Wandering Eye: Federal convictions of consumer fraud cases on the decline, why the Washington Football Team is like Donald Trump, more

All over the media for the past few days there have been variations on this story about how, from now on, federal prosecutors are going to focus on the individual crooks in their white collar cases. This is wonderful news, if also belated and repetitive (high-level white collar "task forces" were announced by both the Bush and Obama administrations over the past decade). But one bit of news that has not been widely disseminated is this: Federal convictions in consumer fraud cases have fallen by one-third over the past two years—and by two-thirds since the Clinton Administration. The Transactional Records Clearing House at Syracuse University has standing Freedom of Information Act requests with the Justice Department, and so they get the actual data about actual cases—which maybe should count for more than the press releases coming from hopeful PR flacks in and around the White House. So, here are the numbers: in 1997, the department convicted nearly 400 people for defrauding consumers. In 2013 it was fewer than 100, and the department is on track to convict fewer than 100 again this year. "This decline in federal convictions does not necessarily indicate there has been a lower incidence of consumer fraud," TRAC helpfully notes. "Fewer convictions may also reflect a shift in enforcement policies by each administration and the various agencies, the changing availabilities of essential staff, and congressionally mandated alterations in the laws." (Edward Ericson Jr.)


Dave Zirin locates the ways in which politics and race and gender bump into sports. It has the effect of keeping sports talk interesting for those who only dabble in football, basketball, tennis, etc. Plus, his whole persona exists as a vital rejoinder to the casual racism and phoney-baloney moralism of most other white sports commentators. For a taste of his work, check out this fascinating essay for the Nation about pro wrestler Dusty Rhodes or pick up his 2008 book, "A People's History of Sports: From Bull-Baiting to Barry Bonds." He also has a sports radio show on his website Edge Of Sports and a weekly column. This week's Edge Of Sports column is titled "Washington’s Football Team Is the Donald Trump of the NFL" (like most sane people, Zirin refuses to type or say the racial epithet "Redskins"). It's a reminder of how truly disgusting Washington Football Team owner Dan Snyder is and Zirin really cuts through the bullshit with this sentence: "To change the team name would mean conceding not only that this beloved brand is racist but that racism and white supremacy actually exist and deserve to be fought." And towards the end of the piece, Zirin talks about how he takes his family to Ocean City, MD each year and saw a number of "Heritage not hate" t-shirts when he was there recently and ties this sentiment to the Washington Football Team, a "billion-dollar brand [that] stands disgracefully along side Donald Trump, Sarah Palin, and everyone attempting to turn a carnival barker’s buck on white anxiety." (Brandon Soderberg)


It’s hardly news that a $10 billion startup run by idealistic kids is unfair to its office cleaners: that is the way our economy is organized. But that’s the point of this New York Times story which, 30 years late to the trend, has finally found a way to tell its comfortable readers some uncomfortable facts about how business works for, well, workers. The piece tells how WeWork, a straight-from-The Onion company that leases office space to hip millennials of the "We Generation," got in hot water with its janitorial staff, which it naturally hired through a big, cheap subcontractor like everyone else does. The janitorial contractor, CBM, pays $10 an hour—in New York City. That’s like making $4 an hour in Baltimore, from a rent-paying and eating-food perspective. After they tried to unionize, 100 janitors lost their jobs, so they finally started picketing WeWork, since that company—not their purported employer—actually controls their pay and working conditions. The Times talked to Ivan Castelan, one of the cleaning guys: “When I asked WeWork for more money, they told me to talk to CBM,” he told David Gelles of the Times. “When I asked CBM for more money, CBM said WeWork had to approve the raise. It was frustrating.” Gelles follows with a paragraph that should have appeared in every newspaper circa 1992: “Such situations are typical in subcontracting situations. WeWork may not have been Mr. Castelan’s direct employer, but it was the one with the ability to improve conditions for him—and other cleaners. It could have paid CBM more and then insisted CBM pay its workers higher wages, or it could have hired a new contractor that paid better. CBM, meanwhile, had little incentive to push WeWork, a powerful client, to raise salaries.” The story goes on, unpacking layers of complicated business in an easy-to-grasp way, and it doesn't really demonize anyone. The bottom line, though, is still the bottom line. (Edward Ericson Jr.)

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