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Screaming at the Sky

[ 54 ] December 21, 2014 |

Remind me never to turn on Meet the Press, even for 2 seconds. I do today, or more accurately my wife is watching it because as a Latin American historian who has traveled in Cuba, she is following the events of the last week closely. Of course Marco Rubio is on. And in conversation, Chuck Todd and Rubio compare the left-wing dictatorship of Cuba to the left-wing dictatorship of Venezuela.

Except of course that Venezuela is not a dictatorship. They have elections that are relatively free and fair. Which is, you know, the opposite of a dictatorship. But the right-wing can’t win because even though the Chavistas are ineffective at this point, the open contempt of the Venezuelan elite for the poor gets in the way. But hey, we don’t like Venezuela so they are a dictatorship. Never mind that words have meanings.

Book Review: Gregory Wood, Retiring Men: Manhood, Labor, and Growing Old In America, 1900-1960

[ 9 ] December 21, 2014 |

Gregory Wood’s Retiring Men examines the intersection between masculinity, work, and retirement in the first six decades of the twentieth century. He argues that the crisis over retirement in a changing economy shaped connections between manhood and work during these years, an issue of real importance in the unstable economy of the New Gilded Age.

At the core of Wood’s book is the desperation of older workers in the American workplace of the early twentieth century. Work has long been at the center of identity for American men. Men have long held the single-income household dear, however fleeting in reality. Even more dear is the ability to support oneself and not have to rely on family or charity. But as industrialization became more intensive and mechanized in the early twentieth century, with faster machines and larger factories requiring hordes of young, strong workers, older men found themselves out of work. That included men as young as 40. And there was simply nowhere for many of them to go. Wood’s book is filled with the words of desperate men, despairing over their economic plight. With work considered the proper state for men, the lack of work meant the lack of manhood. The many letters and statements Wood quotes from the aging and unemployed are heartbreaking. Railroad conductor MS Thornton was finished at 47. He told a reporter, “Premature white hair told heavily against me. At 35 I was gray and at 40 I suppose I looked like a man of fifty.” His boss fired him and gave his job to a younger man. Some men dyed their mustaches and hair, but in this period, the quality of dyes were so bad that they could damage the skin or poison you. In 1902, the Los Angeles Times published a letter on a hair dye ingredient. It included “sugar of lead,” “tincture of cantharides,” “lac sulphur,” ammonia, and other fun things.

What did older workers, men and women, want? The ability to live on their own. To not have to burden their children. To maintain their dignity. The 1920s saw the rise of welfare capitalism that to some extent attempted to deal with these problems, but quickly the emphasis moved to the states. As we typically should expect from state-level welfare programs, they were inconsistent, poorly funded, and varied greatly between states. The problems of older workers would require federal attention. Poorhouses did find work for older people but were demeaning and often forced men to do traditional women’s labor like sewing, which further undermined their sense of manhood.

With the rise of successful working class politics in response to the Great Depression, the requirements of older workers became central to both the labor movement and government policy. On the latter, the most important manifestation of older workers’ needs was the Social Security Act of 1935. Yet it’s important to remember in the modern Affordable Care Act-era how disappointing the Social Security Act was for many older workers. No one received a dime until 1940 (and this was after FDR changed it from the original 1942). For older workers already struggling to find work, it did nothing. The time it took to build a Social Security account worth having meant a lot of work for older workers who couldn’t find it. The age 65 cutoff also excluded a lot of workers who were too sick or feeble to work until that age. The SSA was a huge compromise with established interests and fell well short of the hopes many workers placed in the Townsend plan, but was still popular in the short-term and hugely successful in the long-term.

Second, the importance of seniority to the new CIO unions came out of the old age workers’ woes. Usually, we think of seniority clauses in union contracts, to the extent we think of them at all, as either the fairest way of dealing with layoffs since it takes away employers’ prerogative about who gets laid off, or, negatively, as protecting older and less productive workers. But for CIO workers, seniority meant dignity. It meant still having a job at age 50 regardless of what new machinery or predilection for young male bodies bosses had. It meant life.

By the 1950s, the rise of pensions and retirement culture changed the national conversation on manhood and retirement. The lack of work still challenged workers’ manhood, but the response moved more toward organized activities like golf and jokes (and not only jokes but real issues) about gender roles in the retired household. Older men didn’t necessarily appreciate forced retirement ages, the watches they received at awkward retirement parties, being forced into women’s space in the home, and the lack of structure in their post-retirement lives, but growing consumerism found some outlet for this.

While this is a good book overall, there are a couple of weaknesses worth noting. First, despite the powerful stories Wood tells about the crisis of aging in the early twentieth century, the stark shift to middle-class work and the office after World War II papers over the tenuous nature of this type of employment for a lot of people who had suffered greatly earlier in the century. Given that so many of the retirees he talks about in this era had long histories in the working-class culture of the pre-war period, building those connections and talking more about the tenuous nature of retirement in the post-war period for many workers would have been helpful. Some of this critique is mitigated by the fact that Wood consciously centered his study in how retirement and masculinity was portrayed in the dominant culture and certainly in the postwar period that did shift to the middle class.

Second, I really wish this study hadn’t ended in 1960. Wood provides a brief conclusion, but there is a real story bringing this through the 20th and early 21st centuries with the end of the guaranteed comfortable retirement a pension was supposed to bring. Instead, in the aftermath of the post-1973 economic stagnation and decline of both the working and middle classes, the end of industrial work through outsourcing and automation, and the power of the corporate conservative movement repealing the economic gains of the twentieth century, the idea of the respectable retirement has increasingly disappeared in American culture. While I am somewhat less concerned than Wood about the impact of this on masculinity per se, how this unease and poverty reshapes American culture is a powerful question that deserves more study.

Overall however, Retiring Men is a valuable addition to our understanding of agism and work in American history, an important subject that should help us focus on these issues in the present.

Panama-Pacific International Exposition

[ 10 ] December 20, 2014 |

Why would I put up footage of the 1915 Panama-Pacific International Exposition, which was a world’s fair held in San Francisco, celebrating both the rebirth of the city after the earthquake and the opening of the Panama Canal the year before? The real question is why wouldn’t I? Plus it features a rarity here at LGM–footage of living horses.

Discuss.

Be a Hipster and Fight Against the War on the Christmas at the Same Time

[ 46 ] December 20, 2014 |

Real hipsters buy their clothing from Glenn Beck’s website.

Call the Waaaaambulance!

[ 24 ] December 20, 2014 |

Businesses are very, very sad because the National Labor Relations Board did not tip the balance of workplace power toward them even further when it ruled for faster union elections.

Last Friday, the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) issued long-awaited new rules to modernize and streamline union certification elections and to eliminate the worst cases of pre-election delay. The board is mandated to protect the rights of employees to form unions and bargain collectively, but numerous academic studies have demonstrated that the current NLRB election process fails to protect workers’ free choice.

One major problem under the current system is that unscrupulous employers use delaying tactics to undermine employee choice. Thus, the NLRB’s new rules seek to reduce unnecessary litigation and delay in the union certification process; to ensure that workers, employers and unions receive timely information; and to provide for the electronic filing of election petitions and other documents. The rules were published in the Federal Register on Dec. 15 and will take effect on April 14, 2015.

Predictably, anti-union groups and their Republican allies have claimed that the rules will deprive employers of sufficient time to campaign against the unions. One prominent anti-union law firm complained that the rules would “minimize” an employer’s time to “run an anti-union campaign,” while the International Franchise Association apparently believes they will enable unions to “silence” employers like McDonald’s. The National Retail Federation, which represents Wal-Mart and other billion-dollar retailers, described the NLRB’s modest reforms as “devastating,” and Republicans, who say that the current broken system has “worked well for decades,” have proposed legislation that would mandate even longer pre-election delay (H.R. 4320). In short, representatives of big business and right-wing lobbying organizations oppose any attempt to promote basic fairness in the union certification process.

Employers hate this because they rely on a long period of time to engage in a coordinated campaign of intimidation against employees that includes sophisticated anti-union firms. A quick election means that workers will be able to express their voice without this intimidation.

Of course both parties are the same and therefore Rand Paul is the only progressive alternative in 2016.

Stringer Bond

[ 45 ] December 19, 2014 |

If North Korea hacking Sony e-mails actually leads to Idris Elba playing James Bond, it will be that country’s greatest gift to humanity.

Wearing Gay History

[ 5 ] December 19, 2014 |

Super cool online archive of historical gay themed t-shirts from Indiana. Well worth exploring, even if it is overwhelmingly male.

Additional commentary here.

Coastal Cities and Climate Change

[ 50 ] December 19, 2014 |

Norfolk residents are trying to adapt to climate change by raising their houses to protect them from increasingly frequent floods. The problem is that it’s really expensive to do this, a lot of people in Norfolk are poor, and they can’t afford it. Meanwhile, because people buying homes and especially insurance agencies have to make real world decisions and thus aren’t going to be persuaded by James Inhofe spewing climate denialism, these low-lying homes are really hard to sell and insurance rates on them are skyrocketing. This is what substitutes for real climate change planning from government.

Work in the Walmart Economy

[ 44 ] December 19, 2014 |

This is why unionizing Walmart is so important and why just ballot measures for the minimum wage isn’t enough to improve the lives of workers. Unions are about dignity and power on the job, which is why companies hate them. Because those companies want to make pregnant women work with chemicals and then fire them when they complain:

Candis Riggins says that she isn’t the only pregnant worker who was discriminated against by Wal-Mart. And despite having a policy stating it will make “reasonable accommodations” for pregnant workers, Riggins alleges that Wal-Mart made it virtually impossible for her to safely work through her pregnancy.

“I made it clear to my supervisors that I wanted to keep working and that I could do several other jobs well,” Riggins said this week in a statement. “I just needed to keep away from the chemicals, but Wal-Mart said, ‘No,’ even though I know they gave light duty to a coworker of mine when he hurt his back. Finally, I was forced to choose between a healthy pregnancy and my paycheck. No pregnant worker should have to make that decision.”

In the claim, Riggins states that the chemicals she was forced to work with while cleaning bathrooms at the store made her ill, and that bending over for hours at a time caused her severe back pain. The pain became so intolerable that she went to see a doctor, who recommended lighter duty during the rest of her pregnancy. When she went to her supervisor with this information, she was moved to mopping and sweeping the store, work she said still exacerbated her back pain and involved chemicals that made her ill.

Finally, she was moved to be a greeter at the door. But the time on her feet, at least 8 hours, according to the claim, was still hard on her, so she asked if she could sit on a stool. She was told she could not sit, despite other workers with injuries being allowed to sit while greeting customers. According to the claim, “Wal-Mart has engaged in a pattern or practice of gender discrimination against female sales associates and in policies or practices that have a disparate impact against women.”

Eastern Airlines

[ 30 ] December 18, 2014 |

Discuss.

Thatcherism

[ 133 ] December 18, 2014 |

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The leaders of Thatcher-era Great Britain were really marked by high personal moral standards:

London police say they believe a claim made by a man named only as “Nick,” who alleges he saw a Conservative member of Parliament kill a boy at a child sex party in the 1980s, The Guardian reports.

Nick, whose real identity is being withheld by police and the media, previously told the Exaro news site that when he was a boy he was taken to child sex parties in the 1980s. He watched a boy being strangled to death in front of him by the unnamed MP. On another occasion, he says he saw another boy killed while a Conservative cabinet member looked on. A third boy is also alleged to have been killed by the Westminster pedophile ring that included senior political figures in the 1970s, ’80s, and ’90s.

Even better:

Jackie Malton, a former detective sergeant who investigated the death of eight-year-old Vishal Mehrotra in 1981, has told The Telegraph she believes the crime may have been covered up to protect senior Westminster political figures. In that case, the father of Vishal Mehrotra has claimed that he passed to the police a tape recording of a phone call he received after his eight-year-old son was killed in which a male prostitute said the boy might have been abducted and murdered near the notorious Elm Guest House, a building nearby where Vishal went missing. Elm Guest House had been the focus of a police investigation into whether it was a base for child abusers.

An inquiry into the disappearance of a dossier that named alleged pedophile MPs has already proved inconclusive. In 1983, Leon Brittan, the former home secretary and member of Margaret Thatcher’s cabinet, was handed a 40-page dossier naming eight senior civil servants and politicians who were allegedly involved in a secret ring of pedophiles. And then the dossier … vanished.

Thatcherism–a government rotten to its very core.

States Rights!

[ 137 ] December 18, 2014 |

Remember friends, conservatives are always about smaller government and leaving people alone to live their lives as they want:

Two neighboring states are asking the U.S. Supreme Court to strike down Colorado’s laws legalizing recreational marijuana.

The Colorado attorney general’s office says the states of Nebraska and Oklahoma have filed the lawsuit directly with the nation’s highest court. The attorney general’s office says the lawsuit alleges “that Colorado’s Amendment 64 and its implementing legislation regarding recreational marijuana is unconstitutional under the Supremacy Clause of the U.S. Constitution.”

In other words, right wing states decide to launch a lawsuit based upon a culture war against a liberal state (or however you want to define Colorado). Nebraska and Oklahoma are claiming that they are suffering because of the marijuana arrests no one is forcing them to make based upon their borders with Colorado. For Oklahoma, this makes almost no sense since I am sure very, very few people buying legal marijuana in Colorado are crossing it’s small and remote border with the Sooner State. Of course, the solution to this “problem” for the attorney general in these states is not to spend less money on stupid laws and reallocate that money to solving social problems. It’s to spend more money on a frivolous lawsuit. Which pretty much sums up modern conservatism.

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