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What Unions Face with Democrats

[ 45 ] November 11, 2013 |

Another sign that most Democratic politicians simply don’t care about organized labor outside of writing checks and getting on votes on election day. Illinois governor Pat Quinn has named Paul Vallas as his candidate for Lieutenant Governor. Who is Vallas? The ultimate Rheeist, Vallas attacked teacher unions in Chicago before going on to doing the same in New Orleans and Bridgeport, where voters have just repudiated his “reforms” that had both Democratic and Republican support.

“Paul Vallas is one of the least popular leaders among the rank and file educators in Chicago public schools we’ve ever had,” said laid-off teacher Xian Barrett, a former member of the Chicago Teachers Union executive board currently working for a non-profit. Barrett cited Vallas’ moves that “reduced the power of the local schools councils,” and said before his 2001 departure he “was already laying the groundwork for a lot of the privatization movements” that progressed under his successor Arne Duncan, now President Obama’s Education Secretary. Barrett said Quinn’s choice of Vallas “reflects a disconnect between our state governance and the people, and specifically in this case a lot of the educators who’ve been Quinn’s greatest supporters his last time getting elected.” (The CTU, an AFT affiliate, did not respond to a Friday afternoon inquiry.)

Rob Traber, the vice president of Bridgeport Education Association, disputed Quinn’s praise for his new running mate. “I have seen nothing to show that he has been successful anywhere he’s gone, including Bridgeport,” Traber told Salon Friday. “And he has moved from one place to another and left it in worse shape than when he got there.” Traber contended Vallas and Finch had wrongly taken credit for construction of a new high school that “was already in the pipeline,” and that “the ‘miracle’ of balancing the budget” under Vallas was a response to “a budget crisis created by Finch.” Traber added that “the only reason it was balanced was Finch suddenly came up with money, which he hadn’t done for five years,” as did the state of Connecticut. “And so you know,” charged Traber, “that seems a little phony to me.” Like the IEA, the BEA is an affiliate of the NEA, the largest US union.

This is a case where organized labor should withdraw all support for Pat Quinn and the Illinois governor’s race. If the governor is openly opposed to labor’s interests, why should labor support him at all? This is a classic Samuel Gompers mentality–labor supports candidates who support labor. Labor does not support candidates that do not support labor. Progressives may look askance upon Gompers today for a number of reasons, but he understood the interests of his people and if Pat Quinn wants to put a teacher union busting Lieutenant Governor on the ticket in a relatively pro-union state like Illinois, then how much worse is a Republican going to be for organized labor? And while the answer to that question is potentially a Scott Walker and that would be horrible, we have to ask–would we expect pro-choice women to give money and support to an anti-choice candidate? Pro-gay marriage groups to support a candidate who named a homophobe as his running mate? Civil rights groups to support a ticket that included someone who backed voter ID laws? Ultimately, labor can’t be the only group asked to sacrifice when the Democrats promote people who oppose its interests. There has to be a payoff.

Pope Talk

[ 220 ] November 10, 2013 |

Say this about the new pope: he has the right enemies.

Has the Revolution Started Yet?

[ 127 ] November 9, 2013 |

Since this brilliant plot was hatched in 2010, surely the revolution must have started by now, no?

There is much to embrace about Burning Man. Since its beginning it has been a radical, counter-cultural gathering, where space is carved out for people to be free to think, and experiment, outside of prescribed politics, religion, sexuality and ideology, and where people openly discuss how to create new morality and co-operation in the “default” world.

There is a great need for people who are yearning for a different, better world to be introduced to Bob Avakian and his revolutionary vision of the most radical rupture with traditional property relations and traditional ideas, and a vibrant, exciting communist world in which people would really thrive—the unleashing of art and science, awe and wonder, ferment and imagination in mind-boggling dimensions.

Two of us went to Burning Man art to popularize Bob Avakian among 50,000 people. We intended to have a one-two punch; to raise broad curiosity about the identity of the person in the image, and then to answer with the Message and Call. Logistically, this proved far too ambitious, especially in a week’s time in the harsh conditions in the desert.

Before the event, I got permission to install a number of 3′ by 4′ enlargements of the image of the Chairman along a 90-mile stretch of highway (between Wadsworth, Nevada and the Black Rock Desert or “the Playa,” as it is known to “Burners”). Virtually everyone attending the event must travel this route.

Silk screens of Bob Avakian’s face and Burning Man. I don’t think the American proletariat has been this moved since that college socialist group talked about Che after doing some bong hits while listening to Bob Marley’s Legend compilation.

Today in the Post-Racial Society

[ 12 ] November 9, 2013 |

Clearly not racism:

Home improvement maker Home Depot Inc. on Thursday apologized for a tweet that showed a picture of two African-American drummers with a person in a gorilla mask in between them and asked: “Which drummer is not like the others?”

The tweet, from Home Depot’s official Twitter account, @HomeDepot, was part of a “College Gameday” college football promotion on ESPN. It was quickly pulled, but not before people took screen shots of it and it was widely circulated on social media. NBC and CNBC, among others, reported on the Tweet.

Home Depot said Friday that it has fired the person and outside agency that was responsible for the tweet, but did not disclose their names.

“We have zero tolerance for anything so stupid and offensive,” said Stephen Holmes, spokesman for the Atlanta-based company.

The fact that Home Depot fired the agency responsible for the tweet is outrageous. It clearly has nothing to do with real racism. You know, like claiming that Trayvon Martin shouldn’t have been shot dead by George Zimmerman for being black, thinking the Washington Racist Insignias have an offensive mascot, or supporting the rights of African-Americans to vote. The real racists here are Home Depot executives for firing those truth tellers.

The Meaning of Freedom

[ 278 ] November 9, 2013 |

The true meaning of freedom is killing your children because you believe God will come down and heal them instead of getting them the medical help they need.

A Motivated Electorate

[ 66 ] November 8, 2013 |

A possible lesson of Terry McAuliffe’s win in Virginia is that if the Republicans continue a party of open racism that wants to restrict people of color’s voting privileges, it may just anger African-Americans a tiny little bit.

Friday Evening Anti-Communist Propaganda

[ 137 ] November 8, 2013 |

Good set of anti-communist posters from around the western world to amuse you on Friday night.

Did Occupy Change the Conversation About Economic Inequality?

[ 120 ] November 8, 2013 |

For the past 2 years, there’s been a common theme on the left that regardless of Occupy’s staying power, the one thing it did was change the conversation about economic inequality.

That might have been true at one time. It probably was true. Occupy focused important attention on personal debt, corporate domination over American society, the unfairness of the New Gilded Age. But if it did change the conversation, the conversation has changed back. The almost complete lack of outrage or even really serious political conversations over slashed food stamps benefits, the continued willingness of many in the Democratic Party, not to mention the Evil Capitalist Party Republican Party to make the life of the poor miserable in exchange for short-term political benefits/stories in Beltway media about how serious they are/donations from rich people. There are a couple of news reports, such as this one today about how food stamp cuts are forcing the poor to make hard choices they can’t really make. But that’s it. Where is the general anger? Why aren’t people on the street? There are many reasons for this. But in the end, even a brief but vigorous opposition to economic inequality can only have a limited staying power.

To be clear, I’m not blaming Occupy for this. I have my critique of that movement, but its trajectory and its members have no responsibility for the backsliding of America into a plutocratic-friendly political class and indifferent or hopeless working class. Occupy, however short-lasting, was purely beneficial. However, whatever Occupy may have done to focus attention on unemployment, income inequality, the welfare state, debt, and other issues of great economic unfairness in this nation has passed and the plutocrats reign as powerful as ever. It is going to take a much more sustained effort to draw attention to these problems. Because we have short attention spans and a political class and media not responsive to the poor, truly changing the conversation to get to a place where food stamps don’t get cut to make political points on the backs of the poor is a multi-year if not multi-decade effort of very hard work.

This is really just a reasonably half-baked thought after an evening of conversation with another historian concerned about these issues. But if the conversation changed somewhat, it’s basically back to 2009.

Hurricane Season

[ 30 ] November 7, 2013 |

Well, the US avoided any hurricanes this year so maybe things are going OK in the weather world, right?

Oh dear.

Super Typhoon Haiyan hit the Philippines at 4am local time today with winds near 195 mph, making it the strongest tropical cyclone to make landfall in recorded world history, according to satellite estimates. That astounding claim will need to be verified by actual measurements at ground level, which should be collected over the coming days.

The storm (known as Yolanda in the Philippines) has officially maxed out the Dvorak scale, which is used to measure strong strength using satellites. That means Haiyan has approached the theoretical maximum intensity for any storm, anywhere. From the latest NOAA bulletin:


Put another way, the most commonly used satellite-based intensity scale just wasn’t designed to handle a storm this strong. At its peak, one real-time estimate of the storm’s intensity actually ticked slightly above the maximum to 8.1 on an 8.0 scale.

But, um, well, at least these kind of superstorms won’t become more common in a world with rising ocean temperatures. Right? Right?

Demonizing Jonathan Martin

[ 262 ] November 7, 2013 |

How the NFL and its supporters have rallied around Richie Incognito over the hazing and threatening of Jonathan Martin is both disgusting and typical. Martin is essentially being drummed out of the league. It’s really hard to see how he returns to the league. It would take the right kind of coach, the right kind of locker room, one that seemingly doesn’t exist in the violent, homophobic, misogynistic NFL. Everyone on the Dolphins supports Incognito and is blaming Martin, saying he wasn’t enough of a man to just punch Incognito in the face, which evidently is the solution to all problems. Peter King is opening his site at Sports Illustrated to a former Dolphin who is basically saying the same thing (I love the “I’m only interested in the truth” line. Ah). What’s more, everyone is saying there’s no way Incognito can be called a racist. After all he did was call his black teammate a “half-nigger,” who could call that racist! We all know that the only real racists in American society are those who support equality for blacks and who therefore are racist toward whites. And while of course no one in the NFL is tying their explanation away or half-apologies for Incognito’s racist text to the modern conservative political definition of racism, they are in fact closely related. In our society, no one is a racist. The mom who dressed her kid up as a KKK member for Halloween? She’s just continuing a family tradition. Why, I bet some of her best friends are black! There evidently are no racists anymore. The word itself has become demonized, as if it doesn’t actually describe certain behaviors and is itself a term more offensive than “half-nigger.” It’s all horrifying.

Also, given all of this, anyone think a gay NFL player is possibly going to come out? And put up with the horrors of the locker room, not to mention other teams? What would Richie Incognito do to a gay teammate? I don’t really want to know.

I love football. But I’m getting really close to limit. It is such a reprehensible institution. Nonetheless, I’m going to watch the Ducks defeat Stanford in 10 minutes. Such are the contradictions of life.

That Pro-Liberty Rand Paul

[ 129 ] November 7, 2013 |

All I hear from the brogressive crowd is that Rand Paul is a great defender of civil liberties unlike those evil Democrats. Let’s remember Julian Assange after all:

“The libertarian aspect of the Republican Party is presently the only useful political voice really in the U.S. Congress…[I] am a big admirer of Ron Paul and Rand Paul for their very principled positions in the U.S. Congress on a number of issues.”

Today, the Employment Non-Discrimination Act passed the Senate by a 64-34 vote. How did the greatest defender of civil liberties of all time in the Senate vote on banning discrimination in employment based upon sexual orientation or gender identity?

No of course
. And this after trying to tack on an amendment to create a national right to work law, giving workers the definition of true freedom–exploitation by their employers. But I’m sure Matt Stoller and Conor Friedersdorf and Glenn Greenwald and Julian Assange will still talk about Paul as the only senator willing to stand up against tyranny or something.

Making OSHA Reports Public

[ 14 ] November 7, 2013 |

Great news, with one caveat, from the Department of Labor:

The Labor Department wants companies to begin filing all workplace injury and illness reports electronically so they are available for anyone in the public to see.

The department’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration will announce the plan on Thursday as part of a proposed rule that would dramatically change the way companies file safety records, according to a person familiar with the proposal.

The person was not authorized to discuss the matter publicly and spoke anonymously.

In a description of the rule, OSHA said a new electronic reporting system would help the government, workers, researchers and the public more effectively prevent workplace accidents and illnesses. The agency said the change also supports President Barack Obama’s initiative to increase public access to government data.

The plan would apply only to companies with more than 250 employees.

While the proposal is expected to please labor and workplace safety groups, business groups are likely to oppose it. They say raw injury data can be misleading or contain sensitive information that can be misused.

Of course business will oppose it. Business has always opposed any knowledge of their callousness toward worker safety. Business has long fought giving workers the right to know the chemicals they are exposed to at the workplace, fought the right for them to see their own medical records on the job, and fought public knowledge of pollution and emissions.

So it’s great to see this proposal for this information to go online. A huge benefit to labor reporters and the general public. My only criticism is the limit of firms with 250 employees. That’s a lot of employees and this will exclude a whole lot of factories where dangerous work takes place, including most timber mills which of course is my industry of expertise. I’m not surprised that this compromise would take place and starting with 250 is a good first step, but there’s no reason that all safety violations shouldn’t be available to the public.

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