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Republicans Rigging the 2016 Election

[ 121 ] January 17, 2013 |

Why this story isn’t getting more attention, I don’t know. But Republicans are openly seeking to rig the 2016 elections. RNC Chair Reince Priebus is encouraging Republicans who control the government in Democratic-leaning states–PA, OH, WI, MI especially–to overhaul their electoral systems and end winner-take-all distribution of electoral votes. Of course Republicans completely oppose doing this nationally. It is a naked and cynical attempt to rig the election. Rather than broaden their message to appeal to young and non-white voters, Republicans are looking to commit the greatest suppression of votes since the Voting Rights Act of 1965 passed.

There are essentially two proposals to do this. The first would distribute votes proportionally. If the Democratic candidate won 53% of the vote in Pennsylvania, 53% of the electoral votes go to the Democratic candidate. The second is to distribute them by congressional district, with the 2 at-large votes going to the popular vote winner. With the Republicans having gerrymandered these states to the extreme, it means that the same Democratic candidate winning 53% of the vote might only get 45% of the electoral votes.

I mention Pennsylvania because it is taking the lead here. PA House Bill 94 offers up the second plan, another PA legislator supports the first. This very well could happen and yet no one is paying attention.

This isn’t without risks for Republicans. Under the proportional plan, neither party would ever pay one bit of attention to a state again. Spending money there wouldn’t be worth the marginal gain of one or two electoral votes. Under the congressional district plan, every congressional election becomes nationalized. Huge money pours into these districts and some of these legislators, who are gerrymandered into 60% districts while Democratic legislators are in 90% districts, will lose their jobs. Normally, a politician’s first goal is to preserve their own job. But with this Tea Party bunch, I’m not so sure. Some of these people are true hard-core fanatics and will gladly see the loss of their own seat as worth the price.

A few other problems for Republicans. It’s not clear to me how excited they will be to have their state policies dictated from the RNC. But they might not care. Also, such a blatantly undemocratic move I think would cost Republicans a lot of respect nationally, including among the Beltway elite who want to fawn over their every move. Even the David Brooks’ of the world would have a hard time with this. Not that the Tea Party types care. It’s also hard to see how this does not become a giant issue in the 2016 election as well, with Republicans having to defend this at every stop. And of course, as soon as Democrats take over these statehouses again, it will all change back. Let’s hope that’s in 2014, although historically that seems unlikely. But enormous money is going to pour into these states in the midterms because they will have become so important for 2016.

Of course, all of this is completely legal. The Constitution allows states to decide these matters for themselves. So there’s no reasonable legal challenge here.

And in the post-election haze, when many Democratic voters are happy that Obama was re-elected and are thinking about what policies might get passed on guns or immigration, Republicans are seeking to slam through nation-changing legislation on the state level. We are all like the Michigan AFL-CIO, completely unaware that Rick Snyder and Michigan Republicans are going to make the state right-to-work overnight.

This is very likely the biggest political story of the next 4 years. It is entirely possible that a Democratic candidate could win 55% of the vote in 2016 and lose the election.

This Day in Labor History: January 17, 1962

[ 10 ] January 17, 2013 |

On January 17, 1962, President John F. Kennedy signed Executive Order 10988, granting federal employees the right to collective bargaining for the first time. Full text here. This began the last great period of union growth in American history to the present.

Public sector workers were not granted collective bargaining rights under the National Labor Relations Act; as great as that law was for American labor, there were actually a number of important categories of workers left out, including agricultural labor and government workers. Throughout the 1950s, the labor movement fought for public sector unionism, which began to move liberal Democratic politicians toward accepting it. In the 1950s, the mayors of Philadelphia and New York (the latter being Robert Wagner Jr., son of the author of the NLRA), created bargaining for municipal employees while Wisconsin instituted the first collective bargaining for state employees in 1959 and then expanded a few days before Kennedy’s 1962 executive order.

Kennedy’s move came after his administration issued the Task Force on Employee-Management Relations in the Federal Service in 1961, which noted, “The participation of employees in the formation and implementation of employee policy and procedures affecting them contributes to the effective conduct of public business,” and argued that collective bargaining was in the general public interest. Executive Order 10988 provided multiple tiers of representation for federal employees, depending on how much of a bargaining unit was organized but provided some level of consulting so long as a union had a mere 10% of the bargaining unit.

Kennedy’s order was a major breakthrough. But it also was used to cut off the Rhodes-Johnston Union Recognition Bill, would likely would have granted the closed shop to government employees. That bill would have granted union recognition and collective bargaining by law rather than through executive favor. Yet union leaders were not too upset about it and still considered the order a pretty major victory.

The order also put some pretty severe limits on the bargaining power of these workers. First, collective bargaining was limited to non-wage issues. That’s a pretty big deal. They were also still denied the right to strike (the original denial of federal employes to strike came in the Taft-Hartley Act and this just perpetuated it), something which chafed at these workers and which the air traffic controllers would test in 1981 (although other federal workers had successfully struck earlier with great success, including the postal workers in 1970), much to their peril. Until 1978, government employees even had to take unpaid leave to attend collective bargaining sessions, severely disincentivizing active involvement in union operations. Finally, the executive order allowed for no resolution to bargaining impasses except for unilateral employer decisions. A problematic situation to say the least, one solved by future expansion upon Kennedy’s declaration by Richard Nixon and Jimmy Carter.

Despite these restrictions, union membership skyrocketed in the following decades throughout all levels of government work. For federal employees, the National Federation of Federal Employees became the major labor organization representing them. This spurred organizing on the state and local level as well, with unions like SEIU and especially AFSCME growing rapidly during the 1960s and 1970s. Among the strikes associated with AFSCME was the 1968 sanitation workers strike in Memphis, famous for its role in the assassination of Martin Luther King, And as William Dougan, president of the NFFE says:

Collective bargaining has made inestimable gains in the quality of work life for millions of federal workers over the past half-century. Top-down decisions on safety and health matters, work schedules, reorganizations and many other workplace issues have been replaced with a collaborative process where workers have a definitive voice in how they accomplish their mission.

On the state level, 16 states enacted collective bargaining legislation for their employees over the next few years, though conservative states in the south and west resisted this trend.

It would take a great deal of work in the 1970s and 1980s to achieve these victories. Kennedy’s Executive Order hardly did it for them. But without this opening, public sector unionism might have had a serious delay. Today, approximately 63% of federal workers are union members, although a much lower percentage of state workers have achieved union representation largely due to resistance in the South.

Although this is not a particularly famous episode within American labor history, it’s worth noting how much conservatives hate Executive Order 10988. We know conservatives see public sector unions as the enemy. Having destroyed private sector unionism, the continued strong public sector unions are their next target. Some make the disingenuous argument that they are FINE with private sector unions but the people working for THE PEOPLE don’t have this right. Others are more honest–unions support Democrats so they suck. Here’s Daniel Henninger making this argument in a 2010 Wall Street Journal article. So long as these public sector unions exist, they are a hope for workers everywhere and a thorn in the side of Republicans seeking a plutocratic hegemony over the American workforce.

This is the 48th post in this series. The rest are archived here.


[ 26 ] January 16, 2013 |

If you live a city named Centralia, I recommend moving with all due speed before something terrible happens.

Exhibit A: Centralia, Washington, home of the Centralia Massacre of 1919.

Exhibit B: Centralia, Illinois, home of the Centralia mine disaster of 1947.

Exhibit C: Centralia, Missouri, home of another Centralia Massacre, this time during the Civil War, in 1864.

And then there’s Exhibit D: Centralia, Pennsylvania. First, this poor town depopulated after a coal seam was set on fire in 1962, making it uninhabitable. Then it became a graffiti capital, since why not. Now the graffiti has turned into hundreds of drawn penises all over town.

I was actually less than 5 miles from here last Saturday and I forgot this place existed. That one stings. Will have to go back.


[ 7 ] January 16, 2013 |

Nagisa Oshima, legendary Japanese director, RIP.

Sorry that comments were closed for this post earlier, I actually just had to delete that post and start again. Or maybe I am can’t handle people talking about “In the Realm of the Senses.”

Job Growth

[ 5 ] January 16, 2013 |

Who says that right-to-work laws doesn’t create new jobs? Look at Michigan for instance:

Gov. Rick Snyder’s administration is hiring an attorney to enforce the new right-to-work law who will be required to pay state bar association dues while enforcing a law making union dues optional.

The Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs plans to hire an attorney and legal secretary to implement the law that takes effect March 27 prohibiting union contracts from requiring employees to financially support the union as a condition of employment, agency spokesman Jason Moon said.

The administrative law specialist, dubbed a “freedom to work specialist,” will be paid between $76,000 and $106,000 annually, depending on their experience, Moon said.

The Michigan Civil Service Commission requires all administrative law specialists to be dues-paying members of the State Bar of Michigan, Moon said.

Government-created stimulus my friends!

Dues-paying members? My god, how will this person be able to pay the bills, what with their dues being used to elect Kenyan usurpers and overpaid bureaucrats and other such whatevers.

Gun Control

[ 119 ] January 16, 2013 |

President Obama is proposing quite an expansive set of gun control legislation. It’s very impressive and it’ll be interesting to see whether it can past. In a sense, this will be atest of Green Lanterism. All the necessary conditions are set. Obama is fully behind it and willing to go all the way, plus he’ll never run for office again. A lot of Congress is skeptical to outright opposed. The public is engaged on this topic, both for and against. Can Obama convince Congress to Do The Right Thing and pass his legislation? It’s almost like Spielberg is directing a Tony Kushner script here!

I’m skeptical. I do believe it’s possible that something will pass, but I doubt it will put a major dent in American gun culture or violence, if for no other reason that there’s already an insane number of guns in people’s hands and everyone who wants them will buy 50 of them before whatever ban is passed goes into effect.

Fundamentally, my concern is the expense of political capital on this issue instead of taking the lead on an issue of nearly equal moral import: immigration. I know Obama is still planning an immigration push for this year, but it’s clearly fallen behind gun control on the priority list. There’s a couple of problems here. First, unlike the likely cosmetic changes of the gun bill, an immigration bill is likely to lead to very real changes that will have very real effects on people’s lives. Second, Marco Rubio is stepping into the breach to push his own ideas, which could have the dual effect of watering down immigration reform and convincing some Latinos that in the end Democrats don’t care very much about them.

In related news, the NRA is a deeply loathsome organization. Josh Marshall with more harsh language against the nation’s most insidious political group.


[ 18 ] January 15, 2013 |

The first known photograph of someone flipping off a camera in history. None other than legendary baseball pitcher and general rounder, Old Hoss Radbourn, Opening Day, 1886.

@oldhossradbourn could not be reached for comment at this time.


[ 17 ] January 15, 2013 |

Colin with a good run-down of recent news about the quasi-coup that forced Fernando Lugo from power in Paraguay last year. It sounds like a combination of gratuitous police violence toward the poor that rightist elements in the legislature used to throw Lugo out of power. In short, there’s a lot of powerful people in South America who are very unhappy about that democracy has blossomed in their countries. They long for the old days of the CIA or Marines coming and eliminating leaders who represent the poor. In nations like Honduras and Paraguay, the rich have taken matters into their own hands and led the coups themselves.


[ 170 ] January 15, 2013 |

If you haven’t seen David Brooks’ syllabus for the class he’s teaching at Yale this semester, entitled “The Humility Course,” well, you are in for a treat. Here’s a few choice sessions:

Week 1: The Reticence Code (January 15)

How did American leaders in the 1940s and 1950 conceive of their obligations to their country? We will survey episodes from the lives of George C. Marshall, Dwight Eisenhower and various “Wise Men.” We will pay special attention to those who attended elite prep schools and universities.

Week 11: Seemliness (April 9)
Modern societies have become economically and socially more unequal. We will explore status competition and the desire for social distinction—executives who feel unabashed when asking for lavish salaries. We will ask whether it is proper to put a Yale window sticker on the back of your car. We will look at codes of social modesty and ask whether modest people make better business leaders

Week 13: Fate (April 23)
In the 1940s researchers began a longitudinal study tracing the life courses of Harvard Men. These men had every advantage, but a third of them had their lives ravaged by alcoholism and other setbacks. However well one is trained for life, one cannot control life. We’ll look at the Grant study and other studies of how lives develop.

The jokes write themselves.

Standing Up To Rheeism

[ 22 ] January 15, 2013 |

Much credit to Seattle teachers at Garfield and Ballard High Schools for refusing to give a flawed standardized test to their students.

Laura Clawson:

The MAP appears to be a perfect storm of the problems with standardized testing: put in place through a corrupt, profit-driven process; with an unacceptably high margin of error; not measuring the things students are actually supposed to be learning; and taking needed time away from instructional time in order for students to take a test they don’t take seriously. But while its problems may be especially large, they’re not unique. What these teachers are doing in saying no to the MAP is brave, it’s in their students’ best interests, and it’s yet another demonstration of how badly teachers’ voices are needed in the broader education policy debate.

Teacher refusal to give the tests is a risky but brave and inspiring way to stand up to the forces that seek to turn education into a profit-generating system that sucks the soul out of both students and teachers.

Longing for the Days of Megan McArdle

[ 157 ] January 14, 2013 |

You thought McArdle was as low as The Atlantic could go? Oh no. Not even close. How about allowing Scientology to write a “Sponsor Content” that looks just like a news article but is in fact a self-written story about the awesomeness of Scientology leader David Miscavige?

Wow. If this isn’t rock bottom, I don’t know what is.

Also, make sure you read the comment section. I’m sure it’ll soon be inundated with people ripping the magazine. But right now, it’s clearly a coordinated campaign by Scientology to flood the comment section with laudatory comments. It’s all very special.

Labor’s Shift on Immigration

[ 36 ] January 14, 2013 |

Benjy Sarlin with a nice overview of how organized labor has shifted from a key anti-immigration force to one supporting immigration with great fervor. To be sure, there are a lot of individual unions, particularly in the building trades, that are not pro-immigration. But those unions are increasingly marginalized within the larger labor movement, particularly when you have unions like SEIU with large numbers of undocumented members. Labor’s problems with immigration go back a lot farther than Cesar Chavez. Organized labor’s first big political victory in this country was the Chinese Exclusion Act, Gompers’ AFL was largely anti-immigrant, etc. That organized labor is so strongly on the side of humane immigration legislation is a big deal and will help push for a quality bill this year.

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