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Screaming at the Sky

[ 19 ] December 21, 2014 |

Remind me never to turn on Meet the Press, even for 2 seconds. I do today, or more accurately my wife is watching it because as a Latin American historian who has traveled in Cuba, she is following the events of the last week closely. Of course Marco Rubio is on. And in conversation, Chuck Todd and Rubio compare the left-wing dictatorship of Cuba to the left-wing dictatorship of Venezuela.

Except of course that Venezuela is not a dictatorship. They have elections that are relatively free and fair. Which is, you know, the opposite of a dictatorship. But the right-wing can’t win because even though the Chavistas are ineffective at this point, the open contempt of the Venezuelan elite for the poor gets in the way. But hey, we don’t like Venezuela so they are a dictatorship. Never mind that words have meanings.

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To State What Should be Obvious

[ 30 ] December 21, 2014 |
  • The idea that people who have protested acts of police brutality or unjustified force are responsible for these killings is absurd.
  • The reaction of people like the Sergent’s Benevolent Association and George Pataki is disgraceful and irresponsible.
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Updates

[ 6 ] December 21, 2014 |

Two recent Diplomat columns.  First, the results of the Brasilia conference on the future of war:

What will the future of war look like in East Asia? A recent conference at the Pandia Calogeras Institute, a think tank associated with the Brazilian Ministry of Defence, examined potential developments in warfare with an eye toward 2045. Here are several trends the group identified, with implications for thinking about how conflict may develop in East Asia.

Then some thoughts on Cuba:

The direct legacies of the Cold War are dwindling, with the cross-straits relationship and the Korean divide remaining as the most prominent reminders. Unfortunately, neither of those conflicts are as easily resolved as the U.S.-Cuba dispute.

With respect to the ongoing technical problems, we’re hoping that an upgrade to WordPress 4.1, which should happen early this week, will resolve the issue.

 

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Book Review: Gregory Wood, Retiring Men: Manhood, Labor, and Growing Old In America, 1900-1960

[ 7 ] December 21, 2014 |

Gregory Wood’s Retiring Men examines the intersection between masculinity, work, and retirement in the first six decades of the twentieth century. He argues that the crisis over retirement in a changing economy shaped connections between manhood and work during these years, an issue of real importance in the unstable economy of the New Gilded Age.

At the core of Wood’s book is the desperation of older workers in the American workplace of the early twentieth century. Work has long been at the center of identity for American men. Men have long held the single-income household dear, however fleeting in reality. Even more dear is the ability to support oneself and not have to rely on family or charity. But as industrialization became more intensive and mechanized in the early twentieth century, with faster machines and larger factories requiring hordes of young, strong workers, older men found themselves out of work. That included men as young as 40. And there was simply nowhere for many of them to go. Wood’s book is filled with the words of desperate men, despairing over their economic plight. With work considered the proper state for men, the lack of work meant the lack of manhood. The many letters and statements Wood quotes from the aging and unemployed are heartbreaking. Railroad conductor MS Thornton was finished at 47. He told a reporter, “Premature white hair told heavily against me. At 35 I was gray and at 40 I suppose I looked like a man of fifty.” His boss fired him and gave his job to a younger man. Some men dyed their mustaches and hair, but in this period, the quality of dyes were so bad that they could damage the skin or poison you. In 1902, the Los Angeles Times published a letter on a hair dye ingredient. It included “sugar of lead,” “tincture of cantharides,” “lac sulphur,” ammonia, and other fun things.

What did older workers, men and women, want? The ability to live on their own. To not have to burden their children. To maintain their dignity. The 1920s saw the rise of welfare capitalism that to some extent attempted to deal with these problems, but quickly the emphasis moved to the states. As we typically should expect from state-level welfare programs, they were inconsistent, poorly funded, and varied greatly between states. The problems of older workers would require federal attention. Poorhouses did find work for older people but were demeaning and often forced men to do traditional women’s labor like sewing, which further undermined their sense of manhood.

With the rise of successful working class politics in response to the Great Depression, the requirements of older workers became central to both the labor movement and government policy. On the latter, the most important manifestation of older workers’ needs was the Social Security Act of 1935. Yet it’s important to remember in the modern Affordable Care Act-era how disappointing the Social Security Act was for many older workers. No one received a dime until 1940 (and this was after FDR changed it from the original 1942). For older workers already struggling to find work, it did nothing. The time it took to build a Social Security account worth having meant a lot of work for older workers who couldn’t find it. The age 65 cutoff also excluded a lot of workers who were too sick or feeble to work until that age. The SSA was a huge compromise with established interests and fell well short of the hopes many workers placed in the Townsend plan, but was still popular in the short-term and hugely successful in the long-term.

Second, the importance of seniority to the new CIO unions came out of the old age workers’ woes. Usually, we think of seniority clauses in union contracts, to the extent we think of them at all, as either the fairest way of dealing with layoffs since it takes away employers’ prerogative about who gets laid off, or, negatively, as protecting older and less productive workers. But for CIO workers, seniority meant dignity. It meant still having a job at age 50 regardless of what new machinery or predilection for young male bodies bosses had. It meant life.

By the 1950s, the rise of pensions and retirement culture changed the national conversation on manhood and retirement. The lack of work still challenged workers’ manhood, but the response moved more toward organized activities like golf and jokes (and not only jokes but real issues) about gender roles in the retired household. Older men didn’t necessarily appreciate forced retirement ages, the watches they received at awkward retirement parties, being forced into women’s space in the home, and the lack of structure in their post-retirement lives, but growing consumerism found some outlet for this.

While this is a good book overall, there are a couple of weaknesses worth noting. First, despite the powerful stories Wood tells about the crisis of aging in the early twentieth century, the stark shift to middle-class work and the office after World War II papers over the tenuous nature of this type of employment for a lot of people who had suffered greatly earlier in the century. Given that so many of the retirees he talks about in this era had long histories in the working-class culture of the pre-war period, building those connections and talking more about the tenuous nature of retirement in the post-war period for many workers would have been helpful. Some of this critique is mitigated by the fact that Wood consciously centered his study in how retirement and masculinity was portrayed in the dominant culture and certainly in the postwar period that did shift to the middle class.

Second, I really wish this study hadn’t ended in 1960. Wood provides a brief conclusion, but there is a real story bringing this through the 20th and early 21st centuries with the end of the guaranteed comfortable retirement a pension was supposed to bring. Instead, in the aftermath of the post-1973 economic stagnation and decline of both the working and middle classes, the end of industrial work through outsourcing and automation, and the power of the corporate conservative movement repealing the economic gains of the twentieth century, the idea of the respectable retirement has increasingly disappeared in American culture. While I am somewhat less concerned than Wood about the impact of this on masculinity per se, how this unease and poverty reshapes American culture is a powerful question that deserves more study.

Overall however, Retiring Men is a valuable addition to our understanding of agism and work in American history, an important subject that should help us focus on these issues in the present.

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Panama-Pacific International Exposition

[ 9 ] December 20, 2014 |

Why would I put up footage of the 1915 Panama-Pacific International Exposition, which was a world’s fair held in San Francisco, celebrating both the rebirth of the city after the earthquake and the opening of the Panama Canal the year before? The real question is why wouldn’t I? Plus it features a rarity here at LGM–footage of living horses.

Discuss.

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Be a Hipster and Fight Against the War on the Christmas at the Same Time

[ 46 ] December 20, 2014 |

Real hipsters buy their clothing from Glenn Beck’s website.

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Call the Waaaaambulance!

[ 23 ] December 20, 2014 |

Businesses are very, very sad because the National Labor Relations Board did not tip the balance of workplace power toward them even further when it ruled for faster union elections.

Last Friday, the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) issued long-awaited new rules to modernize and streamline union certification elections and to eliminate the worst cases of pre-election delay. The board is mandated to protect the rights of employees to form unions and bargain collectively, but numerous academic studies have demonstrated that the current NLRB election process fails to protect workers’ free choice.

One major problem under the current system is that unscrupulous employers use delaying tactics to undermine employee choice. Thus, the NLRB’s new rules seek to reduce unnecessary litigation and delay in the union certification process; to ensure that workers, employers and unions receive timely information; and to provide for the electronic filing of election petitions and other documents. The rules were published in the Federal Register on Dec. 15 and will take effect on April 14, 2015.

Predictably, anti-union groups and their Republican allies have claimed that the rules will deprive employers of sufficient time to campaign against the unions. One prominent anti-union law firm complained that the rules would “minimize” an employer’s time to “run an anti-union campaign,” while the International Franchise Association apparently believes they will enable unions to “silence” employers like McDonald’s. The National Retail Federation, which represents Wal-Mart and other billion-dollar retailers, described the NLRB’s modest reforms as “devastating,” and Republicans, who say that the current broken system has “worked well for decades,” have proposed legislation that would mandate even longer pre-election delay (H.R. 4320). In short, representatives of big business and right-wing lobbying organizations oppose any attempt to promote basic fairness in the union certification process.

Employers hate this because they rely on a long period of time to engage in a coordinated campaign of intimidation against employees that includes sophisticated anti-union firms. A quick election means that workers will be able to express their voice without this intimidation.

Of course both parties are the same and therefore Rand Paul is the only progressive alternative in 2016.

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SEK IS THE WORST LESBIAN EVER

[ 34 ] December 20, 2014 |

Conversations…

SEK’S LESBIAN FRIEND: Crap — just realized I won’t be able to make your birthday party.

SEK: That’s fine. I didn’t want to play any Indigo Girls songs anyway.

SEK’S LESBIAN FRIEND: You were the one who introduced me to the Indigo Girls! Just play your favorite so I can attend in spirit.

SEK: Fine — I’ll play “The Wood Song.”

SEK’S LESBIAN FRIEND: Your favorite Indigo Girl’s song is “The Wood Song”?

SEK: Yes.

SEK’S LESBIAN FRIEND: “THE WOOD SONG”?

SEK: What? It’s gorgeous.

SEK’S LESBIAN FRIEND: “THE WOOD SONG”?

SEK: Fine — “Romeo and Juliet” then.

SEK’S LESBIAN FRIEND: WRITTEN BY A MAN!

SEK: How am I losing this argument?

SEK’S LESBIAN FRIEND: God damn straight people.

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How to Throw a Case

[ 56 ] December 20, 2014 |

Bob McCulloch is the master.

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Presenting Guest Op-Ed Writer Samuel Beckett

[ 36 ] December 20, 2014 |

Shorter Fred Hiatt: “China and Vietnam prove that normalization of relations does not necessarily guarantee freedom. Therefore, we should maintain the embargo of Cuba, which has a superb 50-year track record of promoting freedom, with plenty of unnecessary impoverishment as a side benefit.”

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A Critical Presidency

[ 127 ] December 20, 2014 |

Ygelsias is correct here:

On November 26, the Obama administration put forward new anti-smog regulations that should prevent thousands of premature deaths and heart attacks every year. About two weeks later, Obama’s appointees at the Federal Reserve implemented new rules curbing reckless borrowing by giant banks that will reduce profits and shareholder earnings but increase the safety of the financial system. Yet both of these were minor stories compared to normalizing relations with Cuba after decades and his sweeping plan to protect millions of unauthorized immigrants from deportation. Somewhere in the meantime, Democrats broke the congressional logjam and got a whole boatload of nominees confirmed.

It has been, in short, a very busy and extremely consequential lame-duck session. One whose significance is made all the more striking by the fact that it follows an electoral catastrophe for Obama’s party. And that is the Obama era in a microcosm. Democrats’ overwhelming electoral win in 2008 did not prove to be a “realigning” election that handed the party enduring political dominance. Quite the opposite. But it did touch off a wave of domestic policymaking whose scale makes Obama a major historical figure in the way his two predecessors won’t be.

[...]

In an excellent November 26 article, Coral Davenport observed that Obama will likely “leave office with the most aggressive, far-reaching environmental legacy of any occupant of the White House” even though “it is very possible that not a single major environmental law will have passed during his two terms in Washington.” The Clean Air Act of 1970 simply turns out to be a very powerful tool crafted by very ambitious legislators, who wanted to make sure future administrations would be able to address not-yet-foreseen environmental problems. He’s used that law to issue a “series of landmark regulations on air pollution, from soot to smog, to mercury and planet-warming carbon dioxide.”

In his second term, Obama has also managed to get a record number of judges confirmed thanks to Democrats’ use of the nuclear option to reduce filibustering. When Obama took office, 10 of the 13 appeals courts had Republican majorities — today only four do

As I’ve said before, the only two presidents who can even arguably been said to have presided over a more substantial body of progressive policy-making in the last century are FDR and LBJ, and both did so in significantly more favorable contexts.

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Stringer Bond

[ 44 ] December 19, 2014 |

If North Korea hacking Sony e-mails actually leads to Idris Elba playing James Bond, it will be that country’s greatest gift to humanity.

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