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Nixon on Hillary

[ 27 ] April 9, 2015 |


Above: The two kindest, gentlest men in American history.

What did Richard Nixon think of Hillary Clinton? Well, this is probably about the easiest question in the world to answer.

Mr. Nixon praised Barbara Bush as a model of a wife who has her own opinions without upstaging her husband, and suggested that many Americans are still put off by a male politician who does not seem to be as strong as his wife. The former President allowed that, unfortunately, some voters agree with Cardinal de Richelieu, who said, “Intellect in a woman is unbecoming.”

Of course, the caveat here is that Maureen Dowd is the source of this story, so the chances she made it up are probably 50 percent.

But this serves as a chance to say bad things about both Richard Nixon and Maureen Dowd, which means a perfect blog post.

Populist Conspiracies

[ 58 ] April 8, 2015 |


Richard Hofstadter was a very influential historian but he was also a tremendous snob whose personal proclivities would not make him look positively at a bunch of poor southern farmers. In The Age of Reform, Hofstadter notably dismissed the Populists’ claims that monetary policy was part of an east coast conspiracy to keep them down. That view of the Populists remained powerful for a long time and has never really totally gone away.

But what if the Populists were right about a conspiracy? This is the subject of a 2011 article by Yale political scientist Samuel DeCanio in Studies in American Political Development. It is worth delineating his argument to a broader public in order to beat back the Hofstadter view of the Populists and to shine a light on how politics worked in the Gilded Age (and potentially in the New Gilded Age).

The core problem with monetary policy in the Gilded Age, from the perspective of the farmers who organized into the Farmers Alliance and eventually the Populist Party, was the Coinage Act of 1873. This was the law that demonetized silver in the U.S., among other things. By the 1890s, the Populists corrected identified this as the law that had made their lives so difficult. But DeCanio shows not only that the passage of this law absolutely was a conspiracy, but the people who created the idea of an East Coast conspiracy did so precisely to cover up their own role in the law’s passage.

The Coinage Act of 1873 passed because of the desires of one man: William Ralston. Ralston was the head of the Bank of California and the owner of most of the Comstock mines in Nevada that produced a huge amount of silver. He was concerned that Europe, which was also demonetizing silver, would dump all their silver on the American market and thus lower its value, making him poorer. He hoped that demonetizing American silver and then using his silver to serve as an unofficial trade currency in China would make him a lot of money (which did not work and he eventually lost control over the mines). He knew that he couldn’t openly lobby for this. So instead he simply bribed Harry Linederman, director of the U.S. Mint, to write the bill for him. Ralston then used his already existing allies in Congress from California and Nevada to protect the Coinage Act from amendments that would harm him. Linderman actually told Ralston he would “not be able to give my services without compensation.” And that was fair enough for the capitalist.

Ralston, like most capitalists of his generation, openly engaged in bribery and shady dealing with what Richard White would identify as “friends,” or the people you may or may not personally like but who you needed to work with to bilk all the lesser people involved in your world so you could get rich. Ralson and Nevada senator William Stewart were very close and each helped each other. When Stewart became a senator, he sold his mansion to his law partner who was Ralston’s friend. Stewart then got his law partner named ambassador to Japan. The new ambassador then sold the house to Ralston’s brother for a reduced rate. Everyone was happy. Linderman set up a meeting between Ralston and the most corrupt person ever to hold the presidency in U.S. history, James Garfield, after the Coinage Act passed. Immediately after the meeting, the future president purchased thousands of dollars of Comstock mine stocks.

He was able to do this because nobody understands monetary policy. John Sherman, one of the Gilded Age’s most powerful senators and a major player on economic issues, didn’t really understand the Coinage Act either. Since Linderman supported it, Sherman and everyone else figured, well, he’s the expert. And therefore, silver coinage was demonetized and the lives of farmers plummeted with the tight currency market. DeCanio is clear to make connections to the present and how the complexities of monetary policy not only leaves regular citizens confused but also politicians, noting how easy this ignorance can be to manipulate.

Once the problems with the law became well-known, the politicians who supported the Coinage Act got scared of voter backlash. So William Stewart claimed that he had nothing to do with it and it was evil east coast bankers and European financiers responsible for a criminal act!!! By this time, both Linderman and Ralston were dead so they couldn’t tell. Stewart was free to create his own story.

Populists knew that someone had conspired against them but they didn’t have the information to find out who. In the end, they believed the politicians who made the claims, never suspecting that those politicians themselves were hugely culpable. The Populists were wrong about who was responsible for the conspiracy affecting their lives. But they were absolutely not wrong about the conspiracy itself. It was Hofstadter who was wrong in so blithely dismissing the Populists.

Michelle Rhee: Union Buster

[ 46 ] April 8, 2015 |


Above: Terrible human being Michelle Rhee.

California teachers’ unions are under a new assault by teachers suing over unions using dues for political campaigns. Members can withdraw but they don’t have full union membership. Given the makeup of the Supreme Court, I think we know where this will probably end up. Who is funding this latest attack on unionism? The Koch Brothers? Chamber of Commerce? Republican operatives? Nope. Students First.

Financial backing for the lawsuit comes from StudentsFirst, the advocacy group founded by former D.C. Schools chancellor Michelle Rhee, who has battled unions over issues ranging from teacher evaluation to charter schools. Defendants include the National Education Association, the nation’s largest teachers union, and its California chapter, the California Teachers Association. Also named are the American Federation of Teachers and its California unit, the California Federation of Teachers.

Can we please stop saying that Michelle Rhee, Students First, the charter school capitalists, or anyone else involved in the privatization of one of this nation’s most cherished, long-lasting, and successful public services cares about actual students at all? This is about profit and destroying workers’ rights. Michelle Rhee is one of the great villains of our time. She may not be the head of the organization she founded any longer, but her spirit still flows through the entire enterprise.

Racism: Totally Dead

[ 31 ] April 8, 2015 |


The post-racial society once again rears its glorious head, this time in beautiful Orange, Texas:

A Confederate monument featuring 32 flags representing Civil War regiments is nearing completion in an east Texas town, alongside Martin Luther King Jr. Drive.

The Sons of Confederate Veterans, which is building the $50,000 memorial on private property, has ordered flagpoles to stand alongside 13 columns representing the states that seceded from the United States and fought to preserve slavery.

Granvel Block, an Orange resident who leads the statewide Sons of Confederate Veterans group, said southern states did not fight the Civil War to defend slavery – but instead were simply defending their sovereignty after “our states were invaded by northern troops.”

He said the memorial is intended to correct the “poor skew” of historical teachings about the Civil War and the Confederacy.

Block is a plaintiff in a recent case before the U.S. Supreme Court, which will decide whether Texas was wrong to reject a specialty license plate displaying the Confederate flag.

He insists the location of the memorial along Martin Luther King Jr. Drive was not chosen to “stir the pot,” but was simply the cheapest land the group could find in Orange.

Oh yeah, I’m sure that was the reason. Total coincidence. Admitting that racism is dead and that’s why white cops should be able to shoot black men without consequence, I wonder if we look at the bad old days, if there was any racism in the Orange, Texas vicinity? You know, just for random comparison.

Orange, Texas had so many lynchings in the late 19th century that it had a specifically designated hanging tree. Blacks in east Texas counties are between 4 and 34 times more likely to be arrested for marijuana than whites while a local assistant U.S. Attorney wrote this in response to criticism of Stand Your Ground laws:

How are you fixed for Skittles and Arizona watermelon fruitcocktail (and maybe a bottle of Robitussin, too) in your neighborhood? I am fresh out of “purple drank.” So, I may come by for a visit. In a rainstorm. In the middle of the night. In a hoodie. Don’t get upset or anything if you see me looking in your window…kay?”

In 1989, cops shot and killed a suspected drug dealer after he supposedly reached for their guns, leading to NAACP-led protests about police brutality in Orange. An Army reservist in Orange dragged a black woman named Therea Ardoin to death after tying her to his pickup after beating her in the head with a hammer.

Less than 20 miles away, you have Vidor, Texas, which has one of the strongest racist legacies of any town in the United States, including a long history as a sundown town and a 1993 KKK rally after the federal government finally forced local public housing to accept black residents.

All of this is what I found looking for all of 5 minutes.

In other words, racism is dead.

….In comments, Hogan uncovers how Orange talks about the Civil War. On the city’s official website. In 2015.

The War Between the States, which lasted from 1861-1865, had disastrous effects on Orange by taking its toll on lives and property. When hostilities ceased, tragedy continued. A reign of terror marked by extreme lawlessness followed the end of the war, lasting for a decade. Additional hardships ensued in 1865, when one of the worst wind and rainstorms in Orange’s history brought about even more death and destruction

Did I mention that racism was dead?

This Day in Labor History: April 7, 2000

[ 15 ] April 7, 2015 |

On April 7, 2000, the Workers’ Rights Consortium formed at a New York conference. This apparel industry monitoring organization developed in response to the anti-sweatshop movement of the 1990s and still exists today, trying to bring attention in the United States to the plight of foreign workers making apparel for our colleges and universities.

By the 1990s, almost all American textile production had moved overseas, largely to Latin America and Asia. The conditions in these factories were little changed from what workers in the United States had dealt with a century earlier. Moving from the northeast to the South to Mexico to Central America to Asia has been part of a long-term strategy by the apparel companies to find new workers to exploit and not have to improve working conditions or acquiesce to unions. Also in the 1990s, stories began appearing in the American media about the terrible working conditions in these sweatshops. Most famous were stories about Nike and the clothing line branded by TV host Kathie Lee Gifford. College students began campaigns to improve these conditions as they applied to the production of university licensed apparel.

Central to this movement was United Students Against Sweatshops (USAS). Formed in July 1998 by students at 30 campuses, USAS began providing a national organization for all these anti-sweatshop movements on American campuses. USAS members began conducting fact-finding tours, visiting Dominican Republic sweatshops making baseball hats for colleges where young women earned $40 in a 56-hour week. The movement continued to grow through that fall, with new chapters opening at campuses across the United States. Universities refused to sign any code of conduct with the exception of Duke University. Instead, schools sought to avoid responsibility through the Collegiate Licensing Corporation, a corporate front that claimed to monitor apparel industry conditions. It created a CLC code that forced no responsibility onto universities. This intended to make a claim that the schools cared, but it only made the anti-sweatshop activists more determined. Protests and sit-ins grew at schools around the country by 1999. Schools continued trying to cover themselves, now joining the Fair Labor Association, another corporate front group that provided only voluntary guidelines for schools.


Through this campaign, the students gained the support of the United Needletrades, Industrial, and Textile Employees (UNITE). UNITE formed in 1985 as a merger of the International Ladies’ Garment Workers Union (ILGWU) and the Amalgamated Clothing and Textile Workers’ Union (ACTWU). Both of these unions were decimated by 1985 from the outsourcing of their jobs overseas. UNITE hoped that combining forces would help marshal resources to fight this, although the job losses continued. Facing the end of the union, UNITE quickly saw the growing sweatshop movement as useful allies in the war against the exploitation of apparel workers that these unions had fought since the beginning of the century. UNITE offered professional assistance, funds, and training to the burgeoning sweatshop movement. The AFL-CIO also chipped in, giving USAS $40,000 in 1999-2000.

In April 2000, activists met in New York City in order to develop strategies to help hold universities to anti-sweatshop pledges. It created the Workers Rights Consortium (WRC), an independent labor monitoring organization dedicated to the ethical sourcing of clothing for colleges and universities. It is supposed to define standards, conduct independent external monitoring, and force contracting companies to disclose wages, hours, and working conditions, with an independent agency to determine violations of the code. It places reports of factory inspections online that you can peruse.


The WRC developed connections with labor unions and NGOs in the nations where clothing production took place. It based its investigations on complaints it heard from the workers and affiliated agencies on the ground. It took that information, conducted investigations, and sought to press university administrations on its findings to ensure their contractors were complying with the agreed upon codes. In January 2001, the WRC took on its first case. Workers at a factory in Atlixco, Mexico complained that their employer, the Korean operator Kukdong, which had contracts from Nike and Reebok, used child labor, subjected workers to verbal harassment and physical violence, fed workers spoiled food in the company cafeteria, did not provide mandated maternity leave, and illegally fired workers. In other words, standard treatment of workers in the global apparel industry that continues today. Within a week, the WRC was in the factory and interviewing workers. It filed a report and began to pressure university administrations. This all led to Nike and Reebok forcing Kukdong to rehire the fired workers, improve the cafeteria food, increase wages, and recognize the factory’s independent union (an important point considering the corrupt official Mexican unions).

This early victory provided the WRC needed legitimacy. At that time, the WRC had the support of 44 universities. Ultimately, the WRC provided much needed American attention on apparel sweatshops, but the reality is that there is not a whole lot the WRC can do to force a fundamental transformation of the entire industry. So long as students were actively forcing change, they could create some real victories for workers. But the fundamentals of the global apparel system require government action to force real changes. Simply put, the WRC even at its height had no conceivable way to monitor conditions at the thousands of sweatshops scattered around the world. No independent monitoring organization will ever have those resources.

The WRC was never able to get the U.S. government to take the issue seriously enough to force its corporations to make changes or to pass laws that would create enforceable standards for outsourced production imported back into the United States. Instead, the free trade mania continues in this nation that encourages the exploitation of the world’s workers by American corporations for cheap goods that we can buy without knowing anything about the conditions of production. Despite all this work by the anti-sweatshop movement, a WRC/Center for American Progress report from 2013 showed that real wages for apparel workers around the world fell between 2001 and 2011.

After 9/11, the sweatshop movement faded from prominence in young activist communities, with opposing the war in Iraq, the Patriot Act, and other actions of the Bush administration taking precedence. Yet the movement remained relatively strong at some campuses and has been rekindled to some extent in recent years, partially through events like the Rana Plaza collapse in Bangladesh that killed over 1100 workers again drawing the attention of young Americans. Today, the WRC has 180 college and university affiliates, as well as 6 high schools. This affiliation, which includes the University of Rhode Island, can often be pretty loose. URI has no real anti-sweatshop movement and while the university is aware of it, to my knowledge anyway, there’s no real active movement on these issues coming from my school.

This is the 141st post in this series. Previous posts are archived here.

The Evicted of Central Park

[ 65 ] April 6, 2015 |


Would it surprise you to learn that the creation of Central Park required the eviction of an African-American village on the site, as well as a few Irish? Would it surprise you to learn that yet another moment in American history is connected to the nation’s racism? No, I don’t suppose it would. Shouldn’t anyway.

But there’s another side to the story. By the time the decision to create a park was made, there wasn’t enough empty space left in Manhattan. So the city chose a stretch of land where the largest settlement was Seneca Village, population 264, and seized the land under the law of eminent domain, through which the government can take private land for public purposes. Residents protested to the courts many times, against both the order and the level of compensation being offered for their land; eventually, though, all were forced to leave.

Two thirds of the population was black; the rest Irish. There were three churches and a school. And 50 per cent of the heads of households owned the land they lived on, a fact conveniently ignored by the media of the time, who described the population as “squatters” and the settlement as “n***er village”.

Crushing Treason in Defense of Slavery Day

[ 117 ] April 6, 2015 |


Brian Beutler with a proposal:

This week provides an occasion for the U.S. government to get real about history, as April 9 is the 150th anniversary of the Union’s victory in the Civil War. The generous terms of Robert E. Lee’s surrender to Ulysses S. Grant at Appomattox Court House foreshadowed a multitude of real and symbolic compromises that the winners of the war would make with secessionists, slavery supporters, and each other to piece the country back together. It’s as appropriate an occasion as the Selma anniversary to reflect on the country’s struggle to improve itself. And to mark the occasion, the federal government should make two modest changes: It should make April 9 a federal holiday; and it should commit to disavowing or renaming monuments to the Confederacy, and its leaders, that receive direct federal support.

Two things. First, Crushing Treason in Defense of Slavery Day should absolutely be a national holiday. That should go without saying. It should be a national remembrance of the Confederacy’s evil and the end of the racist slave labor system that underwrote the development of American capitalism (that it was replaced by another racist labor system is a fair enough point).

Second, monuments to Confederates should be renamed but that doesn’t mean those previous names should be forgotten about. In other words, the Edmund Pettus bridge should be renamed the John Lewis bridge and there should be a historical marker there explaining who Pettus was and why the name was changed. That should be done around the nation. There should be no schools receiving federal money named after Robert E. Lee, Stonewall Jackson, or Jefferson Davis. But that they were named after those slaveholding traitors should be part of our official history. Similarly, we should rename American military bases named after slaveholding traitors.

Father Was Killed by the Pinkerton Men

[ 8 ] April 6, 2015 |


In the aftermath of the Homestead Strike of 1892, the New York songwriter William W. Delaney composed a song by the name of “Father Was Killed by the Pinkerton Men.” It became fairly popular across the nation that year. Here are the lyrics.

‘Twas in Pennsylvania town not very long ago
Men struck against reduction of their pay
Their millionaire employer with philanthropic show
Had closed the work till starved they would obey
They fought for home and right to live where they had toiled so long
But ere the sun had set some were laid low
There’re hearts now sadly grieving by that sad and bitter wrong
God help them for it was a cruel blow.

God help them tonight in their hour of affliction
Praying for him whom they’ll ne’er see again
Hear the orphans tell their sad story
“Father was killed by the Pinkerton men.”

Ye prating politicians, who boast protection creed,
Go to Homestead and stop the orphans’ cry.
Protection for the rich man ye pander to his greed,
His workmen they are cattle and may die.
The freedom of the city in Scotland far away
‘Tis presented to the millionaire suave,
But here in Free America with protection in full sway
His workmen get the freedom of the grave.

This is taken from Paul Krause, The Battle for Homestead, 1880-1892: Politics, Culture, and Steel, p. 4.

Returning from the Grave

[ 34 ] April 5, 2015 |


This happy glorious holiday sees both the return of Mad Men and Major League Baseball. Let this be the open thread for both.

Personally, I have experienced too much disappointment to believe the Mariners are one of the best teams in the AL. Then I look at the rest of the AL and reconsider.

Power and the Land

[ 18 ] April 5, 2015 |

Enjoy this 1940 Rural Electrification Administration documentary on the drudgery of rural work before electricity and how REA cooperatives and the New Deal transforms the lives of farmers. Good stuff. I love the films of the New Deal. There are also useful stories here. Robert Caro’s first LBJ book is a wonderful book on Texas, the main character in its first half. Years later, I continue to recall how he described the drudgery of farm women’s labor in the Texas Hill Country. LBJ helped end that through being a big supporter of public power. That was necessary because with private utilities, profit comes before service. So even as late as 1940, you had American cities in the modern age and American farms basically in the 19th century when it came to life inside the home. The REA played a huge role in changing that. Public power was a justice issue. Naturally, Republicans largely opposed it, the godfather of public power George Norris being the exception that proved the rule as he was a Republican only to keep his seniority and openly attacked Republican presidents over the power issue.

Harvesting the Ripe Grain of Wingnuttery

[ 81 ] April 5, 2015 |


The voters of Kansas elected Sam Brownback governor. Then they reelected them. So now the reap what they sowed:

The economic fallout continues in Kansas, where Republican Gov. Sam Brownback recently signed a public school funding overhaul that cut millions in funding for the current school year.

Two school districts in the state are now ending the academic year early, according to the Associated Press, because they can no longer afford to stay open under the new plan.

The governor’s proposal, which passed the Kansas House in mid-March but was slowed by a court order that challenged parts of the plan, replaces the state’s previous education funding formula with block grants for the next couple years until legislators finalize a new formula. Critics say the proposed formula takes away millions of dollars in much-needed funding, including about $51 million this school year alone.

Brownback has received the brunt of the blame for Kansas’ fiscal woes after he spent his first term slashing taxes and promising an economic boom that never came. Instead, his “real live experiment” in applying conservative tax principles led to debt downgrades, weak growth, and left the state’s finances in ruins.

Sure Kansas children are falling behind those of every other state in the nation. But who doubts that Brownback could win reelection again, term limits notwithstanding? Not I.

Apple: A Corporation of the New Gilded Age

[ 82 ] April 5, 2015 |


Building off the sociopathy of its founder, Steve Jobs, Apple is banning felons from working on constructing its buildings. It’s nice that capitalists are judging the morals of the American working class while outsourcing production to facilities where conditions are so bad that workers jump to their deaths often enough that suicide nets were erected. But condemning people who have made one mistake in their life or got caught up in the United States’ racist justice system to not being worthy enough to do hard labor on their buildings is a really classy move for Apple to make.

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