SAN FRANCISCO – A 50-year-old Cypress, Texas, woman has been charged with assaulting a flight attendant during a United Airlines flight from Alaska to San Francisco International Airport earlier this year, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office. Debby Dutton appeared Friday in Houston federal court to face a charge of interference by assault, threat or intimidation with flight crew members or attendants, prosecutors said in a news release. Citing a complaint filed in San Francisco federal court, prosecutors said Dutton was a passenger on a flight from Alaska to SFO on June 29. Early in the fl...
Joe Biden frequently says that he wants to emulate Franklin D. Roosevelt, the president most revered among American liberals (along with John F. Kennedy and, latterly, Barack Obama). In one way he no doubt laments, Biden has indeed emulated FDR — by seeing a pair of "centrists" from his own party (in this case, Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema) undermine his agenda. Roosevelt faced some of his fiercest opposition from conservative Democrats, including his own vice president, John Nance Garner, whose nickname really was "Cactus Jack."
This article first appeared in Salon.
Somewhat like Manchin and Sinema, Garner mouthed platitudes about tradition and limited government to mask his allegiance to what today would be dubbed "the one percent." For most of Roosevelt's first term, Garner watched in silent dismay as FDR sloughed off the Democratic Party's ideologically muddled history and moved sharply to the left, at least on economic policy. Garner had initially supported Roosevelt for the reasons many conservatives did, because he believed that saving democracy depended on easing the social unrest caused by the Great Depression. Once the immediate national distress began to ease, Garner reverted to being as dogmatically pro-business as any modern-day Republican.
In the months after Roosevelt's landslide re-election in 1936, however, Garner reached his breaking point. There was an issue where FDR took a stand that Garner saw as completely unacceptable, and that ruptured their relationship permanently. Not only was Cactus Jack off the ticket when FDR sought (and won) an unprecedented third term in 1940, Garner actually ran against Roosevelt for the Democratic nomination.
What was the issue? Roosevelt refused to take a strong stand against the "sit-down strike," a controversial labor tactic that posed a direct challenge to major industrial employers. In a sit-down strike, workers would literally (if only temporarily) seize the means of production, "sitting down" in a factory, for example, and refusing to budge. This made it almost impossible for employers to replace the strikers with scab workers or remove the equipment, at least not without resorting to physical force. Any strike that physically prevents employers from producing or marketing commodities without literally going through their workers could be described as a sit-down strike, but the term is generally used in factories or other large industrial facilities.
The U.S. experienced a wave of sit-down strikes in the 1930s, but the concept seems to have emerged in France, where in June 1936, many workers occupied their factories. This inspired American organized labor as well, and Georgetown history professor Joseph A. McCartin explained by email that a turning point came on Dec. 30, 1936, when workers at General Motors seized control of their complex in Flint, Michigan:
The activists used the tactic in Flint because they knew it was the crucial node in the GM system and they believed they had enough organization in the plants there to pull it off. Everyone was excited by FDR's recent landslide reelection, which seemed to ratify public support of the Wagner Act [a landmark 1935 labor law] and other New Deal measures. And organizers were growing impatient with GM's constant stalling and resistance to unionization. So they decided to force the company's hand.
Conservatives like Garner were intimidated because the strikes both challenged the core concept of industrial capitalism — the sacred character of private property — but also got results. FDR refused to order the workers removed from the Flint plant by force, and the strikers achieved their primary goal: a union at GM. McCartin again:
Without the Flint sit-down strike, it might have taken many more years to unionize General Motors and the entire industrial union movement might have failed to mature. The breakthrough boosted the Committee for Industrial Organization (CIO) and helped make other victories possible. Indeed, U.S. Steel decided to voluntarily recognize the CIO's Steelworker Organizing Committee (SWOC) in hopes of avoiding the kind of disruption GM had experienced. Both GM and USS capitulated to the CIO before anyone even knew whether the [Supreme Court] would uphold the constitutionality of the NLRA (Wagner Act), which it later did on April 12, 1937. This was a testament to how [much] leverage the sit-down strike gave workers.
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The Flint sit-down strike, McCartin concluded, "was certainly the single most pivotal strike of the era."
Those were heady times for American labor, but they didn't last long. By 1939, the political tide had begun to turn against Roosevelt, and the Supreme Court effectively declared sit-down strikes illegal. Internal conflicts among Democrats meant the party could not support a tactic that directly assaulted the private property of wealthy special interests. To use a phrase favored by Richard Wolff, a retired economics professor at UMass Amherst, they had become "hostage to their donors."
Garner was essentially the leader of the anti-union Democrats — United Mine Workers leader John L. Lewis famously described him as "a labor-baiting, poker-playing, whiskey-drinking, evil old man" — but he was not alone. While moderate or conservative Democrats had varying views on FDR's policies overall, they had zero patience for sit-down strikes, describing them as agents of anarchy and tyranny, redolent of Communist influence. Roosevelt himself was forced to back away, remaining neutral during the "Little Steel Strike" of 1937 out of fear of dividing the party and alienating Democratic voters. (Garner also went to war over FDR's attempt to reform the reactionary Supreme Court, which conservatives derided as "court packing" — and that history is a big part of the reason Biden is unwilling to alter the court.)
Sit-down strikes have largely disappeared from the labor movement, partly because a dwindling proportion of Americans work in large industrial facilities. There are conceptual echoes of the tactic, adjusted for the Zoom era, in the current age of the Great Resignation, which also challenges the implicit notion that workers must play by the rules of the game — as set by the owners of capital — and have no power to change them. Like sit-down strikes, the Big Quit challenges the validity of that entire system, which means that experts and pundits respond by pronouncing gravely that it's a terrible idea.
In an interview with Salon, Wolff observed that the entire idea that there is something special or sacred about private property is ridiculous. Private property, like every other aspect of economics, is a concept created by human beings, who can revise that concept and the social rules around it at any time. Culture and history have trained us to be horrified when workers seek to make fundamental changes in the rules regarding property relations — but Wolff says that the rich and powerful do that all the time.
"Private property is violated every single day here in the United States," he said. "It's only a question of who's violating it and for what purpose. When workers occupy a place and some yowling capitalist tells you about 'private property,' [that's] a ploy. It's a way to try to solve a problem." Practices like eminent domain — in which a person can be forced to sell private property if a government body declares it's needed for an alleged social purpose — have existed for centuries, and are often manipulated by wealthy developers, for instance.
Although it's unlikely the sit-down strikes of the 1930s will ever be repeated, Wolff suggests those strikers may be remembered for pointing the way forward, toward a more humane way to work. "It was a very profound movement forward that these auto workers did in Michigan by sitting in," he said. Whether they knew it or not, they were fighting not just for their own employment rights but for something much larger, which Wolff describes as "a displacement of the employee system by a democratization of the workplace where workers run their own businesses." Sit-down strikes, he said, were "a transitory step from the one to the other."
Nearly a century later, we're not much closer to a full "democratization of the workplace." But workers of the decentered gig economy and the work-from-home COVID economy are arriving at the same realization industrial workers had during the Depression: It's possible to change the rules, and maybe even the game.
In October, chief executives from four of the world's most powerful Big Oil companies testified before Congress about climate change — a scene that was eerily reminiscent of something that happened in the spring of 1994. Then, seven industry giants appeared before the House of Representatives — but from Big Tobacco, not Big Oil. As the business titans withered under persistent questioning from Rep. Henry Waxman, a California Democrat, Americans collectively witnessed the story as to how tobacco companies knowingly hooked their customers on an addictive and deadly product. To cap things off, many of those who appeared lied under oath about their actions, making it possible for prosecutors to later charge them with perjury. (This is no doubt why the energy industry figures prepared very carefully prior to the 2021 hearing.)
This article first appeared in Salon.
It isn't a coincidence that when Big Oil tries to wash its hands of climate change, their remonstrations comes across as strikingly similar to the time when Big Tobacco lied about the dangers of nicotine. In both hearings, viewers got to see capitalism's dark underbelly, exposed in all of its ugliness before the world: Businesses depend on profit, and therefore will lie about indisputable facts so they can continue to earn as much money as possible. To trick the public into helping them — even when, in the process, those same members of the public are only hurting themselves — this means they will lie about science.
To do so, they engage in a practice known as "manufacturing doubt." Whether it is chemical companies misleading about pollution, the sugar industry misleading about heart disease, energy companies and their climate change stories or anyone else, all of them draw from a similar cache of tactics intended to sow confusion among good faith actors, provide corrupt politicians with easy talking points and reassure those whose motivated reasoning inclines them against inconvenient scientific truths. As the authors of a 2021 study in the journal Environmental Health put it, Big Tobacco "is widely considered to have 'written the playbook' on manufactured doubt" and "has managed to maintain its clientele for many decades in part due to manufactured scientific controversy about the health effects of active and secondhand smoking."
The Big Tobacco story is at once straightforward and complex. During the heyday of Big Tobacco advertising in the 1950s and 1960s, cigarettes were associated with family friendly-fare; game shows, sitcoms and billboard advertisements associated cute animals with nicotine products.
In the mid-1960s, scientists who understood that cigarette use was linked to lung cancer and heart disease convinced Surgeon General Luther Terry to call out the products as dangerous; one year later, the Federal Cigarette Labeling and Advertising Act of 1965 mandated that warning labels be attached to cigarette boxes. As public health advocates won victory after victory in raising awareness about tobacco products, the industry grew concerned.
By the 1970s, tobacco industry executives formulated a scheme, known as "Operation Berkshire," to undermine or thwart efforts at regulation by sowing doubt in the legitimacy of medical research about tobacco products. In addition to making it more difficult for ordinary people to accurately assess the issue, this strategy also appealed to those who had an economic interest in the tobacco industry and those whose personal preferences made them pro-tobacco, anti-regulation or both as a matter of principle. Most prominent for these efforts was a front group known as the International Committee on Smoking Issues (subsequently the International Tobacco Information Centre).
By appealing to these sentiments and interests — and keeping sympathetic politicians and officials in their pocket — Big Tobacco spent decades creating a false "controversy" around an issue that had, to the scientific community, already been objectively resolved. As Australian researchers for the journal BMJ wrote in 2000, "without question, the creation and promotion of this controversy, and the adoption of strategies implementing the conspiracy resulting from Operation Berkshire, have greatly retarded tobacco control measures throughout the world."
Fortunately, a turning point occurred in the 1990s only because a congressional committee decided to hold Big Tobacco accountable in ways that others had not.
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The moment of truth took place on April 14, 1994. Waxman had shrewdly lured the seven executives to the hearing by "inviting" them and thereby making it clear that the event would occur with or without them. This provided him with an optical win-win: Either they would show up and have to answer unpleasant questions, or they would duck out and look like they had something to hide. After they showed up, Waxman and other members of the House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Health and the Environment grilled them mercilessly. No controversy was left untouched — the marketing campaigns to children, the medical details about their products' addictive nature, how cigarettes affected one's health and lifespan, whether the companies were manipulating nicotine. Instead of engaging in protracted legal battles to obtain key corporate documents, the legislators simply asked question in such a way that executives felt compelled to voluntarily agree to share them.
And, of course, there was the iconic decision by those same executives to lie under oath about whether they thought nicotine was addictive. Perjury probes soon followed; the embattled executives all left the industry within a couple years.
Perhaps even more upsetting to the industry was the ensuing litigation, which culminated in a $206 billion judgment against them — a staggering sum equivalent to 2.8% of the U.S. gross domestic product in 1994. And despite the tobacco industry's hysterical claims about the horrors that would result from tobacco regulations, none of their predictions came to pass. One in particular, by former R. J. Reynolds executive James W. Johnston, deserves special examination, as he posited that the inquiries were merely an excuse to ban tobacco products altogether.
"We hear about the addiction and the threat. If cigarettes are too dangerous to be sold, then ban them. Some smokers will obey the law, but many will not. People will be selling cigarettes out of the trunks of cars, cigarettes made by who knows who, made of who knows what."
This sense of persecution, utterly unfettered by any connection to provable reality, spoke to the deeper impulses on which Big Tobacco was preying. It started with a foregone conclusion that cigarette products could not be characterized as posing a serious public health risk; from there, facts needed to be rearranged to support the necessary assertion. This model was used not just for Big Tobacco's approach to political science, but its method for advancing pseudoscience as well.
In the aforementioned article from Environmental Health, researchers examined the strategies used not just by Big Tobacco but their successors and their various controversies: the coal industry and black lung disease, the sugar industry and both cardiovascular and metabolic diseases, the agrochemical business and chemical pollution, and the fossil fuel industry and climate change. They found that all of the industries would use tactics like gaining support from reputable individuals, misrepresenting data, attacking study designs, using hyperbolic and absolutist language and (of course) trying to influence lawmaking. Other popular tactics included manufacturing misleading literature, suppressing incriminating information, host bad faith conferences and seminars, pretend to be defenders of health, abusing credentials and taking advantage of scientific illiteracy.
The Big Tobacco tactics have only grown easier to implement in recent years, rather than more difficult. As the researchers pointed out, "the digital age has provided additional opportunities to spread misinformation. Doubt manufacturers have taken advantage of new media platforms, such as blogs and social media, to unite journalists, industry representatives and 'citizen scientists' with the aim of recruiting these individuals to perpetuate manipulated information."
Even the cigarette industry is copying from itself. E-cigarette companies have incurred controversy for using advertising strategies eerily similar to those that were banned when employed by Big Tobacco. North Carolina's attorney general announced last month that he is investigating Puff Bars and others in the distribution chain to make sure they are not targeting children. When defending themselves against that accusation, the pro-vaping community will often tangentially make similar claims that vaping is somehow healthy (or at least healthier than smoking), and sows doubt on existing science in ways that are eerily reminiscent.
Former president Donald Trump reportedly crashed another wedding on Saturday, but instead of using his speech to congratulate the couple, he ranted about Gen. Mark Milley and the 2020 election.
"I know Trump claims he doesn’t drink, but he sounded even more like a drunk uncle at a wedding tonight than usual," attorney Ron Filipkowski wrote on Twitter, above video of Trump's remarks.
In the video, Trump appears to be recounting an alleged conversation he had with Milley, the Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman, about withdrawing U.S. troops from Afghanistan.
Referring to "$70 million planes," Trump claims he told Milley, "You mean you think it's cheaper to leave it there so they can have it than it is to fill it up with a half a tank of gas and fly it into Pakistan or fly it back to our country?"
Mocking Milley's voice, Trump says the general responded, "Yes sir, I think it's cheaper, sir. "
"That's when I realized he was a f*cking idiot," Trump tells the audience, to laughter and applause.
In another clip, Trump falsely claims the 2020 election was "all rigged."
"The mail-in ballots, it was just horrible," he tells the wedding party, before referring to the Capitol insurrection as a "protest."
"The insurrection took place on Election Day, and the rest was a protest, and what they should be investigating is the election, not what took place that day, because the reason they had the protest was because of the election," Trump says. "It's very simple."
It's not the first time Trump has used the occasion of someone else's wedding to push his "big lie."
"One wedding-related fear many people have is the prospect of a drunk guest grabbing the mic and, through slurred words, asking everyone to take their seats so they can just 'say a couple of words,' tripping over the bandleader’s foot in the process and yelling, 'Hey, man, watch where you’re going!' before launching into a rambling, incoherent speech about how they and the bride were supposed to be together before the groom came along and stole her," Vanity Fair reported in March. "Presumably fewer, if any, have ever worried about a former president of the United States wandering into their reception and giving a toast that involves ranting about how the election was stolen from him, in addition to some incomprehensible thoughts on the situation at the border and how he could have made a beautiful deal with the Iranian government the likes of which the world had never seen. Until now!"
Watch the clips from Saturday's wedding, as well as from the one in March, below.
I know Trump claims he doesn\u2019t drink, but he sounded even more like a drunk uncle at a wedding tonight than usual. Here, he calls General Milley a \u201cf*cking idiot.\u201dpic.twitter.com/YxUfY3suXm— Ron Filipkowski (@Ron Filipkowski) 1638672534
And here is sad sack loser drunk Uncle Trump again tonight whining and crying about how unfair the world has been to him. What a snowflake loser!pic.twitter.com/nGgABSw9DY— Ron Filipkowski (@Ron Filipkowski) 1638673126