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There’s A Big Price to Pay

[ 3 ] April 1, 2015 |

I believe there are some LGM writers in Las Vegas right now. I hope they are listening to Tom Landry’s sage wisdom.


Dollar General Working Conditions

[ 33 ] April 1, 2015 |


OSHA is cracking down on Dollar General for the terrible working conditions in many of its stores around the nation, fining one Atlanta-area store $83,000 for serious fire risk violations.

Continually exposing their workers to the hazards, blocked exits, locked exits, blocked electrical panels have been found throughout their corporation nationwide. They seem to have not taken the message to all of their workers in protecting them,” said Griffin.

They are all violations that OSHA says are extremely dangerous for their employees and customers, especially when it comes to the emergency exits.

“Electric fire is the worst fire you can have, and somewhere where you shop every day is not good,” said Tay Jones, who is a Dollar General customer.

Really, $83,000 is far too little for this kind of repeated violation, but at least it is starting to get some attention in the media. Walking into a Dollar General is not what I would call a pleasant experience, and it’s an atmosphere where one can almost feel a corporation treating workers badly. Seems to be an endemic problem in its stores.

Norwegian Prisons

[ 145 ] April 1, 2015 |


If you are like me, i.e. a good American, you are outraged by those herring choker Norwegians and their prison systems designed to rehabilitate inmates so they can be productive members of society. Real Americans know prison is meant for locking up black people punishing the evil in hellish ways that leave them a mess of a human being who will probably commit new crimes when they get out thanks to their experiences. But it makes me feel better about myself, knowing I support the institutionalized torture of people through solitary confinement, violent guards, substandard living conditions, and gang violence.

Dead Horses in British History

[ 40 ] April 1, 2015 |


Exciting news on the dead horse front, as intact 2000 year old horse skeleton found in British archaeological dig.

Ice Cream: The Dessert of Revolution

[ 48 ] April 1, 2015 |


Somehow I came to this point in my life without knowing that Emma Goldman and Alexander Berkman once owned an ice cream shop in Worcester, Massachusetts before failing miserably to assassinate Henry Clay Frick in the wake of the Homestead strike. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again–the fact that Berkman couldn’t off a bloated Gilded Age capitalist while armed with a gun and a knife is proof that you can’t trust anarchists to do anything right. This wonderful, if fictional, reminiscence by S.N. Berhman of visiting the shop in a 1954 New Yorker article is well worth your time.

Sprawl: Terrible in All Ways

[ 265 ] April 1, 2015 |


Suburban sprawl is a horrible thing for so many reasons. The environmental impact is enormous, eating up green space, farm land, and habitat. It reinforces racial and class exclusion and de facto segregation. It also externalizes its costs in all sorts of ways with severe impacts on the economy and our lives.

So take this number as more of a starting point than a final answer: A new analysis authored by Todd Litman at the Victoria Transport Policy Institute concludes that sprawl costs the U.S. economy more than $1 trillion every year.

More than half of that, Littman calculates as part of a New Climate Economy research project lead by the London School of Economics, is borne by people living in sprawling places who have to drive more, among other things. About $400 billion of it is borne by other people, in the form of air pollution or traffic congestion, or costlier public services — all of it created not necessarily by consumer demand for big homes and lots of driving, but also by policies in America that encourage and subsidize sprawl.

“An awful lot of auto travel and sprawl is the result of market distortions,” Litman says. He’s talking about policies like the home mortgage interest deduction that encourages large, suburban housing, as well as the fact that we don’t charge people for the true costs of using roads. In a more efficient market, he says, “consumers would rationally choose to own fewer automobiles, to drive less, to rely more on walking, cycling and public transit, and they’d choose more compact home and work locations simply because that really optimizes everybody’s benefits.”

But wait, there’s more!

You can parse the math behind his big number. It doesn’t include the costs in lower social mobility for children growing up in the most sprawling metros. It doesn’t take into account the higher housing costs many families would pay if they moved closer to the city, or the price tag if we built the kind of public transit we’d need to support a denser population. Economic modeling is by definition imprecise — all the more so when we’re modeling a matter like land use that influences everything from the air we breathe to our quality of life.

The other thing about sprawl is that once it is built, it’s almost impossible to fix to turn into a sustainable, dense city. Decent public transportation is probably never going to come to Rio Rancho, New Mexico or Round Rock, Texas because the number of people who can access any given bus or train stop is so few. And while walking core downtowns can be built in these places, one would still have to drive to get to them. Of course, part of the appeal for many of moving to the sprawl is so they never have to walk. A friend was involved in an attempt to bring a downtown to Rio Rancho. It was a total disaster. Not surprising for a city that called their urban planning department “Developer Services.”

Good Job NYU

[ 9 ] March 31, 2015 |


NYU deciding to open an Abu Dhabi just gets more and more embarrassing for the school. You’d think the school would consider academic freedom and the protections of its faculty in the United Arab Emirates. But of course it didn’t. Because it was always about cashing checks.

Destroying Workers Compensation

[ 18 ] March 31, 2015 |

Orange Man Injured

Workers compensation is under attack. Although the system has never provided benefits at a level that really makes up for the suffering of an injured worker (the only fair system would be 100 percent compensation for lost wages and benefits) and although the system was designed to protect corporations from workers suing them, it still provides at least some benefits to American workers who get sick or injured on the job.

Not surprisingly, in this New Gilded Age, this system, like the rest of American labor law, is under attack. That attack is being led by corporations such as Walmart, Lowe’s and Safeway.

ARAWC’s mission is to pass laws allowing private employers to opt out of the traditional workers’ compensation plans that almost every state requires businesses to carry. Employers that opt out would still be compelled to purchase workers’ comp plans. But they would be allowed to write their own rules governing when, for how long, and for which reasons an injured employee can access medical benefits and wages.

In recent years, companies have used that freedom to severely curtail long-standing benefits.

Two states, Texas and Oklahoma, already allow employers to opt out of state-mandated workers’ comp. In Texas, the only state that has never required employers to provide workers’ comp, Walmart has written a plan that allows the company to select the physician an employee sees and the arbitration company that hears disputes. The plan provides no coverage for asbestos exposure. And a vague section of the contract excludes any employee who was injured due to his “participation” in an assault from collecting benefits unless the assault was committed in defense of Walmart’s “business or property.” It is up to Walmart to interpret what “participation” means. But the Texas AFL-CIO has argued that an employee who defended himself from an attack would not qualify for benefits.

A 2012 survey of Texas companies with private plans found that fewer than half offered benefits to seriously injured employees or the families of workers who died in workplace accidents. (The state plan, which Texas companies can follow on a voluntary basis, covers both.) Half of employer plans capped benefits, while the state plan pays benefits throughout a worker’s recovery.

With a national right to work bill almost certainly coming the next the Republican Party controls all branches of government, we can expect a legislative gutting of workers’ comp to follow. Already the system is severely weakened from what it once was, with huge disparities between states and workers bearing the cost of being hurt. Existing workers’ comp plans cost companies very little, especially those giant corporations like Walmart. But paying anything at all is too much for corporations and we are seeing that principle reenter American life. Workers will regain the right to sue in federal court if employers opt out of workers’ comp. But how confident are you that they will win the sorts of rewards that will force corporations back into the system?

Book Review: Thomas H. Guthrie, Recognizing Heritage: The Politics of Multiculturalism in New Mexico

[ 23 ] March 31, 2015 |


The racial and cultural politics of northern New Mexico are tremendously complicated and fraught with conflict. This is primarily for two interconnected reasons. First, three major racial groups all compete for recognition and power–non-Spanish whites (Anglos in the local parlance), Hispanos (which is the usual term for what we might call Latinos in the rest of the country, but which also basically excludes recent immigrants), and Native Americans. Within those groups you then have divisions as well. Many people of course are mixed blood, but the politics of what it means to be mestizo are equally complex. Plus you have many different tribes who do not always agree. Second, the historical interactions of those racial groups are dominated by conquest and colonization, first of the Spanish over the Native Americans, then of the United States over both, and then of the rise of white tourist culture commodifying and fetishizing both the Native Americans and Hispano villages.

Though this is well-trodden in the scholarship of a number of fields, the anthropologist Thomas Guthrie usefully revisits the topic, exploring four different sites in northern New Mexico and the creation of the Northern Rio Grande National Heritage Area to uncover how the official multiculturalism of New Mexico reinforces colonialism, even as both Hispanos and Native Americans buy into it in some contexts to make specific claims on the past and the present.

Guthrie examines four places for this study: the Palace of the Governors in Santa Fe, the portal outside the Palace where Native Americans sell goods to tourists, the mestizo city of Española, and the Hispano village of Las Trampas. The Palace of the Governors, the oldest administrative building in the United States, is today a museum. For years it was the New Mexico state history museum, but they built a new one behind it (which is OK, not great). But as Guthrie sees it, the focus on the exhibits now in the Palace tell a story that romanticizes the Spanish past while telling the story of Anglos through modernism and science in the exhibits about the building’s history, creating a (perhaps unintentional) narrative of brown people in the past, white in the present and future. Such a story is common in the tricultural mythology New Mexico that claims harmony but gives position of economic power and authority to white people, such as the famous murals in the Zimmerman Library at the University of New Mexico, displayed above.

Discussing the Puebloan peoples selling jewelry and other goods in the portal outside the Palace, Guthrie usefully notes the black hole that is arguing about authenticity, an inherently meaningless term but one with significant political and cultural power behind it. Ideas of authenticity have been used by both the museum and the indigenous people outside to exclude non-natives from selling goods there. Guthrie calls this a “staged authenticity,” but notes that those who criticize the idea of Native Americans selling goods in a commercial market at a historic site believe that real Indian “authenticity” somehow exists somewhere else rather than where actual Indians are living their lives. The “traditional” nature of the market might be a construction, but no more so than the ideas of its critics.

Española operates in an unusual space in northern New Mexico. Rather than an ancient village, it is a late nineteenth century railroad town. It is also the center of mestizo culture in northern New Mexico. Famous for its low-riding culture (you do see some crazy cars in that town) and its terrible heroin problem, the city is very New Mexican but lacks the classical physicality of the New Mexican town that draws in white tourists and their money, such as an ancient church and a plaza. To alleviate this, the city did put in a plaza in the 1990s, though this effort was opposed by many locals who preferred the city do something that would actually make a difference in their lives, like getting Wal-Mart to open a store there (which later happened anyway). The implementation of the plaza came out of the myth of triculturalism, assuming that the three cultures have lived in harmony for hundreds of years. Española also became the home of the Northern Rio Grande National Heritage Area, which is a National Park Service project to provide funding that allows regions to develop tourist infrastructure. The NPS impetus for doing this was commemorating the arrival of the Spanish in 1598, an event fraught with controversy in New Mexico even today. Finally, Juan de Oñate’s first capital in New Mexico was just north of Española, in land he stole from the Ohkay Owingeh people. When a statue of Oñate was placed north of Española, indigenous people were deeply angry because of Oñate’s mistreatment of the Puebloan peoples, most notably at Acoma, where he cut a foot off the tribe’s warriors after they resisted conquest. The Hispanos meanwhile see him as a hero. Someone cut the foot off the statue. It was replaced. Today this statue still divides New Mexico and is possibly the most egregious monument to the conquest of what became the United States in the entire nation, although I realize there is some competition for that title.

Las Trampas is a very poor Hispano village in the Sangre de Cristo mountains. It has always been poor, going back to its origin as a frontier village with poor soil and under attack from the Comanches. The theft of the village’s land grant (to say the least, indigenous people are not sympathetic to this issue) and the migration of people to agricultural picking in Colorado only made it more marginal. This is a deeply poor place. But its quaintness makes it attractive to visiting whites, even though there’s really nothing there to visit. This leads to battles between white preservationists and local villagers over developing the village. In the 1960s, when the state finally paved the highway through Las Trampas, villagers were happy to have access to the outside world but white preservationists freaked out over how close the road would run to the historic church and that it would change the village character. Such issues, such as whether to use traditional adobe on the church, still roil the waters there today. Again, tourism becomes a means of colonizing in New Mexico.

Is this history complicated enough for you?

At the core of Guthrie’s argument is the need to take poverty and wealth seriously in analyzing and understanding the region. The region’s cultural narratives are heavily depoliticized in order to facilitate triculturalism and tourism. That means that the vast wealth disparities between white Los Alamos and Santa Fe on one hand and the Hispano villages, pueblos, and the mestizo city of Española on the other must be central to the politics of New Mexico. That is most certainly a conversation that the wealthy whites of northern New Mexico do not want to have. It means taking water rights and the impact of the land grant thefts seriously. It means discussing the problems of mass tourism. It means moving away from mythology and colonization as the central tenets of modern New Mexico and actually dealing with the legacy of colonialism.

The book is good. It avoids most of what bothers me about anthropology. He talks about himself a lot like most anthropologists, but given the frank hostility white anthropologists face in a place like Las Trampas, there’s actual value there. There are some “field notes” sections inserted into the chapters about the National Heritage Area meetings that I don’t think work very well because they aren’t particularly connected to the chapter at hand. A minor critique. This is a solid work with real value for helping us understand the politics of arguably the United States’ most culturally complex place.

Last Ditch Confederate Efforts

[ 161 ] March 29, 2015 |


150 years ago, the Confederacy was in its death spiral. Yet the fireeating newspaper editorialists were continuing to call for resistance to Yankee oppression, i.e., crushing treason to defend slavery:

But the most powerful motive of all is to be found in the terms which the enemy offer us. Nothing less than absolute submission will answer their terms. We must lay down our arms, disband our armies, and submit to such terms as they choose to prescribe.–What those terms will be, we are not left to conjecture. They have already passed a law abolishing slavery. They have already passed a law confiscating the entire territory covered by the Confederate States. They have already declared that the States shall, in future, be entitled to no rights greater than those possessed by the counties.

They have, in a word, inaugurated for our benefit one of the most stupendous systems of centralized despotism the world ever beheld, and it is to be inaugurated with the proper accompaniments of a general confiscation and an universal spoliation. A Confederate is to own nothing that he can call his own. He is to be judged by Yankee judges and tried by Yankee juries. He is to be the slave of his own negroes and of their Yankee associates. Such a let is offered him as even Katherine or Nicholas never thought of entailing upon the Poles, and such as makes that of the Irish people blessed in the comparison. If these are not motives for fighting on, then there can be none.

How’d that work out for you?

Siting the Nixon Library

[ 26 ] March 29, 2015 |


As I’ve mentioned before, the Nixon Library is Disneyland for cynical left-wing historians. It’s located in boring ol’Yorba Linda, Nixon’s birthplace. Turns out this was very disappointing for Nixon, who had incredibly grand ideas about what his library should look like. And that included stripping the western part of Camp Pendleton for it.

Obsessed with his place in history, Nixon needed to acquire a location that, in and of itself, would command respect – awe, even. He had the exact spot picked out, and it was spectacular: vast, open, California wilderness, miles of stunning beaches, and magnificent views of the Pacific Ocean. Its setting alone would trump all past, and likely future, presidential libraries. The only thing preventing Nixon from realizing his vision was something that, in so many other parts of his political life, he never let stop him: it would not be legal.

The Presidential Libraries Act of 1955 prohibits the use of federal land for a presidential library, and that presented a problem: Nixon’s perfect site just happened to be on federal property. Worse, the exclusive parcel was, inconveniently for Nixon, in the western part of Camp Pendleton, one of the country’s largest Marine Corps bases.

Occupying eighteen miles along the Southern California coast and more than a hundred and twenty-five thousand acres between Los Angeles and San Diego, the camp was – and is – the main training base for all West Coast Marines. Vital to the mission and readiness of the Corps – particularly those then training to go to southeast Asia – the Marines did not want to give up a single acre or a foot of shoreline. The Department of Defense (DoD) protested that Nixon’s plan would “severely handicap” military functions at Camp Pendleton, pointing out that during 1970 alone, more than 77,000 Marines trained in the specific area of the base that he wanted.

To say the least, Nixon did not get his wish. But he and his henchmen sure tried:

When Congress got word that the president desired to transfer the land – but not that he wanted it for his library, only for a state park, the cover story – it prohibited the sale, lease, or transfer of Camp Pendleton without further congressional authorization.

Nixon, along with All the President’s Library Men – which included H.R. Haldeman, John Ehrlichman (the chair and vice chair, respectively, of the Nixon Library Foundation’s board of executive trustees), Donald Rumsfeld, Fred Fielding, and John Dean – went ahead anyway. They wrested thousands of acres and miles of beach away from the Corps, enlisting the National Archives and Records Service, the General Services Administration, and even the United States Secret Service in hiding the fact that he planned to build his library on the stolen land.

Like many of Nixon’s plans to circumvent the law, this one included a cover-up. Unlike many of his plans, though, the cover-up had been part of the strategy from the start. While Nixon’s plan wasn’t fully successful, the cover-up lasted for more than forty-five years – until I discovered hundreds of pages of evidence in what was then known as the Nixon Presidential Materials Project at the National Archives facility in College Park, Maryland.

The whole story is pretty amazing. The actual library is insane enough. What this would have looked on a spread like Nixon envisioned, I can only imagine. I almost wish it happened, just so I could make fun of it.

Prioritizing Property Rights

[ 76 ] March 29, 2015 |


In America, property rights are king. The right to property is part of the national mythology. And I get that. But I am constantly curious as to how competing rights to property play out. In other words, like all rights, if conceived broadly enough anyway, they inevitably conflict with others who think their own, quite similar, rights take precedence. While we are most famously seeing this right now in the discriminatory bills passed by Indiana and soon probably by other states, this also plays out in the realm of property rights. If one wants to develop their property and it affects other people’s property, almost inevitably in the United States, the wealthy win. This goes back to the early 19th century, when upstream and downstream property owners were suing early corporations over the damage their dams, logging runs, and other industrial water uses were causing the property of farmers, fishers, and other water users. The courts consistently found for the capitalists. And while the rise of the government regulatory state eventually created the principle of the collective rights of Americans having some occasional precedence over private property rights (such as in the national forests), when multiple property owners battle, little has changed.

I thought of this when reading this story about fracking in Nebraska
. A drilling company wants to truck polluted water to land near some ranches. The likelihood of this water polluting the water supplies of nearby ranches is high. That led to a farmer challenging the board members of the Nebraska Oil and Gas Conservation committee to drink the water. Of course they wouldn’t. Why should the rights of a drilling company negatively affect the property rights of entire communities.

I ask the same question about outsourcing. Why should the property rights of a corporation be allowed to destroy the property values of thousands of people by moving to a new location? What about their property rights? Allow me to quote from the manuscript version of Out of Sight on this issue:

In the mid-twentieth century, GE was the prime economic engine for its hometown of Schenectady, New York and the surrounding region. It made Schenectady a home of good jobs for researchers and scientists, mechanics and assembly line workers. GE located its electrical capacitor plant in Fort Edward, New York, about forty miles northeast of Schenectady. For decades, the plant used polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) to make the capacitors safe and reliable. Unfortunately, PCBs also cause cancer, fetal disorders, and cognitive dysfunctions. Industry knew of the effects of PCB exposure after workers in a New York factory died of liver failure after exposure in 1936, but for decades GE dumped the PCBs into the Hudson River watershed. By the time the federal government banned PCBs in 1976, 1.3 million pounds polluted the Hudson River and 7 million pounds poisoned local landfills. PCBs entered the bodies of fish and birds, and then the bodies of the people who defied the ban on Hudson River fishing to feed their families. In 1983, the EPA declared 200 miles of the Hudson a Superfund site. Workers in Fort Edward and people throughout the Hudson watershed had to live with the consequences of PCB exposure. They also needed jobs in a place with limited potential for new economic development thanks to GE poisoning the land.

In 2013, GE announced it was moving capacitor production to the now ironically named Clearwater, Florida, where it can enjoy a non-union workforce, a favorable regulatory climate, and, because of this, higher profits. The United Electrical Workers (UE) represents the Fort Edward workers. UE political director Chris Townsend said, “It shouldn’t be easy to close a plant. The General Electric corporation has been shown every imaginable consideration. Our members have worked with the company to keep this plant profitable. Now the company decides to walk off, leave hundreds of people stranded with no jobs, no income.” You might argue, “This is America and corporations have property rights to move their operations wherever someone agrees to host them.” But what happens to the property values of Fort Edward homeowners, left with no hope for jobs and a polluted landscape? What happened to the homeowners of Detroit, Cleveland, and Scranton as jobs disappeared? Why do we allow corporate property rights to trump the rights of everyday citizens to jobs, good schools, safe neighborhoods, and the investment in their homes and communities? Why should a corporation be able move anywhere it wants for any reason it chooses? We do not really ask these questions but we should. We might bemoan corporate mobility but we rarely challenge the fundamental right of corporations to move.

Why do we never use the idea of property rights to protect the collective property of individual property owners against the wealthy? It’s not even a question we ask ourselves. But we should, whether against polluters lowering the property values of their workers through their actions or against the same corporations decided to decimate a community by moving all the jobs away.

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