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Andrew Cuomo: Bought and Paid For

[ 104 ] March 20, 2015 |

Andrew_Cuomo_2014

Above: A terrible person.

George Joseph has an excellent exposé on Andrew Cuomo selling public education in New York to billionaires looking for new profits off formerly public goods. You should read it. But why has Andrew Cuomo done this? Is it because of his deeply felt but perhaps flawed concern about poor children? Of course not:

Clearly, the governor’s ambitions are not focused on New York State any longer. A recent Quinnipiac poll, for example, indicates Cuomo’s education proposal has lowered his overall approval rating to its lowest in office, with only 28 percent in support of and 63 percent against his massive reform plan. While 50 percent support his advocacy of charter schools, an overwhelming 71 percent do not believe teachers should be evaluated based on student test scores, and 65 percent do not believe such scores should determine tenure. Furthermore, if Cuomo was at all interested in staying in New York, he would not be waging an all out war against the state’s still formidable teachers’ union, once considered the preeminent political force in Albany. “Andrew Cuomo’s career is based on copying everything Bill Clinton ever did, going against teachers’ unions with the support of billionaires, just like the Clintons did with Walmart,” argues one Albany lobbyist to The Nation. “He’s not especially original, but he’s tough, mean, and can execute a plan. He doesn’t give a rats’ ass about education, he just wants Wall Street money. He sees the backing of billionaires key to his future success.”

An even more right-wing version of the Clintons is precisely what the Democratic Party needs! Luckily, I think Cuomo has gone too far down this road to ever be the presidential nominee. He has become so toxic to Democratic Party activists that I think an “Anyone But Cuomo” campaign would unite Democrats around someone else were he to run. The one caveat to that is probably if Hillary doesn’t run in 2016 since there wouldn’t be time for another major candidate to play that role except maybe O’Malley and Biden, neither of whom would exactly galvanize the forces, or maybe Elizabeth Warren but she isn’t running in any case.

Say Goodbye to the Weekend in Wisconsin

[ 56 ] March 20, 2015 |

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The next front in Scott Walker and the Wisconsin Republican Party’s war on labor is to abolish the state law that mandates one day off a week. I assume the chances of this bill passing is approximately 100 percent.

The Home of the Brave

[ 109 ] March 20, 2015 |

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In order to honor Foreign Language Week, New York’s Pine Bush High School decided to read the Pledge of Allegiance in Arabic. You can guess how the good people of Pine Bush responded, if the photo above doesn’t give it away.

Suicide at Work

[ 11 ] March 19, 2015 |

Mental health at work absolutely should be something covered by OSHA standards. Workplace happiness is key to overall happiness. If terrible bosses, absurd working hours, and high stress is causing people to die on the job through suicide, that should be the government’s concern and investigations of workplace conditions should be taken as seriously here (understanding that OSHA is underfunded and things are not taken seriously enough) as when a tractor overturns or a worker falls off scaffolding.

Debate Over

[ 68 ] March 19, 2015 |

BenjaminNetanyahu

Above: A racist.

I guess the debate over whether Benjamin Netanyahu is a racist is over:

The prime minister also dismissed allegations that he was a racist following comments about Arab voter turnout during the election, saying simply: “I’m not.”

OK then! Netanyahu really is modeling himself after American conservatives, who reject the same (usually legitimate) charge against their own racism by simply denying it, which the media happily goes along with.

“We Don’t Need to Listen to this Crap”

[ 32 ] March 19, 2015 |

Janet_Napolitano_official_portrait

Above: Academic plutocrat

University of California president (and former Arizona governor and Secretary of Homeland Security) Janet Napolitano sums up the opinion of pretty much all university presidents and provosts toward any of the lowly proles protesting or advocating against their policies that concentrate resources in the academic 1 percent:

University of California President Janet Napolitano remarked to a fellow regent that they “didn’t have to listen to this crap” as protesters denounced potential tuition hikes during a meeting Wednesday in San Francisco.

Napolitano was sitting next UC regent Chairman Bruce Varner as a group of about two dozen protesters shouted loudly, denouncing potential tuition hikes when she made the remark, which she may not have known was being recorded.

As the protests began, the cameras stayed on the regents. There was some confusion over what to do. That’s when Napolitano leans over to Varner and said, “Let’s just break. Let’s go, let’s go. We don’t have to listen to this crap.” Her hot mic caught the comment.

Whether it is students not wanting to take out more debt so that schools can hire another vice-president for strategic dynamism, professors speaking unpopular opinions, or campus workers organizing, university presidents, other high administrators, and boards of trustees, see them as nothing more than flies to be swatted away. How dare they protest the corporate university! Don’t they know that CEOs and college presidents are lords of the manor who deserve every penny of their massively bloated salaries?

Down With Grammar Snobs!

[ 433 ] March 19, 2015 |

It’s time to declare war on grammar snobs. They are both annoying and wrong:

The grammatical rules invoked by pedants aren’t real rules of grammar at all. They are, at best, just stylistic conventions: An example would be the use of a double negative (I can’t get no satisfaction). It makes complete grammatical sense, as an intensifier. It’s just a convention that we don’t use double negatives of that form in Standard English.

Some other pedantic stipulations are destructive pieces of folklore, like the belief that it is wrong to split an infinitive or to end a sentence with a preposition. We should be entirely relaxed about that sort of choice. Why worry, as some pedants do, about whether to write “firstly” or “first” when you begin a list of points? Either is correct.

The range of legitimate variation is wider than you would imagine. Yes, you may use “hopefully” as an adverb modifying an entire sentence; and you may use “they” as a singular generic pronoun; and you may say “between you and I.” The pedants’ prohibitions on constructions like these are not supported by the evidence of general usage.

Pedantry is poor manners, certainly, but also poor scholarship. If someone tells you that you “can’t” write something, ask them why not. Rarely will they have an answer that makes grammatical sense; it is probably just a superstition that they have carried around with them for years.

This is followed with a history of grammar snobbery that should make any grammar snob think twice about the “rules” they believe in.

California Water

[ 47 ] March 19, 2015 |

California refuses to deal with its water shortages in any kind of serious way. It’s so bad that even the articles yelling at California about how to take it seriously don’t really even themselves because they leave out agriculture, which is far and away the largest consumer of the state’s water. That said, this implicates us all because so many of the fruits and vegetables we eat, especially in the winter, come from California.

NYU’s Sellout for Gulf Oil Money Looks Worse and Worse

[ 16 ] March 18, 2015 |

New York University, supposedly a bastion of education and academic freedom and whose president John Sexton came on strongly against BDS because of academic freedom issues, made a deal with the United Arab Emirates to open a campus in Abu Dhabi. The reason was obvious: cash. And NYU, supposed bastion of education and academic freedom, is willing to compromise on every mission other than making cash to make this happen. First, there was the terrible wages and working conditions of the migrant labor used to construct this campus. Now, the United Arab Emirates is banning NYU professor Andrew Ross from even entering the country because he reported on those labor issues! What do you think the response of NYU will be? Oh I think we all know the answer–cash another check.

Worker Safety in Fast Food

[ 33 ] March 18, 2015 |

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This report shows just how unsafe working conditions are in the fast food industry. 79 percent of fast food workers were burned in the last year and 58 percent received multiple burns. Given the relatively open kitchen of the fast food restaurant, it doesn’t take a genius to figure out why as there is a lot of open vats of oil and not a lot of protections for workers. 67 percent of workers were cut, 34 percent were hurt lifting heavy items and 23 percent fell. Perhaps more disturbingly, a full 12 percent of workers claimed they were assaulted on the job last year, although the report does not explore this in much follow up detail. Moreover, employers do a terrible job of dealing with these injuries, especially the burns, where employers give the equivalent advice of “shake it off and keep working.” 33 percent of burn victims reported managers suggested rubbing condiments on the burn instead of getting burn cream.

This Day in Labor History: March 18, 1871

[ 10 ] March 18, 2015 |

On March 18, 1871, the French military attacked the worker movement in Paris with the aim of retaking the city for the nation’s government. Workers foiled the military’s invasion and ten days later they formed the Paris Commune. This socialist workers movement controlled Paris for two months and was the first revolutionary challenge to European government in the industrial age (which 1789 really was not in France). It would start the long tradition of revolutionary movements based upon working-class radicalism that would help to define the next century around the world.

The Paris Commune came about as a result of political crisis in France. The Franco-Prussian War of 1870 led to embarrassing losses for the French and Napoleon III. This led to the French abolishing their monarchy and replacing it with the Third Republic. The workers of Paris, already radicalized and far to the left of the rest of France, feared that the new government would not truly embrace republicanism and instead just be another form of oligarchic rule by the powerful. They also held the creation of this kind of order contemptible because they had already organized themselves to defend the city against the Germans with little help from the elite. Workers began establishing their own government as a challenge to the new national government. Urban French workers, especially in Paris, had grown increasingly radicalized over the nineteenth century. Socialism was much more accepted in the French working class than in the United States and the French workers were working out its tenets at the same time Karl Marx and others was figuring out its theoretical basis.

Of course, the Third Republic was not going to let a bunch of radical workers supersede its power. When the army came into Paris, the national guard refused to hand over their weapons. The government was forced to flee to Versailles. Obviously this situation was untenable but in the mean time, things got very interesting in Paris. The workers tried to run an alternative government. Louis-Auguste Blanqui, an early communist, headed this government. It abolished conscription and created a citizens’ army, which also granted the right to bear arms to all citizens. It reestablished the calendar of the French Revolution, building connections with that earlier revolutionary movement. Interest payments on debt were suspended. It issued a lot of radical statements, especially empowering radical women to play a central role in the struggle. Paule Mink (born Paulina Mekarska) had a long history of radicalism in Paris, including publishing anti-Napoleon III newspapers. When the commune began, Mink jumped into the fray to demand gender equality, arguing that all workers deserved deliverance from the oppression they faced but that was especially true of women who faced both gender and class oppression. She set up an ambulance service during the commune and also traveled to other cities around France to try and spur the movement there. One leading radical woman stated, “The social revolution will not be realized until women are equal to men. Until then, you have only the appearance of revolution.”

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But the Paris Commune also struggled to consolidate power and alienated most of the remaining power structure from the old Paris. It also angered most of the rest of France. Having limited connections with workers outside of Paris and almost none the still largely rural peasantry that made up much of France, this was a urban-based revolution without consent from the majority of the theoretically governed. The communards also lacked any real way to even spread their message to the provinces, relying on vague hopes of working-class revolt than a meaningful plan.

The Commune was also incredibly fractured ideologically. Some called themselves Jacobins and directly connected themselves to radicals of old. Followers of Pierre-Joseph Proudhon wanted a loose federation of communes. Blanqui’s communists wanted to use violence to create a revolutionary state. If anything held them together, it was anti-clericalism. All church property in Paris was confiscated by the revolutionary government. The Commune captured the Archbishop of Paris and executed him on May 24.

The French government was not going to tolerate this radicalism in its capital. Finally, the army marched from Versailles. But retaking the city would be very difficult. On April 2, troops started the attack but the communards held out for several weeks. The revolutionaries had built 600 barricades around the city that had to be cleaned out one by one. The French army entered Paris on May 21 and crushed the movement by May 28. The small commune movements in other French cities were also decimated by this time. Along the way, much of Paris burned, some claim by the radical feminists of the Commune although it seems more likely that most of the fires originated from the general chaos of a civil war. The French army claimed about 887 dead; estimates of Parisian citizens killed usually revolve around 20,000, although some recent totals suggest more like 10,000. At the Père Lachaise Cemetery, the army lined up and executed 147 Commune members. About 6000 communards fled as the fighting doomed their experiment, fleeing to surrounding nations.

Barricade_Voltaire_Lenoir_Commune_Paris_1871

Paris Commune barricade after its capture by the French army.

In the United States, the Paris Commune itself did not have a major impact on American workers, but scared the capitalists, police, politicians, and journalists of the nation as it entered the Gilded Age. During the next decade, any workers’ movement in the U.S. was darkly compared to the Paris Commune as the future if these workers continued to organize. For example, the response to the unemployed organizing in New York’s Tompkins Square Park was completely disproportional with the threat these workers posed. Only wanting to march to the meet with the mayor, they were beaten by the cops while journalists screamed about the Paris Commune coming to the United States. To put this into perspective, the head of this movement was Peter McGuire, founder of the United Brotherhood of Carpenters, even at its founding one of the most conservative unions in the United States. One can argue, as the sociologist Kim Voss has, that what placed the United States on a more anti-union path than western Europe was not anything about the American character and instead was about American employers busting heads and organizing themselves into anti-union organizations much sooner than in Britain or France. How they took the smallest American workers movement, compared it to the Paris Commune, and called for its violence repressions suggests evidence for the thesis.

In Europe, the story of the Paris Commune was one of possibility, not failure, as it provided evidence that workers could act collectively to build an alternative society, as well as the use of political violence to defend that society against counterrevolutionary forces.

This is the 137th post in this series. Previous posts are archived here.

The Israeli Gilded Age

[ 42 ] March 17, 2015 |

BenjaminNetanyahu

Above: Friend of plutocrats

Paul Krugman contextualizes Netanyahu’s troubles by pointing to what he calls “Israel’s Gilded Age,” as the free market devotee has pushed policies that has led to the same sorts of massive income inequality and concentration of extreme wealth among a very few people that such policies have created in the United States. Given that Israel has a somewhat more class oriented politics than the U.S. (at least in my reading of it), it’s not surprising that a lot of voters are willing to put their unease about their place in the Middle East aside and vote against Netanyahu.

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