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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?

Louisiana Chemical Plant Explosions

[ 54 ] June 15, 2013 |

The West fertilizer plant disaster has faded from the headlines but that doesn’t mean our national workplace inspection system has improved at all. On Thursday, a petrochemical plant exploded in Louisiana, killing 2 and injuring about 100. The last time this plant received an OSHA inspection? We actually don’t know. But definitely not since 1993. And this is one of the most dangerous industries in the country. Petrochemical plants should be inspected at least a few times a year, if not weekly. Instead, not even once in 20 years. And again, death results.

And now we have another fertilizer plant explosion on Friday night in Donaldson, LA, killing one and injuring 8. This is only about 10 miles away from the first plant. This is hardly a coincidence. They don’t call the area Cancer Alley for nothing. It’s where we as a nation have sacrificed the health of the people and ecosystems to process our petrochemical needs in a low-regulatory environment.

The Non-Union Workplace

[ 41 ] June 15, 2013 |

Here’s what happens when workplaces don’t have unions.

An employee of Sewon America, an auto parts supplier for Kia, allegedly died Wednesday, May 29, after working in extreme heat on the company’s “project weld line” in LaGrange, according to another Sewon employee who spoke with LaGrange Citizen on conditions of anonymity.

Troup County Coroner Jeff Cook confirmed that Teresa Weaver Pickard, 42, of Wadley, Al., died after an emergency call came in indicating she was having trouble breathing. Her body has been sent to the state crime lab in Atlanta for an autopsy, but the results could take three to four months because of a backlog in cases, Cook said.

The anonymous employee, who has worked at the LaGrange auto parts supplier for approximately two years, said that he initially heard about Pickard’s death from his supervisor, who advised Sewon employees to stay hydrated.

“I heard that [Pickard] complained of chest pain several times before she was sent to the break room,” said the employee. He said that the air conditioning on the assembly line is not working properly, workers are soaked in sweat, and several other workers also passed out last week due to the extreme heat.

He added that the air conditioning in the break room where Pickard was sent was not turned on and that management keeps the air off in the break room to discourage employees from loitering. It’s so hot in the break room that the candy in the vending machines melted, he said.

Weaver was finally sent to the front office, the employee said, where she allegedly sat for approximately three hours before an ambulance was finally called. He said he heard that Weaver died on the way to the hospital. He added that representatives from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) visited Sewon the day after Weaver died. (LaGrange Citizen has left two message with the OSHA Atlanta West office and will update this article as soon as possible.)

In 2010, OSHA fined Sewon $135,900 for a variety of violations. A drop in the bucket compared to the money Sewon brings in from Kia. The fines should be in the millions. As for this case, the supervisors involved and the corporate leaders setting policy need to be charged with manslaughter.

The AFL-CIO blog with more.

The Cost of Carelessness

[ 25 ] June 14, 2013 |

Someone brought this up in comments a few months ago but I never posted what is by far the greatest traffic safety film ever made. The great stuff is in the last 5 minutes or so. Well worth your 15 minutes on a Friday night.

From 1913.

Remember, one think before an accident is worth a million thinks afterwards.

There’s a ton of references in silent films to terrible and dangerous drivers. It was a real issue in the early years of autos.

The Price of Poverty

[ 90 ] June 14, 2013 |

Poverty is very expensive. Because of the flat rates for most goods and services (personally, I’ve long thought that we should all have a card where our gross yearly income is scanned and prices are then a percentage of your income, not a flat rate for all), the damage poor credit or lacking a bank account does to your finances, and the inability to purchase necessary items, there’s a huge industry in exploiting the poor. The most notorious of these businesses is payday loans shops. But there’s a lot more. Lindsay Beyerstein points us to this great LA Times piece by Richard Bensinger on tire rental shops that serve the poor who need car tires to get to work in the city. Renting tires means that a couple featured in the article paid $962 with all fees and interest for a set of radial tires that should have cost around $300. The industry uses tough payment or repossess tactics and is just generally incredibly exploitative. These sort of industries should be tightly regulated, yet they essentially can do whatever they want in many states.

Best Selling Books, August 8, 1969

[ 72 ] June 14, 2013 |

I found this interesting.

1. Susann, The Love Machine
2. Roth, Portnoy’s Complaint
3. Puzo, The Godfather
4. Nabokov, Ada
5. Crichton, The Andromeda Strain
6. Davis, The Pretenders
7. Vonnegut, Slaughterhouse-Five
8. Macdonald, The Goodbye Look
9. Woiwode, What I’m Going to Do, I Think
10. West, Except for Me and Thee

1. Peter and Hull, The Peter Principle
2. Talese, The Kingdom and the Power
3. White, The Making of the President ’68
4. Hellman, An Unfinished Woman
5. Ginott, Between Parent and Teenager
6. Baker, Ernest Hemingway
7. Martin, Jennie
8. Salisbury, The 900 Days
9. Guiles, Norma Jean
10. Craig, Miss Craig’s 21 Day Shape-Up Program for Men and Women

Given the cultural importance of so many of these authors, titles, or at least subject matter, I thought it was worth reprinting. It’s also remarkable that Vladimir Nabokov had the #4 book on the best-seller list. And it’s not like Ada is a light beach read either.

Got this from Time Magazine.

The Passing of the Great Race

[ 109 ] June 14, 2013 |

Really, it can’t happen fast enough.

Deaths exceeded births among non-Hispanic white Americans for the first time in at least a century, according to new census data, a benchmark that heralds profound demographic change.

The disparity was tiny — only about 12,000 — and was more than made up by a gain of 188,000 as a result of immigration from abroad. But the decrease for the year ending July 1, 2012, coupled with the fact that a majority of births in the United States are now to Hispanic, black, and Asian mothers, is further evidence that white Americans will become a minority nationwide within about three decades.

Overall, the number of non-Hispanic white Americans is expected to begin declining by the end of this decade.

“These new census estimates are an early signal alerting us to the impending decline in the white population that will characterize most of the 21st century,” said William H. Frey, a demographer with the Brookings Institution.

The transition will mean that “today’s racial and ethnic minorities will no longer be dependent on older whites for their economic well-being,” Frey said. In fact, the situation might be reversed. “It makes more vivid than ever the fact that we will be reliant on younger minorities and immigrants for our future demographic and economic growth,” he said.

Let the Reconquista commence!