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Archive for June, 2011

Diaz, The Worst Person in New York

[ 20 ] June 24, 2011 |

Sadly, it’s not like anybody else’s arguments against SSM are much better.


Women’s 2011 World Cup

[ 19 ] June 23, 2011 |

kicks off Sunday, hosted by Germany.  My knowledge of the women’s game is vastly less developed than the men’s, and with the passing into retirement of the USA’s golden generation, I don’t even have a solid handle on our own side beyond a couple key players.  That said, I’m going to, in typical ill-advised fashion, have a go at this nonetheless.  I’m hoping some commenters with superior knowledge will contribute to the dialogue.

First, the FIFA rankings of the women’s sides is based on a superior methodology than the FIFA rankings of the men’s.  It’s a truncated version of the ELO methodology, which I tend to rely on when scouting relative strengths of men’s teams rather than the FIFA rankings.  The women’s rankings aren’t too surprising, with a top 5 of 1. USA, 2. Germany, 3. Brazil, 4. Japan, 5. Sweden.  There are some surprises lower down, e.g. 8. North Korea, 9. Norway (I’d have thought Norway should be ranked higher), England only at 10th, Mexico only at 22nd.

My ill-advised predictions:

Group A: 1. Germany, 2. Canada, 3. France, 4. Nigeria. Frankly, Canada and France could go either way, but I’m going with Canada on the strength of their winning the 2010 CONCACAF Gold Cup, whereas France  have been uneven in the past few months (losing to the Netherlands, drawing with Scotland).  Yes, straws are being wilfully clutched.

Group B: 1. England, 2. Japan, 3. Mexico, 4. New Zealand.  My head tells me to go with Japan to win this group, but I have to go with my adopted country instead.  The Guardian writes glowingly about the side, and even ESPN speaks of an England side with newfound respect.  Oh, and England did beat the USA 2-1 in an April friendly (while Japan lost twice to the USA the next month).  Mexico and the Kiwis could go either way.

Group C: 1. USA, 2. Sweden, 3. North Korea, 4. Colombia. I’m not sure what to make of North Korea.  They have won the Asian Cup three of the past five, and only lost in 2010 on penalties to Australia.  However, Sweden have several players in the American league, face stiffer competition in Europe, and have a more reliable track record in terms of measuring achievement (who cares that North Korea beat Singapore 24-0 or some similar NFL score).  Sweden also beat the USA in January.

Group D: 1. Brazil, 2. Norway, 3. Australia, 4. Equatorial Guinea. This group is easy.

So, based on the predictions above, my quarter-final predictions are Germany over Japan, USA over Norway, England over Canada, Brazil over Sweden.  Semifinals: Germany over USA, Brazil over England.  Final: Germany over Brazil.

I’d like to see the USA win, of course, but Germany are roughly equal in quality to the Americans, and it’s in Germany.

I’m Also Surprised that Newt Gingrich’s Campaign Hasn’t Taken Off

[ 70 ] June 23, 2011 |

This would be funny if the results weren’t so tragic:

The Greeks have already reduced their deficit by five percentage points of the gross domestic product, “unprecedented cuts in a modern economy,” Mr. Tilford said. “But the cuts have had a much stronger negative impact on the economy than the troika imagined, and fiscal austerity has pushed the economy deep into recession. Debt can only be paid out of income, and that means growth.”

Yes, who could possibly have predicted that tax increases and draconian spending cuts — in a country with no control over its monetary policy! — would have contractionary effects. Absolutely shocking. I haven’t been this surprised since the 2010 Pirates failed to win 120 games. But I’m sure the second round will work like a charm.


[ 26 ] June 23, 2011 |

Finally captured. Two related recommendations:

  • Black Mass is as gripping an airline read as you could ask for.
  • Brotherhood, the fictionalized, transplanted-to-Rhode Island Showtime series based on the Bulger case, is an extremely underrated show; I’d rank it easily among the top 10 from TV’s great decade.

One Was Too Much

[ 22 ] June 23, 2011 |

Great column from Coates. After bringing much-needed national attention to Rick Perry’s role in the murder of Cameron Tood Willingham, the punchline says it all:

Whatever one thinks of the death penalty, the accounts of those who would seek to conceal the results of their theory should be closely checked. If only for that reason, the prospect of Governor Perry as commander in chief induces a chilling nostalgia. Indeed, choosing a leader of the free world from the ranks of those who sport a self-serving incuriosity is a habit, like crash landings and cock-fights, best cultivated in strict moderation.

Once a century should suffice.

Can we just remove the “guest” from TNC’s status? Would anybody have rather read the two inane Anthony Weiner columns that almost certainly would have resulted this week if Collins was still around? Do we need four columns worth of Burke for Dummies every week? I think he’s passed the audition.

Revive ERA

[ 69 ] June 23, 2011 |

I love that Carolyn Maloney and Robert Menendez are reintroducing the Equal Rights Amendment in response to the Supreme Court’s decision in the Wal-Mart case.

I have no idea if ERA could get ratified as a constitutional amendment today, but isn’t it worth a shot? Who today thinks women are not capable of everything men can do and should be treated equally? Obviously, for the Supreme Court this idea isn’t as important as ensuring the corporations can do whatever they want to working people without penalty, but in principle anyway, ERA seems noncontroversial in 2011.

Of course, I’m sure I’m far too optimistic.

Labor Media Erik

[ 11 ] June 22, 2011 |

I’m going to be on the Rick Smith Show tonight at 10:30 p.m. Eastern to talk about the issues brought up in today’s post about radical labor.

Feel the charisma come across the intertubes!

Update–I am particularly enamored that the show led into my interview with Zevon’s “Lawyers, Guns, and Money.” Labor and Zevon, how can a show be better?

Update 2: Here’s the link to listen to the broadcast at your leisure. Leisure brought to you by the American labor movement.

NATO: What is it Good For?

[ 13 ] June 22, 2011 |

My thoughts on Gates’ NATO speech:

It is worth noting, however, that protection of Libyan civilians through airstrikes sits so far outside NATO’s founding purpose that the framers of the 1949 treaty that brought the alliance into existence would hardly recognize the mission. NATO is a tool that has been effectively repurposed since the end of the Cold War, but tools are not infinitely malleable. So while the alliance may not be the ideal tool for managing military intervention in Europe’s “near abroad,” that does not mean that the organization is — or risks becoming — useless. Instead of disparaging allies, it would make more sense for critics to consider what NATO can and cannot do, and adapt their expectations accordingly.

“Giving away the game”

[ 29 ] June 22, 2011 |

Jon Stewart’s comment that Chris Wallace was doing precisely that when he talked about Fox presenting a “counterweight” to NBC and the Times is a convenient way to describe assertions such as:

Over the past few years, the Tea Party movement has seen a dramatic rise in the number of conservative female activists across this country.  From local to State and National elections, we see more and more female names on ballots.  We see women leading many of the conservative social networking sites – large and small.  We see them writing conservative books, blogging, tweeting, facebooking (has Webster added those yet as actual verbs?).  We see them on TV providing spot-on punditry on the shenanigans in DC.  We see them holding voter registration drives.  We see them courageously and passionately speaking out at Town Hall meetings, Tea Parties, rallies, and conventions.

If I saw this on a student paper, my comment would be “What does the statement ‘[o]ver the past few years’ necessarily imply?”  For some reason, I’m convinced most members of the Tea Party would respond to my question with the same dumbstruck expression as undergraduates who don’t know any better yet.*

*The important part, pedagogically, being the “yet.”  They’ll learn.  The Tea Partiers?  They’ve demonstrated they’re determined not to.

The Role of Radical Labor

[ 131 ] June 22, 2011 |

Matt Yglesias disagrees with my call for increased radicalization among labor in kind of a weird way. He argues that the modern economy has treated working-class people well, using increased rates of consumption as a measurement, and notes:

“Workers of the world unite, you have nothing to lose but your cell phone and your car and your HDTV and your large house” isn’t the most inspiring slogan in the world. So while even though labor unions, as such, have very little downside risk the individual people who’d be putting things on the line in a more radical struggle have a great deal more to lose than did their predecessors of 70 or 80 years ago.

Unfortunately, this is an argument used to justify American inequality for a long, long time.

He then notes that we have major structural problems in this country that need to be solved.

Well, yeah. But isn’t that why we need radical labor?

I think Matt has a couple of misconceptions about the relationship between radical labor and capital in post-WWII America, about where working-class people stand in the current economy, and about what labor is about in the end. A few specific points:

1. I think people have this image of “labor radicalism” as a bunch of guys wearing 1930s clothes sitting in a factory responding to 1930s needs. And when you mention labor radicalism they assume you are romanticizing what was a very unpleasant past for working-class people. They also assume you argue that labor radicalism is good for its own sake, because it’s fun to strike and sing songs and be radical.

Those things can be fun, but that’s hardly the point. Nobody wants to strike for the hell of it. People struck in the 1930s because their lives were rough. Then they weren’t so rough anymore (or at least for white urban industrial workers). The reason for this was the activist government of the New Deal liberal state and the deal made between unions and companies during the 1940s and 1950s to end the radicalism and the strikes in return for high wages and benefits.

Those good jobs led to an increased standard of living for American workers. And that was great. But what Matt doesn’t seem to get is that this era of American history is dead. Those good jobs don’t exist anymore. As historians such as Jefferson Cowie have shown, unions may have bought into the idea of stable unionized jobs at high wages but the companies never did. Even in the 1950s and early 1960s, when it seemed the American working class would see their lives improve and improve, corporations like RCA were bailing on their unionized plants, building new factories in the South and then overseas in order to escape having to pay workers good wages.

Real wages have stagnated since the early 1970s. There are many reasons for this but a very important reason is the fleeing of good paying industrial jobs overseas. This is hardly fresh news, but Matt measures working-class standard of living based upon consumption patterns. And I feel he should know better than that because he knows much of this consumption was unsustainable, coming out of artificially inflated home prices and personal debt spending that helped wreck this economy in 2007. People might have giant homes–but that doesn’t mean they can AFFORD those giant homes. They might own an HDTV, but how are they paying for it? We have record low savings rates, employment remains shaky with long-term unemployment a real possibility, and personal debt levels remain very high. So I just don’t see this consumption argument as particularly useful in isolation.

Moreover, Matt takes a shortsighted view about the future of the American working class, seemingly believing they will continue to consume more and more. Instead, isn’t a far more likely future a continuation of the road we are on now, with long-term unemployment, declining social services, increased poverty, and a declining middle class? It sure seems so to me.

During the Great Depression, we had a labor movement with a long history of radicalism to try and improve people’s lives. It succeeded. During the Great Recession, we do not have that. Corporations, the Republican Party, the courts, and even a lot of Democrats are sending us back to the Gilded Age as quickly as possible. And there is no radical labor to push back. That movement has to be rebuilt. To think that relative socioeconomic equality is going to be achieved without an activist labor movement is short-sighted.

I don’t think Matt believes otherwise. But I do think he needs to read more on the history of American labor. At the same time that the supposed deal between labor and companies was made, unions were kicking out their radicals. This was during the McCarthy years. Without those radicals, organizing in many unions virtually ceased, as did the push for major structural changes to the economy that helped propel the New Deal. Without a radical base within labor, the chances of that movement propelling America toward a better tomorrow is low. Why has labor has proven so unable to counter the decline in industrial jobs, the attacks upon labor rights, etc? There are many reasons of course, but one is that all the people who knew how to organize were tossed out of the unions after Taft-Hartley.

2. Matt seems to assume that the primary goal of American radicalism is to get more money in the weekly paycheck. Certainly that’s been one goal of labor over time. But radical American labor has pushed for precisely the kind of concrete societal changes he himself wants. Does labor not want better medical care? Better schools for their children? Less crime? And doesn’t less poverty usually lead to less crime and better education?

Radical workers in the early 20th century didn’t just push for better pay. They wanted to get their children out of the workforce and into school. They wanted the weekend. They wanted social security and national health insurance. They wanted workers’ compensation and disability pay. They wanted the 8 hour day. They wanted, essentially, the entire New Deal and more.

In the Pacific Northwest of the late 1930s and 40s, radical loggers in the International Woodworkers of America even pushed for an early form of environmentalism, accusing the timber industry of wantoning wasting the resource, destroying the beautiful forest, and undermining long-term employment in the woods. This is my own research here.

Today, mainstream labor is about all those things that Yglesias claims are more important than a bigger paycheck. The small pockets of radicalized labor working today call for wide-reaching social programs that are about much, much more than pay.

3. Moreover, the idea that radicalism is somehow opposed to personal consumption doesn’t hold a lot of water. Is radicalism the same thing as doctrinaire Marxism? I don’t think so. Radicalism to support a society that maintains working-class ability to be consumers can still be radicalism. This is not a zero-sum game here. Workers of the world can unite and still have televisions and cell phones.

I know Matt is a big reader of American history in his spare time, which is laudable. I do think that he should mix a bit more labor history into his reading list. I believe it would help him gain a better understanding of labor’s role in American democracy and the needed role of labor in solving our problems today.

Today, people’s lives are getting rough again, for many things are tougher than at any time in the past several decades. And when people’s lives suck, a turn to increased radicalism is a likely end. What kind of radicalism that takes remains to be seen. The right is certainly ready to pounce on people’s discontent. The left is very much not. That scares me.

Pointless Provincialism, Olympic Soccer Edition

[ 20 ] June 22, 2011 |

I briefly flirted with writing about this, but what’s the point?  By all accounts, including that of the PSNI, the UVF started it, and the “dissident Republicans” shot back.  Whatever.

London (and England, and even a bit of Wales) is hosting the 2012 Olympics.  Normally, this wouldn’t pose a problem to the host nation aside from bleeding out vast amounts of cash for limited material benefit.  The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland aren’t a normal nation, however, when it comes to soccer.  For historical reasons, FIFA recognize the “home nations” of England, Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland as independent entities for international purposes.  This extends to the rule-making body; with eight votes, the International Football Association Board sets the rules of association football.  The home nations have four of those votes, FIFA the other four, and six votes are required to effect any rule change.

This anachronistic arrangement would be analogous to the Basque Country and Catalonia having their own international sides, or Quebec, or Bavaria, or Utah.  Furthermore, unfortunately for the UK, the IOC doesn’t play by those rules.  For the UK to have a representative soccer side at the Olympics, it has to be under the rubric of “Team Great Britain”.  Team GB want to have a side at the Olympics for the first time since 1960, and will draw players from England, Scotland, Wales, and NI.

Which, logically, has pissed off three of the four home nations.  Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland are fearful that their inclusion in an aggregate Team GB could, possibly, cause FIFA to question their autonomy.  It doesn’t matter that FIFA have repeatedly stated that this would have no effect on the virtual independence of the home nations according to FIFA; these wee nations are jealous of their footballing autonomy.

I have no problem with this quaint arrangement.  David Goldblatt argues in his excellent The Ball is Round: A Global History of Soccer Football, nations, especially small nations, expressed themselves in an international context via soccer.  International soccer became a symbol, and identity, of the nation.  Goldblatt uses Uruguay as one of several examples, arguing that Uruguay as a nation-state had little logic beyond great power machinations (analogous to Africa) thus it relied heavily on success in soccer as a symbol of the nation (and some success it was: World Cup winners in 1930 over Argentina and 1950 over Brazil).  This can be readily generalized to the home nations.  Lacking any of the institutional infrastructure common to the nation state (until 1998 not even a “national” legislature), Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland look to soccer (and with the former two, rugby union) as symbols of their ersatz independence.

I understand why they’re jealous of this autonomy, and I don’t want my Welsh, Scottish, or Irish friends back in the UK to read this as an argument against said autonomy.  It’s not.

That said, not participating in the Olympics under a unified Team GB is just silly.  FIFA have made it clear over the past three years that a one-off Olympic team will not undermine the autonomy of the home nations.  The squad itself, consisting of 18 players, will be a U-23 squad save for three players without age restriction; in other words, not a full international side in any event.  Soccer matches will be hosted in Scotland and Wales in addition to England.  The English FA have the written approval of the three other home nations to select their players, which itself is meaningless, as legally according to the IOC the English FA have the right to choose any player eligible to play an Olympic sport for Great Britain regardless.  Furthermore, in rugby union the four home nations combine quadrennially to form the British and Irish Lions, who tour southern hemisphere nations.  Last I checked, the autonomy of neither the English, Welsh, Scottish, nor Irish RFU has been questioned as a result.

Finally, for the players from Wales, Northern Ireland, and even Scotland, the 2012 Olympics might represent the only opportunity that they have to play in a serious international tournament.  Scotland on occasion have a chance to qualify for tournaments, and nearly did so for Euro 2008, but the last tournaments Scotland participated in were the 1998 World Cup and the 1996 European Championships.  Northern Ireland has only participated in the World Cups of 1958, 1982, and 1986; the only ever appearance of Wales in a major tournament was the 1958 World Cup.  In qualifying for Euro 2012, Wales are doomed already, while Scotland and Northern Ireland find qualification highly unlikely.  Indeed, the current bright hope of Welsh soccer, Gareth Bale, said last month:

“I want to play in the Olympics. I think it would be a great experience.  You see it with the British and Irish Lions in the rugby, they come together as a unit and play against other countries. It’s great and there’s no reason why that can’t happen with the football.  At the moment Wales haven’t qualified for a major tournament in I don’t know how many years so it would be nice to play in one against the best countries in the world.”

Or, one might adopt the attitude of former Scotland manager Craig Brown, who said in 2009:

“If there is an insistence on having UK representation, why not allow all four teams to compete?  Football is already a special case in the Olympics because it discriminates by only allowing players under 23 to compete, so why not allow the four sides from the UK?”

Because, until Alex Salmond passes a referendum on Scottish independence, Scotland isn’t quite a real country, yet?

Poor Bai

[ 17 ] June 22, 2011 |

Apparently actual Republicans haven’t gotten his memo about what they believe. It’s all too appropriate that media members seemed to outnumber actual supporters at his announcement…

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