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Post-Prohibition Whiskey Raids

[ 23 ] June 4, 2015 |

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I’ve long said that the passage of the 18th Amendment was the worst day in American history, but even after Prohibition was repealed in 1933, states and counties could continue to ban the sale of liquor. Doing so incentivized people to fill the gap by producing their own. Here’s a good series of photos of cops busting bootlegging operations in Alabama over the decades, including the photo above, from 1964.

Race, History, and Naming Buildings at the University of North Carolina

[ 57 ] June 4, 2015 |

William Saunders

The University of North Carolina has long had a building named for former KKK leader William Saunders. Public protest has finally moved to renaming the building “Carolina Hall” (which really, could you be more bland?). But the school’s Board of Trustees can’t go all the way and confront the past. UNC law professor Eric Muller:

The Board of Trustees decreed that the new “Carolina” Hall must feature a historical marker that “explains Mr. Saunders’ contributions to UNC and the State of North Carolina,” the circumstances that led an earlier Board of Trustees to name the building for him and the reason why the current board has chosen to remove his name.

What is noteworthy is the decision to perpetuate the celebration of William Saunders. His name comes down, but an explanation of his contributions to the university and the state goes up. Why does Saunders, gone for almost 125 years, continue to command this honor, an honor bestowed on the KKK leader by his grandchildren’s generation at a time when many were celebrating the “lost cause” of the Confederacy and enforcing Jim Crow? Why are we obliged, almost a century later, to perpetuate that generation’s decision to single him out for honor from among all Carolina alumni who had made contributions to the university and the state? Why must we still publicly venerate his “contributions” on the walls of a university building?

The trustees also required the university to adorn the renamed building with a plaque that reads as follows: “We honor and remember all those who have suffered injustices at the hands of those who would deny them life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”

At first glance, the statement is pleasing in its timeless generality. But therein lies the problem. The society that Saunders lived in, and the society of two generations later that honored him with the naming, did not practice oppression as a generality. Whites oppressed blacks in the service of white supremacy. Why can this not be said? Indeed, why remember generic “injustices” when what we are actually remembering is “racial persecution”?

The statement even lets the oppressors subtly off the hook. It refers to them as people who “would” deny others their rights. The conditional word “would” strips their persecution of its terrible effectiveness. The truth is not that white supremacy merely aimed to deny blacks their rights – and at times their lives. The truth is that white supremacy actually did those things. Why the equivocating use of the conditional verb?

That’s pretty ridiculous. Whether this all means the Board of Trustees is really perfectly happy with the politics of William Saunders is an open question and one that’s especially salient given the current racism of the North Carolina state government and the Moral Mondays movement that has tapped into the state’s civil rights traditions to resist it. In any case, it’s amazing that not naming a building after a Ku Klux Klan leader is still contentious in 2015. But then an open confrontation with slavery, white violence, and Jim Crow could get awful uncomfortable for people who are doing all they can to strip the franchise from as many African-Americans as possible in the present.

Teaching Tenure Track

[ 38 ] June 4, 2015 |

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Michael Bérubé and Jennifer Ruth have a very solid proposal for create tenure-track teaching positions for what would now be contingent faculty. In part:

In our recently published book, The Humanities, Higher Education, and Academic Freedom, we argue that the crisis in American academe has nothing to do with the intellectual content of research and teaching in the humanities, and everything to do with the labor conditions of most American college professors. We therefore propose, as a way of undoing the deprofessionalization of the profession of college teaching, a teaching-intensive tenure track for nontenure-track faculty members with Ph.D.s and good teaching records.

We know it is difficult to measure teaching, and we do not recommend that departments rely solely on student evaluations. Teaching can and should be evaluated not only by students but by extramural peer observation, by review of syllabi and course plans, by examples of professorial feedback on student work, and by careful review of professors’ own accounts of their classrooms.

Not surprisingly, our proposal has met with mixed responses. The most predictable is the complaint that our plan is too utopian or ambitious: that tenure was meant only for research faculty who can be evaluated by a national or international body of their peers, and that a teaching-intensive tenure track would dilute the very meaning of tenure. This view is not merely blinkered but mistaken; the academic freedom tenure ensures is as important for teaching and shared governance as it is for research.

I think this is a solid way forward. I don’t know that administrations would buy into it since they are turning to cheap contingent faculty in order to save money. Providing an alternative tenure track would give those faculty power, which is probably not what the average provost wants. But as far as a just yet realistic proposal from faculty on how to create better lives for contingent colleagues, I think this is a good way forward. As far as some of the professionalization questions some faculty have risen, I basically agree with Bérubé and Ruth up and down the line on how this would improve faculty lives.

Rick Perry’s Constitution

[ 35 ] June 4, 2015 |

The man who proved that you could be too dumb to win the Republican presidential nomination is back for another bite at the apple, brought to you once again by Ambien and Tito’s Vodka, America’s favorite pre-debate cocktail. So it’s worth remembering that he believes that virtually the entire 20th century welfare and regulatory state is unconstitutional. (In fairness, his constitutional vision would at least prevent the scariest extreme of jack-booted government tyranny, large-scale commercial farmers who want to take advantage of federal price supports to sell large quantities of wheat at far-above-market prices but are required to comply with federal regulations of the interstate market in wheat.)

What’s scarier than Perry believing this stuff, of course, is the extent to which some of these ideas are creeping closer to the Republican mainstream. If taken seriously, the federalism holding in Sebelius would effectively overrule not only Wickard but McCulloch v. Maryland. And while repealing the Sixteenth Amendment may seem like classic made-in-Texas wingnuttery, well, I bring to you the national platform of the 2012 Republican Party:

In any restructuring of federal taxation, to guard against hypertaxation of the American people, any value added tax or national sales tax must be tied to the simultaneous repeal of the Sixteenth Amendment, which established the federal income tax.

Perry believes all manner of incredibly nutty stuff — and if he were capable of speaking English sentences could well have been the Republican nominee for president in 2012. This is a serious problem.

Noncompete Clauses

[ 107 ] June 4, 2015 |

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Chris Murphy and Al Franken have introduced a bill to ban one of the most egregiously oppressive practices against low-wage workers: noncompete clauses.

The bill from Sens. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) and Al Franken (D-Minn.) would ban noncompete clauses for workers making less than $15 an hour or $31,200 annually, or the minimum wage in the employee’s municipality.

The move follows reports the Jimmy John’s sandwich shops requires some of its low-wage workers to sign two-year noncompete agreements prohibiting them from working at retail stores that make at least 10 percent of their sales from sandwiches.

The legislation is dubbed the “Mobility and Opportunity for Vulnerable Employees (MOVE) Act” and is also supported by the National Employment Law Project.

There is no reason at all for noncompete clauses on low-wage workers. If a Jimmy John’s work learns how to make a sandwich and then takes her skills to Subway, Jimmy John’s does not suffer at all. This is why I push back against those who say that the employer assault on workers is about money. It’s not. It’s about power. Money is a big part of power, but there are plenty as aspects to this assault that have nothing to do with money. Noncompete clauses in the fast food industry is one of them. This is all about employers doing this because they can and because it intimidates workers from quitting. It should be illegal and hopefully this bill will make it so.

NHL Finals, For the Record

[ 23 ] June 3, 2015 |

I’m a little late, perhaps for a reason. Objectively, the hockey should be excellent. But I really can’t bring myself to care much whether a team going for its 3rd title in 6 years and a Sun Belt team already with one championship under its belt (against my team, no less) win. But coming off two perfect rounds I might as well pick, and the late start doesn’t matter since the score as of now is against my interest, so…let’s say Chicago in 7.

Threat Exaggeration, Not Underbalancing

[ 95 ] June 3, 2015 |
Turkish Air Force F-16C Block 50 MOD 45157793.jpg

“Turkish Air Force F-16C Block 50 MOD 45157793″ by Photo: SAC Helen Farrer RAF Mobile News Team/MOD. Licensed under OGL via Wikimedia Commons.

This is an odd claim:

According to balance-of-power logic and by its “balance of threat” alternative, the region should have witnessed a Turkish-Saudi-Israeli alignment aimed at Iran. Pooling resources makes sense since no single state can match Iran’s power. Israel and Saudi Arabia both seem to identify Iran as their major threat, and although Turkey may not be as focused on Iran, it still worries about Iran’s growing regional reach. A Turkish-Saudi understanding makes perfect sense by the sectarian logic that many believe is driving regional politics, as both are Sunni states. But neither the trilateral nor the bilateral balancing alignment against Iran has emerged.

2015 Defense Budgets (estimated):
Saudi Arabia: $80.8 billion
Israel: $23.2 billion
Turkey: $22.6 billion
Iran: $10.2 billion

The author, Greg Gause, goes on to argue that a variety of ideological factors are leading to “underbalancing,” and thus preventing the expected anti-Iran alliance to form. I’d suggest that before we conclude that “underbalancing” is happening, we need to have some explanation for why the massive military superiority that each of the potential coalition partners enjoys over Iran isn’t actually massive military superiority. Gause doesn’t offer one; I’m guessing that maybe he thinks the Saudis don’t actually fight and thus don’t really count, but nobody seems to believe that about the Israelis or the Turks. Indeed, I’m not sure I’ve ever seen anyone plausibly argue that Iran enjoyed a military advantage over either Israel or Turkey. And lest we forget, Israel, Turkey, and Saudi Arabia are all clients of the world’s largest military power, while Iran has no serious patron.

Thus, I’m inclined to think that there’s no puzzle here. The major Middle Eastern states have not formalized alliance arrangements to balance against Iran because they don’t need to; each enjoys presumptive military superiority over the potential aggressor, making multilateral efforts pointless. See also this discussion of Iran’s foreign policy failures.

What Should Labor Have Done Differently?

[ 91 ] June 3, 2015 |

george-meany-resize-1Above: George Meany, 1967

Stephen Lerner spoke at a plenary session during last week’s Fighting Inequality conference. He asked us to engage in an intellectual exercise. If you could take a time machine back to 1955, what is the one thing you would tell the labor movement to do differently so that it the situation it faces in 2015 wouldn’t be so bad?

It’s an interesting question. My first response is that there probably isn’t that one thing labor could have done differently because the problems it faces are structural rather than a failure of leadership. I know the leadership hasn’t helped, but we need to keep our legitimate criticisms of poor labor leadership in their proper context. One thin labor could have done a lot better is dumping George Meany as head of the AFL-CIO and replacing him with Walter Reuther, but I’m not sure the final outcome is all that much better. From a moral perspective, telling labor to stop working with CIA and supporting American Cold War foreign policy is a good one, but if the AFL-CIO is a leader in opposing the Vietnam War, what is really different today except maybe that others on the left trust the movement a bit more? Certainly telling labor to think of a real response to outsourcing and capital mobility is very tempting. UAW members destroying Toyotas with a sledgehammer might have felt cathartic, but it’s hardly a response of value.

I think the best answer is to urge them to never think of management as a partner. Maybe the biggest mistake labor made was thinking that they had long-term deals with the employers that would create permanent stability for the working class. Labor’s power forced employers to tone down their anti-union rhetoric in public, but they never accepted unions as partners. As soon as labor let its guard down, employers started pushing back against everything they had given up to workers. At first, it was around the margins, but it became a full-fledged assault by the 1970s. And labor had no response to that because it had deemphasized organizing and worker activism, instead relying solely on the boardroom and courtroom as spaces of contention and negotiation. Those strategies definitely had great value and those who wish for a more activist labor movement overly romanticize direct action on the shopfloor. But that doesn’t mean that worker activism isn’t a necessary part of a labor movement. Marginalizing that in favor of thinking of employers as permanent partners that would get workers a growing piece of a growing pie, that was a pretty deadly error of judgement.

The Ex Post Facto Self-Pity Gambit

[ 164 ] June 3, 2015 |

EmmaSulkowicz

This is a thing Meghan Daum wrote.  It is, as you can see, uncharacteristically silly:

It’s a striking juxtaposition, to say the least. In the news this week we’ve seen photos of hundreds of girls and young women, many of them pregnant, recently rescued from captivity and sexual slavery at the hands of Boko Haram, the militant Islamist group in Nigeria. We’ve also seen photos of young women, smiling in their robes and mortarboards on graduation day at Columbia University in New York City, helping a classmate carry her mattress to the podium as a symbol of the trauma she says she experienced from an alleged rape.

[…]

As a trending topic (and one that’s constantly sprouting subtopics), this thread of feminist discourse is compelling because it manages to be both exasperating and necessary. For every fatuous notion that ricochets around social media (mansplaining! microaggression!), the campus assault meme could also be sparking conversations worth having about gender and power, and the overall state of women in the world.

So why aren’t we having those conversations? Why is Mattress Girl generating more headlines and postings than the victims of Boko Haram? Why (other than the usual vagaries of the class divide) are so many young women ignorant of the big picture captured by the FBI’s Uniform Crime Reporting stats — that if you lived in, say, Gallup, N.M., in 2013 you were 47 times more likely to get raped than if you were enrolled at Harvard?

I generally admire Daum’s writing, but this is a real clinker.  This argument — “how can you focus on bad thing x when over there is worse thing y” — is tired, it is wrong, it is inherently conservative.  (You may remember it from such early-aughts classics as “how can you criticize Republican policies towards women when things in Saudi Arabia are so much worse?” and “how can grad students unionize when janitors in Houston have it so much worse?”)  As Katrin Higher puts it:

“Enough of Mattress Girl; what about the victims of Boko Haram?” Daum asks before we’ve even started the column’s first paragraph. OK. But why the victims of Boko Haram and not the women in Sudan, Syria, and literally every other part of the world that lives under patriarchy? What about them? Where do we stop and start, when have we had “enough”?

[…]

Perhaps President Obama stop focusing on the problems faced by the United States – you know, petty things like unemployment and police brutality — and instead go to other worse-off countries to “help”? The “it’s worse over there!” fallacy is a tactic used by conservatives, misogynists and classists alike to take the focus off of what they believe to be trivial problems in our own backyard and divert it towards more sinister problems in “scary” foreign countries – often to their own benefit, either because they literally profit from such diversions or have a stake in those things they’d like us to ignore.

In addition, it’s worth noting that it’s not only the magnitude of an injustice but one’s potential capacity to alleviate that injustice that are relevant when determining priorities. What seems more plausible — that campus activists can affect the policies governing sexual assault at their universities, or that they can affect the behavior of Boko Haram in Nigeria? (To be clear, it is entirely possible that campus activists could pursue the laudatory goal of reducing sexual assault on campus using ineffective tactics or bad policies. People should feel free to point this out if they think so. But either way, Boko Haram is beside the point, and we shouldn’t ever say that we’re sick of hearing about the problem.)

Daum’s follow-up doesn’t link to Higher’s response, but she does link to several other similar ones:

Could repeating those words exactly have prevented the furor that erupted on social media and the feminist blogosphere in the last week? My column was fodder for LAist, Salon and Feministing, and for Twitter vengeance. I was accused of being a “misogynist feminist” and of blaming college activists for the lack of attention to the victims of Boko Haram. One Twitter user told me I was “on the wrong side of history.” Another accused me of “mansplaining,” which she said she didn’t realize women were capable of (as it happens, I’ve written about that too.) Yet another spoke of “patiently waiting for Jezebel to rain hellfire” down on me.

Jezebel, in case you’re unfamiliar with it, is a popular site that began as a smart decoder of women’s media. Today it devotes much of its space to parsing and calling out any smidgen of what it perceives to be public misogyny. In fact, the preponderance of  blogospheric female wrath might, collectively, be called the Jezebel Effect.

So there is something called the “Jezebel Effect.” It is supposed to be very bad. It is apparently reflected by this case, even though as far as I can tell Jezebel has not written about the column. But, as with Hanna Rosin’s similar arguments, I’m entirely unclear what it is that I’m supposed to be upset about. Meghan Daum, generally a sharp writer, made a bad argument in a public forum. Various people in various fora online responded by explaining why it was a bad argument. (There wasn’t even a hashtag campaign!) Daum, who didn’t and shouldn’t have suffer any professional consequences, then used her platform at the LA Times to complain about it. This…is how discourse is supposed to work, right? What’s the problem here? Why are we talking about pitchforks?

Online harassment of women is a very real and very serious problem. Suey Park circa-2013 hashtag campaigns strike me as tactics of dubious efficacy even if their bad effects tend to be overstated, and I’m open to the idea that there may be cases where it has a genuinely chilling effect for little gain. But for writers with access to major platforms to use these things to try to preempt disagreement from other writers is disingenuous. Whether it’s an isolated case (as I hope and expect it will be with Daum,) or whether it’s more systematic, a high ratio of being able to dish it out and being able to take it is not a very attractive combination. When you write stuff and people pay attention, they will sometimes disagree strongly, and if you’re tempted to say that this shows that there’s Something Wrong With the Kids Online Today you probably want to rethink it.

Scott Walker: not good at this

[ 57 ] June 3, 2015 |

One of the basic tasks a Republican politician who hopes to be elected president must master is the ability to play both sides on abortion–to be pro-life enough for the primaries and the base, but not so pro-life as to turn off some needed moderates on election day. As far political needle-threading goes, it’s not the most difficult task a Oval Office seeking Republican must master; there’s a pretty successful template available that involves vagueness, liberal use of the federalism dodge, and the occasional dog whistle. It’ll be nonsense under any serious scrutiny, but this is a presidential campaign we’re talking about so that’s not necessarily a problem. It is becoming increasingly clear that Scott Walker is not just remarkably bad at this. He’s not screwing up in the ordinary ways but finding creatively appalling new ways to do it. I’ve long suspected that Scott Walker is a bit more like Rick Perry 2012 than conventional wisdom recognizes: he checks a lot of boxes, on paper, but at the end of the day he just may not be ready for prime time.

The Preemptive Self-Pity Two-Step

[ 145 ] June 3, 2015 |

Beth linking to it earlier reminds me that this, from Belle Waring, deserves to be quoted in full:

What did Freddie deBoer have to say to feminists who make jokes on the internet? That they are not intellectually rigorous, that they are insecure, emotional and spiteful, that they are incapable of defending feminism with rational arguments, that they “flip out” when confronted with logic, that they “censor” people when they don’t want to deal with anything other than the false flattery of servile male feminists, etc. etc. etc. These are the most tedious sexist criticisms ever. I’m sorry, but they are—insultingly so.

DeBoer is making a larger point which, if it were not so hideously sexist, would have some merit. Recursive LOLspeak and self-critical whiteness can be an idle diversion for minds that would be more profitably engaged in political activism. Frothing oneself to a lather about the latest outrage is counterproductive if it only redirects energy away from real issues. OK! These are, in principle, valid criticisms of the internet progressive milieu. HOWEVER: a) this goes awry when the complaint is a sexist one that codes the lamentable unseriousness as female b) the criticism itself can and has become an irritable gesture, quite entirely another matryoshka doll inside the online feminist one! The pose of the Orwell-like contrarian who calls people to action with high-minded seriousness is…also a pose! If you are mcmanus-sensei, you call for burning shit down at every opportunity and lament the trifling concerns of others. Then you accuse people of harbouring a desire for fascist conformity because they like monumental architecture. You didn’t see that coming, did you? No? That’s because mcmanus-sensei is a better troll than deBoer, who has a limited range. Every day Freddie deBoer turns his face to serious issues, and every day the paltry concerns of feminists online blast him like an ill-wind of dick-jokes, a Boreas enjoining him to drink a tall, cold glass of STFU, which batters his doughty vessel but cannot prevent him from steering on, tacking back and forth in the direction of personal liberation, which project he needs no woman’s approval to undertake [swelling strings and snapping pennants].

A couple additional points:

  • In response to libarbarian here, nobody “responded” to de Boer’s immediate substantive point about Brauer’s tweets because Brauer’s tweets are obviously indefensible.  The problem with de Boer’s post was not that he was critical of Brauer but that he cited the tweets of an utter nonentity that nobody of any influence defended as representative of American liberalism in general, a frequent and deeply irritating feature of his writing.  The fact that he incoherently combined this with a ridiculously overwrought attack on a mild bit of observational humor and his latest argument that a website edited by women wasn’t “challenging” its readers enough (presumably, by agreeing more with Freddie de Boer) just made it worse.  (As politicalfootball observed, “When this ‘major tactic’ is used, he claims to be offended by its use. When it’s not used, he’s still offended.”)
  • Making Brauer the Very Face of American Liberalism Today is even more problematic when your immediate response to any criticism is generally to note that you’re just a Daily Dish blogger with 4,000 twitter followers who palpably craves attention a humble grad student nobody with a WordPress blog.
  • The rhetorical value of the “I am but a simple WordPress caveman” routine should, however, be made clear by this classic CT comments thread. Freddie enters the conversation by making an generalization about the quality of research published in social science journals he can’t possibly know enough to defend, combined with an insinuation that anyone who doesn’t agree with him (including the accomplished researcher of you can probably guess which gender who wrote the OP) isn’t a serious researcher.  After being called out on it, he immediately retreats into belligerent self-pity, building up to attacks on imaginary people citing their Ivy League credentials without bothering to engage with the criticisms that were being made of his position on the merits.  If enjoy saying things like “all liberals like torture because Alan Dershowitz” and “this tweet from former vice president of the Duluth Young Democrats just destroyed the American left,” this excuse comes in very handy.  It also highlights the sexism of his repeated assertions that women online Will Not Rationally Engage.
  • I should note here that I haven’t actually read the latest uvam acerbam magnum linked to by Rob above, so perhaps the excerpts in comments are unrepresentative and this one actually gets around to making some points on the merits after all the whining about how he never really wanted the attention reflected by a miniscule percentage of this blog’s posts anyway.  And maybe The Human Centipede III surpasses the achievement of The Rules of the Game, but in both cases I’m happy to play the odds.

Oil and Outrage

[ 2 ] June 3, 2015 |

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I have a new piece up at Counterpunch on the Santa Barbara oil spills, 1969 and 2015:

The environmental legislation the Santa Barbara oil spill produced included the National Environmental Policy Act of 1969, one of the most important pieces of environmental ever passed. The bill passed unanimously in the Senate and 372-15 in the House, showing the overwhelming bipartisan belief in the need to change how industry affected the natural world in the aftermath of Santa Barbara. NEPA required government agencies to create environmental impact statements for federal projects and mineral and timber sales. This gave environmentalists an opening to sue the government for not taking environmental concerns seriously, which would become a major part of green strategy by the 1980s.

But this time around we are more jaded and cynical. We’ve seen this story time and time again and environmental groups are worried that apathy has taken hold of the nation. Rather than build on that pioneering legislation and continue fighting to hold the oil industry responsible for its environmental damage, the industry has managed to largely avoid new regulations to prevent these spills. After the Exxon Valdez disaster in 1989, the nation continued to tighten restrictions on oil, including spurring resistance to drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. But the lack of meaningful change to oil drilling practices after the blowout of the BP Deepwater Horizon oil rig off the Louisiana coast in 2010 is telling. BP received hefty fines totally so far tens of billions of dollars, but ultimately very little has changed and similar drilling techniques are continuing today. It’s only a matter of time before another Deepwater again shows the environmental damage of our energy regime.

Of course, we all know that a bill which passes unanimously in the Senate means that Richard Nixon is a liberal who deserves all the credit for signing it.

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