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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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One by One, Our Old Friends Are Gone…

[ 23 ] August 22, 2014 |

Edge of the West goes the way of all flesh:

It’s time to shut down The Edge of the American West. It’s been a long run, and I’ve enjoyed it, but blogging has become less compelling over the last year or so. I want to stop before writing for Edge actively becomes a chore. The blog has already had a number of lives, and different configurations, but I suspect that this is the last one. I’m proud of what I did here (and proud of what others did as well). Thanks for reading it.

LGM always makes money for its partners.

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The Leftward Drift of the Democratic Party

[ 130 ] August 22, 2014 |

Tali Mendelberg and Bennett Butler:

A true measure of a president’s priorities lies hidden in plain sight in his budget proposals. Under that standard, Mr. Obama has been more committed to communities like Ferguson than any Democratic president in the past half century.

By looking at what percentage of the budget presidents propose to spend to fight poverty, we can compare their degree of commitment.

While Mr. Obama advocated for the Affordable Care Act as a way to assist poor African-Americans, for example, we can’t put that on an effort scale and compare it to President Bill Clinton’s advocacy for his health care plan. Our method also avoids the problem of accounting for forces beyond presidents’ control.

Using this method, we find that President Obama attempted to deliver far more than his counterparts. The Congressional Budget Office’s inflation-adjusted numbers show that Mr. Obama sought to spend far more on means-tested anti-poverty programs than other first-term Democratic presidents. The targeted needs include food, housing, education, health care and cash.

Mr. Obama earmarked 17 percent of his budget for these needs, versus Mr. Clinton’s 12 percent and Jimmy Carter’s 8 percent. These presidents all faced economic challenges, although of different degrees and strength. Each was committed to the needs of the poor and the disadvantaged. But Mr. Obama made good on that commitment far more concretely.

Admittedly, this metric does not account for the most important quality of a presidency, the content of his speeches (or, more accurately, a willfully selective recollection of the content of his speeches.) But for people actually interested in the question, I find the idea that the Democratic Party is to the right of where it was in 1975 — let alone 1994 — incomprehensible.

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Police Violence Against People of Color: Not Just Afflicting African-Americans

[ 57 ] August 22, 2014 |

It’s important to note in the wake of Ferguson that the war against people of color waged by American police forces is not just against African-Americans. Take this case:

In October 2013, An 8 year old Rosebud Sioux girl was shot by a stun gun when Pierre Police arrived on scene and were not able to obtain a paring knife the young girl was holding. In the days that followed, the family of the little girl reported she was suffering from trauma, while the Pierre Police Chief Bob Granpre said the actions of the Police were justified.

Since the incident, family members have secured the use of Dana Hanna and Patrick Duffy as attorneys in the South Dakota area and the tribe has spoken out against the incident. The Pierre police after releasing initial findings will no longer offer comment on the matter after inquiries by ICTMN.

Rose Stenstrom, the grandmother of the little girl and a member of the Rosebud Sioux Tribal council, says she was upset that her little granddaughter was a delightful and talkative little girl who some media outlets made out to be a monster.

Racism against Native Americans in South Dakota is every bit as nasty as you think racism is toward African-Americans in Alabama. This kind of ridiculous police violence against Native Americans–small children even!–is par for the course in South Dakota. These sorts of stories are only gaining attention today because of Ferguson, but they happen every day in this sweet land of liberty.

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“I’ll go in and rob everyone blind and don’t need to move to Argentina cause the supply of suckers never ends.”

[ 56 ] August 22, 2014 |

Tea Party organizations are an purposively inefficient mechanism for relieving rubes from their money:

And then you get a direct mail piece, or an email, or see an ad on the web that promises change by supporting candidates who embrace your ideals.

Hopeful and excited to learn that there are organizations willing to fight for what you think will “fix this country,” you grab your credit card and fire off a donation, confident you have contributed to a worthwhile cause. If only it were so!

The reality may well be far from what you believe, and have a right to expect; in fact, you may be sickened to learn the truth about how little of your money actually goes to directly or indirectly supporting candidates and their campaigns.

I can I assure you, however, that if you respond to a solicitation with money Mitch and Murray will be intensely interested in your contact info.

And as with everything else to do with the Tea Party, none of this is remotely new.

 

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Terms of Endearment

[ 15 ] August 22, 2014 |

Interesting little history of various terms of endearment. I wonder what would I happen if I started calling my friends “bawcock.”

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Next in the Attack on Public Sector Unionism

[ 24 ] August 22, 2014 |

Moshe Marvit with the next round of attacks on public sector unionism from the people who brought you Harris v. Quinn. Basically, they are going after the entire idea of exclusive representation in all states. Given the current makeup of the Supreme Court, it seems unlikely that the principle will last, even though it is foundational to American labor law:

On the heels of its recent Supreme Court victory in Harris v. Quinn, the National Right to Work Committee and Legal Defense Foundation (NRTW) has initiated a bold new attack on unions.

In a recent fundraising appeal sent on August 10, the president of both organizations wrote that Harris “was just the beginning,” and that fair share provisions (or, as he called them, “forced dues”) were only “part of the problem.” Now, having succeeded in imposing a right-to-work model for home healthcare workers across the country, NRTW is gunning after a much greater and unexpected target: exclusive representation.

One of the bedrock principles of American labor law is exclusive representation, whereby a union represents all the workers in a bargaining unit after it shows majority support by the workers. In a new case filed on behalf of a few Minnesota home care workers, Bierman v. Dayton, NRTW is now arguing that a union elected by the majority of workers should not be permitted to represent anyone that does not choose to join.

Last week, I wrote about a new positive experiment in members-only unionism at Volkswagen, which does not follow the exclusive representation model. If it is successful, Bierman v. Dayton would transform all public-sector unions into forced members-only unions, opening the door to a radical reconfiguration of public labor organizations.

In Minnesota, 26,000 home health care workers are currently voting by mail-in ballot whether to elect SEIU as their union. Those ballots are due by August 25. In its first maneuver of Bierman v. Dayton, NRTW filed for a preliminary injunction to invalidate the state law that authorized these workers to vote for a union—in other words, an exclusive representative—to bargain with the state. Expedited oral arguments were held on Tuesday, and on Wednesday afternoon the federal judge denied NRTW’s request for an injunction.

This early loss was to be expected, as NRTW is mounting a novel legal argument that runs counter to decades of labor and constitutional law. And NRTW’s litigation strategy generally includes repeated early losses as its representatives work their way through the judicial circuits to the Supreme Court.

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Your Friday Links

[ 58 ] August 22, 2014 |
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The Worst Place in the World

[ 194 ] August 21, 2014 |

Burning Man already sounded horrible. A bunch of white hippies on mushrooms and MDMA dancing to techno in the desert in 110 degree heat without proper sanitation is my version of hell.

Or so I thought. Burning Man has gotten so much worse:

A few years ago, this assumption would have been mostly correct. But now things are a little different. Over the last two years, Burning Man, which this year runs from Aug. 25 to Sept. 1, has been the annual getaway for a new crop of millionaire and billionaire technology moguls, many of whom are one-upping one another in a secret game of I-can-spend-more-money-than-you-can and, some say, ruining it for everyone else.

Some of the biggest names in technology have been making the pilgrimage to the desert for years, happily blending in unnoticed. These include Larry Page and Sergey Brin, the Google founders, and Jeff Bezos, chief executive of Amazon. But now a new set of younger rich techies are heading east, including Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook, employees from Twitter, Zynga and Uber, and a slew of khaki-wearing venture capitalists.

Tyler Hanson, who started going to Burning Man in 1995, decided a couple of years ago to try working as a paid Sherpa at one of these luxury camps. He described the experience this way: Lavish R.V.s are driven in and connected together to create a private forted area, ensuring that no outsiders can get in. The rich are flown in on private planes, then picked up at the Burning Man airport, driven to their camp and served like kings and queens for a week. (Their meals are prepared by teams of chefs, which can include sushi, lobster boils and steak tartare — yes, in the middle of 110-degree heat.)

“Your food, your drugs, your costumes are all handled for you, so all you have to do is show up,” Mr. Hanson said. “In the camp where I was working, there were about 30 Sherpas for 12 attendees.”

Mr. Hanson said he won’t be going back to Burning Man anytime soon. The Sherpas, the money, the blockaded camps and the tech elite were too much for him. “The tech start-ups now go to Burning Man and eat drugs in search of the next greatest app,” he said. “Burning Man is no longer a counterculture revolution. It’s now become a mirror of society.”

Strangely, the tech elite won’t disagree with Mr. Hanson about it being a reflection of society. This year at the premiere of the HBO show “Silicon Valley,” Elon Musk, an entrepreneur who was a founder of PayPal, complained that Mike Judge, the show’s creator, didn’t get the tech world because — wait for it — he had not attended the annual party in the desert.

Hippies and Silicon Valley douchebag capitalists? I want to make one thing clear. Whatever terrible things Farley has said about the Air Force does not apply to all members of this site. Clearly air power could have real value here.

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