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Category: General

The Majoritarian Difficulty: Same-Sex Marriage Edition

[ 152 ] March 5, 2014 |

Good news all around:

Half of all Americans believe that gay men and lesbians have a constitutional right to marry, according to a new Washington Post-ABC News poll in which a large majority also said businesses should not be able to deny serving gays for religious reasons.

Fifty percent say the U.S. Constitution’s guarantee of equal protection gives gays the right to marry, while 41 percent say it does not.

Beyond the constitutional questions, a record-high 59 percent say they support same-sex marriage, while 34 percent are opposed, the widest margin tracked in Post-ABC polling.

The boldfaced part is particularly encouraging; Damon Linker’s concern trolling notwithstanding, using embarrassingly specious “religious freedom” arguments as a pretext to continue the longstanding conservative war on civil rights doesn’t appear to be fooling anybody. But here’s one reason they’re riding this dead Thurmond so hard:

According to a new survey by the Public Religion Research Institute, only 41 percent of Americans oppose allowing same-sex couples to marry. But that same 41 percent has a highly skewed perception of where the rest of the country stands: nearly two-thirds of same-sex marriage opponents erroneously think most Americans agree with them. And only two in 10 same-sex marriage opponents realize that the majority of Americans support marriage equality.

Schiavo II: Electric Boogaloo. Only in 2004, I think the media was much more likely to take conservative overestimation of their own support at

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Understanding the crash in law school applicants and enrollment

[ 74 ] March 5, 2014 |

We’re now three quarters of the way through the current law school application cycle, and it’s possible to make a pretty accurate estimate of how many people will apply, how many will be accepted, and how many will enroll.

How many will apply?

As of the last day of February, 39,334 people had applied to at least one school. Last year 75% of all applicants had applied by this point in the cycle, which extrapolates to a final total of 52,400 applicants this year (Last year schools pulled out all the stops late in the cycle, extending application deadlines, and offering applicants various goodies, from i-tune cards, to help with moving expenses, to free Bass-o-Matic blenders, so it’s unlikely that the percentage of people who apply after February 28 will increase this year).

How many will be accepted to at least one school?

This is a bit more speculative. In response to a moderate drop in applicants between 2004 and 2007 (from 100,600 to 84,000) law schools maintained their enrollments by slashing admissions standards fairly dramatically. 55.6% of applicants were admitted to at least one school in 2004; by 2007 this percentage had increased by 19%, to 66.1%. Applicant totals were fairly stable over the next few years, and admission percentages crept up only slightly, as law schools hit an all-time high first-year enrollment of 52,500 in 2010, up from 48,200 six years earlier, when the applicant total had been 13% higher.

Over the last three years, schools have slashed standards yet again, in response to a far steeper applicant drop. Acceptance percentages climbed from 68.7% in 2010 to 76.9% in 2013. This means that law school applicants were 38% more likely to be accepted to at least one law school in 2013 than they were in 2004. How much more are schools willing to cut their admissions standards? This of course will vary greatly between schools. Some bottom tier-schools now have something like open admission standards already, accepting just about anybody with an undergrad degree and an LSAT score, while perhaps making exceptions for people with the sorts of personal histories that would subject the school to tort liability if the admit were to harm fellow students or law school employees.

Still, the percentage of applicants admitted could continue to rise if some higher-ranked schools cut what standards they do maintain. Many applicants will not apply to schools below a certain level, so the fact that some schools already have constructive open admissions policies hasn’t been relevant to the chances for admission of such applicants to this point.

I’m guesstimating that the percentage of applicants admitted to at least one school will continue its rapid ascent for at least another year, and that 79% of applicants will get in to at least one of the schools to which they apply in this cycle.

How many admitted applicants will end up enrolling somewhere?

This is easy to estimate, since for some reason this percentage has remained very stable, at between 86% and 88% every year for the last decade.

Crunching the numbers, that means we’re looking at just about exactly 36,000 matrics this fall.

One feature of the law school crash that’s somewhat under-appreciated is how it works like a series of waves, pounding on law school finances with increasing intensity each year. This is because there’s a three-year lag between a class’s enrollment and graduation (ignoring for the sake of simplicity the relatively small percentage of part-time students). This in turn means that each first year class replaces the class which entered three years earlier.

Because law schools slashed admission standards in 2011, the 2011 entering class was almost exactly the same size as the 2008 entering class it replaced, despite the fact that applicant totals began to plunge that year. But that strategy worked only once.

Speaking of waves, let’s call the present admissions cycle and its two predecessors the Three Sisters:

2009: 51,600 matrics
replaced by
2012: 44,500 matrics

13.8% decrease

2010: 52,500 matrics
replaced by
2013: 39,700 matrics

24.4% decrease

2011: 48,700 matrics
replaced by
2014: 36,000 matrics (estimated)

26.1% decrease

In nautical terms, some waves can end up being non-negotiable.

Revisiting the Dealbreaker Fallacy

[ 295 ] March 5, 2014 |

During the last election season, djw wrote a superb post about the illogic of using “dealbreakers” rather than a holistic evaluation of candidates. At least two commenters in a thread yesterday inadvertently demonstrate why the approach makes no sense in the course of defending it.  Lets start with Ethan Gach, who describes my position as “voting for Democrats unconditionally will lead, over the long term, to better liberal outcomes” while his position involves “making support conditional upon the pursuit of certain key policies,” because “you can’t change the party “you have” while you’re continuing to stand by and support it.”  In these short sentences rest of lot of errors and bad ideas:

  • Obviously, nobody is saying that support for Democrats should be “unconditional.”  There have been occasions in American history where partisan coalitions were very loose, and who to support would depend on how you prioritize particular issues.  In our current partisan configuration, however, wherever you are on the political spectrum between democratic socialist and moderate liberal Republicans are much worse than the Democrats on many major issues and better on literally none.  I understand this makes analysis more boring than some might like, but refusing to adopt a strategy that would make things worse in many respects, with the costs concentrated on the most vulnerable, in order to (ineffectually) advance “Arbitrary Pet Issue X” is not the same as “unconditional support.”
  • And, of course, voting for the better candidate in the general election will not in itself lead to more liberal outcomes, or at least to outcomes as liberal as they could be.  Fortunately, politics goes not begin and end with general elections — things like primaries and activist pressure can exert influence much more effectively than withdrawing support from Democratic general election candidates, an all-downside no-upside strategy that’s crapped out disastrously twice in the last dozen presidential elections with no successes to point to.
  • One reason the threaten-to-hold-your-breath-until-you-get-the-shiny-toy approach doesn’t work is that to have any chance of being effective there has to be substantial collective agreement on which “key issues” to prioritize.  Individual messages are worth nothing.   And at that point, you might discover that many fellow liberals do not, say, think that DRONES! are a more important issue than health care or reproductive freedom or anti-poverty programs, even before we get to the fact that walking away from Democrats in the general election over DRONES! wouldn’t even lead to any improvement on that specific issue while making things much worse on many dimensions liberals care about.  Political coalitions don’t work based on ultimatums.
  • As if to illustrate, one dealbreaker that Gach suggests is a “bigger stimulus package consisting of less tax cuts.”  The obvious problem here is that Obama’s proposal was both bigger and much better-distributed than the one the Senate passed with one vote to spare.  Should liberals abandon the Democratic Party if Obama is unable to get the Republicans and conservative Democrats who all had vetoes over the bill to abandon their preference for a smaller, more tax-cut heavy stimulus though..er, having the leadership to bully lantern the Overton Window, details later?  And, by the way, why are Susan Collins and Arlen Specter circa early 2009 supposed to care if a subset of liberals announce a Dramatic Exit from the Democratic coalition?  What’s the theory for how that’s supposed to work?  The White House-centrism of these analyses isn’t accidental and is another reason why they’re bad.
  • And finally, as I said in comments, if believe that “you can’t change the party “you have” while you’re continuing to stand by and support it” you’ll have to explain either 1)what third party to the right of the Republicans or mass conservative exodus from the polls has handed an election to the Democrats since 1972, or 2)why you think Republicans have drifted well to to the left since 1972.  Because if it’s impossible to change a coalition from within it, one of these must be true.

Now, let’s turn to Dilan Esper, who has what he thinks is a gotcha: “I wonder if Goldberg would vote for a pro-lifer if the Democrats nominated one. Centrist, mainstream Democrats speak from a position of privilege on this issue. The party respects their red lines. In contrast, the party pisses on pacifists, protectionists, communists, and other parts of the left. The people whose red lines get respected has no right to lecture the people whose red lines do not as to how to vote.”  This argument fares no better:

  • Both Goldberg and I, in fact, support Democrats who don’t fully embrace our opinions on abortion.  I can’t speak for Goldberg, but I was certainly under no illusion that unified Democratic control of the federal government would lead to, say, a repeal of the Hyde Amendment.  I haven’t suggested I’d walk away from the Democrats forever if they don’t replace Harry Reid as majority leader over his support for the Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act, or argued that Democrats should reject the ACA over the Stupak amendment.
  • It’s true that Democrats won’t have a presidential candidate who is in favor of overruling Roe v. Wade.  But this is because this is the national majority position.  If support for abortion rights was as unpopular as pacifism or communism, I sure as hell would have to support candidates who rejected my position.   Supporters of civil rights had to endure a Democratic coalition saturated with segregationists throughout the New Deal era, and they didn’t get to 1964 by walking away.
  • And there are plenty of issues on which the Democratic Party doesn’t (or didn’t) respect what would be my “red lines” if I embraced that foolish way of thinking about politics: the war on (some classes of people who use some) drugs, the prosecution of torturers, the escalation in Afghanistan, and until very recently LBGT rights, for starters.
  • The previous point reflects the fallacy that runs throughout Esper’s arguments: the utterly erroneous assumption that the underlying disagreement is ideological rather than tactical.  As Erik puts it, “it makes no sense to say that leftists have this political strategy and liberals have that political strategy.”  Matt Stoller, a plain-vanilla left-liberal who was a big fan of the right-of-Obama Howard Dean, doesn’t embrace nihilism because of the purity of his commitments but because he’s a poseur.  There are plenty of people to my left who understand tactical voting; there were plenty of centrists in 2000 who were dedicated Gush-Borists.  Indeed, one need look no farther than Esper himself, who is to the right of anyone on the LGM masthead on domestic policy but has never met a heighten-the-contradictions argument he doesn’t like.  This argument is, at bottom, wholly unjustified self-congratulation that fails to comprehend the nature of the disagreement.

On a final point, I’d note that there’s never been a viable candidate for president who someone who thought in terms of “dealbreakers” could reasonably support.  (What has Obama done that’s worse than Vietnam or FDR’s civil rights record? And those are the best presidents of the last century. And don’t get me started on Lincoln’s rejection of abolitionism.)  Which is another way of noting that the “dealbreaker” way of approaching electoral politics is puerile and useless.

This Day in Labor History: March 5, 1972

[ 141 ] March 5, 2014 |

On March 5, 1972, the workers at General Motors’ plant in Lordstown, Ohio went on strike after authorizing it two days prior. They were angry about sped-up work at their factory, but ultimately this was a young and diverse workforce angry at the degrading and mind-numbing nature of industrial work. The 3-week strike received national attention as much for the generational rebellion it summed up as the labor strife itself. Employers and union leaders both feared the “Lordstown Syndrome” that seemed to be taking over American workplaces as young workers wanted more for their lives than a lifetime on the assembly line.

By 1972, the United Auto Workers was in transition after the death of its titanic president Walter Reuther in a 1970 plane crash. The UAW was about as left-leaning as any of the major internationals during the last years of the 60s. Although Reuther’s record on dealing with racism in UAW plants was mixed, he pushed for civil rights and personally opposed both the Vietnam War and the AFL-CIO’s support of it. Finally, in 1968, he pulled the UAW out of the federation, complaining of the Meany doing nothing, refusing to organize, and undermining labor’s future. Reuther planned to take his union on strike against GM in 1970 hoping for a revival of the old-school social movement unionism. He died but the plan continued after his death under the leadership of Leonard Woodcock. However, it wasn’t much of a win and nearly bankrupted the UAW. Despite the social movement talk, the strike operated within the traditional structure of postwar collective bargaining. Moreover, the new contract allowed the company to automate the line, combine two divisions in the plant, and eliminate jobs.

Meanwhile, GM and other American car companies were beginning to face competition from low-price, high-mileage Japanese models. In response, GM created the Chevy Vega and chose to manufacture it in its new Lordstown, Ohio factory, just northwest of Youngstown. This new factory was engineered to do most of the work for the workers. Claimed a GM official, “The concept is based on making it easier for the guy on the line. We feel by giving him less to do he will do it better.”

Workers in Local 1172 hated it. By “giving him less to do,” GM really meant speeding up the line and laying workers off. The factory had previously made the Impala at a rate of 60 an hour. The Vega sped off the line at 100 an hour. This gave workers 36 seconds to a complete their task rather than 60. Workers resisted in a number of ways. The worked to rule, refusing to do anything outside of what was specifically stated in the contract. They smoked marijuana and drank on the job. The let cars go by without finishing them. They took days off or quit. They grieved everything. By January 1972, 5000 grievances clogged up the system, workers demanded the rehiring of laid off workers and slowed down production. This was a very young workforce, averaging only 24 years of age. These were young people imbued with the anger and rebellion of their generation. Some had fought in Vietnam. The plant was also highly integrated and with the overwhelming youth culture, the workers at least claimed that racial solidarity was more frequent than racial tension. Local 1172 president Gary Bryner, age 29, said, “The young black and white workers dig each other. There’s an understanding. The guy with the Afro, the guy with the beads, the guy with the goatee, he doesn’t care if he’s black, white, green, or yellow…..They just wanted to be treated with dignity. That’s not asking a hell of a lot.”

97% of the Lordstown workers voted to go on strike and it lasted 18 days. UAW leadership was distinctly uncomfortable with local uprisings. They took over the negiotiations and eliminated the empowerment of workers and shopfloor democracy that workers really wanted and brought it back to traditional collective bargaining. Both GM and UAW wanted this to end fast. So GM agreed to restore almost all the jobs eliminated in the 1970 contract and dropped 1400 disciplinary layoffs against current workers. So the workers won on one level, but not on another. Nothing really changed for workers. They still weren’t allowed to question production decisions or workplace culture. They weren’t allowed to play a role in the life of the factory like European auto plant workers, to which they compared their own lack of empowerment. They were still frustrated. Said a union official, “If you were 22 and had a job where you were treated like a machine and knew you had about 30 years to go, how would you feel?”

UAW cartoon during Lordstown strike

Activists around the country saw what they wanted to in Lordstown. Ralph Nader thought this would do for workers “what the Berkeley situation of 1964 did for student awareness,” while New Left publications believed it was “a trial run of the class struggle of the 70s.” What was happening however was a general dissatisfaction of the American working class with industrial production labor. The mind-numbing pace, the lack of ability to shape one’s own future, this would lead to a number of interesting moments of working-class rebellion throughout the 70s. J.D. Smith, treasurer of the Lordstown UAW local, said “They’re just not going to swallow the same kind of treatment their fathers did. They’re not afraid of management. That’s a lot of what the strike was about. They want more than just a job for 30 years.” The blue-collar rebellion became a fairly major media and political phenomenon of the period, with newspaper articles, TV reports, Senate hearings, and a presidential commission to study the issue.

The commission issued a report titled “Work in America,” that began the quality of work life movement,” that sought to make industrial labor more satisfactory and less mind-numbing. Perhaps these and other 70s working class rebellions could have led to concrete gains had industry not also engaged in widespread capital mobility, leading to the elimination of nearly all industrial jobs over the next twenty years, destabilizing the American working class, and destroying the cities of the industrial north. Government moves to bust unions certainly has blame too. In the PATCO strike, Reagan came down hard against air traffic controllers who had overthrown their previous union leadership to take a more militant stance.

Over the years, the radicalism of Local 1112 wore down. In the 1980s, workers picked their own union hall against concessions forced upon them by UAW leadership. Today, they talk the same management partnership language as the rest of the union. Surprisingly, the plant is still open and has made the Chevrolet Cruze since 2010.

Much of this was borrowed from Jefferson Cowie’s Stayin’ Alive: The 1970s and the Last Days of the Working Class, which I strongly recommend.

This is the 97th post in this series. Previous posts are archived here.

Restarting the War On Poverty

[ 196 ] March 4, 2014 |

Konczal on a Worthwhile Democratic Initiative:

Tuesday morning, President Obama put the final piece of his inequality agenda on the table. In releasing his 2015 budget, he calls for an additional $60 billion dollars in anti-poverty spending by expanding the earned income tax credit (EITC) for those without children, as well as making it eligible to younger and older workers. The earned income tax credit is a program that boosts the wages of low-income workers, particularly those with children, through the tax code. This expansion will benefit 7.7 million workers already getting the EITC, and allow an additional 5.8 million workers to take advantage of the program.

With this proposal, President Obama has a full anti-inequality agenda. In turning to inequality as the generational challenge of our times, President Obama has emphasized three sets of problems. The first is runaway incomes at the top, which he has used to justify the need for financial regulations as well as higher taxes on the rich. The second is stagnating incomes in the middle, which health care reform is meant to challenge. And the last is economic insecurity at the bottom, which he’s focused on with a higher minimum wage, expanded Medicaid access, and now an expanded earned income tax credit.

It’s certainly a good start. Konzcal also does a good job contrasting the approach to the Republican War on the Poor.

However! I have good news — major congressional Republicans have spent years asserting support for expanding the EITC. Granted, this is not entirely good news — I’m dismayed that Obama is adopting the Republican anti-poverty agenda just like he adopted longstanding Republican health care priorities like “massive Medicaid expansion” and “much heavier health insurance regulations.” But if we’re willing to forgive him for being a worse sellout than Flip Your Wig, at least this means legislation substantially expanding the EITC should sail through Congress before summer. After all, the idea that this Republican support for EITC expansion could merely be a strategic decoy would be one-dimensional tic-tac-toe eleventy-trillion dimensional chess of such unfathomable complexity Niccolo Machiavelli could never have even begun to imagine such a thing. Hopefully Obama already has the pen picked out.

…as a commenter notes, while not directly about poverty killing the carried-interest loophole, which is in the budget, would be an excellent idea. Extra-special DOA in the House, but an excellent idea.

Everything Is Like Slavery Except Slavery

[ 400 ] March 4, 2014 |

I’m outraged by these Hollywood liberals. Not only have they refused to make a movie about how Martin Luther King was the foremost 20th century proponent of slavery, the movies they do make refuse to acknowledge that what the abolitionist conspiracy referred to as “slavery” wasn’t really as bad as all that.

Happy Lincoln Inauguration Day

[ 40 ] March 4, 2014 |

March 4, 1861. A good day in American

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history.

The scene at Lincoln’s inauguration.

The Historical Roots of the “Civil Rights = Slavery” Argument

[ 82 ] March 4, 2014 |

Above right: still the most influential Republican thinker on civil rights

I’ll have more to say about Samuel Bagenstos’s brilliant essay about legal arguments against civil rights have transformed across American history. To start, though, I’d like to highlight this, about how the argument that requiring public accommodations to treat customers on equal terms is the equivalent of slavery has long been used by white supremacists:

Other times, the arguments against Title II were framed in terms of the Thirteenth Amendment. The argument was not the one we might have expected from the Civil Rights Cases—that discrimination in public accommodations was not a badge and incident of slavery that Congress had Thirteenth Amendment power to target. Instead, it was the rather stunning argument that prohibiting businesses from discriminating on the basis of race conscripted the business owners into involuntary servitude. Strom Thurmond made this argument in his separate views attached to the Senate Report on the proposed Civil Rights Act. Senator Thurmond described the Thirteenth Amendment as “an insurmountable constitutional barrier” to Title II, because, by forcing businesses to serve customers their owners desired not to, the bill would impose “involuntary servitude” on them. As Christopher Schmidt explains, “in the early 1960s, this unusual Thirteenth Amendment argument figured prominently in the debate over the appropriate line between antidiscrimination policy and personal liberties.”

Terrible reactionary arguments never die; they just get recycled to justify different forms of illegitimate privilege.

This Day in Labor History: March 4, 1915

[ 52 ] March 4, 2014 |

On March 4, 1915, President Woodrow Wilson signed the LaFollette Seamen’s Act, creating standards for working conditions on boats that the U.S. would enforce on all ships stopping at American ports, whether under American flags or not. It was not only a major early victory for American labor but is strong evidence behind the assertion that Woodrow Wilson is the most pro-union president in American history before FDR.

In the early 20th century, working conditions on ships were dire. Many ships were barely seaworthy. Sanitation on the ships was grotesque. A race to the bottom developed in sailing as manufacturers looked to reduce their transportation costs. In 1840, 80 percent of the U.S. carrying trade was in U.S. vessels. By 1883, it was 15 percent. Seamen called for “emancipation” from their shipowners. Penalties against desertion were still draconian. Although flogging had largely ended in the mid 19th century, punishing sailors in stocks and other forms of physical coercion were still common. They wanted the right to walk away from their contracts because of the near slavery of shipboard life. They were presently bound to their 1-3 year contracts with penalty of imprisonment and forfeiture of all wages if they deserted. Effectively, they lacked the ability to quit their jobs.

Although the act is named after Robert “Fighting Bob” LaFollette, the real author of it was International Seamen’s Union (ISU) president Andrew Furuseth. Working with sympathetic Democrats, Furuseth had crafted reform bills since 1894 and was perhaps the first union leader to see the potential for working in Washington to get labor legislation passed (this at a time when Gompers and the AFL explicitly rejected such ideas). LaFollette and Furuseth became friends in 1907 when they allied against the prosecution of Union Labor Party leader Abe Ruef for graft. LaFollette began to introduce the bill every Congress in 1910. It gained support after the sinking of the Titanic in 1912. When Wilson won the presidency that year, he named William B. Wilson, a cosponsor of the bill in the House, as Secretary of Labor.

From left to right, Andrew Furuseth, Robert LaFollette, and Lincoln Steffens

In pushing for the bill, the ISU explicitly connected it to the Titanic and the Triangle Fire of 1911, asking “No one will claim it is safe to crowd people into a theater or a shirtwaist factory and the lock the doors. Is it not even more dangerous to jam a steamer full of passengers and then to send it out to the harbor without having on board the means whereby they may be taken off quickly and safely in case of need?” As with much of labor reform at the time, Furuseth and his supporters did take on a racial and anti-immigrant tone. He bemoaned that sailing was “the domain of those who fought life’s battles and accepted defeat, of the sewage of the Caucasian race and of such of the races of Asia as felt that their condition could be improved by becoming seamen.”

Such statements forced the Industrial Workers of the World, which had quite a few members on the ships, to answer a tricky question of supporting a law that would make their lives better versus the racial internationalism of their ideology. The Wobblies opposed the law in the end, claiming not only was the ISU racist but that Furuseth “very likely has a child-like faith in the state, far exceeding his confidence in the workers whom he is supposed to represent.” Moreover, the IWW actually used the argument that the would hurt their employers by driving American flag-based shipping from the seas, a rather surprisingly pro-business position employed by these anti-capitalists.

Seamen on the S.S. Minnesota, 1919

Wilson’s foreign policy team encouraged him to pocket veto the bill because it might upset the British. But when Furuseth went to lobby Wilson personally, the president’s heart melted in the face of this craggy old seamen telling stories about the horrors of the ships. The new law established the 9-hour day and 56-hour week on ships. It guaranteed minimum standards of safety and cleanliness. It recognized the right of seamen to organize. It allowed them to get out of their contracts with relatively minimal penalty–half their salary earned to that point in the contract. Most importantly, it applied to all sailors–regardless of national origin or citizenship status–if they landed in an American port. The LaFollette Act is thus probably the closest law passed in American history to something that created a “race to the top” in working conditions around the globe. If you were a French sailor and you landed in New York, you could desert and the U.S. government would protect your rights.

The U.S. Supreme Court, perhaps surprisingly, declared the international enforcement provisions constitutional, at least at first. After a 1918 decision ruled against a seaman who used the act to desert in Mobile while demanding half his wages, Louis Brandeis moved the court to a unanimous decision in a similar 1920 case by explicitly arguing that the point of the law was to enforce nationalist conceptions of labor standards, stating “foreign vessels engaged in the American trade would be compelled to raise wages and working conditions to practically the standard prevailing in our coastwise trade.”

By not only mandating standards on goods entering the United States, but also giving workers an out from their contracts if they were dissatisfied, the Seamen’s Act had the potential to advance the rights of workers significantly. In the end though, the fears of the shipping industry over its effect proved unfounded, largely because the Commerce Department under Wilson and then subsequent Republican presidents consistently sided with employers in enforcement. Commerce ruled that the space provisions for workers only applied to ships built after 1915 for instance. The French redefined sailors under its flags as members of the merchant marine and therefore ineligible for the protections. Finally, in the 1950s, the Supreme Court declared the international enforcement provisions unconstitutional and by this time the law was not widely applied anyway by a federal government interested in promoting global trade. This saddened the law’s supporters. In 1953, the Friends of Andrew Furuseth Legislative Association wrote, “If only the Seamen’s Act had been enforced from 1917 on, it might not have been necessary to have spent 19 billion dollars under the Marshall Plan, because the standard of living of European countries would have advanced more nearly to a parity with our own.”

Nevertheless, it marks perhaps the first time labor successfully used regulatory reform to advance the interest of specific workers and it provides an interesting precedent for those seeking to use the power of government to improve the conditions of workers toiling for American companies (or subcontractors for those companies) in a global marketplace. Can the American government implement standards in a worldwide economy reliant upon transportation methods to get apparel from Bangladesh? Could organized labor target transportation networks as a way to improve international labor standards? I do not believe a secondary strike by the ILWU or Teamsters in support of a labor action in Bangladesh would violate Taft-Hartley since it would not be an American union supported. The LaFollette Act wasn’t necessarily all that successful, but it suggests an almost totally unexplored strategy for international labor solidarity.

It is also worth noting that even taking into account the Red Scare and IWW-crushing that would take place later in the Wilson presidency, Wilson is still the most union-friendly president in American history before FDR.

I am drawing primarily from Leon Fink’s Sweatshops at Sea: Merchant Seamen in the World’s First Globalized Industry, from 1812 to the Present for this post.

This is the 96th post in this series. Previous posts are archived here.

“If You Want to Send A Message, Use Western Union”

[ 418 ] March 4, 2014 |

In her fine recent piece, Michelle Goldberg makes a point about electoral nihilism I’ve never seen put so well:

But here’s the thing: arguments for ignoring electoral realities, for backing some quixotic third-party candidate or imagining that leftists can sway the system through ultimatums, are based on precisely this fantasy. Movements lead politicians, not the other way around, and simply deciding that the politicians we have aren’t good enough won’t will a movement into being. A left that absented itself from the dirty work of electing a president would be indulging in the very reflex Reed decries: trying to send a message to those in power rather than contending for power itself.

The right understands this; it has simultaneously, over decades, systematically taken over the GOP from the bottom up, built a huge network of interlocking intellectual, legal and political institutions and mobilized every four years to try to elect a Republican president.

Precisely right.

One curious thing about the Reed essay is that we don’t have to discuss the merits of electoral nihilism in the abstract — only a little more than a decade ago we saw a segment of the left declare war on the Democratic Party, assure supporters that there was no meaningful difference between the parties, and attract just enough support to produce catastrophe for the world. Reed’s attempt to deal with this obvious rebuttal was…not one of the stronger points of his essay:

This modus operandi has tethered what remains of the left to a Democratic Party that has long since renounced its commitment to any sort of redistributive vision and imposes a willed amnesia on political debate. True, the last Democrat was really unsatisfying, but this one is better; true, the last Republican didn’t bring destruction on the universe, but this one certainly will. And, of course, each of the “pivotal” Supreme Court justices is four years older than he or she was the last time.

I didn’t really understand at the time how anyone could have thought that a candidate who governed to the right of the Texas legislature, running with the Republican congressional coalition of 2000 on this platform, could have been seen as a harmless moderate not really different than Al Gore. But, OK, the candidate’s father was a fairly moderate Republican, Clinton was a fairly conservative Democrat — I can sort of reconstruct this peculiar blend of cynicism and wishful thinking however strongly I disagreed with it. But to continue making the argument after 8 years of George W. Bush? “Hundreds of thousands dead all over the world, arbitrary torture, two massive upper-class tax cuts, Sam Alito and John Roberts, letting New Orleans die, Janice Rogers Brown and Priscilla Owen, John Ashcroft and Alberto Gonzales, total economic collapse — that compassionate conservative really didn’t work out too badly in the end!” If you think that was a price worth paying to send an ineffectual message to the Democrats, I just have to conclude that the premise is an unfalsifiable matter of faith.

“I made you, I can break you”

[ 51 ] March 3, 2014 |

The Self-Styled Siren on Kim Novak:

So let’s say — just as a hypothetical for-instance — you are an 81-year-old star whose last movie was in 1991 and who hasn’t been to the Oscars in many a long year. Not that you were ever nominated for one in the first place; you were, after all, a sex symbol for most of your career. As the evening approaches, the anxiety sets in. Harsh lights, you think. High-definition cameras. And a public that remembers you chiefly as the ice goddess whose beauty once drove James Stewart to the brink of madness.

And even back then, when you were 25 years old, you worried constantly that no matter how you looked, it wasn’t good enough.

So a few weeks before the ceremony, you go to a doctor, and he says, “Relax honey. I have just the thing to make you fresh and dewy for the cameras.”

And you go to the Oscars, so nervous you clutch your fellow presenter’s hand. And the next day, you wake up to a bunch of cheap goddamn shots about your face.

Nice system we got here, isn’t it.

No wonder Kim Novak, like Tippi Hedren, Doris Day and Brigitte Bardot, has long said she’d much rather spend her time with animals.

+1, as the cool kids who frequent blog comment sections might say. And do read the whole thing.

…see also.

Méliès Monday: A Grandmother’s Story

[ 2 ] March 3, 2014 |

This week, Méliès Monday brings you 1908′s The Grandmother’s Story.

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