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Rare Notable Exceptions

[ 94 ] September 25, 2013 |

My opposition to anarchism is well known. But there are rare notable exceptions.

The U2 frontman, who has long campaigned on political issues and global problems, was in Heiligendamm in 2007 for the 33rd G8 summit meeting of world leaders when he was cornered by a number of protesters opposed to his presence at the event.

The group was supporting the ‘Make Bono History’ campaign, which aims to “remove Bono from the public-eye and restore a sense of dignity to mankind”, and the singer was terrified when the placard-waving demonstrators started chasing him.

He tells Britain’s Guardian newspaper, “I was chased down the street in Germany by a bunch of anarchists at the G8 summit, wielding placards and shouting ‘Make Bono history!’ – which even as I was running for my life I thought was a pretty good line.”

Eagle v. Deer

[ 110 ] September 25, 2013 |



Advantage, eagle.

Fulks

[ 21 ] September 24, 2013 |

I was lucky enough to see Robbie Fulks last night at Cafe Nine in New Haven. You should check out his new album. It’s quite good. Here’s an old favorite:

And here’s the lead song of the new album, with a title I think everyone at LGM can support.

Train Wreck?

[ 191 ] September 24, 2013 |

I don’t think I buy Amy Davidson calling an impending Hillary Clinton presidential campaign a “train wreck.” We all know the inherent problems of a Clinton campaign. But because we all know them, I’m not sure how much they really matter. Obviously, she’s going to be attacked savagely by Republicans, but a renewal of Vince Foster combined with revelations from the Clinton Foundation issues is nothing new.

I would rather Hillary not run because I would prefer a) new blood and b) someone to her left. At the very least, someone needs to challenge her. I’m hoping for Sherrod Brown because Elizabeth Warren lacks the political chops to be a realistic national candidate. Maybe someone can beat her like Obama did in 08. But this seems like excess worrying to me.

Bangladeshi Labor Protests

[ 34 ] September 24, 2013 |

Apparel workers in Bangladesh are on strike and even burning their factories over their bosses refusal to grant a minimum wage of $100 a month. Although the linked article barely mentions the Rana Plaza factory collapse last spring, the resistance of the apparel corporations, particularly the American companies, to do anything to improve conditions or take responsibility is also contributing to this with workers angry over the terrible conditions of their lives and the lack of safety and recompense.

Labor in Qatar

[ 45 ] September 24, 2013 |

It’d be nice if FIFA had the least interest in human rights or labor rights when it made the choice for where to place the World Cup. Given the gargantuan wealth disparities in Qatar and the horrible conditions of work for the laboring classes, it’s obvious FIFA couldn’t care less. A lot of workers are going to die preparing for the 2022 World Cup. And we probably won’t hear about a single one of them.

What Happens When You Elect Republicans

[ 59 ] September 23, 2013 |

In yet another example of why the enormous differences between the two parties matter, we have U.S. District Judge Lynn Hughes. Appointed by Reagan, Hughes is an open racist and doesn’t care who knows it:

Jitendra Shah, an Indian-American engineer, sued the Texas Department of Criminal Justice in July 2012, alleging that the agency had discriminated against him on the basis of his race and religion. Shah wants U.S. District Judge Lynn Hughes, a 72-year-old Reagan appointee, to recuse himself from the case because of comments Hughes made during a December pre-trial hearing.

In that ex parte hearing, during which only TDCJ lawyers were present, Hughes launched into a colloquy on Adolf Hitler’s use of swastikas, the origin of Caucasians and the futility of diversity programs at universities. He quoted Eleanor Roosevelt opining that “staffs of one color always work better.” It is not the first time Hughes’ views on race during discrimination cases have attracted attention. In January, the 5th Circuit admonished Hughes for dismissing a racist slur as “political” and opining that “no black individually and no blacks collectively owns [sic] the sensitivity rights to fried chicken or anything else.”

In January, Shah asked Hughes to recuse himself from the case, arguing that the judge had demonstrated bias and couldn’t rule on the case impartially. Hughes refused to rule on the motion and Shah took the matter to the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals. Last week, the 5th Circuit rejected Shah’s petition and Hughes remains on the case. In a filing with the court, the judge defended his remarks. “Discussion of history and race does not evince a bias against people who are Indian, Hindu, both, or anyone else,” he wrote.

Complaining that diversity directors make too much, Hughes told the TDCJ attorneys, Allan Cook and Jonathan Stone, “Why don’t they just hire people on ability and let diversity take care of itself? And what does the diversity director do? Go around and painting students different colors so that they think they were mixed?”

Hughes approving of Hitler’s use of the swastika later in the article is extra special.

Water in the West

[ 56 ] September 23, 2013 |

How bad is the long-term drought in the West? The enormous rains of last week in Colorado helped a lot locally, barely put a dent in the larger indicators.

If you don’t believe the drought monitor, take a look at Lake Powell, a good barometer of water conditions in much of the West. By early September, the lake’s surface elevation was a whopping 33 feet below last year’s level on that date, and 65 feet below 2011′s September level. The rains helped, barely: The water level rose about two feet before leveling off. It would take dozens of this summer’s biggest deluges to bring the lake back up anywhere near where it should be at this time of year.

Dozens of floods are necessary. Of course nobody wants dozens of floods. What we really want is long-term rainfall. But the reality of climate change in the West means that long-term drought is the new normal.

Occupy’s Incompetence

[ 192 ] September 23, 2013 |

Who could have guessed that a bunch of Occupy anarchists who don’t trust government or institutions or systems of real accountability would prove a complete disaster with money? Oh right, me. Their Rolling Jubilee operation was supposed to buy off people’s debt. They raised a quick $600,000. What’s happened since?

Initially, Rolling Jubilee was forthcoming. It made two purchases of medical debt, one in November 2012 and a second in January 2013. For each, they provided a summary of the key statistics that was easy to scan and helpful. Those summaries allow you to see that so far, Rolling Jubilee has spent $28,079 buying debt, which provided relief to 1108 people. This is a mere 4.6% of the total funds Rolling Jubilee has raised. So it’s legitimate to wonder what they’ve been doing with the rest of the dough in the meantime.

They also held two board meetings, one in January and the second on February, but the minutes were skimpy, troublingly informal and fell well short of basic requirements (no indication of who submitted them, whether there was a quorum; contrast the Rolling Jubilee record with those from this legal guide for not for profit board minutes).

But the big problem seems to be the lack of a proper governance structure. A board, be it for a profit-making organization or a not-for-profit, is not supposed to be identical to the people running the venture. It is designed to oversee the people doing the work and to serve as a check and control on them (boards will typically have some key people from the organization involved, such as the executive director, but the majority are not in operating roles). However, the titles of the individuals listed as board members are all corporate officer titles: President, Vice President, Secretary, etc. At this remove, it looks as if Rolling Jubilee has an inherently defective governance structure, with the board too involved in the actual work of Rolling Jubilee to provide proper oversight (no one will put on his board member hat and find fault with the work he did while wearing his Rolling Jubilee worker bee ha).

And there red flags even in what little we can see of what Rolling Jubilee has been up to. They’ve publisheda statement of financial and control policies, and some of them are troubling. Individual board members have the power to spend significant amounts of Rolling Jubilee funds and make binding commitments:

– All Board members are authorized to individually sign checks up to $10,000. Checks greater than $10,000 require a signature of a second Board Member.
– All Board members are authorized to enter into contracts for activities that fall within the purview of the organizational mission.

To put it politely, a $10,000 signing authority for a board member is simply unheard of. And in general, there’s no reason in any organization for lots of people to have spending authority — let alone board members who, as we see above, should not have executive authority. It’s preferable to have as few people as possible empowered to disburse funds (the board minutes also show that unnamed tech people are handling PayPal, and funds can be disbursed from PayPal, so it may well be that people in addition to the board members are disbursing funds).

I spoke to someone who sits on the board of a foundation with a $100 million endowment and has also been on the boards of smaller not for profits. When I told him that Rolling Jubilee gave board members signing authority up to $10,000, the first sentence out of his mouth expressed shock. The second had the words “criminal” and “attorney general” in it. An investigative journalist who looked at the financial policies page said by e-mail: “This is shocking. They’re either corrupt or incredibly incompetent, either way this is appalling.”*

I doubt there is real malfeasance going on here, although it’s possible. Much more likely is complete stinking incompetence, which is what you’d expect of an organization with so few governing rules. My guess is that everyone stopped showing up for meetings and no one knows what they are doing and there are like 2 people figuring it all out.

DeBlasio in Nicaragua

[ 8 ] September 23, 2013 |

We need more major political leaders who did solidarity work in Nicaragua for the Sandinistas.

Armstrong

[ 16 ] September 21, 2013 |

For your Saturday night, Louis Armstrong in Copenhagen, either 1933 or 1934 (sources use different dates). This has to be one of the first recordings of live music on film. Sound is pretty good too.

The Gun Scare

[ 132 ] September 21, 2013 |

We know of the Red Scare. On campus, anticommunism during World War I and after World War II led to fired faculty and silenced opposition.

Today we live in the Gun Scare. If professors speak out against the NRA, they are drummed out of their jobs.The website Campus Reform is their McCarthyite shock troops. I of course experienced this last December. Luckily I survived for reasons I will get to in a moment. David Guth, a journalism professor at the University of Kansas may not be so lucky. In a fit of despair after the killings in the Navy Yard last week, he tweeted, “The blood is on the hands of the #NRA. Next time, let it be YOUR sons and daughters. Shame on you. May God damn you.” Now Guth was obviously not calling for the murder of the children of NRA officials. What he was doing to desperately calling for the NRA to imagine this was their own children dying since these people seem completely immune to the thousands of deaths per year in the United States that come from the policies they support. There is evidently no limit to the acceptable casualties so that people can play with their shiny toys and feel tough against anyone they see.

Now Guth’s rhetoric was more unfortunate than my own. Whereas I used a common metaphor that no one could take seriously, Guth’s language was quite direct. But looking at the response to my situation and his shows very little difference from cowardly university administrations. Immediately, both URI and KU sought to distance themselves from unpopular opinions of their faculty that were a) not expressed in the classroom, b) were expressed on private twitter accounts, and c) had nothing to do with the university. It’s not the language or subject that bothers the administrations, it’s the idea that professors would speak up publicly on the sharpest and hardest questions of the day in ways that are not nice and thus draw attention to the university.

Guth is in real trouble. Of course he is receiving death threats from the same yahoos and idiots who sent me death threats. They’ve inundated his department, his dean, and his higher administration. I feel bad for all the people who get caught in the middle of this foolishness, as I did when it happened to me. He has been suspended with pay. He has state legislators calling for his firing. He’s at least tenured so he has some limited protection, but tenure doesn’t mean much when the rubber meets the road. Guth himself says that he agrees he should be removed from the classroom considering the situation. He’s putting up a brave front, but I wonder when or if he will ever return to the classroom. Or will KU fire him when the light moves on to something else?

Why do I have still have my job? Why was I not suspended? I think in the end I am lucky. First, I wasn’t just some dude tweeting, but I had prominent friends with access to other prominent friends and this led to real pushback that the URI top administrators did not expect when they distanced themselves their lowly assistant professor. Second, I had a union and my union rep was furious and really took it to the administration. Third, I teach in Rhode Island and not Kansas. Our state legislature can be nutty but it’s not filled with crazy Tea Party types who would do away with all the liberals in Lawrence if they could. Fourth, this happened to me at the very of the end of the semester and not the beginning. Had it, I don’t really know what would have happened.

It’s important that we push back against university administrations not supporting their faculty’s freedom of speech, even if you don’t agree with what Guth said. Because it’s going to be you next when you express any opinion, even outside the classroom. This is part of a specific right-wing war against the university. It is the last liberal bastion in America now that they’ve mostly crushed organized labor. Cutting German and French departments, devaluing the liberal arts and social sciences, and suppressing political dissent is all part of a larger project to undermine dissent and free thinking at the university and turn it into a training ground for what passes for the 21st century American economy. Faculty lack class-consciousness and a sense of solidarity with one another. Those who benefit from high salaries in business schools don’t think twice about the decline of the philosophy department. Our work is so atomized that we rarely talk to the people in our own departments, not to mention across the university. Schools with unionized faculty at least have that to bind us together and that helped me tremendously.

Unfortunately, Guth doesn’t seem to have that. His fate worries me greatly, because that could so easily be myself.