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The NRA’s New President

[ 61 ] May 2, 2013 |

The NRA has a new president. He is very special. Jim Porter is an Alabama lawyer. He is also a neo-Confederate Obama-hater who talks about “the war of northern aggression,” describes the NRA as “warriors for freedom,” and makes references to squealing pigs.

At least the NRA is avoiding stereotypes.

Early Republican Views of Race and Freedom

[ 26 ] May 2, 2013 |

When we think of the Republican Party in its early years, we often think of it as a party of freedom because it opposed slavery. But that’s way too simplistic on a number of levels. The Republican Party was rife with internal factions over just what opposition to slavery meant. Many did not want to interfere with slavery in the states and simply wanted to keep it out of the territories. Others felt blacks and whites could not live together and promoted colonization, including Abraham Lincoln until well into his presidency. Once that freedom was achieved, what did freedom mean? Was it truly the ability to control your own labor? What was the limitations that race placed upon free labor? These were all highly contested questions.

It wasn’t just black and white either, as Stacey Smith shows in her Disunion piece on the California laws to bind Native American labor to whites, something that was only eliminated with great reluctance by supposedly free California. The core paragraphs:

The incomplete nature of Indian emancipation in California reflected Republicans’ own ambivalence toward Indian freedom. Most Republicans opposed the kidnapping and enslavement of Indians. They believed that Indians, like former African-American slaves, should be entitled to reap the economic rewards of their own work. On the other hand, they asserted that the key to “civilizing” Indians was to force them to participate in the California labor market. They could not be free to support themselves through traditional mobile hunting and gathering practices that removed their labor from white supervision and tied up valuable natural resources. Such a lifestyle was, in Republicans’ minds, little more than idle vagrancy. Just as their Republican colleagues on the East Coast argued that ex-slaves should be schooled to labor by being bound to plantation wage work through long-term contracts, California Republicans began to advocate compulsory labor as the only way to cure Indian vagrancy.

The Republican vision for Indian freedom quickly took shape after the Civil War. Republican appointees who oversaw California’s Indian reservations compelled all able-bodied Indians to work on the reservation farms. Those who refused, or who pursued native food-gathering practices, forfeited the meager federal rations allotted to reservation Indians. By 1867, one Republican agent declared that “the hoe and the broadaxe will sooner civilize and Christianize than the spelling book and the Bible.” He advocated forcing Indians to work until they had been “humanized by systematic labor.” These policies persisted long after the war. At Round Valley Reservation, one critic observed in 1874 that “compulsion is used to keep the Indians and to drive them to work.” Indian workers received no payment for “labor and no opportunity to accumulate individual property.”

As African-Americans learned in late 1865 when they demanded and were denied land and control over their own future, even most northern Republican whites were compelled by white supremacy to support stark racial difference ensconced into the law. We see this all over. John Chivington, the architect of the Sand Creek Massacre, was an abolitionist. Lots of Republicans were perfectly happy to go along with the Compromise of 1876 that effectively let the South control its own race relations now that slavery was in fact dead. Northern Republicans believed that African-Americans proper place was on plantations working for whites. They should just be paid a bit for it. The racial and ethnic exploitation of northern factories after the war was just another side of this.

Bangladesh in Historical Perspective

[ 77 ] May 2, 2013 |

M.T. Anderson has an excellent essay placing the tragedy in Bangladesh, now with over 400 dead, into its proper historical context

Again and again we see the same pattern, which stretches back to the original hiring of rural New England girls to operate the first spinning and weaving machines. The girls were delighted, for the most part, to leave behind rural drudgery. After a few decades, management began various cost-cutting measures that eventually became untenable. Labor activism spread rapidly and was countered, sometimes brutally. To avoid increased expenses associated with labor reform, the mill managers essentially would flush their working population and pull in a new one. Protestants were flushed in favor of destitute Catholics. The Irish were hired in the same New England mills in the 1840s, and then, when they became too demanding, the French Canadians, the Italians — waves of immigrants, one after the other.

In this way, for the last 200 years, garment manufacturing has flowed from ethnicity to ethnicity, as well as from region to region, from New England to the Middle Atlantic states, from North to South. Each group, when it begins to demand more accountability and a living wage, is discarded. Manufacturing change flows quickly to stay ahead of legislative change. Like water, industrial management seeks a route of least resistance — eventually flowing out of our shores altogether in the 1990s and, finally, flooding (among many other places) the alluvial plains of Bangladesh.

Only when we demand accountability from the clothing operators no matter where they site their factories will this cycle come to an end. That accountability must include real civil and criminal penalties in corporations’ country of origin when they benefit from unsafe working conditions at their local subcontractors.

Here’s another good piece on the local employer/thug who owned the collapsed factory and how he took advantage of the clothing industry’s economic imperatives to create an empire for himself based upon exploiting people. He may be the most hated man in Bangladesh, but as Bangladeshis know, there are more of them out there and they will continue to hurt people until the clothing industry becomes accountable for the system it fosters.

And for whatever it’s worth, the Pope has condemned the entire system of garment employment in Bangladesh as “slave labor.” Of course, if the Catholic Church transferred 1% of the energy it spends fighting reproductive choice and gay rights to workplace rights and social justice, we might get somewhere.

The Cheney Library

[ 24 ] May 1, 2013 |

I know Cheney jokes are easy, but this is still awesome:

“The Cheney Museum offers a firsthand look at the life and work of our nation’s 46th vice president,” said head curator Jonathan Luddom, a 7-foot-tall blind cavern dweller with third-degree burns on his face and limbs. “From the Hall of Obfuscation, to the Pit of Yellowcake Uranium, to the interactive waterboarding exhibit for kids, this library is a stirring tribute to who Mr. Cheney is and what he believes in.”

“Now I must go and search for food and moisture,” continued Luddom, moments before being devoured by a swarm of ravenous bats.

The museum, which officials confirmed is under constant and comprehensive video and audio surveillance at all times, from all possible angles, will feature ceaseless cackling heard in the distance, noxious fumes, and a preserved recreation of Cheney’s office, including the former vice president’s desk, reportedly made from the skulls and femurs of over 4,000 dead Iraqi civilians.

Sources also reported that the library’s Quagmire Wing contains an endless, unannounced chasmic drop into total nothingness.

“The exhibit on how he created a sprawling security state is amazing—I learned so much,” said visitor Emma Moser, 29, as Black Ops agents tracked her every movement. “And it was so cool reading about what a huge part he played in destabilizing the Middle East for generations to come. What a fascinating life!”

“And I can’t believe that’s his original heart preserved in a glass case in the atrium!” Moser added. “It was neat how it was all charred and blackened.”

Media Appearances

[ 19 ] May 1, 2013 |

Because of the writing I’ve done on Bangladesh and Texas, I’ve had a number of media appearances lately. First, I was on the David Shuster show last weekend, with Daniel Marans hosting. The interview is cut into 3 bite-sized clips for your viewing pleasure. And yes, I need to get a better picture of me on the internet.

You can subscribe to Shuster’s show, Take Action News TV, here.

I was also on a HuffPo Live panel on workplace safety and applying universal workplace standards here. Watch me lose my train of thought halfway through! TV is hard. Although my friends said I was good, they are biased.

A couple of other May Day related things as well. I penned a piece at RIFuture on the Haymarket violence and May Day, reworking a This Day in Labor History post a bit.

I also did an interview with Sean Kitchen at Raging Chicken Press on Haymarket, Memorial Day, and connecting the first and second Gilded Ages.

Finally, here’s a nice site for Workers Memorial Day that some of you might be interested in.


[ 38 ] April 30, 2013 |

This is one way environmental racism works. Cleaning up the Gowanus Canal in New York? A good thing. Taking the nasty stuff from one wealthy white area of Brooklyn and moving it to a poor area of Brooklyn dominated by African-Americans and Latinos? Deeply problematic.

Even if there really isn’t a bad guy here–the EPA wants to clean up the canal, everyone thinks it should be cleaned up, etc., as is so common, toxicity gets displaced from the rich to the poor. Those with the least power end up closest to the poisons.

Hello Walls

[ 38 ] April 30, 2013 |

Happy 80th to Willie Nelson!!

“Hello Walls” is an early classic which Faron Young made a hit long before Willie had his own commercial success. The album from where this comes And Then I Wrote is a good example of the singles vs. albums format in country music that Scott was talking about yesterday. It’s a really phenomenal album but it’s also clear that it is basically a bunch of singles stuck together on an album without much conceptual framework.

Cuckoo for Cocoa Puffs

[ 38 ] April 29, 2013 |

I don’t usually link to crazy right-wing stuff, but watching Twitchy try to pivot from Jason Collins coming out as gay to Obama’s actions around Benghazi is a beautiful example of complete and utter desperation and undiluted wingnuttery.

HuffPo Live Panel on Workplace Safety

[ 4 ] April 29, 2013 |

If anyone is interested, I am participating in a panel at HuffPo Live at 9:30 on workplace safety. In part at least, it will deal with the piece I wrote last week on applying workplace safety law internationally and holding corporations accountable for deaths caused by their subcontractors. Among the other panelists is Shikha Dalmia from Reason, so that could get interesting.

Workers Memorial Day

[ 12 ] April 29, 2013 |

President Obama proclaimed yesterday “Workers Memorial Day.” That would have been a much better thing if the president had mentioned anything about the recent deaths in West, Texas or even in Bangladesh, something that would provide real meaning to the proclamation. Alas, no. His most recent reference to something concrete was 1970.


[ 30 ] April 29, 2013 |

As Ezra Klein and others have said, there’s no question that the Republicans have totally defeated the Democrats on all issues sequester. Caving on the FAA was politically almost inevitable and will probably set the stage for Republicans to roll back other parts of the sequester that affect rich people, but what’s so depressing (other than the defeat itself) is how little the Democratic Party was willing to fight for the poor on the sequester or leverage the FAA at all. Theda Skocpol:

Just an observation. I am so often disappointed by Congress, including Democrats, that you would not think the sequester exception for the FAA would matter — but this one is still bothering me days later, even though I fly a lot (too much given how miserable it is nowdays) and the exception personally benefits me.

It just so brazenly pro-elite and upper middle class an exception, unaimous from Senate Democrats who go on and on about caring for ordinary Americans and ask for votes and money in the name of “fairness.”

I teach an undergraduate seminar about Inequality and American Democracy and we go over all the new resarch — especially from Martin Gilens — showing definitively, statistically that government responds to the preferences of the privileged and pretty much ignores everyone else, including the middle-income citizenry as well as the poor. I know all this abstractly, but this particular Senate vote makes it concrete in a hit-you-in-the-gut way. Given the chance to, say, propose exceptions for BOTH Head Start kids and elite travelers, to use one to leverage the other, they just said to hell with it an went for the elites, instantly and unanimously, leaving all others to rot. Elizabeth Warren, too.

Hard to take.

Hard to take indeed. In fact, it is one of those things that make this left-leaning Democrat really shake his head at the future of the nation.


[ 150 ] April 29, 2013 |

Finally, the active Big 4 sports professional athlete barrier is broken, as Wizards center Jason Collins comes out as gay. Let’s hope it’s the first of many. It’d be nice if by, say, 2018 this wasn’t even notable anymore.

[SEK] How long will it take for a conservative to claim that teams that don’t offer him a contract or cut him after 10 days will be attacked by the ACLU? Also, I was secretly hoping it’d be LeBron. That way anyone who refused to play with him would be forced into acknowledging that they really don’t play to win because Jesus loves them more. (And Jesus would rather you lose than accept or love someone who’s different, because that’s the sort of hate Jesus was all about.)

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