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Archive for June, 2015

Lefty Purity For Thee…

[ 95 ] June 30, 2015 |


What does Harper‘s publisher Rick MacArthur do when he’s not publishing poorly reasoned and anti-factual screeds about the perfidy of the Democrat Party? Why, bust unions of course:

MacArthur may have once defended U.A.W. as “the country’s best and traditionally most honest mass labor organization,” but he contested his staff’s right to unionize, contending that the literary editor and senior editors served as supervisors and hence failed to qualify for protection under the National Labor Relations Act. He hired veteran employment lawyer Bert Pogrebin to advocate on his behalf before the National Labor Relations Board, but the federal agency denied his appeal. The day before staffers held elections and formally joined UAW Local 2110 on Oct. 14, MacArthur wrote a letter assuring them the union would neither give them a voice in the selection of the next editor in chief—he believed Metcalf was angling for the position—nor “solve the financial problems of the magazine or get us more subscribers, newsstand buyers or advertisers.”

Added MacArthur, with a touch of irony: “It will, of course, be able to collect initiation fees and dues from you.”

In January 2011, the magazine laid off union instigator Metcalf and pro-union ally associate editor Theodore Ross, a move that the union interpreted as retaliation and that MacArthur defended as an effort to “cut expenses.”

Of course, one way you can ensure you have the money to pay anti-labor lawyers is to pay your interns a big fat goose egg to work full time in Manhattan.

While MacArthur’s magazine has been unreadable for a while, I was wondering if perhaps there was a commercial justification for what has been intellectually ruinous. Maybe there’s a large market out there that really wants to read the same terrible leftier-than-thou article with a nominally different byline about how Barack Obama betrayed his campaign promises by failing to unilaterally turn the American political economy into Denmark’s every month? Nope: in fact, their circulation is cratering. It’s really a shame what’s happened to what was not that long ago a terrific magazine, but at this point it’s probably never coming back.


On the Search for the Clubhouse Guy

[ 60 ] June 30, 2015 |

Roy Thomas. Licensed under PD-US via Wikipedia.

Some interesting thoughts from Russ Carleton on how you would go about searching for clubhouse “chemistry”: (subscription)

I have a feeling that if I surveyed even the most hardcore sabermetricians out there, they would all acknowledge that ideas of chemistry and clubhouse presence aren’t silly. They’d probably push back against the common narrative that Team X won the World Series based on the shining light of justice that came from Smith’s locker. (After all, there were probably veteran guys on all the other 29 teams who did not win the World Series.) They’d probably say that it’s hard to measure. (It is.) But if Smith sits down with Jones, shows him a trick he’s learned over the years on how to hit a curveball and Jones turns from a one-win player to a three-win player, don’t we have to give some of that credit to Smith?

I’m going to start with the assumption that chemistry and clubhouse presence exist and that they can have real, tangible effects on players, making them either better or worse. We don’t know how it works. We don’t know who’s who. We don’t know what the effects are. But what if we could at least make some reasonable assumptions about what those effects might be? Actual data-driven ones. For example, we know that some managers seem to have a special talent for keeping their players from burning out over the course of a year, and that the effect might be as big as 30 runs from the best to the worst.

So, how much could these soft factors actually be worth?

I’d be interested in coming up with a list of things that we assumed-away-because-we-couldn’t-measure, then realized-had-an-impact-when-we-developed-better-tools. I’m guessing that the list would be longer in football and basketball than in baseball, but of course it would also be interesting to track down some examples from politics.


Progressives Should Weigh In on de Blasio vs. Cuomo

[ 46 ] June 30, 2015 |

It’s not every day that a sitting mayor of New York accuses the governor of New York of governing out of spite and a desire for “revenge for some perceived slight,” but there you have it. And there’s not much that Governor Cuomo can say about it, given that he’s just admitted in a press conference that he’s been anonymously trashing de Blasio in the New York Daily Press.

Now, all of this might seem like complete inside baseball and not really something that non-political professionals should care about, but the stakes in this feud are quite real. Cuomo’s ongoing feud with de Blasio has had major impacts on public policy from preventing New York City from taxing its wealthy to pay for universal Pre-K, to blocking renewal (let alone reform of) of rent control for millions of New Yorkers, to mandating that developers include affordable housing that’s desperately needed, to the fight for public education against the privatization agenda, to a higher minimum wage for hundreds of thousands of NYC workers, and on and on.

Read more…


[ 67 ] June 30, 2015 |

As Lennie Briscoe would say, nothing good comes from this:

In an expected but potentially devastating blow to public sector unions, the Supreme Court announced on Tuesday that it will hear a case called Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association in its next term. Friedrichs, as Justice Elena Kagan explained in a similar case last year, asks the justices to “impos[e] a right-to-work regime for all government employees” throughout the country, and it does so based on an aggressive reading of the First Amendment that could have absurd consequences for the government’s relationship with its own employees. Should this case prevail, moreover, that decision could be an existential threat to many public sector unions, potentially draining them of the money they need to operate.

Looks like we might be heading for another failure of the Affordable Care Act.

The Left-Right Coalition Against the ACA

[ 219 ] June 30, 2015 |



The [ACA’s] critics have consistently presented a much louder and more certain attack, and its supporters a more cautious and muted defense, and this has remained the case even though, on virtually every point, the critics have been wrong and the supporters right.

And what’s worse is that it’s not just people on the right who continue to repeat erroneous claims about the ACA. I see Trudy Lieberman is doing the rounds shilling for her disgracefully dishonest Harper’s story on the ACA. Now NPR listeners, and not just subscribers, will “learn” a bunch of lies: that the Medicaid expansion hasn’t reached many people because of the structure of the act itself rather than the Supreme Court and then Republican public officials, that the ACA is increasing the cost of health care rather than making it cheaper, that the current number of uninsured is the ceiling rather than the floor, that the statute passed at the behest of insurance companies rather than in spite of their fervent and expensive opposition. Particularly since the destruction of the ACA would lead to the vastly inferior status quo ante or something even worse than that, Lieberman is collaborating with the ACA’s right-wing opponents, wittingly or not.

Lieberman derides Paul Krugman as a “cheerleader” for the ACA (underlining that the point of her article is not to inform readers or to figure out a way to address the many remaining defects of the American health care system as to congratulate herself for her brave ideological purity.) Only when people read Krugman’s shorter summary of the ACA they will learn much more and what they learn will actually be true.

While we’re here, I don’t think that A.W. Gaffney’s recent Jacobin piece was nearly as objectionable as Lieberman’s. It wasn’t largely devoted to right-wing talking points about the ACA. But it’s still based on two telling related mistakes. First of all, it also yadda-yaddas the Medicaid expansion, a particularly serious problem when you’re asserting that the ACA is devoid of egalitarian commitments. The ACA is neither purely “neoliberal” nor purely left-egalitarian; it’s a compromise between these elements. Which isn’t surprising, since the Democratic coalition is, as it’s always been, a coalition of left-liberals with moderates and conservatives, and federal social programs have always reflected these tensions. Gaffney’s 2014 article is based on a similar mistake: there’s been no “turn” away from support for universal health care. In 2010 as in 1948, there were many Democrats who would have supported a more universal model, and there were Democrats who didn’t, and the votes of the latter were essential to anything passing. Had supporters of more universal care insisted on a more universal model, they would have gotten what their predecessors got under Truman and Nixon: nothing. The left wing of the Democratic Party blowing up the ACA because it was too neoliberal would not in fact reflect a greater commitment to egalitarianism (as I’m sure Gaffney would agree.)

Which brings us to this curious passage:

There are many roads to what is called, often problematically, “universal health care.” Some nations — for instance, Canada — have systems of national health insurance in which a governmental “payer” insures everyone (though the provision of care may remain predominantly private). Other nations have “national health services” — e.g., Britain — where the provision of care is a direct public service.

There is a very curious omission here: hybrid European models that 1)achieve egalitarian health care goals at least as well as British nationalization or Canadian single-payer, and 2)are far more viable endpoints for a better American health care system. If you’re trying to figure out a better path in the United States, policies passed by Westminster-style parliamentary systems is the last place you’d look. If you’re serious about better health care, as opposed to just running down the ACA, you can’t ignore institutional constraints.


[ 32 ] June 30, 2015 |

Speaking of progressive regulatory measures that would have a material impact on millions of workers, President Obama just announced that he’ll be lifting the cap on overtime regulations for salaried workers to $50,000 a year from its previously negligible level of $23,600 a year.

According to the EPI, this means 15 million workers just got a big raise. Congratulations!

Read more…

Today in the New Gilded Age

[ 67 ] June 30, 2015 |


Above: Boeing CEO Jim McNerney

Boeing CEO Jim McNerney is retiring next year. His pension: $3.9 million per year for the next 15 years.

Jim McNerney is the same person who used the threat of capital mobility to force the International Association of Machinists-represented workers in Washington to sign a new contract that gives up their pensions and grants only a 1 percent raise every other year. He said he would move to South Carolina if they didn’t, where workers in Boeing plants only make half of what they do in Washington.

Boeing is a shockingly profitable company that could easily afford to pay pensions to workers.

Jim McNerney is also the same person who was the former Chair of The Business Roundtable, a corporate lobbying group looking to raise the retirement age to 70.

In conclusion, Jim McNerney is a terrible human being. And very emblematic of the New Gilded Age

Tuesday Links

[ 13 ] June 30, 2015 |

No, the Confederate Flag Doesn’t Belong in a Museum Either

[ 139 ] June 29, 2015 |


A central piece of the rhetoric about taking the Confederate flag down from state property and official state symbols is that “it belongs in a museum.” Actually it doesn’t belong in a museum either unless it is properly contextualized and interpreted, unless you don’t want any people of color to come to the museum. Aleia Brown has a good piece explaining this:

What might such an exhibit look like? It would need to tell the history behind the flag. It is a symbol of white supremacy, and museums should acknowledge it as such. The designer for the second national flag of the Confederacy described it as a representation of the fight to “maintain the Heaven-ordained supremacy of the white man over the inferior or colored race.” The exhibit should also acknowledge the role the flag played in South Carolina’s past. The flag that’s captured national attention this week came to Columbia in 1962, as a reaction to black people fighting for and winning rights during the civil rights era.

Effective museum interpretation would not stop there. It would address the reoccurring questions surrounding this symbol. Why do people find the flag offensive? Why are other people so attached to the flag? Why do some people who embrace the fullness of Southern pride, including the Confederate flag, not see themselves as racists?

Furthermore, a complete interpretation of the Confederate flag would need to make clear that black people have always resisted white supremacy and fought for the demise of institutional racism. The late historian Vincent Harding put forth this idea, characterizing black people as committed to their freedom and unwilling to accept oppression. There has always been a cadre of black people willing to die for their freedom in America, and this too is germane to museum interpretation of the Confederate flag. In addition to being a sacred space, the AME church in Charleston was also home to the storied congregation to which the revolutionary Denmark Vesey had belonged. His church was burned after Vesey was accused of plotting an uprising in which enslaved people would revolt against slave masters.

This doesn’t mean you can’t have controversial pieces in museums. I’ve seen KKK material in several museums, including fully uniformed figures in the Colorado and Ohio state history museums. But those are contextualized, or in the case of Ohio was part of an exhibit that was specifically about the most controversial pieces they had in their collection.

But this often is not the case. As Brown discusses, lot of history museums do not deal with race well at all. Most people on history museum governing boards are conservatives. There’s a lot of downward pressure against anything “controversial” which inevitably means “would make white conservative patrons uncomfortable.” Does anyone believe that the South Carolina state history museum would tell the story of the Confederate flag in an appropriate way? I surely don’t.

So let’s either keep the Confederate flag out of museums or, hopefully, pressure museums to tell stories of white supremacy carefully to emphasize what those objects actually represented.

The Trajectory of the Gay Rights Movement

[ 150 ] June 29, 2015 |

Supreme Court Gay Marriage

The rise of the gay rights movement to popular acceptance is probably the most amazing political event of my lifetime, perhaps outside of this nation electing an African-American president. Social movements in American history are for the most part SLOW in advancing, with often decades between any positive institutional change. Then there can often be a big push forward thanks to specific historical circumstances that leads to a certain amount of institutional change, followed by another period of stalling, even as activists continue to fight for change. As I always tell my students, the African-American freedom struggle did not start in 1954 and end in 1968. It started in 1619 and continues today, and if we consider slave resistance broadly, as an identifiable movement for the vast majority of that time. But there have only ever been two periods in American history when enough white people wanted to push forward those rights that the movement could achieve major victories, 1863-70 (or so) and 1954 (or so)-65. Otherwise, too many white people have simply not cared or have been openly hostile for institutional change to create more equal conditions for African-Americans. It’s the same for other movements. Organized labor hasn’t won a nationwide comprehensive pro-worker bill since the Fair Labor Standards Act 77 years ago. The environmental movement can still win big victories in executive action but major environmental bills can win in Congress no longer, and as today’s EPA decision shows, hostile courts can undo them. Lilly Ledbetter was a rare legislative victory for the women’s rights movement in the last few decades.

This story is not entirely untrue in the gay rights movement. After all, there was a tremendous amount of suffering and oppression until fairly recently (and especially in the transgender community, continues today). Gays were routinely murdered on the streets of almost every American city. Clearly the murder of Matthew Shephard was a transitional moment here, akin to the murder of Emmitt Till, that finally started to move heterosexuals toward greater tolerance. Why this particular murder? As with much of history, it’s really impossible to say. After all, my basic theory of change in American history is that you just never know what will capture the attention of the general public, but activists have to fight like everything will in order to be ready to take advantage of that attention. And the gay rights movement does have identifiable antecedents back into the 1950s through the Mattachine Society and other pioneering groups.

But the gay rights movement has advanced at a shockingly fast rate. Even 10 years ago, national gay marriage seemed impossible. I grew up in Springfield, Oregon. In 1992, the Oregon Citizens Alliance passed a city ordinance allowing gays “no special rights,” which was really the right to be recognized as humans. My high school friends were on the streets holding up signs advocating the oppression of gays. That fall and the next couple of election cycles, statewide laws based around that Springfield law nearly passed. In Oregon. Not Texas or Mississippi. Oregon. And one did pass in Colorado. How did we go in 23 years from widespread hatred and revulsion of gays to clear majorities supporting for gay marriage and the Supreme Court granting them that right? That’s a question historians will be debating for a long time.

I also am of the fairly strong belief that the gay rights movement is not going to enter into that long period of stagnation that plagues other movements, although there is some sort of end point toward gay acceptance and legal victories. There’s obvious a lot of fights that still need to be won. First, given Hobby Lobby, it’s entirely possible that the Supreme Court is going allow religious exceptions to corporations for recognizing these gay marriages. Right now, the South is basically going full George Wallace/Orval Faubus against this ruling. We already know that the LGBT community suffers from significant discrimination in housing and employment and in many states there is nothing they can do. And transgender community still suffers the routine murders that killed gay men for years. There’s a long ways to go.

Continued victories are hardly inevitable. It once seemed that the Equal Rights Amendment was a sure thing and support for the women’s movement not only stalled out, but in fact that movement went into decline, taking a defensive posture against declining reproductive rights, fighting against pay inequity that remains stubborn, and dealing with continued misogyny throughout society. Scott pointed this out the other day, cautioning that the only things standing between LGBT people and renewed marriage oppression are the life of Anthony Kennedy and the 2016 presidential election. In a strictly legal sense, this is true. Yet the public support of gay marriage has risen so quickly and really shows little sign of abating. Again, this was also true of abortion in the 60s and 70s.

Here’s what I think the gay rights movement is different. First, lots of gay people are wealthy white men. This is a different kind of underclass than African-Americans and women. These are people who are the overclass except that they are gay. That these are people with access to real power matters. Second, the political campaign to get people to come out to their families and friends has obviously been overwhelmingly successful, even at a sometimes high personal cost to the brave people doing this. The reality is that almost all of us today know people who are openly gay. It’s a lot easier for white people to not know any black people than to not know any gay people. Obviously, we all know women, but as several commenters noted in yesterday’s thread, abortion just cuts differently because of the ability to frame the fetus as a baby. There’s nothing equivalent to this in the rest of American society. That helps explain the stagnation of abortion support versus the still growing support for gay marriage–a support that most importantly skews very heavily to younger voters, suggesting an almost near universal acceptance for people under the age of 30.

Abortion is hardly the whole of the women’s movement and that gets at the potential challenges of the LGBT movement in achieving future victories. As many others have noted, the gay marriage movement was a successful campaign because it was fundamentally conservative. It tapped into the most basic rights in American society, even if marriage politics have always been hotly contested. The African-American freedom struggle also succeeded when asking for the most fundamental of rights: voting rights and the end to the daily routine humiliation of Jim Crow. It’s when you start getting into challenging economic power and personal choice that it gets much harder for social movements to win in the United States. Housing discrimination can be a tough victory. Equality at the job even harder. African-Americans still face routine discrimination in job interviews over something as simple as their name. The women’s movement fight for pay equity has been a decades-long struggle and still has not achieved parity.

So again, you never know what is going to happen. But all trends point toward increasing support for gay rights and the acceptance of gay people into the fabric of American society.

Supreme Court Upholds Constitutionality of Torture Killings

[ 114 ] June 29, 2015 |


Reasonable, moderate, thinking person’s conservative Sam Alito has an opinion today upholding Oklahoma’s execution procedures that is outrageously bad:

Even worse is Alito’s conclusion that death by torture does not violate the Eight Amendment unless defendants can identify a safer method, which Sotomayor correctly describes as “indefensible”. Even assuming for the sake of argument that the US constitution permits the death penalty in the abstract, it does not guarantee that states will be able to perform executions in every circumstance. If medical personnel and drug companies – making free choices – decline to participate in the machinery of death, this does not mean that the Eight Amendment ceases to apply. As Sotomayor explained:

“But a method of execution that is “barbarous,” or “involve[s] torture or a lingering death,” does not become less so just because it is the only method currently available to a State. If all available means of conducting an execution constitute cruel and unusual punishment, then conducting the execution will constitute cruel and usual punishment. Nothing compels a State to perform an execution. It does not get a constitutional free pass simply because it desires to deliver the ultimate penalty; its ends do not justify any and all means.”

Her argument is unanswerable. Boiling people in oil or killing the on the rack would not suddenly stop being cruel and unusual punishment if they were the only methods available. It is true that the condemned prisoners in the cases considered by the court committed genuinely heinous crimes – one broke an infant’s back with his bare hands; another raped an killed an 11-month-old girl, as Alito was sure to mention in his opinion. Fortunately, even if Oklahoma could not execute these prisoners a remedy exists that is good enough for most American states and every other liberal democracy in the world: imprisonment.

It’s worth comparing the careful, devastating dissents written by Sotomayor and Kagan — both of which rank with Ginsburg’s evisceration of Shelby County — today to Scalia’s witless ranting last week. The fact that Sotomayor was described as unqualified by pundits who take Alito’s (identical to Sotomayor’s) credentials for granted and consider Scalia some kind of supergenius is about as clear as a racist and sexist subtext can get.

It’s not a coincidence that today was the day Ginsburg and Breyer announced their disinclination to continue to tinker with the machinery of death. If this is what the death penalty will be, holding the death penalty per se unconstitutional will become the default liberal position.

Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell podcast: Episode 2 — “How Is Lady Pole?”

[ 2 ] June 29, 2015 |


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