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Immunity for Politicians!

[ 32 ] February 7, 2015 |

I see the politicians of states ranging from Louisiana and New York to Rhode Island and Illinois rallying around this Oklahoma proposal:

A new bill proposed by Oklahoma State Representative Kevin Calvey (R) would prohibit district attorneys from prosecuting state elected officials, legislators, district court and appellate judges, and appointees to state commissions for public crimes, The Oklahoman reported.

Naturally, Oklahoma DAs are outraged.

“It’s a big deal to me. I’m upset and concerned,” said Oklahoma County DA David Prater. “This bill creates a different class of citizens that would be protected from the normal prosecution process.” Prater also questioned whether or not the bill is “retaliation” for his prosecution of state legislators, a judge, and members of the Pardon and Parole Board.

Calvey, however, said the bill is a result of the “malicious prosecution” of former Texas Gov. Rick Perry over allegations of his abuse of power, not because of anything that has happened in Oklahoma, calling the case a “witch hunt by a local prosecutor.”

It’s hard to see how effectively decriminalizing bribery and graft for politicians could possibly go wrong.


On Racist Monuments

[ 52 ] February 6, 2015 |

The question with what to do with racist monuments is a difficult one. I can certainly understand the desire to change or erase them. If I am a member of a traditionally oppressed group and I saw words like “colored” or “savage” every time I looked at a monument, I would be pretty mad about it too. As a historian, I can also certainly understand why people would want to keep those monuments up and interpret them and remember that America has a racism problem rather than erase that past. I’m definitely not sure the latter concern trumps the former.

Opposition to Teach for America Having Effect

[ 19 ] February 6, 2015 |

Great to see students begin to realize that Teach for America is a way to bust teachers’ unions while placing young people in teaching situations that are way over their head. The anti-TFA movement is beginning to have a real effect.

Net Neutrality

[ 30 ] February 6, 2015 |

Especially considering its importance to the life of everyone who reads this blog, net neutrality has been one of the quietest issues of our time. The fact that in the New Gilded Age, this age of privatizing public goods, something as vital as the internet was declared a public utility is pretty huge win.

Where Are My Children

[ 10 ] February 5, 2015 |

In class today, I was very pleased to expose another classroom of students to the amazing film Where Are My Children, from 1916. This pro-birth control, anti-abortion film (the two issues are connected through the lovely topic of eugenic marriages) is basically amazing, filled with all sorts of commentary about sexuality and women in the 1910s. From the acting (not only the crazy dramatic posing of the silent film but Tyrone Power–Senior!!!) to the ways that hats are used to signify the selfish frivolity of middle class women who use illegal abortion as birth control rather than breed at their husband’s will to the entire set of scenes where the wife’s brother seduces the housekeeper’s daughter, gets her pregnant, and then she dies in a botched abortion to the insane domestic violence in the slums scene, this is one jaw-dropping 65 minutes of silent film. I have been a loud advocate of this film for years. And it is available on YouTube and you should watch it. Because it makes me happy with Progressive Era weirdness.

No Snuggling!

[ 48 ] February 4, 2015 |

Who needs to hear advice from 1914 on how young girls can ensure they are not induced into the horrors of *gasp* lesbianism?

Well, probably nobody needs to hear it but I am going to warn you anyway. Because I am concerned about moral purity. I also assigned it to my students to read for tomorrow.

Avoid girls who are too affectionate and demonstrative in their manner of talking and acting with you; who are inclined to admire your figure and breast development; who are inclined to be just a little too familiar in their actions toward you; who are inclined to be rather free and careless in the display of themselves in your presence; who press upon you too earnestly invitations to remain at their homes all night, and to occupy the same bed they do. When sleeping in the same bed with another girl, old or young, avoid “snuggling up” close together. Avoid the touching of sexual parts, including the breasts, and, in fact, I might say avoid contact of any parts of the body at all. Keep your night robe about you so that you are as well protected from outside contact as its size will permit, and let your conversation be of other topics than sexuality. Do not lie in each other’s arms when awake or falling asleep; and, after going to bed, if you are sleeping alone or with others, just bear in mind that beds are sleeping places. When you go to bed, go to sleep just as quickly as you can. If possible, avoid sleeping with anyone else. It is more healthful and sanitary to sleep in a separate bed . . . certain diseases, both those affecting the genital organs and others, are often conveyed through contaminated bed clothes, body contact, the breath, etc. You can see for yourselves, therefore, that separate beds are good for more reasons than one. . . .

Some girls are low enough to accept pay for bringing about the moral ruin of members of their sex; . . . they are to be found everywhere, in the smallest village as well as in the largest town. Girls who have become discontented with their lot are easily influenced by the sweet, honeyed lies of these vile creatures. Beware of strange women, as well as of strange men, who seek to shower favors and other things upon you for no apparent reason except that they are strangely attracted to you. If you do not, you will live to regret it. Thousands of your sex already have, and lie in nameless graves away from home, most likely in a pauper’s burying-ground, because they had become so degraded in name and fact as to be lost to “the old folks at home.”

Yglesias, Data, and Unions

[ 35 ] February 4, 2015 |

Matt Yglesias wrote a piece that interpreted research by economist Brigham Fransden that suggested that unionizing private sector workplaces is not good in the end for those workers because newly unionized workplaces close down more often and see older and higher paid workers move on to be replaced by lower-paid, less experienced workers.

Limiting the pay of the highest-earning members of a particular company in the context of a marketplace where most companies aren’t unionized naturally has the effect of inspiring many of those higher-earning workers to seek new jobs elsewhere. This plausibly also explains the finding that recently unionized companies are more likely to go out of business. If you lose your star performers to the competition, you put your business at risk.

I’m not really convinced of this, but the question is worthy of further research. The presentation of Fransden’s paper says much about the problem with Vox-style (also, 538-style) reporting in that it takes a single article and presents it as the God honest True Data that gives us the one single take we all need to know. Is there something to Frandsen’s conclusions? It is possible. I do not know. Is a single study enough that Yglesias should be presenting it as the truth on private sector unions? No, absolutely not. Is the question worth more studying, perhaps by someone actually exploring real workers in a field outside of economics, as well as by more economists? Yes, absolutely. Then maybe we can come to some conclusions on the matter.

It’s also worth noting that Fransden’s paper is self-published. It’s not listed under his publications on his department website and there’s no evidence from the linked PDF of publication. So in other words, the conclusions that led Yglesias to write a well-read piece and present it as truth have not gone through the peer review process. This doesn’t per se mean the research is not valid of course. I don’t really know about economics, but a self-published piece in history, even something as sophisticated as a statistical-heavy working paper, would have about as much relevance as a blog post.

Yglesias and his cohort treat data as something sanctified. But what about human bias? What’s are Fransden’s politics? How are they affecting his data? It’s a question we have to ask. And then of course, there’s Yglesias’ own political leanings on labor, which have been on display for years. While broadly sympathetic for reducing income inequality and the like, as far as I’ve ever seen, Yglesias has never publicly supported a labor struggle. Meanwhile, he has dismissed the deaths of 1100 Bangladeshi workers as a reasonable price to pay for the nation’s economic development, he slammed the Chicago Teachers Union struggle (see Farley’s dissection of this here) and teachers unions over and over, supporting the worst kind of Rheeist interpretations of issues in public schools. It also goes without saying that he opposed the Huffington Post boycott. He also decided the best response to the firing of high ranking tech executive and misogynist Pax Dickinson was to troll the labor internet. Naturally then, his response to the BART workers strike was to say that paying public transportation workers more was a bad idea.

So given this long-established history of talking about unions and strikes in a negative way, we also have to ask ourselves if the Yglesias writing on this topic tells us more about his own predilections than the relative success of the recently unionized workplace. Like how my writings about labor should be considered within the context of my support for organized labor, Yglesias’ writing on labor need to be considered within the context of his history of not supporting union efforts. Instead, it’s published as politically neutral. Just the facts, Ma’am.


[ 62 ] February 3, 2015 |

For what seems like half of my life and the entire time I have written at this site, I have been talking about my logging book. Well, as of today, Empire of Timber: Labor Unions and the Pacific Northwest Forests is under contract with Cambridge University Press. No official publication date yet, but it should be sometime next year and I will keep readers posted.

The New Republican Public Health Agenda Leaps Ahead Hourly

[ 108 ] February 3, 2015 |

It’s not just vaccinations that are outraging Republicans. It’s also government requirements for restaurant sanitation. Senator Thom Tills (R-Art Pope):

On Monday, the freshman senator ended his talk at the Bipartisan Policy Center (BPC) with a story to illustrate his philosophy on government regulations.

“I was having this discussion with someone, and we were at a Starbucks in my district, and we were talking about certain regulations where I felt like maybe you should allow businesses to opt out,” Tillis recalled. “Let an industry or business opt out as long as they indicate through proper disclosure, through advertising, through employment, literature, whatever else. There’s this level of regulations that maybe they’re on the books, but maybe you can make a market-based decision as to whether or not they should apply to you.”

Tillis said that at about that time, a Starbucks employee came out of one of the restrooms.

“Don’t you believe that this regulation that requires this gentlemen to wash his hands before he serves your food is important?” Tillis was asked by the person at his table.

“I think it’s one I can illustrate the point,” Tillis told the women. “I said, I don’t have any problem with Starbucks if they choose to opt out of this policy as long as the post a sign that says ‘We don’t require our employees to wash their hands after leaving the restrooms.’ The market will take care of that.”

I look forward to Republican candidates debating over just how unsanitary restaurants should be in the 2016 primary debates.

Is Vaccination Mythology-Curious Official GOP Policy

[ 151 ] February 3, 2015 |


First Chris Christie, then the Only Progressive Choice in 2016, and now Rep. Sean Duffy:

Rep. Sean Duffy (R-WI) became the latest Republican on Tuesday to speak out against vaccine mandates, saying: “We should not have an oppressive state telling us what to do.”

“I want that to be my choice as a parent,” Duffy, a father of seven, said said during an appearance on MSNBC’s “The Rundown With José Díaz-Balart.” “I know my kids best. I know what morals and values are right for my children. I think we should not have an oppressive state telling us what to do.”

Duffy’s remarks came as an outbreak of measles — a potentially fatal disease thought to be eradicated from the U.S. just 15 years ago thanks to safe and effective vaccination — had sickened more than 100 Americans. Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R) came under heavy criticism Monday for appearing to align themselves with the anti-vaccine movement.

The Wisconsin congressman explicitly defended vaccine critics, saying: “I think a lot of parents who are smart, well-read — they’re the ones who are choosing not to vaccinate. And oftentimes, those who may not be as well-read — they are vaccinating. So to say you just have a bunch of crackpots who are choosing not to do this to their children, I just don’t think that’s actually true.”

Will Jeb Bush have to make an anti-vaccination statement to remain relevant in 2016? Many people in bed with measles are excited to find out!

Can we change the GOP symbol from the elephant to a 10 year doubling over from a whooping cough fit?

Chris Christie Gives Succor to the Anti-Vaccination Movement

[ 159 ] February 2, 2015 |

Because Barack Obama is pro-vaccination, I guess Chris Christie feels the need to say vaccinations should be parents’ choice and used his expertise in public health to say “not every vaccine is created equal, and not every disease type is as great a public health threat as others.”

Meanwhile, the classic American philosophy of “I got mine and screw you” applies to vaccinations as well:

Wolfson, an Arizona cardiologist, refuses to vaccinate his two young sons. He said the family that didn’t vaccinate and endangered the Jacks children did nothing wrong.

“It’s not my responsibility to inject my child with chemicals in order for [a child like Maggie] to be supposedly healthy,” he said. “As far as I’m concerned, it’s very likely that her leukemia is from vaccinations in the first place.”

“I’m not going to sacrifice the well-being of my child. My child is pure,” he added. “It’s not my responsibility to be protecting their child.”

“I could live with myself easily,” he said. “It’s an unfortunate thing that people die, but people die. I’m not going to put my child at risk to save another child.”

This Day in Labor History: February 2, 1848

[ 16 ] February 2, 2015 |

On February 2, 1848, the United States and Mexico signed the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, ending the war the U.S. launched against Mexico to steal land and extend slavery. Mexico was forced to cede the northern half of the nation to the United States. That would have enormous implications of the lives and the work cultures of the Spanish-speaking people who lived there. This post considers that issue with the farmers of northern New Mexico.

The Spanish (and then the Mexicans after independence in 1821) settled the far northern lands of New Spain/Mexico through creating land grants. Some of these were given to an individual, others to a group of families to start a village. It took a good long while to get most of these going because the northern edge of New Mexico was also the land of the Comanches, who in the 18th century were the stronger nation. Those settling on these land grants were taking a big risk with their lives, and warfare, capture, slavery, and death was common until after 1779, when the defeat of Cuerno Verde mostly moved the Comanche out of the Rockies and onto the Plains.

On these land grants, the Spanish settlers created their own work culture. Living in centralized small villages, the settlers engaged in a pastoral economy. They grazed sheep and goats, raised cows, sold timber, did a bit of mining, fished, and hunted. They build acequias to irrigate their crops. Some of the land was privately owned but the vast majority of these grants were ejidos, or common lands. They were somewhat connected to larger markets through Santa Fe, but this was largely a self-sufficient life. They were certainly not getting rich off this work. This was hard labor for very little money. Periodic droughts and high elevations made life pretty precarious. But it was their work culture and their land.

The Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo guaranteed the land grants. This was very important to the Mexican government. Article VIII stated:

Property of every kind, now belonging to Mexicans now established there shall be inviolably respected. The present owners, the heirs of these, and all Mexicans who may hereafter acquire said properties by contract, shall enjoy with respect to its guarantees equally ample as if the same belonged to citizens of the United States.

But of course once the treaty was signed, it was only the United States enforcing the agreement. And these lands were among the best in New Mexico Territory. Anglo lawyers, often working for wealthy land owners and eastern investors, began to discover ways to break the land grants. The grants had to be reviewed and confirmed by American courts through a surveying process and a then a patent filing. Of the around 1000 grants, only 48 were confirmed before 1891 and only 22 of those patented. American courts didn’t understand (and didn’t try to understand) the communal property of the grants and made little effort to do so. Every territorial appointee until 1897 was an Anglo; the land grant residents had no access to the a political system they didn’t understand, which was infused with white racism against them in any case. The Hispano farmers were poor and colonized. Legal proceedings were conducted in English and often without translators. Conditions were ripe for whites to rip them off and acquire the common lands.

Leading this charge was Thomas Catron, a wealthy lawyer who acquired (either in whole or in part) 34 New Mexico land grants and at one time owned three million acres of land, making him the largest private landowner in American history. Eighty percent of the land grants were lost to residents in the late nineteenth century. Catron and others would approach individual grantees and offer to buy their claims for a pittance; economically desperate and without knowledge of the American legal system, some began to sell for as a low as a quarter an acre. Soon entire grants were being purchased for almost nothing, often without the consent of all the people who had a stake in it. The speculators and lawyers would get farmers to sign a power of attorney agreement for the land in a language they could not understand and without being told what it meant–which was the loss of the right to use the common lands. Some lawyers even told people to sign a document they said was of no real importance, but was in fact selling their land. This land was then usually sold to mining or timber companies, used for huge grazing operations as railroads were built connecting New Mexico to east coast markets or sometimes to wealthy east coast barons for private hunting reserves.

The farmers were still there, but they lost most of the ability to survive even in the meager way their pastoral work and barter economy had allowed before. They were forced into greater dependency at the same time their land was being stripped. They tried appealing to American courts but the same white supremacist Supreme Court that had just issued Plessy routinely denied them their rights for common land. The Cañon de Chama Grant was reduced from 472,737 acres to 1,422 acres when the Court denied the grantees rights to the commons. Wage labor was the result, often for almost nothing working on the same lands they used to own. Others left to work in the fields of Colorado, picking sugar beets and other crops. The pastoral economy collapsed and so did the sustainable lives of the farmers. They became part of the rural proletariat of the American West.

The dispossession of Hispanos from their land and their work had long term implications. It just deepened the poverty of the people, forcing them into whatever wage labor they could find. Many ignored the government restrictions on the use of land and sometimes violent confrontations with forestry or grazing officials was not uncommon. During the 1960s, the desire to regain that lost land (if not necessarily the precise lost work culture) led to the Chicano movement in New Mexico being centered around the recapture of the land grants for the descendants of the owners. Many of the land grants became what are today the national forests of New Mexico, so this organizing was also against a government that had facilitated the theft of the land and now owned it outright. The 1965 raid of Reies Lopez Tijerina and the Alianza Federal de Mercedes on the courthouse in Tierra Amarilla, New Mexico briefly brought this issue to national attention, but it soon faded, as did the Alianza. Today, the impact of the land grant thefts on employment and culture remains strong. The former land grant communities have some of the highest heroin death rates in the country. Today, there are a few land grants still in New Mexico. Their owners are forbidden to sell their property.

For this post, I borrowed from Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz, Roots of Resistance: A History of Land Tenure in New Mexico and William DeBuys, Enchantment and Exploitation: The Life and Hard Times of a New Mexico Mountain Range.

This is the 131st post in this series. Previous posts are archived here.

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