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The Democrats We Don’t Need

[ 47 ] May 3, 2015 |


Another reason why we need pressure from Bernie Sanders and the left wing of the Democratic Party is to push back against the corporate pressure that motivates much of the Democratic political class. Delaware governor Jack Markell is the perfect example of this, as his Atlantic piece is nothing but a restatement of centrist, pro-business, DLC shibboleths as solutions for the problems we face. The Trans-Pacific Partnership will be great for the American working class! I’m willing to sign a bill to raise my state’s minimum wage to a whopping $8.25, but only if we have financial counseling at places of employment so workers can figure out that they need 2 jobs to survive on that salary!! And maybe, after letting corporations set the agenda, we will beg them to stop inversion mergers that allow them to get away with paying virtually no taxes in the United States!!!

Markell can smugly dismiss populism, Occupy, protest, and economic activism all he wants to but his way has led to the New Gilded Age and I’m glad to see more Americans seriously questioning if not rejecting the pro-corporate approach to American politics.


The Democrats We Need

[ 171 ] May 3, 2015 |

Bernie Sanders

When Bernie Sanders announced his presidential bid, I saw several comments from people who may have supported the third party campaigns of people like Ralph Nader in the past respond by asking when the people who supposedly prefer primary challenges to third parties would start criticizing Sanders for challenging Hillary Clinton. The upshot of these statements is that those who oppose third party bids are actually Democratic Party hacks who just want to protect their beloved Al Gore or John Kerry or Barack Obama or Hillary Clinton or whoever the party centrists select.

I can’t speak for anyone else, but for myself, who is a very strong critic of anything to do with third parties on the left, this is absolutely not true. I think Sanders’ run is great. Here’s the thing about Bernie Sanders as opposed to say Ralph Nader–he is neither consumed with his own ego nor an idiot who doesn’t understand American politics. Rather, he is challenging Hillary Clinton in a way that is going to force her to move to the left on real issues, through the primary process. That matters a lot.

Relatedly, I strongly endorse almost everything in this Bhaskar Sunkara piece on Bernie Sanders.* Sanders is no revolutionary socialist. He’s really pretty comparable to a good Great Society liberal like Hubert Humphrey or Ed Muskie. But by running for president within the Democratic Party instead of a pointless, quixotic third party campaign, he gives voice to the Democratic Party base that may be OK with Hillary Clinton as the nominee but would sure like her to be significantly farther to the left. By making socialism not a dirty word but rather an appealing option to DLC corporatism, Sanders represents a threat. It’s not that I think Hillary Clinton believes in her soul that her husband’s policies of mass incarceration need to be reversed or that the Trans Pacific Partnership is really flawed. I don’t care what she feels. I don’t look to politicians for sincerity. I care what she feels she has to do in order to motivate the base to vote for her and support her in her presidency. Bernie Sanders is making her do more work there. And she won’t be able to completely repudiate those positions once in office.

The Bernie Sanders campaign has its limitations. It’s not bringing socialism to the United States. But if we recognize what it is doing, it has real significance and should be wholly supported by the entire Democratic base. In an increasingly polarized nation, the centrist voters the Clintons were made to appeal to are almost nonexistent, Beltway writers notwithstanding. She should have to work to win over a Democratic base that is moving to the left. The more work she has to do, the more likely she will govern to the left.

In the end, politics is not about which candidate you want to have a beer with or the left-wing version of this, which is about which candidate seems to hold your feelings deepest in their heart. It’s about the expression of power. A legitimate run by Sanders finally shows the Democratic Party that the party left not only wants change but actually understands how politics work and how to enforce discipline. It shows that the left has organized enough to pull the party left. And that would be a big win for progressive forces.

Of course, we know from real leftists like Jane Hamsher that Bernie Sanders is an unacceptable corporate sellout who needs to be primaried himself so…..

* I don’t agree with the whole “transcend the Democratic Party” point because replacing it with a Socialist Party isn’t ever going to happen and to try and do so would suck out the energy to create concrete gains for working people. But understanding that right now the way to do that it effectively to infiltrate the Democratic Party nomination process is good enough. Plus he’s a socialist editor of a major leftist journal so what is he supposed to say?

Ben E King RIP

[ 5 ] May 1, 2015 |

Dead at 76.

Americans: We Love Rioting

[ 67 ] May 1, 2015 |


Despite every freak out when black people riot, white Americans love rioting too and always have. From the Boston Tea Party to any given sports championship, white people love raising some hell in the streets. But of course they are white and so it’s OK. Heather Cox Richardson with some context and many examples of white people rioting.

As long as America is a democracy, we will have riots. But they will not all be viewed in the same historical light. Riots bring popular attention to a perceived inequality. Once people start paying attention, the unfairness of the underlying situations in places like Ludlow or Watts or even colonial Boston, make them sit up and work to fix those inequalities. But as often, popular attention to the rage of rioters makes it clear that the rioters are the ones trying to maintain inequalities. Popular disgust for the mobs in the New York City Draft Riots or at Ole Miss moved society forward too, but not in the way those rioters anticipated. Far from achieving their ends, the rioters in New York City in 1863 or the ones a century later at Ole Miss created a backlash that advanced the very policies they opposed.

The people who are burning Baltimore are not thugs. They are Americans, acting in a grand American political tradition. Calling them thugs and demanding non-violence prejudges them as those who are out of step with modern America. It says that, like the New York City Draft Rioters or the segregationists at Ole Miss, the wrongs they are protesting are in their own heads. That the city of Baltimore has paid damages to more than 100 victims of police brutality in the past three years, and that Freddie Gray’s spine was mysteriously severed and his larynx crushed in police custody, makes it seem unlikely that today’s protesters are imagining injustice.

Education in North Carolina

[ 94 ] May 1, 2015 |


Art Pope’s lackeys are working to change North Carolina education standards in ways that make climate change denial, abstinence-only sex ed, and creationism almost seem rational.

The state Senate will vote Wednesday on whether to add the gold standard and other conservative principles to the state’s high school curriculum.

Senate Bill 524, sponsored by Sen. David Curtis R-Lincoln, builds on a law passed in 2011 requiring the addition of a “Founding Principles” curriculum to the state’s history standards.

The curriculum, a model bill from conservative free-market think tank American Legislative Exchange Council, or ALEC, requires students to receive education on the nation’s “Founding Philosophy and Principles” as found in the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution and the Federalist Papers.

The five principles to be added to the curriculum are as follows:

“Constitutional limitations on government power to tax and spend and prompt payment of public debt”
“Money with intrinsic value”
“Strong defense and supremacy of civil authority over military”
“Peace, commerce, and honest friendship with all nations, entangling alliances with none”
“Eternal vigilance by ‘We the People”’

“Money with intrinsic value – is that in the Federalist Papers?” asked Sen. Josh Stein D-Wake.

“Yes, it is,” Curtis replied, with agreement from Sen. Jerry Tillman R-Randolph.

In fact, it is not. A search of all 85 letters that make up the Federalist Papers turns up no mention of money with intrinsic value. It is, however, taken verbatim from the ALEC model bill.

These people aren’t just corporate lapdogs. They are also idiots. I also have to ask, wouldn’t a return to the gold standard be an absolute disaster for ALEC’s member corporations? Like with much in capitalism, ideology trumps rational thought.

The Rumsfeld Principle

[ 48 ] April 30, 2015 |


If we apply the brilliance of Donald Rumsfeld to Baltimore, it’s clear that the violence is an acceptable first step toward the people of that city finally becoming free of police oppression. And since it’s Rumsfeld, where’s the Bill Kristol column nodding in approval? From April 11, 2003:

U.S. forces should not be blamed for the lawlessness and looting in Baghdad as it is a natural consequence of the transition from a dictatorship to a free country, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said Friday at the Pentagon.

“The task we’ve got ahead of us now is an awkward one … It’s untidy. And freedom’s untidy. And free people are free to make mistakes and commit crimes and do bad things. They’re also free to live their lives and do wonderful things. And that’s what’s going to happen here,” Rumsfeld said.

“And for suddenly the biggest problem in the world to be looting is really notable.”

Rumsfeld said he believes time will take care of the problem in Baghdad, as it seems to have in the southern cities of Umm Qasr and Basra, where looting has largely abated and the streets are back under relative control.

I wonder how that all turned out? Anyway, more Rummy:

“While no one condones looting, on the other hand, one can understand the pent-up feelings that may result from decades of repression and people who have had members of their family killed by that regime, for them to be taking their feelings out on that regime,” he said. “And I don’t think there’s anyone in any of those pictures … (who wouldn’t) accept it as part of the price of getting from a repressed regime to freedom.”

Rumsfeld said in the United States there has been looting and riots and they eventually come under control.

“Think what’s happened in our cities when we’ve had riots and problems and looting. Stuff happens!”

Stuff happens indeed. And like the people of Iraq, the people of Baltimore can expect a paradise of peace and freedom going forward.


[ 28 ] April 30, 2015 |


Above: Los Angeles school teacher April Bain

The latest Rheeist attack on unions is quite special. Her organization Students First is helping a woman named April Bain, featured above, in a lawsuit against the California Federation of Teachers. Bain admits that the union does good things. But she doesn’t want to pay the dues the union uses for political activities. I’ll let Moshe Marvit explain the details of how this incredibly ludicrous but very dangerous case is being argued.

At issue in Bain is not that teachers may choose to opt out of membership with their union and pay a reduced dues rate while still receiving all the benefits of the contract. Those fair share fee cases, such as the seminal Beck v. Communication Workers of America, focus on the process of opting out of membership and the types of fees that would be refundable. At issue are those teachers who choose not to be members of the union and do not receive the members’ benefits from the union, such as being able to vote in union elections and access to any union-sponsored insurance programs. Bain and other teachers in the suit argue that it is unfair and unconstitutional for them to be denied any benefits of membership as a result of their decision to opt out of membership and pay a reduced amount in union dues.

They want to be able to both opt out of membership in the union and a significant portion of union dues, but to still be able to vote for union officers and direct the union (which they’ve chosen not to join). In other words, they want the full benefits of a union without having to pay for them. And they are asking the federal courts to intercede and say that the First Amendment guarantees them that right.

“The complaint equates joining the union with ‘giving up’ First Amendment rights.” Seattle University School of Law professor Charlotte Garden explained to In These Times. “But joining or not joining are both exercises of the right of free association. It seems that the plaintiffs wish their choices were different—and that they could join the union on their own terms—but I can’t think of any other circumstance in which an individual would attempt to bring a First Amendment claim to force a private association to change its terms of membership.”

In other words, Bain not only wants to have access to what the union wins in contract negotiations, which she of course receives, but she also wants all the privately held benefits unions offer to their own members as well. This takes non-union members leeching off their fellow workers to a whole new level. To say that it’s a violation of the 1st Amendment to not receive union disability insurance because you are not a member of the union is completely absurd. The legal case also revolves around admitting that unions provide real benefits for workers, but saying that the unions should force employers to grant those provisions and that they violate non-members rights by granting the benefits themselves. Thus, unions do a great job and destroying unions is part and parcel of the same argument.

But of course Michelle Rhee will do anything to destroy teachers’ unions. And as for the Supreme Court, well, I’m not sure there is any argument too ridiculous for the 5 Republican justices if it serves their agenda of destroying workers’ rights. If the case goes there, I get scared.


[ 19 ] April 30, 2015 |


Statements made in books by politicians gearing up for the presidency aren’t really worth the paper they are printed on. But I’d rather have Hillary Clinton saying she opposes the Trans Pacific Partnership’s Investor State Dispute Settlement courts that will allow corporations to sue countries (or state and regional level governments) for enacting legislation that they perceive hurts their interests than have her not say that.

Currently the United States is negotiating comprehensive agreements with eleven countries in Asia and in North and South America, and with the European Union. We should be focused on ending currency manipulation, environmental destruction, and miserable working conditions in developing countries, as well as harmonizing regulations with the EU. And we should avoid some of the provisions sought by business interests, including our own, like giving them or their investors the power to sue foreign governments to weaken their environmental and public health rules, as Philip Morris is already trying to do in Australia. The United States should be advocating a level and fair playing field, not special favors.

Does it mean much? Again, I doubt it and I still think President Clinton will support the TPP even if Candidate Clinton does not. But opposition to the TPP as central to the Democratic Party agenda is a positive.

Dead Horses in American History (XVI)

[ 14 ] April 30, 2015 |

Given how often the Dead Horses in American History series comes up in comments, the only conclusion I can make is that there’s a huge demand for more dead horse images. And if there’s one thing in the world I care about, it’s making the masses like me. So in that vein:


Alfred Waud drawing of dead horse during the Civil War.
This image is actually a gift to the Library of Congress from J.P. Morgan. Perhaps this gift is the least loathsome thing the evil man did in his entire worthless life.


[ 44 ] April 30, 2015 |

Last night, I was lucky enough to see the legendary Richard Thompson at the Met in America’s cultural capital of Pawtucket, Rhode Island. I’ve listened to RT for a solid 20 years now but oddly this is only the 3rd time I’ve seen him. And it was just fantastic. He’s in his mid-60s now, but he hasn’t lost a single bit of either his rapier wit or his amazing guitar playing ability. Just an outstanding show.

The “Market”–A Religion with Fundamentalists as Dangerous as Any Other Religion

[ 145 ] April 29, 2015 |


I’ve been completely overwhelmed this week with end of the semester work. Good thing nothing has happened in the news the last couple of days that might require some historical comment… Anyway, I’m starting to dig out. So let me at least take the time I’m glad that John Oliver dedicated his show this week to sweatshop labor. Basically, if you were to film a comedic take on Out of Sight, this is what it would look like.

Of course, conservatives are angry about it. And there’s nothing as smug and condescending as a British wealthy conservative.

We also know how to fix this problem. We should buy more from them. It’s worked absolutely beautifully in China. 15 years ago manufacturing wages there were $1,000 a year. Today they’re $6,500 a year. They’ve risen because we’ve been buying all our electronic bling from poor Chinese people working in Chinese factories. And our buying that bling has meant that jobs have become more productive (heck, electronics assembly is going to be more productive that staring at the south end of a north moving water buffalo however you do it) and the economy has taken off. And China started with those “start an economy” kits we call schmutter factories too. And in only 15 years China has grown rich enough that it no longer does that work. Even Chinese people don’t wear clothes made in China now, now that China’s got rich (which it has by any global or historical standard) that work is not done by poorer people in Vietnam and Indonesia. And guess what? They’re getting rich too.

Because that’s just how economics works. Trade makes everyone better off. That’s why the more trade we have then the more people will be made even better off.

And as at the top, I feel like as a Briton I should apologize. For surely anyone who manages, like Oliver, to get through one of our top universities would have learned that somewhere along the way? But apparently not, for which I do apologize.

Here’s the thing about this kind of argument, outside of the smugness,–people who make it conceive of labor exploitation as a gift the western world has granted to the poor of Asia and Latin America. This argument is much like colonialist arguments about giving Christianity and civilization to the natives. There is just enough of a kernel of truth here–people do need jobs!–to make a lot of people believe this basic narrative. There are of course several problems with it. First, the argument that China has become wealthy because it became the world’s sweatshop is vastly and overly simplistic, with state investments in the economy and centralized control over that economy being at least as important as people putting together plastic widgets for Walmart.

Second, it offers a religious faith in the market as a god that rivals any extremist Christian or Muslim for the damage it can do to the world. That diehard devotion to their ideal of free market capitalism means that conservatives aren’t going to ask any questions about the limitations of the current trade system, assuming that the gods will take care of it if we sacrifice enough lambs on the altar children in the factories. The increasingly rapid mobility of global sourcing means that if workers protest or win higher wages or make any improvements in their lives, the companies can simply move to another country. The ability to create a global middle class out of these jobs is impossible. Bangaldeshis and Indonesians are not getting rich. An elite class is making bank. But workers are not recreating the U.S. in 1955 in Dhaka. At best, you might create a China with vast poverty and an incredibly wealthy elite. While the U.S. is also moving in that direction in no small part because all the good jobs for working class people have left, it’s not ideal for any nation’s long-term stability, as we are discovering in Baltimore.

Such religious devotion to capitalism also allows believers to completely ignore the voices of the actual workers. Again, when capitalist gurus and their devotees talk of sending low-paying jobs around the world, they treat it as a gift from the god of the market. So when workers complain of the treatment–bad wages, beatings, sexual harassment, forced pregnancy tests, long hours, poor housing, terrible food, etc., etc.–they are seen as ungrateful and not voices to which we need to pay attention. We can go along in our developed world believing that far away out their in Bangladesh and Vietnam, workers are happily toiling to make their lives better. But when they do actually try to make their lives better, to tell employers what they want and need, what happens? This is what happens:

For those who don’t want to watch it, a quick summary:

Just look what happens in the below clip from new documentary The True Cost. In the clip we meet 23-year-old Bangladeshi woman Shima Akhter, who is one of almost 4 million garment workers in the country and earns less than $3 a day making clothes in dangerous conditions. Akhter formed a union at her job, and along with other workers, submitted a list of demands to her managers. Instead of looking at the demands or even ignoring them, the managers had Akhter and the other workers viciously beaten by 30 – 40 staffers with chairs, sticks, and even scissors. Akhter was hit in the chest and abdomen and had her head banged against a wall.

Obviously John Oliver is an embarrassment to the British elite educational system–not to mention the University of Aberdeen for moving away from buying sweatshop made electronics–for caring about a woman like Shima Akhter. Because the market is after all a god and gods need sacrifices. So long as it is someone else and I can buy clothes for cheap, go for it. If 1100 people die in a Bangladeshi factory for this system, it’s far and what do I care. Ooh, those jeans are only $20!!!

The DH

[ 162 ] April 26, 2015 |


Can we please make the Designated Hitter universal? Excellent pitchers like Adam Wainwright who have no business batting getting hurt for the year while doing so is only bad for the game. Having pitchers hit is the equivalent of making kickers play a down in an NFL game because they did so in high school. The only good argument against the DH is that the league didn’t used to have it and everyone knows that the way the game was played when Boomers were growing up was the best way and that’s why players using greenies is OK but players using steroids are monsters who should be driven from the game. There is literally no down side to the DH except for those who like to watch utter incompetence in professional sports. And for that, just become a Mariners fan like me.

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