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Tom Cotton Loves Child Labor

[ 27 ] March 13, 2015 |


The man who makes Ted Cruz look sane loves him some child labor in agriculture and from the beginning of his political career has advocated repealing child labor law.

Racism and Frat Culture

[ 124 ] March 13, 2015 |


Many (most? all?) white fraternities are white supremacist institutions. It’s not just the frat at the University of Oklahoma. And that white supremacist history goes back to their foundation. Robert Cohen breaks this down at History News Network, specifically connecting it to fraternities during the Civil Rights Movement.

The only difference between the racist chants in 2015 and 1961 that I can discern is that the fraternities today seem more inclined to do their chanting in private. At Oklahoma this semester the chant came in what started out as a private fraternity setting (a bus apparently transporting fraternity members from some fraternity-related event). The privacy was, of course, violated by the leaking of the tape of the chant, but clearly the chant was not designed for public consumption. The Georgia chant, on the other hand, was made in public, at a segregationist rally at the campus historic archway entrance in January 1961 at the height of the university’s integration crisis. Some 150-200 Georgia students had just hung a black faced effigy of Hamilton Holmes, who along with Charlayne Hunter, had in January 1961 become the first African American student to attend the historically segregated University of Georgia. The white students first “serenaded the effigy with choruses of Dixie and then sang “There’ll never be a nigger in the ________ fraternity house,” whose various names they inserted. Clearly, UGA students in 1961, operating in a historically segregated university and a segregated college town (Athens, Georgia) did not feel the pressure their 21st century fraternity counterparts do – at racially integrated campuses – to keep their racist displays to themselves. But if the venue was different the racist sentiment and mode of expression were virtually identical.

I mentioned the whole OU incident on Twitter. Historian Kevin Kruse (whose book on housing and white flight in Atlanta is must reading for all of you) tweeted this back at me:

Who is this Devotie? That is Sigma Alpha Epilson founder Noble Leslie DeVotie. It should be noted that the frat’s homepage proudly states that of its 376 members that fought in the Civil War, 369 fought for the Confederacy. Again, the white supremacist institution goes back a long time. Anyway, DeVotie, pictured above. He actually was the first person to die in the Civil War. From his Wikipedia page:

He drowned on February 12, 1861, while on duty as chaplain of the Alabama troops. He was 23 at the time of his death. As he was about to board a steamer at Fort Morgan, Alabama, he made a misstep and fell into the water. Three days later his body was washed ashore. He was the first man to lose his life in the Civil War. Even though the Civil War did not begin until April 12, 1861, Alabama had seceded from the Union in January, hence the reason for his being the first casualty.

These are the principles and the kind of competent leader this prominent organization was founded upon.

Arizona Defunds Community College

[ 40 ] March 13, 2015 |

I know Arizona is run by a bunch of loons, but even I was surprised by the state completely defunding several community colleges. Although actually the real story is not the defunding from $7 million in 2015 to $0 in 2016, but from $45 million in 2011 to $6 million in 2012. The upshot of this is not the closure of the community colleges but rather their semi-privatization, as they move directly to serving the specific whims of corporations.

Previous budget cuts have been the catalyst behind Maricopa Corporate College, which caters to companies looking to train employees. The companies, which include Amazon, Ford Motors, Marriott International, Nissan and the City of Phoenix, pay the colleges for training and courses.

That’s the sort of “entrepreneurial” thinking that community college leaders must do as states cut their budgets, Bumphus said.

“We definitely saw this [coming] and we’ve been planning on this day,” Maricopa Chancellor Rufus Glasper said.

This probably is the future of many public 4-year institutions as well, as the pretense that universities are anything more than the training ground for capitalist functionaries disappears.

Hard to Argue

[ 47 ] March 13, 2015 |

Pretty much true.

Israeli election

[ 36 ] March 12, 2015 |

This is starting to get interesting. I’ve long had this vague notion that Likud would pull away just before the election, although I admit I can’t give a particularly compelling narrative about why, other than generalized pessimism about anything good ever happening again in that part of the world. But the polling seems pretty robust at this point, and time is very nearly up. At this point it seems pretty clear the speech stunt didn’t do him any favors. The man who may be kingmaker, Moshe Kahlon, seems to be playing it pretty close to the vest.

This is mostly just an Israeli election open thread. Is Bibi really in trouble? And what’s Kahlon’s deal? If he ends up in a position to choose the next prime minister, what sort of concessions might he seek to extract from Bibi, or Herzog?

Alcohol Doesn’t “Fuel” Racism

[ 97 ] March 12, 2015 |


Parker Rice of OKU apologized for his racist chants. An excerpt:

“I know everyone wants to know why or how this happened. I admit it likely was fueled by alcohol consumed at the house before the bus trip, but that’s not an excuse.”

Right, it’s not. Alcohol doesn’t fuel racism. That’s why you’ll never hear someone say “Oh man, I was so wasted last night I threw up on my date and started hating the Jews.” Alcohol does not cause racism, it only reveals it.

Lindsey Graham: Fascist

[ 110 ] March 12, 2015 |


It used to be that to call a Republican politician a fascist was rank hyperbole, even if they were right-wingers. But in the 2016 Republican primary, fascism is evidently Lindsey Graham’s strategy:

And here’s the first thing I would do if I were president of the United States. I wouldn’t let Congress leave town until we fix this. I would literally use the military to keep them in if I had to. We’re not leaving town until we restore these defense cuts. We are not leaving town until we restore the intel cuts.

Calling in the military to force Congress to pass a particular program that, not coincidentally, funds the military? That actually is fascism. Good job Lindsey. It’s early in the election cycle as well. Surely this can be topped and some Republican will call for full-fledged military government.

Also, quite the clarification from Graham’s spokesperson:

Graham’s spokesperson has clarified to Bloomberg that when Graham said “I would literally use the military to keep them in if I had to,” that statement was “not to be taken literally.” Glad that’s been cleared up.


Why Refinery Workers Are Striking

[ 10 ] March 12, 2015 |

Refinery workers with the United Steelworkers have now been on strike since February 1. The main issue in the strike is workplace safety. Let’s take a refresher on the terrible working conditions of the refinery industry by looking at the daughter of a man killed on the job:

Her father was killed by burns sustained in an accident at the then-British Petroleum Texas City refinery in September 2004. Gonzalez lived in the hospital for weeks after the accident and for a long time, Rodriguez and her two sisters and their mother hoped that Gonzalez would pull through. But eventually his body began to fail and his organs started shutting down. The family was together with him at the University of Texas Medical Branch in Galveston when they turned off all the machines.

After that, Rodriguez couldn’t even stand to talk about what had happened to her father, but she started researching the industry that employed him for most of his adult life. Only then did she begin to understand what it was really like behind the refinery fence. While he never said a word in front of his daughters about the dangers and the near-misses that were a part of life at the Texas City refinery, Gonzalez would tell his wife about the burns and how careful workers had to be at the refinery, her mother later told her. “He kept that from us because he didn’t want us to worry. If we had known we would have worried all the time,” Rodriguez says now.

An accountant by trade, Rodriguez coped with her grief through research. She learned everything there was to know about how refineries worked and who the companies were answerable to if something went wrong. Rodriguez comforted herself with the thought that at least safety would improve at the refinery. Even in the dangerous world of oil refineries, deaths make the national news and trigger investigations led by USW, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration and the Chemical Safety Board. Professionals would look at the accident that killed her father, figure out the cause and make sure it wouldn’t happen again, she told herself.

But less than six months later, on March 23, 2005, there was a bigger explosion at the Texas City refinery. BP lawyers had been pushing back on a settlement agreement with the family and contesting the OSHA fines, but the day of the explosion that killed 15 people and injured more than 100, they stopped fighting and paid.

Preventing these sorts of incidents is central to this strike. Yet unions continue to be broadly painted as only about wages. That’s not true at all. They are about dignity and representation on the job. That is often represented by money but it is often not the primary issue. Sometimes it is about staying alive.

“Stop Hitting Yourself,” Cnt’d.

[ 21 ] March 12, 2015 |

Even by Texas criminal justice standards, this is breathtakingly cynical.

On Bobo’s Victim-Blaming

[ 148 ] March 12, 2015 |

As a long-time admirer of the passive-aggressive responses required by NYT conventions, I can’t not link to this Krugman post, which gets perilously close to the line by linking to a direct critique of Brooks:

William Julius Wilson, in When Work Disappears, famously argued that it was a symptom: good jobs in inner cities, where African-American men could take them, went away, and the cultural changes followed.

So, how could you test that hypothesis? Well, here’s an experiment: change the structure of the economy in such a way that a large class of white men — say, white men without a college degree — similarly lose access to good jobs. If Wilson was right, we’d expect to see a sharp decline in stable marriages, a rise in unwed births, growing drug use, and other forms of social disruption.

And that is, in fact, exactly what happened: William Julius Wilson was right. Which makes it remarkable to see people look at that very evidence and say that it shows that the real problem isn’t money, it’s values.

The linked Stoker Bruenig post is worth your time as well.

On the “Stop Hitting Yourself” Theory of Statutory Interpretation

[ 32 ] March 12, 2015 |

As I recently observed here, the hot theory among apologists for the latest legal who are uncomfortable with the Moops-invaded-Spain theory is that 1)the Republican minority in the Senate stopped Democrats from holding a conference to harmonize the House and Senate versions of health care reform so 2)a Republican Supreme Court should wreck the health insurance exchanges in most states contrary to the purpose of the statute so that 3)a Republican Congress can do nothing about millions of people losing their health insurance because 4)this would lead to a more functional government. You may be surprised that I find this…unpersuasive:

This version of events omits a highly pertinent fact. Dalmia and Douthat conspicuously fail to fully explain the reason that Democrats were unable to harmonize the bill in conference: the Republican minority in the Senate would not allow them to hold another vote. The ACA’s opponents implicitly treat the routine supermajority requirement imposed by congressional Republicans as a natural part of the legislative process rather than a highly unusual and unnecessary historical development. During most periods of history, the majority party would have been able to make final changes to the legislative language as it saw fit.

Dalmia’s claim that “the administration is asking the court to hand it a victory that it couldn’t obtain through the normal legislative process” stands reality on its head. A more accurate summary is that the Republican minority in one house of Congress prevented the majority from voting on a bill that went through a conference between the House and Senate, and now wants to use this as a justification to have its allies on the judicial branch gut the law.

Douthat’s apparent belief that overturning the law would make the system more functional is deeply odd. Rewarding dysfunctional behavior doesn’t strike me as an effective means of disincentivizing it. Far from the modest approach it claims to be, it represents a “stop hitting yourself” logic that doesn’t have a great deal to recommend it as a theory of statutory interpretation.

Alas, I do think that the “let Congress clean up its own mess” is exactly the kind of bullshit minimalism that could appeal to John Roberts.


[ 214 ] March 12, 2015 |


Let me start by saying that I’ve hesitated to write this post for a few days because I don’t want to come across as that professor who doesn’t get the reality of life for the armies of adjuncts who are teaching college classes. I’m not that professor. I know lots of people who are struggling through adjuncting right now. The job market in History is horrible and it isn’t going to get any better.

Tanya Paperny had a useful editorial in the Washington Post about what life is like for adjuncts. For most academics, this is no surprise–she was teaching at four different schools and not really making ends meet. Paperny eventually quit the academy and found other work. This last point is what I want to talk about. The one thing I don’t understand about long-term adjuncts is why people do it. Why let yourself be exploited like this? I do understand reasons for short-term adjuncting–trying to make a go of it in a particular place that you don’t want to leave, graduate students or newly minted PhDs gaining teaching experience, keeping your foot in the door in case something actually develops at one of these schools, etc. All very good reasons. But long-term adjuncts is a harder phenomena for me to understand. It’s not like this is glamorous or particularly rewarding work. Teaching 4 intro level college surveys is no one’s idea of what they want to do with their lives and while you might occasionally get the student where the light bulb comes on when you teach them, that’s a mighty rare moment at that level. And with all the grading and class prep–not to mention traveling around an entire metro area to make this work, there’s no time for any other part of the job. Forget research, forget keeping up with the literature in the field, forget participating in meaningful service or teaching activities in higher education. You are a grunt and you are treated like a grunt and there’s really no hope for the future to not be treated like a grunt.

I think so much of it is the idea that the person has achieved this degree and now wants to use this degree because they don’t want to see the time they spent as wasted. And I get that from a psychological standpoint. Making $20,000 a year on the other hand is actually wasting your life, or at least the earning potential part of it. I’m not saying that people shouldn’t get PhDs in History or English or the languages. Sure there are no jobs at the end of it, but at least you aren’t going $150,000 into debt to get the degree. You are just delaying your income potential (actually paying to go to graduate school in these fields is just insane and no one should ever do that). But continuing to delay that income earning for years after your degree by holding on by your fingertips to the dream of a tenure-track job is just a bad idea because pretty soon you have a lifetime of doing this and no retirement income. I just participated in a conference at the University of New Mexico that is part of an American Historical Association and Mellon Foundation project on finding alternative careers with the History PhD (UNM has had a tremendous placement rate both inside the academy and in meaningful jobs outside the academy–a rate much higher than schools that are more prestigious and basically equal to many Ivy League schools which is why the AHA chose it for this program). There are good jobs one can get with PhDs that aren’t teaching college freshmen. And they pay much, much better than adjuncting. But they also require reading budgets and working within a government bureaucracy or corporate world and I get why people don’t want to do that.

I’m really glad that SEIU is organizing adjuncts. I know many people within the labor movement hate SEIU, but what other union is going to put real resources into organizing a no-wage sector where returning union dues will be small? Almost no other union. I completely support the National Adjunct Walkout Day and I wish more had participated. Adjuncts should probably go on a general strike to force improvements in their conditions. But to be honest, most adjuncts should also quit their jobs and find something else to do. Working at Starbucks would pay just as well.

Don’t let yourself be exploited if you can help it.

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