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That Gaffney Magic

[ 65 ] April 13, 2013 |

Frank Gaffney is working his racist magic in Oklahoma, convincing the Oklahoma legislature (a willing group no doubt) to pass an anti-Sharia law by enormous margins, thus protecting the good people from Oklahoma from the impending horrors of global islamofascism or something.

When Historians Provide Bad Policy Ideas

[ 186 ] April 13, 2013 |

I’m all for historians entering public debates. I am less enthused when they advocate utterly terrible ideas in major publications, such as University of Texas historian Jeremi Suri, who calls for the United States to bomb North Korea.

Hard to see what could go wrong in that scenario!! Love this paragraph as well:

China’s role in a potential war on the Korean Peninsula is hard to predict. Beijing will continue to worry about the United States extending its influence up to the Chinese border. If armed hostilities erupt, President Obama should be prepared for direct and close consultations with Chinese leaders to negotiate a postwar settlement, in a larger multinational framework, that respects Beijing’s legitimate security interests in North Korea. The United States has no interest in occupying North Korea. The Chinese are unlikely to pursue an occupation of their own.

China’s role in a potential war on the Korean Peninsula is hard to predict. Well then. Might as well just bomb North Korea and see what happens!

Jeremi Suri is the kind of historian that Don Rumsfeld and Dick Cheney could love.

Angell

[ 28 ] April 12, 2013 |

In discussing one legend, Jackie Robinson, the writer Roger Angell reminds us what a legend he is as well, whether writing about baseball or his life.

Jonathan Winters, RIP

[ 23 ] April 12, 2013 |

A funny one.

Administrative Bloat

[ 115 ] April 10, 2013 |

Good short summary on the ridiculous administrative bloat at universities. While it’s arguable the extent to which administrative bloat is leading to spiraling tuition costs (although it is not arguable that it is a factor), it is incontrovertible that administrative bloat is replacing tenure-track faculty. What school doesn’t need another assistant vice-president making $180,000 a year? Sure you could hire 3 tenure-track faculty for that, but we are just employees and are unimportant.

Everyone talks about how we need to run our higher education like a business. Well, this is actually what running higher education like a business looks like. Profit-taking at the top, squeezing the middle and bottom levels. Just like evangelical capitalism.

Republican Reverse Court-Packing

[ 9 ] April 10, 2013 |

I’m sure Chuck Grassley will support adding more court seats as soon as a Republican becomes president:

I would like to spend a couple minutes discussing the D.C. Circuit. As most of my colleagues know, the D.C. Circuit is the least busy circuit in the country. In fact, it ranks last or almost last in nearly every category that measures workload.

Based on the 2012 statistics from the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts, the D.C. Circuit has the fewest number of appeals filed per authorized judgeship, with 108. By way of comparison, the 11th Circuit ranks first with over 5 times as many appeals filed per authorized judgeship, with 583. . . . Given this imbalance in workload, today I am introducing the Court Efficiency Act. A number of my colleagues are co-sponsoring the legislation, including Senators Hatch, Sessions, Graham, Cornyn, Lee, Cruz and Flake.

This legislation is straightforward. It would add a seat to the Second and the Eleventh Circuits. At the same time, it would reduce the number of authorized judgeships for the D.C. Circuit from 11 to 8.

Max Baucus: Most Annoying Democratic Senator

[ 30 ] April 10, 2013 |

The worst Democratic senator is almost certainly Joe Manchin. And the most disappointing in regard to where their politics vis-a-vis the political leanings of their state is Dianne Feinstein. But the most annoying and most damaging Democratic senator is Max Baucus. You may remember Baucus from his wankery during the health care debate. As chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, the good senator from Montana is back, calling for revenue-neutral tax reform, which would be a big loss for Democrats.

It’s not that I would expect Brian Schweitzer to be that much better than Baucus on the issues. But I would totally support a Schweitzer primary campaign against Baucus just to toss him out this powerful post. If Baucus were out, his likely replacement as chairman would be Ron Wyden. Wyden may have issues of his own, but he’d be far superior in that post than Baucus.

The Bad Politics of Obama’s Grand Bargain Fetish

[ 138 ] April 10, 2013 |

Obama’s caving on chained CPI and allowing reductions to Medicare so he can achieve his long-desired grand bargain is a terrible idea, not only on the merits but on the politics. It isn’t going to convince Republican fireeaters to bargain in good faith because their ultimate goal is to destroy his presidency, not run the country. It also opens Obama up to attacks from Republicans that he is hurting seniors. Greg Walden, chair of the House GOP reelection committee, is already doing just that, attacks that may well hurt Democratic candidates in 2014. Those attacks might be disingenuous from people want to do away with Social Security entirely (or privatize it, which is pretty much the same thing), but truth is not the name of the game here.

Bad policy, bad politics.

Paolo Soleri, RIP

[ 16 ] April 9, 2013 |

The legendary architect is no more.

The End of Fish

[ 60 ] April 8, 2013 |

It’s a good thing the Chinese don’t eat fish because this would be a problem:

However, over the past few years, fishery resources in the river have witnessed a severe decline, with the river’s ecological system currently on the verge of collapsing, according to Zhao Yimin, head of a fishery resource office with the Ministry of Agriculture.

According to statistics, the Yangtze River used to have some 1,100 species of wild aquatic animals, including more than 370 fish species of which 142 were unique to the river and some 20 had been categorized as endangered animals.

In recent years, however, the amount of fish has sharply declined, with particular species, such as the shad and blowfish, not spotted for several years.

This is believed to be the result of excessive fishing, the construction of water conservancy projects, water pollution and unregulated drainage.

Currently, most fish caught in the Yangtze River are only six months-old and some are even less than two months old, leaving them with no chance at any offspring.

Oh wait, you mean fish is central to Chinese food? And that this is really just a somewhat worse version of a worldwide phenomenon? Oh dear.

Once again, our children will think of most fish as they do the passenger pigeon. We will have to explain to them what a “fish” is. There will be some examples in the Museum of Natural History.

This Day in Labor History: April 8, 1952

[ 22 ] April 8, 2013 |

On April 8, 1952, President Harry Truman nationalized the steel industry in order to forestall a strike scheduled the next day that would have shut down steel production during the Korean War. This action, which outraged steel owners, was part of Truman’s commitment to labor unions he showed throughout his presidency, even during a time of conservative backlash during organized labor’s gains of the 1930s. It also showed the limits of what courts would allow the executive to do to support labor unions in the Cold War.

The steel industry was probably the most hostile large industry to organized labor. Although the Steel Workers Organizing Committee (later the United Steelworkers of America) managed to force U.S. Steel to negotiate a contract in 1937, the smaller steel companies held on until Franklin Roosevelt forced their hand in 1942, engaging in some of the harshest labor violence of the 1930s along the way. This hostility had not abated by the 1950s. Steel companies wanted to crush the USWA and take back control over their plants.

World War II taught a hard lesson to organized labor–tying price control to wage rates as happened during that conflict meant that workers would not share in wartime profits. There was tremendous working-class militancy during the war over wages, which labor leaders worked very hard to suppress in order to continue production. This pent up anger led to the strike wave of 1946 that in turn spawned the Taft-Hartley Act and other anti-union legislation. When the Korean War began in 1950, President Truman wanted to avoid similar conflicts. He thus created the Wage Stabilization Board that would judge wage requests from labor independently of prices, which fell under the Office of Price Stabilization.

In 1951, contracts talked began to break down between the USWA and the steel industry, with US Steel, Bethlehem Steel, and other companies balking at wage hikes. US Steel refused to even talk about wages after September 1951. The USWA made it clear that they were organizing industry-wide and refused to do so company by company, which would have given the corporations much more power in the process. Tensions within the USWA also rose during the talks. The USWA strike committee specifically refused to grant USWA and CIO President Philip Murray the power to sign a wage agreement without a vote from union membership (in fact, the USWA had been a fairly undemocratic union from its beginnings so there was reason to be concerned here), which would have granted Murray a lot of leverage to push back against labor militancy and the potential of a walkout.

On December 31, 1951, the existing contract expired. Truman ordered the WSB to mediate a solution, which labor agreed to rather than going on strike. In March, the WSB recommended a wage increase of 26 cents an hour. The steel industry responded by demanding a similar hike in steel prices from the Office of Price Stabilization. This was starkly different from World War II, when labor’s wage gains were erased by state-mandated inflation. The steel industry rejected the government’s mediation and refused to recognize the wage rates. This impasse led the USWA to announce a strike for April 9.

Truman was desperate to stop a labor walkout in steel during the war. Already an unpopular president, Truman had the 52 elections on his mind, hoping to hold the line for Adlai Stevenson and understanding the need to have a huge labor turnout to defeat Eisenhower that November. Thus, he staked himself to production to win the war over union-busting, despite the popularity of the latter tactic with large swaths of the American public during the time. On April 8, he nationalized the steel industry through Executive Order 10340, ordering Secretary of Commerce Charles Sawyer to take over the nation’s private steel mills and keep them running. The USWA immediately called off its strike and told its members to report to work. Organized labor was ecstatic that the president would come down so decisively on their side during the dispute. Business owners and newspapers were predictably outraged. Republicans howled about Truman caving to labor and assisting international communism, conveniently ignoring the real fault for the strike.

President Truman announcing nationalization of the steel industry.

The steel companies sued to regain control of the plants. On June 8, the Supreme Court ruled 6-3 that Truman overstepped his authority in seizing the mills. The government argued that as Commander in Chief the president had the obligation to ensure that critical wartime industries remained operational. Moreover, this necessity overrode the principle of private property. The steel companies, represented by the 1924 Democratic candidate for president, John W. Davis, argued that Congress had provided Truman another way to end the strike, through the Taft-Hartley Act, which would force the workers back to job due to the law’s clause giving presidential powers to end strikes when they impacted national safety, creating an 80-day cooling off period. Davis argued that Congress had explicitly rejected seizures in passing Taft-Hartley and that Truman violated the separation of powers by ignoring congressional instructions on dealing with these issues. Unfortunately, the majority of the Supreme Court agreed.

This led 600,000 steelworkers to go on strike the next day, effectively ending steel production in the United States for the next 6 weeks. Factories producing tanks, trucks, bazooka rockets, and mortar shells reduced production by more than half. Truman could have used his power under the Taft-Hartley Act to bust the strike. He refused, blaming management for the strike and again wanting to make labor happy with the Democratic Party, although the president also openly held the possibility of drafting striking steelworkers into the military as a tool to use against the USWA staying on strike for long. The strike lasted until July 24, when the industry caved to USWA demands, including a 21.5 cent pay hike with a $5.65 a ton rise in steel prices to partially offset those wage increases. The union wanted a full closed shop and although it did make progress toward that goal, it was not a complete victory on that front. More important, the USWA stood up to the steel companies, holding the line in industry representation and showing solidarity against industry intransigence. Certainly Murray and USWA leadership thought they had won a huge victory.

USWA strikers and their children, 1952

From perspective of Democratic Party fortunes, Truman ended up looking to his enemies both dictatorial and weak by turns. The steel strike had little impact on the war effort, but although Truman galvanized organized labor, if anything it hurt Democratic fortunes in the 1952 elections, helping usher in Republican rule for the first time in 2 decades, although there were many reasons for this. In the bigger picture, Truman’s support of the USWA probably had relatively little impact that fall.

This is the 56th post in this series. The rest of the series is archived here.

Les Blank, RIP

[ 3 ] April 7, 2013 |

The great documentarian is no more.

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