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Archive for June, 2011

War is Peace

[ 12 ] June 22, 2011 |

Military Industrial Complex

Report: 10,000 Troops Leaving Afghanistan This Year

Kerry and McCain United Behind the Mysteriously Urgent Libya Mission

Iraq Violence Intensifies as Talks Continue on U.S. Troop Presence

In principle it would be quite simple to waste the surplus labour of the world by building temples and pyramids, by digging holes and filling them up again, or even by producing vast quantities of goods and then setting fire to them. But this would provide only the economic and not the emotional basis for a hierarchical society. What is concerned here is not the morale of masses, whose attitude is unimportant so long as they are kept steadily at work, but the morale of the Party itself. Even the humblest Party member is expected to be competent, industrious, and even intelligent within narrow limits, but it is also necessary that he should be a credulous and ignorant fanatic whose prevailing moods are fear, hatred, adulation, and orgiastic triumph. In other words it is necessary that he should have the mentality appropriate to a state of war. It does not matter whether the war is actually happening, and, since no decisive victory is possible, it does not matter whether the war is going well or badly. All that is needed is that a state of war should exist.


Labor Notes

[ 80 ] June 21, 2011 |

No, not the superb labor newspaper, just a few links with commentary.

1. Dave Johnson has an interesting post up (with many links) on the NLRB decision to speed up labor elections, noting the power of recess appointments. The deciding votes in this election were Obama’s 2 recess appointments. Craig Becker and Mark Pearce have led a number of important changes to the NLRB, making it a functioning board that gives labor an increasingly fair shake and infuriating Republicans. Yet Obama hasn’t learned the lesson of recess appointments despite the overwhelming obstruction to his appointments. Seemingly temperamentally opposed to angering Republicans who will never be placated no matter how much he caves, he has issued less than 40 recess appointments, as opposed to over 170 for Bush. Obama needs to use this power if he can’t get up and down votes on his appointments in order to not only help working people, but to govern effectively.

2. Joe Burns excerpts from his new book at In These Times, arguing that labor needs to resort to radical measures in order to revitalize the movement. Using the 1989 Pittston coal strike as an example, Burns argues:

For the labor movement to have any chance at reigniting the spark that was present back in the first part of the twentieth century, it must again develop into a fighting, grassroots force, capable of confronting corporate power. While many contemporary trade unionists continue to be stuck in a mindset that favors compromise and compliance over resistance and militancy, several labor conflicts of the last twenty-five years stand out for the tenacity of the union members involved, the level of rank-and-file activism, and the willingness to confront the system of labor control.

I don’t disagree. Pittston used all sorts of tactics, from blockades to sit-ins to violence. In the end, the UMWA succeeded. It was a great moment, though one labor as a whole didn’t learn enough from. After all, what does the labor movement have to lose at this point. As I argued during the Wisconsin protests, there is no reason for labor not to throw the kitchen sink into their organizing tactics. If you are going to go down, as even supposedly Democratic governors like Andrew Cuomo seem to want, you might as well go down fighting and at least start building for the future. And more direct tactics may well inspire working-class people and young people to think of organized labor as representing their future and things spiral up from there. Optimistic, but possible.

However, I also think that while radical tactics, even including violence, have their place in the movement, it will take more than a single factor to reinvigorate labor. Burns knows this too, but there’s a lot of rhetoric from labor writers about doing this or that thing that will turn out the labor movement. I certainly agree that taking a more direct-action approach is absolutely an excellent idea. At the same time, we are a long time from 1937 when radicalism was well within the lived memory of most working-class people. Whether this would affect how working people responded to such tactics, I do not know, but it’s worth noting that we need a lot of labor education as well as part of the package to revitalize the labor movement.

In any case, I look forward to reading Burns’ book. Check it out.

3. We rarely see labor disputes with our own eyes these days. Strikes are so rare–I believe that at the present there is not a single strike going on in the United States. That’s amazing and depressing. But I am presently in the Hudson Valley of New York and there is a consistent presence at the entrance to Marist College in Poughkeespie over unfair labor practices. There’s not a lot of info about it online (which is unfortunate). However, if you Google “Marist College Labor Dispute” you can click on a PDF of a flyer claiming the Marist is undermining the Carpenters union by contracting with low-wage and benefit companies to undermine union labor. The campaign seems to be about embarrassing Marist though the lack of a proper website suggests the limitations of its implementation. Anyway, boo on Marist.

More on Obama and the WPA

[ 54 ] June 21, 2011 |

As Ackerman says, the ongoing attacks against Libya cannot seriously be squared with the requirements of the War Powers Act, and the procedure used to justify violating the law is a dangerous one.

It’s Only Illegal to be Stupid; Gender Discrimination is Fine

[ 81 ] June 21, 2011 |

Lithwick’s article about Wal-Mart v. Dukes should be read in its entirety, but the most important passage identifies the key part of Scalia’s majority opinion:

The law allows such “pattern and practice” evidence to be used to prove sex discrimination, even when a company has a formal policy forbidding sexual discrimination. After all, every company has a formal policy forbidding sexual discrimination and few affirmatively encourage it in writing. Scalia is unmoved, however. He asserts that “left to their own devices most managers in any corporation—and surely most managers in a corporation that forbids sex discrimination—would select sex-neutral, performance-based criteria for hiring and promotion.” [Right. And African-Americans had the unfettered right to vote as soon as the 15th Amendment passed. –ed.] The women of Wal-Mart can’t show that managers exercised discretion in similarly gender-biased ways, he writes, and scoffs at attempts to do so through “statistical and anecdotal evidence.”

But, of course, if you can’t use statistical and anecdotal evidence to prove gender discrimination — and, as he apparently admitted about racial discrimination and the death penalty during the deliberations in McKleskey v. Kemp, it’s clear there’s no amount of statistical and anecdotal evidence that would convince Scalia — then there really isn’t a law against gender discrimination at all. There’s just a law against having your company being run by complete idiots. Any amount of gender (or, presumably, racial) discrimination is acceptable to the Court’s Republican appointees as long as you’re not dumb enough to actually explicitly state it as a formal policy.

NLRB to Speed Up Union Elections

[ 5 ] June 21, 2011 |

Good news here:

The labor board is proposing to tighten up the process by ensuring that employers, employees and unions receive needed information sooner and by delaying litigation over many voter-eligibility issues until after workers vote on whether to unionize.

This will help undermine anti-union activities by companies, limiting their ability to engage in the kind of long, drawn out unionbusting campaigns that have undermined elections in the past decade. It’s not going to save the world, but it’s the kind of useful change one expects from a Democratic president.

Mr. Potter!

[ 39 ] June 21, 2011 |


Meanwhile, opinions about Henry Potter’s character have changed over the years. In light of the housing-market crisis, the fiscally responsible banker may not have been such a bad guy after all. The loans that he tried to prevent George Bailey from handing out were essentially subprime mortgages. Mr. Potter may have just been trying to stop the poor citizens of Bedford Falls from over-leveraging themselves. Who’s the evil capitalist now?

Mr. Potter didn’t want to hand out subprime mortgages because he would have been exposed in case of loan failure. If he had been able to sell those mortgages to a company that could bundle them and resell them as “risk free” assets, everyone in Pottersville would have received a loan. Indeed, given the rules it might have been fiscally irresponsible for Potter to behave in any other way.
And this, of course:

Data, College, and State Power

[ 26 ] June 20, 2011 |

I don’t know enough about the subject, so I guess I’ll just ask.  Is this to be taken seriously?

Last week’s announcement of new rules to bear down on career colleges like the University of Phoenix, which offer degrees in programs like Health Administration and Criminal Justice Administration, weren’t designed to force those questions. These programs come under a different section in the Higher Education Act, excluding them from regulations for how much money their graduates make. But the new rules — the gainful employment rules, as they’re called — could push federal regulators to start peering under the hood of more traditional colleges majors, according to reporting by Inside Higher Ed.

The issue is that the new regulations create the regulatory structure and a political vacuum ripe for more regulations. The rules, which penalize career colleges whose students cannot repay their loans, inaugurate what Kevin Carey, policy director for the Think Tank Education Sector, calls in the article a “new era of widely available data about how much college graduates earn and what kind of jobs they take.” He goes on to describe how, now that the beast is built, it will be easier for government to expand into other areas of education regulation. Once government policymakers can wield this data, it is only a matter of time before calls to clamp down on and curb federal spending throughout higher ed are heard.

…to be clear, my question here is not about the for profit institutions, but rather about the use of regulations targeting for profit institutions against traditional majors.

Blog Promotion: Coal Tattoo

[ 13 ] June 20, 2011 |

As I expressed last week when thinking about the Huffington Post boycott and its broader implications for the blogosphere, I noted that we are long past the time when the blogosphere was the relative meritocracy of the mid 2000s. It is extremely difficult for an individual new to blogging to rise up the totem pole. We mostly read the same blogs we’ve read since 2006. An overstatement of course, but not entirely inaccurate either. And while I try to search out new sites, I am pretty much as guilty of this as anyone. After all, how many blogs can one person read?

Anyway, as someone recently pulled out of deep obscurity, I know that while I may deserve my increased readership (though you may disagree), a lot of other people also deserve your attention.

So about once a week, I am going to try and promote a blog that you all may not have read. I will try to make them relatively obscure sites, but of course, I only know so many as well. So feel free to leave suggestions in comments. Or send me an e-mail with ideas. Because I want all of us to recognize the many cool voices out there who toil without comments or with only local or niche readership.

The first site I’d like to highlight is Coal Tattoo. This isn’t the most obscure site in the world, as it is a blog of the Charleston (WV) Gazette, but it still has a fairly small and I think local readership. Written by Ken Ward, Jr., Coal Tattoo provides first-rate coverage of the coal industry, particularly in West Virginia. Moreover, Ward provided outstanding coverage of the Upper Big Branch Mine disaster of 2010 which killed 29 workers. Ward provides a rare voice among the West Virginia media who is openly critical of the coal industry. For anyone interested in issues of environment, labor, or Appalachia, and more specifically for anyone who wants to follow how one of the world’s most evil industries controls, denudes, and physically reshapes an entire state, Coal Tattoo is a great read.

The New Racism

[ 140 ] June 20, 2011 |

I’m working on a chapter for an edited volume on the Tea Party. My essay seeks to place the Tea Party within the context of American conservatism over the past 60 years, with nods to pre-World War II issues such as New Deal policy and white racial formation in the 19th century. It’s essentially a synthetic piece with my own spin on these issues, which will lead to throwing an concept off you all for comment and critique.

I’ve been reviewing a lot of the literature on the rise of conservatism within the urban landscape: Kevin Kruse’s White Flight (on Atlanta), Robert Self’s American Babylon (Oakland), Thomas Sugrue’s The Origin of the Urban Crisis (Detroit), etc. These historians have creating one of the most vibrant historiographies of the past 15 years, asking important questions about whether “white flight” as we commonly conceive of it existed, the role of the federal government in pulling whites out to the suburbs by subsidizing their housing through the Federal Housing Administration, the GI Bill, the Interstate Highway Act, etc., and how these cities changed neighborhood by neighborhood. Great stuff.

Another key question for many of these historians is how the move of whites to the suburbs, the rise of public housing in the cities, and the role the federal government played in shaping cities and suburbs in mid-century America played in the rise of conservatism. Merging with broader histories of conservatism and the suburbs like Lisa McGirr’s Suburban Warriors, these books demonstrate in detail how people on the ground in these cities began to embrace a race-based conservatism that (despite the fact that the federal government subsidized every bit of their American Dream) saw the federal government as helping blacks at the direct cost of hurting whites. This zero-sum game of racial politics expressed itself on the local level as early as the late 1930s when the government began opening public housing to blacks and then manifested itself on an increasingly national level, most famously in George Wallace’s presidential campaign of 1968, the Reagan Democrat phenomenon, etc.

Kruse in particular shows how these new conservatives began to talk about race in a post-civil rights society when polite discourse no longer allowed for using the “N” word, lynching, blackface routines, or so many other hallmarks of pre-Civil Rights American racism. Rather, they began combining ideas of personal preference and individual rights with race. Suddenly, terms like “property values” and “law and order” became code words for segregation. “Welfare queen” became identified as a black woman mooching off the state. “Individual rights” meant that I could keep my neighborhood and school white and resist school busing or housing desegregation because as an American, I have the right to defend my property and family from interlopers.

While less obviously ugly than more common manifestations of racism, this language has served to keep America unequal. Prison incarceration rates, educational inequality, de facto neighborhood segregation, etc., are all huge problems in this county.

Building on these scholars, I am calling this language and its aftermath today “The New Racism.” Moreover, I am arguing that Tea Party members embody these ideas today for a number of reasons: their aim to destroy government programs that help the poor (which are of course mostly people of color), their polled opinions about non-whites, and the images and speeches of their rallies. Tea Party members point to people like Clarence Thomas, Herman Cain, and Allen West as examples of how calling them racists is absurd, which of course brings us to meanings of the word. Can one be racist and be married to someone of a different color? Can a white conservative be racist if they vote for someone of another race?

I also recognize that Tea Party founders really were primarily critiquing economic rather than social issues, though one can’t separate the two given issues of funding social programs and deciding who gets what percentage of the national pie. But of course any analysis of the signs, t-shirts, slogans, and speeches of the Tea Party rallies show this strictly economic definition of the Tea Party to be not very useful. Or at least, so I believe.

Charging the Tea Party and much of modern conservatism as directly racist could be controversial, despite what I see as a preponderance of evidence for the fact. So a few questions to throw off you all:

1. Does the term “New Racism” make sense given how I described it?

2. How useful does it seem in analyzing modern conservative politics, particularly given the much publicized existence of a (very few) prominent black conservatives?

3. How do we define racism today? Do my definitions of racism, to the extent I really articulate that in the post, make sense here?

I am happy to elaborate in comments if anything is unclear. Again, none of this is really new per se, but I think that it is useful in thinking about where Tea Party ideas fit in the history of American conservatism. There’s much more to the article than this, but this is the central idea for which I most need feedback.

Chamber of Commerce’s Court Makes Class-Action Suits Much More Difficult

[ 29 ] June 20, 2011 |

The Supreme Court has handed down its ruling in Wal-Mart v. Dukes, a case I’ve discussed earlier. The Court unanimously held that the suit should not proceed. There are, however, major differences in the reasoning that matter going forward.

Every member of the Court agreed that the class could not be certified under rule 23 (b)(2) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, which require that “the party opposing the class has acted or refused to act on grounds that apply generally to the class, so that final injunctive relief or corresponding declaratory relief is appropriate respecting the class as a whole.” The Court held that the class was too diverse to qualify under this standard. Where the Court broke along familiar ideological lines, however, is one the question of whether the Wal-Mart employees might qualify as a class under rule 23 (b)(3), which permits suits to go forward if “the court finds that the questions of law or fact common to class members predominate over any questions affecting only individual members, and that a class action is superior to other available methods for fairly and efficiently adjudicating the controversy.” The Court’s five Republican appointees rejected this claim out of hand. Ginsburg’s dissent argues that because the question was not before the Court, whether the suit could qualify under 23 (b)(3) should be sent back to the lower courts. As Ginsburg notes, there is good reason to believe that in this suit “questions of law or fact common to class members” would “predominate over any questions affecting only individual members”:

Women fill 70 percent of the hourly jobs in the retailer’s stores but make up only “33 percent of management employees.” “[T]he higher one looks in the organization the lower the percentage of women.” The plaintiffs’ “largely uncontested descriptive statistics” also show that women working in the company’s stores “are paid less than men in every region” and “that the salary gap widens over time even for men and women hired into the same jobs at the same time.”

The District Court identified “systems for . . . promoting in-store employees” that were “sufficiently similar across regions and stores” to conclude that “the manner in which these systems affect the class raises issues that are com-mon to all class members.” The selection of employees for promotion to in-store management “is fairly characterized as a ‘tap on the shoulder’ process,” in which managers have discretion about whose shoulders to tap. Vacancies are not regularly posted; from among those employees satisfying minimum qualifications, managers choose whom to promote on the basis of their own subjective impressions.

Systematic discrimination at a large corporation such as Wal-Mart simply cannot be addressed piecemeal. I could have lived with a ruling that focused on the unique facts of this case. But in their broad ruling, the Court’s five most conservative justices have made it much more difficult for civil rights laws to be meaningfully enforced in practice. It will be part of the classic conservertarian bait-and-switch: individuals filing lawsuits will not have enough evidence to prove discrimination, and class action suits that develop systematic evidence will be thrown out for not having enough in common.

[X-Posted to TAPPED.]

“Propagandistic writing of this kind can be even more boring than it is irritating.”

[ 38 ] June 20, 2011 |

I will say this for Hitch; when he gets something in his wheelhouse, he can still nail it. The most salient thing about profiles of Mamet’s “courageous” conversion to wingnuttery is that combined they have yet to identify a single interesting thing this (very great) playwright has ever said about politics from any ideological orientation. What’s offensive about Mamet’s turn to political writing isn’t its conservatism but its utter banality. Fundamentally, you should never open your mouth unless you know what the shot is…

You’re Entitled to Your Own Opinion, But Not Your Own Facts

[ 45 ] June 20, 2011 |

Becker does seem to forget this from time to time.

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