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America’s Worst Senator

[ 118 ] February 3, 2013 |

It’s a tough competition. I figure you have three candidates. First is the long-standing champion, James Inhofe, arguably the dumbest person to sit in the Senate for a long, long time. Second, is the relative newcomer Ron Johnson. Johnson is so out of his league in the Senate, it’s like watching Tebow play quarterback. Really, how on earth did Wisconsin choose this clown over Russ Feingold. Talk about one-term.

And now we have the newcomer, Crazy Ted Cruz of Texas, a man who seems likely to challenge Jesse Helms as the worst senator of my lifetime.

Quite a troika here. Although there are probably other possible competitors, I have to go with these three. I mean, say what you will about the recently departed Jim DeMint or Jeff Sessions or any of the others, they are just bog-standard reactionaries. These three take the cake.

….It seems that Wisconsinites have spoken on the matter.

[SL]:  Clearly, Erik is not giving Sessions enough discredit.

Saturday

[ 18 ] February 2, 2013 |

Hope you all are having as good a Saturday night as Zevon did when writing “Carmelita.”

NRA Enemies List

[ 79 ] February 2, 2013 |

How the deuce am I not on the NRA enemies list?

What the heck does a C-list blogger have to do to get on this list, use common metaphors that right-wingers pretend call for the assassination of the NRA wacko Wayne LaPierre in order to stoke mock outrage and distract attention from the fact that NRA-supported policies facilitated the death of 26 people in Connecticut?

Wait, I’ve already done that!!!

Hard to break through in this world, I’ll tell you what.

Fracking Disclosure

[ 51 ] February 1, 2013 |

Marjorie Childress reports on a New Mexico lawmaker opposing right-to-know legislation on fracking:

“It’s gonna fuel litigation, radical fringe groups, who don’t understand the process of what we do and how we do it,” Rep. Don Bratton, R-Lea County, said about HB 136, a bill that would require companies to publicly disclose hydraulic fracking chemicals, a procedure that uses high pressure to inject a mixture of sand, water and chemicals into rock and shale formations deep underground to release natural gas.

Bratton objected to the bill, saying that requiring companies to disclose fracking chemicals—which he said were components “we use in our everyday lives”–was like requiring grocery stores to disclose all the ingredients in products they sell, like toothpaste. He also said there was no evidence that fracking chemicals pollute water deep underground.

Hmmm….Can you imaging the horror of asking a company to put the ingredients of what makes up their products on packaging? I mean, it would be just like the United States in 2013! Of course reproducing the good old days of patent medicines and rat poison in our sausage is an actual goal of the modern Republican Party.

As a supporter of the bill said:

“If it’s true that they’re all benign, ..why on earth is there such a huge fight about what’s in it? If it really is just soap, water, sand, common lubricants…why is an extraordinarily modest bill similar to bills in other states, why is there an onslaught of opposition?” Egolf asked

Carbon Emissions

[ 34 ] February 1, 2013 |

U.S. carbon emissions keep slowly falling, down to levels not seen since 1994, despite a lot more people in this country. I’m probably a bit more skeptical about the long-term sustainability of this than some people for three reasons. First, much of this is based upon the transition from burning coal to burning natural gas. While I’m sure that’s going to be the trend for the foreseeable future, unless we invest heavily in a national infrastructure based around wind and solar energy, eventually it may change back to coal if gas prices go up. Second, the poor economy has played a major role in depressing energy use. That won’t last forever, although given policymakers unwillingness to think about the deeper structural reasons for our economic problems, we probably aren’t seeing a return to 1997 or 2005 anytime soon. Third, I’m not sure whether the continued drop in miles driven by Americans will continue. It’s possible because people in their 20s and 30s are more committed to urban life and eschewing cars like no generation in American history since the car was invented. On the other hand, Americans really like driving and a booming economy might just convince a lot of those people that 3000 square foot houses and SUVs in the suburbs aren’t such a bad thing.

Still, a good sign all in all.

The States

[ 33 ] February 1, 2013 |

As I’ve stated before, state and local elections are arguably more important than national elections. Republicans understand this in ways that the Democratic base doesn’t seem to.

Working-Class Literature

[ 160 ] January 31, 2013 |

Labor Notes has an interesting survey of working-class literature, asking organizers and activists about their favorite class-conscious novels.

Admittedly, when I became a professor I stopped reading novels. This is literally the single biggest thing I don’t like about my job. I feel incredibly guilty if I read anything not related to a) my research, b) teaching, and c) political stuff for the blog. Obviously there may be some time management issues here….

Anyway, the three clear winners in my mind are John Dos Passos’ USA Trilogy, John Steinbeck’s In Dubious Battle and the last third of Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man.

Dos Passos isn’t taken too seriously these days and his late life turn to conservatism, which seems to be more about Hemingway being mean to him during the Spanish Civil War than anything concrete, makes him seem pretty superficial in his politics. But then what’s so different about that than for millions of other people. The USA Trilogy at its best tells great stories about working-class people. White people admittedly. I’ll probably be pilloried for this choice. But I still like reading them and occasionally pick them up.

On Steinbeck, The Grapes of Wrath is a better book than In Dubious Battle and certainly has the ability to inspire one to a class consciousness perhaps never really achieved by most of the characters themselves. I always wondered what would happened to Tom Joad. I assume he would have joined the army in World War II and come back to found an evangelical church in Orange County sometime around 1947. Maybe I’m too cynical. But despite the difference of quality in the novels, In Dubious Battle is probably the best book we have about labor organizing itself.

I know some people have problems with the end of Invisible Man, but I think the cluelessness of the communists about why race actually matters in this country and how this undermined the possibility of radical change in the first half of the twentieth century is elucidated in really useful ways by Ellison.

What’s very much not a good class-conscious novel is Ken Kesey’s Sometimes a Great Notion, which is about as anti-union as American literature gets. Big unions, mean state hospital nurses, just another institution bringing down our independence, right Ken? Better to pass out acid like candy I guess. Was shocked to see one of the people surveyed list it.

As for the Gilded Age, If I never read The Jungle again, it’ll be too soon; Edward Bellamy is even worse and Frank Norris, well, I guess. I suppose I expected someone to name Jack London’s The Iron Heel but I’m glad they didn’t. Maybe the overt racism of London is too much to get over.

In any case, at least this should be a good reading list for me.

Duck Hunting, Gun Nut Logic, and Other Gun News

[ 183 ] January 31, 2013 |

Back to my favorite topic.

As everyone should know by this point, there’s absolutely no logical or historical basis for the idea that people have the right to walk around fully armed without any restriction at all. The NRA only took up this position as part of white backlash in the 1970s, Ronald Reagan supported gun control when guns meant armed Black Panthers, the American West of the 19th century was filled with towns that banned guns except for law control, there’s zero evidence that the Founders believed anything even remotely approaching what the NRA is arguing, etc., etc. Among the laws that restrict guns are hunting laws.

Rep. Mike Thompson, the California Democrat charged with crafting gun safety policies in the House of Representatives, keeps talking about ducks.

More specifically, duck hunting.

“Federal law prohibits me from having more than three shells in my shotgun when I’m duck hunting. So federal law provides more protection for the ducks than it does for citizens,” Thompson said earlier this month during a panel discussion on gun violence at the liberal Center for American Progress.

Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, also on the panel, was delighted by the line. “That’s a very powerful point,” Emanuel said. “My instinct is we’re gonna hear more of this line going forward.”

As it turns out, federal law places strict regulations on the types of firearms that can be used when hunting migratory birds, rules hunters have abided since the 1930s. Duck hunters are only allowed to use a shotgun, 10 gauge or smaller, that carries no more than three shells. If the shotgun carries more than three shells, the hunter is required to “plug” the gun so that only three shots can be fired before reloading.

Hunting laws have restricted gun use going back to the 1890s or early 1900s. These laws were controversial at the time because they restricted the killing of animals by working-class people, but in the modern context these laws are completely accepted. And they are a useful evidence point when it comes to gun control. There’s plenty of precedent to control types of guns, ammunition, hunting seasons, etc.

Of course, the response to this will probably be jihad against hunting laws. After all, it’s not like gun advocates are afraid of owning the crazy. Take Gayle Trotter, a conservative activist and gun extremist. Testifying before the Senate this week, Trotter argued that women needed guns to protect themselves from scary home invaders and would-be assaulters.

“An assault weapon in the hands of a young woman defending her babies in her home becomes a defense weapon,” said Trotter, a mother of six. “And the peace of mind she has … knowing she has a scary-looking gun gives her more courage when she’s fighting hardened violent criminals.”

Thing is, Trotter also advocates for policies that promote violence against women.

Despite her strong emphasis on the need to prevent violent crimes against women at home, Trotter is an outspoken opponent of the Violence Against Women Act, a law designed to aid women faced with domestic violence. In 2012, she wrote on the Independent Women’s Forum’s blog that VAWA infringed upon the rights of men who were falsely accused of domestic abuse. The law would also embolden “false accusers,” who would take “needed resources like shelters and legal aid … denying real victims of abuse access to these supports,” she wrote. Trotter and the forum characterized VAWA as “reckless demagoguery.”

VAWA=”reckless demagoguery.” Arguing for unrestricted guns at all costs so women can theoretically protect themselves in a legal world that Trotter hopes does not provide safeguards to women=”respectable commentary.” Gotcha.

Meanwhile, Americans by the thousands continue to die from guns. Slate has teamed up with the twitter feed @GunDeaths to create an interactive map of the people killed by gun violence since the Newtown Massacre. As of right now, it is 1478. Depressing stuff.

The Unnecessary Hazards of Clothing Production

[ 12 ] January 31, 2013 |

Terry Allen has a useful overview of the unnecessary health risks of clothing production experienced by largely female workforces in the developing world:

These expendable workers, mostly young women, cycle out when they become too infirm or, like Willi, land other jobs. Most of the health threats affect only workers, but some travel with the garments as they are exported, largely to the United States, Canada and Europe. Clothing and bedding that boasts it is “easy care,” “permanent press,” “stain resistant” or “wrinkle free” may have been treated with formaldehyde, which is embedded in the fabric. A 2010 U.S. government report found unacceptably high formaldehyde levels in clothing manufactured in Bahrain, India, China, Pakistan, Thailand and Indonesia. Samples from dozens of other countries contained “acceptable” levels of formaldehyde. In the United States, the toxin is not regulated in clothing, and “acceptable” is a fungible construct, especially when it comes to exposing infants and toddlers. Consumers who use formaldehyde-laced fabric can experience skin, eye and nose irritation and allergies.

Inhaled formaldehyde is more lethal. A known carcinogen, it is implicated in leukemia and multiple myeloma. The danger is exacerbated by dust, prolonged exposure, close quarters, humidity and heat—the very conditions that define sweatshops. Some major-brand clothing and shoes contain the toxin nonylphenol, “a persistent chemical with hormone-disrupting properties that builds up in the food chain” and is hazardous even at very low levels, Greenpeace warns. Again, workers sustain the greatest exposure.

The garment industry’s tangle of contractors, sub-contractors and sub-sub-contractors allows manufacturers and sellers to plead ignorance. When news broke that its Faded Glory brand had been manufactured in the Tazreen factory, Wal-Mart claimed it wasn’t in control of its supply line. But it and the other corporations that produced goods there—Disney, Sears and Sean Combs’ Enyce label—are quite capable of tracking the sources of their products when it’s in their interest to do so.

With China’s wages surging, and even India’s at double Bangladesh’s, Dhaka is not motivated to crack down—even though implementing safety standards would add only 10 cents to the cost of a T-shirt, the Worker Rights Consortium estimates.

A prominent display of Faded Glory brand garments at my local Wal-Mart sparked an urge to buy one, douse it with lighter fluid and set it ablaze in the parking lot—in memory of the millions of poisoned, underpaid and flammable workers who pay a high price so we can stuff our closets with cheap clothes.

A couple of things.

First, this is a story with a long history. Capitalists have sought from the first days of industrializing to maximize profits in the clothing industry by using young, exploitable female labor. Forget all the garbage said by capitalists from the Lowell factories in the 1820s to maquiladora managers today about women having more nimble fingers, this is an excuse to gender the work female in order to pay them less.

Second, that this labor still exists is offensive. Health protections for industrial labor are at least a century old and most of them don’t cost that much. Doesn’t matter though. That extra 10 cents for a shirt, well that’s violating freedom! Or something. The opposition to implementing safety, health, and environmental standards, as well as paying decent wages, isn’t strictly economic–it’s an objection in principle to having to invest one cent more into production than absolutely necessary. Some may celebrate this as freedom. Those people don’t work in these conditions.

Turn of the Century Paris in Color

[ 12 ] January 31, 2013 |

What an utterly wonderful set of color photos from Paris in the early 20th century. I love black and white photos and black and white cinema but seeing these things in color really changes one’s perspective.

Patty Andrews, RIP

[ 9 ] January 30, 2013 |

One of the last links to World War II-era popular culture has passed.

Why Unions Matter

[ 30 ] January 30, 2013 |

I know that this is kind of Unionism 101, but since we as a nation are now in a remedial state when it comes to understanding why we need labor unions, Eric Liu’s piece on non-unionized workers should be concerned about organized labor’s decline is important:

First, the fact is that when unions are stronger the economy as a whole does better. Unions restore demand to an economy by raising wages for their members and putting more purchasing power to work, enabling more hiring. On the flip side, when labor is weak and capital unconstrained, corporations hoard, hiring slows, and inequality deepens. Thus we have today both record highs in corporate profits and record lows in wages.

Second, unions lift wages for non-union members too by creating a higher prevailing wage. Even if you aren’t a member your pay is influenced by the strength or weakness of organized labor. The presence of unions sets off a wage race to the top. Their absence sets off a race to the bottom.

Unfortunately, the relegation of organized labor to tiny minority status and the fact that the public sector is the last remaining stronghold for unions have led many Americans to see them as special interests seeking special privileges, often on the taxpayer’s dime. This thinking is as upside-down as our economy.

This country has gotten to today’s level of inequality because, ironically, those who work for a living think like atomized individuals while those who hire for a living organize collectively to rig policy in their favor. Today’s 97-year low is the result of decades of efforts to squeeze unions and disperse their power.

I will add that unions have also historically set new standards in benefits for industries, providing nonunionized workers improved health care, shorter hours, vacation time, pensions, etc. Companies will often expand union gains to the rest of the industry in order to undercut unionization at other worksites. In addition, organized labor’s support for laws ranging from the minimum wage to OSHA have vastly improved the lives of all American workers. Without a strong labor movement, it’s hard to see how similar advances are achieved.

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