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Category: General

I Hate To Tell You This…Actually, I Love Telling You This

[ 55 ] June 26, 2011 |

Shorter Verbatim William C. Duncan: “What remains to be seen now is whether the people of New York will look kindly on the legislators who ignored them, listening instead to the Hollywood stars and other glitterati who became lobbyists for this fashionable cause.”

The thing is, in not allowing a minority of bigots to short-circuit marriage equality legislation, the governor and Senate were acting in concert with the overwhelming majority of New Yorkers. Projection in defense of discrimination is most definitely a vice.

Albany Gets on Right Side of History

[ 112 ] June 24, 2011 |

Looks like the vote will finally pass. Outstanding! At lease one member has unexpectedly switched to a “yes”; once the logjam has been broken you’d think some GOP members would prefer not to emulate Strom Thurmond.

Whew, it’s good that I was able to get married before the institution of heterosexual marriage ceased to exist in New York! Alas, the newest member of the blog was not so lucky. There’s still going to be an open bar tomorrow, right?

It’s official. And now let us praise the framers of the New York constitution for not including an initiative process.

Cocaine is a hell of a drug

[ 25 ] June 24, 2011 |

No one will believe me, of course, but just this morning I was thinking, “I wonder what’s new in the world of cocaine.”

Okay then:

Cocaine cut with the veterinary drug levamisole could be the culprit in a flurry of flesh-eating disease in New York and Los Angeles.

The drug, used to deworm cattle, pigs and sheep, can rot the skin off noses, ears and cheeks. And over 80 percent of the country’s coke supply contains it. . . .

[Dr. Noah] Craft is one of several doctors across the country who have linked the rotting skin to tainted coke. The gruesome wounds surface days after a hit because of an immune reaction that attacks the blood vessels supplying the skin. Without blood, the skin starves and suffocates.

For a period in the 1990s, levamisole was hailed as an effective component in adjuvant chemotherapy for stage III colon cancer; then a few studies came out showing that the drug significantly worsened the prognosis for patients (and caused potentially life-threatening side effects like white cell crashes), and it was eliminated from the cocktails. Now it’s used almost exclusively on animals. Its use as a cutting agent in cocaine is apparently a recent (and evolving) phenomenon, as this fascinating 2010 piece from The Stranger describes in great detail — among other things, levamisole is virtually undetectable, adds significant bulk to crack (while surviving the purification process), and may accelerate cocaine’s potency. And if you scan back through Google news since the mid-1990s, you can track the growing estimates of the presence of levamisole in the American coke supply, from around 30 percent in 2005 to current estimates of 80 percent or more.

And to think that some people insist that our War on Drugs doesn’t produce measurable results.

House refuses to authorize use of force in Libya

[ 116 ] June 24, 2011 |

Good for them, and especially for the 70 Democrats who refused to issue an ex post facto rubber stamp for the executive branch’s latest exercise in foreign policy adventurism.

Update: After a classified briefing, almost all Democrats and some Republicans agree to continue funding. My guess is there’s a secret plan to end the war and/or evidence that Quaddafi has acquired or is about to acquire WMDs.

Diaz, The Worst Person in New York

[ 20 ] June 24, 2011 |

Sadly, it’s not like anybody else’s arguments against SSM are much better.

I’m Also Surprised that Newt Gingrich’s Campaign Hasn’t Taken Off

[ 70 ] June 23, 2011 |

This would be funny if the results weren’t so tragic:

The Greeks have already reduced their deficit by five percentage points of the gross domestic product, “unprecedented cuts in a modern economy,” Mr. Tilford said. “But the cuts have had a much stronger negative impact on the economy than the troika imagined, and fiscal austerity has pushed the economy deep into recession. Debt can only be paid out of income, and that means growth.”

Yes, who could possibly have predicted that tax increases and draconian spending cuts — in a country with no control over its monetary policy! — would have contractionary effects. Absolutely shocking. I haven’t been this surprised since the 2010 Pirates failed to win 120 games. But I’m sure the second round will work like a charm.

Whitey

[ 26 ] June 23, 2011 |

Finally captured. Two related recommendations:

  • Black Mass is as gripping an airline read as you could ask for.
  • Brotherhood, the fictionalized, transplanted-to-Rhode Island Showtime series based on the Bulger case, is an extremely underrated show; I’d rank it easily among the top 10 from TV’s great decade.

One Was Too Much

[ 22 ] June 23, 2011 |

Great column from Coates. After bringing much-needed national attention to Rick Perry’s role in the murder of Cameron Tood Willingham, the punchline says it all:

Whatever one thinks of the death penalty, the accounts of those who would seek to conceal the results of their theory should be closely checked. If only for that reason, the prospect of Governor Perry as commander in chief induces a chilling nostalgia. Indeed, choosing a leader of the free world from the ranks of those who sport a self-serving incuriosity is a habit, like crash landings and cock-fights, best cultivated in strict moderation.

Once a century should suffice.

Can we just remove the “guest” from TNC’s status? Would anybody have rather read the two inane Anthony Weiner columns that almost certainly would have resulted this week if Collins was still around? Do we need four columns worth of Burke for Dummies every week? I think he’s passed the audition.

“Giving away the game”

[ 29 ] June 22, 2011 |

Jon Stewart’s comment that Chris Wallace was doing precisely that when he talked about Fox presenting a “counterweight” to NBC and the Times is a convenient way to describe assertions such as:

Over the past few years, the Tea Party movement has seen a dramatic rise in the number of conservative female activists across this country.  From local to State and National elections, we see more and more female names on ballots.  We see women leading many of the conservative social networking sites – large and small.  We see them writing conservative books, blogging, tweeting, facebooking (has Webster added those yet as actual verbs?).  We see them on TV providing spot-on punditry on the shenanigans in DC.  We see them holding voter registration drives.  We see them courageously and passionately speaking out at Town Hall meetings, Tea Parties, rallies, and conventions.

If I saw this on a student paper, my comment would be “What does the statement ‘[o]ver the past few years’ necessarily imply?”  For some reason, I’m convinced most members of the Tea Party would respond to my question with the same dumbstruck expression as undergraduates who don’t know any better yet.*

*The important part, pedagogically, being the “yet.”  They’ll learn.  The Tea Partiers?  They’ve demonstrated they’re determined not to.

The Role of Radical Labor

[ 131 ] June 22, 2011 |

Matt Yglesias disagrees with my call for increased radicalization among labor in kind of a weird way. He argues that the modern economy has treated working-class people well, using increased rates of consumption as a measurement, and notes:

“Workers of the world unite, you have nothing to lose but your cell phone and your car and your HDTV and your large house” isn’t the most inspiring slogan in the world. So while even though labor unions, as such, have very little downside risk the individual people who’d be putting things on the line in a more radical struggle have a great deal more to lose than did their predecessors of 70 or 80 years ago.

Unfortunately, this is an argument used to justify American inequality for a long, long time.

He then notes that we have major structural problems in this country that need to be solved.

Well, yeah. But isn’t that why we need radical labor?

I think Matt has a couple of misconceptions about the relationship between radical labor and capital in post-WWII America, about where working-class people stand in the current economy, and about what labor is about in the end. A few specific points:

1. I think people have this image of “labor radicalism” as a bunch of guys wearing 1930s clothes sitting in a factory responding to 1930s needs. And when you mention labor radicalism they assume you are romanticizing what was a very unpleasant past for working-class people. They also assume you argue that labor radicalism is good for its own sake, because it’s fun to strike and sing songs and be radical.

Those things can be fun, but that’s hardly the point. Nobody wants to strike for the hell of it. People struck in the 1930s because their lives were rough. Then they weren’t so rough anymore (or at least for white urban industrial workers). The reason for this was the activist government of the New Deal liberal state and the deal made between unions and companies during the 1940s and 1950s to end the radicalism and the strikes in return for high wages and benefits.

Those good jobs led to an increased standard of living for American workers. And that was great. But what Matt doesn’t seem to get is that this era of American history is dead. Those good jobs don’t exist anymore. As historians such as Jefferson Cowie have shown, unions may have bought into the idea of stable unionized jobs at high wages but the companies never did. Even in the 1950s and early 1960s, when it seemed the American working class would see their lives improve and improve, corporations like RCA were bailing on their unionized plants, building new factories in the South and then overseas in order to escape having to pay workers good wages.

Real wages have stagnated since the early 1970s. There are many reasons for this but a very important reason is the fleeing of good paying industrial jobs overseas. This is hardly fresh news, but Matt measures working-class standard of living based upon consumption patterns. And I feel he should know better than that because he knows much of this consumption was unsustainable, coming out of artificially inflated home prices and personal debt spending that helped wreck this economy in 2007. People might have giant homes–but that doesn’t mean they can AFFORD those giant homes. They might own an HDTV, but how are they paying for it? We have record low savings rates, employment remains shaky with long-term unemployment a real possibility, and personal debt levels remain very high. So I just don’t see this consumption argument as particularly useful in isolation.

Moreover, Matt takes a shortsighted view about the future of the American working class, seemingly believing they will continue to consume more and more. Instead, isn’t a far more likely future a continuation of the road we are on now, with long-term unemployment, declining social services, increased poverty, and a declining middle class? It sure seems so to me.

During the Great Depression, we had a labor movement with a long history of radicalism to try and improve people’s lives. It succeeded. During the Great Recession, we do not have that. Corporations, the Republican Party, the courts, and even a lot of Democrats are sending us back to the Gilded Age as quickly as possible. And there is no radical labor to push back. That movement has to be rebuilt. To think that relative socioeconomic equality is going to be achieved without an activist labor movement is short-sighted.

I don’t think Matt believes otherwise. But I do think he needs to read more on the history of American labor. At the same time that the supposed deal between labor and companies was made, unions were kicking out their radicals. This was during the McCarthy years. Without those radicals, organizing in many unions virtually ceased, as did the push for major structural changes to the economy that helped propel the New Deal. Without a radical base within labor, the chances of that movement propelling America toward a better tomorrow is low. Why has labor has proven so unable to counter the decline in industrial jobs, the attacks upon labor rights, etc? There are many reasons of course, but one is that all the people who knew how to organize were tossed out of the unions after Taft-Hartley.

2. Matt seems to assume that the primary goal of American radicalism is to get more money in the weekly paycheck. Certainly that’s been one goal of labor over time. But radical American labor has pushed for precisely the kind of concrete societal changes he himself wants. Does labor not want better medical care? Better schools for their children? Less crime? And doesn’t less poverty usually lead to less crime and better education?

Radical workers in the early 20th century didn’t just push for better pay. They wanted to get their children out of the workforce and into school. They wanted the weekend. They wanted social security and national health insurance. They wanted workers’ compensation and disability pay. They wanted the 8 hour day. They wanted, essentially, the entire New Deal and more.

In the Pacific Northwest of the late 1930s and 40s, radical loggers in the International Woodworkers of America even pushed for an early form of environmentalism, accusing the timber industry of wantoning wasting the resource, destroying the beautiful forest, and undermining long-term employment in the woods. This is my own research here.

Today, mainstream labor is about all those things that Yglesias claims are more important than a bigger paycheck. The small pockets of radicalized labor working today call for wide-reaching social programs that are about much, much more than pay.

3. Moreover, the idea that radicalism is somehow opposed to personal consumption doesn’t hold a lot of water. Is radicalism the same thing as doctrinaire Marxism? I don’t think so. Radicalism to support a society that maintains working-class ability to be consumers can still be radicalism. This is not a zero-sum game here. Workers of the world can unite and still have televisions and cell phones.

I know Matt is a big reader of American history in his spare time, which is laudable. I do think that he should mix a bit more labor history into his reading list. I believe it would help him gain a better understanding of labor’s role in American democracy and the needed role of labor in solving our problems today.

Today, people’s lives are getting rough again, for many things are tougher than at any time in the past several decades. And when people’s lives suck, a turn to increased radicalism is a likely end. What kind of radicalism that takes remains to be seen. The right is certainly ready to pounce on people’s discontent. The left is very much not. That scares me.

Poor Bai

[ 17 ] June 22, 2011 |

Apparently actual Republicans haven’t gotten his memo about what they believe. It’s all too appropriate that media members seemed to outnumber actual supporters at his announcement…

War is Peace

[ 12 ] June 22, 2011 |

Military Industrial Complex

Report: 10,000 Troops Leaving Afghanistan This Year

Kerry and McCain United Behind the Mysteriously Urgent Libya Mission

Iraq Violence Intensifies as Talks Continue on U.S. Troop Presence

In principle it would be quite simple to waste the surplus labour of the world by building temples and pyramids, by digging holes and filling them up again, or even by producing vast quantities of goods and then setting fire to them. But this would provide only the economic and not the emotional basis for a hierarchical society. What is concerned here is not the morale of masses, whose attitude is unimportant so long as they are kept steadily at work, but the morale of the Party itself. Even the humblest Party member is expected to be competent, industrious, and even intelligent within narrow limits, but it is also necessary that he should be a credulous and ignorant fanatic whose prevailing moods are fear, hatred, adulation, and orgiastic triumph. In other words it is necessary that he should have the mentality appropriate to a state of war. It does not matter whether the war is actually happening, and, since no decisive victory is possible, it does not matter whether the war is going well or badly. All that is needed is that a state of war should exist.