TUESDAY JUNKIE: Good News! (Yes, Really)

Yes, as though on cue or in the spirit of Solstice Week, I have some truly good news to share in today’s post. Not only is it good news, it’s good news regarding specific issues we’ve brought to your attention in these very posts. It’s like powerful people out there are listening to me! (Yeah, right.)

Don’t worry, we’ll make up for this Upworthyesque behavior later in the post with some good solid Enemies of the Week. But it’s solstice time! Let’s celebrate whatever we can.

Google Images says this is a solstice celebration, but if you want to consider it an uprising of the people, that's fine by me.
Google Images says this is a solstice celebration, but if you want to consider it an uprising of the people, that’s fine by me.

The Supreme Court randomly says, “Eff this!” Remember UNITE HERE v Mulhall, the case the highest court argued about a month ago that threatened to render some of the most common and most effective tools employed by unions as illegal? With a decision not expected until sometime next year, the Supreme Court last week instead said “Fuck it” and just dismissed it altogether.

Seriously. Crisis averted. Moshe Marvit writes for In These Times:

“Unions dodged a bullet today when the Supreme Court took the unusual step of dismissing the strange and possibly disastrous case of Mulhall v. Unite Here Local 355 as ‘improvidently granted.’

Though the dismissal leaves some bad law in place in the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals, which includes Florida, Alabama and Georgia, labor should nonetheless breathe a sigh of relief. […]

Making neutrality agreements a crime would have struck at the heart of organizing as it is practiced today. The neutrality approach—in which the employer agrees not to oppose an organizing campaign—has been the mode of choice in most union drives since the ‘90s. The employer usually further promises to “card check,” which means that it will recognize the union if a majority of the employees sign cards stating their desire for union representation.”

This development should not be construed as a solution of any kind – conditions have not improved for either workers or the labor movement, they’re just not going to suddenly get much worse. We should all breathe a sigh of relief.

Legally, labor isn’t out of the woods quite yet: Harris v. Quinn, a case that threatens to deal an effective death blow to large segments of the SEIU, one of the country’s largest unions, will be argued before the court on January 24. We’re going to want to take a good look at those transcripts as soon as they become available. For now, however, it’s solstice time, so we can celebrate.

Mushrooms! Mushrooms!  Yay! Yay!
Mushrooms! Mushrooms! Yay! Yay!

Israel fails to control the US government and might not ethnically cleanse the Bedouin after all. That’s right, the SCOTUS dismissal isn’t even the only good news of the last week. It’s going to be a good solstice and a merry Christmas, indeed!

Just last week, we had a little bit of a discussion about what a miserable prick Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is, and how despicable are the policies of his government. One of our biggest concerns was the attempts by Israel to destroy the powerful boost to world peace that is the Obama-Kerry diplomatic triumph with Iran.

Well, I’m thrilled to the gills to tell you that they failed. AIPAC, the only brazenly open group of foreign agents generally able to control the foreign policy of the United States government, was almost inexplicably unable to kill the Iran deal. As Israel-watcher MJ Rosenberg says on his blog (link above), “[L]et’s celebrate a little – at least until AIPAC decides it will not permit this deviation from Netanyahu’s orders to stand. But,who knows, maybe we are actually winning.”

It’s actually possible. Mitchell Plitnick argues at Lobelog that 2013 saw no less than three rare and major defeats for the “lobbying organization.” As Plitnick argues – and I firmly agree – these are the strategic conclusions to draw from what we’re seeing here:

“AIPAC’s massive setbacks are real, but it is also consolidating its efforts around its traditional strengths: opposing the peace process and, most of all, securing money for Israel. Its losses this year are historic and represent a turning point, but this only calls for greater, not lesser efforts against it. The next battlefield will be the blame-game after the Kerry-brokered talks fail (I say next because I believe the fight over Iran is already engaged) and whether AIPAC will be able to control that narrative. I won’t be surprised if they can’t.”

The weakening of AIPAC’s power – and, hopefully, its ultimate demise – is good for the interests of the Palestinian people, for even the worst strategic foreign interests of America, for the interest of world peace and therefore the world in general – and, many argue, for the interest of the ordinary people of Israel itself. If we can ever raise a glass to anything, let’s raise a glass to that.

There’s still more. We also talked last week about the “Prawer Plan,” a new government initiative involving Israel looking at 30,000 Bedouin in a region called the Negev and saying, “Fuck those guys!” and just moving all of them off of their land. Just because they can and they want to. Under international definitions, it’s ethnic cleansing.

But by some extraordinary wave of solstice magic (or, again, perhaps the powerful are reading this blog and taking my suggestions), they’re not doing it anymore. It might just be a temporary thing, a tactical postponement to buy time until the outrage dies down and then doing it anyway, but again, for now, let’s celebrate.

Here’s to the Bedouin!


*     *     *

Now, let’s talk about our enemies.

Ezra Klein is a shameless son of a bitch. He’s a hero to many democrats – even more so within that despicable vestigial sub-group of Clintonian moderates – but I’ve long considered him a leading contender for Worst Millennial There Is (dude was born less than two months after me, despite his intense desire to be fifty). He’s an extremely frequent guest on MSNBC shows, even solid ones like All in with Chris Hayes and The Rachel Maddow Show. If you’re an obsessive viewer like me, you’ve probably seen him guest-host both of those shows.

Nobody would ever mistake the earnest and bespectacled Ezra for a leftist or a radical, but his high-profile presence among solid personalities like Hayes and Maddow would tend to suggest that he’s a solid progressive-liberal. Listening to much of his television commentary, especially on the surface, you’d still be likely to believe he’s a solid progressive-liberal, at least tacitly a Man of the People.

He runs the Wonkblog, an extremely well-trafficked politics blog on the website of the Washington Post. For those of you who aren’t familiar, “wonk” is an obnoxious and unnecessary term for someone who understands things like data and policy detail.

(Short digression: all serious pundits and commentators in the political-economic arena should understand data and policy detail, so I find the notion of some media special forces brigade of “wonks” to be distasteful. I have the same issue with the otherwise-decent Melissa Harris-Perry’s use of #nerdland, because, as I understand it, “understanding shit” does not make someone a “nerd.”)

Despite what the Internet is describing as his carefully cultivated “Very Serious” persona, Ezra’s niche in reality is not the arcane, but the technocratic. To a technocrat, it’s a waste of time to examine any deep causes at the root of any major social and economic problems. Deep causes are irrelevant, because the status quo of capitalism and semi-functioning, corrupt-as-hell government is essentially just fine. All we need to do is tweak some laws, add some targeted corrective policies, and maybe just look at it a little bit differently, and everything can “go back” to being fine. To a technocrat, there’s nothing properly political about solving problems. As with math homework and the solving of a puzzle, there exist solutions that are objectively right. We require the presence of obscure number-fetishizing “experts” to save us from ourselves.

As a halfway intelligent person, the notion – in theory, at least – is tempting. Why wouldn’t we want smart and ideologically independent people in positions of power to solve the arithmetic problems of poverty and declining wages and flimsy economic fundamentals, to tell us what the answers are so that we don’t have to think and argue about them anymore?

I believe this is titled "Portrait of a Smug and Self-Satisfied Shameless Son of a Bitch"
I believe this is titled “Portrait of a Smug and Self-Satisfied Shameless Son of a Bitch”


The primary problem with this is that unicorns and leprechauns don’t exist. Deep social and economic problems have deep causes that are rooted not just in structure and law but in political and (especially) economic ideology. They aren’t, actually, fun little puzzles you can figure out while pretending to be Ben Franklin tinkering around in your inventor’s workshop. Furthermore, the claim that virgin-white technocratic policy fixes are ideology-free is an obscenity, especially when the magically “independent” solutions always seem to be capitalist-friendly and generally in accordance with the interests of the monied elite. Nope, no ideology, nothing to see here, it’s just the truth — HA!

Technocracy denies that actual decisions have to be made. It denies the basic agency of a people in a democratic society to debate – much less decide – what sort of society they would like to have. Technocracy subtly insists that the nature of society is immutable and therefore never part of the discussion.

Back to Ezra Klein, the pundit-rat who uses wonk as euphemism for technocrat and utilizes a thin outer cloak of liberalism to advance his career. If ever there was any hope for this guy, it’s gone now. Back on December 4, President Obama – himself at least half a technocrat – gave a speech on economic issues in which he described inequality as “the defining challenge of our time.” Now, whatever problems I have with the president – and there are many – and much as I’ve learned to ignore his words and watch his actions, I’ll never stop enjoying it when he says things like that.

Not Ezra. Last Friday, undoubtedly wishing to start the party early, he packed his pipe with the special stuff, the stuff with the angel dust, before writing his daily post. (I envision this taking place in a basement lair with flickering fluorescent light bulbs and walls plastered with countless old columns by Thomas Friedman and glossy photos of Mario Monti and Xi Jinping, but I have no evidence, it’s just a hunch.) Either the drugs tragically took control of his writing-related faculties, or they lowered poor Ezra’s inhibitions to a place in which he felt comfortable revealing his true nature. (There’s no evidence that Ezra Klein uses drugs – I’m just doing him a favor and giving him the benefit of the doubt, because there are few, if any, other acceptable excuses for the piece.)

The point is, something made him randomly decide to argue with President Obama with a contrarian refrain of…something. Inequality sucks, he seems to be saying, but it’s not necessarily important. Since for some reason we’re assuming an either/or scenario, he argues that it’s better to worry about unemployment (primarily out of concern for “growth”) instead of inequality, or maybe it’s better to worry about “social mobility,” in fact. The vague and meandering exploration of an idea, obviously untouched by any editor and unable to properly be described as a true argument, jumps and skips around a bit, before the strange smug center-right capitalist ends by oddly musing on how “the left” should approach economic policy at the next opportunity to enact it. Naturally, he feels the smart course – objectively speaking – the best thing for “the left” to do is embrace conservative economic ideology and avoid, at all costs, high redistributive taxes on the wealthy.

Honestly, other than drugs, how do you explain this? But there’s no other comment I can further add that hasn’t been made in far superior fashion by the brilliant Matt Bruenig on his blog. Referring to one of the most stoned of Ezra’s musings – “Imagine you were given a choice between reducing income inequality by 50 percent and reducing unemployment by 50 percent. Which would you choose?” – Bruenig responds:

What in the hell does 50 percents of inequality have to do with 50 percents of unemployment? Do we have just 50 percents of things to do? You can kind of see the neuronal triggering that produced this. The neurons conspired to say: if we are going to compare these two wildly divergent issues, we need some kind of similar comparison. But then that neuronal triggering fell into a ditch and said: I guess just say 50 percent versus 50 percent. I mean, that must be commensurable. It’s both 50 percent!

Of course, if we only have 50 percents of things to use, it would seem Ezra has made a fatal error. Instead of reducing unemployment by 50 percents, surely we should increase employment by 50 percents. Or, as Matt Yglesias pointed out on twitter, we could just use 20 percents on increasing employment, leaving the other 30 percents for other projects, maybe even the project of reducing inequality? I don’t know. The world of comparing percents of different units can be tricky.”

Hysterical. But the normally stoic Bruenig doesn’t even begin to stop there, electing instead to eviscerate to the end:

“So we have here in Ezra a rich kid from a high socioeconomic status family living the good life as a blogger who made it big because of good timing taking a totally unnecessary run at inequality. We have here a man who owes his life to inequality and the way it allows rich kid fuck ups second, third, and eleventh chances. But there is no liberal sanctioning or disciplining strong enough to reach his head and tell him that maybe he should hold back on panning inequality reduction especially when it is totally gratuitous. The cultural sanctioning we have will certainly keep him and others from doing that kind of thing for other kinds of oppression, but unnecessarily downplaying inequality when you are one of its most prominent beneficiaries is still OK for some reason.”

Damn. There’s no certainty with regard to emotional tone in online text, but in comparison to his usual writing – even in comparison to his usual daily socratic debates on Twitter – he sounds wicked pissed. “Isn’t this post extremely offensive, inappropriate, and gratuitous in its scope?” he asks. “Well I don’t know: is it?”

No, it’s not. It’s warranted. And let’s hope we come to see a little less of him on MSNBC.

*     *      *

Speaking of MSNBC –


Ed Shultz turns out to be a bastard at best, a fraud at worst. This is my opportunity to say publicly that my brother James was right all along in his passionate loathing of Ed. He couldn’t stand that he was so brazenly midwestern and felt he was Fox Newsy. He doesn’t take issue with yelling as a rule, but he doesn’t like the way Ed yells. In addition, he has deep and insurmountable problems with Ed’s physical appearance.

The mea culpa is necessary because I always cheerfully disputed his hatred and certainly forced him to watch The Ed Show on many occasions. Ed Schultz is undeniably a bloviator, but I have always found his style amusing. Since his unusual public switch from actual Fox News-style conservative to labor populist, he’s legitimately done great things for the cause of labor. That’s always been my primary defense of the guy, that I like having someone on TV unabashedly talking about unions and labor issues, and I’ve also always felt that the fact that he looks like some kind of dockworker boxer always adds to the overall entertainment experience.

But alas, life does not revolve around entertainment. It turns out, there’s a rather interesting labor dispute going on right at MSNBC. The battle is between the Writer’s Guild of America – East, a union traditionally representing television and film writers, and Peacock Productions, a subsidiary of NBC/Universal that is the technical employer of the producers and writer who work behind the scenes on MSNBC programming. They are thinking of joining the union, and the WGA-E is fighting to give them that opportunity. They’re openly seeking the support of the liberal network’s big name hosts, which puts them all in a rather interesting position. Ed Schultz, Chris Matthews, Chris Hayes, Rachel Maddow, and Lawrence O’Donnell all profess pro-labor views. This offers them a chance to sort of put their money where their mouth is – when presented with the chance to intervene on the side of labor, what do they do?

So far, as Salon’s excellent Josh Eidelson reported on Thursday, Chris Hayes, at least, agreed to a closed-door meeting with the union and the workers at Peacock Productions. So far, no public statements have been made, but the report indicates that the 8 PM host was open and receptive in hearing the workers’ concerns. This may seem too tepid to deserve applause, but the blog Inside Cable News suggests Hayes’ actions, by industry standards, could warrant termination, regardless of how beloved a host he may be.

The other hosts have yet to publicly comment in any way on the issue, with the exception of Schultz, who responded to Salon via e-mail with a vague snarl about Moveon.org and having no reason to help Eidelson with his story. According to a follow-up piece by Eidelson the next day, Schultz began receiving a lot of tweets he didn’t like following the posting of the original story. He was tweaking about it on his radio show and opened it up to listener calls. When In These Times‘ Mike Elk called in, the exchange (Mediaite has it in full – the best part is when Ed calls himself a capitalist and Elk responds, “I’m an anti-capitalist, if that helps the conversation.”) is delightfully awkward and bizarre. Schultz is unabashedly hostile, not only demeaning Elk but also Eidelson and PandoDaily columnist David Sirota. Ultimately, he concludes, without ever once addressing the labor dispute in his own workplace, all his critics simply have “income envy” because he makes four million a year, suckers.

Eidelson posted another follow-up on Monday revealing that Ed’s raving is only becoming increasingly more amplified, apparently rambling on his radio show about how rich he is and how jealous everyone else is.

A fraud for refusing to put his beliefs into action, a bastard for his treatment of some truly great writers producing some of the best stuff out there, and an overall coward for refusing to actually act on behalf of workers right in front of his own desk.

My brother was right.

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