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[ 10 ] April 3, 2016 |



If you are going to be at the OAH this week in Providence, drop me a line. Maybe we could do a get together or something. Not sure if Attewell is attending this year, but there’s never anything wrong with an LGM get together, even if it’s just with me.

Incidentally, I am participating in two historians talk off the cuff sessions roundtables. The first is on New Perspectives on American Socialism, which is the conference’s first slot on Thursday at 12. Then on Friday at 1:50, I am moderating a panel I organized titled “State of the Field: Intersections between Labor and Environmental History.” If anyone cares, come and say hi.


Deficit Spending

[ 104 ] April 3, 2016 |


Yglesias is making a lot of sense here. With interest rates this low, the nation should just borrow the money to rebuild its infrastructure and not worry about some existential need to pay off the debt. Of course, that no one can say this in the political realm is a sign of just how drastically Republicans have changed the debate in the 40 years, to the point that even as our freeway overpasses are collapsing beneath us and subway systems shutting down, we can’t even begin to talk about these issues without detailed plans on paying back the big, bad, evil debt. Instead, we should just build it and figure it out later if necessary.

The debate we ought to be having about federal infrastructure spending right now is whether we have a way to channel money into useful projects — not how to “pay for” the spending.

America is not currently experiencing a shortfall of financing options. On the contrary, global financial markets are practically begging us to go borrow some more money. The interest rates available are so outlandishly low that virtually anything that was useful at all (i.e., not a mixed-traffic streetcar or a relocation of a bus terminal to a less convenient location) would have a rate of return higher than the cost of funds.

Under the circumstances, there’s no good reason to try to finance projects with taxes rather than debt. Doing so is only going to increase political opposition to your plan — no tax reform, no matter how cleverly designed, can fail to offend a powerful interest group or two — and make it less likely that the project will get done.

And global markets, again, are telling us not that America’s taxes are too low but that we’re not borrowing enough money. There’s a global shortage of American debt. Indeed, a 2014 International Monetary Fund analysis concluded that in rich countries like the US, “public investment that is financed by issuing debt has larger output effects than when it is financed by raising taxes or cutting other spending.”

It’s better, in other words, to just build the projects than to fuss about paying for them. We need a good dose of irresponsibility.

Red Lives Matter

[ 127 ] April 3, 2016 |

The Black Lives Matter movement has been great in basically all conceivable ways. But I think there is one exception to that, which is that, at least in my readings and observations, been fairly blind or downplaying that not only are the cops killing black people for any reason imaginable, but are doing the same to Latinos and Native Americans as well. I have no doubt that many BLM leaders are well aware of this and no doubt part of the problem is that the media, including large swaths of the leftist media, see racial problems in the United States still primarily in terms of African-Americans and whites. But the interruption of the Netroots Nation presidential candidate forum last year that was specifically discussing immigration and the oppression Latinos face by BLM protestors was lacking in the intersectionality one would hope for from such a movement, something which almost no one noted in the aftermath. On the community level of course, this all has different dynamics, since police murders of people of color naturally enough unite the people who are in that community and who of course then tend to be of the same racial and ethnic groups. But still, more attention to the fact that racial discrimination in this country is not exclusively against black people would be really useful. Because the cops are slaughtering Native Americans too, in this case shooting a woman 5 times accused of stealing.

“Loreal is a victim of discrimination, and we want justice,” Curley said. “We can all relate to this case because we have all been racially profiled by law enforcement. While we are saddened at (Loreal’s) death, we’re not surprised because we know that this is a systemic issue.”

Curley said the group supported the independent investigation into the shooting and asked the Navajo Nation to take a more active role in this case.

In a statement, Navajo Nation President Russell Begaye said, “We hear about these types of shootings happening across the country. If there is no legitimate justification for taking Tsingine’s life, then the Navajo Nation wants the fullest extent of the law to be taken in serving justice.”

Vice President Jonathan Nez posted the following statement on Facebook: “The Navajo Nation sends our condolences to her family during this tragedy. Significant numbers of Navajo citizens have expressed public outcry over this violence. We will continue to investigate.”

Tsingine’s family admitted she had some mental health issues, but they didn’t go into detail.

Organizers of a vigil scheduled for Saturday demanded that the name of the officer involved in the shooting be released and that their concerns on police brutality against Native Americans be taken seriously.

Of course, where this is happening is in Arizona, in New Mexico, in South Dakota, in Oklahoma–in other words, far away from the eastern media and where those journalists come from and pay attention to, including the leftist publications. That should change. Discrimination against Native Americans is widespread. They get slaughtered by cops all the time. We need an anti-police violence, anti-racist movement that is about all the oppressed races in the United States. Our racist past allows us to forget marginalized groups all too often. Our anti-racist organizations shouldn’t do the same.

Erik Visits an American Grave, Part 26

[ 1 ] April 3, 2016 |

This is the grave of Howard Zahniser:


Howard Zahniser was the long-time head of the Wilderness Society and the architect of the 1964 Wilderness Act, which he dedicated his professional life to getting passed. Zahniser grew up in small-town western Pennsylvania, which he always loved and considered home. He began exploring the forests of his home state as a child. In the 1930s, he worked for USDA Bureau of Biological Survey (the precursor to the modern Fish and Wildlife Service) and during World War II worked for the Bureau of Plant Industry, Soils, and Agricultural Engineering. During this period, he started writing for nascent environmental journals and magazines. He then became Executive Secretary of the Wilderness Society in 1945, turning it into an overtly political organization with the agenda of making federally-designated wilderness a real thing.

Zahniser led the fight against the Echo Park Dam, beginning in 1949, that would have flooded a major portion of Dinosaur National Monument as part of the larger Colorado River Project. Along with people such as the Sierra Club’s David Brower, Zahniser managed to squash that project, a huge early victory for environmentalists. This also gave momentum to a wilderness campaign that would preserve swaths of land from any development such as dams, logging, and mining. The bill slowly gained momentum through Zahniser indefatigable work lobbying for it, building relationships with Congress, working with recalcitrant developmentalist legislators, and dedicating his life to this single goal.

Unfortunately, Zahniser also had a bad heart. Lyndon Johnson signed the Wilderness Act of 1964 into law on September 3, 1964, designating 9.1 million acres of public land as wilderness. But Zahniser had died on May 5, 1964.

Howard Zahniser is buried in the Pennsylvania woods and hills he loved. His grave is at Riverside Cemetery, Tionesta, Pennsylvania.

Today in the Republican War on Women

[ 218 ] April 3, 2016 |


Louie Gohmert, saying the quiet parts loud again.

Texas Representative Louie Gohmert has just established himself as public enemy number one for women by publicly opposing H.R.4742, a new bill that would increase federal support for entrepreneurial programs for women in STEM fields — science, technology, engineering, and math.

A satirical site creates an explanation for Gohmert, which unfortunately was picked up in the original link as being real, as was pointed out in comments. But really, given current Republican rhetoric, it would hardly be surprising that Gohmert actually believes this.

Gohmert’s explanation for opposing this bill is that it discriminates against boys. In his own words, “this program is designed to discriminate against that young, poverty-stricken boy and to encourage the girl. Forget the boy. Encourage the girl.” In addition to this backwards argument, he continued on, launching into a ridiculous tirade about how this is also the wrong way to treat women. Naturally, he also had to bring in God and God’s intentions for women.

‘And, you know, that’s just not the way God intended us to be treating women. I know that everybody is today talking about equality and we’ve got groups that are trying to make us believe that women are equal to men. However, that’s just not the case. God didn’t make us equal. It is ourselves, we have created this illusion of equality. And you want to know what the most powerful evidence of that there is? Simple biology. We have parts they don’t and vice versa. So right then and there you’ve got proof of God’s master plan.’

‘Women were created for one thing and one thing alone. We are insulting the Lord by allowing women to act like men. Women are beautiful creatures, no doubt about that. We marry them, we look after them, we provide for them and we love them, but that does not mean they are the same as us. It is the job of a woman to stay at home, to maintain the household, to bear children and look after them after they’re born. Nowhere in the scriptures does it say that women should be chasing after fancy titles and knowledge. The only knowledge they need is the one we men allow them to have.’

Louie Gohmert may be an idiot. But this is really pretty close to the belief system of many Republicans. I guess affirmative action is for women after all too and that has to stop just like it does for people of color stealing the white man’s jobs! We all know that God intended for all good jobs to be held by white men. Why is the gov’ment getting in the way of Jesus?

On a more serious note, I will say that I strongly oppose special STEM-promoting bills or lower tuition for STEM students or the like because a) they largely are nothing more than job training programs for the jobs available in 2016 as opposed to providing larger skills that will allow students to be able to transition through jobs in life, b) they are short-sighted in terms of thinking about the relationship between students and jobs, and c) they are part of the open war on the humanities going on across the country.

The Politics of the Individual vs. The Politics of Solidarity

[ 153 ] April 2, 2016 |


The comment thread for yesterday’s Chicago Teachers Union strike post was typical. Inevitably during any strike, especially a public sector strike, people who claim to be liberals find their sense of solidarity with working people ends precisely at the point where they might be personally inconvenienced. They put aside the great common ground they should have with the strikers to create policies that would benefit all and instead engage with a politics of personal short-term selfishness. That’s sad. When BART workers go on strike for better wages and working conditions, it absolutely makes things harder for commuters. On the other hand, if the city wants to make life miserable for BART employees, that is going to therefore lead to tired drivers, long-term service deterioration, and the general decline of the system. Not to mention that better paid employees place more money into the economy, which stimulates the city, allows a middle-class to still exist (very important in a place like San Francisco), and creates a principle of paying working people dignified salaries. Is all of this worth a few days of not having the BART system operational? I would certainly think so, but many people struggle to think outside of their own current situation at a given time.

Similarly, the Chicago Teachers Union is striking because of the general failure to invest in education at the city and state level, the attacks by Rahm Emanuel and Bruce Rauner and on unions generally (he’s nothing more than 1-issue governor and that issue is union busting), Rauner’s unwillingness to pass a budget, not to mention the larger issues of police violence and injustice in Chicago. These issues affect every person in Chicago. But if taking an action to fight for these issues is a bad thing because for one day I have to deal with child care, a day that is basically like a snow day except that you time to prepare for it, then there’s no really no hope for any kind of coalition to fight for broader issues of racial justice. Sure it makes life harder for parents for one day or one week. That sucks. But life is far longer than one day or one week.

What is solidarity? There are many definitions but I think at the core is the willingness to accept and embrace personal inconvenience in order to support larger causes of justice. Rather than focus on just how such an action affects me on a particular day, you need to take yourself out of the equation and evaluate a particular action based upon whether you would support it if it does not affect you at all. If a Black Lives Matter protest decides to blockade I-93 through Boston when I am driving up there and I am delayed for an hour, I might be frustrated. But I also have to remember that the broader cause of justice is far more important than whatever I have going on in a given day. It is my duty as a human to support whatever action is necessary to end police violence against people of color. That’s far more important than the talk or band I want to see. Moreover, what cause has been advanced without inconveniencing the public? Protests block streets, strikes take money out of the economy, ACT-UP made people feel uncomfortable, the Black Panthers scared whites, environmentalists threaten entire industries to save the planet. Direct action is disruptive. If you can’t support it whenever it might possibly affect you in some way, you don’t really have the right to think of yourself as someone supports justice.

As for individual strikes, we don’t necessarily have to support each and every one, although if you claim to be a liberal or on the left, the burden is on you to say why you can’t support it. There are two fundamental scenarios where it makes sense not to support a strike. The first is when it’s about a turf war between two unions. At that point, it’s dependent on the situation. The second is when the strike is aimed at hurting the broad cause of justice rather than defending it. Thus, while police absolutely should have the right to unionize and collectively bargain a contract, the NYPD engaging in a slow down because Bill DeBlasio wants to do something about their open racism and use of violence is not something we should support. Unfortunately, it makes many on the left engage in open union-busting that would do nothing to stop police violence instead of fighting the evil at hand. Otherwise, while one can question the wisdom and strategy of given actions, anyone who makes claims to be liberal needs to be showing at least some support for the principle of collective action by workers to both maintain the middle class and fight for larger issues of social justice, as the CTU did on its strike yesterday.

It’s funny to me that people say the labor movement is antiquated, unimaginative, ineffective, etc. And that it needs to use new tactics or more aggressive tactics in order to force change to society. And then when they use those tactics, large swaths of the general public, including those who claim to wish for a stronger labor movement, judge the strike entirely based upon how it affects themselves on the given day of the strike. That’s not the politics of solidarity. That’s the politics of the empowered narcissistic individual. And it’s at that point where people start supporting the position where they would have supported Reagan firing the air traffic controllers. The public supported the firing not because PATCO was engaging in an illegal action. They supported it because by doing so, they shut down the airlines and got in the way of people’s travel plans. The politics of individual desire defeated the politics of solidarity in 1981 and it continues to do so today.

“The Trash Does Not Roll Very Far From the Dumpster”

[ 106 ] April 2, 2016 |
CBS analyst Seth Davis

CBS analyst Seth Davis

You may not be surprised that Seth Davis, college basketball writer and privileged son of worst living human Lanny Davis, believes that college athletes should not be paid for their labor.

The problems facing college sports will be addressed this week, as well they should, but keep in mind that most of these same problems have been around since the enterprise began in the late 19th century. College sports, or at least college football (and later basketball), is big business, and wherever money is changing hands, corruption is sure to follow. But the transaction that will be on display this weekend is worth preserving. No, the players won’t be paid like professionals, but they will be feted like kings. They have earned that by working hard at their craft, under the supervision of some of the best coaches who ever stalked a sideline, in concert with the best strength and conditioning trainers money can buy, in front of the biggest audience most of them will ever see.

Exploited? Try blessed. Here’s hoping they spend this weekend counting their blessings while ignoring the members of the chattering class who are trying convince them to walk away.

I’m not sure what is more unbelievable. Is it that Davis genuinely believes that people are trying to college athletes to “walk away” instead of, you know, “to get paid for their labor?” I guess all those European players who do get paid don’t know their blessings. Or is it that a long-time writer for Sports Illustrated and son of Lanny Davis would blame it on the “chattering classes?”

Today in Rheeism

[ 141 ] April 1, 2016 |


Sean Combs or whatever name he is going by today sees a chance to make money by starting a charter school. Nothing like privatizing our public goods. Of course, he has to hire someone to run it. He made a great choice, someone who is open that he’s in it because he hates teacher unions and who has called teachers’ unions “roaches.”

Earlier this week, Sean Combs, a.k.a. hip-hop and vodka mogul Diddy, or Puff Daddy, announced that he had become the co-founder of a new charter school, due to open in Harlem this summer. The school will be overseen by Steve Perry, a union-buster accused of juicing graduation stats at his schools in Connecticut.

Capital Prep Harlem will open at 1 East 104th Street, with 160 sixth and seventh graders, in August, the Wall Street Journal reported. It will phase up into a 700-seat high school as the students age. “Creating this school is a dream come true for me,” Combs said in a statement. “I want to impact the lives of young people in my community and build future leaders. The first step is offering access to a quality education.”

He’s also a known ally of Michelle Rhee, the charter activist married to Kevin Johnson, and echoes her union busting sentiments. At a 2013 forum in Minneapolis, Perry proclaimed, “I know in polite company, you’re not supposed to talk about the unions…But I will. I know you’re here. I hope you hear me, because I’m tired of you. Every time you fight to keep a failed teacher in a school, you’re killing children, and that’s not cool.”

“It’s high time we call the roaches out and call them for what they are. I’ve been to too many cities where the excuses pile up, one on top of the other. You know what happens with those excuses? They kill our kids.”

Of course, he’s already had to leave his old job in controversy because the scam caught up to him. What’s a grifter to do but start the same con in a different state.


[ 47 ] April 1, 2016 |


The three last sociopaths competing for the Republican nomination will be debating this Tuesday in Milwaukee. Of course, they will be pushing visions that are counter to the interests of the people who actually live in Milwaukee, as opposed to the racist white suburbs that are Scott Walker’s base.

Desmond’s harrowing data points about the material indignities of Milwaukee poverty derive in turn from hard, ugly facts about America as a whole. Well-paying jobs fled the city to be replaced with service sector work that paid less than half as much. Those who turn to the criminal economy in order to keep the roaches out of their kids’ cereal boxes, or just to avoid eviction from their current rat hole, end up having to check a box on every job application acknowledging their criminal record and dooming their chances of getting a call back.

One in four times that an impoverished Milwaukee family moved house from 2009 to 2011, it was involuntary. Most of those forced uprootings were formal evictions, though Desmond notes that landlords who don’t want to bother with housing court and sheriff’s eviction squads sometimes tear the front door off a delinquent tenant’s home or otherwise push them out informally.

While evictions are commonplace today, Desmond writes that American communities used to rally together against them with force and verve. A New York Times article from the Depression era once described a 1,000-person anti-eviction protest crowd as small.

When they’re not evicting people, Desmond writes, Milwaukee’s slumlords encourage them to “trade their dignity and children’s health for a roof over their head.”

One in five Milwaukee renters lives with broken windows, busted appliances, or days-long rat or roach problems. One in three have had their plumbing clogged up for more than a day. One in 10 have endured a day with no heat. Kicking up a fuss about any of these problems might mean a city inspector came out and cited the landlord, but it would probably also mean being evicted and starting from scratch.

Desmond’s reporting reveals a casual brutality grinded into every corner of the low-income rental market by decades of job flight, poverty, and neglect.

An inner-city landlord named Sherrena Tarver, while at times callous, is laboring away on her own hamster wheel of incentives and constraints. A woman named Arleen moves her boys into a shelter after Sherrena evicts them, and goes through 90 different landlords with open listings just to find a single one who will take her – and days later, they toss her back out on the street again.

There’s the trailer park manager who supervises a hard-assed Illinois man’s investment in white destitution, and a woman on disability for a middle school hip fracture that was never treated. There are housing court commissioners who crank out scores of evictions every day, often awarding landlords the right to collect debts later from any flat-broke tenant who manages to turn her life around.

The landscape corrupts all who deal in it. And beyond the immediate landscape, a complex and far-flung industry extracts profit from the evictions churn by selling related services to landlords and tenants alike.

It’s a sort of cottage industry designed to extract profit from a crisis that American cities create by failing to build and maintain enough housing that their residents can actually afford. Trump’s own early career involved some real estate dealings that contributed to that shortage, focusing his resources on building luxury housing where dense, rent-controlled units previously stood.

The only mistake made here is emphasizing Trump. This isn’t Trump’s America. It’s Republican America. It’s Scott Walker’s America. It’s an America of over a century of the exploitation of black communities by zoning laws, slumlords, housing markets, urban renewal, de facto and de jure segregation, all tied together in a big package of racism. Hell, it isn’t Trump’s America. It’s just America.

CTU Strike

[ 126 ] April 1, 2016 |


The Chicago Teachers Union, which in 2012 had one of the biggest and most important strikes of the last decade, is back on the picket line today for a 1-day strike. Like the 2012 strike, this is about more than just a contract. This is a political strike with broad if somewhat vague demands about the treatment of teachers and students, the racial injustice of Chicago, and of course the CTU’s archenemies, Rahm Emanuel and Bruce Rauner. The legality of this strike is questionable, although I’d be surprised to see Emanuel do too much with that. However, the CTU has deep roots in the Chicago community and is receiving a lot of community and labor support. Micah Uetricht explains what is going on.

The union is walking a fine line between the narrow issues they are legally permitted to strike over and those “bigger issues.”

“This [strike] is a call for revenue for funding the schools and social services in this state appropriately,” CTU President Karen Lewis recently told Chicago Tonight, shortly after explaining they were striking over the “steps and lanes.”

The union says that school closings and round after round of budget cuts and teacher layoffs have meant that many schools aren’t able to accomplish their most basic tasks.

“We’re not able to function with this low level of funding,” says Sarah Chambers, a special education teacher at Saucedo Academy. “And the board says they’re going to make more cuts.”

The strike comes amid a longstanding budget battle between Illinois’s Democratic-controlled State House and Senate, and Gov. Rauner. A former private equity mogul and near-billionaire, Rauner has refused to pass a budget for the state without new rules restricting public sector workers’ union rights and has enacted deep budget cuts that have caused numerous social service agencies in the state to close down or drastically reduce services. Illinois is currently the only state in America without a budget.

The union’s demands for increased revenue — a tax on millionaires, a tax on financial transactions like futures and options trades, and a progressive state income tax (Illinois is one of the few states that has a flat income tax) — can’t be won in contract negotiations. Some would require state constitutional changes. That makes a union victory hard to define.

“Victory will be showing a united force — not just teachers and parents and students, but actually creating a movement with other workers from around the city and the state,” Chambers says.

Still, the fact that an American union is going on strike alongside other unions and community groups with broad political demands is almost unheard of.

“[Such strikes] happen pretty much everywhere but the US,” says Professor Bruno. “They’re very common in France, they’re common in Germany and Central and South America. It’s only in the US, because of the historical evolution of labor law, that you can only strike legally under the narrowest of conditions. And a political strike over larger policy issues is clearly prohibited.”

That makes today’s strike “extraordinary.”

The action “hearkens back to the ’30s and ’40s, when organized labor was using the strike to make larger economic and political points and trying to pursue broader economic and social goals,” Bruno says. “We don’t have much precedent for it.”

See also Uetricht’s interview with CTU activist Sarah Chambers.

One of the biggest tragedies of modern politics is Karen Lewis coming down with cancer before taking on Rahm Emanuel. She would have crushed him.

Socialism at Harvard

[ 29 ] April 1, 2016 |


Interesting piece on how John Reed became a socialist at Harvard, the legacy of that socialism at the college, and the rise of socialism today in the form of Sanders-loving Harvard students. Normally, I would never link to the magazine of Harvard on principle, but this is a rare, notable exception.

Improve Your Personality

[ 28 ] March 31, 2016 |

Some advice from 1951. Certainly I could use it.

Also, here’s a great piece about why the Soviets didn’t have American enemies in their Cold War films while Americans were making Red Dawn and Rocky IV.

I watched Pickup on South Street earlier this week. It was great, but equally good was the bonus material that included Sam Fuller talking about how he got such an overtly unpatriotic film with no sympathetic characters made, which was himself and Darryl Zanuck going to J. Edgar Hoover, listening to his objections, and then Fuller pointing out that they both knew the same corrupt cops and the like who had done the very things Fuller shows in the film.

Finally, I saw Lady Snowblood for the first time last night. So. Incredibly. Awesome. Lots of spurting blood with geyser sound effects combined with beautiful cinematography is my kind of thing.

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