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Visions of Early America

[ 8 ] June 19, 2016 |


It’s Sunday night and I’m watching the first good game of the NBA Finals. Of course, I am also paying attention to the American past and want to alert you to this series of interesting literature from the early American period. There is an account of a Revolutionary War soldier taken prisoner after a 1777 battle in Vermont who escaped and survived the true horror after–the scary, evil forests–,a weird religious text from 1812, and a Shaker petition to the state of New York from 1816.

Pretty cool stuff.


Erik Visits an American Grave, Part 36

[ 14 ] June 19, 2016 |

This is the grave of William Marcy.

2016-06-04 17.26.36

An early doughface, or northern politician who served southern masters, Marcy was a big wig in the New York Democratic Party during the antebellum era. Born in Southbridge, Massachusetts in 1786, he graduated from Brown in 1806 and went into the law, moving to Troy, New York. He was a leader in the Albany Regency, which was a group of Democrats who controlled New York politics in the 1820s and 1830s. He was elected to the Senate in 1831 as a major supporter of Andrew Jackson’s policies. He resigned that position in 1833 to serve as governor of New York. He soon came under attack from Whigs for his doughface policies, which were not necessarily unpopular in New York because New York City was a major center of southern support in the North, thanks to its many business connections with the region. But in 1838, he was defeated for reelection by William Seward and the Regency was finished.

Marcy then went to the national stage, serving in the Cabinet for various presidents who wanted his expertise to expand the United States in order to acquire more land for slavery. James K. Polk named him Secretary of War, placing him effectively in charge of a war that stole half of Mexico for the interests of the slave power. He really wanted the 1852 presidential nomination and was a leading candidate, but because of the labyrinthine infighting of party politics of that era, instead it went to a nobody alcoholic named Franklin Pierce. Marcy then served as Secretary of State under Pierce. There, he worked closely with Secretary of War Jefferson Davis to force Mexico to sell more land to the United States in order that a transcontinental railroad could be built connecting the South to San Diego and thus strengthen American slavery even more. He also came up with the idea the Ostend Manifesto, which was a document basically demanding that Spain cede Cuba to the United States. Again, the rationale for this was the expansion of slavery, the cause to which Marcy dedicated his public service. He died in 1857, three months after leaving the Cabinet.

William Marcy is buried in Albany Rural Cemetery, Menands, New York.

Women and the Draft

[ 130 ] June 19, 2016 |


The Senate passed a bill requiring women to register for the draft.

In the latest and perhaps decisive battle over the role of women in the military, Congress is embroiled in an increasingly intense debate over whether they should have to register for the draft when they turn 18.

On Tuesday, the Senate approved an expansive military policy bill that would for the first time require young women to register for the draft. The shift, while fiercely opposed by some conservative lawmakers and interest groups, had surprisingly broad support among Republican leaders and women in both parties.

The United States has not used the draft since 1973 during the Vietnam War. But the impact of such a shift, reflecting the evolving role of women in the armed services, would likely be profound.

Under the Senate bill passed on Tuesday, women turning 18 on or after Jan. 1, 2018, would be forced to register for Selective Service, as men must do now. Failure to register could result in the loss of various forms of federal aid, including Pell grants, a penalty that men already face. Because the policy would not apply to women who turned 18 before 2018, it would not affect current aid arrangements.

“The fact is,” said Senator John McCain, Republican of Arizona and the chairman of the Armed Services Committee, “every single leader in this country, both men and women, members of the military leadership, believe that it’s fair since we opened up all aspects of the military to women that they would also be registering for Selective Services.”

Although I’d prefer to get rid of the draft entirely, it seems that what this should be connected to is the revival of the Equal Rights Amendment. It’s still amazing to me that a revived ERA is nowhere to be found in progressive policy goals. On the other hand, I’ve done a lot of reading in the last few months on issues around women’s work and protective legislation and it’s eye-opening to learn what a horrible right wing organization Alice Paul created with the National Women’s Party to push for the ERA after 1920. As Nancy Woloch lays out in her recent book, A Class By Herself: Protective Laws for Women Workers, 1890s-1990s, Paul and the NWP openly worked with the Chamber of Commerce to oppose all protective labor legislation. At first, the opposition was for any protective laws for women, since ensuring that women work only 8 hours a day was seen as the kind of discrimination that would actually hurt women. Paul was wrong about that because protective labor legislation women did far more to open the door for broader labor legislation than hurt women’s ability to make a living, although it did in some industries. But then Paul and the NWP went ahead and also opposed all labor legislation during the New Deal. Frances Perkins hated the NWP and Eleanor Roosevelt would have nothing to do with the ERA. Even after World War II, when protective labor legislation had passed and those battles were no longer so salient, Roosevelt still would not endorse the Equal Rights Amendment. It was really only in the 1970s that the ERA became a relatively progressive movement and even then largely ignored concerns of poor women or women of color in favor of an abstract constitutional amendment.

One of the arguments against something like the ERA was that women could in fact be drafted (others included, for instance, the potential loss of alimony and child support). Of course, women have reached greater equality in the military, so the draft exemption no longer makes sense. Perhaps now is the time for the ERA to be revived.

Maximum Family Grant Dead in California

[ 20 ] June 19, 2016 |

President Clinton prepares to sign legislation in the Rose Garden of the White House Thursday, Aug. 22, 1996, overhauling America's welfare system. Visible, from left, are former welfare recipients Lillie Harden, of Little Rock, Ark., and Janet Ferrel, of West Virginia, Vice President Gore, West Virginia Gov. Gaston Caperton, Sen. John Breaux, D-La., and former welfare recipient Penelope Howard, of Delaware. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

The welfare reform movement of the 1990s really was the political peak of the white backlash that began having political success in the mid-1960s, when the civil rights movement came to the north and west, outraging whites in those regions with demands for the end of de facto segregation, the end of police violence against African-Americans, equal pay for equal work. Politically, this went far to drive the rise of the conservative movement that elected Reagan in 1980 and the Republican Congress of 1994. By that time, reading the political tea leaves, many Democrats, most importantly Bill Clinton, came to support some of their political goals, primarily the terrible welfare reform bill that makes so many on the left so angry at Hillary Clinton today. Of course the times have changed, the conservative movement is throwing itself on the rocks of unhinged violence, and radicalism, and horrific governance in the states it controls. But nationally and in blue states, there is increased space to roll back some of the terrible parts of the welfare reform bills.

This takes us to California, which just eliminated a truly terrible law as part of its recent budget bill.

The “maximum family grant” was a key feature in the welfare reforms adopted by California and other states in the mid-1990s. The idea was that welfare recipients should not be given an incentive to give birth while on the dole, so the amount of aid they received would be tied to the size their family was when they started receiving benefits. If another baby came along, well, too bad. Unless mom was raped, a victim of incest or could prove that the birth control didn’t work, there would be no benefit increase.

It was a repugnant policy and, furthermore, it didn’t seem to work. Studies have found little evidence of a link between caps in benefits and reproduction. What we do know, however, is that the maximum family grant rule punished poor kids for the choices of their parents.

Good riddance to this bad policy. It should have been repealed it long ago. Like, the minute it was adopted. The cap on benefits was based on the apocryphal story of the “welfare queen” — a term popularized by Ronald Reagan as he was campaigning for president — describing women who gamed the welfare system by popping out babies and amassing a fortune at the expense of gullible taxpayers.

There were no doubt cases of welfare fraud; you can’t have a government assistance program without someone breaking the rules. But it would take a criminal mastermind to figure out how to get rich from CalWORKs, California’s welfare-to-work program. The average grant for a family of three is about $700 a month, with a lifetime limit on benefits of four years. Most beneficiaries also have to work or develop job skills.

These arguments never made the first bit of sense. Who would get pregnant just to have a slight increase in their welfare check? The cost of a baby is so much more than that covered. But middle-class Americans ate that up, believing there were cadres of black people in the cities who were overpopulating the world with their spawn so they could drive in their Cadillac to fancy restaurants and order a huge t-bone steak, paid for with the dollars of hard-working white people.

Good on California for getting rid of one law that oppressed the poor. There are so many more from that era in California and nationally, and of course new ones appearing everyday in such lovely and well-run conservative states as Louisiana, Kansas, and Oklahoma.

Mergers and Microbrews

[ 123 ] June 18, 2016 |


The likely merger between Anheuser-Busch InBev and SABMiller to create what should be called Omnibrewery is making some worried that the macros will effectively drive the small microbreweries out of the market by controlling shelf space for the microbreweries like Elysian and Goose Island they buy up.

The problem is that, along with being the world’s largest brewer, Anheuser-Busch InBev is also the biggest beer distributor in the United States. And in several states, the law allows the company to distribute its own beer — and most markets have only one or two distributors. The company has also recently increased its control over the beer-distribution industry by purchasing five independent distributors (acquisitions that prompted a Department of Justice inquiry last fall). That means that Anheuser-Busch InBev can focus on building its own brands while effectively, and legally, shutting out competing craft brands.

The company, which already controls 45 percent of the domestic beer market, also encourages independent distributors to focus on selling its brands over craft brands. The company recently introduced its Voluntary Anheuser-Busch Incentive for Performance program, which pays distributors on a sliding scale based on the share of its beers they sell — which means that if they sell craft beers, they lose money (the Department of Justice is examining this program as well).

Distribution isn’t the only front in Anheuser-Busch InBev’s war on the small brewers represented by my organization. Since its merger with SABMiller was announced, the company has bought several well-regarded craft brewers around the country, including California’s Golden Road, Arizona’s Four Peaks, Colorado’s Breckenridge and Virginia’s Devil’s Backbone. These takeovers were preceded by the acquisition of Chicago’s Goose Island, Oregon’s Ten Barrel, Washington’s Elysian and Michigan’s Virtue Cider.

A merger between the world’s two largest brewers would give the new global corporation, with an estimated $64 billion in annual revenue and control over an astounding 29 percent of the global beer market, an even greater ability to hobble its competitors, at both the production and distribution levels. The enlarged Anheuser-Busch InBev will have more influence over which brands distributors carry, making it harder for smaller companies to get their products onto store shelves. It will have even more power to strong-arm independent distributors not to carry rival brands and exert pressure on retailers to cut back on, or even refuse to carry, competitive brands. And it will have more resources to buy up smaller breweries as they start to feel squeezed out of the marketplace.

I have conflicted feelings here but in the end I’m not freaking out about this. Ultimately, the goal is to have good beer available to consumers. To some extent, the microbrewery purchases will help that happen. I like Elysian and 10 Barrel and I would like it available to me here in Rhode Island. Elysian is just entering the market. Given that Rhode Island breweries are uniformly mediocre to awful except for tiny Proclamation, this improves my life. On the other, local experimentation and production is a great thing and we want to encourage this, right? Part of the microbrew culture is about trying new things and as much as they macros want to monopolize the market, they can’t kill this spirit. It’s true they could easily convince the average beer buyer who has just started getting interested in microbreweries to try some Goose Island 312 instead of something local, but that person is likely to move on from the 312 if they really enjoy microbreweries and if they don’t, they probably wouldn’t have experimented that much anyway. Don’t get me wrong. Monopoly is a bad thing. But beer is just about the nation’s only industry where thousands of local products have threatened to upend a previously nearly iron-clad monopoly. It’s hardly surprising that a new round of consolidation would happen to try and retake control. I just don’t think it will work, at least not that effectively. The Kroger and Safeway might not have local products, but the local liquor store sure will.

In related beer news, New Belgium is finally coming to Rhode Island this week. Mostly that improves my life. On the other hand, every bar will now have Fat Tire on tap and everyone will claim it’s the greatest beer in the world for the next five years until everyone realizes it is terrible.

Unfree Labor in American Seafood

[ 17 ] June 18, 2016 |


Usually when I talk about unfree labor, it’s overseas in supply chains producing products for western markets. But the U.S. has several of its own systemic versions of unfree labor–widespread use of prison labor, sweatshops in Los Angeles, etc. Another is in the seafood industry where suppliers use guestworkers to provide your frozen shrimp. But this is not free labor, not with the guestworkers having no recourse.

But labor abuse in the seafood sector isn’t a problem confined to Asia. A report published Wednesday by the labor group the National Guestworker Alliance suggests that some US seafood workers also experience abusive conditions. The report focuses on the experiences of undocumented and H2-B visa guestworkers shucking, peeling, and boiling shrimp and crawfish at seafood processing plants in New Bedford, Mass. and along the Louisiana Gulf Coast. Around 69 percent of shrimp produced in the US comes from the Gulf Coast.

“Stealing wages is standard business practice. The financial incentive to underpay guestworkers is far greater than the risk of getting caught.”

According to the NGA report, the US seafood industry has relied heavily on H2-B guestworkers and undocumented immigrants to drive down labor costs to stay price competitive with international producers. A 2009 survey in New Bedford found that nearly 75 percent of the workers in its seafood processing industry were undocumented immigrants. The US Department of Labor certified over 5,700 H2-B visas for seafood related positions in 2014, a marked 15 percent increase over 2013. Because employers grant H2-B visas, those on the receiving end are particularly vulnerable. Due to threats of retaliation by employers—including firing, which can result in deportation—guestworkers are often hesitant to report mistreatment. “Hours were long, wages were bad, housing was terrible—but we were all afraid that if we spoke up, we would lose our jobs, our housing, and our ability to ever come back to the US to work,” longtime H-2B guestworker Olivia Guzman Garfias told the NGA.

Here are some more striking details from the NGA’s report:

In housing provided by processing companies in both the Louisiana Gulf and New Bedford, Mass., workers reported living with up to 20 people per trailer, without access to proper sanitation and sometimes with strict curfews.

Of the 126 seafood workers surveyed in New Bedford, 25 percent reported having been injured on the job. The majority of workers reported having to purchase their own safety equipment.

44 percent reported not being paid for overtime work.

At times, piece rates for pounds of shrimp prorated to levels well below minimum wage, as low as $2 per hour, and employers sometimes failed to pay promised rates. According to NGA Organizing Director Jacob Horwitz: “Stealing wages is standard business practice. The financial incentive to underpay guestworkers is far greater than the risk of getting caught.”

Female workers experienced sexual harassment and verbal abuse in the workplace as well as in company-provided housing. Some women spoke of unwanted sexual advances by company brass, and of being fired for rebuffing such advances.

Once again, if you are eating frozen seafood, you are eating a product made by unfree labor. Unfortunately, while we can pressure Walmart and other stores from using these suppliers, they lack the legal obligation to take responsibility for their supply chains. Until we can go after the corporate buyers of this seafood, this sort of exploitation will continue. And this is yet more evidence that guestworker programs simply do not work, at least in low-wage jobs, and there should be no place for them in whatever immigration reform bill eventually passes Congress.

Fifty Years of Black Power

[ 51 ] June 18, 2016 |


Fifty years ago this month, the term “Black Power” became known to Americans as the participants in the March Against Fear picked it up as their slogan. N.D.B. Connolly, whose book you should read, discusses both its implications for today and then goes onto criticize how historians of radical African-Americans have gone far to undermine the potency of radical Black Power scholarship by focusing their attention on popular figures like Stokley Carmichael, promoting trade books and liberal notions of inclusive diversity instead of what Black Power activists actually fought for themselves. The whole thing is a must read. But I want to focus on his discussion of how Black Power never really ended.

This year will no doubt see plenty of fitting and necessary commemorations of Black Power’s importance in American history. Still, 50th anniversaries seem as good a time as any to clear up enduring confusions. “Black Power” is not some dusty or even hallowed slogan trapped in the past. It resides in the here-and-now as a set of living political and civic commitments. It includes a healthy suspicion of white-run institutions and an enduring desire for black ownership and other forms of self-determination. It also includes a hope that an unapologetic love of black people can, indeed, become a site of interracial political consensus. Chicago’s Black Youth Project 100, Baltimore’s Leaders of a Beautiful Struggle, and scores of #BlackLivesMatter activists and their affiliates around the country represent but a handful of the groups that sharply echo the most militant political practices of the last half-century.

Not unlike Meredith’s marchers, courageous men and women over the last 50 years have also kept alive a certain intellectual fearlessness, advancing what one could fittingly call a Black Power method. A Black Power method remains both anti-racist and, often, anti-liberal in its interpretive and archival practice. Interpretively, it refuses to caricature black radicalism as doomed for failure. It also remains attentive to racism’s class and gendered dimensions, even if, like historical Black Power, it is not uniformly, or even necessarily, “progressive” on either. Projections of black unity, as Elsa Barkley Brown recently reminded, often require silencing. Thus, it still takes real intellectual work to prioritize the stories of working-class people, queer people, and women who might otherwise be erased from the historical record, either by white supremacist history-making or black bourgeois responses to it.

I consistently tell my students that the civil rights movement has no start or end. If it has a starting point, it’s the moment the first African slave entered Virginia in 1619 and it continues to the present. We just talk about the Civil Rights Movement as a thing (with capital letters) because it’s one of only two times in U.S. history that enough white people cared about the oppression of African-Americans to pass legislation to do something about it (the other time of course being during Congressional Reconstruction). Black Power is not a thing of the past. As we see in Black Lives Matter, the Fight for $15, the anti-Confederate flag movement, and many other places, the issues driving black activism in 2016 are in many ways not that different than in 1965 or even 1865. And some of that activism has and does today reject white-dominated liberalism and unchallenging notions of diversity. That’s certainly Connolly’s position, as the rest of this essay makes clear and even if it makes white people uncomfortable, it’s a perfectly legitimate position that if anything makes actual acceptance of black people in American life more possible.

How Netflix Uses Independent Contractor Classifications to Avoid Paying Minimum Wage

[ 54 ] June 18, 2016 |


This should obviously be a violation of federal law. But of course the vile independent contractor employment status exists to shield employers from liability, responsibility, and of course, not having to give up their 5th ivory-covered backscratcher.

Getting paid to watch movies might seem like a pretty sweet gig, but two people who worked for Netflix are now suing the streaming-media giant, claiming that the company misclassified them as contractors rather than employees so it wouldn’t have to pay them time-and-a-half for the long workweeks they incurred.

The two workers, who are aiming for class-action status, were part of “Project Beetlejuice,” according to The Hollywood Reporter. These people (Netflix doesn’t say how many it works with) get paid $10 a pop to watch movies and pick out the best stills and video clips for Netflix to use.

The issue, of course, is that a movie can run two or three hours in length, which — if you do the math — means these film buffs aren’t making a lot per hour for their services. Netflix had classified them as independent contractors, but the litigation contends that they were treated more like employees, but without the benefits of regular employment. “They’re also asking for overtime, paid vacation, and holidays, health insurance, and a 401(k) plan,” Business Insider said.

$10 a pop if the the movie is 2 hours long is all of $5 an hour. Say what you will, but watching movies for a company is absolutely work and those workers need legal compensation, not to even mention fair compensation. Just another day in the New Gilded Age.

Where Does the Sanders Movement Go From Here?

[ 123 ] June 17, 2016 |


Of all the Democratic primary postmortems I have read, the smartest is from Communication Workers of America official Bob Master. Exploring the various success and failures of the Sanders movement, he notes its potentially historic message legitimizing socialism in American politics at a time when capitalism is immersed in a long-term crisis. He then thinks on where the movement goes from here. He provides short summaries of each point and then longer thoughts about each. I am going to just quote the short summaries and provide a little commentary of my own.

1. A new national left party or a single unified organization is unlikely to emerge from the Sanders movement, but let’s build something. The Occupy encampments changed the global political discourse, but the movement’s longer-term potential was squandered by its rejection of organization-building, an anti-leadership obsession with “horizontality,” and an aversion to program. Preoccupation with “holding space” and with decentralized direct action made it impossible to create the Occupy equivalent of SNCC or SDS—an organization that could have carried forward the anti-Wall Street mobilization even after state violence dismantled the encampments. We shouldn’t make those mistakes again.

Yes on all fronts. Occupy was doomed to failure as a movement for the reasons Master states. Presumably most of the Occupy activists were deeply committed to Sanders. But of course Sanders vastly expanded upon that base. Whoever wants to be active in leftist politics absolutely needs to be committed to movement building and concrete goals. And yes, that means verticality in leadership, at least to some extent. If nothing comes of the Sanders movement in the next 4 years except grumbling about Clinton, that would be incredibly disappointing. But I do think something will come of it because the problems of inequality and disillusion that led to both Occupy and Sanders are not going away.

2. The question of race must be dealt with upfront. In order to gain credibility among constituencies of color which were reluctant to back Sanders, the new formation must unify the agendas of the Occupy, Black Lives and immigration rights movements. It must prominently engage key community and political leaders of color like Representatives Keith Ellison and Raul Grijalva, Ohio State Senator Nina Turner, and NYC Councilmember Jumaane Williams (who led the legislative fight against “stop and frisk”), former NAACP leader Ben Jealous, and intellectuals like Michelle Alexander, who is probably the most significant intellectual influence on millennial activists, both white and black. And from the start, the post-Sanders formation must take up issues that are immediately relevant to constituencies of color—police accountability, stopping the attack on Voting Rights, or comprehensive immigration reform, to suggest just a few examples.

Yes, yes, yes. This was of course Bernie’s primary weakness. I fully believe that whatever gets built, it will be inclusive of racial inequality because that’s what most of the people in the Sanders movement also want, even if their candidate wasn’t so great at talking about it or even recognizing it as crucial.

3. The new movement should mobilize around a limited agenda that takes on issues of economic and racial exploitation on the one hand, and the reclamation of our democracy on the other. Such an agenda should be clearly understood as an effort to hold the new President and elected Democrats at every level accountable to the yearnings of tens of millions of Americans for racial and economic justice. This issue mobilization must begin—starting at the Democratic National Convention—by uniting forces both inside and outside the Sanders campaign to kill the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement (TPP) once and for all. This is not only the right policy, but critically important for the electoral success of the Democratic Party. So called “free trade” embodies the deep contradiction between the neoliberal bankers and technocrats, on the one side, who have dominated Democratic Party economic policy-making since the Clinton Administration, and its traditional working class base, on the other. It is also now the Party’s most vulnerable Achilles heel with white working class voters, whose sense of betrayal and economic hopelessness drive Trump’s right-wing, nationalistic populism and reduce Clinton’s support among these voters to abysmally low levels. Sanders has already pushed Clinton to rhetorical opposition to the TPP; in the run up to the convention, Sanders and Clinton should work together to extract a promise from Obama that the treaty will not be taken up in the lame duck session.

Again, completely agreed. Concrete goals are a must. Opposing the TPP is an obvious target. And even if that attempt fails to win, as I fear it will, new goals must be quickly articulated and organized around.

4. Launch a massive program of grassroots political and economic education. In the waning decades of the 19th century, the Populist movement deployed a small army of “lecturers” who traveled across the Plains talking to farmers about issues of debt, credit, monetary policy and the power of Wall Street over their lives. This popular education helped build the mass base for a reform agenda that ultimately culminated in the sweeping changes of the New Deal. Our movement requires a similar commitment to mass popular education.

For this point, I highly recommend reading Master’s further explanation of what he means, which includes small group trainings and popular education methods. In other words, it’s more than just the internet. I’m not totally sure how you reach mass numbers of people through these methods, but then it’s not really necessary. Given that it only takes small numbers of people to really draw attention to an issue that sometimes can then lead to something much larger, engaging in vigorous forms of education among activists, union members, and others who are socially conscious can have a pretty big cascading effect.

5. An openly socialist current should be built within the new movement. Senator Sanders’ refusal to retreat from his identification with democratic socialism certainly ranks as one of the most remarkable features of the campaign. To those of us who can remember “Commie” as a schoolyard epithet and “duck and cover” air raid drills, let alone labor’s bitter internecine battles over U.S. imperial misadventures in Vietnam and Central America, Sanders’ open embrace of socialism and the absence of “red-baiting” in the campaign has been almost beyond imagination.

Despite what a few Sanders supporters want to believe about Clinton, there has been very little red-baiting, although that would have changed big time had Bernie won the nomination and the Republicans gone after him. The open embrace of socialism is an absolute positive, even if the definitions are quite vague at this point.

6. The “political revolution” must be driven down to the level of school boards, city councils, county legislatures, state government, and Congress. The goal is not to take over the Democratic Party, but to build an infrastructure—an independent political party—comprised of activists and elected officials, both inside and outside the Democratic Party, which can carry the agenda of the Sanders campaign forward. For the last two decades, the Working Families Party, now operating in 11 states, has worked to build the political capacity to challenge corporate, right-wing Democrats, and to help defeat right-wing Republicans in general elections. Operating as a coalition of unions, community organizations and independent progressives, a model which can leverage substantial resources, the Working Families Party has had its greatest success at the state and local level. The Party’s endorsement of Sanders was its first such national endorsement, and created some tension with several of its labor affiliates, most of which had endorsed Clinton. Nevertheless, the WFP’s political and ideological agenda is tightly aligned with that of Sanders; in a sense, Sanders is the national candidate who embodies the Party’s foundational aspirations.

Master is a big player in the Working Families Party, so I think he plays down the real problems with the WFP, which is that it is so reliant on unions for funding that it had to endorse Andrew Cuomo because that’s what the unions wanted, completely eroding its credibility with much of the left. So I’m pretty skeptical of the WFP-style method. But I do of course absolutely agree with taking the fight to the local and state level and we need to talk more seriously about how to do that, including potentially through organizations like the WFP.

Is the Transnational Ruling Class Ending?

[ 25 ] June 17, 2016 |


An interesting argument, but I think it screams of choosing the evidence to make the conclusion it wants to make:

While Naím argues that what is happening is an end to power, what he aptly describes is more like a destabilization of old structures and a shifting of power. In terms of culture, Naím sees the undermining of traditional cultures in almost entirely positive terms, as an unleashing of people’s senses of possibility. But of course, along with the undermining of traditional cultures comes the spreading of capitalist forms of culture, and that can be seen as the spread of newer forms of power as much as it can be seen as the undermining of old ones.

Naím’s book can be seen as an elegy for what sociologist William Robinson calls the “transnational ruling class.” From the end of World War II until very recently, it looked to careful observers as if the Group of 5, the Group of 20, the World Trade Organization, the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank were able to control the rules under which the economies of the world functioned. And their power was so great that any national government that wanted to do things according to a different set of rules would be denied access to the capital needed to keep its economy flowing, and pressured until it played the political and economic games by the rules those at the top of these institutions required. Thus, that transnational ruling class had enormous power over both economic and political systems.

Robinson argues that the last part of the 20th century was characterized by a system of polyarchy, where power came to transcend national governments, and instead rested in the hands of the transnational ruling class and its governing institutions. He argues that national elections became not as significant as they once had been as mechanisms for deciding how a group of people chose to live.

And yet, Naím is partially right. We do seem to be entering a period in which the ability of the transnational ruling class to provide an orderly atmosphere for those interests to operate is crumbling. But the system of capitalism, which those institutions work to manage, continues on its merry way. The power of capitalist processes to destroy people’s lives is as powerful as ever.

What has changed is that those capitalist processes are less able to be managed by a cohesive transnational ruling class, and they are less accountable to any particular regime of control. That is largely a result of finance capital coming to dominate over the more productive forms of capital that had previously been dominant, and a result of the neoliberal policies of those very transnational institutions that have spread an ideology of laissez faire.

The power of individuals at the heads of major corporations, or at the heads of transnational institutions, does seem to be destabilizing. The forms of power that Naím and people like him have held in the past century — the power as heads of corporations, as people in government and as people at the head of transnational organizations — is shifting, and those people can no longer feel secure in their ability make things happen.

And yet for the rest of us, it is still the case that transnational capitalist processes rule our world. They are just ruling in a less orderly fashion. And whereas Robinson, the sociologist, sees the transnational ruling class anchored in institutions such as the World Trade Organization and World Bank as the rulers of this new world order, it may be that Naím is right — that even those forms of governance over the capitalist systems are losing their grip on power.

I don’t know. There’s something here. Certainly the power of international finance capital is very strong. Arguably it is stronger than government; in any case, as with the global race to the bottom in labor standards and the tax avoidance schemes of the wealthy, the wealthy have become quite adept at playing nations against each other to give rich people the better deal. But there’s nothing particularly inevitable about this or the power of finance capital more generally. Governments can indeed tame those financial institutions or work with those institutions or shape those institutions. Moreover, my first thought when reading this argument was that the real power shift after World War II was a) the end of colonialism and b) the end of the Cold War. Maybe the rise of new forms of capitalism is third. Of course, these things are all interconnected. Neocolonialism through domination of poor nations by international financial capital is a very real thing and the choices governments can make are severely constricted by this capital. But I think we more need examples than Greece to really make this argument about the decline of the global ruling class effectively.

Figured it would make an interesting comment thread at least.

What Does the Working Class Look Like?

[ 30 ] June 17, 2016 |

330 hispanic worker

Way too often in American political rhetoric, the working class means “white people.” That’s especially true among pundits who often talk of politicians needing to appeal to “the working class,” i.e., laid off white autoworkers in Michigan with out of fashion mustaches. African-American and Latino issues are seen as completely separate. They are discussed as a different demographic and the discussion of political appeals are different in ways that equate wealthy and poor minority populations as having the same interests, which is sometimes true and sometimes not. But what does the actual working class look like? Increasingly, it is made up of people of color and they will make up a majority of the working class sooner than you think, as this new Economic Policy Institute report details.

What this report finds: People of color will become a majority of the American working class in 2032. This estimate, based on long-term labor force projections from the Bureau of Labor Statistics and trends in college completion by race and ethnicity, is 11 years sooner than the Census Bureau projection for the overall U.S. population, which becomes “majority-minority” in 2043.

Why this matters: As of 2013, the working class—made up of working people without a college degree—constitutes nearly two-thirds (66.1 percent) of the U.S. civilian labor force between ages 18 and 64. Thus wage stagnation and economic inequality can’t be solved without policies aimed at raising living standards for the working class. Because the working class is increasingly people of color, raising working class living standards will require bridging racial and ethnic divides.

What it means for policy: The best way to advance policies to raise living standards for working people is for diverse groups to recognize that they share more in common than not, and work together toward:

Full employment
Equal pay for equal work
Universal high-quality child care and early childhood education
Strengthened collective bargaining
Higher minimum wages
Voting rights protections
Reforms to immigration and criminal justice systems

This also means we need to change how we talk about the working class immediately.

Whole Paycheck

[ 104 ] June 16, 2016 |


I too am shocked that a company founded by an anti-union libertarian jerk would completely ignore not only basic food safety principles but the FDA’s orders to do something about it.

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