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Archive for December, 2014

Top Ten LGM Posts of 2014

[ 28 ] December 31, 2014 |

2014 was an interesting year for LGM, with the celebration of our tenth anniversary, and the (at this point wildly popular) introduction of comment registration. Here are our ten top posts of the last year, in terms of traffic:

  1. Christ, I Hate Blackboard (Noon)
  2. Brian Leiter’s Slow Motion Car Crash Accelerates (Campos)
  3. Conservative White Male Resentment of the Day (Loomis)
  4. The Ladder of Law Has No Top And No Bottom (Lemieux)
  5. Will American University’s law school sue students who drop out or transfer? (Campos)
  6. Noncompete Clauses for Fast Food Workers? (Loomis)
  7. Today In the New Gilded Age (Lemieux)
  8. And You Thought Hiring Jim Zorn Was Dumb! (Lemieux)
  9. Should Liberals Be Applauding Hobby Lobby? (SPOILER: No.) (Lemieux)
  10. If something cannot go on forever, it will stop (Campos)

 Thank you from everyone at LGM for making this the best possible 2014. In addition to patronizing the site, you have, as a group, demonstrated a remarkable degree of generosity. Have a good, safe New Year’s Eve!  Drink to a better 2015!

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Don’t Forget Hugo Black!

[ 83 ] December 31, 2014 |

Shorter Jonah Goldberg: “BILL AYERS! ROBERT BYRD! That word “venerate,” it does not mean what I seem to think it means.”

The Official LGM Signature New Year’s Eve Meal

[ 55 ] December 31, 2014 |

Squirrel in cider, from Frank Kohler’s 1961 book Wild Fowl Game Cookery, replete with cute drawings of the animals you are going to eat.

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The Year in Education

[ 15 ] December 31, 2014 |

Between the growth in parents opting their students out of stupid standardized testing, the rapid retreat of the technofuturists and their program of replacing professors with MOOCs, a real push back against Teach for America and its union busting program, and stories about the corruption of charter schools (and hopefully someone took the subtle anti-charter school message from True Detective), the year in education policy was unexpectedly someone less terrible than usual.

Albums I Liked in 2014

[ 44 ] December 31, 2014 |

I’m not going to make any claims to a “Best of” list for 2014 because there are too many albums out there and my budget is too small to buy very many of them. But here are some 2014 albums I liked, in the order I thought of them. I’m not providing much commentary because I suck at writing about music.

St. Vincent, St. Vincent
My album of the year.

Wussy, Attica!
Of course.

Drive-by Truckers, English Oceans
Not one of their greatest albums, but that still leaves it as quite good.

Tom Ze, Vira Lata na Via Lactea
This ancient Brazilian weirdo is still covering new ground.

Tangerine, Behemoth!
A little indie pop band out of Seattle that I heard on KEXP and just thought were a lot of fun.

Angaleena Presley, American Middle Class
A country album actually about class. Huh. My only criticism is that the linked song below, in its recorded version, opens with Presley’s father talking about working in the coal mines. That’s not middle class. That’s working class. Even in an album about class, it always has to be about the middle class. If coal mining isn’t working class, what is? Well, it’s black people on welfare, which is the subtext of this song and it’s frustrating. This country sometimes. Good album though.

The New Pornographers, Brill Bruisers
Always fun. Also, Neko Case’s pants.

The War on Drugs, Lost in the Dream
Good rock album

Lydia Loveless, Someone Else
Awful lot of potential here.

Sturgill Simpson, Metamodern Sounds in Country Music
Just heard this for the first time. Maybe the best country album of the year. Very Waylon.

Jerry Lee Lewis, The Knox Phillips Sessions
Archival release of the year. Jerry Lee recorded this in the late 70s with Sam Phillips’ son. “Bad Leroy Brown” is a really stupid song. Unless The Killer makes it about himself. Then it’s insane.

She’s not getting any better at this.

[ 144 ] December 30, 2014 |

Shorter Phyllis Wise: “I apologize for using the wrong crap excuse for firing Salaita. (No, I won’t be identifying an alternative.) Also, what’s wrong with this guy that he won’t take a payoff to go away?”

From the Party of Lincoln to the Party of Calhoun, An Endless Series

[ 72 ] December 30, 2014 |

Shorter John Boehner: “I’m told that the No. 3 leader in the House Republican conference spoke to a white supremacist group. Your point being? And even if we assume arguendo that this was wrong, who could have known that David Duke’s “European-American Unity and Rights Organization” was a white supremacist group? It was a youthful indiscretion. And if only Strom Thurmond had been elected president, we wouldn’t have had all of these problems.”

…Shorter John Scalise: “David Duke is unelectable, but that doesn’t mean he’s wrong.”

The Anti-Police Violence Movement and the Haymarket Riot

[ 35 ] December 30, 2014 |

Bill Fletcher has a great essay about the need to learn from the violence used by the state after Haymarket against the labor movement if the anti-police violence movement is going to survive:

The Haymarket Massacre is still the paradigmatic case of the state using a violent act to justify repression. In 1886, at the height of the movement for an eight-hour workday, a bomb was set off at a worker rally in Chicago’s Haymarket Square. The rally was called to both protest police killings of worker protesters and to support striking workers fighting for the eight-hour day. When police attacked the demonstration, a bomb was thrown. To this day no one knows who set off the explosive, including whether it was an agent provocateur or an activist.

What is known, however, is that the government used the bombing as a pretext to discredit the protests and the workers movement, suggesting that the entire movement was comprised of supposedly violent anarchists. Charges were brought against key leaders of the movement and in a kangaroo trial, eight individuals were convicted for their alleged involvement in the bombing. Four were subsequently hanged.

The reaction by police unions, the Right and much of the mainstream media today is eerily reminiscent of the aftermath of the Haymarket massacre. In this moment it is critical that progressives forcefully counter these arguments. They are cynical and disingenuous efforts to discredit and derail one of the most important movements of the recent past. Let us be clear about what has transpired.

We must learn critical lessons from the Haymarket massacre and its aftermath. Public opinion can be quickly, and rather easily, manipulated against progressive mass movements in the aftermath of egregious acts. If the movement does not stand strong and pay attention to segments of the population that appear to be wavering in their support for the objectives of the movement, there can be major setbacks.

At the same time, there is nothing inevitable about what happens next. This is why good leadership, organization, and a sophisticated approach to strategy and tactics is so necessary.

I have absolute confidence in the young activists leading today’s movement. I hope that they pay attention to the lessons of history as they continue to battle for justice. They have refocused the attention of much of this country on something that was all but ignored. Now they must press on.

The movement must appreciate that efforts will always be made to discredit it, and to blame the actions of a few on the many. It cannot afford to remain silent or agnostic regarding activities or actions that alienate our base and key supporters and, potentially, isolate the movement itself.

A related point: in making a movement successful, we must pay attention to those in the middle, that is, those who are not as committed to the long-term aims of the movement, but are susceptible to persuasion. The aim is to effectively surround our opponents in such a way that their voice becomes the voice of the discredited minority. When we win over the middle, we have that opportunity.

The need to win the “middle,” however you want to define it, on issues like is what I was getting at in this post, with one deranged person committing violence providing the state with the tools to not only repress a social movement, but to convince that middle that the protestors are a danger to order and the state. Of course, like with Alexander Berkman and the Homestead strikers, there’s nothing those in the anti-police violence movement could do about one violent person committing a single crime. So a solid strategy on how to overcome an incident like this is really important for it going forward.

Can We Create an International Trade System that Protects Labor Standards?

[ 55 ] December 30, 2014 |

In yesterday’s Trans-Pacific Partnership thread, Brian asks:

I understand the issue with “shipping jobs overseas” and how major corporations get near slave labor when they do that. And obviously, there is extensive corruption of the ruling class in the exploited labor’s home countries.

But what I am wondering, what kind of policies (not protests) could the United States realistically implement to better the working conditions of the labor forces in other countries?

And hypothetically, if the working conditions were all up to a general standard considered humane, would free trade agreements still be considered bad? And if so, why?

These are good questions. Let me answer them with some specific examples from the American past and some ideas for the future.

The United States has attempted in the past, on relatively rare occasions, to create and enforce conditions on trade overseas. It can happen and it must happen.

In the 1910s, conditions for seaman were terrible around the globe. When the U.S. improved standards, it undercut its shippers’ ability to compete with its foreign competitors in an industry that was perhaps the first in the world to be truly global. As Leon Fink shows in Sweatshops at Sea, the response of the International Seaman’s Union and the Wilson Administration was to pass the Seamen’s Act of 1915. To quote from Out of Sight:

The ISU publicized the horrors of what happened on the ships, far out of sight from American consumers. It used the Triangle Fire to make its case: “No one will claim it is safe to crowd people into a theater or a shirtwaist factory and then to lock the doors.” Furuseth furiously lobbied President Woodrow Wilson to sign what became known as the LaFollette Seaman’s Act, which he did in 1915. The law banned corporal punishment on ships, gave seamen the right to break their contracts in exchange for half their wages earned to that point on a voyage, and most importantly, made the law applicable to any vessel sailing to an American port. As Fink states, this law created a “race to the top,” as the U.S. government used its power to force foreign nations to agree to American working standards if they wanted to trade in American ports. Conditions for seamen improved around the world as they had the option to walk away any time their ship landed in the trading behemoth that was the United States.

It didn’t work all that well because soon after the U.S. also banned most immigration, which meant that most of these workers couldn’t actually immigrate to the U.S. Moreover, the Harding and Coolidge administrations, not to mention the Department of Commerce, had no interest in actually enforcing this law. The Supreme Court ended up declaring some of the provisions unconstitutional in the 1950s.

The Smoot-Hawley Tariff of 1930 also banned goods made by slave labor, with the 1997 Treasury-Postal Appropriations Bill adding goods from forced labor or indentured child labor to this list. Similarity, the U.N. Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Flora and Fauna (CITES) was enacted in 1975. Today, 176 nations have signed the accord. There’s no question these laws are regularly violated. The Chinese used prison labor all the time to make goods for export to the U.S. Just having the laws on the books is far from enough for them to work and there’s not a lot of incentive for the U.S. government to enforce these laws against the Chinese. That’s because we don’t pressure the government to do so. But without the laws, there is no chance of them helping. Right now, we have tools at our disposal that can work if we choose to use them. In the case of CITES, where there is some will to enforce the law, there’s no question it has been a positive force to reduce illegal wildlife trafficking.

We can also borrow from the EU. Again, to quote Out of Sight:

In 2013, the European Union created a new logging code on sourcing timber from tropical nations. Throughout the tropics rainforests are declining in the face of cattle ranches, mining operations, and illegal logging. The EU code places hard penalties upon those trafficking in illegal timber. Timber suppliers must provide documentation of where and how the timber was harvested, keeping detailed paperwork for five years about the timber traders selling the wood. This forces timber companies to take responsibility for the actions of their suppliers. For us, it provides legal precedent for national and regional governance over corporate behavior in a contracting regime. This far outpaces any U.S. law on the timber trade and provides an excellent example of how government can force companies into compliance on standards of sourcing products. There is no reason the U.S. cannot do the same thing with apparel and electronics, as well as timber.

Perhaps the most useful and relevant historical example is not that old. In 1994, organized labor was angry at Bill Clinton for signing NAFTA. When the House initially rejected Clinton’s request to negotiate new trade deals in 1997, it forced him to bargain. One sop he threw labor was its proposal to include in a new trade deal with Cambodia a clause to incentivize the Cambodian government giving more rights to workers. The 1974 Multi-Fibre Agreement placed textile import quotas on the developing world in order to discourage a race to the bottom in the apparel industry. This Cambodian deal increased their quotas in exchange for more workers’ rights, including unionization. And it worked. Workers received $50 a month for a 48-hour week, received a dozen federal holidays, vacation days, sick leave, and maternity leave. This became the only free trade agreement with an enforceable labor provision. Overseen by the International Labour Organization, the deal included inspections and real incentives for apparel factory owners to comply. It wasn’t perfect of course, but it was the best agreement for workers yet made in a trade deal.

But at the end of 2004, both the Cambodian agreement and the Multi-Fibre Agreement expired. With the latter, the modern race to the bottom in apparel production began. And the Cambodian workers’ protections immediately collapsed. Once again from Out of Sight:

Cambodia now had to compete with the rest of the world without inspections or union contracts. Within weeks of the quota ending in 2005, underground sweatshops appeared with terrible working conditions. Now even freer than ever before to concentrate in nations with the worst workplaces standards, Cambodian labor saw its union pacts quickly scuttled and its working conditions and wages plummet to some of the lowest in the industry. Wages fell by 17 percent for Cambodian garment workers between 2001 and 2011. This story starkly demonstrates the differences between a global labor system with and without regulation.

There are more examples as well. In short, the U.S. government can do a lot in these trade deals and in the global economy to ensure basic rights are respected and enforced. But it does not. It rarely has incentive to do so. The elites of most all of the nations involved have little incentive to care about these issues. The U.S. wants good relations with the leaders of Bangladesh and Cambodia and Vietnam, which have little accountability on these issues with their own people. Bangladesh is largely run by the apparel contractors, who hold several seats in Parliament. So of course the Bangladeshi government isn’t going to do anything about the problems of their apparel factories except kill some union organizers. U.S. labor isn’t strong enough anymore to force the American government to enact the kind of international trade standards that would actually protect workers overseas and undermine some of the incentive for American companies to ship production abroad. Meanwhile, the American corporations who can openly buy politicians in a post-Citizens United world very much want the current system to continue, which is part of the reason for Obama’s push for the Trans-Pacific Partnership.

But none of this means we shouldn’t or can’t make global production standards that give workers rights. We have a few useful historical precedents that should inspire us to know that we can do this. But for the most part, we need to envision what global production standards should be, how we would empower workers to be able to take the lead in enforcing them, what the inspection system would be, and what the enforcement mechanism would look like. These are not easy questions to answer. They are conversations we need to have. I think the U.S. should pass a set of basic standards around labor and environmental regulations and force companies to comply with them by giving workers the right to sue companies in American courts for their enforcement. I’d also like a pony. But if we don’t talk about the world we want to see, that world will never come to pass. I know this isn’t happening as a result of the 2016 elections, no matter who we vote in. But we must fight to make these issues central in the American political system, if for no other reason that the fleeing of American jobs overseas undermines the American working and middle classes.

And it’s important to note that the mere threat of enforcement can make a difference. Again from Out of Sight:

In 1992, Iowa Senator Tom Harkin introduced the Child Labor Deterrence Act that would have prohibited importing goods made with child labor to the U.S. that called for both civil and criminal penalties for violators. Indian carpet makers, reliant upon child labor, began moving toward an independent monitoring system working with German unions, although when it became clear that Harkin’s bill would not pass, the Indian carpet industry resisted meaningful monitoring and therefore the system was weakened and easily avoided by the carpet makers. Unfortunately, Congress has never passed the Child Labor Deterrence Act, but the case of the Indian carpet makers suggest suppliers and importers are watching American labor law and will react positively to mandates.

For the last question on the potential of supporting a trade regime that actually protected people and the environment, the answer is that it depends. Were we to see real, enforceable standards on these trade agreements that held corporations and their CEOs specifically accountable for the actions of the companies, we could then debate whether trade agreements were worth it. But it’s pretty clear that, first, fewer American jobs would go abroad if this was the case and, second, that those jobs that are moved abroad would have less reason to again move if workers organized or a government decided to protect its citizens. So the immoral aspect of the global economy would decline and the rate of jobs leaving our borders would too. That’s a win-win. Ultimately, what we need is not all the jobs in the United States and none in poor nations. We need workers to have safe jobs with living wages and the right to organize without worry that the factory will move somewhere else. We need rivers running clean and kids not unable to study because the chemicals from apparel factories in the air and water give them headaches. If this happened, my objections to so-called free trade agreements would probably disappear, but then they wouldn’t be anything like current free trade agreements.

If you let me choose the Person of the Year…

[ 19 ] December 30, 2014 |

…you shouldn’t be surprised when I choose Satan.

A brief history of college football coaching salaries in the context of the new Gilded Age

[ 41 ] December 30, 2014 |

Jim Harbaugh is being introduced as the University of Michigan’s new head football coach today. Harbaugh has signed a contract worth a reported $48 million over six years. It’s unclear whether that figure, if accurate, includes potential bonus payments for winning conference and national titles, curing cancer etc., or merely represents his base pay (Some reports suggest that bonus incentives could potentially push Harbaugh’s compensation closer to ten million dollars per year).

Update: The terms of Harbaugh’s contract are apparently somewhat fluid. He will be paid $7 million this year, which includes a $2 million signing bonus. After this year the AD will make a determination about appropriate deferred compensation and the like. The contract also includes unspecified performance bonuses. The minimum value of the contract, with no performance bonuses or deferred compensation, is $40.1 million over seven years. (This looks like a pretty slick move by Michigan’s AD Jim Hackett. By leaving deferred comp out of the original contract he holds down the up front annual salary number, and the potential backlash. Next year at this time they could up the total value of the contract to $8 million per year and it’s a small story, even locally).

Since it will take a few weeks to FOIA the documents let’s assume for now that his compensation will be $8 million per year.

Now on one hand this is obviously deplorable. Current average salaries at the University of Michigan outside the athletic department (which, unlike almost all college athletic departments in the USA is actually self-funded) look like this:

Administrative poohbahs (president, deans etc.): Several hundred thousand dollars per year

Full professors: $167,000

Associate professors: $114,000

Assistant professors: $101,000

People who make the wheels go round (clerical staff, food service workers, janitors etc): $20,000-$40,000 generally.

Adjunct instructors, aka the people who do the majority of the actual teaching at the institution: A petrified starfish and a bowl of potpourri (parking passes may be provided on a case by case basis).

You can look up salary data at the school here.

So Jim Harbaugh is going to get paid as much per year as 70 University of Michigan professors, or 250 clerical employees, or a nearly infinite number of adjuncts. This seems . . . disturbing.

On the other hand, hiring him is quite likely going to end up being a big net positive for the coffers of the athletic department and even the university generally, so let’s hear it for “the market.” (For example, real estate developer and Miami Dolphins owner Steve Ross is a big Michigan football fan, and he’s expressed his affection for the program and the school by giving $100 million to the AD and another $100 million to the business school. He’s also rumored to be picking up part of Harbaugh’s compensation package).

On a yet a third hand, the university can pay Harbaugh more than any other football coach in the known universe and still make a tidy profit on the deal only because college football in America is a multi-billion dollar industry that doesn’t really pay its primary labor force (in this regard, big-time football reflects the economic structure of the contemporary universities which host it).

So — how did we get here?

Something to keep in mind is that big-time college football has been an extremely popular sport in America for more than a century (Indeed, until the 1960s it was more popular than the NFL). And debates about the exploitative economic structure of the game are nearly as old: I recently found a book published by Princeton and Michigan coach Fritz Crisler in 1934, and re-issued in 1948, in which Crisler addresses the apparently lively debate at the time regarding whether college football players should be paid overt wages, since, according to him, many were being paid covertly back in that simpler more innocent time (On an unrelated but fascinating side note, F. Scott Fitzgerald’s habit of regaling Crisler with alcohol-fueled late night phone calls featuring Fitzgerald’s creative ideas for helping the Princeton football team may actually have inspired the genesis of modern two-platoon football).

Therefore big-time college football coaches have been very well paid, relatively speaking, for a very long time. But “relatively” is the key term here: (All dollar figures below are in constant 2014 dollars).

Woody Hayes, Ohio State, 1951: $113,534. Hayes was a 38-year-old first-year coach at football-crazed OSU in 1951, and his salary represented a whole lot of money back then. He was making 63% more than what was then the 95th percentile of family income, which means the hard-charging young coach was in at least the 98th and probably the 99th percentile of income in the country at the time (63% more than the 95th percentile of household income today puts a household well into the 98th percentile, and household income distribution was a good deal flatter during the socialist regimes of Presidents Truman and Eisenhower).

Bear Bryant, Alabama, 1958 (Bryant had just become Alabama’s athletic director as well as its football coach): $142,998. Bryant remained Alabama’s coach until 1982. He is reputed to have insisted throughout his career that his salary should always be at least one dollar less than that of the university’s president.

Hayden Fry, Southern Methodist, 1962: $101,654. Fry was Arkansas’ offensive coordinator when he took a phone call from Lamar Hunt, of the Dallas Hunt brothers, during warmups for the 1962 Orange Bowl, offering Fry the SMU job. He accepted without asking about the salary, and later discovered he was taking a pay cut from what he had been getting as the Razorbacks’ OC (Fry, by the way, played an important and courageous role in integrating college football in the south).

Bo Schembechler, Michigan, 1969: $135,127. Schembechler in 1969 was almost the same coach as Hayes had been 1951 (One year older, in his first season, coming, as Hayes had, from Miami of Ohio). His salary was only 15% higher than Hayes’ had been, despite the enormous increase in national wealth over the intervening 18 years (GDP exactly doubled in constant dollars over this time).

College football coaching salaries began to increase rapidly in the 1970s. TV money was beginning to pour into the game, although it was still a trickle relative to what it would become. A major change in the compensation structure for coaches took hold in this decade, which is that universities began to divide that compensation into an official university salary, and another sum, with the latter representing pay for ancillary activities, such as hosting a television show, putatively running a football camp associated with the school, and so forth.

So for example by 1981, Schembechler, who had the highest winning percentage of any coach during the 1970s, was being paid a little more than $155,000 in university salary and $130,000 for other contractual obligations, making his total compensation $285,771 (again in 2014 dollars).

Then in January 1982, Texas A&M, awash in oil money and eager to challenge the University of Texas for football supremacy in the Lone Star State, stunned the college football world by offering Schembechler the then-staggering sum of $250,000 per year in 1982 dollars, which would have more than doubled his salary. (This was equivalent to $611,790 in 2014 dollars).

Schembechler turned TAMU down (Domino’s Pizza king Tom Monaghan gave him a Columbus, Ohio franchise), but Pittsburgh coach Jackie Sherrill didn’t, inspiring this amusingly quaint article in the New York Times, which wrestles with the incredible proposition that any employee of a university could be paid a quarter million dollars per year. (Of course today even some non-sports-related university employees make millions).

From there it was off to the races. Nominal coaching salary milestones, with inflation adjustments:

Bobby Bowden: Florida State 1996: $1,000,000 ( $1,505,105 2014$)

Steve Spurrier: Florida 2001:
$2,100,000 ($2,800,209 2014$)

Bob Stoops: Oklahoma 2006: $3,000,000 ($3,154,152 2014$)

Nick Saban: Alabama 2007: $4,000,000 ($4,555,777 2014$)

Nick Saban: Alabama 2014: $7,000,000

And now we apparently have an eight to ten million dollar man (I should add that as a Michigan football fan I heartily approve of this particular development, while sincerely deploring the overall system that has brought it about).

A potential irony in all this is that the entertainment industry in general, and sports in particular, is one of the very few areas of the economy where it may actually be possible to to construct an efficiency-regarding justification for gargantuan salaries (In the context of college sports, of course, this ignores the grotesque spectacle of the players receiving salaries of zero). It’s a whole lot easier to explain why it makes sense to pay Tom Brady $15 million per year than it is to make a similar argument for why last year a couple of dozen hedge fund managers should have pulled down average compensation packages 60 times larger than that.

Of course efficiency is one thing — and let’s not forget the little detail that Harbaugh’s players won’t be paid anything for their part in this multi-billion dollar annual extravaganza — and justice is another. I suggest it is or ought to be a basic tenet of any even vaguely left or progressive political perspective that any social system in which some people have salaries hundreds — let alone thousands and tens of thousands — of times larger than those of other people* is in need of basic reform.

*Let alone people in the same institution, let alone people in the same non-profit tax-supported educational institution!

Austerity Can Only Be Failed

[ 70 ] December 30, 2014 |

The Greeks should quit whining about their German-imposed austerity program. What’s 1.3 million jobs, a tax regime shifted to collect from the poor for the actions of bankers and politicians and a lack of hope compared to the puritanical glory of austerity. If it isn’t working, the only answer is more austerity. After all, austerity can never fail. It can only be failed by those who don’t worship at its altar with enough fervor.

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