Posted by: Doug Henwood | February 23, 2017

Fresh audio product

Just added to my radio archive:

February 23, 2017 Angela Nagle, author of this and the forthcoming Kill All Normies, on the alt-right •  Laleh Khalili on Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster, Trump’s new national security advisor

This show didn’t run on KPFA because the station is fundraising. Please donate and keep this worthy enterprise going. If you do, please mention Behind the News!

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Posted by: Doug Henwood | February 16, 2017

Fresh audio product

Just added to my radio archive:

February 16, 2017 Sean Guillory (author of this) on the rich history of Western Russophobia • Larry Bartels, co-author of Democracy for Realistson the prospects for democracy with a detached, ill-informed electorate

Posted by: Doug Henwood | February 9, 2017

Fresh audio product

Just added to my radio archive:

February 9, 2017 John Ackerman on Trump and Mexico • Art Goldhammer surveys the French political landscape as a presidential election approaches

Posted by: Doug Henwood | February 9, 2017

Strikes?

The strike—labor’s most powerful weapon against capital, except maybe sabotage—is disappearing even more rapidly than unions, which is saying a lot. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reported this morning that there were 15 work stoppages involving 1,000 or more workers in 2016. That’s 1 above the average of the past five years, and down 96% from the average of the late 1940 and 1950s.

(Stoppages include both strikes and lockouts—the data series doesn’t distinguish between the two. The overwhelming majority are strikes. Notable exceptions in recent years have been in professional sports, but in a bizarrely hostile and destructive move, Long Island University locked out its employees in September 2016. From here on, I’m using the word “strike” rather than stoppage because it sounds far better with only a minor loss of accuracy.)

As the graph below shows, the collapse in the strike began in the late 1970s, and accelerated during the Reagan years, a time of massive union-busting. It’s continued to drift lower as it approaches the zero line. The last time we saw over 50 strikes was 1989. The last time we saw over 20 was 2008.

strikes-to-2016

This decline is even more impressive—or distressing, if you prefer—when you consider that employment has more than tripled since 1950. That is brought out by another series from the BLS, days of “idleness” (a nicely Victorian word, as if striking was a leisure activity) as a percent of total working time. (See graph below.) Even at its peak in 1959, at a mere 0.43%, idleness was never that big a thing, but in every year since 2009, it’s been statistically indistinguishable from 0.

idleness-to-2016

It’s wonderful to hear people talking lately about a general strike and a women’s strike. It would also be good to see some of the old-fashioned kind too. Employers hate them, because they disrupt production, raise wages, cut into profits, and remind them of the potential power of labor. When I wrote up the 2013 data in April 2014, I ended the post with this:

Jane McAlevey, the ace labor organizer and author of Raising Expectations (And Raising Hell)says that her mentor, Jerry Brown of 1199 New England, used to say that workers should strike at least once every two years just to remind them of their power. Those were the days.

With the labor movement about to face an unprecedented attack by every level of Republican-dominated government (not that the Dems have been all that supportive, but this is going to be a whole new kind of hell), it’s alarming to see the working class so out of practice at deploying its most potent weapon.

Posted by: Doug Henwood | February 2, 2017

Fresh audio product

Just added to my radio archive:

February 2, 2017 Mae Ngai and Avi Chomsky(separately) on Trump’s immigration decree • Joel Whitney, author of Finkson the CIA, the cultural Cold War, and particularly the Paris Review

Posted by: Doug Henwood | January 27, 2017

Unions continue to fade

After four years of relative stability, union membership resumed its decline in 2016, with overall and private sector membership at record lows, and public sector membership continuing to tumble. The glum story is told by the graph below.

Stats released Thursday by the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) show that 10.7% of wage and salary workers were union members in 2016, down 0.4 point from 2015. Union density (the term of art) fell 0.3 point to 6.4% in the private sector, and 0.8 in the public, to 34.4%.

Overall density is the lowest ever, as is private sector density, which is less than half its 1930 level, before the great organizing drives of that decade got going. And thanks to the likes of Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, public sector density, down four of the last five years, is back to where it was almost 40 years ago.

Perhaps I’m old-fashioned, but I find it hard to imagine a better society without better unions to help lead the way. With AFL-CIO president Richard Trumka and a bunch of union presidents genuflecting towards Donald Trump, even as a federal assault on organized labor in the coming years looks inevitable, it looks like they’re helping legitimate a far worse one.

union-density-2016

sources: 1930–1999, Barry T. Hirsch and David A. Macpherson; 2000–2016, BLS

Posted by: Doug Henwood | January 26, 2017

Fresh audio product

Just added to my radio archive (date is link to show):

January 26, 2017 Asad Haider, author of this, on the problems of “white privilege” discourse • Lucinda Rosenfeld, author of the new novel Classon race and class in the world of Brooklyn public schools

Posted by: Doug Henwood | January 23, 2017

Federal employment is already frozen

This morning, chief bloviator Donald Trump issued an executive order freezing federal hiring. Such a move probably appeals to those who think that the growth of government is “out of control.” That might be true in some senses—surveillance and the warfare state certainly qualify, but Trump only wants accelerate their growth. But one thing that doesn’t qualify is the subject of the order: federal employment.

Graphed below are federal employment in thousands and as a percentage of total employment, from the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ monthly survey of employers. The absolute number of federal employees at the end of 2016 (2.804 million) is actually slightly below what it was 20 years earlier (2.839 million) and 40 years earlier (2.850 million). During the Obama years, federal employment grew by a whopping 29,000 workers. Measured as a percentage of overall employment, the federal sector has been in a steady decline, from a peak of 5.3% in 1952 to 1.9% now. It was 2.1% when Obama took office.

No doubt this will matter little to the bloviators. But it’s true.

fed-empl

Posted by: Doug Henwood | January 20, 2017

Fresh audio product

Just added to my radio archive (date is link to shows):

January 19, 2017 Yasha Levine on the politics of encryption • Elayne Tobin on celebrity (bibliography here)

Posted by: Doug Henwood | January 13, 2017

Fresh audio product

Just added to my radio archive (dates are links to shows):

January 12, 2017 Nancy Fraser on “progressive neoliberalism,” feminism, Trump, and a way out of all this (see hereherehere, and here for more)

December 29, 2016 Zahra Billoo on Donald Trump, the Muslim registry, and how to resist it • Andrew Cockburn on Russophobia

December 22, 2016 Rania Khalek on Syria (new material) • George Joseph, author of this article, on Teach for America going global (rebroadcast of an interview that first ran in July)

Posted by: Doug Henwood | January 13, 2017

On “working with” Julian Assange

A tendentious hack named Casey Michel slimes me in The Daily Beast for “maintain[ing] a professional relationship” with Julian Assange:

Another Nation staplecontributing editor Doug Henwood, has maintained a professional relationship with WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, yet is apparently very tetchy about the collaboration, as I also discovered when I engaged him.

Henwood had planned to work with Assange on putting out a book about Hillary Clinton’s Goldman Sachs speeches – Henwood annotating, Assange writing the forward—transcripts of which were of course originally hacked by Russian intelligence and disseminated through WikiLeaks, at least according to 17 different U.S. intelligence agencies, two of which concluded that this was done with the express purpose of helping Trump get elected. When I brought up this pending project, as detailed both on the book publisher’s website and in multiple articles, Henwood called me a “fucking idiot.” (Henwood’s publisher, when contacted for this story, noted that Henwood was no longer affiliated with the endeavor, saying that he had now grown “weary of chronicling Hillary Clinton’s boundless political shortcomings.”)

It’s all here: the guiding hand of the evil Putin on behalf of Trump—confirmed by 17 intelligence agencies!—abetted by silly leftists who just don’t know they were being played. Except, you know, that all the leaked material was authentic, and revealed just how empty and cynical the Hillary Clinton campaign was. And that my “collaboration” with Assange was quite minimal. The full tweet in which I called Michel a fucking idiot:

I stand by my characterization.

This isn’t surprising, though. The center–left, now in the midst of a global crisis, is desperate. In the U.S., they’re trying to smear their leftist critics—who’ve been right all along about the bankruptcy of their worldview—as tools of Putin. Anything but looking in the mirror and confronting their failure. At this rate, there won’t be a Democratic party by the time of Chelsea Clinton’s 40th birthday.

PS: It’s “foreword,” not “forward.”

Posted by: Doug Henwood | December 1, 2016

Normalizing Trump

Matt Yglesias, whom I don’t always find myself agreeing with, argued yesterday that we shouldn’t listen to the advice not to “normalize” Donald Trump. He’s right.

Normalization, in this context, is typically cast as a form of complicity with Trump in which the highest possible premium is placed on maintaining a rigid state of alert and warning people that he is not just another politician whom you may or may not agree with on the issues.

Hillary Clinton ran her campaign on this. Her team rooted for Trump as nominee, because they were certain his outréness would make him easy to beat (a strategy endorsed by Jonathan Chait in one of the low points of his career, which is saying something). When they got their wish, they ran against Trump by separating him from “normal” Republicans, hoping to peel off moderate suburbanites grossed out by his odiousness. Those suburbanites voted for Trump.

Under cover of his Twitter provocations, Trump is skillfully assembling a horrifying cabinet of right-wing ghouls. He’s already appointed lots of skilled, well-connected people with dreadful agendas, starting with his vice president. They carry with them their party’s thinking on surveillance, torture, deportation, foreign policy, and making the lives of the poor more miserable (with many in the middle likely to suffer as collateral damage). With Congress under Republican control, it’s hard to see any obstacle to much of it being realized, and quickly.

Trump is forming a government that looks a lot like the one that Ted Cruz or a half-dozen other GOP candidates would have. It also looks to be the most plutocratic ever. AsWashington Post analysis pointed out, Commerce appointee Wilbur Ross’s net worth of $2.5 billion is ten times the combined value of George W. Bush’s first cabinet, deemed the cabinet of millionaires at the time. During what was probably an interview for the job of Agriculture Secretary, former Georgia Governor Sonny Purdue mentioned that he traded commodities. According to Purdue, Trump “lit up” at the news. He’s named the top lobbyist for Quicken Loans the head of his HUD transition team. It’s the direct injection of the business consciousness into governance without the slightest pretense of civilized mediation.

For a taste of the horrors on offer, take Medicaid. Trump has appointed Seema Verma, a consultant with close ties to VP Mike Pence, to head the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. She helped Governor Pence get approval for the Indiana version

verma_seema

Seema Verma

of the Obamacare Medicaid expansion. Recipients can’t get full services unless they pay a premium. Failure to pay can result in getting kicked off the program for six months. Excessive use of the ER is subject to fines. As New York Times reporter Margot Sanger-Katz put it, using the paper’s house euphemizing style: “Ms. Verma’s appointment will probably usher in a new era of state flexibility in health care.” The word “flexibility” is almost always attached to policies that will hurt people.

Verma’s ideas for Medicaid, which she worked out with Pence, look quite similar to the House Republicans’ scheme to overhaul the program. They would convert the current federal Medicaid program into block grants to the states, and cut the amount spent over time. Over the next ten years, the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities estimates, Medicaid spending would be cut by 33% relative to what it would be were current law left untouched. One of the plan’s architects, House Budget Chair Tom Price, has been nominated for Health and Human Services by Trump. Unlike Medicare, which has a lot of friends in middle and even upper income brackets, Medicaid is an easy target because it’s for poor people, and Vermacaid could glide through Congress and into law.

This is far more important than Trump’s antics about flag burning. But being repeatedly shocked by them appears to be the standard reaction of liberal elites confronted by a Trump-style challenge. These “populist” figures are often bombastically clownish, deeply ignorant, and easily mocked. That treatment, however, further endears them to their base; the demagogue’s image as a man of the people, scorned (like them) by elites, is reinforced. It seems liberals always take the bait.

One can sympathize with them to some degree: given the configuration of forces in two, and probably soon three, branches of government, there’s no imaginable way to resist the Trump agenda. But you also have to wonder how vigorous their resistance will be through their favored organ, the Democratic party. In an excellent piece working out the parallels between Trump and Italy’s Silvio Berlusconi—another clownish, vulgar, pseudo-populist billionaire—Cinzia Arruzza notes the complicity of the center–left in promoting his agenda:

Mainstream Italian anti-Berlusconism has always suffered from a grave form of selective amnesia. The effects of six years of harsh austerity policies and virtually no significant social opposition have never been taken into consideration as a decisive causal factor in the consolidation of Berlusconi’s power. Nor has mainstream anti-Berlusconism ever shown any willingness to admit the substantial continuity between Berlusconi’s second government’s austerity policies and those of the center-left.

Berlusconi had three terms in office, May 1994–January 1995, June 2001–May 2006, and May 2008–November 2011. His time in office was one of frequent sexual and financial scandal. (A Wikipedia article on Berlusconi’s legal travails lists 22 completed trials, three ongoing proceedings, and two live investigations.) Despite the volatility of his time in office, however, he ended as one of the longest-serving prime ministers in Italian history.

The first term was brief because of a massive mobilization against his proposed pension reforms (i.e., cuts). A general strike in October 1994 brought three million into the streets of 90 cities; a month later, a million turned out in Rome. Berlusconi fell in a matter of months. He was succeeded by a series of technocratic and center–left regimes, which imposed even more severe pension cuts, austerity, and attacks on job security. (Over the next five years, fiscal policy was tightened by a savage 7% of GDP.) The unions and center–left went along with it all in the name of preventing a return of Berlusconi. Unemployment hovered between 10% and 11% for six years. Discontent brought Berlusconi back in the seventh.

Arruzza writes:

Mainstream anti-Berlusconism has indeed always preferred to deal in perceptions and impressions, rather than actual facts.

In the anti-Berlusconian imaginary, Berlusconi’s rule lasted twenty long years rather than nine, Berlusconi was a fascist, Italian democracy was in danger, the radical left helped consolidate Berlusconi’s power because of its sectarianism and unwillingness to cooperate with the center-left, Berlusconi’s voters were all racist and misogynistic uneducated losers, the country was constitutively right wing and that was the reason why even moderate Keynesian policies were impossible and why the Left needed to ally with all kinds of neoliberal technocrats, in the name of preventing Berlusconi’s return to power at all costs.

Does this sound familiar?

Very familiar. And it was, to use a favorite Trump word, a disaster.

Berlusconi was toppled the first time by popular action, something that unsettles mainstream liberals, who are terrified of the mob. Of course, a government can fall in a parliamentary system and not ours. But popular action is all we’ve got. It won’t be long before Chuck Schumer and Steve Mnuchin sit down and make some deals. Faced with profound defeat at every level of government, all the Dems seem able to do is re-elect Nancy Pelosi and dream of Cory Booker as their 2020 savior. Booker, who made his political debut at a lunch thrown by the right-wing Manhattan Institute, served on the same school reform board as Education Secretary-designate Betsy Devos, who wouldn’t mind destroying the public school system. These are dire times, and it’s hard to imagine resistance that doesn’t feature millions in the streets.

Posted by: Doug Henwood | June 16, 2016

Fresh audio product

Just added to my radio archive:

June 16, 2016 Richard Seymour, author of Corbyn: The Strange Rebirth of Radical Politicson Brexit • Virginia Heffernan, author of Magic and Losson why the internet is a work of art

June 9, 2016 Sarah Leonard, author of this article, on the gender issues around Hillary Clinton •  Harry Franqui-Rivera on the Puerto Rican debt crisis

 

Posted by: Doug Henwood | May 18, 2016

Dems in a pickle

I’ve written before about how the Hillary Democrats are running against hope, and how the Sanders campaign have outed them as frank corporate shills and enemies of even mild social democracy. But now even nominal liberals, or progressives, or whatever we’re calling them these days have gotten in on the act. Not content with merely saying “No!” to new programs like single-payer health insurance and free college, they’re highlighting the worst aspects of the New Deal in an effort to…well, what exactly? Promote Hillary? Fight Trump? It’s hard to tell.

A few days ago, Jamelle Bouie, “chief political correspondent for Slate Magazine and a political analyst for CBS News,” tweeted this remarkable observation (since deleted):

Bouie on 1930s

Actually, that working class movement had a lot to do with the Communist Party, which was an antiracist organization with a large black membership. Not only did it organize auto workers in Flint, it organized black farmers in the South and black urbanites in Harlem. But saying nice things about the CPUSA is not the way to keep a job with CBS News.

Not long after Bouie’s ridiculous tweet came a longer instance of 1930s-bashing from Bryce Covert, “economic policy editor at ThinkProgress and a contributor to The Nation.” Covert identifies Donald Trump’s pledge to “make America great again” as appealing to whites, especially men, longing for the days before the civil rights movement and feminism ruined things for them. That’s not a controversial point; it may be incomplete, but it’s not untrue. Covert’s innovation is to locate much of that appeal in New Deal programs like Social Security and unemployment insurance, and postwar successors like the G.I. Bill.

This is rather odd, given the holy place that the New Deal once had in Democratic discourse. Covert’s beef is that to get the votes of racist Southern Congressmen, FDR had to craft his programs to exclude black workers. This is both true and awful, though it’s not clear how they would have gotten through Congress otherwise. But instead of saying that the New Deal was a good partial model, something that should be built upon—probably the only period in American history when a sense of the collective, and not competitive individualism, dominated our political thought—she emphasizes only the exclusions, and identifies them as the source of the nostalgias that Donald Trump, not previously known as a friend of social programs, has been basing his campaign on.

Neither Bouie’s tweet nor Covert’s op-ed makes any sense unless they’re trying to discredit an ambitious social agenda. That is precisely what the Hillary Democrats are doing to fight off the persistent Sanders threat that just won’t go away. (That despite the fact that, as Gallup recently reported, a majority of Americans support a single-payer system. The least popular option is Hillary’s position, keeping Obamacare largely as is.) But how is this going to play once she wins the nomination? At first it seemed like the rightward, anti-social-democratic tilt was intended to lure moderate suburban voters who might have voted for a sane Republican (not that there was one among the initial Gang of 17) but can’t bring themselves to vote for Trump. Bernie’s voters were expected either to shut up and fall in line or just go to hell.

But that strategy might not pan out. As Dave Weigel reports in the Washington Post, Trump is winning over a lot of those suburbanites that Dem strategists were, just a few weeks ago, hoping to harvest in November. As former Pennsylvania governor Ed Rendell put it less than two months ago:

For every one of those blue-collar Democrats [Trump] picks up, he will lose to Hillary two socially moderate Republicans and independents in suburban Cleveland, suburban Columbus, suburban Cincinnati, suburban Philadelphia, suburban Pittsburgh, places like that.

Now it looks like that might not happen. But that’s no cause for worry. The endlessly creative Rendell revealed a new strategy to Weigel:

Will [Trump] have some appeal to working-class Dems in Levittown or Bristol? Sure…. For every one he’ll lose 1½ , two Republican women. Trump’s comments like ‘You can’t be a 10 if you’re flat-chested,’ that’ll come back to haunt him. There are probably more ugly women in America than attractive women. People take that stuff personally.

Rendell and the centrist Dems do deserve a moment of sympathy. When you have nothing positive to sell voters, you have to get creative. Trolling for votes by calling your potential supporters “ugly” is seriously creative.

 

 

Posted by: Doug Henwood | May 17, 2016

Trump vs. HRC

At first I thought that Hillary Clinton would have no trouble dispensing with Donald Trump. Sure, she’s the second most unpopular presidential candidate (and likely nominee) in the history of polling—but he’s the first. She’s unpleasant, but he’s downright repellent. All she has to do is win Obama’s states and a swing state or two and it’s all over for Trump, and he’d go back to being a third-tier real estate guy.

Now I’m not so sure. The same pundits and pollsters who assured us he could never get the nomination are now telling us that there’s no way he could win in November. While past performance is no guarantee of future results, this record doesn’t inspire confidence.

And the Hillary campaign so far isn’t performing impressively. All they have been able to do since Trump became the almost-certain nominee is uncork insults against him and marshall quotes from alarmed conservatives who can’t support him (for now). Some of her supporters are denouncing his supporters as ignorant bigots. Many of them no doubt are, but far from all, and that’s not the way to win friends and influence people. Lots of people are turning to the huckster because their lives are a mess and the political system doesn’t do shit for them. Hawking hats like this will drive away more of the discontented than it’ll attract. It speaks to the complacent and comfortable, which seems to be a major Hillary target audience.

America is already great hat

Adding further to my doubts is Trump’s wiliness as a psychological warrior. Having destroyed Jeb and Marco with cruel, accurate epithets, he’s now ready for Hillary. And, at least according to an article New York Times by Patrick Healy, his approach looks to be a lot more sophisticated than one might have expected.

In a telephone interview, he noted that women did not like seeing Mrs. Clinton insulted or bullied by men. He said he wanted to be more strategic, by calling into question Mrs. Clinton’s judgment in her reaction to Mr. Clinton’s affairs — people close to the couple have said she was involved in efforts to discredit the women — and in her response to crises like Benghazi.

“Just getting nasty with Hillary won’t work,” Mr. Trump said. “You really have to get people to look hard at her character, and to get women to ask themselves if Hillary is truly sincere and authentic. Because she has been really ugly in trying to destroy Bill’s mistresses, and she is pandering to women so obviously when she is only interested in getting power.”

He acknowledged that Republicans tried to discredit her judgment in the marathon Benghazi hearing in the fall, to little avail. But he said that he would be more pointed and memorable in linking her to the failings and deaths in Libya, and that the debate would have a vastly larger television audience than the hearing. Still, advisers of Mrs. Clinton pointed to her face-off with the Republican-led Benghazi committee as a sign of her unflappability.

This is dead-on, not least because every word of it is true. The contrast with the conventional GOP approach on Benghazi is striking. That was always a bogus scandal. But she was central to the regime change in Libya (“We came, we saw, he died”), from which little good has come. Pointing that up undermines one of her most heavily advertised attributes, her “experience.” Citing Hillary’s undeniable (and impressive) “unflappability” is the strategy for for fighting the last war. Hillary can be tough, but she’s also capable of blurting out embarrassing things under pressure, and it’s almost certain that Trump will get viciously under her skin.

When I first started doing my Hillary research, my Democratic friends (I still have a few) hated me for it. I countered by saying I was actually doing them a favor by pointing to the many vulnerabilities of their candidate. They would hear none of it. They still won’t. Tweet negatively about her and you’re more likely to get blocked than to be met with an intelligent argument.

Twitter isn’t real life, for sure, but the move is emblematic of their response to criticism—stop the ears and denounce you as a misogynist. The psychoanalyst in me attributes that response to a strenuously disavowed awareness of her vulnerability, and the lack of strong positive arguments for her candidacy. She’s going to have to come up with some simulations of those, or Donald Trump will do her some serious damage.

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