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Late Stage Out of Sight Publicity

[ 1 ] June 28, 2016 |


A year after its release and long after anyone actually bought the book, there’s still a little bit of Out of Sight buzz here and there. Laura Clawson from Daily Kos asked me to do a Q&A about the book. Here’s one of the questions:

LC: You make the case against the boycott impulse of saying “well, I personally just won’t shop there.” What’s wrong with that and how do we get past it to take action that will put real pressure on companies to change?

LOOMIS: The problem with individuals choosing to boycott companies for a given behavior like using sweatshops is that it doesn’t really accomplish anything for the workers involved. Kalpona Akter, a leader of the Bangladeshi apparel workers movement, has explicitly asked westerners not to boycott the factories. These workers need jobs! If we decide to go buy clothing at the thrift store, we might make ourselves feel good and morally righteous for not supporting an exploitative system, but the reality is that we are doing nothing to change corporate behavior. What we have to do is organize to demand the companies making this clothing be held accountable for their actions. That’s what workers want.

There is an exception to my position on the boycott and that’s when the affected workers ask for one. The United Farm Workers most famously used the boycott during the grape strikes of the 1960s and 1970s. In other words, being an ethical consumer means learning about what workers need and want from you and trying to accomplish those aims to help them, not to make yourself feel good.

Real pressure on the companies can come through movements like the United Students Against Sweatshops, who organized on college campuses in the 1990s to force colleges and universities to contract for their school-sanctioned clothing under ethical guidelines. USAS is still around today. Reinvigorating these sorts of movements that use our power in the organizations to which we belong—schools, churches, social clubs—to place pressure on apparel companies or other industries that use child labor or forced labor or sweatshop labor is how we start to make that change. There are already groups like the Harry Potter Alliance doing this sort of work, in this case on Harry Potter-themed products like chocolates that are produced without child labor.

There will also be talks in the fall at Mansfield University in Pennsylvania and Eastern Washington University, if anyone is around those areas. And I can give a talk at your college and/or university and /or social group for a shockingly low price!


Foreign Entanglements: #Brexit Breaks Bad

[ 22 ] June 28, 2016 |

On the latest episode of Foreign Entanglements, I spoke with Nick Clark about the consequences of Brexit.  There’s also a bit on Game of Thrones at the end.

Unfortunately, the video on both feeds froze.  The audio is fine, though.

Today in the Party of Calhoun

[ 112 ] June 28, 2016 |


It’s nice that Congressional Republicans tried to use the Zika funding bill for the all-important goal of reversing the ban on flying the Confederate flag in national cemeteries.

Previewing the Next Term

[ 32 ] June 28, 2016 |

I am no Supreme Court expert, but this preview of the next term looks promising, primarily because of what the Court is not going to hear. First and most importantly to me, the Court refused to rehear Friedrichs, meaning that the anti-public union fanatics have to start over at the lower courts. So that’s one piece of good news. The second is how apoplectic Sam Alito is that the Court refused to hear a case that will almost certainly reject religious liberty arguments that would allow pharmacists to choose whether they distribute birth control. He’s already whining about the future of the Court and his precious religious liberties that apply only to right-wingers seeking to oppress women or gays. Maybe he should go ahead and flounce off the court.

Sports Obits

[ 35 ] June 28, 2016 |


  • Buddy Ryan, R.I.P. Almost certainly the greatest defensive coach in NFL history.  It’s not just that the mid-80s Bears have a strong claim to be the best NFL defense ever, his Eagles teams were also among the greatest defenses ever. As a head coach, he was just another guy — not a complete disaster like LeBeau, but too much of a one-way coach to be really good. As a defensive coach, he was extraordinary.
  • Pat Summitt, R.I.P. A truly remarkable trailblazer.

Why Kennedy Broke

[ 63 ] June 28, 2016 |

Anthony Kennedy

I have a piece at Democracy explaining why Kennedy finally agreed to put some teeth into Casey:

Many state legislatures got the message and passed an increasing array of regulations, the most insidious of which were targeted regulations of abortion providers (TRAP). TRAP laws resembled medical regulations, but their real purpose, in singling out abortion clinics despite the relative safety of the procedure, was to create burdens for these clinics, making it difficult or even impossible for them to operate. Texas HB2, an issue of contention in Hellerstedt, is a classic example. Texas placed requirements on facilities and doctors that would have closed more than half of the states’ already relatively small number of clinics, regardless of actual safety concerns.

It was this sort of practice that almost certainly pushed Kennedy back toward the liberal faction of the Court. Facing a brutal interrogation at oral argument, the medical justifications offered by Texas Solicitor General Scott Keller were almost farcically thin. It’s telling that the dissenting opinions in Hellerstedt focused primarily on procedural questions, and offered only cursory and half-hearted attempts at defending the sham justifications offered by Texas in support of its statute. The Texas regulations are not about protecting women’s health. They’re about trying to restrict, and eventually eliminate, abortion access.

And unlike in Carhart II, not only were the justifications weak, the effects were broad-ranging. Nobody with any commitment to reproductive rights could overlook a statute that shut down large numbers of clinics based on alleged medical justifications that (as Justice Breyer’s opinion showed in painstaking detail) were an insult to citizens’ intelligence. If Kennedy thought liberals were being untrue to Casey during its first decade, it was now being undermined by conservatives. Republican legislators were in fact using Casey to eliminate the rights Casey sought to protect, and it’s not surprising that Kennedy refused to go along.

Plenty of objections can be launched at Casey from both the left and right, and rightfully so. But it’s clear that Kennedy takes the compromises in this decision very seriously. It’s not surprising that state legislatures took his previous opinion as a green light to attack abortion rights, but it’s also not surprising that the pendulum is now swinging back. By demanding that state legislatures provide real medical justifications for regulations that substantially restrict abortion access, the Court has restored needed teeth to Roe. Kennedy’s past deference to anti-abortion interests has now turned to skepticism, and, for supporters of reproductive rights, this is excellent news indeed.

More Hellerstedt commentary from Lithwick, Filipovic, Greenhouse, and Carmon. Emily Crockett explains why it will be difficult for some of the clinics to re-open, which is one reason to reject Alito’s longstanding efforts to create procedural shields against effective challenges to arbitrary abortion regulations. And it’s worth noting that Donald Trump has been silent.

“The demand for the larger apartments with baths far exceeds the supply”: Visions of the Past, Thanks to Gutenberg (IX)

[ 7 ] June 28, 2016 |


As a response to growing labor unrest, in 1916, major corporations decided to create the National Industrial Conference Board to undertake investigations of their own to show how much families needed to live, labor conditions, and the like, from a pro-business perspective. The Wilson administration valued this effort and used it during World War I to support various economic plans. That gave it greater legitimacy, despite the corporate taint. This is its 1919 study on the cost of living in Fall River, Massachusetts. It’s doesn’t explicitly try to undermine unions, although certainly the companies opposed the unions trying to organize the city’s large textile mills in the years before those employers would move to the South to avoid unionization. It mostly just presents facts and figures about the cost of living, changing prices of goods over time, and other raw economic data. Kind of interesting as a primary source, not that exciting as a read.

Absurdities of American higher education, financial edition

[ 123 ] June 28, 2016 |


Pictured: Annual performance review between Dean Tyrell of the School of Interdisciplinary Entrepreneurial Synergies, and Assoc. Prof. Batty, 2034, post-CE.

Oberlin College, the highly-regarded liberal arts college in Ohio (it has a world famous music school, and is also the oldest co-educational institution of higher education in the US), is offering buyouts to faculty and staff, purportedly because of financial stress:

To take the buyout, employees must be at least 52 years old and must have worked at Oberlin for at least 10 years. The college will then pay their salaries for a year after they leave and waive health insurance premiums during that time. . .

One tenured professor taking the buyout at Oberlin is Roger Copeland, who has been teaching dance and theater there for 41 years. The 66-year-old professor (whose former students include Girls creator Lena Dunham) said he was surprised to get the offer as the semester came to an end.

“I was completely dumbfounded,” said Copeland, a few hours before signing the separation agreement. “I don’t think anybody suspected that the [financial] situation could be so bad.”

Copeland hadn’t plan to retire for at least another four years, but said he couldn’t pass up the deal. He says he understands why the college is doing it, and thinks it will inject the faculty with fresh blood and new ideas. “For what they pay me, they can get two people out of grad school,” he says.

About 85 people so far have accepted the buyout (16 are professors and all are tenured; the rest are administrative and professional staff), representing about 25 percent of all eligible employees, Krislov says. He expects this to save the college about $3 million per year, depending on how many positions are replaced. According to him, the goal isn’t to replace tenured professors with non-tenure-track faculty. “Our commitment to tenure and tenured professors is iron clad,” he says.

Let’s take a look at just how dire the financial situation is at Oberlin. The following figures are taken from the school’s four most recent publicly available tax filings, for fiscal years 2011 through 2014. All figures have been rounded to the nearest million:

Average total revenue: $266 million

Average total expenses: $221 million

Average revenue over expenses: 20.4%

Twenty percent! A business with comparable figures would be considered fabulously successful — and unlike a business, Oberlin doesn’t pay taxes on its excess revenue, because it’s a charity. (A charity that in 2014 paid this guy $541,000. The median price for a house in Oberlin, Ohio is $133,000).

What’s been happening to the price of attendance? In FY2014 Oberlin collected $167,000,000 in tuition and room and board, which works out to about $57,600 per student. The school redistributed $52,000,000 of that in grants, so the average real charge to students was just under $40,000.

This coming fall tuition plus room and board will be running at $66K and change, so the college will probably be charging around $47K per student in average real attendance cost. (The average real cost to students and their families will probably be around $41K after taking into account third party payments, in the form of government grants, tax credits, and private scholarships).

I’ve only got tuition info on Oberlin going back to 1988, when tuition was $11,864 ($24,093 in constant 2016 dollars). At that time average room and board at four-year private non-profit colleges was about $3600 ($7300 in 2016 dollars), so in inflation-adjusted terms the discounted cost of attendance at Oberlin is more than 50% higher than the sticker cost of attendance 25 years ago (I don’t know what the discounted cost was back then).

Oberlin’s endowment has just about doubled in real terms since 1990, from $421 million (2016$) to $832 million. That’s about $13,000 in expendable income per student per year, assuming the standard endowment distribution structure of 4.5% per year. In other words, in real inflation-adjusted terms, Oberlin’s endowment by itself is throwing off enough income to pay what would have been 55% of sticker tuition in 1988, and probably close to 100% of sticker tuition in 1975 (average sticker tuition at four-year private colleges was $10,088 (2015$), although historically Oberlin tends to run at about 50% higher than average). Now of course that sum is only 25% of sticker tuition.

This site estimates that in five years sticker COA at Oberlin will be $88K, in ten years $112K, in fifteen years $143K, and if you’re having a baby this year you’d better plan to spend $165,000 (per year) to send your special snowflake to Oberlin, although since the faculty will have been replaced by Nexus 6 models by then, the immense cost savings will surely be passed on to “consumers.” (I kid — obviously they won’t be passed on, because the college’s administration will at that point equal the total population of Rhode Island).

“Never again must this Thing happen”: Visions of the Past, Thanks to Gutenberg (VIII)

[ 24 ] June 28, 2016 |


Most of these posts have discussed texts that there really isn’t much point for normal people to read. This post is an exception. Edward Carpenter’s furious 1916 pamphlet Never Again!, a plea to the people of Europe to never allow such a horrible war to happen in the future, is quite a good read. It’s a powerful statement that still has value today. What is a more powerful statement against war than:

That peasants and artisans, and shopkeepers and students and schoolmasters, who have no quarrel whatever, who on the whole rather respect and honour each other, should with explosive bombs deliberately blow one another to bits so that even their own mothers could not recognize them; That human beings should use every devilish invention of science with the one purpose of maiming, blinding, destroying those against whom they have no personal grudge or grievance; All this is sheer madness.

Carpenter was English and he is sure to cover himself against charges of being anti-patriotic. He says it’s fine to blame Germany for its policies, but also that each nation must look inside itself for its own responsibilities. He is sure to marvel at the glories of the British Navy and note the great heroism of the British armed forces. And ultimately, this is not a particularly political tract. It’s not Marxist or anti-democratic. It’s certainly not pro-German, nor does it resort to a plea for patriotism. Everyone is brave, everyone is patriotic to their own country, everyone is fighting the Fatherland or the Mother Country, and everyone is dying in vain. Carpenter was a socialist and a really fascinating individual, but there’s not really much of those politics in the text, outside of noting the commonalities everyday soldiers have with each other no matter what uniform they wear. If anything, the core political belief is that a) military technology has made it futile to continue fighting and that human beings simply can’t exist in the face of ever larger and more powerful armaments and b) the elite class driving foreign policy and war must not be sustained.

This is of course true, but it’s not a lesson the world really learned after World War I, if it has today.

Brexit: What Can the Opposition Do?

[ 396 ] June 28, 2016 |





Jeremy Corbyn chairs a meeting of the Shadow Cabinet (a meme that did the rounds yesterday)

Seeing as how it’s Labour, the obvious choice is to hit the self-destruct button. A vote of no-confidence in the Corbyn leadership will be held today, with an estimated 150 MPs expected to vote against the leader (out of 229 Labour MPs in the House of Commons). Given Jeremy Corbyn is exhibiting personality traits more familiar with a certain US Senator from Vermont, he’s not expected to resign. This creates a problem (on several levels), not helped in that the Labour Party isn’t even in agreement on its own rules:

And there will also be an attempt to stop Corbyn standing again, with a legal battle pending as two pieces of advice from lawyers have drawn opposite conclusions about whether the standing leader needs to secure MP nominations in the face of a challenge.

Whoever ends up on the leadership ballot, current rules dictate that it goes to a vote of the membership. If Corbyn is on the ballot, he should win. He won 60% of the vote in September, and since assuming the leadership of the party, membership has increased significantly.

The current highly fractious nature of the party (not to be confused with the business-as-usual fractious state of the Labour Party) offers us a delicious dilemma. To be effective, in government or opposition, the leader of the party needs his or her MPs largely on side. When elected leader, most of the high profile MPs of the right and center of the party ruled out participating in his shadow cabinet, and over the past 48 hours he’s lost the majority of what remained. It’s clear that Corbyn does not have the support of Parliamentary Labour Party, and that’s a problem. While the initial group who signalled their lack of support by rejecting the opportunity to serve in the first shadow cabinet did so on ideological grounds, the current tsunami of defections appear to be largely based on the assessment that Corbyn lacks the competence as a leader for what is expected to be a snap general election.

But, the dilemma. How can Labour square the current system for electing the party leader with the very real need to have a strong relationship with the majority of the PLP? If Labour is stuck with Corbyn, there’s really only two options, neither pretty. First, the system can be scrapped (which will not happen so long as Corbyn is leader). While it should not return to the “electoral college” system that elected Ed Miliband, where membership, MPs/MEPs, and trade unions had equal weighting), the PLP should have some sort of input. On the other hand, Momentum (the campaign group set up around Corbyn supporters; they function as a party within a party more or less) could attempt to “de-select” sitting MPs when it comes time for Constituency Labour Parties to select their candidates for the general election. That may or not be effective.

Either choice is sub-optimal, and is guaranteed to piss a lot of people off.

Regardless of what happens, should Corbyn go (either on his own or forced out) the party stands to lose a not-insignificant number of paid up members. Corbyn has a similar hold on his supporters as Bernie Sanders does / did. He is viewed as transcending politics into a near messianic figure. I’ve witnessed this in FTF discussion as well as among the several pro-Corbyn groups I belong to in the social media universe. Ideological purity reigns, and no criticism of the messiah is warranted. Anybody who comes out against Corbyn is either a traitor to the cause, or worse, labelled a Blairite. More energy in these groups is dedicated to criticising the moderate and “Blairite” wing of the party than the real enemy, and Tony Blair (who, recall, did what no other Labour leader had ever done by winning three successive elections, and was one of only four Labour leaders to win an election) receives significantly more attention in these groups than, say, Margaret Thatcher, David Cameron, or Nigel Farage. What is hilarious to watch is how each resignation from the shadow cabinet is being explained as either Tony Blair’s direct involvement, or all of those who resigned were Blairites at heart. Of course, this is rubbish; any MP with true Blairite tendencies ruled out serving in the shadow cabinet in September, and to cite two examples, it would be difficult to characterise either Hilary Benn or Angela Eagle as Blairites.

I identify as on the left wing of the party, but I guess in the parlance of the Labour Party, it would be among the so-called “soft left”. I voted for Corbyn, and posted about my reasoning here. That said, I do think that actually winning an election is a pretty good thing, and more critical than ideological purity (which premised that post in September). I still hold to my basic analysis in the September post, but following ineffective leadership of the Labour In campaign (which is stating it charitably) combined with his inability to mobilise much support amongst the PLP, I am becoming increasing less convinced that he is the leader to mobilise this hypothesised expanded electorate that I initially believed.

“Moreover I had assumed a terrible responsibility in taking such extreme measures with him, for there was danger that he might go insane without confessing his guilt, and in that case my position would have been really dangerous”: Visions of the Past, Thanks to Gutenberg (VII)

[ 51 ] June 27, 2016 |


During the peak of his fame as a private investigator and head-buster for capitalism, Allan Pinkerton “wrote” some detective stories. There’s no evidence Pinkerton actually wrote a word of them and he almost certainly employed ghostwriters. But he probably did approve of the stories because they lay out his basic philosophy and investigative methods. This short collection from 1875 is a good example. It consists of two stories, “The Somnambulist and the Detective” and “The Murderer and the Fortune Teller.” Both are basically told not in the sense of mystery or even in a classic detective format. Rather the crimes and guilty parties are laid out immediately so there is no suspense. The stories then exists to demonstrate how witty and brilliant Allan Pinkerton is in his practice, the greatness of his ingenious schemes he creates to draw out confessions, and the true moral fiber of his detectives, as opposed to the criminals.

The whole story of “The Somnambulist and the Detective” is setting up the suspect. It’s a huge frame job. Basically, [Spolier Alert from terrible 19th century fiction you will never read ahead] a bank officer gets murdered. No one knows who or why. Allan Pinkerton comes south for his health. He hears about the case. He sees a slip of paper from one of the bank officer’s friends, a seemingly wealthy planter. Pinkerton, being brilliant, knows it must be him. He goes back to Chicago and sends down his detectives who set him up. One becomes his best friend, another plays a widow who manages to stay in his house, the third plays the ghost of the dead man, who the other two say they can’t see. Through sprinkling blood around various places and sending the ghost character around so the other two can deny his existence, they drive the planter insane. He eventually confesses. Game over. Pinkerton recognizes the sketchy methods he uses, thus the quote in the title. But that sure isn’t going to stop him. Rather, it shows that he needs to be right in order to bring the criminal to justice.

“The Murderer and the Fortune Teller” is even lamer. Basically, a sea captain comes to Pinkerton with a tale of his sister who had also married a sea captain but likes fun times and so sees men while he’s away. She falls for an ambitious Democratic politician who wants her too. So he poisons his wife while the sister poisons the captain so she can get his money. So they go through this long rigamarole of setting Pinkerton’s detectives to gather information, train his female detective as a fortune teller, and then forcing the woman to confess her own crimes (including an abortion) so they can throw the murderous politician into prison.

And if this is how Pinkerton operates–

I gazed steadily at him for about two minutes, which is about as long a time as I need to obtain a correct opinion of a man’s character.

–then I guess it’s hardly surprising that this is a man who would come down on the side of the plutocrats. I mean, stare at a man for a couple of minutes with all the prejudices of the age and I guess you can really tell a man’s character! I mean, what southern European immigrant wouldn’t love being stared at–but then if he looks down or away, I guess that’s telling of his shifty nature, probably susceptible to radicalism.

Who knows what Pinkerton saw in his good friend George McClellan’s face that made him serve him so poorly in his guestimates of the size of the Confederacy army. If only Pinkerton had the opportunity to gaze into Robert E. Lee’s steely face for long enough, he would have understood the real situation the Confederates were in. Alas, his foolproof methods could not be used here.

To say the least, this does not make one feel more confident in the methods the Pinkertons used to crush unions.

The Party of Lincoln

[ 9 ] June 27, 2016 |
Middle aged clean shaven Lincoln from the hips up.

Attributed to Nicholas H. Shepherd, based on the recollections of Gibson W. Harris, a law student in Lincoln’s office from 1845 to 1847. – Library of Congress, Public Domain,

Don Doyle has a fine review of Louise Stevenson’s new book on Lincoln’s trans-Atlantic influences. It’s hard to read some of it without immediately thinking of the presumptive nominee of the Grand Old Party:

Lincoln’s “German Lessons” take us to the many immigrants from the German states who had settled in the Midwest, many of them fleeing repression after the failed revolution of 1848. The German 48ers were revolutionary, or “red,” republicans whose abhorrence of slavery and aristocracy drew them to the Republican Party. But the party made an alliance with the nativist Know Nothing movement, and this left German voters divided and therefore much sought after by both parties. Lincoln worked hard to win German votes in 1860. He funded Theodore Canisius to publish a German-language newspaper to spread Lincoln’s message to German voters in their own idiom. He took pains to distance himself from the nativist Know Nothing Party and linked their xenophobia and anti-Catholicism to prejudice against blacks, both rooted in bigotry against people based on their circumstances of birth. “When the Know-Nothings get control,” he wrote in 1855, the Declaration of Independence “will read ‘all men are created equal, except negroes, and foreigners and Catholics. When it comes to this I should prefer emigrating to some country where they make no pretense of loving liberty” (p. 121). If some assert the principle of equality does not apply to blacks, what is to stop them from excluding others? Lincoln asked (p. 145). Historians debate whether Lincoln owed his victory to German voters, but there is no question that he felt indebted to them. Once elected president, he appointed numerous Germans, Canisius among them, to diplomatic posts and other government positions.

Trump’s addendum would surely run “the Declaration of Independence will read ‘all men are created equal, except negroes, foreigners, and CatholicsMuslims’, and this is a good thing. A great thing, in fact.”

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