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Me and Paul

[ 5 ] November 24, 2013 |

Keep the members of Willie Nelson’s band in your thoughts today as they were in a serious weather related accident yesterday:

One incident injured three members of singer Willie Nelson’s band when their bus struck a pillar on Interstate 30 near Sulphur Springs, about 75 miles northeast of Dallas.

Singer Willie Nelson has suspended performances until December after the incident.
The Texas Department of Public Safety says Nelson was not aboard in the weather-related accident around 3:30 a.m. CST Saturday.

Nelson spokeswoman Elaine Schock says Paul English broke his ankle, his brother Billy English suffered a bruise hip and Tom Harkin has a cracked or bruised rib.

Trooper Sylvia Jennings says seven people were on the westbound bus, including the driver who was dealing with wet roads and high winds.

Sounds like everyone is going to be OK. But Paul English is not a young man. He’s of course most famous for the following:


[ 24 ] November 23, 2013 |

Todd Gitlin says the divestment movement against fossil fuel companies is the best tool we have to stop apocalyptic climate change. What makes me sad is that a) it probably actually is the best tool we have and b) it is a drop in the bucket of what needs to happen. I completely support this, but this is a much greater challenge than the apartheid government of South Africa, the historical high water mark of the divestment tactic.


[ 22 ] November 23, 2013 |

If you were at the James McMurtry show last night in Fall River, Massachusetts, your least favorite intellectually dishonest blogger was there with you. I had forgotten how utterly compelling McMurtry could be live. He doesn’t exactly scream charisma, either on his albums or in his bearing or in his limited singing voice. He’s extremely socially awkward and only interacts with the crowd to the extent that he wants to tell them things. But in this solo acoustic show (the first time I’ve seen him in this format, though this is probably the 7th or so time I’ve seen him), I don’t know that I have ever seen an audience as singularly focused on the performer. Usually there’s some jerks talking, people milling about, whatever. Not last night. It was almost total attention. I guess it’s a combination of his unusual personal intensity (he really seems to start right through you when performing) and the amazing quality of the songs.

True story. In 2005, I was driving back from Las Vegas to Santa Fe. And I was getting really sick. By the hour, I was feeling worse and worse. I suppose I should have had my friend drive, but he hated driving and didn’t own a car. Anyway, by the time we got to Flagstaff I was really struggling and thinking about pulling over for a nap or to have him take over. But he had just purchased McMurtry’s Live in Aught-Three album. The only of his albums I think I had at that point was Where’d You Hide the Body, so I wasn’t all that knowledgeable of his catalog. Anyway, listening to this, struggling to go on, was the first time I ever heard “Choctaw Bingo.” I was so blown away and so amused by this comedic tour de force of a meth family that it picked me right up and I slammed through the rest of that drive and got home OK. I credit it with helping to save my life that night. This is a song that works best electric, but it was highly enjoyable to see last night in any form.


[ 39 ] November 23, 2013 |

After the Tarzeen fire and Rana Plaza collapse in Bangladesh over the past year, killing over 1200 workers in total, European companies subcontracting to those factories have stepped up and built a system of compensation for the families of the dead, the injured, and the unemployed. And that’s a positive. The American companies–not so much:

Even as labor advocates single out Primark for praise, they single out Walmart for criticism — partly because production documents recovered after the Tazreen fire indicate that two months before that fire erupted, 55 percent of the factory’s production was being made for Walmart contractors. Walmart has repeatedly been asked to contribute to the anticipated $6 million compensation program for Tazreen survivors and families.

“Walmart is the one company that is showing an astonishing lack of responsibility, considering that so much of their product was being made at the Tazreen factory,” said Samantha Maher, a campaign coordinator for the British arm of the Clean Clothes Campaign, a European anti-sweatshop group.

Walmart has also been asked to contribute to the planned Rana Plaza fund because production documents were found in the building rubble indicating that a Canadian contractor was producing jeans for Walmart in 2012 at the Ether Tex factory inside the building. Walmart said that unauthorized contractors were producing garments without the company’s knowledge.

After the International Labor Rights Forum, an advocacy group based in Washington, wrote to Walmart to urge its participation in the compensation efforts, Rajan Kamalanathan, Walmart’s vice president for ethical sourcing, responded in an email that Walmart did not intend to participate. He wrote that “there was no production for Walmart in Rana Plaza at the time of the tragedy” and that the Walmart-related production at Tazreen was unauthorized.

I can’t speak much about the European companies. But for the American apparel industry, it is once again obvious that its ultimate labor vision is the Gilded Age in the United States, when workers risked their lives every day they went to work and companies held no responsibility for the safety of its laborers. That the present system of outsourcing clothing production also mirrors that of the Gilded Age makes this even more conspicuous. And that like in the Triangle Fire, the companies involved face no ramifications after the Bangladesh disasters helps demonstrate this thesis.

There should be a special circle of Hell for Wal-Mart executives.


[ 151 ] November 22, 2013 |

In case you still think John F. Kennedy was a good president, Dylan Matthews has a good run-down of how he was so overrated. It’s the basic case–major foreign policy blunders including nearly blowing up the world, escalating in Vietnam, reticence on civil rights, the lack of any meaningful legislation. I did find this a bit rich though:

• He created the Peace Corps, famously. While that organization played a valuable role in improving foreign attitudes toward the United States during the Cold War, it’s far too small to be a significant development agency, and the work it does is not especially conducive to that goal either. As Gal Beckerman put it in a good profile of the agency in the Boston Globe recently, “The agency has never been structured to do development effectively. In fact, if you were trying to design an organization to avoid having a lasting impact, it might look a lot like the Peace Corps: inexperienced volunteers sent to work in near-total isolation from one another, with time limits guaranteed to make their impact only short term.” And as Robert Strauss has pointed out, its placements are rarely based on where volunteers would provide the most help. The corps was probably a net good, but was much too small and inefficient to justify the extent to which it’s burnished Kennedy’s reputation.

Let’s look at that again:

“The agency has never been structured to do development effectively. In fact, if you were trying to design an organization to avoid having a lasting impact, it might look a lot like the Peace Corps: inexperienced volunteers sent to work in near-total isolation from one another, with time limits guaranteed to make their impact only short term.”

Oh you mean like Teach for America? Good thing Matthews has connected this lesson to that program to show how throwing inexperienced kids into American schools for a short-term lark isn’t effective. Oh wait. On that issue and Matthews’ predilections around these matters, Diane Ravitch has weighed in.

Anti-Union Court Nominees

[ 122 ] November 22, 2013 |

While we can all be happy that the filibuster is finally dead, let’s also pay attention to just who Obama is nominating to these judgeships. Such as Patricia Millet, designer of Starbucks anti-union campaign:

“I find it troubling, because Ms. Millett and her firm Akin Gump went well beyond what I consider the bounds of decency and morality in the very aggressive anti-union campaign they really designed and helped Starbucks carry out,” Daniel Gross, a founding member of the Starbucks Workers Union, told Salon. “The campaign that Ms. Millett and her firm architected and really co-led, and continues to co-lead with Starbucks, involved all of the scorched earth tactics which are starting to come to light more and more.” The White House, the AFL-CIO and Starbucks did not provide comment on Millett’s Starbucks work in response to Thursday inquiries. Akin Gump declined to comment.

After 11 years as an assistant to the solicitor general at the federal Department of Justice, Millett joined the top-flight firm Akin Gump, whose website describes its “Labor Relations Strategic Advice and Counseling” practice as including “union avoidance” and “the defense of unfair labor practice charges …” Millett’s clients there included the coffee giant Starbucks, which faced a union campaign by the Starbucks Workers Union, an affiliate of the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW, also known as the Wobblies).

You know, it shouldn’t be hard to find Democratic candidates for the federal judiciary who haven’t actually designed anti-union campaigns.


[ 18 ] November 22, 2013 |

For spearheading this filibuster reform effort, Jeff Merkley rises into the upper echelon of Oregon senators, along with people like Wayne Morse and Mark Hatfield.

Could Wal-Mart Raise Wages?

[ 36 ] November 21, 2013 |

Um, yes.

The two proposals differ a bit in the details, but they use roughly the same mechanism to reach the same goal, so we’ll go with Demos’s proposal (described in full here) for ease of explanation. Basically, the argument is this: Walmart throws off enough cash in profits each year that it could easily raise the wages of its workers by about 50%, so that they all made about $25K per year, which is what activists are seeking. Currently, the company just uses that cash for other purposes. Like what? Well, Demos points out that Walmart spent $7.6 billion last year buying back its own stock shares, a maneuver designed to buoy the stock price and dividend payments. From the report:

Walmart’s share buybacks further consolidated ownership of the company in the hands of the heirs to company founder Sam Walton, increasing the Walton family stake in the corporation to above 50 percent. In addition, the buybacks increased the value of ownership among the Waltons and the other remaining shareholders. Yet buybacks did nothing to boost Walmart’s productivity or bottom line and had no direct benefit for Walmart’s customers or frontline employees. Despite the lack of productive benefit, massive share buybacks at Walmart have become a regular occurrence: according to data compiled by Bloomberg, Walmart has bought back about $36 billion in stock in its four previous years, while in June 2013 announced a new $15 billion share repurchasing program at its annual shareholder meeting.

Oh, well, no then! Priorities must remain intact–making the Walton family EVEN WEALTHIER!

I do think if anyone still believes that super rich people reach a point where they think they are rich enough, they shouldn’t believe that.

Film Blog (III)

[ 19 ] November 20, 2013 |

Yet another set of pointless thoughts about film on my side blog. I wouldn’t read it either. Recently viewed films, with one phrase reviews here, are:

Paris is Burning, Livingston, 1990 (excellent documentary on gay and transsexual men in New York just as AIDS is hitting)
The Devil and Daniel Johnston, Feuerzeig, 2005 (we are fascinated with artists suffering from mental illness)
La Ronde, Ophuls, 1950 (I guess I’m supposed to love it because it’s on Criterion)
Silver Linings Playbook, Russell, 2012 (meh)
The Cry of Jazz, Bland, 1959 (and the most angry people have ever gotten at me writing on film)
Riding the California Trail, Nigh, 1947 (mmm…racism….)
The Big Chase, Hilton, 1954 (a big chase indeed. Like 40% of the film)
The Wages of Fear, Clouzot, 1953 (one of the great films about work, among other things)
Spite Marriage, Keaton, 1929 (awesome)
The Cameraman, Keaton, 1928 (Keaton loves the racial stereotypes)
The House on Trubnaya, Barnet, 1928 (what, yet another Soviet comedy?)
Silas Marner, Warde, 1916 (silents based on books don’t work well)

Macy’s Anti-Union Pamphlet

[ 102 ] November 20, 2013 |

Our valued commenter Murc took a job at Macy’s. When he was hired, the company gave him a lovely anti-union pamphlet. He then sent it to me. I have photographed and it and am providing it for you to see. You’ll notice a couple of things. First, while such a pamphlet is legal, it’s brimming with half-truths about unions that are intended to do a combination of scaring workers and making them think a union is a waste of their time and money. The highlight for me is when Macy’s says a union can’t guarantee workers benefits; technically true but what it really shows is just that Macy’s is going to refuse to negotiate for higher wages with a union. After all, “neither party is required to make a concession.” Ah. My second favorite line is about how workers once needed unions but “Today, workers no longer need a group to fight for these rights. They are guaranteed by law.” If I was drinking water when reading then, I would have done a spit take. Anyway, the more we publicize the anti-union activities that goes on behind the scenes, the better. I just am showing the text side of the pamphlet, which has most of the good stuff.

Now, I don’t think there is any kind of campaign to organize department store workers, at least nothing I know of. But remember, you don’t have to pay a union money to work here. Of course, without a union you won’t actually make any money.

The Greatest Internship of All Time

[ 170 ] November 20, 2013 |

Who wants this internship?

Bestselling author and columnist, Jonah Goldberg, writes on U.S. politics and culture as a fellow at AEI. One of the most prominent conservative political commentators today, Goldberg frequently appears on television and radio shows, and his syndicated columns are circulated widely across the United States. Interns will conduct research on a large range of policy-related topics to assist Mr. Goldberg with his columns, lectures, and media appearances. The ideal candidate will possess strong research and writing skills, as well as a demonstrated interest in U.S. politics, culture, and the media.

Job Location
Washington, District of Columbia, United States

Position Type

0.00 – 0.00 USD

Unpaid naturally. Paying interns is both liberal and fascist.

Via Roy, who writes a short play to go along with it.

Méliès Monday: The Mermaid

[ 12 ] November 18, 2013 |

It seems a good Monday evening tradition here would be to show a Georges Méliès film. After all, he only directed 553 films, according to IMDB. Plus, their weirdness and his magic show/science fiction orientation is fun for modern audiences, yet most people haven’t seen his works. Let’s change that.

The Mermaid, from 1904.

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