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The Final Evidence

[ 77 ] December 10, 2013 |

I guess conservatives were right. Obama is an islamofascistcommunistnazisocialistkenyanusurpertraitortoamerica.

The president shaking hands with the great evil dictator of a nation 90 miles to our south? What kind of horror is this? Who will protect the nation from the great threat Cuba offers to our democracy? What would Ronald Reagan do? Oh yeah, I guess he’d send an envoy to do this:

Totally different of course.

The right wing reactions to this are going to make for a popcorn-filled day on the intertubes.

Also, when I typed in “Obama Castro handshake” into Google Images for the first picture, the autocorrect came up as “Obama Castro similarities.” I don’t even want to know what kind of searches led to that insanity.

….The predicted idiocy has begun.

Wow, A Good Republican Position

[ 175 ] December 10, 2013 |

Bipartisanship lives. Or at least it should because this is one issue where some Republicans are right on:

Two Republican lawmakers in recent days have said they will fight to keep a ban on in-flight cellphone calls in place because they can’t stand to hear people yammer.

Rep. Bill Shuster (R-PA) and Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-TN) have said they will offer bills to keep the ban in place. For Shuster, the issue is noise.

“Let’s face it, airplane cabins are by nature noisy, crowded, and confined,” Shuster, the chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, said Monday, according to The Hill newspaper. “For those few hours in the air with 150 other people, it’s just common sense that we all keep our personal lives to ourselves and stay off the phone.”

In a statement in late November, Alexander said he would introduce legislation to prevent what he envisions as a more turbulent future for air travel.

“Imagine two million passengers, hurtling through space, trapped in 17-inch-wide seats, yapping their innermost thoughts,” Alexander said. “The Transportation Security Administration would have to hire three times as many air marshals to deal with the fistfights.”

Can someone let me know how I can contribute to the reelection campaign of LAMAR!!!!!? Because I can’t express how strongly I feel about this issue.

ESPN Sucks

[ 94 ] December 10, 2013 |

Evidently, it is inappropriate to say the word “suck” on ESPN anymore. Which is too bad given how badly so much ESPN coverage, whether it’s the hours of showing people playing poker or employing Skip Bayless and Stephen A. Smith, sucks.

Per ESPN rules, I’d also like to apologize for this tweet, despite its accuracy:

My 2 favorite NFL teams are the Seahawks and the Cowboys in December.

In a related note, not only did I attend the Patriots-Browns game on Sunday, but I was in the end zone 8 rows up, right in front of the Patriots scoring drive. And that pass interference on the Browns was the worst call I’ve ever seen at a live sporting event. I was so close to the end zone, I could hear Tom Brady bark out the plays. I could have thrown a wad of paper at the spot where that PI was called. That was absolutely atrocious.

On the other hand, those were great seats to an amazing finish. Especially since that was the first NFL game I’ve ever attended.

Méliès Monday: The Haunted Castle

[ 7 ] December 9, 2013 |

Georges Méliès, The Haunted Castle, from 1896.

Manager Trifecta

[ 70 ] December 9, 2013 |

While I have no problem with Bobby Cox, Joe Torre, and Tony LaRussa getting elected to the Hall of Fame, evidently the standard for being a great manager is working for a high-revenue team over a very long time. What I’d like to see is some attempt to measure managers through a win/dollar statistic adjusted for baseball inflation over time. Maybe this exists in some form, I don’t know. Because it seems to me that being moderately successful for a long period of time with low budgets is equally as valuable as working for owners constantly willing to fork over $100 million plus budgets. This doesn’t even take into account the marginal effect managers seem to actually have on teams, not to mention the blaming of and cycling through of managers when you have incredibly incompetent GMs and ownership.

One person who comes to mind here is Tom Kelly, who won 2 titles with the Twins despite being hamstrung by significantly lower budgets and greater limitations than most teams. Yes, his career record is under .500. Bobby Cox would have a similar record with those teams.

….A related point. Roy Halladay is retiring today. David Cameron makes the case for him in the Hall. I completely agree.

…..Also, in case it isn’t clear, I actually would vote for any of the three managers for the Hall of Fame. I think they are all clear calls. But I also think Tom Kelly is basically just as deserving for what he did with no resources. And as someone mentioned in comments, Joe Maddon may have a very interesting case in 20 years.

This Day in Labor History: December 8, 1886

[ 15 ] December 8, 2013 |

On December 8, 1886, the American Federation of Labor formed at a meeting of union officials in Columbus, Ohio. The most successful labor federation in American history, the AFL has long had its critics on both the left and right, but ultimately its founding president Samuel Gompers understood the realities of Gilded Age politics and how to negotiate the best possible deal for workers in that atmosphere.

It is a bit hard to talk about the American Federation of Labor in 2013. Samuel Gompers has a pretty bad reputation among progressives. Some of it is deserved. For instance, Gompers openly lied to Congress about Industrial Workers of the World sabotage and supposed connections with Kaiser-led Germany during World War I because he wanted the government to crush the rivals to the AFL. Gompers created an organization that would not organize Asians, blacks, women, children, or the people of the new industrial factories, i.e., the burgeoning American workforce. Gompers’ AFL considered itself a movement of the elite skilled workers, making a mass movement of American labor impossible. His craft unionism meant that when factories were organized, it was into 10 or 12 different unions in the same workplace, each with its own agenda, as opposed to the later industrial unionism that would finally challenge the AFL fifty years later. Gompers supported anti-immigration legislation, from extending the Chinese Exclusion Act to ending Japanese immigration to the Immigration Act of 1924.

Samuel Gompers

Hard guy to love.

But we can set all this aside for a minute and at least focus a touch on what the AFL did right?

First, we need to understand the milieu the AFL grew out of. 1886 was notable for 2 major events in American labor history. The first was the collapse of the Knights of Labor after the Haymarket Riot. The Knights had very quickly transformed from a fraternal organization into a massive social movement due to the 8-hour day appeal. But the Knights not only had no ability to manage its suddenly huge constituency, but it had few concrete ways to achieve these gains. The 1880s was a period where Americans were struggling to even comprehend the rapid growth of industrial capitalism and many sought highly simplistic one size fits all solutions like the Single Tax, Chinese Exclusion, or the 8-hour day. The AFL understood the complexities of modern capitalism much better and took a different strategy of working toward concrete, if limited, improvements in the conditions of working people. And they achieved a great many victories through the union contract, especially considering the open hostility of employers and the government through much of its early history. The AFL actually was a splinter movement from the Knights. When the latter organization attempted to find a way to make itself financially stable through encouraging local unions to withdraw from their internationals and become direct affiliates of the Knights. Although some locals agreed, the internationals revolted and thus the AFL began.

Second, Samuel Gompers was not a dictator. Just like the AFL-CIO today, he oversaw an organization made up of constituent unions that often disagreed with one another. That he supported a craft union model made this worse, yes, because it encouraged division rather than unity. But he couldn’t dictate this one way or another. This is also true of the racial and immigration problems of the AFL. Was Gompers at fault? Or was it the white supremacy of the American working class. Let’s not forget that the Chinese Exclusion Act was the first legislative victory of the American labor movement and that it came in 1882, four years before the AFL formed. It wasn’t a top-down movement that led to the massacre of the Chinese at Rock Springs, Wyoming in 1885. Blame Gompers for his share of the problem, he deserves it. But also blame the endemic and violent racism of the United States in 1886. Or 1936. Or 1966. At each time, labor was deeply divided by race.

We might also want to reconsider the AFL’s “pure and simple unionism” in our time of organized labor struggles. He and his supporters (especially P.J. McGuire of the powerful United Brotherhood of Carpenters) said labor should only care about itself and improvements in pay, hours, and working conditions, rejecting larger political agendas to transform society. If a politician was labor’s friend, labor would support him no matter the rest of his positions. If a politician was labor’s enemy, he was the enemy. Gompers eschewed federal intervention in the workplace because he did not believe the government could be counted on to protect workers. Only the union contract would. He even opposed parts of the welfare state we value today, including workers compensation, because that system as developed in the 1910s took power away from workers to sue their employers for much money in court than they would get from the government. Gompers would likely look at today’s labor movement, embedded within the Democratic Party but getting very little out of that investment, and confirm everything he believed. Not saying I agree here, but this situation is more or less what Gompers feared.

The AFL also did a tremendous amount for the American working class, or at least part of it. Its unions won major gains throughout the Gompers years (he died in 1924). They weren’t always long-lasting; ultimately, the AFL needed the New Deal as much as those fighting for industrial unions did; despite Gompers (and then William Green’s) theoretical non-partisanism (although this began to fade after about 1908 as the Democratic Party became more openly pro-labor), it actually did need to elect politicians in order to create semi-permanent victories. The AFL started slowly, won some good gains in the 1890s, took a big blow from employers in the 1900s, had major wins during World War I, and then got punched in the gut over and over in the bad 1920s. But while other social and labor movements came and went, the AFL maintained itself and its members with a solid, if sometimes uninspiring, philosophy of the union contract.

So I’d like to think there is still a lot to learn from the American Federation of Labor, and not just things not to do. This was the most successful labor movement in the history of the United States, it’s relationship with politicians in the early decades maintained labor’s independence and ultimately maximized its political strength, and its understanding (even if that was an acceptance) of capitalism meant maximizing its ability to squeeze real benefits from employers that made workers’ lives better and avoided quixotic and simplistic solutions to what ailed the working class. The AFL’s social, racial, and anti-radical positions means that it is probably nobody’s idea of what the modern labor movement should look like. But that doesn’t mean it didn’t create a lot of positive change that the entire working class benefits from today.

This is the 84th post in this series. Previous posts are archived here.

Time to Reduce that Stimulus!

[ 27 ] December 7, 2013 |

No wonder the Fed is talking about reducing stimulus policies. The poor are rolling in the dough!

This morning’s employment report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics shows the economy added 203,000 jobs in November and the unemployment rate dropped to 7.0 percent. While this is welcome news, it’s important to keep in mind that we still need nearly 8 million jobs to return to pre-recession health in the labor market.

What’s more, while the overall unemployment rate declined, long term unemployment is on the rise. The share of unemployed workers who have been out of work for more than six months increased in November from 36.1 percent to 37.3 percent. Today, the long term unemployment rate is more than double the average rate in 2007. Federal unemployment insurance benefit extensions are set to expire at the end of this month. It would be unprecedented for unemployment insurance benefits to expire at a time when the long term unemployment rate remains so elevated. Further, it is bad policy. If the extensions are allowed to expire, it will immediately cause more than 1.3 million people to lose their unemployment benefits, and millions more will lose their benefits throughout 2014. Not only will this hurt workers, but unemployment insurance is one of the best economic stimulators.

My America

[ 24 ] December 6, 2013 |

So Noon wants to know which America I want back? The same one he wants back. This one.

We’ll Show Them Yankee Invaders!

[ 110 ] December 6, 2013 |

So this is happening in Florida:

The plans for a Union monument at the Olustee Battlefield Historic State Park — about 46 miles west of Jacksonville, Fla. — began several years ago. The idea was to commemorate the Union regiments that fought at Olustee (pronounced oh-lusty), and to recognize the African American regiments that made up one third of the Union forces. The group members also hoped to correct a perceived imbalance — they say three Confederate monuments currently exist on the site — and to get the monument built in time for the battle’s sesquicentennial in February 2014. The Florida chapter of the Sons of Union Veterans of the Civil War intended to fully pay for the project, and to offer it as a gift to the people of Florida.

What they didn’t count on was a counter-offensive. Modern-day Confederate groups rallied opposition to the project and urged members to contact lawmakers in Florida to stop it.

“In anticipation of the 150th anniversary of the battle that protected Florida’s capital from falling, the Sons of Union Veterans has obtained approval from the State of Florida Parks Department for a special monument to invading Federal forces,” Michael Givens, commander-in-chief of the national Sons of Confederate Veterans, wrote in an message to his group’s members in October. “The plan calls for a large black Darth Vadar-esque shaft that will disrupt the hallowed grown [sic] where Southern blood was spilled in defense of Florida, protecting Tallahassee from capture. … Confederate Forces won the Battle in 1864 – but will we win the 2nd Battle of Olustee and prevent this menacing monument from disrupting this hallowed Southern soil?”

The issue came to a head on Monday, at a public hearing in Lake City to discuss the location of the monument. Dozens of opponents to the project turned out, compared to a handful of supporters, and the meeting at one point devolved into a rendition of “Dixie” led by H.K. Edgerton, a black “Confederate activist” who works to “reveal the truth of the War for Southern Independence.”

“The whole audience, with the exception of the six of us who were the Union, got up — because here if you’re singing ‘Dixie’ that’s kind of like ‘The Star-Spangled Banner’ — and everybody got up and sang along, and they yelled and waved, and gave rebel yells, and all that,” Custer said. “I mean, it was real. It was a sight to see.”

Were these people to take up armed rebellion to defend white supremacy or low capital gains taxes or miscegenation with goats or whatever appeals to these people, it would suck mostly except for the joy of reviving the tactics of one W.T. Sherman.

Mandela

[ 171 ] December 5, 2013 |

One of human history’s greatest fighters for justice has passed. Rest in peace.

Fast Food Strikes

[ 281 ] December 5, 2013 |

Today is the largest mobilization of fast food workers in history, with workers across the country engaging in a one-day strike. The basic demand is a $15 an hour wage. SEIU has played a major role in spurring this movement, even though it has little to gain immediately since the chances of a union contract that would pay dues is low to nonexistent in the near future. But this is the kind of forward thinking leadership that labor needs to take with non-union workers in industries away from their base (in SEIU’s case, health care and government) that won’t necessarily build the dues structure. The recent populist push for higher wages, coming out of Occupy and seen most concretely in the Sea-Tac $15 minimum wage passed last month, is a good sign that people are uniting around a specific concrete goal as a first step. Rep. Raul Grijalva is pressing Obama to issue an executive order raising the minimum wage for workers covered by government contract, which he can absolutely do but almost certainly won’t. But it is more concrete pressure from the left that combined with people on streets, can and I think will move more Democrats toward making meaningful changes in the national wage laws.

Greenhouse’s piece linked above cites economists claiming a higher wage would lead to a lot less employment, but I am skeptical of this and don’t see any real evidence as to its truth. If mechanization is cheaper, it’s going to be cheaper at $7.50 too and a few bucks an hour to the few workers in a fast food joint isn’t going to make or break that process. It’s certainly possible that an employer could try to staff with less workers, but that’s another problem that workers can organize around. It’s also of course worth noting that employers and their lackeys make these arguments about every improvement in the conditions of workers and have since at least the Civil War.

Wolves

[ 42 ] December 5, 2013 |

The West has reinvigorated its war on wolves and the Obama Administration has sadly capitulated to Idaho, Montana, and Wyoming, in what is yet another example of its poor policy toward public lands that originated with the Salazar appointment to Interior and has not improved at all. This is been one of the weakest performances for progressives in the entire administration (along with education policy) and an area where the administration has almost total control to set policy (unlike say, closing GITMO which we can say is disappointing but where the president is highly constrained by Congress).

Wyoming classifies wolves as predatory animals that can be killed by any means and without limit in more than 80 percent of the state, and in parts of Idaho, there are no limits for when or how many wolves can be killed. Not to be outmatched, Montana nearly doubled the bag limit on wolves this year, extended the hunt season to allow killing of pregnant females and refused to listen to pleas by park biologists to create a safety buffer just outside the park’s boundaries to protect straying research animals.

These hunts are a throwback to the not-so-distant days when wolves were ruthlessly persecuted and nearly wiped out from the entirety of the lower 48.

Today wolves live in only about 5 percent of their historic range and have less than 1 percent of their former numbers.

Despite these dismal figures, the Obama administration has proposed to remove protections for wolves across most of the country. With numbers going down from hunts and protections gone, wolf recovery that is broadly supported by a strong majority of the American public, has cost taxpayers millions, benefits ecosystems, and is a tremendous Endangered Species Act success story will be flushed down the drain.

Awful. But this hasn’t received much political pushback, which is another piece of evidence to me of the decline of the environmental movement, which today is as weak as it’s been politically since the 1950s.

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