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Keep on Watching

[ 55 ] March 22, 2013 |

One of the only ways American workers still take time back from their employers in a workplace where more and more is demanded of fewer and fewer employees is to watch the NCAA tournament. So consider slacking today and watching some hoops work to rule.

I am more or less indifferent as to today’s action. But tomorrow, there are two clear games. First, Oregon over St. Louis. I need a reason to hate St. Louis University by tomorrow afternoon. Second, Arizona over Harvard. I was sickened last night to see my Lobos lose to the 1%. Harvard grads start wars. New Mexico grads die in them. I was hoping to take one back. Instead, Henry Kissinger is happy. Bah. So go Arizona! Which is something I really couldn’t have said if Lute “I’m going to kill this Pac-10 TV deal because I’m scared to be around USC at night” Olson was still coaching the Wildcats.

Rand Paul’s Isolationist Paranoia

[ 144 ] March 22, 2013 |

I wonder how the defenders of Rand Paul’s paranoia about drone strikes attacking U.S. citizens feel about his bill to withdraw the United States from the United Nations?

Paul appears to be following in the footsteps of his father — former Rep. Ron Paul (R-TX) — in advancing the call to have the U.S. completely pull out of the United Nations. The elder Paul was the primary sponsor of the “American Sovereignty Restoration Act,” a bill introduced periodically from 1999 to 2009 that would ban the U.S. from membership in the U.N. Despite this antipathy towards the United Nations, Ron Paul recently turned to the U.N. system to help him gain control of a website bearing his name.

But the Republican senator from Kentucky is no stranger to using U.N. paranoia to burnish his right-wing credentials. In 2011, he sent a conspiratorial email to his supporters, warning of a supposed U.N. plot to confiscate and destroy U.S. citizens’ guns via a “Small Arms Treaty.” In reality, the U.N. Arms Trade Treaty is only just now being developed and in no way will effect civilian ownership of firearms.

Of course, the two issues are connected in Paul’s black helicopter addled mind. Those defending his ridiculous filibuster need to be cognizant of this, not to mention the fact that Paul is in fact clearly to the right of Obama on drones and civil liberties.

The American Caste System

[ 56 ] March 22, 2013 |

Despite growing income inequality, American national mythology tells us we can get rich if we just work hard enough. The problem with this myth is that the empirical evidence does not support it. The rich get richer. The poor get poorer. These are permanent changes.

National Recording Registry

[ 70 ] March 21, 2013 |

The Library of Congress added its yearly 25 choices to the National Recording Registry. Interesting choices throughout, including the greatest song ever used in a political campaign (not to mention actually made famous by the candidate).

Sink Hole

[ 38 ] March 21, 2013 |

When you let a mining company do whatever it wants with limited regulations, it turns out that horrible things can happen, like gigantic sinkholes that destroy people’s homes and make large amounts of land unlivable.

What’s hilarious is Bobby Jindal’s fake outrage and demands that the companies pay up. A less hypocritical politician of the New Gilded Age would celebrate the sink hole as progress.

Also, it’s really an obligation to embed this:

Are Corporations Amoral?

[ 139 ] March 21, 2013 |

It’s rare that I disagree with Rob Neyer. But I have to push back on his column about Major League Baseball owners deciding to eliminate the pensions of their non-player employees, despite being quadzillionaires who could obviously afford it. One thing I like about covering labor issues in professional sports is that it’s the only field that grabs the attention of enough people that the little things like this get into the spotlight. Employers around the country are destroying pensions, but when NFL owners lockout referees over it or MLB owners try it, it opens space to talk about it.

Anyway, Neyer argues that corporations are amoral rather than immoral:

But with just a few exceptions, big companies aren’t in the business of respecting people; they’re in the business of sucking as money from their customers and as much labor from their employees as possible, while exacting the maximum amount of profits. They are not generally immoral; they are intrinsically amoral. Eliminating pensions isn’t evil, and perhaps not even shameful.

Corporations have made such inroads into our consciousness that this kind of formulation is common, even among people generally politically progressive like Neyer. Corporations are not some disembodied beast. They are made up of human beings with human values. We as a society allow these wealthy humans who make up a corporation to exercise power up to a given limit, depending on our own values. In times like today, or in the first Gilded Age, when corporations exercise relatively maximum power over society, to create philosophical justifications for their existence that free them of responsibility to larger society. Profit taking becomes naturalized, rather than a socio-economic-political choice. Whether this is the Social Darwinism or Gospel of Wealth of the late 19th century or the weird corporation-as-human creation of the modern Supreme Court, these ideas give corporations room to make very human choices without suffering consequences or even criticism.

It doesn’t matter what big companies are in the business of doing. They are controlled by people who are seeking to maximize wealth at the top of society. It matters to what extent we allow those rich people to do this. Today, we allow them to do about whatever we want, a consequence of a sixty-year pushback against the New Deal that has convinced lots of Americans that business knows all. This attitude allows Bill Gates to shape education policy for no other reason than he is rich. It allows for immoral fallbacks on “fiduciary responsibility” to shareholders to justify any policy, no matter how antisocial. It allows for a Supreme Court to declare that corporations can openly buy elections.

Corporate dumping of toxic chemicals into rivers is in fact evil and shameful. That’s because doing so is a decision made by human beings to maximize profit at the cost of hurting nature and people. The same goes for union-busting, for pension-slashing, and for race to the bottom politics. So long as we apologize away the behavior of corporate leaders by naturalizing their behavior, the things that upset us about corporate control over society will continue to occur. Only by pushing back against corporate ideology do we make society more equal. And that includes for the employees of Major League Baseball.

NRA Logic

[ 32 ] March 21, 2013 |

This is a weird story, but it totally makes sense that a doctor handing out illegal prescriptions would use this argument:

Dr. Gracia Mayard, 61, is accused of distributing oxycodone between Jan. 1, 2012 and March 15, 2013. In exchange for cash, Mayard sold 2,953 prescriptions for nearly 400,000 pills to people without doing a medical exam during the first 10 months of 2012. He didn’t even meet some of his customers before writing prescriptions.

According to an arrest affidavit, when narcotics agents went to his Cambria Heights home on Feb. 7, his son first told police that Mayard wasn’t home. Then, later that day, a blue van arrived at the house and two men tried to slip Mayard out of the home by covering him with a tarp. He took them into his office to show them his “exam room,” which was a table covered with dust and papers. “No other diagnostic items commonly present in a medical doctor’s office were observed,” the affidavit said.

In an attempt to justify his work, Mayard told investigators, “I know that it’s a big problem but what happens to the oxycodone after I write the prescription is not my concern. It’s just like a person that sells guns, he cannot control what happens after he sells a gun.”

I mean, if gun makers and gun dealers have no responsibility for what people do with a gun, why should doctors have responsibility for what their customers do with drugs? Maybe the patients are making art out of the pills. Why not apply NRA logic about responsibility to the rest of society? Why punish bartenders if they serve obviously inebriated customers who then get behind the wheel? Why go after cigarette companies for marketing to children? It’s strictly the responsibility of the user!

To be clear, I certainly don’t agree with this doctor. He deserves punishment. But it’s also hardly surprising that other distributors of dangerous materials would abdicate responsibility based upon NRA arguments about gun use.

The Weight

[ 25 ] March 20, 2013 |

An outstanding article about the greatness of “The Weight” and The Band more generally.

Light Pollution

[ 29 ] March 20, 2013 |

This piece on Hong Kong’s out of control light pollution is a good reminder of one of the least controlled means of pollution. While maybe it isn’t as damaging as water or air pollution, humans have made evolutionary adjustments for night and constant light could potentially have long-term damage on human health. In the short-term, the absence of night can be devastating for many animals, as we may well be seeing in the Hong Kong area with fireflies and other insects.

Michigan Republican Hypocrisy

[ 50 ] March 20, 2013 |

Michigan Republicans are very special. After passing right to work legislation in at best a marginally legal manner, they are seeking to punish universities who are negotiating new contracts with faculty that would delay the legislation until the end of the contract. Specifically, they are seeking to reduce appropriations to the University of Michigan and Wayne State University, that great bastion of unionism, by 15% as a punitive action for not kowtowing to their extremist anti-labor agenda.


[ 104 ] March 20, 2013 |

Luis Feliz and the immigration advocates trying to eliminate the word “illegal” from our discourse on immigration are absolutely right–the word demonizes human beings and is deeply hurtful and damaging. Describing human beings as “illegal” should be eliminated from the lexicon and seen as we see other racial epithets that are unacceptable in respectable conversation.


[ 71 ] March 20, 2013 |

I certainly believe that Howard Zinn’s A People’s History of the United States is a deeply flawed book. It’s way too simplistic and polemical. Zinn was not much of a scholar and wrote his book for the explicit point of countering dominant narratives of American history without much of a concern for nuance. This doesn’t bother me all that much because it serves an audience that may not read much history in their lifetimes. Eduardo Galeano’s Open Veins of Latin America serves the same useful function for Latin American history. There’s room for this kind of book in our society, even though I would not call it a good history book.

However, David Greenberg’s hatchet job of Zinn is kind of awful. Other than red-baiting Zinn in a classic Cold War liberal way, Greenberg completely misrepresents left-leaning history and modern historiography. As a historian, this bothers me a lot more than the bog-standard red-baiting:

While excellent work is done by self-identified leftists, too much academic work today assumes such dubious premises as (to name but a few) the superiority of socialism to a mixed economy, the inherent malignancy of American intervention abroad, and the signal virtue of the left itself. Franklin Roosevelt’s rescue of capitalism is routinely treated as a disappointment because he did not go all the way to socialism. Truman’s suspicion of Stalin is treated as short-sightedness or war-mongering. Anti-Communism of even the most discerning sort is lumped in with McCarthyism as an expression of mass paranoia. Labor’s mid-century decisions to work with management to secure good wages and benefits are seen as selling out. And too seldom is it acknowledged that throughout its history the left has operated from low motives as well as high ones, and has caused social harm as well as social improvement, and has destroyed as well as created.

Um, citations please? What recent work of history has said that FDR is disappointing because he didn’t embrace socialism? Instead, I think of nuanced recent works on the New Deal like Jennifer Klein’s For All These Rights, Lizabeth Cohen’s 1990 masterpiece Making a New Deal or Neil Maher’s Nature’s New Deal. All of these books, and so many more, have deepened our understanding of the New Deal from a left-leaning perspective (broadly defined) in useful ways and none of them argue anything close to Greenberg’s characterization of New Deal historiography.

What respectable book on the early Cold War says that Truman’s suspicions of Stalin were misguided. It’s one thing to say that Truman’s belligerence didn’t help matters. Historians do say that. The historiography I am most familiar with is of course that of labor’s mid-20th century shift to business unionism. But Greenberg typically misrepresents these arguments. Some radical historians might call labor’s decisions to work with management a “sell-out” but the real criticism is that it turned out to be disastrous in the long-run for labor. These contracts absolutely secured short-term gains for working-class people that cannot be ignored. However, the shunning of communist organizers and embrace of business unionism also created a staid movement that could not then adjust when corporations began eliminating union jobs through capital mobility in the 1960s. Business leaders knew this and took advantage of it. This is all far more complicated than Greenberg describes.

The real crux of this is Greenberg’s discussion of anti-communism throughout the essay. Essentially, that’s Greenberg’s real interest here. Zinn was a Red and needs to be shunned. Why Greenberg has this axe to grind in 2013 and not, say, 1984, I do not know. But his own intellectual blinders are just as powerful as Zinn’s. A little self-recognition of that would go a long way here.

I’m fine with a critique of Howard Zinn that accuses him of misrepresenting the past. However, such a critique should not then misrepresent Zinn’s influence and the state of the historical profession.

….Rebuttals from radical historians Jesse Lemisch, Staughton Lynd, and Robert Cohen.

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