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Another Demographic Battle Lost

[ 107 ] May 18, 2015 |

When someone in my twitter feed made this snarky tweet, I did not, as they say, “trust the shorter.”

Well, I should have. Damon Linker weighs in on religion’s (soon to be–I HOPE) waning influence on, well, everything (again, I HOPE).

This Day in Labor History: May 18, 1933

[ 14 ] May 18, 2015 |

On May 18, 1933, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt created the Tennessee Valley Authority as a centerpiece to his New Deal. The TVA would have both short and long-term impacts on the nation’s labor history, ultimately going far to transforming an entire region of the nation, providing the raw materials and industrial capacity necessary to become a major site of American production after World War II.

The Tennessee Valley was one of the United States’ most underdeveloped areas in 1933. Despite a long-term effort by Nebraska senator George Norris to push for public power in the region, private interests prevented a major government investment until the Roosevelt administration swept to power that year. The net farm income of the Tennessee Valley was only $639 a year compared to the national average of $1835. The Roosevelt administration saw widespread regional planning as key to raising the nation’s poorest regions out of poverty. Targeting the Tennessee River Valley, the new agency built sixteen dams to prevent erosion and limit floods, provide electricity for both farmers and industrial operations, and eventually for recreational purposes. It also attempted to establish a model community with modern urban planning for the region to follow at Norris, Tennessee, north of Knoxville.


Workers at Norris Dam

However, it should be noted that Washington planners, fearful of alienating the white South through this unprecedented government incursion into the economy, not only reinforced segregation on the job, but created new forms of it. Much physical labor on construction sites was not segregated in the 1930s, but after the TVA introduced segregation that its planners assumed already existed, it spread through the South for a lot of hard labor. Yet even here, the federal government was employing black Americans at high rates for the first time in a very long time and despite the institutionalized discrimination of TVA and the fact that the white power structure in the South were all Democrats, it helped the process of convincing blacks to leave the Republican Party which now did nothing for them and join the Democratic Party that might do a little bit for them. TVA did eventually provide better jobs for African-Americans, but only after threatened NAACP lawsuits and Fair Employment Practices Committee investigations. But all hiring of blacks was resisted. When TVA hired three black security guards in 1943, none other than John Rankin said it would “engender more bitterness among southern representatives and southern senators than anything else I could mention.” And when blacks showed up in 1942 to help work on Fontana Dam on the North Carolina-Tennessee border, white workers threatened to lynch them.

For unions, the impact of the TVA would be ambivalent. Fourteen American Federation of Labor trade unions were involved in the construction of the dams but the agency originally would not recognize them as bargaining agents on the projects until its lawyers decided that since TVA was chartered as a corporation, it could be legally liable for not doing so. In 1935, TVA created its Employee Relationship Policy, a sort of localized Wagner Act. It granted the right to organize and choose collective bargaining agents free of management. The AFL then created the Tennessee Valley Trades and Labor Council (TVTLC) as the bargaining agent for all the AFL craft unions. But while the TVA leaders in Washington were relatively open to unionism, local supervisors who lacked any interactions with unions were openly hostile. When John Turner was fired for passing out union literature during working hours, labor appealed to TVA leadership who reinstated him in part because the TVA board itself had facilitated the unionization of the workforce. In 1940, the TVA signed the first general agreement covering its blue-collar employees and then moved on to a similar agreement with seven unions covering white-collar workers. In short, the TVA provided a small bastion of unionism in a harshly anti-union part of the nation.


Building the Big Ridge Dam, Tennessee

Interestingly, the early TVA also worked with the Highlander School, the radical Myles Horton-led educational center in Tennessee that would later train Martin Luther King and Rosa Parks and then be closed (it moved to a different part of the state). TVA’s first chairman was Arthur Morgan, who had socialist ties, including through his son who was an avowed socialist. Morgan had the TVA pay for a few workers to attend Highlander for industrial training and, while Morgan had to publicly keep his distance from the radical center, the Highlander-trained workers played a central role in organizing the TVA craft unions. The connection between the two institutions continued to thrive over the next few years, although Morgan ignored Horton’s pleas to integrate the workforce.

No American could be sad about new economic opportunities for the Southern working class. But would those jobs be union jobs? In fact, for the most part, outside of the TVA itself, they would not. It was an intentional move on the part of the Roosevelt administration to reshape the geography of American industrial production in the New Deal and especially in World War II. There were many good reasons to do that. But TVA-produced power also provided the infrastructure necessary for corporations to move production from union jobs in New England and the Great Lakes states to anti-union southern states. As early as the late 1930s, textile manufacturers escaping unions in the northeast found the newly electrified areas of the TVA appealing places to move production. The CIO knew this was a problem and understood that the ability to organize these jobs would go a long ways to defining the postwar labor movement. So it initiated Operation Dixie in 1946 to begin organizing the South. And while not all those campaigns were related specifically around TVA-created jobs, its planners knew that TVA-provided power would open up the region to massive capital mobility as manufacturers saw the potential for a non-union workforce again within American borders. But Operation Dixie largely failed for complex reasons and those jobs largely, although not entirely, remained non-union for the existence of the workplace.

In the end, the TVA transformed the South and provided a great deal of new opportunity for Southern workers. It did however contribute, indirectly at least, to the decline of American unionism in postwar America.


TVA sites as of 2005

The material on segregation comes from Nancy Grant, TVA and Black Americans: Planning for the Status Quo. Other material comes from F. Ray Marshall, Labor in the South and Irving Bernstein, Promises Kept: John F. Kennedy’s New Frontier.

This is the 143rd post in this series. Previous posts are archived here.

I’d Like To Buy That Man Woman A Coke

[ 7 ] May 17, 2015 |

Pretty impressive. Let me also endorse Rick Perlstein’s summary from Facebook:

Don finally accepts that faking authenticity is all there is, all the way down.

*Title modified to properly indicate that Eileen Sutton was the source of the theory.

Game of Thrones, Season 5, Episode 6 Open Thread

[ 109 ] May 17, 2015 |

Click to view full size image

Thanks to some scheduling luck, Scott and I should be able to podcast tomorrow, so that’ll be going up earlier than usual. In the mean time, have fun kibitzing in the thread.

And as usual, beware of spoilers.

Mad Men Series Finale Open Thread

[ 53 ] May 17, 2015 |


Well, this is it. I have to say that after Season 6, I was really down on the show, but both halves of Season 7 have been excellent. My prediction, which no doubt will be proven wrong shortly, is that the final episode consists of nothing but Don. Maybe Sally or Betty. But all other story lines in the advertising agency have been finished. Given that Roger Sterling is one of the greatest supporting characters in TV history, it’s kind of too bad.

…I was fantastically wrong! Also, cocaine! Mad Men has reached the 70s!

Game of Thrones Pre-Game: Loras Tyrell as “Gay Cartoon”

[ 15 ] May 17, 2015 |

How "Game of Thrones" ruined Loras Tyrell: HBO's “gay cartoon” is so much more in the books

I have a new essay up on, this time on the heated debate over the show’s depiction of Loras Tyrell. FYI, I didn’t choose the headline.

Feel free to discuss, but save any Episode 6 comments until the open thread, which I’ll put up at 10PM Eastern.

Dying Republicans

[ 74 ] May 17, 2015 |


I am really hesitant to believe too strongly in demographic factors as the key issue in an election, largely because there are so many variables and because it creates a sense of inevitably that does not actually exist. But Republican voters are super old and it certainly isn’t going to help them in 2016.

“Fury’s” Feminism: A Treatise by John Nolte

[ 85 ] May 17, 2015 |


John Nolte really likes “Mad Max: Fury Road.”

After almost twenty years of directing nothing but kids movies, 70 year-old George Miller has picked himself up, dusted himself off, and, like a Boss, once again shown the whippersnappers how it is done.

I mean, he really likes it.

“Fury Road” is dazzling to watch and experience. The talk of no CGI is, however, pure hype. There is plenty of CGI, and that includes moments in some car stunts. Compared to the new “Avengers” movie, which is practically a cartoon for extended periods, this is a small thing and in no way takes away from Miller’s practical-effects achievements. There will be Oscars.

You know what he likes best about it? The feminism. That’s right. Nolte likes the feminism, ‘cuz it’s the right kind of feminism. Nolte-approved feminism.

“Fury Road’ is nothing like the diseased modern-day, left-wing feminism spread by the likes of Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama. Miller’s women are not victims, are not Julias, are not dependent on a central government to solve all their problems, are not wallowing in a narcissistic cult of their own victimhood, and are not acting like men.

In fact, just the opposite is true. Miller’s heroines are beautiful, feminine, and breaking away from a cult of personality and its tyrannical central government. These are feminists who have come for their God-given rights, not emasculate. They don’t crybaby, they act. They don’t tell others how to behave, they fight. They don’t want to take away your rights, but they damn sure are demanding their own.

These are women too busy being strong and independent to collapse into a helpless ball of harpy outrage over imagined offenses.

I, for one, am excited about this convservative-approved avenue of feminism suddenly available to me. Provided I look like Charlize Theron and confine my feminism to beating people up in the desert, I will be golden!!!! Not like those whiny feminists who complain about things like the prevalence of rape in military culture and petition the government to change things legislatively. I mean, that is some straight up outraged harpy shit right there.

The only problem I see with partaking of this new feminism (because I already look exactly like Charlize Theron*) is that I just don’t think I’ll get many opportunities to beat up random folks in the desert; but since I’m guessing Nolte lives in Southern California I’ll happily volunteer to ride out there in a fixied Humvee so I can hit him the face with a shovel. FEMINISM!

*Theron a is a freckle-faced middle-aged woman with a sagging ass, right?

A World of Hurt

[ 27 ] May 17, 2015 |

This compilation of reactions to the list that destroyed American liberalism is highly amusing and, in its own way, instructive. The amount of defensive whining generated by an instance of mild observational humor can help to explain a world in which the Weekly Standard can publish a cover story in which an affluent white guy asserts that the mere fact of an African-American or woman president proves that affirmative action and Victim Politics are killing the country while simultaneously complaining about people criticizing his public writing. I would have to say that I remain unconvinced that white men with too much time on their hands constitute a subaltern class.

Book Review: Karen Piper, The Price of Thirst: Global Water Inequality and the Coming Chaos

[ 30 ] May 17, 2015 |


Karen Piper has written a powerful book about how water privatization threatens people around the world. Connecting the subject to the world’s colonial past, she demonstrates how a handful of multinational corporations working with global financial organizations like the World Bank have ridden roughshod over the world’s people in order to turn a profit off the substance of life. Piper visited nations around the world where water privatization and access connect to larger issues that threaten the globe, including Egypt and Iraq to connect water access with Islamic extremism and Chile to understand how the issues going on with privatization in that country are connected to climate change. Ultimately, she makes a convincing case for taking water privatization more seriously in conceptualizing the world’s biggest problems.

Of course water privatization isn’t something that most activists are completely unaware of. Most significantly was the Bechtel attempt to privatize the water of Coachabamba, Bolivia in 2000 and the grassroots protests against this that paved the way for the rise of Evo Morales. But by and large, it’s not an issue most of think about much. Yet we should.

Central to Piper’s argument is the relationship between water privatization on one hand and colonialism and imperialism on the other. She begins her book by profiling a visit to the World Water Forum, a big international event that brings the UN together with international development specialists, the IMF and World Bank, and water companies to promote water development. But really the extraordinarily elite event does little than promote the interests of the big water companies such as Suez, Veolia, and Agbar. In fact, 5 companies controlled 73 percent of the world’s privatized water in 2001. Of course grassroots activists are not allowed to participate in these big wig discussions of global water, even though (and really, because) they are the ones who will suffer in the attempt to turn water into a commodity.

These companies originated in the history of European colonialism. Veolia is a French company that evolved out of an 1853 Napoleon III decree that opened up water as a profit-making enterprise for many of Europe’s wealthiest men. Suez, another French company, was founded by an imperialist who was later involved in the failed French attempt to build the Panama Canal and the Belgian conquest of the Congo. The company was long run by colonial officials in North Africa and continues to see Africa as a prime place for Europeans to profit off of water. Today these companies are the world’s prime pushers of water privatization.

Water privatization in Chile began with the tight relationship between Milton Friedman and the Chicago Boys with Augusto Pinochet during the economic plundering of Chile after the 1973 coup. The privatization regime of Pinochet largely remains in place today, while the conflation of indigenous rights with “terrorism” pioneered by that coup also retains power. The Pehuenche and Mapuche are resisting Chile’s attempts to dam the Bío-Bío River and Baker River and they face significant harassment from the government for doing so. In South Africa, she argues for integrating traditional understandings of water to push against the capitalist practices of both the apartheid and post-Mandela governments that have had widespread ecological damage for the sake of profit.

Meanwhile in the Middle East, where water supplies are already sensitive, water privatization can cause significant instability, including Islamic extremism. Piper notes how the 1991 American bombings of the Iraqi infrastructure permanently undermined what was once a very good water infrastructure. In Egypt, water privatization in 2005 doubled the price of water in some parts of Cairo and led to public protests that never really went away. She argues this led directly into the movement against Hosni Mubarak, whose family was heavily involved in water profiteering in the country. Meanwhile, Egypt’s elite classes had more water than they knew what to do with, with water inequality mirroring other forms of inequality. Briefly analyzing the post-revolutionary period, Piper notes that while the nationalization of water supplies would have benefited Egypt’s people, the water companies saw the nation as a future gold mine. The World Bank and IMF offered Morsi $4.5 billion in loans for recovery, but of course that came with the strings of continuing the privatization regime. When Morsi began cancelling some of the corrupt deals over water and other sectors of Egypt’s society, the foreign corporations began to panic and she argues this led to Morsi’s being forced to resign as the economy collapsed. I do however think the decline of Morsi is a lot more complicated than this given Piper ignores the religious tensions within Egyptian society entirely. But at the very least, it’s worth thinking of water as a central player in such events.

Piper also notes the dangers of calling water a “human right.” It’s not bad per se to do this but it opens space for corporations to co-opt this relatively meaningless language to say that they are privatizing the world’s water because they believe in human rights. Companies like Suez and Veolia have embraced the language of water as a human rights because now they could demand international funding to promote this human right so beneficially provided through them. Corporations could now sue foreign governments to make water payments using such language as a justification.

The coming chaos of water is real enough with or without privatization. Pollution, overextraction and depletion of ground water, salinization, and climate change all threaten the world’s fresh water supplies. If nothing is done to ensure the ability of all citizens to have access to some water in order to survive, global disasters will result. But for corporations, this is all a chance to profit, which means that those who can pay will access water and those can’t won’t. That will exacerbate global inequality, could create wars, and will likely lead to the increased marginalization and oppression of indigenous peoples and racial minorities. None of this bothers corporations of course.

In the end, Piper hopes to “help return cultural diversity to the management of the world’s water supplies,” aiming for an anti-colonial view of water that pushes back against the post-colonial multinational corporations. Mostly she succeeds in her arguments. One can argue that the challenges of finding clean water for billions of people is something that can’t really rely on romanticized notions of local control. On the other hand, the current system of privatization and profit isn’t working either for the world’s poor. We in the U.S. might see the water system as fundamentally successful, although if you live in Detroit you probably don’t. Unfortunately, Detroit more represents what corporate water has done to most of the world. Piper effectively challenges this system and should make us think harder about the relationship between water and colonialism at the very least.

The Civil War in the West

[ 16 ] May 16, 2015 |

Adam Arenson and Virginia Scharff, who was my dissertation advisor, on the end of the Civil War in the West:

But looking at the war from the West is an important perspective. From the West, the Civil War appeared as merely the greatest in a series of conflicts that shaped the United States in the 19th century, conflicts over how to square liberty and slavery, empire and democracy — crises of authority that tested what the proper limits of the United States would be. The Civil War caused brawls among American miners in Victoria, British Columbia, and it launched multiple schemes for Americans — black and white, Union and Confederate — to colonize Mexico, or Central America, or islands in the Caribbean. The Civil War contributed to the rise and then the fall of Emperor Maximilian in Mexico, as well as the Confederation of Canada from disparate provinces.

As Reconstruction moved forward in the South, it encountered questions of race and citizenship, occupation and voting rights that were familiar from the states and territories of the West. Republicans in California twisted themselves into knots to explain why African African-Americans should receive citizenship and voting rights, but Chinese immigrants should not; the Wyoming Territory granted woman’s suffrage in 1869 as part of a strategy to resist perceived equality among races.

Put simply, one cannot understand the Civil War without addressing the significance of the West in American history before, during, and after the traditional chronology of the war. And likewise you cannot understand the West without taking into account changes wrought by the nation’s cataclysmic Civil War. Though often held apart, the histories of the Civil War, Reconstruction and the American West compose a larger, unified history of conflict over land, labor, rights, citizenship and the limits of governmental authority in the United States.

The nation’s defining debates and battles over freedom, race, land, and the rights of individuals, took place amid, and because of, the territorial expansion of the United States, at the hands of men and women who welcomed an American empire. This was nothing new in 1848: Thomas Jefferson, the slaveholding son of a westering slaveholder, embraced territorial expansion as the engine of an “empire for liberty” — though Jefferson’s fellow slaveholders more often envisioned an empire for slavery. In the West as much as in the slave South, elites demonstrated how little regard they had for the life, liberty or pursuit of happiness of the American Indian nations they encountered, or of the Spanish-speaking peoples who had for generations lived in the newly American West.

This is really where I think Civil War scholarship is going. There’s been a major uptick in books on the Civil War in the West (see here and here) and its long-term impacts and I think integrating these perspectives into the North-South narratives that dominate the historiography of the War is going to significantly expand our understanding of the period.

Conference Championship Picks

[ 17 ] May 16, 2015 |

I’ll do this quickly after a perfect division round, and will add Berube picks if/when I get them:

Rangers v. Tampa Bay Part of me can easily see the Rangers as the ’93 Canadiens, not really a great team but grinding out overtime and 1-goal wins in front of a Hall of Fame goaltender.  And the Lightning, who would have been my pick to get to the finals, have been curiously unimpressive in the playoffs so far, actually getting beaten up pretty badly possession-wise by the Habs despite what might have appeared to be an easyish win.  Still, I’ll take the 82-game sample over the 13-game one, and I think Tampa’s greater skill depth will allow them to sneak by King Henrik.  For Michael’s sake I hope I’m wrong, but LIGHTNING IN 7. 

Chicago v. Anaheim You have to respect Anaheim, and as a Flames fan I certainly — they’ve big, they’re well coached, they have two killer lines.  But I don’t think they’re quite ready to beat the Hawks — they might not have many more big runs in them, but I think they’ll make this one count.  BLACK HAWKS IN 6. 


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