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This Day in Labor History: November 27, 1937

[ 14 ] November 27, 2016 |


On November 27, 1937, the International Ladies Garment Workers Union (ILGWU) debuted its play “Pins and Needles,” which would become the longest running musical of the 1930s. This cultural form of labor feminism at a time when organized labor was dominated by male workers is a vital and important moment both in the cultural history of work but also in the history of women and work.

The ILG was founded in 1900 and despite conservative leadership, became the union that New York garment workers organized in during the Uprising of the 20,000 in 1909 and the aftermath of the Triangle Fire in 1911. During the 1920s and early 1930s, like many New York based unions, it was riven with strife between radicals and anti-radicals, leading to labyrinthine power struggles not worth revisiting here except to say that the constantly shifting ideology of the Communist Party ultimately hurt the radical cause. Eventually David Dubinsky rose to lead the ILG in 1932. Dubinsky consolidated control quickly, ruling the union with an iron fist, which was ultimately undemocratic but also turned it into a functional organization instead of one constantly in turmoil from infighting among political factions. The union also was dominated by male leadership despite the fact that the large majority of its membership was women. Labor feminism would struggle to develop internally in such a structure.

The ILG’s Educational Department sought to create cultural productions and artistic outlets for its members that included art, dance, and theater. In 1934, the Educational Department reorganized and created a theater troupe made up of union members. These weren’t professional actors. The were just everyday women working in the garment industry whose union thought it would be useful to enhance their creativity, an idea that is far away from unionism of recent decades. Louis Schaffer led this effort and he had a vision to bring the labor movement to the extremely popular cultural form of Broadway productions. ILG president David Dubinsky thought this was a great idea. Schaffer recruited professionals to write the play and train the actors. A cast of 55 mostly female garment workers were trained to become actors. This took time to accomplish. He could have brought in professionals, but in his determination to make this a truly working-class production, he had to bring the workers up to standard in their acting ability. This would ultimately delay the production’s opening by about 18 months. It finally opened to the public on November 27, 1937, after several practice performances.

The production was written and directed by men, but centered women operating in the larger political struggles of the time. Schaffer wanted Pins and Needles to entertain working class people by focusing on working class issues. In order to accomplish this mission, Pins and Needles did not have a set script. The workers themselves constantly reworked the songs, making them about themselves. There were anti-Mussolini songs and other songs about the international anti-fascist struggle, but as the play developed over its many performances, it ultimately became much more about the women and their lives. Labor feminism became the play’s central theme.

The critics largely loved the show. It had good tunes, catchy lyrics, and everything that the public would want in a popular production. At first, it only played on the weekends because the workers were still full-time employees in garment factories. Eventually, they were able to obtain leaves from their jobs to perform full time. The cast also expanded into a second set for late afternoon shows that could reach workers who could not attend in the evenings.

As the labor politics of the 1930s often went, there was a lot of talk about racial equality within the ILG and with the cast of Pins and Needles, but not much actual racial equality in practice. The first black cast member was Olive Pearman, who had only a small supporting role as a seamstress. Black unionists sharply criticized Schaffer for ignoring black voices and he later did add a couple of black cast members, but no Latino cast members were ever hired on the production. Other cast members were pressured to suppress their Jewish identities and even change their names. And of course when the production was on the road, it was subject to local segregationist laws, which it did not try to challenge. The cast itself was quite leftist, although Schaffer himself was anti-communist and some fired cast members claimed they were redbaited out of the production. Dorothy Tucker, one of the actors, remembered, “there were a few socialists and a few communists among us.”

In March 1938, the cast went to Washington DC to play at the White House for Franklin Roosevelt. The first road show began in April 1938 with shows in Philadelphia, Boston, Chicago, Los Angeles, and San Francisco, among other cities. As demand grew, more workers joined the production, but Schaffer also brought more professional and semi-professional actors into the production, causing tensions behind the scenes. The first road show ended in January 1939, after 319 performances in 34 cities. The cast and show continued to change and professionalize, as most of the workers did eventually have to head back to their jobs in the garment factories. New versions of the production formed until finally, after 1104 performances, the show closed in New York in June 1940. It then went on the road for one last tour, closing for good in Los Angeles in May 1941.

As World War II began and the left-leaning unions moved toward supporting the war effort, Popular Front cultural productions began to fade, collapsing completely in the Cold War backlash after the war. No labor plays ever followed up on Pins and Needles. I can’t really argue that the failure to center working class cultural productions really made much difference in terms of shaping the future of the labor movement, the end of a creative labor movement seeking the broader production of a specific working class culture is ultimately something lost.

For more on Pins and Needles in the broader context of the Popular Front, see Michael Denning, The Cultural Front: The Laboring of American Culture in the Twentieth Century.

This is the 201st post in this series. Previous posts are archived here.


“We Are Getting What We Asked For, Good and Hard”

[ 211 ] November 27, 2016 |


To build on Paul’s post below, Trump’s outlandish claims today are part of the tremendous threat to American democracy represented not only by Donald Trump but by the majority of the Republican Party, which as we are seeing in North Carolina, they will go to extraordinarily lengths to hold onto power. Klein is correct about the implications of Trump’s tweets:

The nightmare scenario in 2016 was that Trump would refuse to accept the outcome of the election when he was a mere candidate. Imagine if he were to refuse to accept the outcome of the next election once he is the president, and after he has appointed loyalists to control America’s security apparatus.

Imagine this tendency of Trump’s emerging after a domestic terrorist attack. George W. Bush worked hard in the aftermath of 9/11 to tamp down Islamophobia in America — to ensure it was al-Qaeda (and, eventually, Saddam Hussein) who was blamed, not American Muslims. Who would Trump blame in the aftermath of a terrorist attack? How quick would he be to turn Americans against each other, to find an enemy who could absorb the public anger that might normally attach itself to him?

This tweet is an example of one of Trump’s other dangerous qualities: his tendency to believe what he wants to believe about the world, facts be damned. Trump lost the popular vote, and he lost it by a wide margin — more than 2 million votes and counting. A wise man would take that information seriously and think about how to staff his White House, set priorities, and moderate his message to win over a majority of the public. Instead, Trump appears to have told himself the vote count was riddled with fraud and that he really did win a majority of the legitimate vote — and thus he doesn’t need to consider what it means that most voters didn’t want him to win the presidency.

It has been weeks since Donald Trump won the presidential election, and here is what we can say: he is still just himself. He is governing like he promised. He is appointing the loyalists, lackeys, and extremists he surrounded himself with during the campaign. He is tweeting the same strange, crazed missives, pursuing the same odd and counterproductive vendettas. His conflicts of interest have proven, if anything, worse than expected, and he has shown no shame, restraint, or interest in addressing them. America — through the electoral college — voted to make Donald J. Trump president, and we are getting what we asked for, good and hard.

I don’t actually have confidence that we will have a functional democracy by 2020. It’s entirely possible that historians, assuming the exist in a century, will see 2016 as the end of a period of American history where rights generally expanded. That’s because Trump, Giuliani, Sessions, Gingrich, Flynn, etc., etc., and most importantly huge chunks of the Republican base, simply do not respect the fundamental tenets of democracy and they are seeking to roll back two generation of social progress. Despite what I might have believed a mere few weeks ago, they are in fact reasonably likely to succeed. And I am disappointed in myself for not seeing this more clearly before the election. Democrats and liberals were holding on strictly to the presidency as a buffer between us and the apocalypse. Between gerrymandering, voter suppression, and a bloody ineffective DNC strategy to operate on the state level, Republicans had already grabbed most of the levers of government. And while Trump is uniquely bad in some ways, in many others, he really isn’t that much worse than your bog-standard mainstream Republican governing class such as Scott Walker, Rick Scott, Paul LePage, Rick Snyder, or, of course, Mike Pence.

All we really have in the end is massive resistance. That is where we are heading–acquiescence or resistance. You and I will all need to make our choices about whether we will stand up against oppression in ways that a lot of our ancestors did not stand up to Jim Crow, to Chinese Exclusion, to the Japanese internment camps, etc.

Erik Visits an American Grave, Part 59

[ 46 ] November 27, 2016 |

This is the grave of Leona Helmsley.


Born Lena Rosenthal in Marbletown, New York in 1920, Leona Helmsley was always a rather strange individual, having changed her name over and over again for years before deciding upon Leona Roberts. She married an attorney and then a garment industry capitalist before she met real estate entrepreneur Harry Helmsley in 1968 while working in a real estate job. She was already a millionaire, in part due to his previous marriages and in part to her work in selling luxury New York apartments. She joined Helmsley’s firm as a vice-president. He then divorced his wife of 33 years and married her in 1972. Her real estate license was suspended soon after for forcing the tenets of one her apartment buildings to buy condos. She then turned to managing Helmsley’s hotel empire.

Leona Helmsley was not a nice person. When her only son died in 1982, she sent his wife an eviction notice within a few days of his funeral. She was known for force employees on their knees to beg for their jobs, refusing to pay bills for her projects, and for screaming at people. When their engineer, trying to protect himself, asked Helmsley to sign a document invoicing expenses, she screamed “You’re not my fucking partner! You’ll sign what I tell you to sign.” The employees of her hotels actually created an alarm system when she came to visit one of the properties so they could prepare for the horror to come.

Tax evasion was a particular specialty of the Helmsleys. Her most famous statement of course was “We don’t pay taxes. Only the little people pay taxes.” It got so bad that even the utter loathsome U.S. Attorney Rudolph Giuliani indicted her and her husband on tax fraud and extortion, by which time they owed over $4 million in back taxes. She was convicted and originally sentenced to 16 years in prison, although her lawyers got it reduced to 19 months.

When she died in 1997, Helmsley was worth around $5 billion. She famously left her dog a $12 million trust.

Donald Trump of course has claimed that she wanted to have sex with him.

As you can see, the Helmsleys were all class and subtlety. And thus they did something that the rich haven’t really done in a century–build themselves a gigantic Gilded Age-style mausoleum, of which you only see a small bit of in this picture I took. They wanted the dog interred with them, but New York state laws forbids that. Hopefully President Trump can Make New York Great Again and fix this tyranny.

Helmsley has been portrayed a couple of times on the screen. Suzanne Pleshette played her in the 1990 TV movie Leona Helmsley: The Queen of Mean. And Mary Manofsky played her in a 2007 episode of The Ointment, in which she evidently appears from the grave. That’s a horror story too scary for me.

Leona Helmsley is buried in Sleepy Hollow Cemetery, Sleepy Hollow, New York.

The Minimum Wage is Never a Living Wage

[ 64 ] November 26, 2016 |

Low wage workers take part in a protest organized by the Coalition for a Real Minimum Wage outside the offices of New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, May 30, 2013. The workers from restaurants and other trades who say there are rampant violations in minimum wage and other labor laws in New York were calling on Governor Cuomo to take action to ensure that all workers in New York receive a real increase in the minimum wage including workers who rely on tips from customers. Cuomo recently signed legislation to increase New York State's minimum wage from $7.25 an hour to $9 an hour over the next three years.  REUTERS/Mike Segar   (UNITED STATES - Tags: CIVIL UNREST BUSINESS EMPLOYMENT)

Even where the minimum wage has risen significantly, it is not a living wage. That must change, not that it will on a national scale any time in the near future. A new report from the People’s Action Institute explores this:

In 42 states and in Washington, D.C., the living wage for a single adult is greater than $15 per hour, and in 26 states it exceeds $16 per hour. Nationally, the living wage for a single adult is closer to $17.28 an hour. When adding in repayment of student debt, the national living wage for a single adult rises to $18.67 per hour.

For families with children, the cost to make ends meet is even higher. In the 18 states and Washington, D.C. where a living wage for other family sizes was calculated, the living wage for a single adult with two children ranges from $26.39 in South Carolina to $41.11 in California, and $43.86 in Washington, D.C.

While 43 million people in the United States have student loan debt, the distribution and impact of that debt is not equal. Students of color and their families are more likely to take out student loans, and, while the average starting wage for those with a bachelor’s degree is enough to cover expenses including student debt, majors with more women and people of color see starting wages below the cost of living. And, because women and people of color are overrepresented in low-wage work due to underlying structural issues and discrimination, they are more likely to struggle to pay off student loans after graduation.

When workers aren’t paid enough to cover their cost of living, set aside some savings and pay their student debt, something has to give. That may mean foregoing payments on their student loans, or it might mean leaving the utility bill unpaid to put food on the table.

Unfortunately, the response of some voters to place a plutocrat fascist in the White House are just going to make all of this worse in the New Gilded Age.

Via Laura Clawson.

Today in Trump’s America

[ 127 ] November 26, 2016 |


This morning at about 4, I had a dream. I was taken up by fascist thugs into an airplane and thrown out of it like the Argentine dictatorship did to those they wanted to disappear. Just before my body hit the ground, I woke up with a fright. That was the first Trump dream that I remember. It’s going to quite a good time in the next 4 years. Or the rest of my life.

Of course, I am not the only person feeling this way. Because there’s a lot of people with fears much more visceral and immediate than mine.

Since the 8 November election, pediatricians and clinics serving undocumented immigrants and other low-income patients have reported a spike in anxiety and panic attacks, particularly among children who worry that they or their parents might now face deportation.

One little boy in North Carolina has been suffering crippling stomach aches in class because he’s afraid he might return home to find his parents gone. In California, many families are reporting that their children are leaving school in tears because their classmates have told them they are going to be thrown out of the country.

Children are showing up in emergency rooms alone because their parents are afraid of being picked up by Immigration and Customs Enforcement if they show their faces. Even American-born children are suffering – one boy in the south-east asked a doctor for Prozac because he was worried about his undocumented friend.

“It’s as though a volcano erupted. It’s been awful,” said Mimi Lind, director of behavioral health at the Venice Family Clinic, one of the largest providers of healthcare to low-income families in southern California. “People who don’t have a history of anxiety and depression are coming forward with symptoms they’ve never had before. And people who had those symptoms already are getting much worse.”

It’s too soon to put precise figures on the wave of Trump-related anxiety, but health professionals and immigrant rights groups say it is unmistakable. “People worry their families will be broken up, that parents will be deported and children will end up in foster care, on a scale that we’ve never seen before. The feeling out there is one of great fear,” said Marielena Hincapié of the National Immigration Law Center.

I just can’t even deal right now.

Castro: It’s Complicated!

[ 261 ] November 26, 2016 |

Fidel Castro, Prime Minister of Cuba, smokes a cigar during his meeting with two U.S. senators, the first to visit Castro's Cuba, in Havana, Cuba, Sept. 29, 1974.  (AP Photo)

This morning has seen all the Twitter SCORCHING HOT TAKES on Fidel Castro, especially from liberals dying to replay the Cold War. At a time when their own nation has just put a fascist in office despite losing by more than 2 million votes, it’s very, very important for some people to demonize Castro for his dictatorial terror and attack Jimmy Carter for a basic condolence to an old enemy. Meanwhile, the left has largely provided quite nuanced takes on Castro, largely because we’ve mostly moved on from the days of romanticizing the man while both respecting his accomplishments and seeing his failures.

Fidel Castro was a tremendously complex person who attempted to rebuild a society around ideas of justice while also refusing to allow democratic institutions to form. He sought to resist U.S. imperialism while openly hoping his island would be devastated by a nuclear attack. He brought outstanding medical care and education to his own people and the poor around the world while limiting the ability of educated people to use their skills at home. He was on the front lines of fighting the oppression of people of color by U.S. allies around the world while also supporting some pretty awful people around the world himself. In other words, let’s leave the hot takes home and try to think a little harder about the meanings of the Cuban Revolution.

To talk about Castro in any useful way, we have to look at the historical context of the period from 1958 to 2016. But even before we get to that, we have to look at the history of Cuba before 1958. From the mid-19th century, the United States attemtped to dominate Cuba, first attempting to acquire it in the 1850s in order to entrench slavery and then investing heavily in sugar on the island after the Civil War. It was the focus of U.S. imperialism in 1898. American concerns over just what involvement in Cuba would mean led to the Teller Amendment, barring the U.S. from turning Cuba into a colony, as it would do in the Philippines, Guam, and Puerto Rico. But there are many forms of imperialism, as the U.S. would find. When Cuba received its sovereignty in 1902, it was effectively a colony in all but name, as the Platt Amendment stripped Cuba of any actual control over its affairs. This forced Cuba to give the United States Guantanamo Bay, which the U.S. still holds as an imperialist possession and where it has done things at least as bad since 2001 as anything Castro ever did. It also gave the U.S. effective veto power over Cuba’s foreign policy and economic decisions and allowed the U.S. to invade to enforce its interests any time it wanted. The U.S. military would then occupy Cuba between 1906 and 1909, in 1912, and between 1917 and 1922. In 1933, Franklin Roosevelt ordered ships to Cuba for another invasion, leading to the resignation of Gerardo Machado. Ramon Grau took over, immediately rescinded the Platt Amendment, leading to the US refusing to recognize his government. This opened the door to Fulgencio Batista, the dictator who killed up to 20,000 people with the active support of the American government until he fled Cuba on New Year’s Eve 1958. Turning Cuba into a sex tourism paradise under mafia control led to widespread dissatisfaction and a variety of revolutionary movements that Castro eventually consolidated under his control when he walked into Havana on January 1, 1959.

Castro, along with Fanon, the Algerian revolutionaries, Ho Chi Minh, and Che Guevara, served as an inspiration for billions of people around the world seeking freedom from colonial overlords, issues that the Untied States was almost always wrong about. Over and over again, the U.S. supported oppressive regimes that denied the nationalist longings of people around the world. Sometimes, those were democratically elected governments, such as those of Jacobo Arbenz in Guatemala. Sometimes they were revolutionary movements such as that Ho Chi Minh. Sometimes, the U.S. assassinated popular leaders like Patrice Lumumba in Congo and replaced them with men like Mobutu Sese Seko, one of the worst rulers in the 20th century. Sometimes, the CIA would foster right-wing military coups against people like Salvador Allende and place monsters like Augusto Pinochet into power.

This is the world into which Fidel Castro entered. Castro stood up against this massive injustice around the world from the United States. While Dick Cheney was openly defending South African apartheid in Congress, Castro was sending troops to Angola to fight the South Africans and providing critical support to Nelson Mandela. All of this also led to the independence of Namibia and helped turn the international tide against apartheid. When the FBI and Nixon administration was declaring war on black radicals fighting internal colonialism in the U.S., Castro gave them a place to flee. When the U.S. was engaging in illegal wars to destabilize Nicaragua, Castro supported the Sandinistas. Not all of Castro’s international moves were as consistently on the right side as these, including his opposition to Betancourt in Venezuela. But in the end, at worst, Castro’s fight for global justice has a complex legacy.

And this is the world context in which we have to evaluate Castro. In the end, which nation is better off today, Cuba or the Dominican Republic? Or any of its similar neighbors around the Caribbean basin. While many Americans demonize Castro as a monster, have the Cuban people been worse off than the U.S. client state in the Dominican Republic under the homicidal maniac Rafael Trujillo or his hack assistant Joaquin Balaguer, who came to power with the assistance of Lyndon Johnson’s 1965 invasion to eliminate the movement behind democratically elected but now overthrown Juan Bosch? I think that’s pretty unlikely. Cuba and the DR have similar histories, economies, racial makeup, and interactions with American imperialism. We can’t actually know the answer to this, but if you look at Mexico, at Nicaragua, at Honduras, at Guatemala, at Haiti, at Jamaica, and at the Dominican Republic, it’s really hard to see how their histories since 1958 have somehow been more free and prosperous than that of Castro’s Cuba. And while this is not the final statistic on these issues, of all the nations listed above, the UN Human Development Index ranks Communist Cuba 1st, and 5th in all of Latin America.

Castro’s policies were a mixed bag. He absolutely provided outstanding health care and education to his people. This is something beyond what far wealthier nations have achieved. No one can really deny the success of these policies. The literacy program implemented immediately after the revolution was a wonderful success, more than any U.S. supported leader ever did for the average Cuban. He reforested a lot of land, creating some of the most intact ecosystems in Latin America. He instituted enormous gains for women’s equality in Cuba. He attempted to implement an officially anti-racist government. Of course, one cannot just erase racism by government decree and whites still control more power in Cuba than Afro-Cubans, although on this issue Cuba is certainly no worse than the rest of the world, including the United States.

However, one cannot deny that Castro made many, many errors along the way. The fundamental problem of 20th century state socialism is that the dictatorship of the proletariat was also in fact a dictatorship of a few elites. And that’s never good. Not trusting the Cuban people, he repressed much about Cuban culture and created a isolated island that did not foster new ideas. While one can absolutely defend the executions of top Batista leaders in the revolution’s aftermath (after all, the U.S. was fine with Batista’s own executions, not to mention those of Mobutu, Pinochet, et al) and the land expropriation from the wealthy if we place them in the context of the time, his long-term fear of challenges to his power led to a staid regime that did not offer much hope for a better life for most Cubans after the initial gains of the Revolution. He oppressed gays in terrible ways but on the other hand Ronald Reagan condemned thousands of gay people to die of AIDS and the U.S just elected Mike Pence as Vice-President so American liberals should probably look at their own nation first on this issue. Castro’s prison camps where he placed dissidents were an unnecessary error from a man increasingly fearful of losing control of power. That there are still dissidents in Cuban prisons is a shame. And let’s not forget the Cuban Missile Crisis, where Castro was furious at Nikita Khrushchev for pulling out the missiles, even though it meant saving Cuba. That kind of monomaniacal vision is what made the 20th century scary.

Ultimately, the problem with Castro’s visions is that one can’t build socialism within a world economy on a single product, whether oil or sugar. The attempts for massive sugar harvests to build socialism were poorly thought out. Relying on being a Soviet client state to escape the American monster only worked so long as the Soviet Union had the ability to support it. Once it faded, Cuba had nothing until Hugo Chavez came along and gave it super cheap oil. For the social benefits of the Revolution to many everyday Cubans, economically, it is hard to see it as anything but a failure.

In the end, the U.S. was the best friend Fidel Castro had in terms of helping him consolidate and keep power. The Bay of Pigs invasion was the tool Castro needed to tell his people that the United States was indeed their real enemy. The embargo, the second greatest failure in the history of American foreign policy, allowed Castro to blame his own failings on the United States, often with quite a bit of justification. But the needs to cater to the interests of the old white landowning Cuban repressive class now in Florida was more important than actually engaging the Castro regime and creating reforms, even while we were doing that quite successfully with China and Vietnam and to some success with the Soviet Union by the Gorbachev era.

It was long past time for Castro to go. I don’t know quite when the sell-by date passed. One presumes 1991 as much as any. Unfortunately, the greatest failure of Castro is the inability to imagine a future without him. Today, Raul Castro has slightly opened the nation, but obviously it is still suffering from limited freedom. Fidel Castro was not a good man, but neither was he a demon. Will Cuba be better off without him? Probably at this point. Would Cuba have been better off today than if Castro had never taken power? That answer is far from clear. Thinking about Castro not in terms of simplistic moral judgments that ignore the complicity of the U.S. in Castro’s rise and what he was responding to but rather placing him in the context of the second half of the twentieth century is the proper way to evaluate his impact. And that impact is deeply complicated, divisive, and ambivalent. At worst, that makes him no worse than most world leaders from the era, especially from the global South, where nations and rulers have long been subject to imperialism, destabilizing covert operations from the United States, and postcolonial povety.

…That every commenter either says “this post is wonderful” (thanks!) or “this post is terrible” is hilarious to me because it basically sums up every single discussion about Fidel Castro for the last nearly 57 years.

Parts Unknown

[ 42 ] November 25, 2016 |


I don’t care whether this is true or not, and I assume it is in fact not true. It would still be an improvement on CNN’s election coverage.

CNN viewers got an eyeful Thursday night when Anthony Bourdain’s show was reportedly replaced by 30 minutes of hardcore pornography. RCN customers in Boston were apparently the only ones affected, so the mistake was probably on the cable provider’s end — not the news network’s.

The ideas in the porn are probably fresher and more original than anything Wolf Blitzer has to say.

Returning to the Gilded Age

[ 50 ] November 25, 2016 |


In Trump’s America, finally children will be free to work again.

A think tank funded by Donald Trump’s Secretary of Education pick recently advocated for putting kids back in the workforce.

The Acton Institute, a conservative nonprofit that is said to have received thousands of dollars in donations from Betsy DeVos and her family, posted an essay to its blog this month that called child labor “a gift our kids can handle.”

“Let us not just teach our children to play hard and study well, shuffling them through a long line of hobbies and electives and educational activities,” said the post’s author, Joseph Sunde. “A long day’s work and a load of sweat have plenty to teach as well.”

Child labor isn’t universally forbidden in the U.S.― actors and newspaper deliverers are two exceptions― but it is tightly regulated.

It won’t be tightly regulated any more, thank GOD!

The Electoral College

[ 149 ] November 25, 2016 |


I do not per se approve of Lessig’s argument that the Electoral College should vote for Hillary Clinton based upon the combination of Hillary Clinton’s large margin in the popular vote and Donald Trump being a danger to the nation’s future. I do however find it interesting that such an argument is a completely legitimate response to this election that can be published in the Washington Post’s op-ed page. The constitutional crisis this would cause would be enormous. On the other hand, the constitutional crisis caused by a Trump presidency and the widespread violations of rights to come is going to be equally enormous. The only way I could really approve of this is for this to lead to the end of the electoral college. On the other hand, given what we are facing, any solution is better than what we are facing. Though hey, if only we had supported Lessig’s brilliant idea to run for president just to pass campaign finance reform by magic and then he would resign, we’d be in a totally better situation!

How to Respond to Hate in Trump’s America

[ 51 ] November 25, 2016 |


People in an Albuquerque grocery store have the right response to hate.

It was an unpleasant experience for Smith’s shoppers in Albuquerque Wednesday morning, particularly for a woman wearing a hijab, when another customer accosted her.

Barney Lopez was in the store at Coal and Yale when it happened around 9:30 a.m. He remembers walking in and passing the woman with the head scarf as she was checking out.

“I went down the aisle to go get sodas and then all of a sudden I hear somebody starting to yell at her,” he recalls, “And they’re saying things like ‘Get out of our country, you don’t belong here, you’re a terrorist!’”

At that point, Lopez says, practically everyone in the store stopped what they were doing and ran to the defense of the woman in hijab.

Lopez snapped a picture, albeit a bit shaky, of the person screaming at the woman in the hijab. The lady is wearing a hat and sunglasses. A Smith’s employee appears to stand in the way to keep her back.

“There was even another woman that like went over to the woman in the hijab and put her arm around her and gave her hug and held her while the Smith’s employees came,” he says.

Employees shuffled the shouting lady out of the store, but Lopez says the screaming woman waited in the parking lot for the woman in the hijab to come out.

“So all the Smith’s employees gathered around this woman and escorted her to her car and helped her load her groceries,” he recalled.

This is how we have to react. Right now, racists are fully empowered to yell and scream and beat and kill people of color. The way we stop them is to stand up collectively and fight for those we see oppressed. That’s what people did in Albuquerque yesterday. The only way this could have been improved upon is that someone took down the license plate of the racists who did this so she could be investigated by the police.

The Watchlist

[ 125 ] November 24, 2016 |


As Brockington mentioned earlier, I was placed on the Professor Watch List, a rather lame but not unserious attempt by right-wingers to intimidate supposedly leftist professors in the age of Trump.

On the face of it, this list is stupid. It has a bunch of people on it who are not even radicals, but rather are people who talk about politics in the public sphere. It is full of falsehoods and half-truths about professors. It claims that it is out there to stop commie professors from suppressing free speech in the classroom, and yet includes me because of my history with the NRA, an issue that had nothing to do with the classroom or the university and was about me expressing my own free speech rights.

I was talking to my wife about this and she was perplexed by the whole thing because there are so many lies in how they describe these professors. But if we know anything at all from 2016, it’s that truth and facts don’t matter. As we have seen from the fake news phenomenon, there are millions of people out there who are more than happy to believe anything they read about people they already see as enemies. And here lies the very real danger. It’s hardly surprising that the right would want to institute a blacklist for the modern era. This is an early attempt to create a rough draft of those who would be on that list. There is real money behind it, as the kid putting it together is making a cool $2 million a year from the conservative funding network. You’d think for that money they could alphabetize properly.

Of course, as we are finding with the rise of actual Nazi sympathizers and open racists into the highest reaches of government with the actual cheering of the Ku Klux Klan, it can happen here. And it is happening here. Ignoring such attacks is not useful because they are going to come fast and furious over at least the next four years. Some of those will probably be against me. So I have to prepare for the possibility federal pressure to eliminate leftist professors as part of the broader attack on human rights like we saw during and after World War I. It has happened before and it may well happen again.

Friends of mine on Twitter and Facebook had a variety of responses to the Watchlist. Some were genuinely fearful. This is not the right answer. Fear is what they want. They want to intimidate faculty into not speaking the truth, however one defines it. Rather, we have to see everything thing they do, to immigrants, to African-Americans, to unions, to dissenters, to faculty, as part of a very real attack. It’s either acquiesce or fight. Now, there are many ways to fight. One of the best ways to fight something like this is an overwhelming response to shame and embarrass the jerks putting it together. That’s been a great thing about this. Because since the right now is totally cool with cuddling with Nazis, you can do things like this and be relevant.



But while all of this has gotten me a few congratulations from colleagues and students, it’s still a very real threat. Over the years, a lot of people like to easily say that they would have stood up and fought the Nazis. Or the Stalinists. Or whatever oppressive regime where we don’t understand how a population could have let bad people take over. But this is how it happens. It’s not overnight until it is. It’s a slow creep, day by day, action by action. It has advanced enormously in 2016. Very bad people are taking power. They have no intention on ever giving up power again if they can help it. It’s now when we have to stand up, as well as when, after a terrorist attack from a Muslim, the Sessions Department of Justice orders concentration camps for American Muslims. This stupid watchlist is very much part of this larger fight.

So the question I would pose to you all is what you are going to do to fight rising fascism. We can’t all do everything. But we can work with the organizations we already work with to turn them into anti-fascist organizations ready to fight for all who are oppressed by this regime. I have doubled down on work in my own union over the past two weeks to prepare for this. I gave a talk to our school’s graduate student union to encourage them to see their union as the front line in fighting the oppression their members will face, both with the likely decline of union rights and the fact that so many of their members are here on visas from Asian, African, Middle Eastern, and Latin American nations. I played a very small role in facilitating a 1000 person meeting in Providence the Saturday after the election of people desperate for something to do. And of course I’ve been writing. None of this turns me into a great leader, but it’s trying to prepare for the attacks to come by using whatever limited skills I have. And we all have some skills to bring to the table. This is why I am frustrated by the left-liberal screaming on Twitter about the election and its meanings, which always happens to reinforce whatever take the writer already had before November 8. This is why I am equally contemptuous of Class Not Race people and Every Trump Voter is a Racist so Let’s Denigrate Actual Economic Anxiety people. Because none of this helps us face the facts that we are going to be dealing with starting on January 20, 2017.

If something happens to me or my job during this administration, I am at least going to know that I did whatever I could to fight this. I urge all of you to do the same. Even if it starts by insulting and trolling those trying to create the new blacklist.

What Made SEK Famous

[ 8 ] November 23, 2016 |

My interactions with SEK were like many of blogging colleagues. I never met him but I talked to him a lot online. While no one ever had as many weird things happen to him as Scott, I have had a number of weird things happen to me over the years that are at least in the same general universe. And so we talked about this once. He told me (and this is a paraphrase from a 3 year old conversation so it may be more how I remember it than anything) that whenever something potentially odd was about to happen, he would seek to increase the tension in the situation, just to see what would come of it. It takes a very unique mind to recognize weirdness as it begins and then imagine ways on the spot to create a situation that allows you to tell a great story out of it. But then if SEK had anything, it was a unique mind.

While there were a lot of posts that made SEK famous, nothing surpassed his legendary office sex post. This is one of the greatest posts in the history of blogging and he deserved all the accolades he received for it. A few years ago, I had a conference in Newport Beach. Realizing this was close to Irvine, where SEK had done his Ph.D. work, a thought came to me. Why don’t I go visit the office? SEK thought this was a great idea. So he gave me the office number and I had my friend take my picture outside of it.


Ultimately, this is my memory of SEK. Even more so than the post about the language in Deadwood where Jim Beaver showed up in the comments.

It’s also worth reading this obituary in Inside Higher Ed about his larger contribution to the merger of academia and blogging at a time when that was not OK for a lot of gatekeeper types.

If you can, try to donate a little to his family to pay his astronomical medical expenses. Too bad we live in a country where such a campaign is necessary.

There’s not too much else I can say that Paul and Rob and Steve haven’t already written. It’s entirely unfair that such a great person had a body that simply did not cooperate. He fought a long time and we were all enriched by his work and his life.

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