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How to be a Hack, “Nixon Was a Liberal!” Edition

[ 397 ] July 16, 2015 |

Nixon_resignation_AP_660

Our friend Freddie deBoer is self-immolating today, and since better people than I are on it I’d rather talk about this gem unearthed by a commenter:

Obama is to the right of Richard Nixon irl

We’ve discussed this before, but I’m not sure there’s any better illustration that someone 1)considers themselves very sophisticated about politics and 2)has absolutely no idea what they’re talking about that this particular bit of truthiness. Fortunately, Elizabeth Drew has a good corrective to this nonsense in a recent Atlantic, but let’s respond to Freddie’s attempts to defend this silliness with the tl; dr version:

Check their records in domestic policy.

Ok. I see some environmental legislation that passed with massive veto-proof majorities despite Nixon’s contemptuous indifference to the subject. I see the Clean Water Act passing over his veto. I also see Nixon vetoing a bill aiding the unemployed and local services, a pay equity bill, a minimum wage bill, and a bill creating a national day care system. On the other hand, I see on the one hand Barack Obama signing the most progressive package of legislation since Johnson with razor-thin margins to work with in Congress, and I also see him vetoing zero progressive bills. When Richard Nixon got his first choice he nominated Warren Burger, William Rehnquist, and Lewis Powell to the Supreme Court; Obama nominated Elana Kagan and Sonia Sotomayor. So, in short, I see that anyone claiming that Nixon is to Obama’s left on domestic policy is revealing their own massive cluelessness.

Check their preferences on health care.

Nixon’s preference on health care was “to do nothing.” We can see this from the fact that he was working with a Congress well to his left and nothing came close to passing. The fact that Republicans can offer decoy fans and various country-fried rubes will take the plans as sincere expressions of Republican policy preferences while presenting themselves as tough-minded leftists will never cease to be hilarious.

I don’t claim to know what precise health care reform Barack Obama would favor in a parliamentary system, but I do know that he succeeded in getting comprehensive health care reform passed where presidents since Truman have failed. Also note the utter idiocy of the methodology of comparing empty position statements with actual statutes. If one takes this logic seriously, Obama would be more left-wing if he had held out for single payer and gotten nothing. This is just remarkably dumb. (And, of course, even the people making this argument don’t take it seriously — the response to such a result would not be “you have to respect Obama’s lefty purism!” but “the failure of the Senate to bring the bill to a vote proves that Obama really didn’t want it.”)

Check their relationship to the social safety net

Asked and answered above. Obama signed a comprehensive health care reform bill that, among other things, included a massive expansion of Medicaid. Nixon — did no such thing, but he did veto a proposed expansion of the safety net.

I dunno, maybe one reason Ta-Nehisi Coates is a much more widely respected writer is that his political writing tends not only to be highly insightful but also tends to avoid massive howlers.

Wisconsin Legislative Priorities

[ 44 ] July 15, 2015 |

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Take $250 million from the University of Wisconsin, give $250 million to the owners of the Milwaukee Bucks to build a new arena.

Brazil

[ 14 ] July 15, 2015 |
Mistral

“BPC Dixmude” by Simon Ghesquiere/Marine Nationale – Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

In my latest for the National Interest, I make the case that it’s in just about everyone’s national interest to facilitate the transfer of the two Mistral-class amphibs, intended for Russia, to Brazil:

Brazil could use a pair of Mistral-class amphibious assault ships. Fortuitously, a pair just came on the market.

As has become well known, Russia contracted with France in 2009 to build a pair of Mistral-class amphibious assault ships in French yards. The French would then assist in the construction of two additional Mistrals in Russian yards, giving the Russians a chance to redevelop their skills at building large surface warships.

The Mistrals displace 21,000 tons, can make almost 19 knots, and can carry two-to-three dozen helicopters, in addition to small boats and a contingent of marines. They have advanced communication systems necessary for managing complex amphibious operations (the sophistication of this system was one of the sticking points in the export deal with Russia).

And I’m not the first person to think this way. I spoke with a Brazilian naval analyst this evening, and he suggested that there are some legal difficulties (the contracting with Russia makes it very difficult to resell this ships, as does the presence of Russian military equipment on board), but that one of the options under consideration might be to sell the older Mistrals (France has three), and convert the Russian ships to French service. But there are also obvious concerns about where the money would come from.

Not to Fan the Flames, or Anything…

[ 211 ] July 15, 2015 |

I’m just gonna leave this here.

Alice Goffman on the run

[ 212 ] July 15, 2015 |

on the run

That book was made by Mr. Mark Twain, and he told the truth, mainly. There was things which he stretched, but mainly he told the truth. That is nothing. I never seen anybody but lied one time or another, without it was Aunt Polly, or the widow, or maybe Mary. Aunt Polly—Tom’s Aunt Polly, she is—and Mary, and the Widow Douglas is all told about in that book, which is mostly a true book, with some stretchers, as I said before.

Huckleberry Finn

This morning, a couple more pieces were published regarding the growing controversy over Alice Goffman’s much-lauded book On the Run.

Steve Lubet, who first raised serious questions about the book’s veracity, and was as far as I know also the first person to point out that On the Run ends with Goffman admitting to engaging in a conspiracy to commit murder, has an article in the New Republic that raises yet more questions about both issues. First, Lubet reveals further problems with Goffman’s reliability, in this instance surrounding her description of the death of her friend Chuck, whose murder makes up the book’s narrative and thematic climax:

To that point, Goffman’s version closely mirrors the police account of events. The Chinese restaurant in West Philadelphia, the head wound, the younger brother at the scene, the victim’s age and race, the downtown hospital, and the time of death all match. According to police reports, Chuck’s girlfriend was in his hospital room when detectives arrived in the morning, as she was in Goffman’s version. And another friend of Chuck’s was there as well.

But one person who wasn’t in the hospital room when the detectives arrived, according to the police reports, was Alice Goffman. Detective Francis Mullen, one of the lead investigators on the case that day, told me that they would have recorded the name, race, and gender of anyone who was in the hospital room—as they did for other individuals.

“I am 100 percent certain there was NOT a white female” there, he said in an email.

Goffman is adamant that she was by Chuck’s bedside when the detectives arrived. Asked about this discrepancy, Goffman said, “They were definitely in the room, and they were asking Chuck’s girlfriend questions while I was in the room. And they didn’t ask me any questions or say anything to me.”

The conflict between these narratives is of a piece with a lot of other things which anyone who decides to read the book critically will end up discovering. On the Run is full of inconsistencies, incongruities, improbable stories, and, in least a couple of cases, on their face impossibilities. I’m not going to go into these matters here, except to note that when someone points out one of these things in relative isolation, it can appear that the critic is making a mountain out of a mole hill. But there comes a point where a sufficient number of mole hills piled onto each other will begin to resemble a mountain, and by the end of the book On the Run has very much reached that point, as I will discuss elsewhere.

Second, Lubet points out that Goffman’s response to the claim that she admits to having committed a serious felony calls her overall reliability into further question:

Goffman has defended herself by asserting new facts that dramatically alter her narrative. In a response posted on her University of Wisconsin website earlier this year, Goffman writes that the manhunt was actually all a charade, a mourning ritual intended only to satisfy the “neighborhood’s collective desire for retribution.” While the name of Chuck’s killer was well known, “it was common knowledge in the neighborhood” that he “had fled,” she now states. The repeated nighttime searches were really just play acting. In her revised version, “Talk of retribution was just that: talk.”

But if it was all just a performance, why did she omit that crucial information from the book itself? Why did she instead tell us in such gripping detail that Mike kept his hand on his Glock during the drive and tucked the gun into his jeans as he lay in wait for the suspected 4th Street Boy? Why write about sitting in the car with the engine running, ready to speed off, if Goffman really believed there would be no violence?

I cannot really fault Goffman for changing her story about the events of those nights, given that the account in On the Run unequivocally implicates her in a felony—less serious because no one was shot, but no less criminal because the manhunt failed. And even if it had not been a crime, it was no less unethical and immoral to have risked the lives of her potential target and any innocent bystanders.

By belatedly absolving herself of participating in a murder plot, however, Goffman has admitted to another failing: putting drama ahead of the truth. She is asking readers to trust her. But how can we trust her if she has altered her story in ways that go well beyond simple anonymization?

Third, Lubet points out that Goffman omits to provide readers of On the Run the story of what happened to Chuck’s killers, which is a significant omission for reasons that his article makes clear. He also emphasizes that Goffman’s admitted conduct raises serious questions about the ethical obligations of social science researchers in general, and ethnographers in particular.

After reading Lubet’s article, Jesse Singal’s latest defense of Goffman in New York Magazine is pretty shocking. Singal comes off as both remarkably credulous in regard to Goffman’s veracity, and even more remarkably indifferent to her admitted averred conduct. As to the first issue, Singal’s explanation for the awkward circumstance that some of the stories Goffman relates as simple fact are both incredible on their face and impossible to verify is that she sometimes gets sloppy about distinguishing between things she’s been told by her informants and things she confirmed actually happened:

Given that there’s no evidence Goffman lied or intentionally embellished in On the Run, the most likely explanation for these discrepancies is that she simply didn’t heed her own advice about credulously echoing sources’ stories; it might be that important details about how these events unfolded got lost along the way.

There are a couple of big problems with this defense, such as it is:

(1) It would obviously be a huge breach of both basic journalistic and academic norms to present dubiously sourced or completely unsourced stories as representing incontrovertible fact, yet Goffman does just this in On the Run on numerous occasions. Singal seems to overlook that one “important detail about how these events unfolded” that may have “got lost along the way” is whether these events actually happened at all, which is something that can be asked about a number of incidents in the book.

(2) In several instances, Goffman presents herself as an eyewitness to such incidents, which potentially implicates a much more serious breach of academic and journalistic norms than reporting a poorly sourced story in a misleadingly credulous way (which is not meant to minimize the seriousness of lapses of the latter sort).

Singal simply glides over the distinction between (1) and (2), even though in at least one instance Lubet has questioned directly whether Goffman actually witnesses something she claims to have seen (Apparently, Singal doesn’t consider his own inability to verify any aspect of that particular story, despite his attempts to do so, as evidence that Goffman may be lying).

As for the second issue, Singal appears to be completely unconcerned with either Goffman’s frank admission claim in On the Run that she participated on several several separate occasions in a conspiracy to commit murder, or with her unconvincing (to put it mildly) attempt to walk that story back.

All this leads to Singal’s conclusion that On the Run “is, at the very least, mostly true,” which is a rather astonishing standard to apply to a work of either scholarship or journalism.

Why Should Any Journalistic Standards Apply to Reproductive Freedom?

[ 175 ] July 15, 2015 |

1200

I’m sure this version of heavily edited Candid Camera will turn out to be solid!

See also.

And the thing is, even if the video were honest it would be neither here nor there. The fact that something sounds gross isn’t actually a reason to ban something unless you think the practice of medicine should be eliminated entirely. Over to you, Justice Stevens.

How Corporations Blame Higher Prices on Minimum Wage Increases

[ 77 ] July 15, 2015 |

index

Above: The Chipotle CEO business model

This is a good discussion on the bogus connection between higher minimum wages and higher prices. The real issue leading to higher prices are CEO salaries and corporate profit margins, not a slightly higher minimum wage.

Chipotle is just the latest company in the city to claim labor costs as the reason for price hikes. It sounds logical. Wages go up 10%, prices of menu items go up 10%. It’s fair, right? But Chipotle co-CEOs Steve Ells and Monty Moran’s earnings in 2014 were $28.9m and $28.2m, respectively. Ells also brought in around $42m in stock options in 2014, yet prices must go up because the lowest paid workers received a $1 raise? This is yet more evidence that executive pay and corporate profit margins must be maintained, at the expense of minimum wage workers.

It doesn’t make sense considering Chipotle’s growth in both sales and profits over the past year. The company saw a 47.6% increase in profits to $122.6m, while sales were up 20.4%, to $1.09bn. Yet, with the company wanting to maintain specific profit margins, prices go up, even when they don’t have to.

Ells and Moran saw their own personal pay increase 15% year-to-year, according to Chipotle’s own reporting – that’s millions of dollars – but sadly, minimum wage debates over the past year have highlighted how companies, from Chipotle to McDonald’s to Walmart, just can’t afford to give their workers a living wage.

Ells and Moran could easily have taken a pay cut, or frozen their income for the year, but instead Chipotle spokesman Chris Arnold was clear about what the company wanted:

California, and San Francisco in particular, has a high cost of doing business. In San Francisco, for example, our occupancy costs are about double the Chipotle average as a percentage of sales, and our menu prices there are right around the average for Chipotle restaurants around the country, so increases to wages can have a greater impact than they might elsewhere.

Of course, people largely blame higher prices on lazy workers, supporting the CEOs destroying this country’s middle class in order to buy another ivory backscratcher.

More on Iran

[ 133 ] July 15, 2015 |

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Duss:

In stark contrast, the historic nuclear deal announced Tuesday in Vienna between the U.S. and its P5+1 partners and Iran demonstrates an alternative vision of the use of American power. It shows that our security and the security of our partners can be effectively advanced through multilateral diplomacy, and proves once again the importance of U.S. global leadership in addressing shared problems. Specifically, it achieves the central goal of blocking Iran’s path to a nuclear weapon by dramatically reducing its capacity to produce nuclear fuel (something which continued to expand even under tight international sanctions), and by putting Iran’s entire nuclear infrastructure under the most intensive inspections regime in history.

As a result of the deal, the International Atomic Energy Agency will have eyes on Iran’s nuclear program at every level: mining, procurement, production, enrichment, etc. Not only does this deep visibility create a deterrent to cheating, but it also means that, when the intensive inspection period expires years from now, the IAEA will possess far more detailed information and understanding of Iran’s program than any other in the world.

Beinart on the Green Lanternism of the deal’s opponents:

The actual alternatives to a deal, in other words, are grim. Which is why critics discuss them as little as possible. The deal “falls apart, and then what happens?” CBS’s John Dickerson asked House Majority Leader John Boehner on Sunday. “No deal is better than a bad deal,” Boehner replied. “And from everything that’s leaked from these negotiations, the administration has backed away from almost all of the guidelines that they set out for themselves.”

In other words, Boehner evaded the question. The only way to determine if a “bad deal” is worse than “no deal” is to consider the latter’s consequences. Which is exactly what Boehner refused to do. Instead, he changed the subject: Rather than comparing the agreement to the actual alternatives, he compared it to the objectives that the Obama administration supposedly outlined at the start of the talks.

[…]

When critics focus incessantly on the gap between the present deal and a perfect one, what they’re really doing is blaming Obama for the fact that the United States is not omnipotent. This isn’t surprising given that American omnipotence is the guiding assumption behind contemporary Republican foreign policy. Ask any GOP presidential candidate except Rand Paul what they propose doing about any global hotspot and their answer is the same: be tougher. America must take a harder line against Iran’s nuclear program, against ISIS, against Bashar al-Assad, against Russian intervention in Ukraine and against Chinese ambitions in the South China Sea.

If you believe American power is limited, this agenda is absurd. America needs Russian and Chinese support for an Iranian nuclear deal. U.S. officials can’t simultaneously put maximum pressure on both Assad and ISIS, the two main rivals for power in Syria today. They must decide who is the lesser evil. Accepting that American power is limited means prioritizing. It means making concessions to regimes and organizations you don’t like in order to put more pressure on the ones you fear most. That’s what Franklin Roosevelt did when allying with Stalin against Hitler. It’s what Richard Nixon did when he reached out to communist China in order to increase America’s leverage over the U.S.S.R.

Indeed, reading winger criticisms of the deal is like reading Trudy Lieberman-style criticism of the ACA. “But why didn’t Obama take the deal where Iran would dismantle every aspect of its nuclear program and have the current regime step down in favor of a leadership hand-selected by Dick Cheney and Benjamin Netanyahu in exchange for nothing? It would have happened with only a little more strength, resolution, and strong, resolute leadership.”

Bill O’Reilly is extremely unhappy with me

[ 60 ] July 15, 2015 |

But since I don’t have a nationally televised show, I had to respond the only way I know how — with my words and what I say*:

According to O’Reilly, I set the narrative marching orders for some vast liberal media network from my downstairs office in Prairieville, Louisiana — which is, of course, well known as a hub of violent leftist dissent…

Of course, O’Reilly followed his complaint about my criticism of him by doing precisely what I criticized him for doing, because if you’re going to be tone-deaf, there’s no reason not to go all in, I suppose.

*Being a reference to to the finest student complaint ever, not merely me being redundant.

This Day in Labor History: July 15, 1959

[ 11 ] July 15, 2015 |

On July 15, 1959, the United Steelworkers of America went on strike to protect its significant victories won after World War II in running the shop floor and empowering its members to live a middle-class lifestyle. Perhaps the most underrated event in American labor history, the steel strike of 1959 touches on many of the key labor issues of the postwar period. Combining the total number workers and length of the strike, companies lost more employee hours than any other strike in American history. It showed the height of worker power in American labor history on the shop floor and through the contract. It also demonstrated how government would still bust strikes when it could, a blast from the past and a foretaste of the future. Yet it also suggested just how far unions had come in American society, given how the USWA overcame these challenges and won. Finally, this was the end of the peak of American labor militancy.

During the 1950s, the nation’s major unions mae enormous gains in wages and benefits for their members. That was particularly true of the United Auto Workers and, to a slightly lesser extent, the USWA. After Philip Murray died in 1952, David McDonald became union president. McDonald is no one’s idea of the ideal union president, particularly given his total lack of charisma. There’s a reason no one talks about him today. But he was good at forcing the companies to open up their pocketbooks in contract negotiations and forcing their hand on shop floor issues. He was irritated that the UAW generally won better contracts and worked hard to make up that gap. During the 1950s, the USWA won significant wage gains, health insurance, pensions, vacation time, and other hallmarks of the working class becoming middle class through union contracts. This often took place through strikes, including in 1946, 1949, 1952, and 1955. A 1956 strike was a major victory for the USWA (and for McDonald’s leadership), leading to big wage and benefit gains.

By 1959, the American steel industry was incredibly profitable, with very little foreign competition having developed by this time. But the companies wanted to push back. Their specific line of attack was to take control of the shop floor through eliminating a section in the union contract that had given workers significant shop floor power through the grievance process. Effectively, the USWA was using the grievance procedure to take away management prerogative to rule at the workplace. This included making it very difficult for companies to lay off workers whose jobs were replaced by automation. While the high wages and benefits rankled the companies, it was the sheer gall of employees to tell them how to run their factories that really infuriated the steel industry. And so the companies decided their target would be the shop floor clauses, with the hope that this was a first step to regaining control over their workers. Less than a month before the expiration of contract, and in the middle of ongoing negotiations, the companies offered a slight wage increase in exchange for union givebacks on scheduling, seniority, staffing, and work standards. The hope was to force the union to strike and then the companies would be willing to give up everything but shop floor control givebacks.

This strategy certainly worked at first. The USWA completely rejected the corporations’ offer. More than 500,000 workers went on strike at factories around the nation on July 15. Steel production declined 90 percent. AFL-CIO president George Meany wasn’t happy with McDonald or the USWA. Being a Cold Warrior first and class warrior second, Meany worried the strike would undermine national security. He really wasn’t in a position to distance himself too far from one of the federation’s most powerful unions, so he gave it a very mild endorsement while pressuring McDonald to settle.

03

The strike convinced President Dwight Eisenhower to invoke the back to work clauses of the Taft-Hartley Act, forcing an 80-day cooling off period. This then led to the union filing suit in federal court that Taft-Hartley was unconstitutional. Unfortunately, the Court upheld the law by an 8-1 majority. The strikers had to return to work after 116 days on the pickets. Yet the union was able to survive this frontal assault. Kaiser Steel, which had long had been more willing to work with labor than many of the other companies, caved and took out the offending provision while offering a small wage increase. But the rest of the companies held out. Finally, Eisenhower realized the workers would strike again if the companies insisted on the workplace rule provision. He had Richard Nixon tell US Steel chairman David Blough to give up. With the government clearly stepping in on the side of continued steel production, the companies did surrender. The contract created a committee for the union and management to study the issue of shopfloor rights.

Norrisjp2-master675

One lesson of this strike for us is that the idea that the companies ever really accepted unionization, even at the peak of labor’s power, is a lie. There was never a period where the companies saw unions as partners. Rather, they wanted to crush them and return to the 1920s without union shops. The reason they couldn’t is worker power. Corporations had to make public statements that they accepted organized labor as a partner. These were lies but they also reflected the need to appease that worker power. The corporations may have lost the 1959 strike, but the union was not is a good position to win in the long run. Ultimately, the rise of steel imports, which some have claimed were a result of consumers looking to foreign competition in order to avoid production problems because of these frequent labor conflicts, would undermine both the industry and the USWA. The 1959 strike was the last nationwide steel strike of the era. In the 1962 contract, McDonald did give back quite a bit of shopfloor control and made it easier for companies to let workers go because of automation. He became convinced about that the steel industry was increasingly less competitive and hoped these compromises of worker power would help. They did not. But they did create a rank and file rebellion against McDonald and in 1965, he was replaced by I.W. Abel, a very rare defeat for a major union leader to that point in labor history. But the American steel industry did not reverse its long, slow decline.

Somehow, there is not a really key historical work on the ’59 strike. Hopefully this changes soon. Jack Metzgar’s autobiographical remembrance Striking Steel is however a fantastic book that you all should read.

This is the 151st post in this series. Previous posts are archived here.

….I forgot to insert this earlier. Dave Alvin wrote a song about the strike. His father was an organizer for the USWA during these years.

Murnau

[ 15 ] July 14, 2015 |

nosferatu_2

Someone needs to make a dark, shadowy film with angular shots about this heinous crime, no doubt perpetrated by a mastermind criminal.

Today, the story of Murnau’s death gets a little bit weirder: Der Spiegel is reporting that someone has broken into the Plumpe family crypt outside Berlin and stolen the director’s head.

It is unknown how or when the perpetrators gained access to the tomb, though, notably, the coffins of the director’s brothers Robert and Bernhard were not disturbed. The Plumpe crypt is located in Südwestkirchhof Stahnsdorf, a large woodland cemetery known for its mausolea and dense forestation. According to local police, the break-in was first noticed on Monday morning.

This is not the first time that someone has broken into the crypt, and, at present, the cemetery’s administrators are weighing whether to permanently seal the tomb or to bury the director’s body separately from the rest of his family to prevent further vandalism. Police have reportedly found wax drippings at the scene, suggesting either a ritualistic element, or that Murnau’s head was stolen by old-timey grave robbers by candlelight.

Punishment Park

[ 49 ] July 14, 2015 |

I have discussed the 1971 New Left dystopian film Punishment Park here a bit before. I’ve mentioned that it is a great leftist film and that the wonderful Paul Motian did the soundtrack. And I think I’ve mentioned the plot–that post-Kent State, Nixon has ordered the rounding up of all the nation’s leftists and sent them to prison camps where they are tried by makeshift tribunals of squares and then forced into Punishment Park, a Mojave Desert training course for cops to kill hippies. This is great stuff. Great. And it is on YouTube. Watch it. Watch it now.

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