RIP Archie Green







Over the weekend, Archie Green, grandfather of labor history, passed away in his San Francisco home at the age of 91. Over at Daily Yonder, Julie Ardery has written Green a great eulogy chronicling his many and varied accomplishments:

Archie, as he was universally known, was a scholar of what he called “laborlore” – the expressive culture of working people. For five decades he studied hillbilly music and pile-drivers’ tales. He made inventories of  “tin men” – the showpieces of sheet metal workers -- and analyzed sailors’ slang.  He recorded songs by millworkers and miners’ wives. Working on until just months before his death, he wrote countless articles, both academic and popular, and five books, including Only a Miner, his landmark study of coal-mining music.

Born in Winnipeg to Russian Jewish parents in 1917, Green spent most of his childhood in LA. He attended UCLA and UC Berkeley for college, and spent the first part of his adult life building ships on the waterfront. But in 1959, he went back to school, and over the next few years earned degrees in both library science and folklore. He spent the better part of the '60s and '70s digging up and dusting off forgotten bits of what he called "laborlore"—legends, folksongs, and stories of individual workers. In 1976, he convinced Congress to pass the American Folklife Preservation Act and create the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress. In recent years, he worked with the San Francisco based Fund for Labor Culture and History and helped organize  Laborlore Conversations, a series of conferences on workers' culture past and present that drew a crowd of historians, activists, union members, and many others.

Mother Jones is especially indebted to Green, since without him, our namesake, Mary "Mother Jones" Harris might have been forgotten—he recovered her legacy in 1960. Check out the folksong "The Death of Mother Jones" here. Sure wish I could hear it. If anyone knows where an MP3 lives, do tell.

Last week, news leaked that Bob Gates, President Obama's Republican Secretary of Defense, is planning to cut several major weapons programs, including the F-22 and the Zumwalt-class destroyer. At last night's press conference, Obama acknowledged that he had "been working with Secretary Gates on this and will be detailing it more in the weeks to come," but warned that "the politics of changing procurement is tough." Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.) is a longtime crusader against wasteful military spending. Frank, the powerful chair of the House financial services committee, was dealt a setback in his battle against Pentagon waste when Obama increased the military budget. With the news that several of the programs he and others have criticized may be killed, Frank and other Pentagon spending critics have some reason to be hopeful.

But while he was "very encouraged" to hear that Gates plans cuts, Frank tells Mother Jones that making those cuts will be "very hard." The recession and the fact that defense contractors have "gone and spent money in everybody's district" will make members of Congress reluctant to slash procurement dollars, Frank explained. Even his own dark-blue Massachusetts district has jobs that depend on defense spending. "When I came out publicly wanting military spending cuts, shortly thereafter I was visited by someone who works at a company in my district that makes parts that go into one of the weapons systems I was talking about cutting," Frank said. "It was very polite, and there's nothing coercive about it, but it was clear that they wanted to remind me that I have people in my district that do that, and that's true."

Weapons programs have always been tough to cut. When he was Secretary of Defense, Dick Cheney tried four times to kill the V-22 Osprey, a kind of combined helicopter-airplane troop transport that had several fatal accidents during testing, killing a combined 30 people. Each time Congress resurrected the project, and the Osprey is now operational—albeit over budget and way behind schedule. (The Osprey, at least, is used in Iraq and—starting this year—Afghanistan. The Air Force's F-22 fighter has not been used in either conflict.)

Texas Justice

Wow, Texas:

The charges focus on [Texas] Judge [Sharon] Keller's refusal to keep court offices open past 5 p.m. on Sept. 25, 2007, to receive an appeal in the case of Michael Richard, a convicted rapist and murderer.

Judge Keller, who was first elected to the court in 1994 and campaigned as being tough on crime, left her office that afternoon to meet a repairman at her home. Mr. Richard was put to death that evening by lethal injection.

This is the same judge who once refused to grant a new trial to a mentally retarded man convicted of rape and murder after DNA evidence established it was not his semen in the victim. "We can't give new trials to everyone who establishes, after conviction, that they might be innocent," she said of the case.

Suckitude Update

Man, does it suck working on a 1024x768 screen with a 1360x768 monitor.  It's like staring at a Dali painting all day long.  I've got a new Acer on its way, though, and I even paid a boatload extra for 2-day delivery.  Now I'm wishing I'd paid a yachtload more for overnight.  Sigh.

This is pretty fantastic. And by "fantastic," I mean awful but very useful.

Rarely do you find an example of the Bush Administration's philosophical approach to the bureaucracy (government doesn't work and we're going to prove it!) illustrated as starkly as it is in this New York Times article on the Labor Department's Wage and Hour Division.

In a report scheduled to be released Wednesday, the Government Accountability Office found that the agency, the Labor Department’s Wage and Hour Division, had mishandled 9 of the 10 cases brought by a team of undercover agents posing as aggrieved workers.

In one case, the division failed to investigate a complaint that under-age children in Modesto, Calif., were working during school hours at a meatpacking plant with dangerous machinery, the G.A.O., the nonpartisan auditing arm of Congress, found.

When an undercover agent posing as a dishwasher called four times to complain about not being paid overtime for 19 weeks, the division’s office in Miami failed to return his calls for four months, and when it did, the report said, an official told him it would take 8 to 10 months to begin investigating his case.

Other examples abound. The whole article (via TNR) is worth reading. Keep in mind, though, that while the mismanagement at Labor may be comical, it is not borne out of incompetence. This is malicious. The government was intentionally allowed to atrophy under the Bush Administration because it suited that crowd's ideological ends. The perversion of the FDA, the EPA, and the SEC all speak to that. And if the mandated inaction desiccated the parts of the government that are designed to protect or help the poor -- like in this instance -- all the better.

From Bank of America CEO Ken Lewis, on the $45 billion in taxpayer capital that they accepted last year:

"As soon as we think the markets normalize, we would very seriously like to pay it all back."

Granted, Lewis left himself the escape hatch of waiting until "markets normalize" to pay back this capital, but even so this statement means one of three things: (1) he's lying, (2) he's crazy, or (3) BofA really is in fairly decent shape.  I report, you decide.

Regulation

Bloomberg reports that new financial regulations are on their way:

The Obama administration is preparing an overhaul of U.S. banking rules that would force financial companies to keep more cash on hand in case their trading bets go wrong.

Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner told lawmakers yesterday that changes will include “strong oversight, including appropriate constraints on risk-taking.” Federal Reserve Chairman Ben S. Bernanke said the case of American International Group Inc. showed the “intense problem” of trading with insufficient capital to guard against losses.

This is probably good stuff, but one thing that I find persistently missing from these discussions is any sense of guiding principles. There are a million rules you might want to put in place to regulate the financial industry, and every one of them might individually sound sensible.  But what's the big picture?  What are you trying to accomplish?

If you asked me, for example, I'd toss out three big principles.  #1 is firmer regulation over leverage, wherever and however it occurs.  This would produce regulations like the one above that increases capital adequacy ratios, but it would also lead to similar oversight of hedge funds; an overhaul of how capital and assets are calculated; regulation of effective leverage embedded in complex derivatives; rules about off-balance-sheet vehicles; and so forth.

#2 would be a stronger commitment to act countercyclically.  That would produce things like rules designed to force the Fed to keep an eye on asset inflation as well as goods inflation; a dedication to limiting credit expansion as well as credit destruction; capital adequacy rules that weren't merely stronger, but that tightened during expansions and loosened during contractions; and stronger down payment requirements for mortgage loans.

#3, for lack of a better name, is a recognition that the global financial system could stand to have a little more sand in its gears.  Something to slow it down just a little bit.  This might include things like a small transaction tax; exchange trading for credit derivatives; and stronger transparency rules.

Now, I might be wrong about these principles, and I might be wrong about the specific regulations needed to support them.  Fine.  Suggest your own.  But rather than a huge hodgepodge of rules that might be good ideas on their own but might not really work together to accomplish what you want, I'd like to see a moderate, well-targeted set of rules aimed at fixing two or three big things.  The principles should guide what we do, not the other way around.

Tom Ricks, writing at his new post at Foreign Policy, takes the release of the Army's new "Stability Operations Field Manual" as an opportunity to point out what he sees as a long-running problem: the military's self-assessment of its role in our two middle eastern wars is fundamentally off. Ricks:

...we didn't invade Iraq to provide stability, but to force change. Likewise in Afghanistan. And once we were there, we didn't aim for stability, but to encourage democracy, which (the thought is not original with me) in a region like the Middle East generally undermines stability. I mean, if all we wanted was stability, why not find a strongman and leave?

What we really are doing in Iraq and Afghanistan, I think, is instability operations. I don't think the U.S. military really has ever been comfortable with that mission, which was one reason we saw a lot of friction early on between the Bremer team trying to bring change and the Sanchez team simply trying to keep a lid on things. Personally, I think the mission of changing the culture of Iraq was nuts -- but that was the mission the president assigned the military.

H/T Democracy in America. I'm not sure how I feel about Ricks' sentiment. We invaded Iraq and Afghanistan in the name of "revolutionary operations," as Ricks states, but what we're trying to do now to is, partially but not completely, what the name of the manual suggests: stability ops.

No one is going look back years from now and use Iraq or even Afghanistan as a model for regime change or spreading democracy. But assuming that violence in Iraq doesn't flare up after we leave (which is a monumental "if") military historians may look to our actions in that country from 2007-2009 as a model for bringing stability to a war zone. Which means that not only is the manual aptly named, its potentially canonical. Of course, that's contingent on the surge's security gains being real and permanent, which I'm not sure I buy. Only time will tell.

Would you like to meet Rachel Maddow?  Do you live near San Francisco?  Our fundraiser this Saturday with Maddow has been sold out for weeks, but we thought it might be nice to give away a pair of tickets to one of our blog readers.  (I'll be there too, in case you need even more incentive to come.)  If you're interested, just leave a comment and we'll choose a random winner on Thursday evening.  Make sure you're registered so we have an email address to contact you.  Good luck!

The Three C's

Fred Kaplan writes that the Obama administration will soon have to choose its Afghanistan strategy: either CT (counterterrorism) or COIN (counterinsurgency).  Steve Hynd doesn't like either option: he suggests plain old C (containment) instead.  Read and decide.