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Booker

[ 35 ] June 13, 2013 |

Cory Booker is going to be one very annoying senator.

Shame on Carl Levin

[ 91 ] June 12, 2013 |

This is unconscionable:

In a striking showdown between Senator Carl Levin, the chairman of the Armed Services Committee, and a member of his own party, Mr. Levin said on Tuesday that he would remove a measure aimed at curbing sexual assault in the military from a defense spending bill.

Senator Kirsten E. Gillibrand, Democrat of New York, offered a measure that would give military prosecutors rather than commanders the power to decide which sexual assault crimes to try, with the goal of increasing the number of people who report crimes without fear of retaliation. Mr. Levin, Democrat of Michigan, said he would replace Ms. Gillibrand’s measure — which has 27 co-sponsors, including four Republicans — with one that would require a senior military officer to review decisions by commanders who decline to prosecute sexual assault cases. Although Mr. Levin’s measure would change the current system, it would keep prosecution of sexual assault cases within the chain of command, as the military wants.

As Laura Clawson puts it, “Old white man decides to leave military sexual assault decisions in the hands of old white men.”

Between Levin being most formidable obstacle within the Democratic caucus against filibuster reform and now caving to the military on sexual assault, the august senator from Michigan is not exactly ending his career in Ted Kennedy-esque fashion.

See also Katie at Feministing and Adele Stan.

Stan notes elsewhere that the Obama Administration has done nothing but lip service on this issue. It’s really unacceptable.

Separating Production from Consumption

[ 45 ] June 12, 2013 |

Arguably capitalism’s greatest feat in the last century is the almost complete separation of production from consumption. Modern Americans rarely see where anything is produced, whether food or consumer goods. This is an intentional move by corporations to shelter themselves from pressures to produce goods in anything other than brutal conditions that maximize profit.

I thought of this when reading this article about a person in a Chinese prison camp slipping pleas for help inside the goods the prison produced for export.
An Oregon woman found one of them in a package of Halloween decorations. We simply have no idea of knowing what goods are produced under any sort of labor conditions, but especially prison labor. What corporations are directly benefiting from prison labor? At what point do Americans enter into the process? What responsibility do we have to find out? But because of the extreme capital mobility lauded by the political and economic elite for the last fifty years, we simply have almost no way to find out the answers to the questions.

And that’s the way capital likes it.

Daley

[ 33 ] June 12, 2013 |

If there’s one thing the state of Illinois needs, it’s another centrist insider Democrat running for high office on a position of tearing down the good life for working-class people. Always important to follow Rahm Emanuel’s example.

Evers

[ 33 ] June 12, 2013 |

Shortly after midnight on June 12, 1963, NAACP leader Medgar Evers was assassinated in front of his home by white supremacist Byron De La Beckwith.

Today marks the 50th anniversary of this tragedy.

This Day in Labor History: June 11, 1925

[ 16 ] June 11, 2013 |

This is a guest post by Jacob Remes, who is assistant professor and mentor at SUNY Empire State College, where he teaches public affairs and history. His book, Disaster Citizenship: Urban Disasters and the Formation of the North American Progressive State, is forthcoming from the University of Illinois Press. He tweets at @jacremes.

Happy Davis Day

Today in 1925, soldiers in New Waterford, Nova Scotia, shot and killed William Davis, a striking coal miner. Members of District 26 of the United Mine Workers, representing miners in Nova Scotia, have never worked on June 11 since.

Davis was killed after a militant turn in a long and bitter strike in the coal fields of eastern Nova Scotia. The previous contract had expired in January, and relief committees in each of the towns had been operating since the winter. To pressure the workers, the employer, the British Empire Steel Company, or BESCO, cut off credit at the company stores at the most militant mine heads. The miners walked off the job in March, and BESCO retaliated by pulling out the ponies and maintenance equipment from three collieries and allowing them to flood. The the men who left work at those mines, they knew, would probably never return.

Even so, the UMW international insisted on a strategy of waiting. John L. Lewis, the UMW’s virulently anti-radical international president, had colluded with the company to break the last strike, watching as District President J.B. McLachlan had been carted off the jail on trumped-up sedition charges and replacing him with a docile and unelected executive. Now McLachlan was out of prison and running a radical newspaper, and by early June the miners were frustrated that no progress had been made.

So they stopped waiting and called for a total strike. Before, only actual miners had stopped work. Now, nobody would be allowed to work for the company. On June 4, the men who had been operating a company power plant in New Waterford walked off the job, cutting off the town’s water and electricity. On June 11, fifty managers and mounted company police overtook the few picketers guarding the plant. In response hundreds—estimates ranged from 700 to 3,000—of striking miners marched to the plant to enforce the strike.

They were met with gunfire. Many were beaten by police, several were injured by bullets, and one was killed. The death of William Davis sparked a riot in which company stores—which had remained tauntingly well stocked but closed to strikers—were looted and burned. Angry miners ran the police out of town and would perhaps have killed them had it not been for the intercession of Father J.H. Nicholson, Mt. Carmel Parish Priest in New Waterford, who calmed the men until the police had a chance to escape. William Davis, killed for striking, had not been given that chance.

Even with this violence, it took until August for a newly elected Conservative premier, Edgar Rhodes, to negotiate a stop-gap contract while a Royal Commission investigated the coal industry. By this point, the union was fighting for its life, and any contract at was a victory. Other than the continued existence of the union, the one victory was that it kept the dues check-off for the length of the final contract. It was, otherwise, a lost strike.

To keep alive the memory of the Strike of 1925 and the murder of William Davis, the members of District 26 swore they would never work again on June 11. Davis Day became a holiday in the coal mining region of Cape Breton. But gradually, Davis Day has become a day associated less with remember the killing of a striker and more with remembering all the dead of Nova Scotia’s mines. There have been many, from the 75 men killed in the Springhill mine collapse of 1958, to the 26 non-union miners killed in the Westray explosion of 1992. In 2008, after the social democratic New Democratic Party was elected to the Nova Scotia government, the province finally recognized Miners’ Memorial Day. But Davis Day should be more than a commemoration of mining accidents, as terrible as those are. Davis did not die accidentally in a tragic, if avoidable, disaster. He was murdered by the military for striking.

Like Davis Day, Workers’ Memorial Day (April 25) began as a Canadian commemoration. Perhaps, like Workers’ Memorial Day, we can spread Davis Day south. One way to so so is to donate to the Rosenberg Fund for Children. Founded by Robert Meeropol in honor of his parents, Julius and Ethel Rosenberg, the Rosenberg Fund supports the children of those who are killed, jailed, or lose their jobs for their progressive political activities. Included in this group are parents whose bosses fire them for union activism. Americans have few better ways to commemorate Davis Day than with a donation to the Rosenberg Fund, perhaps to the Clinton Jencks fund, which is “designated to assist children of workers who have been penalized, injured, fired, jailed or have died for their organizing efforts to build unions, improve working conditions and elevate living standards for all in the work force.”

William Davis was neither the first murdered striker nor the last. The labor movement has too many martyrs. This Davis Day, let us remember them all.

company store

Further Reading:

David Frank, J.B. McLachlan: A Biography (Toronto: James Lorimer, 1999).

John Mellor, The Company Store: James Bryson McLachlan and the Cape Breton Coal Miners (Toronto: Doubleday, 1983)

Paul MacEwan, Miners and Steelworkers: Labour in Cape Breton (Toronto: Hakkert, 1976).

Donald Macgillivray, “Military Aid to the Civil Power: The Cape Breton Experience in the 1920s,” in Cape Breton Historical Essays, ed. Don Macgillivray and Brian Tennyson (Sydney, N.S.: College of Cape Breton Press, 1980): 95-109.

David Frank, “The Cape Breton Coal Industry and the Rise and Fall of the British Empire Steel Corporation,” Acadiensis VII no. 1 (autumn 1977): 3-34.

Jacob Remes, “In Search of ‘Saner Minds’: Bishop James Morrison and the Origins of the Antigonish Movement,” Acadiensis XXXIX no 1 (winter/spring 2010): 58-82.

This is the 64th post in this series. Previous entries are archived here.

Lead and Schizophrenia

[ 41 ] June 10, 2013 |

I’ve linked to articles before connecting the protection of people from lead poisoning through environmental regulations and drops in crime over the last few decades. Here is a scientific study reinforcing these connections, with lead poisoning leading to schizophrenic symptoms in mice. Interesting stuff.

More broadly, the lead-crime nexus shows the unexpected payoffs of potentially expensive environmental regulations and remediation. Protecting people from pollutants creates healthier, happier, and more productive people. It also helps make them mentally healthy and helps prevent them from committing crimes. These are huge payoffs.

Right to Work: “The Most Dishonest Words in American Politics”

[ 40 ] June 10, 2013 |

Although I like “the right to work a man to death” better because it was generated by workers themselves, calling right to work “the most dishonest words in American politics” is a pretty good way to describe the double speak behind robbing workers of their actual rights. Steven Wishnia provides a good history of the idea, including some new information to me.

I didn’t know the term “right to work” was coined in 1941 by an anti-union editorial writer at the Dallas Morning News. That it comes from Texas should surprise no one.

I did know that the right to work provisions of the Taft-Hartley Act was preserved by a 1965 Senate filibuster after the House voted to overturn them. Yet another piece of evidence that the filibuster is a uniquely pernicious piece of American political life that needs to be eliminated immediately.

The Pundit Class Does Not Care About Economic Issues

[ 31 ] June 10, 2013 |

Media Matters:

Over Five Weeks, Network And CNN Sunday Shows Combine For Just Half An Hour Of Economic Coverage. Since May 12, Sunday morning political talk shows on the major broadcast networks and on CNN have devoted less than 36 minutes to coverage of economic issues. The same programs devoted roughly 10 hours to discussions of Benghazi, the IRS, the leak investigations, and NSA surveillance programs.

CBS’ Face The Nation Devoted Only 12 Seconds To Economic Coverage. During the period reviewed, CBS’ Face The Nation spent only 12 seconds on economic issues. The program provided more than 2 hours and 12 minutes of “scandal” coverage, second only to Fox News Sunday’s two hours and 25 minutes of “scandal” coverage.

MSNBC Programs Devote Greater Coverage To The Economy. MSNBC provided nearly four hours of economic coverage during this period – roughly seven times the coverage on all the other networks combined. MSNBC’s Melissa Harris-Perry provided nearly three hours of economic coverage while Up with Steve Kornacki provided more than 51 minutes. Even correcting for the fact that MSNBC programs are two hours each while the other programs are only one hour, each MSNBC program clearly devoted substantially more coverage to the economy.

Good on Harris-Perry and Kornacki, bad on everyone else.

Via Atrios.

Context

[ 144 ] June 9, 2013 |

Given people’s intensity over this issue, I’m probably going to be annoyed by the response to this. But while all the NSA stuff and destruction of privacy is in fact terrible and deeply disturbing, it has about 0.1% as much effect on people’s freedom, security, and quality of life as unemployment, economic inequality, destruction of unions, and household debt, not to mention racism, sexism, homophobia, and climate change. If we saw 1% of the outrage over these things as over the relatively abstract (although not unreal) notion of a government spying on us, we’d be getting somewhere.

Overturning the Civil Rights Movement

[ 13 ] June 9, 2013 |

Ari Berman with an excellent article on John Lewis and how the Supreme Court’s likely overturning of Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act is a national repudiation of what he fought his entire life to achieve. Given the long hostility of American conservatism to civil rights and equal access for people of color, I find it unlikely that the attempted rollback of civil rights will stop with Section 5.

Housing Bubble 2

[ 75 ] June 9, 2013 |

I’ve read a few pieces like this one, documenting the sudden spike in home prices and the rush to buy with all-cash purchases. What the linked article does less well than some others is to explore how much this new bubble is being pushed by investors with deep pockets looking to buy up everything for some theoretical future where regular Americans have money to buy again. At least the bubble of the 2000s was backed by relatively stable employment for many (and of course way too much credit). This is backed by nothing at all, with everyday Americans continuing to live lives of contingent labor with great instability and no way they can buy expensive homes with cash.

….YankeeFrank in comments points us to a much better piece on this issue over at Naked Capitalism.

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