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Chauncey on the Court Decisions

[ 9 ] June 26, 2013 |

The historian of gay America, George Chauncey, with an excellent essay on the history behind the move toward gay marriage. In part:

The lesbian and gay liberation movements of the early 1970s did not make marriage a priority — quite the opposite. Activists fought police raids, job discrimination and families’ rejection of their queer children. Most radical activists scorned the very idea of marriage. But a handful walked into clerks’ offices across the country to request marriage licenses. State officials suddenly realized that their laws failed to limit marriage to a man and a woman; no other arrangement had been imagined. By 1978, 15 states had written this limitation into law.

A “traditional family values” movement arose to oppose gay rights and feminism. Anita Bryant and other activists took aim at some of the earliest local anti-discrimination laws, and by 1979 they had persuaded voters in several cities to repeal them. In some 140 local and state referendums, gay-rights activists were forced to defend their fledgling protections. This, not marriage, consumed their energies.

It was the 1980s that changed things. The AIDS epidemic and what came to be known as the “lesbian baby boom” compelled even those couples whose friends and family fully embraced them to deal with powerful institutions — family and probate courts, hospitals, adoption agencies and funeral homes — that refused to recognize their relationships at all.

The gay partner of someone with AIDS confronted hospitals that could deny him visitation privileges, not to mention consultation over treatment. He couldn’t use his health insurance to cover his partner. He risked losing his home after his partner’s death if his name wasn’t on the lease or if he couldn’t pay inheritance taxes on his partner’s share of it (which would not have been required of a surviving spouse).

Militarization

[ 64 ] June 26, 2013 |

Good that John McCain is so giddy about creating what he calls the most militarized border since the Berlin Wall with the immigration bill. I mean, that turned out pretty well for everyone, no?

We Shall Overcome

[ 64 ] June 25, 2013 |

Maybe so Lyndon. But it didn’t last forever. Now we have to overcome again.

John Lewis on what the Court decision means, stabbing the civil rights movement “in its very heart.”

The Climate Speech

[ 63 ] June 25, 2013 |

Kind of an unfortunate day for Obama’s climate change speech, not that it is his fault. I’ll distract my attention from my outrage at the overturning of a huge part of the civil rights movement for a moment to make a couple of notes.

First, Obama is absolutely correct to simply sidestep Congress here. In the long run, arguably the biggest impact of Congressional dysfunction could be that presidents regardless of party begin to ignore it and we move closer to unilateral rule. Of course, filibuster reform would help with this. Anyway, Obama still has significant power within the Executive Branch to shape policy and it is here he will leave his climate legacy.

Second, increasing carbon emissions standards on power plants is absolutely the best way to go about this, or at least it’s a very good first step. If it is a war on coal, then it is a war on coal. I know the UMWA and coal companies hate him for it, and what we really need is a clear program of green jobs in coal country to replace the jobs lost to environmental regulations, but sometimes you just have to make these hard decisions. Of course, the vast majority of coal jobs have already disappeared due to automation and industry disinvestment in Appalachia for new coal seams in Wyoming.

Third, Obama needs to take two steps he doesn’t want to take to show he is serious. First, he needs to not allow the Keystone XL Pipeline. If he lets that be built, it demonstrates that he is unwilling to do what it will actually take to slow climate change. Second, he needs to fight against coal exports to China. The Powder River Basin in Wyoming is now basically an enormous coal mine, mostly to serve an export market. West Coast cities are fighting against having their ports used for coal exports. Obama needs to step in here. I am skeptical on both counts.

Fourth, the plan really needs a more vigorous green jobs program and clean energy subsidies to replace dirty energy subsidies, but without funding from Congress, it’s hard to do too much here.

Fifth, none of this will probably make a molehill’s worth of difference in the ultimate battle against climate change. But a start is a start and you have to do something. Overall, it’s a positive speech, for whatever that’s worth.

As a sidenote, it’s also worth reading this essay by environmental justice scholar Robert Bullard on the need for historically black colleges to take climate change seriously. It’s an environmental justice issue. Unfortunately, even those affected don’t always see it that way because unlike a toxic waste dump in your backyard, you don’t notice it every day.

….Or as Pierce says, Obama’s bailing the ocean out with a thimble.

The Roberts Court Would Like to Add a Film to Its VRA Decision

[ 97 ] June 25, 2013 |

It seems the Roberts Court also made a film expressing its views on American race relations and the proper order between the races. You can watch it below.

Open Thread on Supreme Court Ruling of Section 4 of Voting Rights Act Unconstitutional

[ 209 ] June 25, 2013 |

It’s worth having an open thread just to express anger and frustration over our Plessy-nostalgic Supreme Court ruling the most important section of the most important piece of civil rights legislation passed since the 14th Amendment unconstitutional.

Will anti-lynching laws soon be ruled unconstitutional as well? We’d probably have to pray for a Kennedy swing vote on that one.

I wonder how reasonable moderate Sam Alito voted? Maybe St. Ralph would like to pontificate about this a bit as well?

Reasonable Moderate

[ 64 ] June 25, 2013 |

Not only does reasonable moderate Sam Alito show us that there is no difference between the two parties and elections don’t matter and therefore because of Edward Snowden we should all vote for Gary Johnson or whoever the Green Party spits up in 2016, but he’s also just a classy guy who treats his colleagues with the respect they deserve!

Strengthening the Fair Labor Standards Act

[ 20 ] June 24, 2013 |

The labor historian Jefferson Cowie on why the government desperately needs to recommit to and strengthen the Fair Labor Standards Act:

It’s true that we are in the middle of a seismic shift in the way we structure our work lives. Both workers and employers want more flexibility. But that similarity of interests shouldn’t mask the fact that employers will always have more power than their employees, and that it’s in their interests to make those employees work as long and as cheaply as possible.

In Roosevelt’s day, the courts found most wages and hours legislation unconstitutional based on the doctrine of “liberty of contract.” The idea was as simple as it was pernicious: wages and hours legislation violated an individual’s freedom to make an independent (read: worse) deal with his employer.

We can’t afford to drift further back to the bad old days of liberty of contract. Americans are drastically overworked and underpaid compared to workers in other advanced countries, and our workers are trapped in a rigid pattern of inequality that has ended a historic claim to being the nation of upward mobility.

Roosevelt did not bother with economic arguments when it came to hours and wages. He offered a simple framework, both moral and patriotic. “A self-supporting and self-respecting democracy,” he proclaimed, “can plead no justification for the existence of child labor, no economic reason for chiseling workers’ wages or stretching workers’ hours.” That is as true today as it was then.

Smart Corporate Behavior

[ 77 ] June 24, 2013 |

It doesn’t really surprise me that the big whiskey corporations are doing such a good job of pivoting to the demand for higher quality hooch.* They have the preexisting capital investment, a vested interest in controlling a changing market, and brand identity. Microdistillers have a rough road because of the sheer time it takes for good whiskey to develop and the high investment in purchasing a bottle, unlike microbrewers who can move product quickly and with a palatable economic commitment from a curious consumer. I know I’m far more inclined to take a shot on a $10 4-pack of something than spend $35 on a bottle of a new whiskey that I’m stuck with if I think it mediocre.

What I don’t understand is why more corporate behemoths don’t act this way. Two quick examples come to mind. First is the brewing industry, where the industrial lager makers response to microbrews has been to try and corner the market through legal shenanigans and through making bad fake microbrews like Blue Moon. The second is the oil industry, which instead of deciding to make huge profits off wind and solar by cornering those markets and establishing monopolies early on is instead fighting tooth and nail to kill anything that competes with their core business. This seems incredibly short-sighted to me and reeks of decisions made upon the principle of hating hippies rather than smart business practices.

* The exception to this rule very much seems to be in gin, where we are seeing a large number of very high-quality new products coming on the market.

It’s Always the Fault of Postmodernism

[ 124 ] June 24, 2013 |

There’s a certain class of conservatives that love to blame postmodernism for everything. One of them is David Brooks, who blames it for the decline in the humanities:

The humanist’s job was to cultivate this ground — imposing intellectual order upon it, educating the emotions with art in order to refine it, offering inspiring exemplars to get it properly oriented.

Somewhere along the way, many people in the humanities lost faith in this uplifting mission. The humanities turned from an inward to an outward focus. They were less about the old notions of truth, beauty and goodness and more about political and social categories like race, class and gender. Liberal arts professors grew more moralistic when talking about politics but more tentative about private morality because they didn’t want to offend anybody.

To the earnest 19-year-old with lofty dreams of self-understanding and moral greatness, the humanities in this guise were bound to seem less consequential and more boring.

Studying race, class, and gender=boring and not about Truth.

Ah. I see.

It’s hardly surprising that David Brooks would find these topics boring, he doesn’t care about them as a fifty-something year old man. You’d like to think that he’d have enough self-awareness to not extrapolate that all 19-year olds find them boring. But of course he doesn’t. For David Brooks, studying the humanities only has value in so far as we can limit those studies to long dead white males. That he closes by talking about his favorite teacher, who taught ancient Greece, is quite telling. Personally, I find European history before 1500 or so pretty boring. But I also see the value in teaching it. Which is part of what the humanities is–studying human history and values and art from a multiplicity of perspectives, even the ones you don’t care about.

That Brooks waxes about “private morality” and then yearns for us to teach more about a society whose elite men routinely had sex with children says plenty as well.

On the Recent Events in Brazil

[ 20 ] June 24, 2013 |

This is a guest post from Colin Snider of Americas South and North.

As many by now know, the last 10 days have seen an incredible degree of social mobilization in Brazil. On the surface, it began with a twenty-[Brazilian]-cent hike in bus fares in São Paulo. Protesters marched peacefully, By the end of the night, the police response to violence had created a broader sense of outrage, leading one Brazilian on Twitter to comment, “It’s no longer about the fares. Fuck the fares. This has become much greater than the question of fares.”

And indeed, it was always about much more than the fares. As I outlined earlier last week, the reasons for now are complex, and are as much about historical inequalities, a fact reflected in the variety of demands: from educational reform to anger at the $13.3 billion spent on the World Cup; from Congress’s disconnection with the people it ostensibly represents to decades of generally-unchecked police violence; all of these, and more, are the causes people are raising in the streets. It’s not even about a single political party; while President Dilma Rousseff and the center-left Workers Party [PT] have been targets of outrage and slogans, so have the other other parties on the left and right. In terms of politics, it’s not as much about partisanship as it is about the broader system of political cronyism and oligarchical politics that goes back centuries. So the protests did not come out of nowhere. In fact, the writing has been on the wall for some time; at the beginning of the year, Francisco Everardo Oliveira Silva, a TV clown who ran for Congress (and won) in an attempt to show the absurdity of politics, commented that “Either this thing [Brazilian politics] changes, or people are going to go crazy.”

So in many ways, it’s about broader political inequalities and absurdities within a functioning electoral democracy. And though politics is an important part of it, it’s not the sole issue at play; the economy, both in real terms and in terms of Brazilians’ material expectations, is an important part of the discourse of unrest as well. The twenty cents was a not-insignificant amount of money for a working class that is often underpaid even while living in the 12th most expensive city in the world, ahead of New York City, Los Angeles, or any other city in the US. And although nationwide, Brazil continues to enjoy near-record low unemployment rates, unemployment in São Paulo has been above the national average for Brazil, compounding the problem for many paulistanos [those from São Paulo city].

But these are problems limited to São Paulo – how did it go national? The national economy is a part of the issue, but it’s not the whole picture. Yes, Brazil has recently seen inflation increase, growth rates slow down, and currency devalued, making well-paying jobs harder to come by and lessening the overall value of incomes among both the working and the middle classes in Brazil. But it’s as much about the representation of the national economy as it is about actual economic factors. For about ten years now, politicians, analysts, and foreign commentators had all pointed to Brazil as having finally becoming an economic powerhouse in the world. They pointed to its status as the seventh largest economy in the world; its growing role in global trade; and even its recent debt forgiveness in Africa as symbols of this strength. Winning the bids for the 2014 World Cup and 2016 Olympics were hailed as final evidence Brazil had “made it.”

But, as is all too often the case amongst neoliberal analysis, they falsely equated growth to development. Sure, Brazil’s economy had grown, but it also retained one of the higher levels of income inequality in the world. And the government spent $13.3 billion for FIFA to host the World Cup in Brazil, money that went to stadiums rather than to infrastructure projects that would help a majority of Brazilians. And this while educational levels and adequate health care continue to be major problems for millions of poor and middle class families throughout the country. Brazilians had been told for ten years that things had improved, that Brazil had finally “arrived,” and that they were now enjoying material and social benefits that they’d always been excluded from. And in some ways, there were real gains in the 2000s – the purchasing power of the working class and middle class strengthened somewhat, and programs like Bolsa Familia and Fome Zero helped millions of poor families. But at the first sign of economic instability, it all threatened to come apart, even when their expectations had already increased, and even after ten years of being told that this time it was different. And yet, the socioeconomic inequalities remain in a system where politicians still seem to ignore or be completely unaware of the issues facing tens of millions of Brazilians.

But, if all of these issues have been latent for a long time, why now? The short answer is: it’s complicated, and there’s no definite “quotient” that meant demonstrations on the scale of millions was inevitable. Indeed – this video does a really good job of showing how all of these issues have come together, with the World Cup as a symbol of all that’s wrong with Brazilian inequalities.

All of the above issues have certainly contributed to the unrest and anger. But this is where police violence in São Paulo played a key role. While the police in Brazil have used violence and operated with impunity all too often, the violence last week was one straw too many. That police responded so disproportionately against peaceful protesters exercising their right to speech and assembly, led to broader anger throughout the country. The images that emerged from such violence were so surreal and so grotesque, it only further ignited anger in Brazil, prompting more people to take to the streets, and leading to more surreal scenes throughout the country and even greater police violence, and so on and so forth. In that way, what had apparently started as popular anger at bus fare hikes in Brazil’s largest city became the beginning of nationwide demonstrations from Brazilians who had simply decided they’d just had too much.

And the protests expanded rapidly. On Monday night (the 17th), 230,000 people took to the streets nationwide to protest, in what at the time seemed like a high number. Yet by the middle of the week, the protests were growing; in response, nearly a dozen cities (including São Paulo and Rio) rolled back bus fares. But it was too late. By Thursday night (the 20th), nearly 2 million people across 483 municipalities throughout the country had mobilized. And while two million in a country of 190 million is still a tiny number relatively speaking, the support is much broader, with a poll finding 75% of Brazilians supported the mobilization. Nor was the mobilization limited to a single socioeconomic group, as people from the favelas in Rio joined people from the middle-class Zona Sul on Thursday, leading to at least 300,000 (and perhaps more) in the streets for the largest urban rally in Rio since at least 1984, when the country mobilized for direct elections as the twenty-one-year military dictatorship wound down.

Of course, the events in Brazil have rippled throughout the region in the world. In Paraguay, around three thousand people took to the streets to protest corruption in their own country, with participants openly admitting the events in Brazil had inspired the Paraguayans to speak out as well. More ridiculously, Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan has said that the unrest in his own country and now in Brazil is due to foreign conspirators who want to destabilize both countries (though Erdogan was silent in explaining why, out of all the countries in the world, vague “foreign” threats would target Turkey and Brazil). Of course, such allegations are ridiculous, as citizens of both Turkey and Brazil are responding to the abuses of power and national contexts within their own countries. Beyond that, the most obvious similarity between Turkey and Brazil is the police’s overwhelming and disproportionate use of force in each case, based on privatized weaponry and brutality against unarmed protesters found in police forces not just in Turkey, but Davis, New York, and now, Brazil.

What happens next is uncertain. Already, the location of the protests has ebbed and flowed; 300,000 in Rio one night, 100,000 in Recife another night, 60,000 in the largest protest yesterday in Belo Horizonte. That a different city has had the largest protests each day demonstrates just how national the discontent is. Still, what change they can have remains to be seen. In some ways, Brazilians face challenges not-dissimilar to those the Occupy movement faced; a broad movement with a variety of concerns and demands that forswears any particular political party or organization. Though the protests may slow down or peter out in the next few weeks [and they may not], it would not be surprising to see them return periodically, particularly as the World Cup takes place next year; after all, those stadiums, with their billions of dollars spent in renovations, will physically remain to remind Brazilians of how little the World Cup actually improved their lives, even while proving extremely expensive. But, while the World Cup will serve as a useful symbol, the protests won’t undo that $13.3 billion.

Perhaps the way these demonstrations could have the longest effect is through political mobilization. In addition to being home to the World Cup, Brazil also holds elections next year. Politicians who choose to disregard the voice of the electorate may find they can no longer do so with disregard. For the first time in twenty years, Brazilians have taken to the streets to express their anger; the last time, in 1992, it led to a president resigning over corruption. For a generation, though, such a sense of empowerment, of being able to shape national politics, was lacking, not out of will, but out of experience. Now, that has changed – there is a new sense that politicians do not rule in an ivory tower, that the people can make themselves heard. A common refrain throughout Brazil this week was that, with millions gathering and making their voices heard, “O gigante acordou – The giant awoke.” Whatever the outcome of these demonstrations, this has been a historic week in Brazil, with demonstrations and popular mobilization that ranks up there with 1968, 1984, or 1992; yet each of those years, the mobilizations were defined by particular terms (protests against a dictatorship; demands for direct elections; calls for the resignation of the corrupt Fernando Collor). 2013 is different – the demands are more open, the people more insistent, and the potential outcomes more diverse. Even if the demonstrations disappear in the coming weeks, the issues behind them will not go away so easily, and it will be worth continuing to watch to see if and how this moment shapes society and political culture in Brazil going forward.

The History of Native American Voting

[ 22 ] June 23, 2013 |

This is a great overview of attempts to suppress the Native American vote after they received full citizenship rights in 1924. In short, they were treated by western states not too different from African-Americans in the Jim Crow South.

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