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Archive for November, 2012

Marvin Miller

[ 26 ] November 27, 2012 |

R.I.P. A great man, who had a real impact on history; we need many more of his like than we have. When he said that MLB players were among the most exploited workers in America, he was right — exploitation isn’t just being paid a low wage, it’s being paid far less than your services are worth.

Precisely because of his salutary impact, Miller has been snubbed from the Hall of Fame. At this point, I’m not even sure that I want him in. We took djw on his first visit to Cooperstown over the holiday weekend, and seeing the tributes to Ron Santo on the one hand made me happy that he finally got the honor he obviously deserved but on the other hand made me angry because waiting until after he was around to enjoy it almost made it more insulting. So while Miller’s exclusion is outrageous, I’m not sure that I even want to see him inducted now. He made history from the outside, and good.

…via Emma Span, Miller on the HoF issue: ““I’ve never campaigned to be in the Hall and have asked not to be included on any ballot,” Miller says. “But they continue to put me on the list and then rig the election. Considering who runs the place, not being a part of it gives me credibility as a union leader. That’s how I hope it stays long after I’m gone.””


Old Jewish America

[ 38 ] November 27, 2012 |

Colin points us to this piece on a declining Jewish cemetery in Curacao, threatened by the elements and the gigantic refinery built right next to it. As Colin notes for Latin America, there is a sizable Jewish history in the Americas that is often forgotten. This is also true in the United States, particularly in New York and Newport. In the latter, you can visit the Touro Synagogue, a still active synagogue which explains the history of 18th century Judaism in Rhode Island. The locations where you see an active colonial Jewish population are hardly coincidental. Basically, just follow the Dutch. There was a sizable Jewish population in New Amsterdam because of Dutch toleration. When the English took it over in 1664, rights for Jews, as well as for women and Africans, declined. Rhode Island is an exception to the Dutch trend, but then Rhode Island’s religious tolerance always made it unusual for the colonial world.

Our Possible Dystopian Future

[ 49 ] November 27, 2012 |

Mitch McConnell opposes filibuster reform with a truly, truly frightening scenario:

“If a bare majority can now proceed to any bill it chooses, and once on that bill, the majority leader, all by himself, can shut out all amendments that aren’t to his liking, then those who elected us to advocate for their views will have lost their voice in the legislative process,” McConnell said.

How terrifying — the United States Senate might function like pretty much every other democratic legislature on earth! This is almost as scary as contemplating the non-existent possibility that Congress will pass a broccoli mandate!

While unfortunately Reid gave the wrong answer, let’s also consider McConnell’s follow-up question:

“How would you feel if two years from now I have your job and my members are saying let’s get rid of the filibuster altogether with 51 votes?” McConnell asked Reid during floor debate.

I’d feel great about it!

Which is why I approve of this relatively modest filibuster reform, although I think the efficacy of requiring “real” filibusters is in itself greatly overstated. It’s the same reason that the Democrats should have filibustered Alito although it probably would have triggered the “nuclear option” rather than actually keeping Alito off the bench. The more you chip away, the more likely it is that Republicans will eliminate it when they get the chance. Which would be a great thing in the long term even if it meant some bad legislation in the short term.

Civil War Underwear

[ 23 ] November 27, 2012 |

I am happy to argue that a discussion of Civil War underwear is at least as interesting as a movie about Abraham Lincoln and far more interesting than battlefield tactics. This is especially true when we realize the story of underwear is a story about the growth of Gilded Age capitalism, labor exploitation, health, cleanliness, and everyday soldier life. Plus there’s this:

Gen. Ulysses S. Grant himself once appeared in “parade uniform”: one night, when gunboats threatened the depot at City Point, Va., reported an eyewitness in The Century magazine, “the general came hurriedly into the office. He had drawn on his top-boots over his drawers, and put on his uniform frock-coat, the skirt of which reached about to the tops of the boots and made up for the absence of trousers.”

Less known evidently is how many drinks the august general had consumed that evening.

Who Killed Hostess?

[ 75 ] November 27, 2012 |

It wasn’t labor.

But at least the executives believed in shared sacrifice to save the company, right?

That overlooks the years of union givebacks and management bad faith. Example: Just before declaring bankruptcy for the second time in eight years Jan. 11, Hostess trebled the compensation of then-Chief Executive Brian Driscoll and raised other executives’ pay up to twofold. At the same time, the company was demanding lower wages from workers and stiffing employee pension funds of $8 million a month in payment obligations.

Shared sacrifice in the Althouse sense, at least.

Black Friday Strike

[ 43 ] November 26, 2012 |

The Black Friday strike at Wal-Mart was interesting. I’m a bit skeptical that it means a lot, but who knows what will to what. People thought Occupy or the Battle of Seattle was world-changing and, well, where did all of that go? Meanwhile, the referendum to overturn the Republican anti-union measure SB-5 in Ohio motivated Democrats to make sure that state voted Democratic in 2012. Wal-Mart is the nation’s most anti-union company, if we combine intent with workforce size. We all know that it presses its suppliers to provide goods as cheap as possible, a scenario that leads to workers getting burned to death in unsafe factories. While the United Food and Commercial Workers was heavily involved in the Black Friday actions, it wasn’t a true organizing campaign in the sense of creating a union or even reaching that many workers. Rather, it was about getting word out, convincing people to come out to their local Wal-Mart to protest, and trying to get workers to walk out. Wal-Mart claims 50 workers went out, the organizers say it was closer to 500. Probably the latter is more correct given that there’s no good reason to believe anything Wal-Mart has to say about labor matters. Wal-Mart also claims that it had its biggest Black Friday ever. Could be, but that’s meaningless here since the goal wasn’t really to get people to stop shopping at Wal-Mart. This was about educating the public and worker empowerment.

The question now is where this goes. Wal-Mart would close stores rather than see them unionize so it’s tough sell, even at the low wages and terrible benefits. Workers who labor 40 hours a week and still qualify for food stamps don’t have much, but they do have that. If all of this convinces Wal-Mart to raise wages in order to buy workers off from unionizing, then it’s totally worth it. That’s only going to happen if the pressure continues and more workers decide that it’s worth the risk to stand up for a better life.

Who Will Be The Gun Movement’s Rosa Parks?

[ 59 ] November 26, 2012 |

The University of Colorado caved to the gun lobby and created gun-friendly dorms. At the present, there are floors that are gun-friendly. A dorm for the armed is opening in 2014. But the school is disturbed that not a single person has actually expressed any interest in living in the gun zone. Is it because even students who own guns think it might not be an awesome idea to be around drunken armed college students? Nope. It’s liberal segregation:

David Burnett, a representative of Students for Concealed Carry on campus, told the Denver Post that students who met all legal requirements for concealed-carry shouldn’t have to move into segregated dorms. “You’ve proven you’re legally, responsibly and morally able to carry, then the college comes back and tells you you’ve got to move. What would you do?”

I have never heard of such a outrage. Homer Plessy being kicked off a train holds nothing to this. Who will stand up and be the gun movement’s armed and extremely dangerous Rosa Parks?

But the University of Colorado’s pro-gun policy has had one concrete consequence:

The concealed-carry issue was forced back into the spotlight this month when a staff member with a concealed-carry permit at the School of Dental Medicine on the Anschutz Medical campus accidentally shot a co-worker while showing her gun.

Both of the staffers were injured in the incident, but neither was hospitalized, police said.

Really, it’s almost impossible to think of any bad consequences to this policy.

Charles Murray Ponders Why Minorities Don’t Vote Republican

[ 106 ] November 26, 2012 |

Well, that went about as badly as you would expect.   I’m becoming particularly amused by the “it’s a dirty, dirty trick to point out the policies on reproductive and LBGT rights that Republicans favor” routine.

Black People Can’t Swim

[ 120 ] November 26, 2012 |

In the summer of 1968, Charles Schulz—born today in 1922—decided not to take the path of least resistance.  In the first months of the Presidential race, the politics of Peanuts were as inscrutable as ever:


The political positions of the birds—one of whom Schulz would christen “Woodstock” two years later—are literally cryptic.  (Snoopy later embraced of identity politics via a nifty collapse of signifier into signified, but let’s not lit-crit these panels quite yet.)  For Schulz, the campaigns of Richard Nixon, Hubert Humphrey and George Wallace were less important than baseball:


This dead-pan surrealism here is Peanuts at its artistic best, but at a time when America was at war and a segregationist was a viable Presidential candidate, dead-pan surrealism wasn’t the order of the day.  So Schulz sent Charlie Brown to the beach:


This strip’s a fairly typical example of Charlie Brown’s half-hearted exasperation with an unfair world.  The next?


Not only does the world cease its relentless, playful torment of Charlie Brown, but the boy who tamps it down is black and can swim.  Because on 31 July 1968, Schulz introduced the world to Franklin.  May not seem like much, but it’s as explicitly political as Peanuts ever ventures.  Until, that is, 1 August 1968:


The father of Franklin, the black boy who swims, is over in Vietnam.  That second panel neatly illustrates how far Schulz strayed from his comfort zone.  Charlie Brown’s father “was in a war, but [he doesn’t] know which one.”  That’s the extent to which contemporary politics typically intruded the most popular daily comic in America.  But for some reason, Schulz felt the need to contradict conventional racist wisdom that summer.

The racists responded in the manner befitting Wallace-backers: “I don’t mind you having a black character, but please don’t show them in school together.”


It must’ve sucked to be a racist.  Unless, that is, you’re a fan of Dennis the Menace:


That’s from 13 May 1970, two years after Schulz quietly integrated public schools.  There’s much to admire in the matter-of-factness of Schulz’s racial politics.  Not only is there no meta- to it, there’s no mention of it—Franklin arrives, befriends Peppermint Patty, and plays football.

(Re-posted in honor of Schulz’s birthday. If you want to zoom on the images or save them, you’ll have to click over to that link because WordPress is doing something wonky with the images here.)

Triangle Repeated in Bangladesh

[ 25 ] November 26, 2012 |

Within American labor history, the Triangle Shirtwaist Fire is a touchstone moment. That tragedy led directly to a spate of workplace safety laws and building regulations. In the longer term, it helped spur the union movement that changed the lives of the American working class.

Of course, capitalists never accepted these changes. The movement to globalize industrial production was an explicit choice by corporations to avoid the workplace and environmental regulations that increasing made work and life safe and dignified in the United States. Such regulations might have improved American lives, but they also slightly cut into corporate profits. And with elephants ever more rare, the price of ivory backscratchers aren’t going down.

And thus we see Bangladesh suffer its own Triangle Fire. A clothing factory caught on fire this weekend near Dhaka, killing at least 117 workers. Like at Triangle, most of the dead workers are women. Like at Triangle, an unsafe building choked with highly flammable materials did not have proper safety equipment or fire exits. Like at Triangle, desperate women chose to jump to their deaths rather than burn.

Of course, no corporations will be held directly liable–by outsourcing production, they exact profits and eschew responsibility. Wal-Mart is one of the corporations that contract out with the clothing supplier, but they are refusing to confirm this. Even better for capitalists is that Bangladesh is far away. It will be in the news for a couple of days and then disappear except for the NGOs and labor writers that scream about this to tiny audiences. All things return to normal for global capitalism. And for us.

Conflict, Self-Interest, and Disaggregating the Pointy End of the State

[ 11 ] November 26, 2012 |

The following is a guest post by Jonathan Powell. Dr. Powell is an Assistant Professor of International Relations at Nazarbayev University in Astana, Kazakhstan.  His research focuses on conflict processes, particularly aspects related to civil-military relations. He recently received his Ph.D. in Political Science from the University of Kentucky.

James Fearon’s recent response to Anjan Sundaram’s Foreign Policy article on the M23 rebellion leads to several points of relevance to civil war scholars. Fearon asks “Why don’t these rulers, in their own self-interest, take some of that money and use it to build crack units, presidential guards, or strong and loyal army divisions that would protect their hold on power against two dozen putschists, or a hundred or couple thousand rebels armed with rifles and maybe some mortars?” He further claims that the “relevant poli sci literatures” fail to adequately explain these trends. Though perhaps in its infancy, there is a growing body of literature that attempts to explain the dynamics that Fearon has noted.

The ongoing inability of the DRC to combat M23 is paralleled by the country’s prior history, specifically the poor performance of the Forces Armées Zaïrois (FAZ) during the Shaba conflicts and the first Congo War. These failures are not a coincidence, and they are not due to an absence of a self-interested policy on the part of leaders such as Mobutu or Kabila. To the contrary, a self-serving policy of political survival would seem to be a suitable explanation for continued strife in the eastern DRC and beyond.

Leaders can suffer from many types of threats that are manifested by different types of actors, including foreign invaders, a popular uprising, military coups, insurgents, and even an electorate. One of the challenges for these “self-interested” leaders is to determine the most efficient policy that will keep them in power. Think of it as a Downsian theory of ­non-democracy. Leaders would, of course, prefer to have a blanket policy that will stamp out any threat to their continued tenure. Unfortunately, the multitude of threats and the different actors that a leader must consider will force him or her to make trade-offs. In the end, a policy that increases security against one actor might decrease security against another. Think of it as a broadening of the civil-military problematique.

To answer the first part of Fearon’s question: leaders do take money and build “crack units, presidential guards, or strong and loyal army divisions.” See the work of Belkin & Schofer, Pilster and Bohmelt, and my work in the current issue of JCR on this point. Leaders cannot suddenly implement a coup-proofing apparatus if one is lacking; such an effort might actually precipitate a coup, as Lt. Col Samsudeen Sarr has claimed in the 1994 Gambian coup. Jun Koga has a very promising working paper on this point, suggesting that leaders wishing to build up a presidential guard will largely have to limit themselves to doing so when coup risk is low.

To answer the second part of Fearon’s question, it is important to clarify that efforts to address the first concern (coups) often increase vulnerability to the second concern (rebellion). Fearon points to the excellent work of Roessler as the best manifestation of this paradox. Roessler shows that leaders increase the mobilizational capacity of non-state actors when they purge disloyal elements from the government. A growing literature shows coup-proofing also decreases the counterinsurgency capabilities of the state.

The idea that coup-proofing reduces military capability has been suggested in the interstate conflict literature by a number of qualitative efforts (e.g., Pollack, Biddle & Zirkle, Quinlivan). More recent quantitative work shows more heavily coup-proofed regimes both perform poorly in interstate combat and seem to be conflict-avoidant even when other incentives for a transnational dispute are present. The detrimental influences of coup-proofing on military effectiveness are too broad to discuss here in detail. The creation of parallel chains of command and armed counterweights undermine the ability of armed forces to conduct coordinated maneuvers; military funds and materiel are frequently re-directed from the regular armed forces to the coup-proofing apparatus; non-merit promotion, retention and recruitment reduces overall soldier quality and morale; and command shuffles reduce unit cohesion and competence. Perhaps even more problematic is that many leaders simply appear to be disinterested in preventing or ending civil war.

My recently-defended dissertation closely investigates Jeffrey Herbst’s observation that African militaries show a “remarkable” failure to mobilize at the onset of civil war. This is followed by an equilibrium that sees leadership happily maintain a secure capital while an insurgency might be in control of a far-off territory. Crushing the insurgency will prove too costly for the leader, while taking the capital from the better-trained coup-proofing apparatus will prove too costly for the rebels.

This calculus has been illustrated in the DRC/Zaire for decades. Both manifestations of the state have combined a weak army with a strong coup-proofing apparatus. Armed counterweights such as the Special Presidential Division, the Civil Guard, and the gendarmerie possessed better training and resources than the regular army under Mobutu. However, he was simply not willing to weaken his control of Kinshasa by deploying his coup-proofing apparatus to fight a far-off insurgency.

Peter Mangold has noted Mobutu’s refusal to mobilize the paramilitary during Shaba, while Michela Wrong’s journalistic account pointed to a similar outcome during Laurent Kabila’s westward march: “Zaireans waited for Mobutu to send to send the elite forces they had heard so much about to the east. No one, after all, could expect the Forces Armées Zaïrois (FAZ) to stand up…They waited and waited.” Howard French’s coverage for the New York Times described army chief of staff General Monga lamenting that “Zaire’s ill-equipped and untrained army had not been given the means to fight a war” while the “well-equipped” Special Presidential Division was seeing “no action.” Monga was promptly suspended.

Just prior to Mali’s March 2012 coup, its soldiers openly complained of President Touré’s desire to “fight a war against the rebels in return for staying in power.” This equilibrium was ultimately disrupted when 2000-3000 Tuaregs, trained and armed as mercenaries in Libya, returned home after the fall of the Qadhafi regime in Libya. This tipped the balance of capabilities in favor of the rebels, and the regular rank-and-file of the Malian army calculated that Touré would do little to better their situation. The expected utility of a coup dramatically increased and the putschists acted.

Though civil wars will continue, the self-interested leaders can—and usually will—maintain power. The existence of a coup seems to lead Fearon to conclude that Touré would have been served well to invest in a “loyal” armed backing. To be clear, Mali’s 7300 man army is counterbalanced by a 4800-strong paramilitary apparatus, spearheaded by the “Red Berets” Presidential Guard. The fact that this was Mali’s first coup since 1991 should indicate the success of coup-proofing. Jay Ufelder (and my models in the current JCR) has consistently ranked Mali amongst the most likely to suffer a coup. In contrast to a coup being “easy,” the skill of the Red Berets was demonstrated by Mali’s nearly two coup-free decades, and their loyalty illustrated with their effort at a failed countercoup.

The countercoup clearly wasn’t easy. Neither was the 1985 Liberian effort that saw its leader publicly tortured, castrated, dismembered, and (according to some) cannibalized, with hundreds of his ethnic brethren slaughtered. Nor was the 2002 effort in Côte d’Ivoire that spiraled into a civil war that resulted in the deaths of thousands. The difficulty of these efforts is clear from these cases as well as the growing rareness of coups. While the work of John Clark (here and here) largely points to the influence of democratization, my own work and countless qualitative offerings also point to the importance of “crack units, presidential guards, or strong and loyal army divisions.” Building these units takes time and resources, but their existence and effectiveness demonstrates that leaders act in a self-interested manner with regard to military organization.


The Zombie Dunning School

[ 61 ] November 26, 2012 |

I haven’t seen Lincoln and hence won’t comment on it directly for now, but I can say that this Kushner quote that Aaron Bady [via Corey Robin] found is…not encouraging:

The inability to forgive and to reconcile with the South in a really decent and humane way, without any question, was one of the causes of the kind of resentment and perpetuation of alienation and bitterness that led to the quote-unquote ‘noble cause,’ and the rise of the Klan and Southern self-protection societies. The abuse of the South after they were defeated was a catastrophe, and helped lead to just unimaginable, untellable human suffering.

Uh, really? I’m not sure why we needed Lincoln, then, since D.W. Griffith has already told that story. And while I agree with Kushner’s apparent argument that Lincoln’s relative moderation allowed him to accomplish more than a more radical and principled politician in his place would have, we should also be clear that the Civil War Amendments were just the beginning of a transformation that still isn’t complete and barely got off the ground for many decades, and that transformation was not (to put it mildly) led by elite politicians.

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