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Unions Shouldn’t Fund Their Enemies

[ 30 ] October 8, 2014 |

Talked about this last week, but Arkansas electing Tom Cotton is going to be horrible. So I don’t blame liberals and unions going all in for Mark Pryor, bleh as he is.

On the other hand, I do think unions should have some baseline standards before they give a politician money. For instance, should teachers’ unions give money to Pryor when he turns around and gets in bed with the union-busting charter school movement? I would argue no, but they are giving money to Pryor anyway. It’s one thing to give money to someone who is your not greatest supporter in Congress. It’s another to give it to someone who openly opposes what you stand for. I have trouble believing that’s in their members’ interest. After all, it is not unions’ job to be the only progressive organization to have to ignore their own self-interest for the broader progressive movement. It’s not as if NOW is expected to work for anti-abortion Democrats or Sierra Club is supposed to get out the vote for politicians in the pocket of the oil industry. But unions routinely go to the mat for politicians who don’t pay them back. Tom Cotton is bad but on the issue of teachers unions, Pryor is not much better and certainly not good.

Thanks. Also, Music

[ 16 ] October 8, 2014 |

It’s a bit difficult to come back to active blogging after the fundraising campaign for my stolen computers and–far, far worse–the lost documents for my book. At least I had submitted the thing already so even if I have significant revisions, it’s not like I have to start the whole project over. But still, it’s basically the worst thing ever. It’s also the 5th certifiable catastrophe to happen to me since I moved to Rhode Island, which is just bizarre. Luckily none of those things have resulted in injury.

I confess that I wasn’t very comfortable with being the center of a fundraising campaign. I am after all pretty Protestant about my relations with the rest of the world and while I totally support fundraising for others, for myself, it’s hard. So I do very much appreciate the donations. Basically, it will allow me to buy a new computer–a machine that will never be in the same place as my office computer so that the same calamity can never happen again–and some adaptators, the purchase of cloud space, etc. I know some people who don’t use Paypal were interested in an address and you can send it to my work address here. I think that’s enough about all of that except to say that your generosity in helping me out of a horrible situation is greatly appreciated and won’t be forgotten anytime soon. Anything additional would be used to get me back to the West for those sources. And you are all too nice to me. OK, enough of beating this dead horse.

Anyway, now that my life is starting to reorder itself a bit, I should be able to get back to blogging more or less at my regular pace (although I do have a conference most of next week). To start that process and connect it to my perils, I found this piece about too much music interesting because I’ve been feeling that myself lately. I didn’t know it would be possible to have too much music and I guess it isn’t. But because I had so much music (and so much lost although not all of it because I never got rid of my old CDs + stuff on the itunes cloud + some favorites I had burned onto a CD to play in my car) I realized I was struggling to connect to most of it. There was the occasional thing that broke through–Wussy, Frank Ocean, Mary Halvorson, Mates of State, realizing after many years of not hearing them how amazing L7 was–but mostly I’d listen to something a few times and then it would fade into the background. This isn’t so good. Over the past week, with my far more limited available music, I’ve actually been enjoying it more because it’s all stuff I love.

That doesn’t mean I’m not actively seeking to reconstruct my collection. But I think this is a good time to really edit the heck out of it. My policy in the past was to basically keep everything I ever acquired unless I really hated it. But do I really need the Frank Zappa live tracks I picked up 20 years ago in college? No, most of them aren’t very good. I’ll keep a few that I still like. Or all the mediocrities I took flyers on over the years? Probably not. Or even the discs upon discs of Appalachian music from the 20s with all the poor recording quality that implies, even though I actually like that stuff. On the other hand, I might take the opportunity to really invest in more jazz albums from the 40s-mid 60s. I’ve been into avant-garde jazz since I started listening to the genre, often to the expense of the earlier periods.

And in any case, actually listening to the 100 or so albums I most love over and over again, is actually a really good thing to do.

This Day in Labor History: October 5, 1886

[ 12 ] October 5, 2014 |

On October 5, 1886, Henry George accepted the nomination of the United Labor Party for the mayor of New York City. Although a quixotic effort, both labor’s attempt to create an alternative to the two party system and the reformist ideas of Henry George were emblematic of how Americans attempted to understand the shock of industrial capitalism during the Gilded Age.

The rise of industrial capitalism after the Civil War disturbed many Americans, not because they opposed capitalism but because they thought it was going to create a relatively fair system. The promises of free labor ideology turned out to be lies for most Americans, as the power of corporations to control all aspects of American life meant that both factory labor and farm labor were denied the fruits of their work.

Into this void came many ideas. Most Americans believed the system of capitalism worked, but that it just needed a single tweak to reconstitute the equality of opportunity they believed it would bring. As the analysis of capitalism was not very sophisticated among most native-born Americans, the solutions to these problems tended to focus on the one thing that we could do that would fix everything. That could be the 8-hour day, Chinese exclusion, Bellamyism. Obviously Marx and Engels, not to mention many other socialists, had developed far more complex analyses of the problems of capitalism, but those would not become prominent in the U.S. for another decade, as they tended to arrive with the waves of immigrants that would begin in the 1880s.

Henry George made one of the most important forays in solving the problem of industrial capitalism. George started his political life as a Lincoln supporting Republican in the Civil War but soon came to criticize the growing system of industrial capitalism, especially the dominance of railroads over American life, as well as the perfidious influence of Chinese labor on white wages. In 1879, George published Progress and Poverty, arguing for the Single Tax as the surest way to bring corporations under control. The single tax was a basic property tax. At its core was the idea that people earned the value of own their own labor, but that land was a common resource for all and should essentially be quasi-socialized with very high taxes on large landowners. George’s ideas quickly spread beyond the U.S. and were especially popular with the English and Scottish working classes, as well as the Irish resisting British domination.

cartoon_george-henry_fighting-corruption-1886

Cartoon of Henry George fighting corruption, 1886

George had moved to New York in the early 1880s and became an obvious candidate when laborites and socialists decided to form a working class challenge to the duality of Tammany Democrats and plutocratic Republicans who both disdained a strong labor movement. His mayoral campaign generated a tremendous amount of enthusiasm. His campaign lasted less than a month, but he gave over 100 speeches around the city. Here is a bit from his acceptance speech, which you can read in full here. It gives you a good sense of George’s appeal:

See how we are crowded in New York. London has a population of 15,000 to the square mile. Canton, in crowded China, has 35,000 inhabitants within the same area. New York has 54,000 to the square mile, and leaving out the uninhabited portion it has a population of 85,000 to the square mile. In the Sixth Ward there is a population of 149,000 to the square mile; in the Tenth Ward, 276,000; in the Thirteenth, 224,000, including roads, yards, and all open places. Why, there is one block in this city that contains 2,500 living beings and every room in it a workshop. There is in one ward a tenement covering one quarter of an acre, which contains an average of 1,350 people. At that rate a square mile would contain 3,456,000. Nowhere else in the civilized world are men and women and children packed together so closely. As for children, they die almost as soon as they enter the world. In the district known as the Mulberry Bend, according to Commissioner Wingate’s report, there is an infant death-rate of 65 per cent, and in the tenement district he says that a large percentage of the children die before they are five years of age.

Now, is there any reason for such overcrowding? There is plenty of room on this island. There are miles and miles and miles of land all around this nucleus. Why cannot we take that and build houses upon it for our accommodation? Simply because it is held by dogs in the manger who will not use it themselves, nor allow anybody else to use it, unless they pay an enormous price for it—because what the Creator intended for the habitation of the people whom He called into being is held at an enormous rent or an enormous price. Did you ever think, men of New York, what you pay for the privilege of living in this country? I do not ask what you pay for bricks and mortar and wood, but for rent, and the rent is mainly the rent of the land. Bricks and mortar and wood are of no greater value here than they are in Long Island or in Iowa. When what is called real estate advances it is the land that is getting more valuable; it is not the houses. All this enormous value that the growth of population adds to the land of this city is taken by the few individuals and goes for the benefit of the idle rich, who look down upon those who earn their living by their labor.

But what do we propose to do about it? We propose, in the first place, as our platform indicates, to make the buildings cheaper by taking the tax off buildings. We propose to put that tax on land exclusive of improvements, so that a man who is holding land vacant will have to pay as much for it as if he was using it, just upon the same principle that a man who goes to a hotel and hires a room and takes the key and goes away would have to pay as much for it as if he occupied the room and slept in it. In that way we propose to drive out the dog in the manger who is holding from you what he will not use himself. We propose in that way to remove this barrier and open the land to the use of labor in putting up buildings for the accommodation of the people of the city. (applause) I am called a Socialist. I am really an individualist. I believe that every individual man ought to have an individual wife, and is entitled to an individual home. (applause) I think it is monstrous, such a state of society as exists in this city. Why, the children, thousands and thousands, have no place to play. It is a crime for them to play ball in the only place in which they can play ball. It is an offence for them to fly their kites. The children of the rich can go up to Central Park, or out into the country in the summer time; but the children of the poor, for them there is no playground in the city but the streets; it is some charity excursion which takes them out for a day, only to return them again to the same sweltering condition.

The United Labor Platform also had a provision against police interference in strikes, a reaction to police repression during the Haymarket violence, not to mention the remembered police violence of Tompkins Square a decade prior. George faced a rising Republican by the name of Theodore Roosevelt, a man who also stood for reform, albeit of a different kind. The Democrats responded the George threat with Abram Hewitt, who attacked Roosevelt as a tool of the plutocrats and set himself as a responsible working class voice, claiming that socialists and anarchists controlled the ULP. In the end, Hewitt won with 41 percent of the vote. George finished second with 31 percent and Roosevelt trailed in third with 28 percent.

cartoon george campaign 1886sm

Anti-George image counseling labor to shed anarchists, 1886

This was an auspicious start for an independent labor political movement, but, like most 3rd party challenges in American history, it was made up of diverse forces that collapsed almost immediately after the election. Specifically, it split over socialism in 1887, with the expelled socialists creating an alternative political party. The ULP tried to revive in some form for several years, but it never again made a serious run as a real labor challenge to the 2-party system. George slowly migrated to the Democratic Party in the last years of his life, supporting Grover Cleveland because they both opposed high tariffs. George suffered a stroke in 1890, recovered enough to campaign for William Jennings Bryan in 1896, and then died of another stroke in 1897, a week before another mayoral election in New York where he became a candidate on an anti-Tammany Democratic ticket.

photograph_george-henry_mayoral-campaign-poster-1897

Henry George campaign poster, 1897

This is the 120th post in this series. Previous posts are archived here.

“Let me introduce my twin girls, Less Filling and Tastes Great”

[ 151 ] October 4, 2014 |

Someone call CPS. From an interview with Robert Duvall:

Do you intend to keep working for as long as you can?

Well, somewhat. I just finished directing a movie called “Wild Horses.” All we had was 2.2 million bucks and 23 days, but we had terrific people. Matthew McConaughey’s nephew, Miller Lyte McConaughey, is 8 years old, and he’s terrific in it. He has that wacko streak that that whole family has.

Miller Lyte McConaughey. I feel that some of you outraged by the LGM naming wars of the past will reconsider your position.

Baby Doc

[ 58 ] October 4, 2014 |

Jean-Claude “Baby Doc” Duvalier dies. The world cries. Oh wait, no it doesn’t.

Modi’s India: Please Multinational Corporations, Exploit Our Workers

[ 24 ] October 2, 2014 |

bangladesh-factory-collapse-1-537x402

Above: The Rana Plaza factory collapse in Bangladesh, i.e., Narendra Modi’s vision of the Indian economy.

I understand that workers in India need jobs, but I’m not sure that Narendra Modi going full neoliberal is going to build the kind of growth that will be good for India:

Responding to big business complaints that India has not done enough to open up its economy to foreign investment, and that its regulations limiting layoffs and plant closures are “onerous,” Modi declared “India is open-minded. We want change.”

The US business leaders subsequently sang Modi’s praises. GE CEO Jeffrey R Immelt told the Indian Express, “My interaction with him was outstanding. I am certainly looking forward to further investments in India as the climate for investments has switched to positive once again.’’ According to Indian press reports, Modi planned to signal to Immelt that his government is open to amending India’s nuclear liability law, which US energy companies have denounced because it could force them to pay significant compensation were they responsible for a catastrophic nuclear accident.

Regulations limiting plant closures! Why that might hold corporations accountable for their actions. Onerous indeed!

What does Modi have in mind to replace these odious regulations?

At the end of July, Modi’s cabinet cleared 54 amendments to the “Factories Act, 1948,” the “Apprenticeship Act, 1961” and the “Labor Laws Act, 1988.” Under these amendments, women would be eligible for night-shift work, the ceiling for overtime hours will be increased from 50 hours per quarter to 100 hours, and employers will no longer be liable to imprisonment for violating the Apprenticeship Act.

As a test case for the gutting of labour laws nationwide, the BJP state government in Rajasthan has pushed through amendments to the “Industrial Dispute Act”, “Factory Act” and “Contract Labor Regulation & Abolition Act.” These would raise the ceiling for the number of workers in a factory where employers can retrench workers without government approval from 100 to 300 and make it much more difficult for workers to form trade unions with collective bargaining rights.

The amendments to the Contract Labor Act would strip most contract workers of any protection under the labor laws, as contractors employing less than 50 workers will no longer be subject to its provisions. During the past two decades, Indian employers, including government-owned corporations, have vastly expanded their use of contract labour, so as to slash wage and benefit costs, circumvent restrictions on layoffs, and divide the workforce.

In the race to the bottom, I promise my nation will be at the bottom! Give it your best shot Bangladesh. We don’t mind if apparel companies kill 2000 of our workers. Multinationals, please come exploit us!

All of this is a sign of just how much power corporations have in dictating terms of employment today. Capital mobility is a powerful thing and the CEOs know how to use it.

This is also a good piece on Modi’s neoliberal beliefs
that should make him a good friend of corporate leaders if he keeps the anti-Muslim rhetoric to a minimum.

How Times Have Changed

[ 39 ] October 2, 2014 |

Thirty years ago, environmentalism was a strong enough political force that Mitch McConnell had to pretend to care about coal’s impact upon the planet. Times have really changed.

Kissinger and Cuba

[ 26 ] October 2, 2014 |

Reunión_Pinochet_-_Kissinger

Augusto Pinochet–Henry Kissinger’s kind of Latin American ruler.

Henry Kissinger’s response to Cuba sending troops to Angola in 1975 was quite rational and appropriate, showing how this Nobel Peace Prize winner is someone who still needs to be taken seriously today.

Mr. Kissinger, who was secretary of state from 1973 to 1977, had previously planned an underground effort to improve relations with Havana. But in late 1975, Mr. Castro sent troops to Angola to help the newly independent nation fend off attacks from South Africa and right-wing guerrillas.

That move infuriated Mr. Kissinger, who was incensed that Mr. Castro had passed up a chance to normalize relations with the United States in favor of pursuing his own foreign policy agenda, Mr. Kornbluh said.

“Nobody has known that at the very end of a really remarkable effort to normalize relations, Kissinger, the global chessboard player, was insulted that a small country would ruin his plans for Africa and was essentially prepared to bring the imperial force of the United States on Fidel Castro’s head,” Mr. Kornbluh said.

“You can see in the conversation with Gerald Ford that he is extremely apoplectic,” Mr. Kornbluh said, adding that Mr. Kissinger used “language about doing harm to Cuba that is pretty quintessentially aggressive.”

The plans suggest that Mr. Kissinger was prepared after the 1976 presidential election to recommend an attack on Cuba, but the idea went nowhere because Jimmy Carter won the election, Mr. LeoGrande said.

“These were not plans to put up on a shelf,” Mr. LeoGrande said. “Kissinger is so angry at Castro sending troops to Angola at a moment when he was holding out his hand for normalization that he really wants to, as he said, ‘clobber the pipsqueak.’ ”

The plan suggested that it would take scores of aircraft to mine Cuban ports. It also warned that the United States could seriously risk losing its Navy base in Cuba, which was vulnerable to counterattack, and estimated that it would cost $120 million to reopen the Ramey Air Force Base in Puerto Rico and reposition destroyer squadrons.

The plan also drafted proposals for a military blockade of Cuba’s shores. The proposal warned that such moves would most likely lead to a conflict with the Soviet Union, which was a top Cuba ally at the time.

“If we decide to use military power, it must succeed,” Mr. Kissinger said in one meeting, in which advisers warned against leaks. “There should be no halfway measures — we would get no award for using military power in moderation. If we decide on a blockade, it must be ruthless and rapid and efficient.”

Hard to see how that could have gone wrong.

El Salvador’s War on Women

[ 11 ] October 1, 2014 |

For Republicans, Central American nations’ treatment of women is no doubt a model, not a problem:

It is a war against women and girls that is documented in Amnesty International’s new report, On the Brink of Death: Violence against Women and the Abortion Ban in El Salvador. 



The report illustrates how a change in the law 16 years ago criminalized abortion in all circumstances, making it one of the strictest abortion laws in the world. Women and girls in El Salvador cannot have an abortion, even if continuing their pregnancy might kill them, or if the fetus is not viable and will not live. 
Even a nine-year-old girl pregnant after from rape cannot get an abortion. 



Those that defy the law and seek an unsafe, clandestine abortion are often punished severely. More than 11 per cent of maternal deaths are from unsafe abortions; deaths that are preventable. Those that survive face the possibility of prison sentences of two to eight years. 



The Amnesty International report found that women who have had miscarriages are suspected of terminating their pregnancies and have been charged with aggravated homicide. Courts can order a prison sentence of up to 50 years in an aggravated homicide case. 



The cases highlighted in our report are stark enough, but while in San Salvador, I have met with some of the world’s most forgotten women, women who were fighting for their rights in the face of adversity. It was a truly humbling experience. 



Consider the story of Cristina. She was 18 years old when she miscarried. She passed out and was rushed to hospital where, instead of care and kindness, she was accused of actively terminating her pregnancy. In August 2005, she was sentenced to 30 years in prison. 



Ted Cruz rubs his hands together in excited approval.

The End of Oysters?

[ 53 ] October 1, 2014 |

Oysters_(3048538276)

This is depressing news for we oyster lovers. In short, climate change is creating ocean acidification which will decimate oyster beds. What’s more, we know it is already happening but the carbon currently affecting oyster beds today was spewed fifty years ago, meaning that what is happening today won’t be fully felt for another 50 years.

Ocean acidification is bound to get worse, before it gets better

It takes a few decades for all this acidic water to make it to the surface. That means the oyster die-offs we’re seeing now at hatcheries across the Pacific Northwest are being caused by carbon absorbed into the ocean at least four or five decades ago, when greenhouse gases levels were significantly lower. “The worst part is that even if I could push a button right now which would stop all CO2 emissions today, for the next 50 years things are going to get worse before they start improving,” Eudeline says. There are record levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere now, which means the worst might be yet to come for producers like Taylor Shellfish.

Shellfish operations could move inland, but be prepared to drop almost $20 on an oyster

If acidity levels continue to soar, operations like Taylor Shellfish could theoretically move their operations completely inland and harvest oysters in a lab. But the production costs would get stupid high. “Instead of paying $10 a dozen, you’re going to pay $200 a dozen,” Eudeline says. “That’s just the cost of what it would take to grow an adult oyster on a land-based system where you can control all the water quality.” Plus, growing oysters on land just isn’t, well, natural. Says Eudeline: “We rely 99.9 percent on nature to do the job. If nature cannot do the job anymore, that means there will be a decrease [in oysters] — there is no doubt.”

Eat your bivalves today because your children probably won’t know what they taste like.

Why is the Forest Service Restricting Photography in Wilderness Areas?

[ 139 ] October 1, 2014 |

My love of an intrusive federal government is well-known. I think government can indeed do most things better than the private sector. But that doesn’t mean that government is perfect. Far from it. I was hoping that the FDA’s attempts to restrict raw milk cheese imports was the stupidest regulatory standard I would hear of this year. But the Forest Service has it beat:

The U.S. Forest Service has tightened restrictions on media coverage in vast swaths of the country’s wild lands, requiring reporters to pay for a permit and get permission before shooting a photo or video in federally designated wilderness areas.

Under rules being finalized in November, a reporter who met a biologist, wildlife advocate or whistleblower alleging neglect in 36 million acres of wilderness would first need special approval to shoot photos or videos even on an iPhone.

Permits cost up to $1,500, says Forest Service spokesman Larry Chambers, and reporters who don’t get a permit could face fines up to $1,000.

Huh? Why?

Liz Close, the Forest Service’s acting wilderness director, says the restrictions have been in place on a temporary basis for four years and are meant to preserve the untamed character of the country’s wilderness.

Close didn’t cite any real-life examples of why the policy is needed or what problems it’s addressing. She didn’t know whether any media outlets had applied for permits in the last four years.

She said the agency was implementing the Wilderness Act of 1964, which aims to protect wilderness areas from being exploited for commercial gain.

“It’s not a problem, it’s a responsibility,” she said. “We have to follow the statutory requirements.”

That doesn’t make very much sense at all. First of all, it’s a non-problem. Second, why does it apply to individuals taking pictures?

Not surprisingly, there is a significant backlash from western members of Congress of both parties:

Rep. Peter DeFazio and three other congressional leaders said Monday they still have deep concerns about the constitutionality of a U.S. Forest Service proposal restricting wilderness photography.

The Forest Service faced nationwide outrage last week over plans to require a permit for photography and filming in vast swaths of the country’s federally designated wilderness areas. Its chief, Tom Tidwell, backed off late Thursday, saying his agency respected the First Amendment and wouldn’t restrict media or amateur photographers’ access.

But the onslaught of criticism has continued.

As written, the proposal would allow special permits to be granted for commercial filming in wilderness only to share information about the “use and enjoyment of wilderness” or its scientific, educational, historic or scenic values.

DeFazio, D-Ore., Rep. Doc Hastings, R-Wash., Rep. Raul Grijalva, D-Ariz., and Rep. Rob Bishop, R-Utah, the top leaders in the House Natural Resources Committee, said that requirement was “constitutionally questionable” and should be rescinded.

“We do not believe the Forest Service, or any other agency, should be in the business of determining what type of information can be disseminated to the public,” they said in a Monday letter to Tidwell.

Mickey Osterreicher, general counsel for the National Press Photographers Association, said the provision was just one example of the gaps between Tidwell’s promises Thursday and the Forest Service’s written proposal.

Tidwell told the Associated Press last week that the plan didn’t apply to still photography. The proposal repeatedly says it does.

I’d say there is about a zero percent chance this ever gets implemented. I wish I knew why the heck this proposal was even floated.

The Republican Party: Where Facts and Evidence Don’t Matter

[ 91 ] October 1, 2014 |

Chait has a good profile of Tom Cotton, quite possibly the next senator from Arkansas. This despite his vote against the farm bill that many Arkansas citizens rely upon:

Yet farm subsidies have lived on. Their survival has nothing to do with any public policy merits. There is no persuasive economic rationale for why the government should write checks to people who operate farms as opposed to textile mills or construction firms or any other business. (Yes, people need to eat, but the market is capable of supplying food, just as it is capable of supplying clothing and shelter.) Farmers are also more affluent than the average American. Since they are overwhelmingly white and conveniently spread throughout nearly every state, their claim to public subsidy has gained some popular legitimacy.

Faced with his controversial vote against the farm bill, Cotton has urgently fashioned himself as an agri-supremacist. He has urged the locals to ignore the judgment of fact-checking journalists who pronounce his ad false: “I don’t think liberal reporters who call themselves fact checkers spent much time growing up on a farm in Yell County growing up with Len Cotton, so I think I know a little bill more about farming than they do.” Cotton’s identity as a onetime farmboy, by this argument, lends him a superiority in any dispute over farm policy that overrides even the facts themselves. Cotton perhaps first developed this epistemological theory while studying philosophy at Harvard.

Cotton goes further still. Molly Ball, in an engrossing profile, reports that Cotton argues against food stamps because its recipients live high on the hog: “They have steak in their basket, and they have a brand-new iPhone, and they have a brand-new SUV.” As an argument against food stamps, this is laughably false: The program offers a benefit averaging $1.50 per person per meal, and its beneficiaries are quite poor.

This is perfect. Evidence doesn’t matter because it’s provided by those outsiders who probably don’t go to church. Growing up in Yell County (a bit too on the nose I think), with that kind of background what can’t one say about policies that effect the good people of Arkansas? That also gives him “credibility” to talk about those big black bucks moochers driving up in their Cadillac and paying for steak dinners with their welfare checks

Mark Pryor might not be anyone’s favorite Democrat. The nation will be worse off when he is replaced by Tom Cotton.

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