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The Housing Investment

[ 125 ] June 20, 2013 |

While this piece is perhaps a bit too condescending to middle-aged homeowners, it does get at a very real problem. The entire structure of the postwar housing market is extremely shaky. Not only the larger financial issues and housing bubbles creating by profiteering. There’s also a very deep generation divide that plays along two levels. First, the overwhelming debt loads of young people means that home buying is simply not a possibility for many. Were they earning enough on the job to make meaningful incursions into that debt, that might be one thing. Instead, they are offered unpaid internships and $9 an hour jobs that require a BA and 4 years of work experience. Second, many young people are uninterested in suburban living. They want diversity, walkability, public transportation, and nearby shops. The entire infrastructure of 20th century life does not provide them these things. But they are demanding it anyway and making decisions based upon these desires.

This hardly means the end of the suburbs. Continued growth in immigration could keep this system afloat. And obviously a large number of young people will indeed end up in the suburbs. But these changes, both economic and attitudinal, are real and will have impacts for decades. For older people, that means that it’s quite feasible that no one will buy their house, at least once the speculators realize that the dreamed of return to the market of the 2000s isn’t happening. Given the debt held by people entering retirement who may be relying on selling their house to stay afloat as they age, this could become a real crisis.

Happy Birthday West Virginia

[ 26 ] June 20, 2013 |

West Virginia turns 150 today. Forged in the rejection of treason in defense of slavery, the state developed into a medieval fiefdom of the coal industry with much of the nation’s worst industrial violence, endemic poverty, and resource exploitation. Even as coal withdraws from the state, it looks at the state’s residents as a bunch of inbred yokels and attempts to turn the historical sites of labor violence into more profits. It is still cursed with some of the nation’s worst politicians. May the next 150 years tell happier stories.

National Martini Day

[ 119 ] June 19, 2013 |

In case you don’t already know, today is National Martini Day. I assume you are celebrating appropriately. That not only means that you are drinking a martini, but that the martini is made with gin. Because if it has vodka, you are consuming some other cocktail. I mean, if the substitution of onions for olives creates an entirely new drink (the Gibson), the substitution of the core spirit certainly does as well. Also, the extra dry martini that either doesn’t use vermouth or barely uses it shouldn’t really count either. Vermouth is a wonderful thing. Get used to it. And while I do like an olive in my martini, the dirty martini is an abomination. Who wants to drink olive brine? I also recommend a more active gin than your standard London dry. Damrak is the nectar of the gods, if you can find it. Death’s Door is quite delicious recent addition to my world of gins. My brother describes it as “gamey,” which I think is accurate. If you are going with the more mass market gins, I have recently found New Amsterdam somewhat more interesting than Tanqueray or Bombay, although I certainly wouldn’t say anything bad about those gins, especially Tanqueray. Again, I have come to like a wet gin in my doddering old age.

Normally, National Martini Day would be cause to celebrate. Unfortunately, James Gandolfini’s death makes that harder. I am going to watch one of his last roles with my martini–Zero Dark Thirty, which I haven’t seen. If the torture scenes are too intense, I’ll just have to make a second martini.

….Also, here is a 1988 article about people moving from apartment to apartment in New York, featuring the 26 year old part-time actor Jim Gandolfini.

The Worst Argument Against the Obama Administration Ever Made

[ 121 ] June 19, 2013 |

Evidently, the New York Times now publishes political narratives that would make Politico blush. Because this John Harwood piece makes the argument that Obama’s problems in states with old, white, rural populations is that he never visits them. Seriously.

So Mr. Obama has not given North Dakota his time. It is one of six states he has not visited as president, along with South Dakota, Arkansas, Idaho, South Carolina and Utah. He has gone just once to Kansas, Kentucky, Mississippi, Montana, Nebraska, Tennessee and Wyoming.

Mr. Obama’s near-complete absence from more than 25 percent of the states, from which he is politically estranged, is no surprise, in that it reflects routine cost-benefit calculations of the modern presidency. But in a country splintered by partisanship and race, it may also have consequences.

America’s 21st-century politics, as underscored by the immigration debate now embroiling Congress, increasingly pits the preferences of a dwindling, Republican-leaning white majority against those of expanding, Democratic-leaning Hispanic and black minorities. Even some sympathetic observers fault Mr. Obama for not doing all he could to pull disparate elements of society closer.

“Every president should make an attempt to bridge the divide,” said Donna Brazile, an African-American Democratic strategist. “It’s a tall order. I wouldn’t give him high marks.”

Al Cross, who directs the Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues at the University of Kentucky, said, “You’re president of the whole country.” By all but ignoring the state, he added, Mr. Obama has allowed negative sentiment toward his presidency to deepen and harden.

Ah, so if only Obama visited Bismarck and Provo and Little Rock, he would totally win over these populations. Why I bet if he had given a big bully pulpit speech in Cheyenne, both John Barasso and Mike Enzi would have immediately caved to the massive public support he would have received from the land of Dick Cheney and voted for Obamacare!

Slim Whitman, RIP

[ 6 ] June 19, 2013 |

Not many country artists left from that generation.

Worst Person in the World: Confederate Nostalgia and Ridiculous Food Edition

[ 116 ] June 19, 2013 |

Paula Deen, a racist wistfully desiring black slaves.

The Worst Kind of Obama Nominee

[ 94 ] June 18, 2013 |

A good bit of the left-wing criticism of President Obama partially misses the mark because it assumes a unilateral presidency where presidents can do what they want. On the other hand, there’s plenty for progressives to criticize about Obama, particularly in his choice of appointments. Take for instance his choice to head the Federal Communications Commission:

President Obama’s nominee to head the Federal Communications Commission told a Senate committee on Tuesday that his experience as the leader of lobbying groups for the cable television and cellphone industries had convinced him that the agency needs to promote competition over regulation.

The nominee, Tom Wheeler, told the Senate Commerce Committee that the F.C.C.’s championing of competition was especially important given Americans’ heavy dependence on communications networks in education, public safety and consumer services.

“Competition is a power unto itself that must be encouraged,” he said. “Competitive markets produce better outcomes than regulated or uncompetitive markets.”

The playing down of the role of regulation could worry Democrats on the committee and advocates of consumer-friendly oversight of industries that are growing rapidly — perhaps too fast in recent years for government overseers to keep track of them.

It is his experience in those industries rather than as a regulator, Mr. Wheeler said, that provides his primary strengths.

Obama’s nomination to head a major regulatory agency who brags about being an anti-regulatory industry lobbyist says a lot about how the president sees the proper role of corporations in government, the tug of war between regulation and corporate control, and the extent to which government should regulate society. He’s clearly part of the pro-corporate, deregulatory wing of Democratic Party that has controlled the party since Carter. We see this in his public lands policy, his education policy, his communications policy, his trade policy. This should be hardly be surprising to anyone in 2013, but it’s another reminder both of the obstacles we face in creating positive change within the Democratic Party. That doesn’t mean we should abandon the best tool we have within the political system, but we have to take control of the party apparatus and policy making decisions from the corporate overlords who have controlled it for 35 years.

Tiger Beat on the Potomac

[ 47 ] June 18, 2013 |

Pierce on Politico’s latest attack on Nate Silver and crazy things like “math” and “standards of evidence.”

Bonus points for Jim Nabors reference.

Dutch Work Safety Posters

[ 17 ] June 16, 2013 |

An outstanding collection of old Dutch work safety posters. Of course I liked the timber mill one from 1940 best.

The Little Things that Really Hurt the Poor

[ 96 ] June 16, 2013 |

The state of Louisiana (and the voters themselves) have cut off funding for the last operating ferry in New Orleans. Big deal, right? Who takes the ferry anymore? The answer here is a lot of poor African-Americans coming to work in New Orleans from their homes on the west bank of the river. The ferry has about 1 million pedestrians and 175,000 cars on average. The drivers will be fine, but what about the walkers? How are they supposed to get to work? Part of this is a general American indifference or hostility to public transportation, but of course that feeling has its racial competent, whether it is Atlanta suburbs turning down MARTA service because it was afraid of black people coming into town or the reduction of public transportation services anywhere, since they disproportionately affect the poor and in the United States the poor are usually people of color.

This Day in Labor History: June 16, 1918

[ 137 ] June 16, 2013 |

On June 16, 1918, the socialist leader and former head of the American Railway Union Eugene Debs gave a speech in Canton, Ohio, criticizing the United States’ actions in World War I and urging resistance to the draft. Two weeks later, Debs was arrested under the Espionage Act and charged with ten counts of sedition.

Something often forgotten in American history is how divisive wars actually are. The only major American war that did not lead to serious internal resistance was World War II, which to a modern generation is the touchstone by which to compare all wars. There wasn’t a lot of dissent around Korea, but people also didn’t call it a war at the time. Every other war created very real internal dissent. This was certainly true during World War I. President Wilson charged into war in 1917 without preparing the American people. A large swath of Americans opposed it for various reasons–pacifists, Quakers, the IWW, anarchists, the Irish, many of the ethnic groups under the Austro-Hungarian Empire, socialists. There was significant draft resistance in rural America among people who fundamentally did not care about the war in Europe and wouldn’t die for it.

The Wilson Administration needed to raise an army, but a lot of Americans did not want to be drafted. Wilson and other warmongers were determined to crush the left resistance to the war by any means necessary. This led to the largest systemic violation of civil liberties in the nation’s history. The copper barons of Bisbee used the war as an excuse to kick all unionists out of town. The military sent troops to the Pacific Northwest to end IWW led strikes in the forests, under the auspices of needing wood for airplanes. Most importantly, the government passed the Espionage Act and Sedition Act. Combined, these two laws made it a crime to criticize the United States government or inhibit the American war effort in any public way, with of course the government deciding who crossed the line against its own program of suppressing dissent. Arrests of radicals and the Red Scare followed.

Into all this came Eugene Debs. After his leadership of the failed Pullman Strike in 1894, Debs became a socialist and, along with Big Bill Haywood, the major leader of the left in the United States. He was involved in the founding of the IWW in 1905, splitting with that organization along with the rest of the Socialist Party in 1912. He first became the Socialist candidate for the presidency in 1900, something he repeated five times, reaching a height of 6% of the popular vote in 1912.

Debs went to Canton to urge resistance to the draft. In his speech, he claimed that the Central Powers and Allies were both fighting over capital plunder and that the people deserved better than to die in the trenches for a capitalist war. He urged the United States to remain neutral in the draft and for people to save their lives by resisting the draft. Essentially, Debs presented the widely held leftist view of World War I. He knew that if he simply gave the Socialist Party position on the war, he would likely be arrested. He replied, “I’ll take about two jumps and they’ll nail me, but that’s all right.” In Canton, Debs spoke to about 1000 supporters at Nimsilla Park. Only a bit of the speech was about the war. The rest was fairly standard Socialist fare. But it didn’t matter. Debs was arrested on June 30 in Cleveland. You can read the original New York Times story about his arrest here.

Debs speech, possibly the Canton speech of 1918, although this is disputed.

Clarence Darrow represented Debs. But even the great orator and defender of radicals could do little in the face of overwhelming anti-radical sentiment. The jury consisted of anti-socialist men and he was found guilty of violating the Espionage Act, whereupon he received 3 concurrent 10-year sentences.

Near the end of his trial, Debs gave a 2-hour long speech. It included the following:

Your honor, I have stated in this court that I am opposed to the form of our present government; that I am opposed to the social system in which we live; that I believe in the change of both but by perfectly peaceable and orderly means….

I am thinking this morning of the men in the mills and factories; I am thinking of the women who, for a paltry wage, are compelled to work out their lives; of the little children who, in this system, are robbed of their childhood, and in their early, tender years, are seized in the remorseless grasp of Mammon, and forced into the industrial dungeons, there to feed the machines while they themselves are being starved body and soul….

Your honor, I ask no mercy, I plead for no immunity. I realize that finally the right must prevail. I never more fully comprehended than now the great struggle between the powers of greed on the one hand and upon the other the rising hosts of freedom. I can see the dawn of a better day of humanity. The people are awakening. In due course of time they will come into their own.

When the mariner, sailing over tropic seas, looks for relief from his weary watch, he turns his eyes toward the Southern Cross, burning luridly above the tempest-vexed ocean. As the midnight approaches the Southern Cross begins to bend, and the whirling worlds change their places, and with starry finger-points the Almighty marks the passage of Time upon the dial of the universe; and though no bell may beat the glad tidings, the look-out knows that the midnight is passing – that relief and rest are close at hand.

Let the people take heart and hope everywhere, for the cross is bending, midnight is passing, and joy cometh with the morning.

Debs was convicted and sentenced to ten years in prison. He ran for the presidency again in 1920, this time from prison, receiving over 900,000 votes, about 3.4% of the electorate. By this point, the public began souring on the Red Scare and public denunciations of Debs turned into sympathy (in some quarters) for his plight. Woodrow Wilson thought about pardoning Debs in 1919, but under the strong disapproval of his anti-radical Attorney General A. Mitchell Palmer, he figured it would empower those who opposed the Versailles Treaty and give succor to radicalism, so he refused. Eventually, Warren Harding commuted Debs’ sentence in 1921. His health broken, Debs died in 1926.

Debs’ 1920 campaign material

The best recent book on Debs and civil liberties is Ernest Freeberg, Democracy’s Prisoner: Eugene V. Debs, the Great War, and the Right to Dissent, published in 2008.

This is the 65th post in this series. Previous entries are archived here.


[ 86 ] June 15, 2013 |

After yet another pitcher, this time Alex Cobb of Tampa Bay, goes down from a liner to the head, it’s hardly unreasonable to say that pitchers need to wear helmets on the mound. I suppose a full face guard is ideal, but even a batting helmet would be tremendously helpful. Or does a pitcher have to die on the mound to create the necessary change?