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Can I Sum Up the 50s in One Image?

[ 42 ] July 8, 2015 |

Yes. Yes I can.

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New Attack on Protecting Interns

[ 33 ] July 8, 2015 |

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I’m not at all shocked that a bunch of elite judges don’t understand the world of internships and how corporations use them to create pools of free labor. But that’s not going to stop them from undermining protections for interns. Ross Perlin:

The judge, William H. Pauley III, found that Fox Searchlight had failed to meet this test. Sadly, on Thursday, a three-judge panel of the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit eviscerated the six-factor checklist and replaced it with, in essence, a new legal theory of what internships are all about.

The appeals judges found, among other things, that an internship can be legal even if it doesn’t meet the traditional six-prong test, especially if it is tied to the receipt of school credit and helps the student fulfill academic commitments.

Even worse, the judges declared that “the proper question is whether the intern or the employer is the primary beneficiary of the relationship.” They ignored the legal standard and ethical principle that work merits pay.

The judges stressed that internships may be legal merely because they are supposedly being overseen by the interns’ schools. But these very same institutions have been complicit in the internship boom by ignoring abuses, requiring internships for graduation and charging students for academic credit when they go off campus to do unpaid work.

The “primary beneficiary” approach leads to the atomizing result that interns cannot unite to protect themselves. The judges write that “the question of an intern’s employment status is a highly individualized inquiry,” ignoring the low or nonexistent pay and shabby work conditions common to interns in many offices and industries. Thursday’s ruling all but destroys the basis for collective action through class-action lawsuits.

At oral arguments in January — I had filed an amicus brief on behalf of the plaintiffs — it was evident that the three judges had no firsthand experience of what they call “the modern internship.” Focusing on “what the intern receives in exchange for his work,” the judges completely ignore the significant benefits that employers derive from their interns.

Today in Sexism in Sports

[ 70 ] July 7, 2015 |

Sigh:

In the Women’s World Cup, the USA soccer team took the championship against Japan on Sunday—just not with their pocketbooks. In fact, they are being paid 40 times less than their male counterparts.

In a Politico piece, Mary Pilon points out that the National Women’s Soccer League salaries range from $6,000 to $30,000 and teams often have a salary cap of $200,000. The Men’s League Soccer league salary cap clocked in at $3.1 million last year, and the total payout for the women’s World Cup will be just $15 million compared to the men’s $576 million sum.

Given the ratings for the women’s World Cup, is there even that much evidence that attendance for a good women’s soccer league in the U.S. would be that much less than the men’s league? It’s also worth noting how sports payment disparities reflect gendered pay disparities throughout the American workforce.

Heritage and Hate

[ 34 ] July 7, 2015 |

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The good people of Haralson County, Georgia defend their widespread use of the American swastika with the same tired arguments about heritage. And of course:

Just across the county line, the Georgia Peach Oyster Bar has operated as a scandalous open secret. Its website features two Confederate battle flags, the description, “The Original Klan, Klam & Oyster Bar,” and a stunningly virulent collection of racist signs. Patrons are confronted with a selection of crude cartoons and graffiti, and a menu that declares, on the appetizer page, “We cater to hangins’.”

Indeed they do. As the county’s 1902 lynching of Benjamin Brown after an accusation of attempted rape of a white woman may suggest.

Race in America

[ 11 ] July 7, 2015 |

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TPM has a new feature called Primary Source, where historians present and interpret a primary source for the site’s readership. Josh Marshall, a historian in his previous life, has been opening his site up in recent months to more historical-based work. The latest entry is well worth your time. It’s a 1955 article in Ebony about a sheriff in Florida who decided to declare a family black, thus forcing all the children to be kicked out of the white school. N.D.B. Connolly provides a brief interpretation, not only of the event, but of how the complexities of race worked in the pages of Ebony itself:

Yet, the complexities of race and skin color went even further, reaching off the page and into the homes of Ebony’s black readership. Page three of the Platt’s story appears on the same page as Palmer’s “Skin Success” ointment and soap. In addition to helping with rashes and pimples, Palmer’s was well-known to “even” (i.e. lighten) the complexions of its black consumers. “You’ll forget,” the ad assures, “you ever had skin trouble.” One could only hope.

How to Get Something Done in Government, 1949

[ 26 ] July 6, 2015 |

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I am presently doing research at the Library of Congress. I just ran across this oddity. Ula Glen of Crestone, Colorado was a ranch wife. Somehow (this is not quite clear to me), she knew Leo Goodman, who was a housing and later nuclear expert for the CIO, who I am researching. The Rural Electrification Administration was supposed to hook her home up to the electrical lines. But they hadn’t. So she wrote this poem and sent it to Goodman:

O country life, o country life, how good you are for me…
The early rising, mornings, with the stars still to see.
The daily strolling down the lane, across the road and farther,
Packing, of all things, a couple of pails of water.
O country life!

Our lovely, useless bathroom–a symphony in rose,
The boiler on the cookhouse filled with water ‘stead of clothes.
The cans arrayed with loving care to hold the precious water
Stand South and kind of East of a gas refrigerator.
Icecubes, but no water!

The lamps they set around the room as pretty as a portrait.
But when will they dispel the gloom in this here little Orchard?
The wire from road to housetop–so near and yet so far–
Where or where are the men who doing the ironing are?
Whar?

The REA has gone away from weather below zero.
By kerosene we vent our spleen on them that have such fear-o
Come back, come back, REA, come back from Oklahoma.
It takes electricity to make a house into a homa.

O, REA!

Goodman then contacted a friend of his in the REA who quickly got the Glen’s home on the line.

I am doing research on a new book project for the next three weeks and it’s kind of lonely and boring sometimes. So I may continue updating you with tales from the archives from time to time.

What Should Labor Law Do?

[ 24 ] July 5, 2015 |

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Today is the 80th anniversary of the National Labor Relations Act.

Of course, the NLRA is hardly working for workers these days, with regulatory capture and unfriendly court decisions creating a regime that keeps all the restrictions on workers and eliminates all the benefits. The extent to which labor should hope to keep using the old legal regime is a big debate within labor circles. Lane Windham weighs in, going over the basics and concluding:

The best way to fix the Wagner Act and to restore workers’ freedom to form union is to lighten the work we expect this 80-year-old law to do. All workers need a guaranteed basic annual income, all workers need full access to health care, and all workers deserve to retire with guaranteed dignity—whether they have a union or not. Once our nation guarantees universal social wage benefits for our workers, employers will have less incentive to wage war on unionizing efforts, and the Wagner Act may once again be a potent tool for bringing democracy and worker empowerment to the nation’s rapidly changing workplaces.

OK, but can I have a pony too? I mean, sure, it’d be great to have universal basic income, Swedish-style health care, and great retirement benefits. But to say that we should quit worrying about labor law until we get these things means that we will never worry about labor law again because these goals will probably never happen in American society. Or it will take decades if we are being optimistic. A scenario of New Deal-esque social legislation before getting to these other issues is, to say the least, not a realistic one. At the very least, Windham should have laid out some framework for when this was going to happen and I’m surprised the editors of the piece didn’t push her on this.

Sex Offender Registeries

[ 118 ] July 5, 2015 |

Sex offender registries are a great injustice and need to be stopped. While there is some value in tracking real sex offenders, a lot of these people have done nothing more than had sex with a slightly underage woman when they were themselves young men or, as in the case linked above, hooked up with a woman online who was lying about her age. To damn these people for life is a horrible crime, leaving people unable to find work or a home, stigmatized for decades. The registries are another example of the overreaction to crime in the 1980s and like drug crime sentencing and three strikes laws, need to be severely revised.

Selma

[ 61 ] July 4, 2015 |

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So I finally watched Selma. A few observations long after the debate has dissipated.

1. The main issue in the Selma debate was the portrayal of Lyndon Johnson. Critics said the portrayal was too cynical and didn’t give LBJ his due. Phooey. First, this isn’t a documentary. Second, at the core of the LBJ defense was pointing out how much he did and how much we should honor him. That’s fine, but it also borders on the hagiographic. LBJ was a politician with a lot on his plate who really would have preferred not to deal with any of this, as the film effectively shows. By thinking of Johnson as a hero of the civil rights movement, it reinforces the unfortunate way progressives look at political leaders (Obama primarily) as the people who should guide us and then are disappointed when they don’t. That’s our problem, not the politicians. The film effectively shows how politicians respond to intense political campaigning. That’s the lesson of the film. And it’s a valuable one. No politician will ever be a solution.

2. The film does an effective job of delineating the factions developing in the civil rights movement by 1965. But it does give short shrift to the radical SNCC ideas that will quickly become prevalent under Stokely Carmichael’s leadership.

3. The film really underplays the amazing grassroots work of Rev. Fred Shuttlesworth in Selma and that’s unfortunate.

4. The film also could have done more with Diane Nash and the role of women in the movement.

5. I thought the film actually soft sold the hatred of whites, largely making the violence look like an official response than a popular one. The only time the word “nigger” was actually spoken during the film was when the white priest from Boston was beaten to death. This was telling. The film did pull some punches in making connections to the present as well.

6. As a U.S historian with a pretty deep, although not expert-level background in the civil rights movement, I was frustrated early in the film by the characters saying so many obvious things that the actual people would have already known. But then my wife, a Latin American historian with a reasonable background in these issues, didn’t know all the details. So it’s hard being an Americanist watching films about American history. But what can be done?

7. David Oyelowo was very good as MLK. And I’m glad the casting went to a relatively unknown actor.

8. I laughed out loud when Tim Roth was playing George Wallace. Great casting. Had I seen it in the theater, it’s unlikely my fellow patrons would have laughed alongside me.

9. The only explanation for Ava DuVernay not getting a best director nomination in the Academy Awards is the racism/sexism combo. You have got to be kidding me.

10. I would love to see a movie about King after Selma. The failures of the Chicago campaign, the growing tension in the movement, coming out against Vietnam, the move toward economic justice, and the final days in Memphis, could, in the hands of the right director, make a fantastic movie. Not sure it would supply the myth-making American audiences require though.

Independence Day

[ 112 ] July 4, 2015 |

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On this July 4, I embraced the fruits of this great land. Well, technically the fruits of our salt marsh ponds as I gorged myself on this pile of fried whole belly clams from the Clam Shack in Falmouth, Massachusetts, where the real July 4th tradition is sitting in traffic. Please note that while there is ketchup in upper left hand corner providing by the shack, it remained unopened. Which is what all good Americans did with the substance today.

Let me also recommend Dylan Matthews’ piece on why the American Revolution may not have been such a great thing
. I’ve been saying this for years. I know, I know, such inspirational language. And I hold no real animus against most of the Founders, although I hate the term “founding fathers.”

But let’s be clear on two things. First, the American Revolution was horrible for African-Americans. Second, the American Revolution was catastrophic for Native Americans. Any celebration of the day has to reckon with these two incontrovertible facts. Both groups acted in their own self-interest during the Revolution, with African-Americans fleeing to the British lines and Native Americans largely fighting on the British side. On the former, I really recommend this collection of primary source documents by African-Americans during the Revolution to get a sense of how they responded to these events. The American Revolution was a war that significantly pushed ahead the cause of white supremacy at the cost of minority rights. I am presently reading Greg Grandin’s latest book (which is the next book I’m reviewing here) and he notes that the Latin American revolutions were essentially also white supremacist rebellions, in this case to liberalize the African slave trade. I do believe that there was nothing unique about the United States that would have created widespread resistance unlike the rest of the British colonies had slavery been abolished in the 1830s here under British rule. And while the future for Native Americans was unlikely to be shining bright under continued British rule, it literally could not have been worse than it was under the Americans.

I’m somewhat less convinced by the 3rd piece of Matthews’ argument, that the government would be more functional had the Americans lost. Maybe. Certainly our government is designed for dysfunction and the Senate is disastrous and highly undemocratic as an institution. But other systems are not necessarily all that much better or per se lead to more progressive outcomes. After all, what torpedoed most progressive reform in U.S. history was not problems with the government necessarily as it was widespread opposition from the South.

Finally:

Marjoe

[ 43 ] July 2, 2015 |

I just watched Marjoe, the 1972 documentary about an ex-child preacher turned hippie who supported himself by going back out on the preacher circuit even though he believed none of it. It’s pretty great. If you want to understand why the current wingnut world is a giant grift, this is a good place to start as he gives out all the secrets. This film won Best Documentary at the Academy Awards. He then went on to appear in 17 episodes of Falcon Crest in the 80s. Here’s an excerpt.

Today in Racist History

[ 76 ] July 2, 2015 |

Moynihan

This month is the 50th anniversary of the Moynihan Report. Stephen Steinberg:

A few weeks after Moynihan’s report was leaked to the press, the Watts neighborhood in Los Angeles exploded in violence, triggered by an incident with police that rapidly escalated into five days of disorder and left thirty-four people dead. Pundits and politicians seized upon the report to cast blame for the “riot” on the deterioration of “the Negro family.” The report warned, “The family structure of lower class Negroes is highly unstable, and in many urban centers is approaching complete breakdown.”

Critics condemned the report for pathologizing female-headed households and black families in particular. The most trenchant criticism, however, was that the preoccupation with black families shifted blame away from institutionalized inequalities and heaped it on the very groups that were victims of those inequalities. As James Farmer, cofounder and national director of the Congress of Racial Equality, wrote with blunt eloquence, “We are sick unto death of being analyzed, mesmerized, bought, sold, and slobbered over while the same evils that are the ingredients of our oppression go unattended.”

Today, in the wake of Ferguson and Baltimore, family dysfunction is again cited by politicians, pundits, and scholars as the root of the problem. Rand Paul publicly twaddles about “the breakdown of the family structure, the lack of fathers, the lack of sort of a moral code in our society.” David Brooks opines in the New York Times, “The real barriers to mobility are matters of social psychology, the quality of relationships in a home and a neighborhood that either encourage or discourage responsibility, future-oriented thinking, and practical ambition.” And sociologist Orlando Patterson asserts that “fundamental change” can come only from “within the black community: a reduction in the number of kids born to single, usually poor, women.”

Steinberg goes on to break down the intellectual sources for the Moynihan Report, particularly Nathan Glazer. Intellectual racism that blames people of color for their own poverty has not diminished in the last half-century. Any number of racist sites refer back to Moynihan today; meanwhile this paragon of institutionalized racism became a respected Democratic senator without ever questioning his blaming of black people for their own poverty and ending his career as a big supporter of slashing welfare. Among other great things in this man’s life was ensuring the UN did nothing to stop the Indonesian slaughter in East Timor when he was UN Ambassador during the Ford administration and opposed the Clinton health care plan.

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