers are greedy. And foolish. They may get what they’re asking for. In the meantime, unionize your workplace.

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FBI Secretly Collected Data for Years on Aaron Swartz Computer Activist — in a Case Involving Al Qaeda – by Dell Cameron (Gizmodo) 14 Dec 2018

Nearly two years before the U.S. government’s first known inquiry into the activities of Reddit co-founder and famed digital activist Aaron Swartz, the FBI swept up his email data in a counterterrorism investigation that also ensnared students at an American university, according to a once-secret document first published by Gizmodo.

The email data belonging to Swartz, who was likely not the target of the counterterrorism investigation, was cataloged by the FBI and accessed more than a year later as it weighed potential charges against him for something wholly unrelated. The legal practice of storing data on Americans who are not suspected of crimes, so that it may be used against them later on, has long been denounced by civil liberties experts, who’ve called on courts and lawmakers to curtail the FBI’s “radically” expansive search procedures.

Swartz 1

In November 2008, days before Swartz’s 22nd birthday, FBI investigators were combing the internet for any information they could find on the young man fated to become one of the internet’s most celebrated figures. At the time, the bureau was working to determine whether Swartz had violated any laws when he downloaded millions of court documents from an online system known as PACER.

The FBI would ultimately conclude that no crime had been committed and that the court records already belonged to the public. (Some three years later, the U.S. government charged him with crimes related to mass-downloading from another database.) But on that day in November, the investigators would leave no stone unturned.

Drawing from information published on Wikipedia and using investigative tools such as Accurint, FBI employees began quietly building a profile of the oft-described technology “wunderkind,” noting, for example, his involvement in the creation of the formatting language Markdown and RSS 1.0, and jotting down the various code frameworks that Swartz had helped to create and organizations that he had helped to found. Eventually, with all open source avenues exhausted, an FBI employee sat down at a computer terminal that, to most people, would appear plucked straight from the 1980s. The employee ran a search using the bureau’s automated case support system, a portal to the motherlode of FBI investigative files.

When the FBI worker typed in Swartz’s internet domain—aaronsw.com—he got a hit. A single file popped up bearing the case number 315T-HQ-C1475879. The prefix, 315, is a numerical classifier that was assigned to the file when it was created nearly two years before. It told the FBI employee that Swartz’s domain was linked, though not precisely how, to an international terrorism case. And then they cracked it open.

315T-HQ-C1475879

This case has been something of a mystery since its existence was first unearthed by journalists and researchers who engaged the FBI in lengthy court battles over records related Swartz, a celebrated internet rights activist, who, while being targeted by overzealous prosecutors in January 2013, died by suicide.

As mentioned, the newly released document, obtained first in a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit by transparency group Property of the People, reveals that Swartz was already of investigative interest to the FBI years before he was criminally charged with downloading millions of articles and documents from JSTOR, an expansive digital library of academic journals, in early 2011 and, more importantly, nearly two years before the Justice Department considered charges against him related to his PACER activity—the first known law enforcement probe to involve him, until now.

The FBI has long argued in favor of growing its profound authority to acquire Americans’ private communications data in huge quantities without a judge’s approval. But the document obtained by Property of the People, which was formerly classified “secret,” appears to exemplify, using a rather high-profile figure, the many inherent risks in allowing police agencies to secretly stockpile data on innocent Americans in the name of national security.

The document appears to show that in early 2007, the FBI cataloged a substantial amount of email metadata from the computer science and IT departments of the University of Pittsburgh, citing as justification the pursuit of a terrorism lead.

The terrorist group at the center of the investigation is also identified by name—Al Qaeda.

Swartz 3

That any information about Swartz was collected during an Al Qaeda investigation—only to be retrieved nearly two years later for totally unrelated purposes—adds a familiar and sympathetic face to a controversial procedure in intelligence gathering commonly referred to as a “backdoor search.” That is, the FBI gathering information about Americans who are not accused of crimes, often without a warrant; storing that information in databases, sometimes for years; and later accessing it during the course of another investigation that ultimately has nothing to do with terrorism whatsoever. (Backdoor searches are most commonly associated with Section 702 of the FISA Amendments Act, an authority that was unavailable to the FBI at the time.)

While the substantive details of this terrorism investigation remain a mystery, legal experts who spoke to Gizmodo said they were alarmed—but not the least bit surprised—to hear the FBI used information gleaned in a terrorism case as it tried to build a criminal one against Swartz long after.

“It’s disturbing that the FBI is mining this information for unrelated criminal investigations that have nothing to do with why it was collected in the first place,” said Neema Singh Guliani, the American Civil Liberties Union’s legislative counsel. This practice, she said, is another example “of the way in which this authority has been abused by the government and underscores the need for reform.”

Certain types of electronic information, most of which can be described as “metadata,” may be acquired by the FBI without a warrant, provided it certifies there’s a “specific and articulable” link to suspected terrorist activities. This is basically the legal equivalent of a hunch, a threshold which is floors below probable cause. And this key: Obtaining that same information under any other circumstance—except in the case of espionage—would otherwise require a court order.

Swartz 4

How specifically the FBI came to possess Swartz’s email data remains unclear.

But after reviewing the document and other related files, several legal experts told Gizmodo the most likely explanation was that the FBI had used a National Security Letter (NSL), a ubiquitous tool for obtaining email header data at the time. An NSL would have enabled federal agents to demand access to the data and then impose a gag order to maintain secrecy around the investigation, all without a judge’s approval.

Authorized under the Stored Communications Act, in cases of suspected terrorism or espionage, these letters enable the FBI to seize a variety of electronic records under its own authority. While agents cannot use an NSL to acquire the contents of an email message, the FBI’s notes appear to show that, in Swartz’s case, it sought only “email headers,” data the FBI would argue falls well within the scope of its power to seize.

Property of the People co-founder Ryan Shapiro, who holds a PhD from MIT, told Gizmodo that the Justice Department was “particularly aggressive” in court while trying to keep its prior, and formerly undisclosed, investigative interest in Swartz under wraps. It only relented, he said, when it seemed the U.S. attorney feared an unfavorable ruling, which could impact the Justice Department in future court cases.

“The FBI does nearly everything in its power to maintain its functional immunity from the Freedom of Information Act. As one element of its anti-FOIA efforts, the FBI is notorious for the deliberate poverty of its FOIA searches,” he said. “In this case, the Bureau even made the ludicrous claim that documents about Aaron Swartz’s email address, email header data, and domain weren’t related to him, and therefore were outside the scope of the FBI’s search for records about Swartz. It took us years of litigation to force the FBI to finally search for and even partially release this important document.”

The FBI declined to comment on the case and instead pointed to Justice Department guidelines that define the scope of the FBI’s authority. “The manner in which the FBI acquires information must meet a legal threshold, and the use of that information is governed by legal statutes and guidelines on investigations established by the Attorney General. In addition, the FBI’s use of its legal authorities is subject to robust oversight by all three branches of government,” it said.

University snooping

While heavily redacted, the document obtained by Property of the People offers multiples clues as to the origin of the collected email data. It almost certainly originated from the University of Pittsburgh (PITT). At the time of writing, however, it remains unknown what connected the University to an investigation involving Al Qaeda in 2007. (Several key portions of the records are redacted, with exemptions referencing the National Security Act of 1947.)

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Notably, the document references two sets of email data labeled “Computer Science” and “CSSD” (“Appendix A” and “Appendix B,” respectively).

While “Computer Science” is admittedly ambiguous—though clearly related to an academic department somewhere—“CSSD” has special relevance to Pittsburgh. As University literature describes it, Computing Services and Systems Development (CSSD) has long provided the “network infrastructure and telecommunications backbone for the University community,” offering among other forms of support, computer resources and training to students and faculty members alike.

The term “CSSD” is also unique to the Pittsburgh campus. The University, which today accommodates more than 28,000 students and a staff of nearly 5,000, further describes it as follows:

“Computing Services and Systems Development (CSSD) supports the teaching and research missions of the University by providing mechanisms (infrastructure, consulting, development and training) to students engaged in academic activities and to faculty in their laboratories and classrooms. CSSD is responsible for maintaining a contemporary IT environment, while exploring the next generation of technology, innovative computing, and telecommunication solutions.”

Only two pages of the document were released—a cover sheet and a second page pulled from one of the “email header” lists—so it is unclear precisely how much data the FBI may have acquired. There are clues, however, that suggest it may have been a substantial amount.

The page with Swartz’s email address is labeled page 26. When the FBI looked up the file, it noted the address was contained in Appendix A (“Computer Science”). So we know the first email header list takes up at least 26 pages, but maybe more. There is no reference to the size of Appendix B. The total size of the file, then, could be anywhere between 27 pages and 50 pages or 100 pages or 2,000—only the FBI knows for sure.

swartz 6

It is also unclear why Swartz was, presumably, in contact with a student or staff member in the PITT computer science department, though he is known to have been involved in multiple software development projects at the time, and had by then realized his own passion for collecting and sharing—frequently with other academics—datasets containing massive amounts of information, which he earnestly believed should be free and easily accessible to everyone.

“Information is power. But like all power, there are those who want to keep it for themselves,” he later wrote in his Guerrilla Open Access Manifesto. “Forcing academics to pay money to read the work of their colleagues? Scanning entire libraries but only allowing the folks at Google to read them? Providing scientific articles to those at elite universities in the First World, but not to children in the Global South? It’s outrageous and unacceptable.”

Gizmodo contacted the university in early November. After a week, PITT said it was still “digging” into the matter. On November 20, Gizmodo informed PITT that it was planning to publish a story stating that the FBI obtained the communications data of staff and students in connection with a terrorism investigation. Following that, correspondence from the University ceased for over a week.

In response to a later email raising the possibility that a National Security Letter was used to acquire to data on staff and students, a PITT spokesperson replied: “I’m afraid we have no comment.” The spokesperson would also not say whether the University had a policy of challenging the government gag orders that accompany NSLs, which are designed to prevent people and institutions from ever notifying the public about the letter’s existence.

National Security Letters

In 2007, the FBI would not have required a warrant to obtain the email headers from a public university. The Patriot Act, passed in the wake of the September 2001 terrorist attacks, significantly lowered the threshold for using NSLs and also made them much easier to acquire by expanding the number of FBI officials who could sign them. Today, the most senior agents at the FBI’s 56 nationwide field offices—special agents in charge (SAC)—are able to approve the use of an NSL.

NSLs may be used to acquire sans warrant a range of consumer credit information and other transnational records. But importantly, the statute authorizing their use in cases of electronic communications—under Title II of the Electronic Communications Privacy Act—do not permit the FBI to acquire the content of emails without a warrant. NSLs may be used, however, to acquire evidence in pursuit of secret warrants issued under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA), for developing evidence prior to the initiation of a terrorism investigation, and to corroborate information obtained by other means.

While the FBI informed Gizmodo that its use of such tools is governed by legal statutes and guidelines established by the U.S. Attorney General, the bureau has routinely violated and misinterpreted those guidelines, according to the DOJ’s Office of Legal Counsel and the FBI’s own inspector general. Notably, these abuses were rampant around the time that the FBI appears to have acquired the PITT email data.

Between 2003 and 2006, the FBI reported the issuance of more than 192,000 letters, according to 2009 testimony before the Senate Committee on the Judiciary. However, the FBI’s inspector general also determined that this figure was also inaccurately low. A review of four field offices revealed the reported number of letters was, in fact, 22 percent lower than the actual number of letters issued. It also identified 26 possible intelligence violations, including the issuance of NSLs “without proper authorization.”

Swartz 7

Out of 77 FBI files, the inspector general found that 293 letters had been used. Of those, 22 possible violations were discovered that had not been previously reported. The violations included “improper requests under the pertinent national security letter statutes” and “unauthorized collections.” Moreover, some of the justifications used to obtain the letters were overly convenient and inherently flawed.

The FBI Pittsburgh Field Office, which requested the analysis of the email headers linked to Swartz, also has a “troubling” history with regard to the monitoring of peaceful activists, notes a 2010 inspector general report.

In response to suspicions of illegal spying on anti-war activists raised by California Representative Zoe Lofgren, the FBI launched an internal investigation to determine whether it had targeted “domestic advocacy groups” based solely on activities protected under the First Amendment. Notably, even the issuance of an NSL cannot be based solely on observations of constitutionally protected speech. (Lofgren is, incidentally, the author of Aaron’s Law, a bill that sought to reform the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, under which Swartz was charged prior to his death. The bill did not pass.)

The inspector general’s report contradicted the 2006 congressional testimony of then-FBI Director Robert Mueller over FBI surveillance of a peaceful protest held in Pittsburgh four years earlier. While he claimed the bureau had a solid lead on a person of interest in a terrorism case, who just so happened to be a prominent local Muslim, the report found that the FBI had no evidence linking the man to anything. Even worse, it wasn’t until an agent was already undercover at the rally that the FBI learned he was there. Prior to that, it didn’t have “any reason to believe” he’d be in attendance, the report says.

“The fundamental issue with an NSL,” says Reporter’s Committee director and lawyer Gabe Rottman, returning to the subject, “if one was used in this case, is that the FBI can issue it on its own discretion and can collect pretty sensitive information, such as email headers.” But at the time, the FBI also claimed the authority to collect arguably much more sensitive data without a warrant or court order, such a person’s web browsing history.

It’s particularly worrying, he said, that the FBI can use what oftentimes turns out to be imaginary threats to national security as an excuse to stockpile U.S. citizens’s private data, even when no proof exists they’ve committed a crime. “Just as Aaron’s email was apparently picked up here,” he said, “you could have a reporter or some of their source information get scooped up and mined later. And that’s a matter of great concern.”

Archive

13 Children’s Books That Encourage Kindness Toward Others

1. We All Sing With the Same Voice by J. Philip Miller and Sheppard M. Greene

What It's About: This is a song book that connects kids around the world. The verses highlight differences between kids, illustrated on the pages of the book. The chorus brings all of these kids with many differences together, singing "We all sing with the same voice. The same song. The same voice. We all sing with the same voice and we sing in harmony." Why It's Important: Not only will the music engage kids as young as three, but it also encourages global awareness and connection at a young age. Everyone is different and unique, and this book celebrates those differences while singing together as friends.

What It’s About: This is a song book that connects kids around the world. The verses highlight differences between kids, illustrated on the pages of the book. The chorus brings all of these kids with many differences together, singing “We all sing with the same voice. The same song. The same voice. We all sing with the same voice and we sing in harmony.”

Why It’s Important: Not only will the music engage kids as young as three, but it also encourages global awareness and connection at a young age. Everyone is different and unique, and this book celebrates those differences while singing together as friends.

2. Have You Filled a Bucket Today? A Guide to Daily Happiness for Kids by Carol McCloud

What It's About: This book introduces an idea that everyone has an "invisible bucket." These buckets are used to hold your good thoughts and feelings about yourself. When you do something kind, you help fill someone else's bucket.Why It's Important: This provides kids with a visual representation of the importance of kindness. It focuses on social interactions and how our actions positively or negatively affect other people. This book would be especially beneficial as kids begin to develop empathy towards others.

What It’s About: This book introduces an idea that everyone has an “invisible bucket.” These buckets are used to hold your good thoughts and feelings about yourself. When you do something kind, you help fill someone else’s bucket.

Why It’s Important: This provides kids with a visual representation of the importance of kindness. It focuses on social interactions and how our actions positively or negatively affect other people. This book would be especially beneficial as kids begin to develop empathy towards others.

3. A Sick Day for Amos McGee by Philip C. Stead and Erin E. Stead

What It's About: This story is about a zookeeper who is great friends with all of the animals and takes the time out of his day to do what they like with them. One day, he is too sick to go to work and the animals decide to come and visit him. Why It's Important: This sweet story shows how kind actions towards others are repaid. The animals all take care of Amos when he needs a friend, which shows children how important continual kindness towards others is.

What It’s About: This story is about a zookeeper who is great friends with all of the animals and takes the time out of his day to do what they like with them. One day, he is too sick to go to work and the animals decide to come and visit him.

Why It’s Important: This sweet story shows how kind actions towards others are repaid. The animals all take care of Amos when he needs a friend, which shows children how important continual kindness towards others is.

4. Each Kindness by Jacqueline Woodson

What It's About: This story is about a new girl at school, named Maya and how Chloe, who has gone to the school for a while, reacts when she arrives. Chloe is not welcoming towards Maya and excludes her from the group games. Maya leaves and Chloe is left feeling full of regret.Why It's Important: This story does not have the happy ending that so many books do, but teaches a critical lesson. Every choice we makes affects others in either a positive or negative way, and we do not always have an opportunity to fix our negative actions.

 

What It’s About: This story is about a new girl at school, named Maya and how Chloe, who has gone to the school for a while, reacts when she arrives. Chloe is not welcoming towards Maya and excludes her from the group games. Maya leaves and Chloe is left feeling full of regret.

Why It’s Important: This story does not have the happy ending that so many books do, but teaches a critical lesson. Every choice we makes affects others in either a positive or negative way, and we do not always have an opportunity to fix our negative actions.

5. Last Stop on Market Street by Matt de la Pena

What It's About: This 2016 winner of the Newbery Medal follows a young boy, CJ, and his grandmother on their way home one day. CJ spends most of the journey asking "How come...?" questions about everyone and everything. His grandmother answers each question with patience and eventually they leave the bus to volunteer at a soup kitchen.Why It's Important: CJ is asking seemingly simple questions throughout the book, but his grandmother's responses always elicit empathy toward the other characters throughout the book. It serves as a reminder that everyone we encounter has skills and a story, but we must be kind and open-hearted in order to hear it.

 

What It’s About: This 2016 winner of the Newbery Medal follows a young boy, CJ, and his grandmother on their way home one day. CJ spends most of the journey asking “How come…?” questions about everyone and everything. His grandmother answers each question with patience and eventually they leave the bus to volunteer at a soup kitchen.

Why It’s Important: CJ is asking seemingly simple questions throughout the book, but his grandmother’s responses always elicit empathy toward the other characters throughout the book. It serves as a reminder that everyone we encounter has skills and a story, but we must be kind and open-hearted in order to hear it.

6. Those Shoes by Maribeth Boelts

What It's About: In this book, we see a young boy dreaming about getting a pair of really cool shoes. Unfortunately, his family does not have the money for this dream to become a reality. He eventually finds the shoes in a thrift shop in near perfect condition and buys them even though they are too tight. Another kid in his class can't afford new shoes either, and his feet would fit in the cool shoes when the narrator's would not. So, the narrator decides to give his shoes away.Why It's Important: This book highlights the importance of giving and making difficult decisions. We see the narrator struggle to decide if he can really give his shoes away, but when he decides to, both he and the boy who receive his shoes end up happier than they were before.

 

What It’s About: In this book, we see a young boy dreaming about getting a pair of really cool shoes. Unfortunately, his family does not have the money for this dream to become a reality. He eventually finds the shoes in a thrift shop in near perfect condition and buys them even though they are too tight. Another kid in his class can’t afford new shoes either, and his feet would fit in the cool shoes when the narrator’s would not. So, the narrator decides to give his shoes away.

Why It’s Important: This book highlights the importance of giving and making difficult decisions. We see the narrator struggle to decide if he can really give his shoes away, but when he decides to, both he and the boy who receive his shoes end up happier than they were before.

7. Horton Hears a Who by Dr. Seuss

What It's About: This book is about an elephant who discovers an entire community living on a speck of dust. With his big ears, Horton is the only animal in the jungle who is able to hear the Whos. Despite being made fun of by the other animals, Horton stands by Whoville because he knows it is the right thing to do. Why It's Important: Not only is Horton doing the right thing, he is doing the right thing while everyone around him is bullying him to give up. This teaches an important lesson about standing by what you believe in, no matter what you face. With older children, you can also use this book to discuss the importance of advocating for those who do not have a voice

 

What It’s About: This book is about an elephant who discovers an entire community living on a speck of dust. With his big ears, Horton is the only animal in the jungle who is able to hear the Whos. Despite being made fun of by the other animals, Horton stands by Whoville because he knows it is the right thing to do.

Why It’s Important: Not only is Horton doing the right thing, he is doing the right thing while everyone around him is bullying him to give up. This teaches an important lesson about standing by what you believe in, no matter what you face. With older children, you can also use this book to discuss the importance of advocating for those who do not have a voice.

8. Enemy Pie by Derek Munson

What It's About: This is about a boy who is having a great summer until Jeremy Ross moves in down the street. Jeremy excludes people from birthday parties and laughs when they strike out in baseball. The narrator's father makes enemy pie to help defeat Jeremy Ross. In order for enemy pie to work, the boys have to play together all day. By the end of the day they are good friends and enjoy the pie together. Why It's Important: This tells a classic story of judging a book by its cover or making judgements about people based on insignificant details. After spending quality time together the two enemies learned that they actually got along quite well.

What It’s About: This is about a boy who is having a great summer until Jeremy Ross moves in down the street. Jeremy excludes people from birthday parties and laughs when they strike out in baseball. The narrator’s father makes enemy pie to help defeat Jeremy Ross. In order for enemy pie to work, the boys have to play together all day. By the end of the day they are good friends and enjoy the pie together.

Why It’s Important: This tells a classic story of judging a book by its cover or making judgements about people based on insignificant details. After spending quality time together the two enemies learned that they actually got along quite well.

9. Ordinary Mary’s Extraordinary Deed by Emily Pearson and Fumi Kosaka

What It's About: This story is about an average girl who decides to pick some blueberries for her neighbor. The neighbor bakes blueberry muffins and gives plates of them to five other people. This good deed turns into a chain of strangers doing kind things for other strangers. Eventually, Mary has someone do something nice for her whose kind actions can be traced back to Mary's blueberry picking.Why It's Important: This is another book that shows the important your actions can have on others, but it also shows the ways your actions can ripple out to affect total strangers.

 

What It’s About: This story is about an average girl who decides to pick some blueberries for her neighbor. The neighbor bakes blueberry muffins and gives plates of them to five other people. This good deed turns into a chain of strangers doing kind things for other strangers. Eventually, Mary has someone do something nice for her whose kind actions can be traced back to Mary’s blueberry picking.

Why It’s Important: This is another book that shows the important your actions can have on others, but it also shows the ways your actions can ripple out to affect total strangers.

10. The Invisible Boy by Trudy Ludwig

What It's About: This sweet book tells the story of Brian, a quiet boy who never makes a fuss or much noise at all. He feels invisible compared to the other children who are the center of the teacher's attention by being loud, or the children with lots of friends who get picked first for sports. When a new kid comes to school, he makes Brian feel a lot less invisible. Why It's Important: All kids are different. Some are outgoing and some are quiet. This book celebrates those differences, while teaching the importance of welcoming all types of kids to play and participate.

What It’s About: This sweet book tells the story of Brian, a quiet boy who never makes a fuss or much noise at all. He feels invisible compared to the other children who are the center of the teacher’s attention by being loud, or the children with lots of friends who get picked first for sports. When a new kid comes to school, he makes Brian feel a lot less invisible.

Why It’s Important: All kids are different. Some are outgoing and some are quiet. This book celebrates those differences, while teaching the importance of welcoming all types of kids to play and participate.

11. The Three Questions by Jon J Muth

What It's About: This book is about a boy named Nikolai who wants to be a good person, but is not always sure how. He wants to discover the answer to the three questions: When is the best time to do things? Who is the most important one? What is the right thing to do? His three animal friends help him answer these questions, but they all have slightly different approaches. He eventually learns that the right time is now, the important one is the one you are with, and the right thing to do is good. Why It's Important: This book takes a more conceptual approach to helping others, but would serve as an extremely useful tool for starting a discussion with older children about why kindness is an important character trait.

What It’s About: This book is about a boy named Nikolai who wants to be a good person, but is not always sure how. He wants to discover the answer to the three questions: When is the best time to do things? Who is the most important one? What is the right thing to do? His three animal friends help him answer these questions, but they all have slightly different approaches. He eventually learns that the right time is now, the important one is the one you are with, and the right thing to do is good.

Why It’s Important: This book takes a more conceptual approach to helping others, but would serve as an extremely useful tool for starting a discussion with older children about why kindness is an important character trait.

12. Rude Cakes by Rowboat Watkins

What It's About: This book is about a cake, who is, very rude. He never says please or thank you, never listens, and doesn't share well. One day a giant cyclops takes the rude cake and wears him as a hat. The cyclops has great manners, but the cake hates being a hat. After finally getting away from the cyclops, the cake becomes much more polite.Why It's Important: Although this book is quite out there, it teaches how far good manners and behavior can go toward getting what you want.

 

What It’s About: This book is about a cake, who is, very rude. He never says please or thank you, never listens, and doesn’t share well. One day a giant cyclops takes the rude cake and wears him as a hat. The cyclops has great manners, but the cake hates being a hat. After finally getting away from the cyclops, the cake becomes much more polite.

Why It’s Important: Although this book is quite out there, it teaches how far good manners and behavior can go toward getting what you want.

13. The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein

What It's About: A familiar book to many, this book tells the heartfelt story of a boy and a tree who loved each other very much, but the boy ends up taking parts of the tree until the tree is worn down into a stump. At the end of the book, the boy (now an old man) just needs a place to sit, so he and the stump sit together. Why It's Important: This book shows the continual generosity and kindness of the tree, and how much the actions of the boy affected the tree. It can be used to teach children that kindness is important, but you should never give up so much that you suffer. You can also use it to teach give and take, the importance of a healthy and mutually beneficial relationship.

 

What It’s About: A familiar book to many, this book tells the heartfelt story of a boy and a tree who loved each other very much, but the boy ends up taking parts of the tree until the tree is worn down into a stump. At the end of the book, the boy (now an old man) just needs a place to sit, so he and the stump sit together.

Why It’s Important: This book shows the continual generosity and kindness of the tree, and how much the actions of the boy affected the tree. It can be used to teach children that kindness is important, but you should never give up so much that you suffer. You can also use it to teach give and take, the importance of a healthy and mutually beneficial relationship.

US: Labor Union-Made Holiday Gift Ideas – AFL-CIO

Union-Made In America Holiday Gift Ideas

Union-Made Toys
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It’s not too late yet to find that perfect holiday gift that carries a union label and is made in America. Below is a wide range of gift possibilities, from clothes to games to sports equipment and more, made by members of UNITE HERE, Boilermakers (IBB), Bakery, Confectionery, Tobacco Workers and Grain Millers (BCTGM), Machinists (IAM), United Steelworkers (USW), Teamsters (IBT), UAW, United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW), the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union/UFCW (RWDSU/UFCW) and United Farm Workers (UFW).

This list is compiled from Union Plus, the AFL-CIO Union Label and Service Trades Department (UL&STD) and the BCTGM website. Check them out for even more gift ideas.

Apparel and Accessories

  • Brooks Brothers (UNITE HERE)
  • Joseph Abboud (UNITE HERE)
  • Majestic Athletic (UNITE HERE)
  • Timex watches (IAM)
  • Naturalizer shoes (UFCW)
  • Nunn Bush shoes (UFCW)
  • Red Wing shoes (UFCW)

Beauty Products

  • Avon (UFCW)
  • Caress skin care (UFCW)
  • ChapStick (USW)
  • Dove beauty products (UFCW)
  • Revlon (UAW)
  • Old Spice (UFCW)

Games

(All made by RWDSU/UFCW)

  • Barrel of Monkeys
  • Battleship
  • Candy Land
  • Chutes and Ladders
  • Clue
  • Connect 4
  • The Game of Life
  • Hi Ho! Cherry-O
  • Monopoly
  • Mouse Trap
  • Operation
  • Pictionary
  • Risk
  • Scrabble
  • Sorry
  • Taboo
  • Twister
  • Yahtzee

Sports Equipment

  • American Athletic (Russell Brands) (UAW)
  • Louisville Slugger (USW)
  • MacGregor golf clubs (IBB)
  • Standard Golf (IAM)
  • Top-Flite golf balls (IBB)

Stocking Stuffers

  • Rayovac batteries (IBT and UAW)
  • Bic lighters (USW)
  • Ghirardelli chocolates (BCTGM)
  • Jelly Belly (BCTGM)
  • Laffy Taffy (BCTGM)
  • Tootsie Roll Pops (BCTGM)
  • Allan peppermint candy canes (BCTGM)
  • Hershey’s chocolates (BCTGM)
  • See’s Candies (BCTGM)

Wine and Beer

(Wines brought to you by UFW)

  • Chateau Ste. Michelle (IBT)
  • Columbia Crest
  • St. Supéry
  • Charles Krug
  • C.K. Mondavi
  • Gallo of Sonoma

Miller Beer (UAW and IBT)

  • Miller High Life
  • Miller Genuine Draft
  • Miller Lite
  • Milwaukee’s Best
  • Icehouse
  • Red Dog

Anheuser-Busch (IBT and IAM)

  • Budweiser
  • Budweiser American Ale
  • Bud Light
  • Michelob
  • Shock Top
  • Busch
  • Rolling Rock
  • O’Doul’s

If You’re in the ‘Big Spender’ Category (UAW)

  • Jeep
  • Ford Mustangs
  • Cadillacs

See more cars made by UAW and non-auto UAW-made products

Union Made Food

Archive

Books to Read to Kids – Over and Over – by Jaclyn Youhana Garver – 12 Dec 2018

Book Cover Slideshow

You might think the best book to read to your young child is one they’ll love. One that, when you close the final page, makes them shout, “Again, again!” One that, before you even say, “Go pick out a bedtime book,” is already in their hand and waving in front of your face, an old and familiar friend.

Or you might think that that book, the one you’ve read 652 times and counting, should meet its untimely death in a pizza oven.

While it’s a good thing that your kid wants you to read the same book over and over—after all, the repetition can bring about a sense of security—it can start to fray on your nerves. To say the least.

Maintaining sanity is easier, however, if you choose excellent books from the outset. The kind of books that you won’t mind reading for the hundredth or thousandth time.

Here are my picks for Books-That-Stand-Up-to-Multiple-Readings:

Olivia (by Ian Falconeris)

over 1

Olivia is a busy little girl who wears out her mother, but this little piggy is so dang charming:

“In the morning, after she gets up, and moves the cat, and brushes her teeth, and combs her ears, and moves the cat, Olivia gets dressed. She has to try on everything.”

The Pete the Cat books (by Kimberly and James Dean)

over 2

These adorable stories have solid moral lessons and the subtle rhyming makes them fun to read. Take “Pete the Cat and the Missing Cupcakes” for example:

“Pete said, ‘But wait! Grumpy Toad made a mistake. This is true. Let’s give him a second chance. That’s what friends do!’”

“Click, Clack, Moo Cows That Type” (by Doreen Cronin)

over 3

The story is somehow silly and grown up at the same time—Farmer Brown’s cows go on strike because he won’t meet their demands:

“Dear Farmer Brown, The barn is very cold at night. We’d like some electric blankets. Sincerely, The Cows.”

Parts (by Tedd Arnold)

over 14

What a great sense of humor! This poor lil dude is convinced he’s falling apart, which will keep you chuckling even after the dozenth read:

“Next day when I was outside playing with the water hose, I saw that little bits of skin were peeling from my toes. I stared at them, amazed, and then I gave a little groan, to think that pretty soon I might be peeled down to the bone.”

Rosie Revere, Engineer (by Andrea Beaty)

over 17

This story—encouraging little Rosie to follow her dreams without embarrassment or fear of failure—is so touching, you might never not tear up when you read it to your daughter or son:

“Her great-great-aunt Rose was a true dynamo who’d worked building airplanes a long time ago. She told Rosie tales of the things she had done and goals she had checked off her list one by one.”

Rosie 1

(Shout-out also to Beaty’s Ada Twist, Scientist and Iggy Peck, Architect.)

I Like Myself! (by Karen Beaumont)

over 18

Here’s a positive book with a lovely message. Even if it’s the seventh night this week you’re reading it, you’ll feel good about reading:

“I like me wild. I like me tame. I like me different and the same.”

over 19

The Pigeon books (by Mo Willems)

over 20

The lessons in the Pigeon books are important ones, teaching kids to handle the word “no,” how to ask for things, how to share. The stories are fun and simple and familiar to anyone living with tiny humans.

over 24

Take “The Pigeon Finds a Hot Dog!” about, yes, the pigeon finding a hot dog, and his curious (and innocent?) chick friend, who says, “I have a question. I’ve never had a hot dog before … What do they taste like?” The pigeon gushes about the snack for a while before realizing the chick may have ulterior motives, saying … “Wait a second. This hot dog is MINE. I found it!”

over 23

 

The Book with No Pictures (by B.J. Novak)

over 25

No matter how many times you read this, it’s going to make you laugh. That’s the whole point: to get grown-ups to laugh because they have to say silly things:

“Here is how books work: Everything the words say, the person reading the book has to say. No matter what. That’s the deal. That’s the rule. So that means … Even if the words say … BLORK. Wait—what? That doesn’t even mean anything. Bluurf.”

All things Dr. Seuss

over 26

Since 1937, when the first Dr. Seuss book—“And to Think that I Saw It on Mulberry Street”—was published, these books have been staples for little kid libraries. Why? Well, we love books that rhyme, don’t we? They’re fun to read, and, if we pick right, we can find plenty of Seuss books with a pretty killer message.

Take “The Lorax” and his message of preserving the forests:

“NOW … thanks to your hacking my trees to the ground, there’s not enough Truffula Fruit to go ‘round. And my poor Bar-ba-loots are all getting the crummies because they have gas, and no food, in their tummies!”

over 27

In the Night Kitchen (by Maurice Sendak)

over 28

Some of the best stories for kids have hidden messages, an extra layer for adults. “In the Night Kitchen” has incredible artwork and a kooky storyline for kids, but according to Sendak, his book actually references the Holocaust—just not in a way little ones would understand:

“(…) the bakers who bake till the dawn so we can have cake in the morn mixed Mickey in the batter, chanting: Milk in the batter! Milk in the batter! Stir it! Scrape it! Make it! Bake it! And they put that batter up to bake a delicious Mickey-cake.”

(Disclaimer: This book has had its share of controversy because protagonist Mickey is naked. It’s still one of my personal favorites.)

Any books by Nancy Tillman

over 30

The illustrations in these books are especially gorgeous—bold and dreamy—and the stories are sweet.

over 32

over 33

Take the opening of “On the Night You Were Born”:

over 29

“On the night you were born, the moon smiled with such wonder that the stars peeked in to see you and the night wind whispered, ‘Life will never be the same.’ Because there had never been anyone like you … ever in the world.”