Wednesday, February 23, 2011

still not my area

What are the relevant unfair dismissal laws for Wisconsin, and why isn't this a topic of serious discussion at the moment?  It seems reasonable that, given that the governor is on record as saying that he's using threats of firing to coerce lawmakers to do what he wants, if he follows through the fired employees should have a good case for unfair dismissal.  He's not arguing cause, and his public threats obviate any claim to budgetary necessity.  Maybe even a class action?  Which, is successful, would come at very, very great cost to the state budget.

Am I missing something?

Monday, February 21, 2011

thats not labor history

I've been thinking about the situation in Wisconsin and in various other states where similar conflicts are ongoing, if with less dramatics.  I've been thinking about the historical implications of the current struggles and wondering at both my competence and credibility in speaking on the subject.  I'm a world historian, not an Americanist.  Granted, the world is an awfully big place and, as a world historian, there are bits of it I know much better than others, but having engaged with and taught world history for some years, I feel at least somewhat qualified to speak on a fairly wide range of topics within that field.  World History (with capitals) being not the history of the whole world, but the history of those parts of the world that aren't covered by the rubric of Western History, or to be more specific, by European History and American History.  We world historians don't like admitting that, of course (no one wants to define their area of interest by a negative) but the reality is that what I do professionally is non-Western history.  The history of labor movements and public protest in the U.S. is most definitely Western, and in particular, American History.  (With capitals.)  Not my area of expertise. 

And yet, the current situation is full of moments of not-history.  Non-expert that I am, I am acutely aware of the gaping disconnect between the attitudes of many of the participants in discussions of these events and the reality of the historical American experiences with unionism, with anti-worker politics, with the often-theoretical right to protest, with suppression of public voices.  I watch the Tea Partiers, many of whom are suffering from the current economic problems, with unemployment, with inadequate benefits, and wonder how they can imagine that their interests in this fight lie with the corporations and the politicians they fund.  Don't they understand where their rights to unemployment compensation, to medicare, to disability payments came from?  Don't they know that government spending creates jobs?  That tax cuts to the rich don't trickle down?  That they have representation in government? Obviously they don't.  Obviously, no one ever told them about the bad old days when grandma had to stand on a bread line.  Obviously, they didn't do projects in high school on the politics of the Great Depression.  Obviously, they don't know their own country's history.  This makes me sad.  And it makes my blogging fingers restless.

It's a situation that cries out for the voice of the historian.  The qualified historian who can explain how labor movements are as American as capitalism, and how public protest is the epitome of those liberties the constitution promises, and why union-busting is anti-worker, anti-employment, and against the interests of the American people.  Because most of the arguments being made by the right about the situation that's erupted in Wisconsin just now, and that's developing in at least half a dozen other states, are not history.  That's my blog, my mantra, my mission.  It's not history, that makes it mine, mine, mine!

(Takes a deep breath)  No, it's not mine.  I'd love to tell it, but I wouldn't do it justice.  So I'll just point you to a place, on the Progressive Historians website where almost a year ago midtowng explained how in 1930 unions demanded that their government do its job.  Because I couldn't have said it anywhere near as well, and it's a far more timely post now, and more worthy of attention and consideration in the current context, than it was when it was posted.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Sorry, Donald, that's not history

The Donald has declared that, if he were president (not that he's running), he would tax other countries.  "What I would be doing," Trump said, "is, I'd be taking in hundreds of billions of dollars from other countries. As an example, we protect South Korea. Why aren't they paying us? We have thousands of troops in European countries. Thousands. Tens of thousands of troops. If we're protecting countries why aren't they paying for it?"  He explained how we'd gotten into this mess with, "The problem with this country is we have too much diplomacy... And you know what a diplomat is? It's somebody who is trained to be nice."

Well, Don, the thing about forcing those countries we protect to pay us?  They are.  The Defense Department reports a little item known as "U.S. Station Cost Offset Percentage" for every country we do military business with.  The most recent complete analysis available comes from 2004.  You want to know about Korea?  They do pretty good, covering 40% of the total U.S. military cost for holding the line against the only remaining aggressive communist state in the world, 1/3 of the axis of evil.  That's than Japan's 74.5%, which comes to $4.4 billion, or $106,000 per soldier. 

And we're not just talking about salary, here.  The costs we're counting include things like blast-proof shelters for fighter jets and specially purposed harbor facilities for nuclear warships, not to mention the costs of food, transport, housing, of schools for soldiers' children, of golf courses and basketball courts.  If those soldiers were stationed in the U.S., the American taxpayer would be covering 100% of those costs.

Of course, there are a few deadbeats.  Portugal only pays 3.6% of the cost of U.S. troops on their soil, and Denmark an even more paltry .6%.  If you think you can fix the U.S. deficit by squeezing Portugal and Denmark, you're even more delusional than you sound.  Most countries on the list pay every year to support our military to the tune of hundreds of millions of dollars apiece.

You see, Don, way back in the ancient world, when primitive government-like entities had nice guys (known to the rest of us as diplomats) negotiate agreements like the 1949 NATO agreement and the 1960 Treaty of Mutual Cooperation and Security Between the United States and Japan?  And in the years since, the thousands of nice guys since who've renegotiated the terms of those agreements and dozens more?  None of those nice guys were stupid, nor were they interested in bankrupting the U.S. for the sake of projecting power overseas out of the goodness of their hearts.  They struck bargains in places where it served U.S. interests to project power and they pushed those who benefited to help cover the costs.  You can argue that some of those places no longer need our protection.  You can argue that the U.S. should not be in the business of keeping everyone else safe and that our interests are not served by having such an extensive military.  But unless you are completely ignorant of post-war military history, you cannot argue that the U.S. military has gotten a bad bargain out of our overseas postings; it is the massive financial support of our allies that has paid for the U.S. military to grow to its current size and strength.  That, Mr. Trump, is history.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

That's not history, Rove

I'm kind of fascinated by Rove's latest comments on Egypt. (YouTube embeds aren't working for me at the moment, but you can find it here. It's less than 45 seconds.) He argues that Egyptians are more "Western" than other Arabs and Moslems because they are "descended" from Ramses and Cleopatra. I'll give him the benefit of the doubt and stipulate that this is a metaphoric, not genetic, descent.  I won't even bother arguing his notion that the presence of Coptic Christians implies a Westward leaning (because the Copts have a long history of ... erm ... actually pretty horrible relations with the Western kinds).

Ramses - an imperialist who justified his invasion of modern day Israel and Lebanon by stating that he was "forced to fight" a dangerous Palestinian prince, and then claimed his defeat in Syria as a victory on the grounds that he didn't lose as badly as he might have. He didn't bother justifying the wars that added the populated bits of Libya and much of Nubia to his empire, with the latter campaign most famous for his claim that he fought to victory single-handed, without his army. Being a pharaoh, it goes without saying he believed himself to be a god, making all his actions divinely ordered.

Cleopatra - from the Ptolemaic dynasty of Greek-loving Macedonians that oppressed native Egyptians in favor of a number of immigrant groups, she liked to seal diplomatic deals with sex, had her own sister killed to solidify her position (violating a sacred temple in the process), and embarked on a disastrous military campaign that destroyed her regime. And ditto on the living god thing.

So, he's defining "Western" values as including:
- aggressive, imperialist military campaigns (in the Middle East, yet)
- support for the notion of the "pre-emptive strike" as justification for war
- ignoring the "reality based world" in favor of myth-building
- glorification of the leader by ascribing to him feats accomplished by others
- theocratic political decision making
- privileging of well-established immigrant groups over natives
- sexual favors as political currency
- valuing power over ... everything
- and wasting national resources and destroying the credibility of the state in pointless, poorly-considered military ventures.

Yep. Sounds about right, for Rove, that is.  Not so much for the rest of us.