Picayune Extra: Why some Etsy merchants are on strike this week
To read this issue in your browser, click on the headline above.
I think of Etsy as the world’s largest boutique, a quirky and useful online shopping site where you can buy from artists and independent entrepreneurs whose home-wrought wares are distinct from the mass-produced, made-God-knows-where goods available at Amazon and eBay. For instance, Etsy is where I recently bought a set of personalized metal napkin rings from Lorelei Vella of Lisbon, Maine.
But my thinking is somewhat out of date. Etsy changed its rules in 2013 to allow dealers to sell factory made products that were outsourced to other makers who often also handled the shipping. After the company went public in 2015, critics have been contending that the site’s focus on growth and profits has caused it to lose some of its charm and become as much a shabby flea market as a craft fair.
Personalized metal napkin rings made in Maine can, of course, be sold on the same site as bulk plastic napkin rings made in China. But, as the Verge reports, Etsy sellers are now angry and frustrated by the company’s recent announcement that, even though sales and company revenues are at all time high, the transaction fees charged to sellers rose from 5% to 6.5% as of Monday (April 11). Their petition includes a list of complaints.
Thousands of Etsy shops have committed to going into vacation mode (through next Monday), suspending sales for a little over a week in protest of recent changes on the platform. They’re also asking shoppers to refrain from buying on Etsy, and a campaign in support of the strike has received over 15,000 signatures in just over a week. More than 5,000 sellers have signed on to strike. …
Etsy has defended the most recent fee increase as a good thing for 5.3 million sellers. In announcing the planned increase, (CEO Josh) Silverman said Etsy had “demonstrated [its] ability to make improvements that directly translate into more sales for our sellers,” pointing to record sales per seller in 2021.
Kelly Clausen, head of corporate communications at Etsy, echoed that sentiment, saying the company is committed to helping sellers grow their businesses. Clausen says sellers want the company to expand marketing services and customer support and to remove listings that violate Etsy policy.
“Our revised fee structure will enable us to increase our investments in each of these key areas so that we can better serve our community and keep Etsy a beloved, trusted, and thriving marketplace,” Clausen says.
I don’t use Etsy enough that anyone would notice my absence this week, but I’ll be staying away in solidarity nevertheless.
Notes and comments from readers —lightly edited —- along with my responses
Some of these messages are in reference to items in last Thursday’s Picayune Sentinel. Response was very heavy to the issue of whether it’s fair to evaluate the ethics and morality of defense and civil attorneys based on the clients they represent.
Pete P. — I wouldn't judge lawyers by the clients they choose to represent, but I would judge activists by their activism. If a lawyer is an activist for men's rights, and takes on mainly cases defending men against abuse charges, I would judge that person to be a harmful zealot. Same thing for activist/lawyers seeking out and defending Antifa rioters.
But for a non-activist lawyers who take on high-profile, big-money cases because they are good business, I don't judge them based on what their clients are alleged to have done. The idea that a lawyer should look at all the possible defendants available and avoid the guilty or despicable ones is childish.
I stipulate to and agree with the notion that a justice system can’t administer justice without capable and committed defense attorneys. And that, since the majority of criminal defendants are, in fact, guilty (state court felony conviction rates hover around 70%), defense attorneys are often in the morally dubious yet somehow also commendable position of attempting to set free those who have broken the law.
Jerry B. made the excellent point in comments that “the public interest is served by making the government prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the guilty are indeed guilty. This burden placed on law enforcement makes the cops more careful in all investigations going forward.”
But what about those lawyers who seem to specialize in defending, say, accused mobsters, gang-bangers, polluters, domestic abusers, drunk drivers and brutal cops?
Some readers may have the detached, civic-minded imagination to have warm feelings about those who have devoted their professional lives to such defendants and to hold them in the same esteem with which they hold lawyers who fight for civil rights, exoneration of the wrongly accused, environmental protections and so on. I admit to having a hard time generating such feelings, particularly when their advocacy leaves the courtroom and includes staunch public declarations in the media of that which they almost certainly know is false.
Jake H. — The argument that we should cast aspersions on attorneys who represent “bad” clients relies on two thoughts that run powerfully counter to our moral intuitions:
1. "Granted, someone has to do it, but why does it have to be you?"
That's a terrible argument! Kant made something like the commonsensical suggestion that you should act in accordance with only those principles you would have everyone else follow. You can't insist on a "don't defend bad guys" principle while at the same time conceding that someone has to defend bad guys.
2. "You're doing more harm than good in the world."
If we judged every action by whether it produced more harm or good in the world, we might well think that not only should lawyers not defend bad guys but that doctors should not treat bad guys either. Indeed, we might think it would be morally worth it to kill an innocent person to harvest their organs so that five others might live. Of course, we don't think this way. Our utilitarian intuitions are mixed with principled ones.
The principle at issue here is that every defendant is entitled to advocacy in an adversarial process where the other side is the government trying to put you away. Every defense attorney is upholding the system and defending our liberties by keeping the state honest in every case, even when it's unpopular and there's pressure to ignore the niceties of little things like proof by competent evidence. We might think that Harvey Weinstein is the poster child for having contempt for lawyers who work to acquit such a person, but in fact the prosecution of such a high profile, reviled figure requires more, not less, scrutiny.
The main problem with saying that all such cases should be handled by public defenders is that it implicitly suggests that a defense by a public defender will generally be inferior. If that's true, it amounts to the principle, "Alleged bad guys are only entitled to representation of inferior quality."
That doesn't sound like a very sound principle to me, and I'm not sure anyone would defend it outright. Public defenders are heroic people, but they are overworked and lack resources--precisely because we tend not to care about the quality of criminal defense representation. Indeed, one could argue that the real social problem isn't that bad guys get good lawyers too much of the time, but they don't get them nearly enough of the time.
I agree that it's a scandal that a celebrity or wealthy client can seem to buy their freedom where an ordinary person would get prison. The solution is not a rule against defending bad guys. There are many possible solutions: We could move toward a more inquisitorial process in which judges take the lead, rendering lawyers less important. And/or we could socialize criminal defense, essentially turning all criminal defense attorneys into public defenders. And/or we could simply better fund public defender offices.
I would never propose a “rule” against defending the probably or even blatantly guilty. To me this issue boils down to how I — how we — should think about those who routinely choose to do so.
Jake has identified a fairly glaring flaw in our system which is that public defenders don’t have nearly the same time and resources for legal research, preparation investigations and as paid, private defense attorneys. Therefore “justice” for those with means is of considerably higher quality than “justice” for those without means.
I’ve never given any thought to the pros and cons of a more inquisitorial system, though it’s long struck me that jurors should be allowed to pose questions to witnesses (mediated by the judge for relevance). Are there good arguments against having an ostensibly neutral arbiter — a judge — pose truth-seeking questions to witnesses once the adversaries have had their turns?
Or am I misguided even to suggest that seeking truth is a goal of our system? If, for example, a cop beats the hell out of a suspect, gets him to confess to a murder, then goes to the suspect’s house without a warrant and, during an illegal search, finds the victim buried in a crawl space, truth and justice (as we define it) are likely to be at odds.
Randall C. — We former Tribune employees remember having it drummed into us that you don’t fix a quote. But Trib corporate and editorial have fixed an Abraham Lincoln quote since 1859 with nary a “sic” or suggestion that even Lincoln sometime made grammatical errors. The Tribune’s official history reprints Lincoln’s famed letter renewing his subscription, but prints “its” where Lincoln wrongly wrote “it’s.” This fix has also appeared in editorials. Lincoln, I imagine, would be amused.
I just want to be clear that all the typos in last Tuesday’s Picayune Sentinel were deliberate tips of the hat / ironic references to typos. And everything that looked like a spelling error was just my use of Teutonic conventions, an explanation I always offer because no one has any idea what it means and it makes me sound very smart instead of careless.
Nancy Z. — I gave up reading author James Patterson long ago. Don’t waste your time.
Stephen King called the mega-selling Patterson “a terrible writer,” a judgement with which I concur after having read only one of the titles that he churns out at the rate of about four per year — “Run, Rose, Run,” a collaboration with Dolly Parton that’s No. 1 on The New York Times’ list of bestselling hardcover fiction.
But is he an author according to the common understanding of the word? A 2016 Washington Post profile says that his novels are not so much written by him as they are “conceived, outlined, co-written and curated. Patterson delivers exhaustive notes and outlines, sometimes running 80 pages, to co-authors” who then transform them into the prose so many like to consume.
It’s a form of ghostwriting, and it’s how certain famous people “write” columns and op eds, and how many big-time pols and business execs “write” their speeches. But we expect more from those billed as authors.
Marc M. —I’m glad to see that Ald. Ray Lopez, 15th, has entered the 2023 race for mayor, mainly because he is the only alderman with the courage to consistently call out the gangs as the source of the city violence problems.
I’m all for a good, zesty mayoral contest and it’s a point in Lopez’ favor that he’s drawn the ire of the gangs. But when I saw this last week —
— I had to wonder about the political advice he’s getting. If the Lightfoot campaign isn’t making billboards with screen grabs like this from his appearance with the loathsome Tucker Carlson last week, then she also needs new advisers.
Lopez did give an extended interview last week to liberal podcaster and Reader columnist Ben Joravsky, but that ain’t gonna wash off the Tucker stink, not in Chicago.
R. C. — You noted that a new study from the center-left think tank Third Way shows that states won by Donald Trump in the 2020 election have 40% higher murder rates than those states carried by Joe Biden. You can’t say it, but the correlation between Trump and Biden states has more to do with racial demographics than political ones. The Black murder rate is six times that of whites.
I don’t shy from uncomfortable truths here at the Picayune Sentinel, but I’m not persuaded. Of the 17 states with higher-than-average Black populations, Trump won nine of them (Mississippi, Louisiana, Alabama, South Carolina, North Carolina, Tennessee, Florida, Arkansas and Ohio) and Biden won eight (Georgia, Maryland, Delaware, Virginia, New York, Illinois, Michigan and New Jersey). If we look just at the top 12 states by percentage of Black population, Trump won eight of them.
Poverty might provide a stronger explanation. Of the top 17 states by poverty rate, Trump won 12 (Mississippi, Louisiana, West Virginia, Kentucky, Arkansas, Alabama, Oklahoma, Tennessee, South Carolina, North Carolina, Ohio and Texas) and Biden just five (Arizona, New York, Georgia,Michigan and New Mexico).
Mark A. — “Chaise Longue” by Wet Leg, your “Today’s Tune” last week, reminded me of nothing so much as the cover of "Money" by the Flying Lizards:
Ya gotta see these tweets!
I often run across tweets that are too visual in nature to include in the Tweet of the Week contest (the template for the poll does not allow the use of images). Here are a few good ones I’ve come across recently:
I found a similar version of the image below in a tweet, but it used the bass clef and was therefore more obscure. This image I cribbed from Amazon. Read the notes:
I’m pretty sure that’s not a recognized abbreviation for “annual.” Meanwhile, below isn’t a funny tweet, but those who live in the Chicago area will find it interesting, I hope:
Thank you for supporting the Picayune Sentinel. The newsletter is succeeding somewhat beyond my expectations and I’m glad to hear that many of you look forward to both editions each week. To help this publication grow, please consider spreading the word to friends, family, associates, neighbors and agreeable strangers.