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“With very best wishes. I look forward to seeing you in London! Yours ever Tony Blair.”

[ 24 ] August 24, 2014 |

Jimmy Carter may have been well to the right of the Democratic majority in Congress and tried to create policy from such an untenable position.

Bill Clinton may have signed NAFTA, created Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, and ushered in welfare “reform.”

Barack Obama may not have lived up to the dreams of those naive enough to believe any president could bring in hope and change.

But at least the Democratic Party has never elected someone as antithetical to its core principles as the British Labour Party and Tony Blair, who is a terrible human being.

Tony Blair gave Kazakhstan’s autocratic president advice on how to manage his image after the slaughter of unarmed civilians protesting against his regime.

In a letter to Nursultan Nazarbayev, obtained by The Telegraph, Mr Blair told the Kazakh president that the deaths of 14 protesters “tragic though they were, should not obscure the enormous progress” his country had made.

Mr Blair, who is paid millions of pounds a year to give advice to Mr Nazarbayev, goes on to suggest key passages to insert into a speech the president was giving at the University of Cambridge, to defend the action.

Mr Blair is paid through his private consultancy, Tony Blair Associates (TBA), which he set up after leaving Downing Street in 2007. TBA is understood to deploy a number of consultants in key ministries in Kazakhstan.

Human rights activists accuse Mr Blair of acting “disgracefully” in bolstering Mr Nazarbayev’s credibility on the world stage in return for millions of pounds.

The letter was sent in July 2012, ahead of a speech being given later that month by Mr Nazarbayev at the University of Cambridge.

A few months earlier, on December 16 and 17 2011, at least 14 protesters were shot and killed and another 64 wounded by Kazakhstan’s security services in the oil town of Zhanaozen. Other protesters, mainly striking oil workers, were rounded up and allegedly tortured.

Tony Blair is like the love child of Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, and Lanny Davis. Combine neoliberal economic policies, warmongering, and profiting off of advising dictators and you have quite the individual.

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Sack

[ 26 ] August 24, 2014 |

I figure there is more than 0 interest in watching Michael Sam sack professional “bro” Johnny Manizel on loop.

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Reverse Busing

[ 22 ] August 24, 2014 |

457px-Jerry_Falwell_portrait

We all know how much white conservatives opposed school busing. The most famous case was in Boston, when Louise Day Hicks became famous saving south Boston from the horrors of white kids going to school with black kids. So it was a strong principle for them, right? Busing is bad.

Well, L.D. Burnett shows us the answer is, predictably, no. The right was all about busing when it meant getting white people out of black neighborhoods to white religious institutions. Despite Jerry Falwell rising to prominence on opposing busing, he was all over it when it benefited himself.

A key leader in the 1970s church growth movement was Elmer Towns, a member of Falwell’s church and a co-founder of Liberty University. In 1973, Towns co-authored a book with Falwell describing the ministries of Thomas Road as models that other churches could follow to see similar growth. “The Sunday-school bus ministry has the greatest potential for evangelism in today’s church,” Towns wrote in Capturing a Town for Christ (Fleming H. Revell Co., 1973). “More souls are won to Jesus Christ and identified with local churches through Sunday-school busing than any other medium of evangelism” (34). This is a broad statement about the evangelistic potential of bus ministries in general. Towns follows up this general endorsement of church bus programs with an explanation of what makes the bus ministry at Falwell’s church stand out:

Many bus workers only work in the housing projects, ghetto areas, and among the poor in the slums. All people within a community must be reached, the poor as well as the affluent. Thomas Road Baptist Church has sixteen buses that operate in middle-class neighborhoods of twenty-five-thousand-dollar homes and above. One bus brings in thirty-five riders from the status Boonsboro district, while the next bus that unloads on Sunday morning is from the Greenfield Housing Project, and the bare feet and dirty clothes indicate a poverty level.

Lynchburg has only fifty-four thousand people and some feel the Sunday-school bus ministry has reached its saturation point. Now twenty-one buses leave the city limits and bring children in from rural areas and distant towns such as Bedford, Alta Vista, Appomattox, Amherst, and Thaxton. One reaches fifty miles to Roanoke (35).

There’s a lot going on in these two paragraphs, and a lot going on around them. Housing projects, ghettos, and slums – in 1973 (and today as well, I guess) these words could be used to introduce race into a discourse without ever naming the issue. So I think Towns isn’t just talking about “the poor as well as the affluent” here – he’s also talking about black urban poverty and contrasting it with white suburban affluence. The assertion that “all people within a community must be reached” is not offered here as an argument that more churches should use busing to bring the black urban poor into their midst, but rather as a justification for churches to consider providing free bus service to white affluent suburbanites who might wish to become members. Busing can bring people of “status” into the church. And busing over long distances – well, that’s not a problem. What’s wrong with busing new members into a church located fifty miles away from where they live, if that’s where they want to be on a Sunday morning?

People picked up on the irony at the time, but Falwell certainly didn’t care about that.

Hope waking up to Falwell didn’t make anyone expurgate their breakfast.

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Adjustments

[ 40 ] August 24, 2014 |

Gentle reader,

In order to enhance your user experience, I’ve been fiddling with the social media buttons all morning. I’ve finally settled on Sociable, with the result at the bottom of the post. This includes both a Facebook “like” button and a Facebook “share” button, which apparently are not the same thing.

Let me know if any further additions would be helpful, or if you have any difficulties with page loads, etc.

Best,

Management

…we’re having some trouble with the mobile site, so I’m deactivating until we can get it sorted. The normal site is available from mobile devices.

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Co-Opting Soviet Monuments

[ 89 ] August 24, 2014 |

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I love that everyday Bulgarian citizens are painting over remaining Soviet-era monuments to reflect their own feelings at the time and I equally love that the Russians are really getting upset about it.

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Great Moments In Self-Rebuttal

[ 40 ] August 23, 2014 |

Here’s a thoughtful, persuasive argument about how to evaluate scholars who engage in public debates:

What most upset me about the 101 Professors volume and still does — I don’t know everyone covered in that book, but a number of the people I’ve known for 10 years, 20 years, 30 years, a long period of time and I am familiar with a whole range of work that they’ve produced as scholars.

When I attempt to evaluate their careers, when I attempt to evaluate their contributions to higher education, I’m concerned with the whole range of things that they’ve done. What’s their life work? Where does the main weight of their intellectual professional and moral commitments lie? What’s the full range of things that they’ve done?

That’s largely a book in which for many of those people their primary works of scholarship are simply set aside and ignored. Occasional political comments are taken out of context sometimes, letters to the editor, you know, occasional political interventions and their entire lives — and their meaning and their presence in American culture is evaluated on the basis of those occasional statements. That to me, as a scholar, was a fundamental violation of fairness.

I expect to look at the full range of someone’s work and to evaluate their careers in their entirety.

I must agree fully here with Cary Nelson. If only he could have kept his earlier words in mind when writing his tendentious and fact-challenged attack on academic freedom earlier this month.

…relatedly, Timothy Burke is must-reading:

The proof is in the pudding: in how a professor teaches, in how they participate in the professional evaluation of other scholars, in how they execute their administrative duties. There are innumerable examples of faculty in the last fifty years whose intensely expressed public views had no impact on the professionalism of their work with students and colleagues.

The problem in your case is that neither the University of Illinois nor any of the proponents of your decision have presented any evidence that Professor Salaita would be or has been unable to adhere to those ethics. The only evidence is a handful of tweets that really say nothing about how he approaches the classroom, how he mentors students, how he participates in evaluation. The only evidence available about his teaching and professional demeanor is that he earned tenure at another institution and survived the scrutiny of your own faculty in a hiring process, which is far more powerful than four or five sentences on Twitter dubiously interpreted through a hostile and unfair gaze. I would frankly trust Professor Nelson less based on his recent statements in terms of these professional obligations than I would Professor Salaita.

This is a grave disservice to Professor Salaita: it insinuates something about him as a professional without any evidence whatsoever. If the content of several sentences he wrote is sufficient in your view, then you have a faculty full of unprofessional teachers and colleagues. So does Swarthmore. So does every academic institution in the United States.

Unanswerable.

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Selfhaters, Obviously

[ 36 ] August 23, 2014 |

Obviously these are not kind of Jews Elie Wiesel or Bibi Netanyahu want speaking out:

Hundreds of Holocaust survivors and descendants of survivors have signed a letter, published as an advertisement in Saturday’s New York Times, condemning “the massacre of Palestinians in Gaza” and calling for a complete boycott of Israel.

According to the letter, the condemnation was prompted by an advertisement written by Elie Wiesel and published in major news outlets worldwide, accusing Hamas of “child sacrifice” and comparing the group to the Nazis.

The letter, signed by 327 Jewish Holocaust survivors and descendants of survivors and sponsored by the International Jewish Anti-Zionist Network, accuses Wiesel of “abuse of history” in order to justify Israel’s actions in the Gaza Strip:

“…we are disgusted and outraged by Elie Wiesel’s abuse of our history in these pages to justify the unjustifiable: Israel’s wholesale effort to destroy Gaza and the murder of more than 2,000 Palestinians, including many hundreds of children. Nothing can justify bombing UN shelters, homes, hospitals and universities. Nothing can justify depriving people of electricity and water.”

The letter also blames the United States of aiding Israel in its Gaza operation, and the West in general of protecting Israel from condemnation.

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Salaita Update

[ 51 ] August 23, 2014 |

Sadly, the University of Illinois, after two meetings of the Board of Trustees, has decided to stick with the firing of Stephen Salaita for his anti-Israel war on Gaza positions as stated on Twitter. We’ve had several posts here about this case and as we’ve expressed, this is an outrageous attack on the free speech of academics. To fire professors for their speech is a throwback to the bad old days of the Red Scare when professors were fired for not supporting the U.S. effort in World War I. The corporatization of the university continues apace, where employees are canned for not holding to the official corporate political line or speaking their own mind in a way that might bring unwanted attention to the school, even though in the case of Salaita, it’s not like there was even a coordinated effort against him from right-wingers. Sadly, it was other pro-Israel academics like Cary Nelson who brought him down.

In the recent past, there have been real victories when universities have tried to crack down on free speech. The case against myself is one example. I fear this is the beginning of the rolling back of those victories.

Right now, the biggest thing you can do is sign the general academic petition to demand Salaita’s reinstatement and to boycott the University of Illinois until they do so. Corey Robin has been the biggest promoter of the cause and his blog also has links to all the field-specific petitions, useful because our readers come from so many academic fields. Regardless of what you think about Salaita’s statements on Gaza, I urge all you academics to sign this petition because you are next. Or I am next. Or someone you know is next. And each and every time it creates a McCarthy-like atmosphere on our campuses that reduces the intellectual experiences of our students and depresses the freedoms of us all.

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Moynihan and the Overton Window

[ 157 ] August 23, 2014 |

Today’s reminder that Daniel Patrick Moynihan was awful:

Even some Democrats seem to think that Mr. Gore’s attacks occasionally go over the top…Today Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan, a New York Democrat who supports investing some of the Social Security trust fund in private markets, took issue with [Gore’s use of] the word “privatization.”

“That’s a scare word,” said Mr. Moynihan, who supported Mr. Bradley in the primaries but has since endorsed the vice president.

Although, in fairness, it must be noted that after doing perhaps more than any Democrat to make bad welfare reform policy possible Moynihan did cast a wholly meaningless vote against the final version.

This episode illustrates a rather obvious problem with the “Overton Window” concept, the 21st century version of the Laffer Curve (that is, a sloppy cocktail napkin concept with a grain of truth used to make difficult problems conveniently vanish.) The assumption seems to be that if a president (or perhaps other public official) proposes something it shifts the ideological spectrum in that direction even if it doesn’t pass. But Bush’s push to privatize Social Security, to the extent that it affected things at all, apparently had the opposite effect. In 2000, a Democratic senator from New York was running interference for Bush’s nutty Social Security policy. Now, House Republican budgets refuse to propose any changes to Social Security, and the biggest “threat” to Social Security is a bad nominal proposal to slow the rate of benefit growth intentionally presented in a form that have no chance of passing, a pretense that Obama has thankfully given up. There’s no reason to believe, in either theory or practice, that trying and miserably failing to do something will make it easier to do next time.

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“You Wanna Be A Grifter?”

[ 6 ] August 23, 2014 |


Here’s a helpful list of common grifts, provided by the Inspector General of the Department of Defense. For example:

Fictitious Vendor: In a weakly controlled environment, an employee with procurement responsibilities, or in accounts payable, or an outsider, can submit bills from a non-existent vendor. Normally fictitious vendors claim to provide services or consumables, rather than goods or works that can be verified. Dishonest bidders also can submit “bids” from fictitious bidders as part of bid rigging schemes.

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This Day in Labor History: August 23, 1912

[ 11 ] August 23, 2014 |

On August 23, 1912, the United States Commission on Industrial Relations was founded. One of the most remarkable moments in American labor history, the USCIR (more popularly known as the Walsh Committee) forced industrial leaders to testify about the conditions of American labor in front of a government committee. For the first time in the nation’s history, the plutocrats, long used to running their operations without responsibility, were called onto the carpet in front of directly hostile committee members for their actions. While the USCIR did not create specific reform bills, it did signify a changing tone in American labor and American society in general that took power away from the plutocrats and created government responsibility for the conditions of American workers.

The USCIR was created in response to the labor violence becoming more prevalent in the U.S. by the early 1910s. In particular, the bombing of the Los Angeles Times building in 1910 by two Ironworkers angry about the paper’s anti-union owner Harrison Gray Otis, one of the most loathsome people in American history, finally got the government’s attention. While President William Howard Taft created it, it was mostly operated under the administration of Woodrow Wilson, a far more pro-labor president than the Republican. Most of the committee members were Wilson appointees after several of Taft’s nominees did not receive confirmation from the Senate. Had they, the commission would have been far more pro-business and probably less memorable.

The head of the committee was the remarkable Frank Walsh. A poor boy from Kansas City who dropped out of school at the age of 10, Walsh trained himself in the law and became a leading Progressive and Democratic Party operative in that city, attracting the attention of Wilson, who nominated him as the USCIR’s chairman. Between 1913 and 1915, the USCIR interviewed hundreds of people about the conditions of American work. Traveling the nation, it set up shop for a few weeks in a given city and did its best to cover all the major regional types of work. Investigators in the Northwest discovered stories about logging camp cooks infected with venereal disease and still allowed to prepare food, loggers beaten by owners and having their money stolen, and workers getting so sick from timber camp food that they could not work for weeks. No wonder the IWW was so successful organizing these workers. One investigator writing about miners at U.S. Steel operations in Duluth detailed how the police, owners, and city leaders all conspired to crush a strike. Labor newspapers told these stories all the time, but never before had a the government invested the resources to document the horrors committed against working people.

Said the groundbreaking journalist Walter Lippmann, “The nine members of the Industrial Relations Commission have before them the task of explaining why America, supposed to become the land of promise, has become the land of disappointment and deep-seated discontent.” Walsh encouraged people to criticize employers. Reformers such as Louis Brandeis testified as to moral corruptness of employers’ absurdly wide view of “freedom of contract,” noting how this led to the widespread exploitation of American labor. S. Josephine Baker, the child labor crusader, talked of how American corporations using child labor did not train those workers for any kind of future, dooming them to permanent poverty, “having entered adult life and are still earning a child’s wage.” Labor leaders and even everyday workers testified about their conditions. But most famously, Walsh saw his role as a crusader for American workers. He alienated the capitalists quickly. After the Ludlow Massacre, he called John D. Rockefeller Jr. before his committee, and publicly humiliated the powerful man for his company thugs and indifference to workers’ lives. It didn’t help the capitalist that his PR man said that truth was “as the operators saw it.” The embarrassment led Rockefeller to push for company unionism, which for all its very real limitations, was a concession.

Some capitalists did better in their testimony. When Andrew Carnegie testified, he openly lied about his role at Homestead, claiming he was out playing in Scotland when in fact he had ordered Henry Clay Frick to bust the union while he was away. When Walsh announced he would also investigate the South, Georgia senator Hoke Smith led a charge to cut the USCIR budget by 75 percent. When the vote failed, Walsh directly targeted Georgia to stick it to Smith, holding some of his most pro-worker hearings in that state.

Not everyone on the committee was a pro-worker as Walsh and his attacks upon the rich made many uncomfortable. This meant that as an institution, the USCIR was unable to fulfill its potential. The final report, issued in 1916, was actually three different reports prepared by different sections of the committee. The Walsh faction openly called for an industrial democracy. It called agricultural work, such as had led to the Wheatland Riot “industrial feudalism in an extreme form.” The word “feudalism” was applied heavily throughout the report–to company towns, to the coal regions, to rural labor.

The response to the Walsh report was mixed. Labor publications and unions were ecstatic at the honest portrayal of the conditions of American workers. The Masses went so far as to call it, “The beginning of an indigenous American revolutionary movement.” Again, it’s worth noting here how out of character for American history the Walsh report and USCIR in general was that American radicals would see it in this light. On the other hand, the president of the Pittsburgh Employers Association called for Walsh’s assassination, perhaps tongue in cheek, perhaps not. The majority report was written by the labor economist John Commons, which in a more typically Progressive manner than Walsh’s activism called for impartial labor boards rather than involve labor in politics, which reflected the belief of much of American labor during this period, including the American Federation of Labor.

The extent to which the USCIR really changed the nation is somewhat up for debate, but it’s likely that its findings fed the pro-labor Democratic platform in 1916. It’s worth remembering that even when considering the horrors of the Red Scare and the government suppression of the IWW in World War I, the Wilson administration was still by a significant margin the most pro-labor administration in American history before FDR. Wilson would make alliance with Samuel Gompers during World War I to bring labor into the national planning for the war and the AFL saw significant gains during the war, however short-lasting they were. Charles Evans Hughes campaigned against Wilson in 1916 based in part of what he saw was the waste of the USCIR, but to little effect. The more moderate Commons report would become influential in the welfare capitalism of the 1920s, which still provided gains of sorts for workers.

Walsh would later go on to become the co-chair of the National War Labor Board with William Howard Taft, where the two clashed over the former’s staunchly pro-union policies and abrupt manner with the capitalists. Walsh eventually lost Wilson’s favor over his other favorite cause–Irish nationalism.

You can read the final report and all the testimony, which is voluminous and a wonderful resource for labor historians of the period here
. I used the timber testimony extensively in the first chapter of my logging book manuscript.

This is the 116th post in this series. Previous posts are archived here.

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Cubs Failure

[ 66 ] August 22, 2014 |

Typical that the Chicago Cubs, with their century of pathetic failure and fans who revel in it combined with their Koch Brothers-esque owners, would provide one of the great, if minor failures in baseball history so the billionaires wouldn’t have employees become eligible under Obamacare.

Earlier this week, the Chicago Cubs grounds crew experienced a disaster. As rain poured onto Wrigley Field, they were unable to cover the playing surface with a tarp in time. They were booed. The game was called. Because of the mismanagement, their opponents, the San Francisco Giants, protested the game after it had been called as a win for the Cubs. They succeeded. It was the first successful protest in Major League Baseball in 28 years, according to Deadspin.

But the whole bizarre episode was cast in a new light Thursday when the Chicago Sun-Times reported that the Cubs had slashed worker hours to keep them under 30 hours a week to avoid paying health benefits under Obamacare.

Citing “numerous sources with direct knowledge,” the Sun-Times reported that the Cubs had sent home 10 grounds crew workers early the night of the Tuesday game that ended in disaster. And at least part of the reason, per the newspaper’s sources, is that the team has been trying to keep seasonal workers under 30 hours per week as the Affordable Care Act takes effect.

The law requires large employers to offer health insurance to full-time employees (defined as those who work more than 30 hours a week) or pay a fine. The rule goes into effect in 2015.

A spokesman for the Cubs, which are reportedly worth $1 billion and were the most profitable team in baseball in 2013, didn’t refute the claims when asked by the Sun-Times, but he denied personnel changes were responsible for the field tarp incident.

The only problem with the Cubs enduring another 100+ years of failure is that it gives their fans a meme to organize around. Would another deserved 100 years help or make the franchise and its fans even more annoying, if that’s possible?

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