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[ 7 ] January 16, 2013 |

Nagisa Oshima, legendary Japanese director, RIP.

Sorry that comments were closed for this post earlier, I actually just had to delete that post and start again. Or maybe I am can’t handle people talking about “In the Realm of the Senses.”

Job Growth

[ 5 ] January 16, 2013 |

Who says that right-to-work laws doesn’t create new jobs? Look at Michigan for instance:

Gov. Rick Snyder’s administration is hiring an attorney to enforce the new right-to-work law who will be required to pay state bar association dues while enforcing a law making union dues optional.

The Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs plans to hire an attorney and legal secretary to implement the law that takes effect March 27 prohibiting union contracts from requiring employees to financially support the union as a condition of employment, agency spokesman Jason Moon said.

The administrative law specialist, dubbed a “freedom to work specialist,” will be paid between $76,000 and $106,000 annually, depending on their experience, Moon said.

The Michigan Civil Service Commission requires all administrative law specialists to be dues-paying members of the State Bar of Michigan, Moon said.

Government-created stimulus my friends!

Dues-paying members? My god, how will this person be able to pay the bills, what with their dues being used to elect Kenyan usurpers and overpaid bureaucrats and other such whatevers.

Gun Control

[ 119 ] January 16, 2013 |

President Obama is proposing quite an expansive set of gun control legislation. It’s very impressive and it’ll be interesting to see whether it can past. In a sense, this will be atest of Green Lanterism. All the necessary conditions are set. Obama is fully behind it and willing to go all the way, plus he’ll never run for office again. A lot of Congress is skeptical to outright opposed. The public is engaged on this topic, both for and against. Can Obama convince Congress to Do The Right Thing and pass his legislation? It’s almost like Spielberg is directing a Tony Kushner script here!

I’m skeptical. I do believe it’s possible that something will pass, but I doubt it will put a major dent in American gun culture or violence, if for no other reason that there’s already an insane number of guns in people’s hands and everyone who wants them will buy 50 of them before whatever ban is passed goes into effect.

Fundamentally, my concern is the expense of political capital on this issue instead of taking the lead on an issue of nearly equal moral import: immigration. I know Obama is still planning an immigration push for this year, but it’s clearly fallen behind gun control on the priority list. There’s a couple of problems here. First, unlike the likely cosmetic changes of the gun bill, an immigration bill is likely to lead to very real changes that will have very real effects on people’s lives. Second, Marco Rubio is stepping into the breach to push his own ideas, which could have the dual effect of watering down immigration reform and convincing some Latinos that in the end Democrats don’t care very much about them.

In related news, the NRA is a deeply loathsome organization. Josh Marshall with more harsh language against the nation’s most insidious political group.


[ 18 ] January 15, 2013 |

The first known photograph of someone flipping off a camera in history. None other than legendary baseball pitcher and general rounder, Old Hoss Radbourn, Opening Day, 1886.

@oldhossradbourn could not be reached for comment at this time.


[ 17 ] January 15, 2013 |

Colin with a good run-down of recent news about the quasi-coup that forced Fernando Lugo from power in Paraguay last year. It sounds like a combination of gratuitous police violence toward the poor that rightist elements in the legislature used to throw Lugo out of power. In short, there’s a lot of powerful people in South America who are very unhappy about that democracy has blossomed in their countries. They long for the old days of the CIA or Marines coming and eliminating leaders who represent the poor. In nations like Honduras and Paraguay, the rich have taken matters into their own hands and led the coups themselves.


[ 170 ] January 15, 2013 |

If you haven’t seen David Brooks’ syllabus for the class he’s teaching at Yale this semester, entitled “The Humility Course,” well, you are in for a treat. Here’s a few choice sessions:

Week 1: The Reticence Code (January 15)

How did American leaders in the 1940s and 1950 conceive of their obligations to their country? We will survey episodes from the lives of George C. Marshall, Dwight Eisenhower and various “Wise Men.” We will pay special attention to those who attended elite prep schools and universities.

Week 11: Seemliness (April 9)
Modern societies have become economically and socially more unequal. We will explore status competition and the desire for social distinction—executives who feel unabashed when asking for lavish salaries. We will ask whether it is proper to put a Yale window sticker on the back of your car. We will look at codes of social modesty and ask whether modest people make better business leaders

Week 13: Fate (April 23)
In the 1940s researchers began a longitudinal study tracing the life courses of Harvard Men. These men had every advantage, but a third of them had their lives ravaged by alcoholism and other setbacks. However well one is trained for life, one cannot control life. We’ll look at the Grant study and other studies of how lives develop.

The jokes write themselves.

Standing Up To Rheeism

[ 22 ] January 15, 2013 |

Much credit to Seattle teachers at Garfield and Ballard High Schools for refusing to give a flawed standardized test to their students.

Laura Clawson:

The MAP appears to be a perfect storm of the problems with standardized testing: put in place through a corrupt, profit-driven process; with an unacceptably high margin of error; not measuring the things students are actually supposed to be learning; and taking needed time away from instructional time in order for students to take a test they don’t take seriously. But while its problems may be especially large, they’re not unique. What these teachers are doing in saying no to the MAP is brave, it’s in their students’ best interests, and it’s yet another demonstration of how badly teachers’ voices are needed in the broader education policy debate.

Teacher refusal to give the tests is a risky but brave and inspiring way to stand up to the forces that seek to turn education into a profit-generating system that sucks the soul out of both students and teachers.

Longing for the Days of Megan McArdle

[ 157 ] January 14, 2013 |

You thought McArdle was as low as The Atlantic could go? Oh no. Not even close. How about allowing Scientology to write a “Sponsor Content” that looks just like a news article but is in fact a self-written story about the awesomeness of Scientology leader David Miscavige?

Wow. If this isn’t rock bottom, I don’t know what is.

Also, make sure you read the comment section. I’m sure it’ll soon be inundated with people ripping the magazine. But right now, it’s clearly a coordinated campaign by Scientology to flood the comment section with laudatory comments. It’s all very special.

Labor’s Shift on Immigration

[ 36 ] January 14, 2013 |

Benjy Sarlin with a nice overview of how organized labor has shifted from a key anti-immigration force to one supporting immigration with great fervor. To be sure, there are a lot of individual unions, particularly in the building trades, that are not pro-immigration. But those unions are increasingly marginalized within the larger labor movement, particularly when you have unions like SEIU with large numbers of undocumented members. Labor’s problems with immigration go back a lot farther than Cesar Chavez. Organized labor’s first big political victory in this country was the Chinese Exclusion Act, Gompers’ AFL was largely anti-immigrant, etc. That organized labor is so strongly on the side of humane immigration legislation is a big deal and will help push for a quality bill this year.

The Failure of Rheeism

[ 125 ] January 14, 2013 |

I thought this Post article on Michelle Rhee was going to be a total puff piece, but it at least presents some facts that show her claims are never backed up with reality.

“She’s got a very simple message that is highly seductive because it appears to give an answer to our difficult education problems,” said Richard Kahlenberg, a senior fellow at the Century Foundation, a liberal-leaning research group.

It would be great if her ideas translated into good results for kids, Kahlenberg said.

“But, in fact, we’ve got two grand experiments of her theory,” he said. “The first is the American South, where teachers unions are weak and the schools are not lighting the world on fire. The other is charter schools, which are 88 percent non-unionized. In charters, you can do everything that Michelle Rhee wants to do — fire bad teachers, pay good teachers more. And yet, the most comprehensive studies looking at charter schools nationally find mediocre results.”

So Rhee’s premise is faulty, he said. “But it’s a simple idea, and in the media, it’s powerful to have heroes and villains,” Kahlenberg said. “The fact that evidence doesn’t back her up doesn’t seem to prevent her from getting wide notoriety.”

I want our children to get the best education possible. Were teachers’ unions an impediment to that education, I might take Rhee’s arguments seriously. But they aren’t. There’s just zero evidence that Rhee’s policies work. What I see are teachers’ unions telling authorities that students can’t learn when schools don’t have air conditioning. There’s not a single institution in this country more invested in children learning that teachers’ unions. The real problem with education is poverty. But Very Important People don’t want to deal with poverty. As Kahlenberg notes, Rhee provides the media a nice simple message they can repeat without research, thinking, or questioning their own privilege. Unfortunately, our children and our middle class suffer as a result.

Why Jack Lew’s Labor Views Matter

[ 28 ] January 14, 2013 |

Elias Isquith (and some commenters here) is skeptical that Jack Lew’s anti-graduate student union history matters for his nomination for Secretary of Treasury. He bases it on two points.

One, we don’t know enough about Lew’s actions while at the NYU to draw any definitive conclusions; he certainly wasn’t working in concert with or on behalf of the organizers. Yet it’s important to appreciate that this wasn’t his job. If he made some kind of decisive push against them, one that wouldn’t have happened in his absence, then that’s significant and something lefties are right to find appalling. But we don’t know — maybe we can find out during Senate hearings, though I doubt it.

We don’t know. But we should. If you are being nominated to lead the president’s economic team, your positions on extremely important economic issues such as the support of workers to have union representation should be a litmus test. As a progressive Democrat, I believe that an economy without high unionization rates is an economy that makes life very difficult for working and middle class people. Democrats should be supporting unionization anywhere and everywhere. We need all the people involved in the president’s economic team to have the interests of working-class people in mind. Or at the very least not have a history of fighting against the institutions most responsible for creating the middle-class.

Second and more important is whether or not Lew will actually be influencing policy rather than merely implementing it. The 2012 elections resulted in something of a two-sided political retrenchment, with the perpetuation of the status quo near-guaranteeing that no stimulus is in the offing for 2013. The near-term policy goal for liberals? Less austerity than there might be otherwise — at best. (Not quite Braveheart’s “Freedom!” when it comes to rallying cries.)

This I find dubious. The Secretary of Treasury does far more than just implement policy others create. The Secretary of Treasury is a central person of any president’s economic team. Tim Geithner was absolutely vital in creating the economic policies of the last four years. It’s true that if Lew bucked the no-stimulus, no-union trend, he might not be nominated for the position. But again, we need to demand that the people who are creating economic policy for working-class people support the right of those people to the representation of their choice on the job. That’s not just at Treasury, but in all major economic appointments.

And even if both sides have agreed that there will be no stimulus in 2013, so what? Progressives are just supposed to say OK and live with it? That’s not an effective political strategy. We need to speak loud for economic justice and demand it from our party leaders. That includes through demanding that his economic team stand for policies that not only resist cuts in Medicare, but promote workers getting a larger piece of the pie from their bosses. As I’ve stated many times before, the time to create change is between electoral cycles, not during the election itself. One way to do this is to for progressives to hold the president accountable in appointments, not sweeping issues like this under the rug.

Obama has marginalized the Department of Labor from his administration’s central economic planning team. There’s little evidence that he really cares all that much about organized labor and won’t expend political capital promoting its agenda. Even when he could bring labor and its supporters into the central circle without political damage, something he could have done beginning with the crafting of the stimulus package before he took office and continuing on every major economic issues since, he hasn’t chosen to do so. And the nomination of Lew is another piece of evidence that not supporting unions is just not that big a deal to this administration.

In the end, the question comes down to how important support for unionization should be within a Democratic administration. In my view, it’s a moral issue, the equivalent of the social issues that so engage us today. 50 years ago, supporting organized labor would have been unquestioned for most leading Democrats (non-Dixiecrats at least). Today, no. I think that’s wrong. I think involvement in anti-union campaigns is deeply immoral behavior.

Read Shawn Gude for more.

When Labor Becomes Justified in Hating Environmentalists

[ 167 ] January 13, 2013 |

As someone dedicated to building bridges between the labor and environmental movements, this post from Good promoting the idea of online grocery stores makes me want to hold my head in my hands. The post never says a word about labor or workers. What it does say is this:

1. People like food variety
2. That variety leads to waste
3. Let’s use technology to just eliminate grocery stores and get groceries to consumers without the middle man!

For we technological festishist Americans, this probably sounds good. I don’t want to go to the store and I want what I want when I want it!! Problems solved and we can feel good about our impact on the planet since that food won’t be wasted.

The issue of food waste is way more complex than this and Voila! technological innovations are no solution. Something like 50% of food waste happens in the home. But I’ll leave that alone for now. Quick question though–what happens to grocery store workers? A lot of those are union jobs too. What happens to those people? Do they even deserve consideration? In our rush to replace all work with robots and technological efficiencies, what do ideas like this mean for long-term economic and community sustainability? These questions are not only unanswered (and no doubt unconsidered) in the Good article, but in our society generally. We talk about unemployment and underemployment but are extremely reticent to consider that our unstated goal that eliminating work in the name of efficiency is a positive good is a big part of the problem.

It’s at times like this that I am at a loss to defend environmentalism to organized labor.

…..I am reminded of Good Magazine’s own atrocious labor practices. Easy to believe they’d publish something like this.

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