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Category: General

Heritage or Hate?

[ 27 ] June 22, 2015 |

Both, of course.


[ 1 ] June 22, 2015 |


I was on the Leonard Lopate Show on WNYC this afternoon talking about Out of Sight. We really didn’t get into climate change too much, despite the title of the segment. But it was great. Probably as close to media royalty as I’ll ever get.

My favorite part was Lopate quoting my Don Blankenship post from the other day when I called him “one of the worst human beings living in the United States today.” And then I got to talk about why this is true.

On the Haley Speech

[ 116 ] June 22, 2015 |


  • I think Haley merits praise for this action.  People called for South Carolina to take down the flag.  She called for it to be taken down.  I, myself, take yes for an answer.  (And while she’s not running again, plenty of public officials in the South who have safe seats or aren’t running again haven’t done the right thing.)
  • Yes, she had to be pushed by a horrible event.  But as Coates says, when it comes to politicians this is very nearly a tautology.  (You think  LBJ would have had a major record of accomplishment on civil rights had he been elected president in 1952?)  Politicians, up to and including Lincoln, act in politically expedient ways, and doing so is integral to progressive success.
  • It should also be obvious that politicians doing good things doesn’t follow from public pressure as night follows day.  There are many, many public officials  who don’t do the right thing in the face of bad events and public pressure.  (Seven Southern states don’t have Confederate symbols on their flags because of a lack of racist violence or because of a lack of opposition from civil rights groups.)  Cf. also the Republican Party and the Affordable Care Act passim.
  • Yes, it’s only symbolism.  You know what?  Sometimes symbols matter.  When a state-sanctioned symbol of treason in defense of slavery and lawlessness in defense of apartheid flies on the state capitol grounds, informing the state’s citizens that they’re second-class citizens, that matters.  When Republican presidential candidates feel the need to defend the practice every four years that matter.  When a Republican governor who may well have national political ambitions says nuts to this, wrong is wrong, that matters.   Yes, this does not singlehandedly transform South Carolina’s politics and the South Carolina Republican Party is not going to be a reliable vehicle for racial justice, news at 11.  To the zero liberals who will argue that this makes Haley a progressive hero, I will disagree in advance.  Sometimes, politicians who aren’t admirable from a progressive point of view do good things.  This is one of them.

Who doesn’t love an old-fashioned fisking?

[ 13 ] June 22, 2015 |

I know I do — even if I can’t believe I’m getting paid to write one.

The most underrated baseball player ever?

[ 77 ] June 22, 2015 |

sweet lou

Which one of these guys has the highest career Wins Above Replacement total?

Derek Jeter
Reggie Jackson
Gary Carter
Frank Thomas
Eddie Murray
Lou Whitaker
Tony Gwynn
Ryne Sandberg
Carlton Fisk
Roberto Alomar

If you’re a baseball fan, you can easily guess the answer based on the title of this post.

Lou Whitaker has the 18th-highest career WAR among all position players whose careers are encompassed by the last half century of MLB (A category that includes almost half of all MLB players ever. As for active players who are likely to pass him, the only two with a good shot are Miguel Cabrera and the ridiculous Mike Trout).

Here are the 17 players ahead of him, in no particular order:

Ozzie Smith
Griffey Jr.
Chipper Jones

Every one of these players who is eligible is already in the Hall of Fame, except for Bonds and Bagwell. Bonds is of course being informally banned for taking steroids, and Bagwell seems to be getting the same treatment, although AFAIK nobody will come out and say it, given that the evidence against him is purely conjectural.

Meanwhile, Whitaker got 2.9% of the vote in his first year of eligibility, meaning he didn’t even stick on to the ballot for another year.

This was par for the course for him. Sweet Lou won the Rookie of the Year award in 1978, but was almost completely ignored in award voting after that. Amazingly, he appeared on anyone’s MVP ballot only once in 19 major league seasons, in 1983 when he finished 8th in the voting (In a typical year, about 25 players will appear on at least one voter’s ballot, since voters can rank up to ten players). He did make four all-star teams, which is far fewer than everybody on the two lists above, except for the strange case of Robin Yount, who made only three all-star teams despite winning two MVP awards.

Now to be fair, framing the case in terms of career WAR makes the strongest argument for Whitaker’s nomination as the most under-rated MLB player ever. The causes of Whitaker’s relative obscurity among great players are several:

(1) He was a terrific all-around player, as opposed to doing one thing — such as hitting for a high average, or hitting lots of home runs, or winning the gold glove every year — that tends to catch fans’ and voters’ attention. All-around players are, all other things being equal, invariably under-rated relative to specialists.

(2) He didn’t play in one of the giant media markets.

(3) He had lots of excellent years, but never one career year of obvious MVP quality.

(4) He was a quiet guy, rather than a rah-rah type. He also developed a bit of a reputation for being somewhat spacy (he once forgot his uniform when he went to an all-star game, and had to play in a makeshift jersey that had his number drawn on it with what looked like some sort of magic marker).

Here, the comparison with Alan Trammell is revealing. Whitaker and Trammell were by far the longest-lasting double play combination in MLB history. They were also remarkably similar players. Points (1) and (2) above apply to Trammell equally well. Point (3) doesn’t, as Trammell had an obvious MVP-quality season in 1987, but finished second to George Bell, back in the days when sportswriters didn’t realize there were more than three statistics by which to evaluate a player. Point (4) also doesn’t apply at all, and I remember Bill James argued on a couple of occasions that the relative attention given to Trammell over Whitaker, given their almost uncanny similarity as players, was in large part race-based. (Trammell has gotten double-digit support on the HOF ballot for all 14 seasons that he’s been eligible, topping out at 33% of the vote a couple of years ago.)

Anyway, the argument for Whitaker as the most under-rated MLB player ever, at least in terms of overall career value, is very strong.

Knowing Your Audience Is Mostly NERDS

[ 47 ] June 22, 2015 |


Scalia’s decision to give Kimble v. Marvel Entertainment to Kagan was inspired:

  • “The parties set no end date for royalties, apparently contemplating that they would continue for as long as kids want to imitate Spider-Man (by doing whatever a spider can).”
  • “Patents endow their holders with certain superpowers, but only for a limited time.”
  • “To the contrary, the decision’s close relation to a whole web of precedents means that reversing it could threaten others.”
  • “What we can decide, we can undecide. But stare decisis teaches that we should exercise that authority sparingly. Cf. S. Lee and S. Ditko, Amazing Fantasy No. 15: “SpiderMan,” p. 13 (1962) (“[I]n this world, with great power there must also come — great responsibility”).”

Substantively, the case is another example of the disagreement between Scalia and Thomas about the value of stare decisis. While I’m dubious about the idea of “superpowered” precedents in general, in this case — involving statutory interpretation in an area of law in which Congress has been very active and contract law — it makes a certain amount of sense. I also thought Kagan’s discussion of the implications of stare decisis was interesting:

Respecting stare decisis means sticking to some wrong decisions. The doctrine rests on the idea, as Justice Brandeis famously wrote, that it is usually “more important that the applicable rule of law be settled than that it be settled right.” Indeed, stare decisis has consequence only to the extent it sustains incorrect decisions; correct judgments have no need for that principle to prop them up.

I don’t think this is strictly accurate. Stare decisis could also have value in preserving rules that in the first instance could have been reasonably decided either way in the interests of stability. But courts generally prefer not to be explicit about how much discretion they have — “correct” and “incorrect” sound more authoritative than “a decision in a case that could have plausibly come out either way.”

This Day in Labor History: June 22, 1922

[ 24 ] June 22, 2015 |

On June 22, 1922, a night and early morning of angry United Mine Workers of America members massacring strikebreakers and mine guards ended in Herrin, Illinois. Twenty-one people died, 19 of which were the strikebreakers and guards. This spasm of violence is a rare example of American labor history where workers killed more people than the forces of order. It’s also a sign of the desperation and anger of coal miners by the 1920s over the terrible treatment of themselves and their unions. Finally, the UMWA strategy of avoiding blame for this incident by blaming nonexistent communists for leading the mob proved a pioneering incident of a long history of American organized labor redbaiting.

In April 1922, the United Mine Workers of America, led by their new president John L. Lewis, began a nationwide coal strike. Lewis wanted to establish his union as a power in the labor movement and his members took a strong stance against strikebreakers. Herrin, Illinois was in the center of an area called Little Egypt, a bituminous mining zone in the southern part of that state.

Owners did not want to cave but some did not want to have a showdown with the UMWA either. The Southern Illinois Coal Company was one of those, as it was a union shop. Originally, it agreed that while its members would continue to mine coal, it would not ship any of it until the strike ended. The UMWA agreed with this because the mine was newly opened and heavily indebted. The miners did not want the mine to close permanently, so this somewhat odd arrangement developed. By June, the miners had dug out 60,000 tons of coal that waited for shipment.

But when coal prices rose because of the strike, William Lester, the company’s owner, could not resist selling it, even though he had earlier counseled the state to let the strike go on without interference. Realizing he would pull $250,000 in profit if he broke the agreement, he hired 50 strikebreakers and private guards for them. The private guards soon intimidated local residents and hoped to bully the UMWA out of the strike. On June 16, he shipped out sixteen rail cars filled with coal, guarded by his private police force armed with machine guns.

Tensions rose quickly. 30,000 UMWA members lived in the area and they were shocked. They held a mass meeting. Lewis sent a message to them saying the local was “justified in treating this crowd [the scabs and private police] as an outlaw organization.” The head of the Illinois National Guard came to meet with Lester to get him to ease those tensions. By this time though, the coal owner was determined to crush the union. On June 21, a group of miners attacked a train of scabs, killing its driver. Later that afternoon, another group looted a local hardware store for its guns, went to the mine and started shooting the guards. The county sheriff was a UMWA member and did nothing to prevent this.

Eventually, the guards and strikebreakers surrendered after a night of shooting. But the miners and town residents were infuriated over the lies of Lester and how the guards had treated them. The scabs were beaten and pistol-whipped by the union members. Someone evidently said they should be killed, but it’s impossible to really know what started the next stage, which was opening fire on the guards and scabs. One of the first to die was mine superintendent C.K. McDowell, who had led the guards. The killing lasted into the morning of the 22nd. Some were forced to crawl on their hands and knees to the town cemetery before being killed. By the end of it, 19 strikebreakers and guards lay dead, along with 2 UMWA members. The local police force, evidently sympathetic with their miner friends and families, never showed up.

Nationally, opinion was strongly against the UMWA. President Harding and General John Pershing demanded prosecutions against the guilty while the Illinois Chamber of Commerce put out a fundraising appeal to subsidize the case. But while an inquest took place and 214 indictments were handed down for murder, riot, and conspiracy, no one was ever convicted of any crime for the Herrin Massacre. The first jury acquitted everyone within an hour. The second acquitted seven more. The prosecution gave up. Part of this was an inability to actually prove who did what. Part of it was overwhelming hostility from the townspeople toward the investigators. They refused to assist the investigation at all and blamed it all on vague people from other towns.

Prominent in Herrin Massacre Trial

The UMWA responded to the criticism of its members’ actions by claiming the incident was led by communist insurgents that had nothing to do with the union. Union officials had previously told investigators that while they didn’t know anyone involved (which was certainly not true), there were certainly no radicals involved in the incident. But in 1923, John L. Lewis said at the UMWA convention, “in every instance where there has been any disorder or disturbance of the public peace in mining regions there has been there secretly men of this type.” The United Mine Workers Journal began publishing articles backing this up, albeit without actual evidence. One said, “in fact, the miners’ union was in no manner responsible for what took place. This revolting, inexcusable, terrible crime was fomented, promoted, and caused solely by the Communists.” The following year, it issued an pamphlet titled “Attempts by Communists to Seize the Labor Movement” to take this campaign to a wider audience. The coal operators rejected this of course, but the UMWA did find out how effective anticommunist politics could be for a labor union. Interestingly, the UMWA did actually uncover claims by communists that they were involved in Little Egypt, but historians have rejected this, saying there is no evidence of any meaningful communist organizing in southern Illinois during the 1920s. That the Communist Party would take credit for its own opportunistic reasons served Lewis’ purpose like nothing else.


Ultimately, the United Mine Workers came out of the Herrin Massacre completely unscathed as an organization. Yet the 1920s ultimately would prove disastrous for the UMWA and it would not be until the Roosevelt administration that it would rise to become the power in the labor movement it is known as in the mid-twentieth century.

I borrowed from Jennifer Luff, Commonsense Anticommunism: Labor and Civil Liberties between the World Wars in the writing of this post.

This is the 148th post in this series. Previous posts are archived here.

Monday Morning Coming Down Links

[ 72 ] June 22, 2015 |

The Silver Bullet That Will Create A Progressive South Doesn’t Exist

[ 228 ] June 21, 2015 |


There are a couple comments to Paul’s post about Rick Hills’s “don’t talk about the racist flag” argument that bear citing.

First, from Tyro:

The entirety of post-Civil War history in the USA has been about the idea that letting the south hold on to their “heritage” and looking the other way regarding the consequences, instead of “naming and shaming” would be better for everyone. And after 150 years, the problems persist. Time to find another solution.

And second, from Abagail Nussbaum:

It is surely trivially, obviously true that you will not change hearts and minds by telling people “your culture is bad and you should feel bad.” Especially in a culture that already so coddles white people’s self-image, the possibility of this message being seen as anything other than an attack to be defended against is nonexistent. I have to say, looking at it from the outside, I’ve found the focus on the Confederate flag, understandable as it is, rather self-defeating. It seems to be more about self-gratification and taking out some amount of the terrible anger aroused by this massacre than any actual progress towards ensuring that nothing like it ever happens again.

Having said all that, is there any reason to believe that changing hearts and minds is even on the menu? It would be comforting to think that the one good thing to come out of this horror would be some real change, but I actually think the lesson from it is going to be that the political and social will to make that change doesn’t exist. (I saw someone online make the same point about Sandy Hook – if the murders of first-graders made no difference to the US’s commitment to arming itself to death, nothing ever will.) So why not burn flags and wave bloody shirts in the faces of people who would like to believe that they’re the real victims of a system that benefits them disproportionately? You won’t change their minds, but you might make some of the more open-minded people listening realize just what sort of world they’re living in.

There are a variety of reasons why I don’t like persistent arguments that if there was only some way of declaring a “truce” in the culture war then a natural progressive coalition on economic issues would finally emerge throughout the country. First of all — although, to be clear, I don’t think this is what Hillis means — issues like “silly women and their trivial reproductive rights” have a tendency to get subsumed in the “culture war” issues liberals are urged to abandon.

But Tyro really gets to the heart of the matter. The brutal truth is that most of American political history is an experiment in seeing what will happen if national political elites agree not to offend white supremacist Southern white men. The New Deal coalition agreed to take civil rights off the table from FDR until briefly Truman and then JFK, and the result was after a brief period of supporting (threadbare) national welfare state policies (that largely excluded African-Americans) during a period of particularly acute deprivation, Southern Democrats happily joined with Republicans to thwart economic reforms and pass Taft-Hartley with a veto-proof majority. Republicans took civil rights off the table by 1891, and in the resulting context Albama’s constitution was basically written by timber companies. The Jacksonian party system was essentially organized to take slavery off the table, and during this period the Southern Democrats who dominated the federal government largely had reactionary economic views.

I dunno, maybe at some point we have to consider the possibility that a lot of non-super-affluent white Americans, particularly outside of the northern coasts and upper midwest, have conservative economic views, or at least persistently vote for people with conservative economic policies for reasons that can’t be easily boiled down to culture war distractions. 1.2% of Kansas’s population is African-American,* and yet a majority of its electorate liked draconian spending cuts and tax increases on the poor to fund huge tax cuts for the wealthy so much they voted for more. I’m not saying that we should despair of this ever changing. But by the same token, the idea that “a cross-racial rural coalition rooted in church and guns” will emerge if we can only find the right kind of clever false-consciousness destroying rhetorical strategy is, at this late date, implausible in the extreme.

Does this mean that I think that drawing attention to the ugly history of the Confederate flag will lead to progressive economic outcomes in South Carolina either? No, but the history is true, and I think the burden of proof is always on those who want to deny the truth. And nor am I inclined to tell the multiracial coalition in South Carolina protesting against the Confederate flag that they should stop paying attention to mere white supremacist symbolism and focus on Real Issues.

*xq in comments is correct: I misread the chart.  The correct figure is 6.2%.  Since this is well below the national average I don’t think this materially affects my point, although on this narrow point Idaho or Utah would be better examples.

But the broader point about Kansas, and the reason I cited it, is that I don’t think anyone can reasonably say that the 2014 election came out the way it did because of “culture war” “distractions.”  Economic policy was the focus of Brownback’s first term.  It was the salient issue in the elections.  He signed legislation representing an extreme form of conservative Republicanism, it couldn’t have worked out any worse, and he won anyway.  It’s just very difficult to square this election with the idea that if some issues arbitrarily designated as “culture war” issues are boiled off a natural liberal majority would emerge.


How a Wealthy Nation Without Republicans Deals with Income Inequality

[ 71 ] June 20, 2015 |


What would our nation be like if we were as a nation as wealthy as we are now but we didn’t have one of our two political parties dedicated to racism and class warfare against the poor? Maybe it would be like Sweden. It’s not like the Swedes live in paradise for any number of reasons. One problem Sweden has, like the U.S., is growing income inequality. So what might the state do about that in the U.S? Well, our states would slash welfare benefits and limit what food stamps could buy while the federal government would be unable to react in meaningful ways thanks to revanchist Republicans in Congress. What would Sweden do?

If Stockholm doesn’t have a solution, it seems to have at least come up with a bandage. The capital will open its first ever discount supermarket this fall, the Swedish news site The Local reports. All Swedes receiving income support will be eligible to shop in the store, which will offer food donated by major Swedish retailers like Hemköp and Willys. The food will either be nearing or past its sell-by date (though still safe to eat) or eligible for donation because retailers have changed an item’s branding or packaging.

In this way, the discount supermarket moves toward solving another seemingly intractable problem: food waste. The charity Stockholm Stadsmission, which is organizing the supermarket, hopes to reduce the amount of edible food discarded by Swedes, about 686,000 tons a year. (That’s about 143 pounds per resident).

The business model, called a “social supermarket,” is not new. NPR’s The Salt reports that these grocery stores have proliferated in Europe since the 2008 economic downturn, popping up in the U.K., France, Romania and Switzerland, among other countries. The former Trader Joe’s executive Doug Rauch is set to open a similar non-profit discount market in the mixed-income Boston neighborhood of Dorchester in December. (Membership there will be based on zip-code, not income level). The key difference between these supermarkets and a food pantry, the retail academic Christina Holweg told NPR, is that their patrons must still purchase their groceries, giving them greater choice and perhaps even a boost in self-esteem.

Wow, that’s actually a pretty smart move. Imagine the state stepping up and creating special stores for the poor with subsidized food instead of forcing them to be humiliated when they mess up the byzantine regulations for what you can buy with your EBT card and the line behind you in the grocery store gets annoyed. But you know, those Swedes are going to end up on the permanent dole and they won’t build the character one gets from said humiliation.

The Trader Joe’s guy’s plan is pretty interesting for Dorchester, but of course when you rely on a private individual to take the lead on these issues, the person can change their mind at any time. Ultimately, the state is far more likely to be effective in the long term.

The Greatest Crime One Can Commit in The United States: Calling Racist Whites Racist

[ 167 ] June 20, 2015 |


It’s hard out there for white supremacists now, given that someone actually acted on their words in Charleston and now they are being called out on their racism.

Of course, a lot of people have noting racism in American life for a long time, including in the Kansas legislature. There, Rep. Valdenia Winn called the GOP legislators supporting a bill denying tuition breaks for undocumented immigrants “racist bigots.” Given that the Kansas state government is dominated by open racists and that such a bill is racist, this is sensible. So how has the Kansas GOP responded to this truthful charge?

An African-American lawmaker in Kansas could be expelled from the statehouse for accusing supporters of legislation that eliminated tuition breaks for undocumented immigrants of being racist. State Rep. Valdenia Winn (D) of Kansas City will face a special investigative committee in a hearing June 26 that will weigh possible sanctions against the lawmaker for the remarks.


I wonder if there are any examples of Kansas Republican legislators saying racist things and not facing any reprimand?

“I cannot imagine that the committee would make such a recommendation [of expulsion], but the degree of inconceivable actions by our Kansas legislature and governor have reached such a level,” Irigonegaray said. “It’s just gotten to a point where is there a fog of hate clouding the Capitol building, and I certainly do not understand the total dysfunction that exists.”

Irigonegaray points to past controversial comments made by Republicans in the statehouse that received no such response. In 2011, Rep. Virgil Peck (R) suggested undocumented immigrants should be shot from helicopters like feral pigs, and a 2012 email sent by then House Speaker Mike O’Neal (R) to fellow Republicans said they should use a Bible verse with the phrase “Let his days be few and brief” as a prayer for President Obama.

“Was there a special investigative committee to sanction him? No,” Irigonegaray said.

Of course.

Busting Don Blankenship

[ 24 ] June 20, 2015 |


Don Blankenship is one of the worst human beings living in the United States today. The CEO of Massey Energy, the horrible safety record in his mines led to the deaths of 29 miners in a coal dust explosion at the Upper Big Branch mine in 2010. Blankenship was a micro-manager and prided himself on buying West Virginia politicians and judges, thwarting regulators, intimidating workers into not report safety violations, and implementing not even the most basic safety systems. In other words, Don Blankeship modeled himself after the 19th century coal mine barons who ruled West Virginia as a personal fiefdom.

What’s remarkable, as this New York Times article points out, is that Blankenship is being held accountable by the federal government for his actions
. He is under indictment on 4 counts that could lead to 31 years in prison. That might seem as not all that notable–Blankenship is directly responsible for these deaths, especially so because he managed every part of that mine. But it is notable because this has never happened in West Virginia before. Coal operators have long expected to operate their mines and the state as they will. Where the article falls short is in really getting into why the federal government has acted so differently now. I imagine the reason is a Mine Safety and Health Administration and federal prosecutions invigorated by an Obama administration taking issues like regulation and workplace safety seriously. But this part of the equation only addressed obliquely.

I will also note that for all the talk in Appalachia about Obama’s War on Coal and how environmentalists are killing jobs, the coal industry now employs all of 28,000 people in central Appalachia. And while some of that is because of tighter environmental regulations, cheaper natural gas, the movement of the coal industry to the West, and mechanization all play a larger role.

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