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Sequester Whiners

[ 39 ] March 15, 2013 |

Poor Republicans are all sad that sequestration actually affects their districts. In the same phenomenon Scott describes below with Rob Portman now caring about gay marriage because it affects his family, these Republicans think that their district deserves a special dispensation but the rest of the country can rot.


[ 138 ] March 14, 2013 |

The end of an era in Boston, as school busing is officially ended.

It’s true that busing didn’t really work very well. It was a clunky approach to a horrible problem of school inequality. It was an incredibly brave plan, particularly in the face of the extraordinary racism in Boston during the 1970s. I’m not sure how it could have really worked in a functional way though.

Meanwhile, for all our patting our own backs about racism not being as bad as it was forty years ago, school segregation and inequality remain intractable problems.

Chrysler Firing Worker Activists

[ 54 ] March 14, 2013 |

In case anyone thinks that companies aren’t very excited about the evisceration of unions and labor regulations so that they can go back to pre-1935 ways of dealing with workers, let’s take a quick look at Chrysler. The recently bailed out auto company has instituted a 10-hour day that includes Saturday work and the switching of workers from day to evening shift and back. This cuts back on lunch breaks and eliminates overtime pay on Saturdays. This is a pretty awful way to work. UAW Local 869 has fought back. Alex Wassell has led the fight against this, including writing articles publicizing it and leading a picking line.

Chrysler has now fired Wassell, a man with a 20 year record of unblemished work. Why?

The company claimed Wassell had violated one of its “standards of conduct”: “engaging in, participating in, aiding or approving conduct constituting or appearing to constitute a conflict with the interests of the Company.”

In other words, we fire you because we can and who’s going to stop us?

It’s possible of course that the National Labor Relations Board could step in. But with the recess appointments declared unconstitutional by a conservative hack judge, who knows if the NLRB will remain functional long enough to decide this. Even if it does decide in Wassell’s favor, we are looking at months if not over a year. What is he to do during that time?

Chrysler is clearly intimidating its labor force.

The UVA Aftermath

[ 74 ] March 14, 2013 |

As you may remember, last summer, the Board of Visitors at the University of Virginia attempted to push out UVA President Teresa Sullivan, basically because the corporate hacks on the Board didn’t think Sullivan was committed enough to leveraging synergies and proactive leaderocracy and such. It was a gigantic disaster that was beaten back because of widespread protests. The American Association of University Professors (my union which provided me with outstanding representation when URI attempted to disown me last fall. Let me tell you people, there is nothing as great as union representation. Which is why employers want to destroy unions) has issued a report after an investigation. The report doesn’t present a lot that’s new exactly, not surprising since the Board was so blatant and open about why they wanted Sullivan gone. But it does get at what it portends:

The breakdown in governance at the University of Virginia documented here was only partly a result of structural failure; indeed, the board ignored its own recently adopted guidelines on presidential evaluation. In much greater measure it was a failure by those charged with institutional oversight to understand the institution over which they presided and to engage with the administration and the faculty in an effort to be well informed. It was a failure of judgment and, alas, of common sense.

You should definitely read the whole thing if you are interested in these issues.

This is all part of the corporate strategy to turn universities into corporations
, with all the meaningless lingo, profit-hoarding at the top, and lack of respect for employees that entails. Boards don’t just not understand what universities do and how they are run, they don’t want to know. They are attempting to transform them into the same institutions that brought you The Great Recession, The Housing Bubble, Unsustainable Debt, and all your other favorite economic entertainments.

I have no illusion that I will retire as a professor. Not because I am going to leave voluntarily. And not because I won’t get tenure. Because the job won’t exist. Just yesterday we were talking about MOOCs and how corporations and states are applying the shock doctrine to higher education. This is the end of academic employment, with no benefits to anyone but highly-paid administrators and corporate investors. When Sullivan was reinstated, that was a small victory is a longer battle that we are losing–the battle to retain the world’s greatest higher education system. In the 9 months since the UVA debacle, I’ve seen no evidence that suggests I’m wrong.

Agricultural Guestworkers

[ 9 ] March 14, 2013 |

The labor historian Cindy Hahamovitch on the already terrible agricultural guestworker program that agricultural interests want to deregulate even more in a new immigration bill.

The guestworker program continued but in recent years abuses have gotten nastier. When growers demanded a bigger and less regulated program in 1986, the Labor Department waived Wirtz-era rules restricting the program. Now agricultural guestworkers work all over the United States and come from as far away as Peru and Thailand, though most are Mexicans.

Growers have turned to for-profit recruiting agencies to handle the paperwork, which has led to some of the ugliest human trafficking cases in post-emancipation U.S. history: workers never paid, fraudulently charged thousands of dollars for low-wage, temporary jobs, housed in storage sheds or in flooded post-Katrina hotels.

Most shocking of all: The regulatory system that agricultural employers complain so bitterly about did not function at all (until the current administration). Despite gross violations of H-2A rules in the 1990s, for example, the Labor Department cited only one company (for failing to pay minimum and overtime wages), and did not deny that company’s requests for more guestworkers. Indeed, the GAO reported in 1997 that “the Department of Labor had never failed to approve an application to import H-2A workers because an employer had violated the legal rights of workers.”

Farm labor is something we rarely think about. If we do, it’s usually in context of the United Farm Workers with the assumption that things are somehow better now for farmworkers than 40 years ago. That’s not by and large true. Abuses are rampant, regulation is lax. Particularly as many of our big farming zones are in places we don’t usually see (naturally enough since they are thinly settled regions far from cities. Though is can also be true, say, in the Willamette Valley 30 miles south of Portland), the conditions of agricultural labor remain far from our consciousness. It’s not that a guestworker program theoretically couldn’t work. But given our underfunded regulatory agencies that are usually captured by corporate interests, there just isn’t much precedent that such programs can protect worker rights.

Fish Stories

[ 14 ] March 13, 2013 |

The Center for Investigative Reporting has an outstanding animation up about fish politics and who controls the fisheries. Essentially, the catch shares system for regulating fisheries has turned into creating state-sponsored monopolies over the fishing grounds. It doesn’t have to be that way. A few catch share systems create regulations that keep the quotas in fishing communities, but mostly this has capitalized the oceans, which also makes it really hard to know whether this system is helping the fisheries recover.

Working-class communities have fought against government-approved monopolization of natural resource economies going back to at least the 1930s, but rarely with much success. That so many resources are depleted suggests many problems with this system, but it continues given the ability of corporations to engage in regulatory capture.

In a related story, Maine lobstermen are seeking to organize with the International Association of Machinists. Fishing workers have few rights and are very lightly unionized. They can’t restrict supply because of federal law, but they could press their clout before the Maine legislature through a union, which might help them live a more secure life.

Worst Person in the World

[ 59 ] March 13, 2013 |

Erick Erickson for this lovely tweet:

That lefties are accusing the new pope of handing over lefties to the right wing junta for execution makes me adore the new pope.

Says just about all you need to know about the hate driving much of the modern conservative movement.

….Colin on the history of the new pope and the Argentine dictatorship.

Yet More Problems With Charter Schools

[ 56 ] March 13, 2013 |

Among the many problems with decentralized charter school systems is that students end up being taught anything that the crazy people who often run them want. Such is the case in Louisiana with its loony state voucher system (presently under court review). The 8th grade history book for some of these schools is teaching an, um, controversial view of history. Take this passage about hippies:

They went to Canada or European countries to escape being drafted into military service.

They went without bathing, wore dirty, ragged, unconventional clothing, and deliberately broke all codes of politeness or manners. Rock music played an important part in the hippie movement and had great influence over the hippies. Many of the rock musicians they followed belonged to Eastern religious cults or practiced Satan worship.

All codes of politeness or manners. Those darned Satan worshipers!!! Clearly, they should have followed the moral guidelines of Louisiana native Jimmy Swaggart.

Other textbooks used in this system have taught such great things as that most slaveowners were real kind to their human property, the KKK was a totally reasonable organization, and lots of other special things that will leave the young people of Louisiana hopelessly clueless about the world.

Of course, it’s not like direct state control is always a wonderful solution so long as non-professional ideologues can take over the system. See Texas with its crazy history textbook ideas. But at least there solving the problem is reasonably straightforward, if difficult. With hundreds of charter school/voucher school systems, these fires can’t be put out.

Higher Education Shock Doctrine

[ 262 ] March 13, 2013 |

The education capitalists have a great plan. We starve the universities by reducing their state funding so much that students can’t easily graduate in 4 years. Then we get our lackeys in the state legislature to pass a law forcing schools to accept online classes as credit. That opens up the possibility for gigantic MOOCs that has two benefits. First, we can cut state education funding even more. Second, we can make a ridiculous amount of money through the continued privatization of education. We then get our useful idiot Thomas Friedman to pretend that his friends at Harvard are great teachers and thus deserve to teach these MOOCs. Then we can lay off all the professors, although we’ll still have to find a way to continue hiring university VPs at six figure salaries.

I mean, there won’t actually be jobs for any university graduates. And they won’t have actually learned anything. But what do we care? We just made $50,000 in the last 4 years off each student!

The Malaysian Government Got Played for Suckers

[ 44 ] March 12, 2013 |

Why actually pay conservative hacks to write propaganda for your anti-democratic government. All you have to do is ask and they are evidently happy to do so for free. As Ben Shapiro and others did in a series of fluff pieces for Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych. Shapiro and his ilk claim no money changed hands. Maybe not, but it should have for this level of propaganda.

The Little Brown One

[ 42 ] March 12, 2013 |

And so begins the fourth generation:

George P. Bush, the eldest son of former Florida governor Jeb Bush and nephew of former president George W. Bush, is running for Texas land commissioner in 2014.

Bush had already announced that he intended to run for statewide office. The 36-year-old lawyer and Naval Reserve lawyer has been raising money across the state. But there was some speculation that he would challenge Gov. Rick Perry in the Republican primary.

The co-founder of the political action committee Hispanic Republicans of Texas, Bush is among those arguing that the GOP can reach out to Latino voters with new faces, not a new party doctrine.

This is one of the most powerful offices in the state and has long been seen as a stepping stone to a greater political career. I can’t tell you how excited I am about the inevitable George P. Bush 2028 presidential run.

Food Faddism

[ 259 ] March 12, 2013 |

If there’s one thing Americans love, it’s food faddism. The history of full of weirdness, from John Harvey Kellogg’s yogurt enemas that placed yogurt cultures in our mouths and rectums at the exact same time to Sylvester Graham’s graham crackers, created so we wouldn’t eat meat and milk and get all hot and bothered and start masturbating.

We (or at least my students) laugh at all this. But are we any different today with our nutty diets? Not really.

Luckily, there are at least some people pushing back against this. Here’s a discussion of the new Marlene Zuk book exposing the absurdity of the paleo diet. The paleo diet falls under the overarching theme of recent American dieting, which can be summarized as “I want to eat as much meat as possible and will look for any justification to do so.” And do whatever you want, but it’d be nice to avoid the absurd discussions about what our distant ancestors did or did not eat.

Zuk detects an unspoken, barely formed assumption that humanity essentially stopped evolving in the Stone Age and that our bodies are “stuck” in a state that was perfectly adapted to survive in the paleolithic environment. Sometimes you hear that the intervention of “culture” has halted the process of natural selection. This, “Paleofantasy” points out, flies in the face of facts. Living things are always and continuously in the process of adapting to the changing conditions of their environment, and the emergence of lactase persistence indicates that culture (in this case, the practice of keeping livestock for meat and hides) simply becomes another one of those conditions.

For this reason, generalizations about the typical hunter-gatherer lifestyle are spurious; it doesn’t exist. With respect to what people ate (especially how much meat), the only safe assumption was “whatever they could get,” something that to this day varies greatly depending on where they live. Recently, researchers discovered evidence that people in Europe were grinding and cooking grain (a paleo-diet bugaboo) as far back as 30,000 years ago, even if they weren’t actually cultivating it. “A strong body of evidence,” Zuk writes, “points to many changes in our genome since humans spread across the planet and developed agriculture, making it difficult at best to point to a single way of eating to which we were, and remain, best suited.”

But what is evidence in the face of food faddism?

And of course there’s the gluten-free insanity. While celiac disease is a real thing that affects about 1% of the population, the fact that 1/3 of the American public is trying to shun gluten is insane. There is zero evidence that most of these people need to do this. Anecdotally, it definitely feels that a good number of people I have met who are avoiding gluten are, how shall we say, lifestyle experimenters more broadly. More broadly, I think this relates to the paleo diet in the context of how dieting has gone over the past 15 years–again, avoiding grains and eating meat. What makes gluten-free different is the theoretical health benefits as opposed to the I want to eat a steak every night blunt honesty of the paleo dieters.

Obviously, the answer to proper eating is to be healthy and exercise. One can choose whether or not to eat meat for any number of reasons. I was a vegetarian for about 10 years but couldn’t call myself that now, although I have never cooked meat and don’t really plan to. We can have that debate. But it’s remarkable how resilient magic diets are for Americans (and possibly those of other countries, but I can’t much speak to that). They all pretty much defy common sense.

All I can do is eat more wheat and drink more beer. Both of which I intend to do.

PC: I recommend Barry Glassner’s The Gospel of Food on this topic.

[SL]: Related: “I personally feel that it’s unlikely that the richest 1% of humans on earth all suddenly and simultaneously developed allergies to every single common food…”

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