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[ 7 ] August 16, 2013 |

This is pretty close to the most devastating critique I’ve ever read of a baseball player.


[ 78 ] August 16, 2013 |

I’m not particularly comfortable with the idea of boycotting the Winter Olympics in Russia because of the nation’s anti-gay laws. Mostly, I don’t think it’s fair to athletes to be used as pawns in a political game and I do think that athletes can become Tommie Smith and John Carlos, protesting in very powerful ways. What would be more powerful, a boycott or athletes on the medal stand making clear statements in solidarity with gay Russians? The latter by far.

That said, the idea that U.S. athletes should “comply” with Russia’s anti-gay laws, as suggested by United States Olympic Committee chief executive Scott Blackmun, is deeply offensive. His point is that athletes should always comply with the laws of the country where they visit. 99% of the time that is absolutely correct. Complying with laws that violate basic standards of decency and discriminate against people, well that’s a whole other thing.

Foxconn Labor Strife

[ 16 ] August 16, 2013 |

Glad to see workers in China fighting back against their conditions of work at Foxconn. Of course, I’m sure that the computer industry will move the factory to Vietnam or Cambodia. After all, given the lack of profits made by Apple and Foxconn, there’s no way they companies can afford to pay these workers enough to eat.

Mining Sacred Spaces

[ 24 ] August 15, 2013 |

What’s more important, Kiowa sacred spaces or the whims of a mining capitalist who wants to tear up a sacred Kiowa mountain in order to mine limestone? I think we know which. The state could get involved, but it is in Oklahoma, so there’s little hope.


[ 122 ] August 15, 2013 |

The Philadelphia school system has decided to use a classic union-busting tactic: destroy seniority provisions:

There’s something about seniority that really rubs a lot of people the wrong way. It challenges our national mythology about meritocracy, a myth that ignores the race, gender, and class privileges that underlie a system where I as a white dude just happen to succeed where others don’t. Unions defend seniority not because it is perfect. No system is perfect. They defend it because it is the only system that is fair to workers.* Otherwise, how do we decide who has job preference? Like the Philadelphia schools, it is employers who want to decide. Employers are going to favor those they like, those who don’t support the union, those that are toadies. It is also an illegal labor action and let’s hope this pernicious union-busting gets fought off.

*Obviously the one exception to this was with affirmative action. That’s a complex story. The exception is noted before someone brings it up.

Today in American Corporations Using Slave Labor

[ 30 ] August 15, 2013 |

Shipbuilding corporation Signal International has some very special labor practices, policies that more corporations would emulate if they could get away it:

The lawsuits allege that Signal and its agents defrauded guest workers out of millions of dollars in exorbitant “recruitment fees” and falsely promised help in applying for and obtaining permanent US residence.

The guest workers sold family property and heirlooms, and incurred crippling debt, to each pay as much as $25,000 to Signal, they charged.

Once these workers were lured to Signal’s shipyards in Pascagoula, Mississippi, and Orange, Texas, they were forced to live in overcrowded, unsanitary and racially segregated labour camps, the news release alleged.

Signal, used the US government’s H-2B visa guest worker programme to import these employees from India to work as welders and pipefitters after Hurricane Katrina scattered its workforce, SPLC said.

Usually capital mobility moves to other nations in order to exploit labor. But sometimes it draws workers from afar to its manufacturing sites, keeps them in social isolation so they can’t complain, and treats them as if they actually had moved to Vietnam or India or Honduras.

“I think that Robert E. Lee, as a traitor and betrayer of his solemn oath before God and the Constitution, was a much greater terrorist than Osama Bin Ladin”

[ 155 ] August 15, 2013 |

I rather like this Lt. Col. Robert Bateman fellow who is blogging at Charles Pierce’s place:

A little more than a decade ago I was going through a divorce. It was pretty ugly, and emotionally, it left me distracted and out of sorts. The Ex had decided on a course of action with another fellow, and I really could not stand by for that. Allegiances and oaths and vows sort of mean a lot to somebody like me, and this being the second time, that was the end of things. Somehow, however, it was I who ended up moving out of our nice home.

What followed was stereotypical for a divorce of this sort. I spent a lot of time after work going to local bars. All of them within walking distance from my apartment on a hillside known as Marye’s Heights, in the town where I lived. This was 2002.

Being disinclined to sociability at the time, when prompted by a fellow barfly into a conversation I did not feel like having, I would assess my interrogator. If he fit the profile (and so many did), I would counter-present a statement as a way of starting a “conversation.” That “profile” had nothing to do with socio-economic status, but it did have a hell of a lot to do with race, and the bugaboo of “heritage.” At least “heritage” as it is interpreted in rural Virginia anyway. Regardless of the topic he was trying to engage me on, I would parry. Then I would start a new conversation. My entree was, “I think that Robert E. Lee, as a traitor and betrayer of his solemn oath before God and the Constitution, was a much greater terrorist than Osama Bin Ladin… after all, Lee killed many more Americans than Bin Ladin, and almost destroyed the United States. What do you think?”

Yeah, I flunked “Subtle 101” in High School. Oh well. Like I said, I was not in a good place.

But the fact is that there was nothing that any of these men, and they were all men, could say in honest denial to my assertion. They sputtered and growled, spouted and shouted, but not once did it end well for them on any level. You see, if they were “unreconstructed rebels,” well then I was something almost none of them had ever experienced, an “unreconstructed Yankee.” What is more, at the intellectual level I was not playing fair.

Not only did I have the historical facts on my side, but I was also deliberately playing upon two southern biases which are nearly independent of politics: Reverence for military service, and reverence of the concept of “honor” and “oaths.” I am a military officer, Airborne and Ranger qualified. I swore an oath, almost exactly the same as the one Robert E. Lee had, to the United States. Most of those I confronted over barstools and tables in Fredericksburg eventually just asked to be let out of the argument, because I would not let go. I was alone, and angry, and historically versed, and my own G-G-G-Grandfather had actually fought there, not 300 yards from where my crappy apartment was, in 1862. And they were stunned, at the outset, that I was saying something that defied their understanding.

Deep bitterness and outrage at treason in defense of slavery. This is my kind of person.

1940s Parking

[ 43 ] August 14, 2013 |

We need more of these parking contraptions.

The Rush to Fracking

[ 21 ] August 14, 2013 |

I’m not much of a fan of the “crowdsourced discussion” model that Wonkblog uses here, but on the topic of whether fracking’s proponents are not taking potential water contamination seriously enough, the answer is obviously yes. And by fracking proponents, I mean not only the energy industry but state and federal governments. I’m certainly not underestimating the importance of cheap energy, not only to our standard of living but to the political fortunes of politicians. But as is typical in our nation that combines technological fetishism with an almost mythological emphasis on capitalist entrepreneurs, we have jumped into fracking with both feet. A far smarter policy would have been to run a lot more tests, holding back on the technology until we have some really good sense of what the long-term effects on water will be. If we do contaminate large swathes of our water supplies through this in exchange for short-term gains, the future will not look kindly. After all, it’s not as if the U.S. has a lot of water to spare at this point. Water is at least as important to national security and standard of living as energy and sacrificing one for the other is a terrible idea that could really hurt the nation down the road.

Rahm’s War on Public Schools Continues

[ 56 ] August 14, 2013 |

Less than three months after Rahm Emanuel closed 50 Chicago public schools to bust the teachers union move resources around efficiently, the august mayor has issued a call for new charter schools in the very neighborhoods where the public schools were shuttered. It just so happens that these are non-union jobs led by people who will probably not hire the laid off teachers. I’m sure it’s all a coincidence.


[ 84 ] August 14, 2013 |

The inevitable bad choice of the New Jersey Democratic electorate happened last night with the victory of Empty Suit Booker in the state’s Senate primary. Soon to make us long for the days of Joe Lieberman, Booker will combine all of my favorite virtues in a senator: an insatiable ego, a love for television, grand presidential ambitions, Rheeism, an openly pro-corporate agenda, few core beliefs and certainly no core beliefs that would help working class people, and the fawning adoration of the Beltway media. The Washington Post is already giddy. Meanwhile, Alex Pareene’s desperate plea to New Jersey Democrats to elect Holt or Pallone fell on deaf ears, but we can still remember his article as a no doubt accurate prediction of Booker annoying us in coming years.

I’m sure Booker’s long-time defenders Lanny Davis and Harold Ford are pretty happy today.

This Day in Labor History: August 14, 1935

[ 19 ] August 14, 2013 |

On August 14, 1935, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt signed the Social Security Act, bringing the modern welfare state to the American people and providing the nation’s poor long-desired old age insurance.

FDR signing the Social Security Act.

The nation’s elderly had long lived with the potential of late-life poverty. The nation’s lack of a welfare state doomed the poor to rely on their families for survival, an impossibility for many. During the nation’s frequent economic downturns, this problem was worse. The continued decline in quality of life for the elderly during the Great Depression helped spur a more organized movement for old-age insurance. Many advocates fell in behind Francis Townsend. A California doctor, Townsend believed that if you put more money in the hands of the elderly, they would reinvigorate the economy with their spending. The Townsend plan proposed a sizable pension of $200 a month to any American over the age of 60 and was based upon the federal investment in pensions for Civil War soldiers, the first welfare program in American history. Townsend favored a sales tax rather than an income tax (proposed by Huey Long in his own old-age pension program) to pay for it. People would have to spend every cent of the $200 each month and quit working in order to receive it, which Townsend said would open jobs for the young and spur the economy through spending. By 1935, 28 states had passed old-age pensions of their own, although many of these provided no more than a dollar day, required a state residency of ten years, and limited eligibility to those over the age of 70.

Francis Townsend.

Within Roosevelt’s Cabinet, no one advocated more for old-age insurance than Secretary of Labor Frances Perkins. Organized labor had opposed Perkins’ appointment as Secretary of Labor for three reasons: she was the first Secretary of Labor that did not come from the labor movement, she was a woman, and she was a reformer rather than a unionist. The American Federation of Labor did not trust the federal government to run any kind of social welfare program. Believing both that the government was always the tool of capital and that welfare would undermine the independence of the American worker, the AFL under William Green would oppose much of the New Deal, even if its rank and file loved FDR. Perkins had long advocated for old-age insurance. Roosevelt initially opposed any long-term program, seeking instead a quick fix for the elderly through emergency relief. But by 1934, he had come around to Perkins’ view on the necessity of a permanent program. FDR named Perkins the head of the Committee on Economic Security, combining politicians and academics, to create what would become Social Security.

At the same time the CES met, Townsend’s plan became famous. 25 million Americans signed petitions in support of the plan and 1200 clubs formed, mostly by the elderly, to promote it. Policymakers were not amused. Perkins called it “a very large gift….much larger than the income which they enjoyed during their younger and working years” while others said the high sales taxes to fund it would hurt businesses. In addition, policymakers feared a federal plan. Even FDR told Perkins that he preferred the states having a great deal of control because “Just think what it would be like to have the power in the federal government if Huey Long should become President.”

The final plan did preserve state old-age welfare programs but put the majority of power within the federal government. Roosevelt insisted that the program be entirely self-supporting, not wanting a huge initial outlay to create massive debts for future generations. This meant much higher payroll tax rates, up to 6% of taxable payroll by 1949.

Today, we think of Social Security as something that is almost untouchable; despite Republican attempts to privatize the program, people really like it the way it is. That doesn’t mean it wasn’t controversial in 1935. Roosevelt was so popular among the people that Democrats steamrolled the Republicans in the 1934 midterm elections. The giant congressional majorities that followed is how the bill passed. Much of Congress disliked the bill, particularly the increased federal presence. Most of it offered little short-term political value. Only FDR’s overwhelming popularity prevented more open opposition. Still, on March 20, 1935, the Times ran a story titled, “Hopes Are Fading for the Social Security Bill” that predicted the only piece of the bill that would get through would be some assistance for the indigent over 65 years old. No one really knew what would happen to the bill once it reached the House floor. Some thought the Townsendites would overwhelm it and make it politically infeasible. Others believed right-wingers would demand lower tax rates and thus not fund it.

FDR used every trick in his book to push the bill through, making voting for it a matter of personal political loyalty to the most popular president in 20th century America at the peak of his powers. And the bill did pass overwhelming, by a 372-33 margin. Still, that took a lot of compromising from Roosevelt, who accepted a scaled back bill that only covered about 60% of workers, excluding federal employees, professionals like doctors and attorneys, domestic workers, agricultural workers, and the self-employed. The CES had strongly fought for including domestics and farmworkers and giving these up was the last compromise FDR made. Even then, the Senate nearly made the bill voluntary instead of compulsory after passing an amendment by Champ Clark that would have allowed for plans with more liberal provisions to opt out. The Clark Amendment got dumped in reconciliation. Finally, Roosevelt signed the Social Security Act until 1935.

Social Security proved immediately popular, even if AFL leaders grumbled. Despite the fact that union members loved Social Security, it was only the emergence of the CIO and the success the rival federation had in wrapping itself in progressive New Deal policy that moved AFL leaders to accept that Social Security might not destroy voluntarism. By 1938, the AFL joined the CIO in promoting expanded benefits. Republicans tried to make repealing it an issue in the 1936 elections. That didn’t work out so well for them. The plan was not implemented until the Supreme Court decided its constitutionality in Helvering v. Davis in 1937. Social Security meant something very real for the nation’s elderly. For instance, Roy Acuff had a hit off of his song about Social Security, “Old Age Pension Check:”

I relied on Edward Berkowitz, America’s Welfare State: From Roosevelt to Reagan and Dewitt, Beland and Berkowitz, Social Security: A Documentary History to write this post. Check those books out.

This is the 72nd post in this series. Other posts are archived here.