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The Death of Football?

[ 112 ] January 22, 2013 |

The news that you can scan for CTE in living football players is a pretty big deal. Ta-Nehisi Coates thinks it will lead to the end of football. I am skeptical. I think it might lead to the end of upper class white kids playing football. But I do not think one can overestimate how ingrained football is in American culture. I am sure that plenty of players would continue playing, even if they knew they had brain damage. And while one can argue that the government can step in and end such a violent game, that’s not going to happen. It’s possible that it could lead to shorter professional careers, some people dropping out of the game before they suffer damage, etc., but there will be hundreds of people to step in their place. The overall quality of the game could theoretically drop, but I doubt it. Coates uses the decline of boxing as an example that this can happen. But while it’s remarkable how quickly boxing fell off the sporting map, it’s replacement by ultimate fighting certainly suggests neither the appetite for bloodsports nor the willingness of poor people to engage in them has waned at all. The decline of boxing is complicated and more related to factors ranging from a decline in compelling American heavyweights to corruption and mismanagement than an existential crisis that led to its end.

Two Stonewalls, Two Americas

[ 123 ] January 22, 2013 |

Barack Obama’s second inaugural address:

“We, the people, declare today that the most evident of truths – that all of us are created equal – is the star that guides us still; just as it guided our forebears through Seneca Falls, and Selma, and Stonewall; just as it guided all those men and women, sung and unsung, who left footprints along this great Mall, to hear a preacher say that we cannot walk alone; to hear a King proclaim that our individual freedom is inextricably bound to the freedom of every soul on Earth,” Obama said.

The Virginia state Senate, at the exact same time:

Democrats in Virginia are accusing state Republicans of taking advantage of a prominent civil rights leader’s trip to Washington for the presidential inauguration to pull a “dirty trick” in order to take control of the state Senate in the 2015 elections.

The state Senate is split 20-20 between Republicans and Democrats. On Monday, while state Sen. Henry Marsh (D) — a 79-year-old civil rights veteran — was reportedly in Washington to attend President Obama’s second inaugural, GOP senators forced through a mid-term redistricting plan that Democrats say will make it easier for Republicans to gain a majority.

Politically, the move coud derail McDonnell’s ambitious agenda for his last year in office ahead of a rumored run for higher office. Optics-wise, the state Senate GOP’s move could reverberate far beyond the Commonwealth: after using the absence of civil rights leader Marsh to push through the legislative changes, the Senate adjourned in honor of a well-known Confederate general.

“On motion of Senator Stosch, the Senate adjourned in memory or [sic] General Thomas J. ‘Stonewall’ Jackson at 4:10 p.m. to convene Tuesday, January 22, 2013,” read the official minutes of the legislative day.

According to the progressive blog Blue Virginia, Deeds also took to the state Senate floor to speak about Jackson after the new district lines were approved.


[ 38 ] January 21, 2013 |

Miss Idaho Potato, 1935.

Everyone needs some weirdness in the evening.


[ 71 ] January 21, 2013 |

I have nothing of interest to add to the inauguration discussion. But I do want to link to Atrios on the shocking significance of Obama to anyone with an understanding of American history.

Whatever one thinks of Obama, it says something positive about our country that we actually managed to twice vote for an African-American man for president. More than that, I don’t think that anyone should doubt that we’d be ready to elect a woman president, too. I’m not saying the playing field is level and the country, or at least enough of it, is race- and gender- blind for these things, just that 20 years ago I would’ve put both in the near-impossible category.

About once a month, I sort of come to this realization that, holy moly, this country has voted a black dude president. Twice! That is hard for me to believe. I never thought it would happen in my lifetime. And if it did, it would be a Republican.

The End of Carmen Ortiz’s Political Career

[ 245 ] January 19, 2013 |

It looks like Carmen Ortiz will not live down her role in the suicide of Aaron Swartz. The fact that she’s still defending the prosecution and the legal process is another sign that she should never, ever be considered for political office. And it sounds the general consensus is that she is finished:

I think it’s fair to say that any political career that Carmen Ortiz may have been contemplating is, as Margery Eagan wrote yesterday, “done. Finished. Forever linked to bringing the full and frightening weight of the federal government down upon a 26-year-old computer genius — and a suicide risk.” Perhaps Ortiz could overcome that eventually, but it will take many many years for her to do so.



[ 64 ] January 18, 2013 |

Oh man, this is great.

Remember back, a long long time ago. There was a man. He was me. And he said he wanted Wayne LaPierre’s head on a stick in the aftermath of Newtown shootings. You know who was really outraged by this common metaphor that all sane people knows actually means “this person should be held accountable for their actions?” Michelle Malkin. All I suffered was a few death threats and various other things I’d rather not recall.

Today, Amanda Marcotte lambasted Rush Limbaugh for saying, “You know how to stop abortion? Require that each one occur with a gun.” Actual violence and intimidation occurs against women trying to obtain their constitutionally guaranteed right to abortion. Limbaugh and others incite people to violent actions (assisted by the high-powered assault rifles and huge magazine clips the NRA supports) against abortion clinics and abortion doctors. Ask the family of David Gunn, of George Tiller, of Shannon Lowney and of Lee Ann Nichols. So it’s far from clear that Limbaugh isn’t completely serious when he says these things.

You know is outraged by Amanda supposedly not understanding metaphor (well hyperbole technically)? Yep, Michelle Malkin.

Ugh indeed, Amanda. Anyone familiar with Limbaugh is well aware of his hyperbolic style and understands that his point wasn’t that abortions should be performed with guns; he was saying that the Left would actually care about the lives snuffed out by abortions if guns were involved.

The gall, the gall, the gall of these people.

“What pig sties could compare in goings-on with you?”

[ 36 ] January 18, 2013 |

What are you all up to this lovely Friday night? Going out to dinner with a special someone? Hanging out at the bar with your friends? Putting together syllabi for the semester that starts next week (me)?

Whatever your plans, you need some fresh insults for the evening. For that, I suggest this handy randomizer of Martin Luther’s insults from his corpus of angry writings. From the brief (“There you are, like butter in sunshine.”) to the lengthy (“You say, “What comes out of our mouth must be kept!” I hear it – which mouth do you mean? The one from which the farts come? (You can keep that yourself!)”), impress your friends and colleagues with new heights in spiteful verbal ranting.

Out of these insults came a beautiful religion.

As someone who grew up Lutheran, I think we can all agree that my denuncinatory language and judgmental ways are really just me channeling the founder of my faith (or ex-faith or the various existential crises that define our people, see any Ingmar Bergman film for more). This blog is the church house door, the keyboard is the hammer, and angry, vituperative words are my heritage.

Prop Joe, RIP

[ 17 ] January 18, 2013 |

Robert Chew, who played Prop Joe in The Wire, has passed. One of the greatest roles in one of the greatest television shows in history.

Bad Advice

[ 60 ] January 18, 2013 |

Jon Meacham, presidential biographer and evidently person who does not understand the presidencies he studies, offers some really bizarre advice for Barack Obama in his second term:

With his second inauguration just a few days away, Jon Meacham has some advice for President Obama: Take a lesson from your long since deceased predecessor Thomas Jefferson.

Meacham, author of Thomas Jefferson: The Art of Power, says one of the keys to Jefferson’s success was that he built personal relationships with senators and members of Congress. He says Obama “has not been particularly good at this.”

Every night Congress was in session, Jefferson would invite members to the White House for dinner and managed to forge friendships with even some of his staunchest critics.

“He wanted to weave attachments,” says Meacham. “There’s a wonderful story about a New England Senator from New Hampshire, a federalist, who came in 1803 two years into Jefferson’s term believing Jefferson to be evil incarnate. And he came to dinner so much that by the end of the term they’re exchanging pecan recipes.”

In gaining personal friendships within Congress, Meacham says Jefferson was able to get the votes he needed to pass his agenda.

Um, no. It’s entirely possible that Jefferson did become friendly with some Federalists. I don’t know. But the Federalist Party as a whole hated the man and his agenda through his entire presidency. Let us not forget that the primary issue in the nation at this time was the United States’ position vis-a-vis Britain and France. Around these issues revolved such lovely events in American history as the Alien and Sedition Acts, War of 1812, and Hartford Convention of 1814, where some Federalists advocated the secession of New England from the nation rather than live with Jeffersonian rule. Admittedly, by this time it Madison as president, but it was still Jefferson’s party. The major policy issue of Jefferson’s second term was the Embargo of 1807, the worst foreign policy move in American history. How did the Federalists, who Jefferson had so charmed by having them over for a glass of wine or whatnot, respond? They were infuriated. New England shippers openly flouted the Embargo, starting a vigorous black market trade with the British. Jefferson used federal agents to track down smugglers, leading to open condemnation of his tyrannical policies by his political opponents.

I’ll admit that I am not a historian of the Early Republic. If this was the presidents between McKinley and FDR, I could offer deeper analysis of important pieces of legislation. So maybe there’s something I’m forgetting, something where Jefferson’s charm made an actual difference for his policy agenda. But I’ve never even heard of such a thing before when reading of the Jefferson presidency. It sounds like a massive projection by Meacham for what he wants to see from Obama.

The bigger point is the power of the belief among the Beltway punditry and Very Important People (here I include Spielberg and Kushner) that if the party in power (actually only the Democrats) just were nicer to Republicans, so much more could get done. Maybe Obama can invite Rand Paul to the White House and spin a 23 minute Lincolnesque story about some people he knew 20 years ago back in Illinois. Paul will be sure to change his mind and support gun control!

The Reality of Immigrant Lives

[ 75 ] January 17, 2013 |

This open letter to John McCain and Jeff Flake was both touching and disturbing in a number of ways:

Thursday night I heard a banging knock at the door. I looked through the window and immigration agents asked me to open the door, conducting an “investigation.” They asked for Maria, my mother, and as soon she stepped out they abruptly, forcefully pulled her out and handcuffed her in front of me and Angel, my 16 year old brother. They also detained my older brother for no cause. Angel pointed out to them that they needed to take her medications because of her cancer, diabetes and high blood pressure. They laughed in his face, then ignored him. I felt helpless. Under this horrific scenario I didn’t know what else to do. I wanted to run and pull them both away from them but I couldn’t.

I spent an entire night crying and lonely. At every corner of my house, my mother and brother’s touches and memories were there. The most important people in my life had been taken from me.

At that point I remembered that I am also an immigrant rights advocate and that I have a national community and youth movement behind me. Within minutes I made calls, typed text messages, and signed on social media to tell friends what had just occurred. Pleading, I made a call to action. Almost immediately, community leaders and elected officials from Arizona, Florida, New York and Washington D.C. activated a national network of political power within the Latino community. The morning after, my brother was released from detention. Three hours later we learned that the bus taking her to the border had turned around and my mother was coming back home.

First, there’s the fact that hundreds of thousands of people in this nation live in fear of every knock on the door. These people who have come to the United States to make their lives better, and to make our country better. So when you hear these individual stories, it’s terrible.

But it gets more disturbing. Erika Andiola, the lead author on this letter, is an immigration activist. She knew what to do when her mother and brother were taken. She tapped into her network and got them freed. But there’s one of two possibilities here. First, her mother and brother were taken without cause and about to be shipped to Mexico for no reason, violating their rights. Or second, the immigration system is so irrevocably broken that even if, under current law, these people could legally be shipped back to Mexico, the system is so arbitrary that a few phone calls can change the status of an individual.

Unfortunately, the vast majority of immigrants don’t have activist family members like Andiola and they get shipped out of the country. It’s stories like these, with cops rounding up people at home and work, which is why we need comprehensive immigration reform as soon as possible.

That leads us to what are at least some interesting words from Marco Rubio. If he’s willing to basically accept the Obama immigration plan, then I think we are in good shape for something real happening. Although it should be noted that massive backlash from the Republican base could make that difficult in the House. But I do think something positive will happen. Part of me wants Obama to use this leverage to move the goalposts more toward immigrant rights. The back taxes thing is absurd–not only do most immigrants pay taxes, but they are ineligible for many services. Maybe the government should pay the immigrants for their wasted taxes. But in any case, the important thing is that something gets passed to give immigrants a path to citizenship.

Republicans Rigging the 2016 Election

[ 121 ] January 17, 2013 |

Why this story isn’t getting more attention, I don’t know. But Republicans are openly seeking to rig the 2016 elections. RNC Chair Reince Priebus is encouraging Republicans who control the government in Democratic-leaning states–PA, OH, WI, MI especially–to overhaul their electoral systems and end winner-take-all distribution of electoral votes. Of course Republicans completely oppose doing this nationally. It is a naked and cynical attempt to rig the election. Rather than broaden their message to appeal to young and non-white voters, Republicans are looking to commit the greatest suppression of votes since the Voting Rights Act of 1965 passed.

There are essentially two proposals to do this. The first would distribute votes proportionally. If the Democratic candidate won 53% of the vote in Pennsylvania, 53% of the electoral votes go to the Democratic candidate. The second is to distribute them by congressional district, with the 2 at-large votes going to the popular vote winner. With the Republicans having gerrymandered these states to the extreme, it means that the same Democratic candidate winning 53% of the vote might only get 45% of the electoral votes.

I mention Pennsylvania because it is taking the lead here. PA House Bill 94 offers up the second plan, another PA legislator supports the first. This very well could happen and yet no one is paying attention.

This isn’t without risks for Republicans. Under the proportional plan, neither party would ever pay one bit of attention to a state again. Spending money there wouldn’t be worth the marginal gain of one or two electoral votes. Under the congressional district plan, every congressional election becomes nationalized. Huge money pours into these districts and some of these legislators, who are gerrymandered into 60% districts while Democratic legislators are in 90% districts, will lose their jobs. Normally, a politician’s first goal is to preserve their own job. But with this Tea Party bunch, I’m not so sure. Some of these people are true hard-core fanatics and will gladly see the loss of their own seat as worth the price.

A few other problems for Republicans. It’s not clear to me how excited they will be to have their state policies dictated from the RNC. But they might not care. Also, such a blatantly undemocratic move I think would cost Republicans a lot of respect nationally, including among the Beltway elite who want to fawn over their every move. Even the David Brooks’ of the world would have a hard time with this. Not that the Tea Party types care. It’s also hard to see how this does not become a giant issue in the 2016 election as well, with Republicans having to defend this at every stop. And of course, as soon as Democrats take over these statehouses again, it will all change back. Let’s hope that’s in 2014, although historically that seems unlikely. But enormous money is going to pour into these states in the midterms because they will have become so important for 2016.

Of course, all of this is completely legal. The Constitution allows states to decide these matters for themselves. So there’s no reasonable legal challenge here.

And in the post-election haze, when many Democratic voters are happy that Obama was re-elected and are thinking about what policies might get passed on guns or immigration, Republicans are seeking to slam through nation-changing legislation on the state level. We are all like the Michigan AFL-CIO, completely unaware that Rick Snyder and Michigan Republicans are going to make the state right-to-work overnight.

This is very likely the biggest political story of the next 4 years. It is entirely possible that a Democratic candidate could win 55% of the vote in 2016 and lose the election.

This Day in Labor History: January 17, 1962

[ 10 ] January 17, 2013 |

On January 17, 1962, President John F. Kennedy signed Executive Order 10988, granting federal employees the right to collective bargaining for the first time. Full text here. This began the last great period of union growth in American history to the present.

Public sector workers were not granted collective bargaining rights under the National Labor Relations Act; as great as that law was for American labor, there were actually a number of important categories of workers left out, including agricultural labor and government workers. Throughout the 1950s, the labor movement fought for public sector unionism, which began to move liberal Democratic politicians toward accepting it. In the 1950s, the mayors of Philadelphia and New York (the latter being Robert Wagner Jr., son of the author of the NLRA), created bargaining for municipal employees while Wisconsin instituted the first collective bargaining for state employees in 1959 and then expanded a few days before Kennedy’s 1962 executive order.

Kennedy’s move came after his administration issued the Task Force on Employee-Management Relations in the Federal Service in 1961, which noted, “The participation of employees in the formation and implementation of employee policy and procedures affecting them contributes to the effective conduct of public business,” and argued that collective bargaining was in the general public interest. Executive Order 10988 provided multiple tiers of representation for federal employees, depending on how much of a bargaining unit was organized but provided some level of consulting so long as a union had a mere 10% of the bargaining unit.

Kennedy’s order was a major breakthrough. But it also was used to cut off the Rhodes-Johnston Union Recognition Bill, would likely would have granted the closed shop to government employees. That bill would have granted union recognition and collective bargaining by law rather than through executive favor. Yet union leaders were not too upset about it and still considered the order a pretty major victory.

The order also put some pretty severe limits on the bargaining power of these workers. First, collective bargaining was limited to non-wage issues. That’s a pretty big deal. They were also still denied the right to strike (the original denial of federal employes to strike came in the Taft-Hartley Act and this just perpetuated it), something which chafed at these workers and which the air traffic controllers would test in 1981 (although other federal workers had successfully struck earlier with great success, including the postal workers in 1970), much to their peril. Until 1978, government employees even had to take unpaid leave to attend collective bargaining sessions, severely disincentivizing active involvement in union operations. Finally, the executive order allowed for no resolution to bargaining impasses except for unilateral employer decisions. A problematic situation to say the least, one solved by future expansion upon Kennedy’s declaration by Richard Nixon and Jimmy Carter.

Despite these restrictions, union membership skyrocketed in the following decades throughout all levels of government work. For federal employees, the National Federation of Federal Employees became the major labor organization representing them. This spurred organizing on the state and local level as well, with unions like SEIU and especially AFSCME growing rapidly during the 1960s and 1970s. Among the strikes associated with AFSCME was the 1968 sanitation workers strike in Memphis, famous for its role in the assassination of Martin Luther King, And as William Dougan, president of the NFFE says:

Collective bargaining has made inestimable gains in the quality of work life for millions of federal workers over the past half-century. Top-down decisions on safety and health matters, work schedules, reorganizations and many other workplace issues have been replaced with a collaborative process where workers have a definitive voice in how they accomplish their mission.

On the state level, 16 states enacted collective bargaining legislation for their employees over the next few years, though conservative states in the south and west resisted this trend.

It would take a great deal of work in the 1970s and 1980s to achieve these victories. Kennedy’s Executive Order hardly did it for them. But without this opening, public sector unionism might have had a serious delay. Today, approximately 63% of federal workers are union members, although a much lower percentage of state workers have achieved union representation largely due to resistance in the South.

Although this is not a particularly famous episode within American labor history, it’s worth noting how much conservatives hate Executive Order 10988. We know conservatives see public sector unions as the enemy. Having destroyed private sector unionism, the continued strong public sector unions are their next target. Some make the disingenuous argument that they are FINE with private sector unions but the people working for THE PEOPLE don’t have this right. Others are more honest–unions support Democrats so they suck. Here’s Daniel Henninger making this argument in a 2010 Wall Street Journal article. So long as these public sector unions exist, they are a hope for workers everywhere and a thorn in the side of Republicans seeking a plutocratic hegemony over the American workforce.

This is the 48th post in this series. The rest are archived here.

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