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Cruz

[ 40 ] October 3, 2013 |

Sure, Republican senators may be badmouthing Ted Cruz and yelling at him in private. But until they start badmouthing him to reporters using their own names instead of anonymously, they are still scared of him and it doesn’t mean very much. Given how much he is hated by his colleagues, I suspect this is only a matter of time. But what do I know.

Why Cherrypicking Government Agencies to Reopen is Unacceptable

[ 31 ] October 3, 2013 |

Conservatives are lamely trying to put Democrats on the defensive by trying to force open popular parts of the government, like national parks. While I really want the national parks to be open (I’m going to be in Tucson next week for the first time in 7 years and if Saguaro National Park is closed, I’m going to loathe the modern conservative movement even more than I already do and who knew that was possible), it is a horrible precedent that makes opening the whole government all the more difficult. For instance, one agency the Republicans will never submit a bill to open early is the National Labor Relations Board (PDF here). Of its 1611 employees, 1600 are on furlough. The NLRB has 11 people working. Basically, the government shutdown does to the NLRB what conservatives have wanted to do to it forever. This is precisely why I was so angry at Democrats for being outmaneuvered on the sequester–of course conservatives are going to let this happen because it accomplishes their policy goals and good luck ever getting that funding back.

Harry Reid and President Obama seem willing to push back against this conservative gambit. But of course that doesn’t stop CNN from using it to slip into Both Sides Do It Syndrome. And of course this disease then infects other Beltway members.

In somewhat related news, Texas Rep. Randy Neubarger is today’s worst person in the world for picking on random National Park Service employees who have to keep people out of the World War II Memorial in order to make himself look tough.

Business Sads in Boston

[ 50 ] October 2, 2013 |

The Boston Globe is having a big sad because mayoral finalist and union member (Laborers Local 223) Marty Walsh votes in the state legislature closer to the AFL-CIO than Koch funded business interests. Oh noes, won’t somebody think about the business community?

A Walsh victory in Boston and a DeBlasio victory in New York would mean real progressives at the helm of two of America’s largest cities. Now if only we could only do something about Chicago…

The Best Reason to Vote Democratic You’ve Ever Heard

[ 110 ] October 2, 2013 |

I can’t see how this isn’t the greatest endorsement of the Democratic Party ever:

“Saturday Night Live” alumnus and “Deuce Bigalow: Male Gigolo” actor Rob Schneider appeared in a short video (embedded below) with California Assemblyman — and Republican gubernatorial hopeful — Tim Donnelly and Politichicks reporter Ann-Marie Murrell on Monday. In the video, Schneider declared that he hasn’t worked on a film in California in seven years because of the recent rise of Democrats in state elections.

“The state of California is a mess,” Schneider declared, “and the supermajority of Democrats is not working. I’ve been a lifelong Democrat and I have to switch over because it no longer serves the people of this great state. We need to have a new voice. We need to have a new direction, and we need to break the supermajority. It isn’t helping with jobs.”

“The last time I made a movie in California was seven years ago,” he said. “And that’s because we’re not being competitive. I own a vitamin company with my friend and we moved out of state because of overregulation. It isn’t helping businesses.”

If what Schneider is really saying is that I should give my life savings to the California Democratic Party, to whom do I give my back account number and password?

On Our New Overlords

[ 26 ] October 2, 2013 |

In our continuing chronicle of jellyfish taking over the planet and replacing humans as the dominant species, we have jellyfish attacking Sweden and shutting down a nuclear reactor. The Soviets couldn’t stop western Europe’s nuclear regime, but what are the Soviets compared to jellyfish? Nothing.

Meanwhile, the South Koreans are trying to fight the jellyfish. It seems to me that is just going to make them angry. I wouldn’t want to be in Korea when the jellyfish strike back.

Suffering for Thee But Not for Me

[ 65 ] October 1, 2013 |

I love the Republican Party’s ideological consistency:

House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) worked with top congressional Democrats behind the scenes to preserve employer contributions for congressional staff’s health care plans even as he decried those subsidies in public, Politico reported Tuesday.

Emails and documents obtained by Politico show Boehner and his aides worked with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) and House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-MD), among others, to find a way to maintain the long-standing employer contributions. Those documents also show that Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) was aware of the behind-the-scenes talks.

In addition to those efforts, Boehner attempted to arrange a meeting with President Barack Obama to ask for help in securing the subsidies, the documents show. Although Boehner and the president never met to discuss the contributions, a senior Boehner aide was able to meet with White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough on the issue, according to Politico.

And the government shutdown means everything except Congressional Republican photo-ops:

Rep. Steven Palazzo (R-MS) “opened the barricade” and allowed a group of 91 veterans on Tuesday to storm into the closed World War II Memorial in Washington, D.C., according to a representative from the group.

Jen Walton, the secretary of the Mississippi Gulf Coast Honor Flight, which had been scheduled to visit the memorial Tuesday, told TPM the group “went in about 30 minutes ago” and hadn’t necessarily planned to enter the memorial if it was closed.

“We didn’t have a definite plan, so we knew we were going to come here and just see what was going on and if we were going to be able to go in,” said Walton in a phone interview.

Walton said “several congressmen” are currently on the scene and that Palazzo and another official were on hand when the veterans arrived and negotiated with Park Police. Though she was unaware of whether he received permission from the police officers at the memorial, Walton said Palazzo eventually “opened the barricade” at entrance, allowing the veterans to enter.

“Pretty much Palazzo just opened the barricade and we followed him in,” Walton said.

Rep. Steve King (R-IA) was reportedly also involved in helping the veterans enter the memorial. Walton said she had not seen whether King helped the group get into the memorial.

And here I thought Steve King was a very principled man.

In news only related to the issue in the sense of how the insane can become important figures in the Republican Party, the Unskewed Polls guy has finally figured out the secret of the Kenyan usurper:

There are two sources to the claim of Obama being gay that I believe are credible. The first is Larry Sinclar, who wrote the book Barack Obama & Larry Sinclair: Cocaine, Sex, Lies & Murder? Sinclair says it was well known in the Chicago gay community that Barack Obama is gay. The book description, in part, says, “This searing candid story begins with Barack Obama meeting Larry Sinclair in November, 1999, and subsequently procuring and selling cocaine, and then engaging in consensual, homosexual sex with Sinclair on November 6th and again on November 7, 1999. You’ll read in riveting detail how Sinclair, in 2007, repeatedly contacted and requested that the Obama campaign simply come clean about their candidate’s 1999 drug use and sales. You learn how the Obama campaign, David Axelrod and Barack Obama used Donald Young (the homosexual lover of Barack Obama) to contact and seek out information from Sinclair about who he had told of Obama’s crimes and actions. You’ll read how the Obama campaign used internet porn king Dan Parisi and Ph.D. fraud Edward I. Gelb to conduct a rigged polygraph exam in an attempt to make the Sinclair story go away.”

Frequent World Net Daily columnist, Dr. Jerome Corsi, has also researched and written on this issue. I believe he is a credible source as well. In this article, titled “Claim: Obama hid ‘gay life’ to become president,” Corsi documents extensively the claim that Obama is in fact gay.

If Jerome Corsi says it, we know it is true. But hey, somehow this also proves that Obama is not a Muslim, so I don’t know I’m going to drown myself now.

Independent Contractor Fraud

[ 26 ] October 1, 2013 |

Great job by IBEW Local 520 in Austin to execute its own undercover investigation of independent contractor fraud among the city’s construction industry. Basically, employers are listing workers as independent contractors to avoid labor law. They then place these workers in dangerous situations, take advantage of the limited to nonexistent English language skills, and steal their rightful wages (not to mention taxes that should go to the state).

In case anyone ever asks what unions are good for, point them right straight to IBEW Local 520. Unions aren’t just about money. They are about dignity, safety at the workplace, labor law, and ensuring a better life for all Americans. Given how much even one local in a lightly unionized state uncovered, how much more fraud and abuse is out there?

Get Your Visa Occupy Card Here!

[ 160 ] October 1, 2013 |

Who else needs an Occupy debit card?

Wow. So what the 99% want is a banking structure with the fees made more transparent? There’s a revolution for you!

Here’s a defense of the card. It frames itself as “beyond reform versus revolution.” By which we mean not reform or revolution but more corporate capitalism. And evidently noted supporter of the 99% Visa is on board, which really makes me feel this is going somewhere positive.

All systems that you want to change – no matter how you want to change them
– are most easily (and effectively, in my opinion) changed from within. The
vision I want you to imagine is the ability to hand 10 strangers each day a
card with “Occupy” emblazoned on the front of it. Imagine the ability, when
one out of those ten asks what the hell this card is about, to explain to a
stranger how you are a member of co-operatively owned organization where
your voice is *as equally valuable and important* as any other co-owner of
the group. Let’s be real: the stranger might notice the VISA logo on the
card as well, but she’ll remember your explanation of what you’re doing
with this piece of plastic, and how it is different from other cards out
there.

Imagine, if you dare, a financial forum where instead of just being forced
to participate in a system, you can participate in discussions of its
flaws, how to reform it, what parts of it to completely discard, and how
your own agency within it can be harnessed to make those changes. Imagine
being able to decide with other members of your institution about the level
of participation in the system you want to have – what bank on this fine
Earth would even *entertain discussion* of the merits or lack thereof of a
financial company like VISA? What if such a participatory cooperative
became powerful enough to abandon entities like VISA entirely? When the
membership of that participatory institution controls the institution, and
is empowered to politicize the direction that institution takes,
revolutionary possibilities start to become very realistic indeed.

Meanwhile, in other bizarre Occupy-related ideas, Occupier and Google software engineer Justine Tunney is trying to kickstart a campaign to raise a $1 million in order to fund an Occupy nonviolent militia. Wait, what? (Thanks to Stephen Attewell for sending this one to me.) So, like, what would this anti-corporate militia do? Would it go after the pro-corporate Occupy debit card people? Who is going to run this thing? Collective unanimity? And buying body armor? Yeah, I don’t think that’s going to go over well. Nor happen. And if they do raise this money, will it be administered with the great skill and competence of the Occupy Rolling Jubilee debt group? Why wouldn’t give money to these brilliant ideas!

While I suppose one could see all this as a sign of the great diversity of Occupy-related ideas (and diversity is always good, right?), it tells me that a) Occupy has become a meaningless catch-all and b) the modern left has no coherent critique of capitalism that it can act upon. Capitalism is good or awesome or terrible or needs reform or opens you up to cool marketing opportunities in the hands of the right people by which I mean me now give me some money or whatever. I actually don’t have a major problem with the idea (at least in theory) of Occupiers creating financial institutions that realistically operate in the modern economy because we presently live in a capitalist society and that’s not exactly going away tomorrow. But this card deal doesn’t even apologize for being pro-capitalist. It also opens the possibilities for grifters to create Occupy-related scams, which worries me.

This Day in Labor History: October 1, 1910

[ 29 ] October 1, 2013 |

On October 1, 1910, International Association of Bridge and Structural Iron Workers member James McNamara blew up the Los Angeles Times building because the paper’s publisher, Harrison Gray Otis, was spearheading the city’s effort to crush unionism and remain an open shop alternative to heavily unionized San Francisco. The explosion and fire killed 21 people and wounded about 100 more, giving a black eye to the entire labor movement, embarrassing the American Federation of Labor, and setting back the labor movement in Los Angeles for decades.

In the early 20th century, Los Angeles was arguably America’s most conservative city. An hotbed of anti-union extremism, organized labor was almost entirely nonexistent. No one did more to push this policy than Harrison Gray Otis. In 1896, Otis took over the city’s Merchants Association and turned it to an virulently anti-union organization. Using his powerful newspaper as a mouthpiece for antiunionism, Otis spent the next two decades as the nation’s most important anti-union advocate. Some of this was ideology, some of it was LA boosters trying to undermine unionized San Francisco as the center of the California economy.

The Iron Workers were a tough bunch of unionists, to say the least. Formed in 1886, the union remained weak until it won a strike against a U.S. Steel subsidiary in 1902. This opened the door to them and within a year had most of the nation’s iron shops under their control, even signing some collective bargaining agreements with employers. In 1903, US Steel struck back, organizing the nation’s iron industrialists for a concerted union busting campaign that included spies, state complicity, and violence against workers. It was successful and by 1910, the union was out of every US Steel facility and most others. Responding to this campaign, beginning in 1906, the Iron Workers started using bombs to force companies to the bargaining table. Mostly this was just showing companies what they could do–the total damage of all these 110 bombs was small. But they did know how to manufacture and detonate bombs, that was for sure. No Alexander Berkman were these men.

During this tumult, a pair of Irish brothers named John and James McNamara rose into the Iron Workers’ leadership. John became Secretary-Treasurer of the union in 1905 and was heavily involved in the bombing campaign. In 1910, the Iron Workers launched a major organizing campaign in Los Angeles. They wanted a minimum wage of 50 cents an hour and overtime pay. Otis led the opposition. He and his employers organization raised $350,000 to fight the strike. A court judge issued injunctions that banned picketing. The Los Angeles City Council passed an ordinance banning picketing or “speaking in public streets in a loud or unusual tone.” The strikers refused to follow these absurd laws and 472 were arrested. The strike was going pretty well and the total number of union members went up by 60%.

John and James McNamara

Yet on October 1, a bomb went off under the LA Times building. It was supposed to explode at 4 a.m. in order to not hurt anyone but the faulty timing mechanism set it off just after 1, meaning people were still working, including a bunch of reporters finishing a story late. Most of the dead were killed by the fire caused by the explosion. The next day, unexploded bombs were found underneath Otis’ home, as well as other sites around the city, although many claim that these were probably planted by the police to frame the union, an entirely possible scenario regardless of who bombed the actual building.

Ruins of the Los Angeles Times building

Otis immediately claimed the unionists had blown up his building. He wrote in the Times, “You anarchic scum. You cowardly murderers, you midnight assassins, you whose hands are dripping with the innocent blood of your victims, have committed one of the worst atrocities in the history of the world.” Unionists on the other hand believed Otis dastardly enough to bomb his own building just to frame the union.

Samuel Gompers immediately denied that any union was involved in such a dastardly crime. But a spy placed in the Iron Workers Union found out that the bombing campaign had come straight from the union’s top leadership. A hotel clerk recognized a photo of John McNamara, confirming he had rushed in and out of the hotel just before the bomb exploded. On April 13, James McNamara and Ortie McManigal, a rank and file union member, were arrested in Detroit with bombing equipment on them. They were taken to Chicago where instead of going to the police station they were held for a week in the home of a police sergeant. McManigal finally spilled the beans and implicated the entire Iron Workers leadership in the bombing. John McNamara was also discovered to have bombed a local iron manufacturing plant.

The labor movement was infuriated with the treatment of the prisoners, hiding them in a private home and forcing a confession. McNamara and McManigal claimed they had been tortured by the private investigators. For labor, this felt like the 1906 case when IWW leader Big Bill Haywood and other labor leaders were framed for the murder of former Idaho governor Frank Steunenberg. Clarence Darrow took the defense case. But it was so clear they were guilty that an ailing Darrow could do little for them. Muckraker Frank Norris got the brothers to confess in prison and convinced them to make their case that it was a justifiable bombing campaign. Seeing an inevitable defeat in court, Darrow got Otis and the AFL to agree to a plea bargain that would give the McNamara brothers light sentences in return for the end of the Iron Workers strike, which was ultimately what Otis wanted to begin with. But although Otis and the business community agreed to this, the prosecutor refused and the trial went forward with the stipulation that James would receive life and John a shorter sentence. That final plea agreement also stipulated a meeting between capital and labor and the end of the employers’ open shop campaign.


1911 Socialist Party pins in support of the McNamara brothers.

When Gompers found out the McNamara’s had pleaded guilty, he said they “had betrayed labor.” James McNamara received life in prison. John received 15 years. Thirty-eight Iron Workers were convicted of various crimes. The employers completely ignored their side of the agreement and continued fighting any unionization in their conservative town.

The bombing convinced national labor reformers to push for a greater government role in labor relations so that violence could be avoided. This led to the remarkable U.S. Commission on Industrial Relations, created by President Taft in 1912, which will receive later coverage in this series.

The entire Los Angeles labor movement collapsed. Harrison Gray Otis almost couldn’t have asked for a better gift. Los Angeles remained a city with unusually low union density until the 1950s.

Ortie McManigal served 2 1/2 years as part of his plea deal. James McNamara died in prison in 1941. John McNamara served his full 15 years. Upon his release, he returned to union organizing, dying in Butte 2 months after his brother.

There’s a whole website dedicated to the bombing and those involved
, which is actually quite good.

This is the 77th post in this series. The rest of the series is archived here.

Wall Street Looting Pensions

[ 83 ] September 30, 2013 |

Matt Taibbi has a comprehensive takedown on of how Wall Street has combined with irresponsible state politicians to steal public workers’ pensions. It’s the latest iteration of the Wall Street war to increase profits by undermining the working and middle classes. At the heart of it is former Enron billionaire John Arnold, the same man recorded bragging about manipulating energy prices in California during their corporate created energy crisis. Here’s the skinny.

So even if Pew’s numbers were right, the “unfunded liability” crisis had nothing to do with the systemic unsustainability of public pensions. Thanks to a deadly combination of unscrupulous states illegally borrowing from their pensioners, and unscrupulous banks whose mass sales of fraudulent toxic subprime products crashed the market, these funds were out some $930 billion. Yet the public was being told that the problem was state workers’ benefits were simply too expensive.

In a way, this was a repeat of a shell game with retirement finance that had been going on at the federal level since the Reagan years. The supposed impending collapse of Social Security, which actually should be running a surplus of trillions of dollars, is now repeated as a simple truth. But Social Security wouldn’t be “collapsing” at all had not three decades of presidents continually burgled the cash in the Social Security trust fund to pay for tax cuts, wars and God knows what else. Same with the alleged insolvencies of state pension programs. The money may not be there, but that’s not because the program is unsustainable: It’s because bankers and politicians stole the money.

Still, the public mostly bought the line being sold by Arnold, Pew and other anti-pension figures like the Koch brothers. To most, it didn’t matter who was to blame: What mattered is that the money was gone, and there seemed to be only two possible paths forward. One led to bankruptcy, a real-enough threat that had already ravaged places like Vallejo, California; Jefferson County, Alabama; and, this summer, Detroit. In Rhode Island, the tiny town of Central Falls went bust in 2011, and even after a court-ordered plan lifted the town out of bankruptcy in 2012, the “rescue” left pensions slashed as much as 55 percent. “You had guys who were living off $24,000, and now they’re getting $12,000,” says Day. Though Day and his fellow retirees are still fighting reform, he says other union workers might rather settle than file bankruptcy. Holding up an infamous local-newspaper picture of a retired Central Falls policeman in a praying posture, as though begging not to have his whole pension taken away, Day sighs. “Guys take one look at this picture and that’s it. They’re terrified.”

Such images chilled many public workers into accepting the second path – the kind of pension reform meagerly touted by one-percent-friendly politicians like Gina Raimondo. Anyone could see that “reform” meant giving up cash. But the other parts of these schemes were murkier. Most pension-reform proposals required that states must go after higher returns by seeking out “alternative investments,” which sounds harmless enough. But we are now finding out what that term actually means – and it’s a little north of harmless

The politician most complicit with this stealing of public pensions is Rhode Island treasurer Gina Raimondo, who has turned the state’s pension program into a giant feeding frenzy for Wall Street capitalists like Arnold. She’s the one Democratic politician in this country who is clearly worse than Andrew Cuomo. How bad is Raimondo? She was attacked from the left in the pages (or website anyway) of Forbes. Say that again. Forbes attacked her for being too beholden to Wall Street.

She is running for Rhode Island governor. To say the least, I hope she loses to Providence mayor Angel Taveras. Still, she has the name in this very Italian state and there’s a tremendous amount of dislike of public workers in this supposedly union-friendly state. So we shall see if the Ocean State rejects a politician so clearly supportive of the New Gilded Age.

Lawrence Goodwyn, RIP

[ 4 ] September 30, 2013 |

The great U.S. historian Lawrence Goodwyn has passed. The author of the single best book even written on the Populists, Democratic Promise, The Populist Movement in America (as well as the shorter version, The Populist Moment), Goodwyn made the concerns of these impoverished 19th century farmers central to the response and resistance to the rise of rapacious Gilded Age capitalism. He also helped shift the conversation about the Populists away from the condescension of Richard Hofstadter. Instead of a bunch of intolerant yokels, Goodwyn shows the Populists as the continuance of a working-class rural democratic culture challenging the overwhelming control and oppression of an intolerant and thieving time.

I’ve never read Goodwyn book on Poland’s Solidarity movement, but I respect someone who seeks to take their insights about democratic uprisings and compare them to movements abroad.

RIP.

Resisting Unpaid Internships

[ 28 ] September 30, 2013 |

It’s good to see Europeans following their American comrades and resisting unpaid internships. I thought this quote was a pretty good example of why internships need to be governed by conventional labor law.

Saxon Baird, 29, a freelance journalist based in Brooklyn, says he has already completed six internships. “Only one internship really paid an amount that I could scrape by on,” Mr. Baird said: “In places like Vogue, I was getting paid $12 a day and working 25 to 30 hours a week. So, while that was technically a paid internship, it might as well not have been.”

He said that his internship at Vogue included some perks — like invites to celebrity parties and a few bylines — but he spent a large amount of time running errands, and acting as a substitute for a salaried employee.

But you know, a poor start up like Vogue magazine, how could they afford to pay minimum wage?