Saturday, May 1, 2010

Lefty's Caption Contest #9

Saturday is our day for Caption Contests on Lefty's Last Cry. Given the recent Arizona immigration policy change, I figured we could have some fun with this one. If you have an idea for a funny caption respond in the comments section for the photo above. At the end of the weekend we'll pick the best one and post it on our Comedy page! While you're at it, check out our old Caption Contest winners here.

Thanks to for the image.

Purpose Pitch

If you've been reading the comments on Sarah's great post earlier this week, you probably already know my stance on the Arizona immigration law (in brief, it sucks). What you may not know if you've never met me is that I'm a big baseball fan, and whenever baseball and politics collide I get really excited.

So you can probably understand that when I saw this gem, I had a little nerd freak-out. In case you don't feel like reading the link, it was reported yesterday that the Major League Baseball Players Association (one of the most powerful unions in sports) has officially condemned the law, with the union's executive director Michael Weiner (pictured) issuing a statement.

I was thrilled to see this, but not really all that surprised. First of all, for the baseball novice, there is a team based in Phoenix -- the Arizona Diamondbacks, who won the 2001 World Series on a base hit by the franchise's best and most popular position player, Luis Gonzalez...a Cuban-American. That leads into the main reason I'm not surprised by this move. Over a quarter of the players in the majors this year are, in one way or another, of Latino descent. That number is even higher in the minor leagues, and many of the game's biggest stars are Latino. Albert Pujols, Johan Santana, Manny Ramirez, and other players you have actually heard of all could conceivably be stopped by police when they come to play the Diamondbacks. Additionally, many teams hold their spring training in Arizona (meaning half the league spends a month and a half each year in Arizona), so the union pretty much had to act.

The team's managing general partner Ken Kendrick made a concurrent statement that was less strongly worded, but called on the federal government to fix this issue, acknowledging the fact that this law is going to affect his players and others. (By the way, the team's owners are evidently big-time Republican contributors. This discovery really upset me, because I've rooted for them since they beat the Yankees in 2001, and my brother's a fan.) If there's alignment between the players and the owners on this, it's highly possible that MLB Commissioner Bud Selig could be forced into making an official statement.

If Major League Baseball wants to make a really strong statement, there are already some pushing for an extreme move. The 2011 All-Star Game is scheduled to be played in the Diamondbacks' home park in Phoenix, and there's a movement afoot to have the game moved from Arizona in protest of the immigration law. As a leftist baseball fan, this would probably be the best possible outcome for me, as it would put politics and baseball together in a way they haven't been combined since the Senate steroid hearings.

I'm not sure whether a threat to move the All-Star Game would actually have an effect on the political end, though -- it's a moneymaker for the state, but it would set a bad political precedent to bend to the will of a sports league, especially considering the fact that MLB isn't nearly as strong as the NFL. If this actually happens, it would basically make Roger Goodell the unofficial King of the United States. But I am glad to see the MLBPA take the action it's taken, and I'm hoping that there will be more major public resistance to this law. This is what will help change the law; if people and groups across the country stand up and tell Arizona to quit doing its 1980s South Africa impression. They may not listen to Bud Selig alone, but they may listen to all of us together.

And I hope you'll all join me in cheering on my Mets when they play in Arizona from July 19-21. Here's hoping our starting shortstop, center fielder and catcher, our best starting pitcher, our worst starting pitcher, our closer, and our general manager don't all get arrested.

(Photo courtesy of the Associated Press)

Friday, April 30, 2010

Spill, Baby, Spill!

It's not often that I am genuinely dissapointed by President Obama. I know many progressives are upset that change is coming fast enough, but I appreciate what he's done in the last 15 months; health care passed, the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act passed, Matthew Shepard Act passed, etc.

However, the new plan to open up the east coast and Arctic coast for oil drilling has truly been a disappointment.

Everyone was been reminded this week of how destructive our behavior is when an oil rig exploded of the coast of Louisiana and tragically killed 11 workers. But that was just the beginning of the disaster. The sinking oil rig broke its well, releasing thousands of gallons or crude oil into the Gulf of Mexico.

Today the Coast Guard reported that the well is leaking up to 5 times faster than previously thought and crude oil has begun to wash ashore onto the Mississippi Delta. All this just a few weeks after Obama declared that large swaths of the Southeast and Alaskan coasts should be open to drilling.

President Obama is putting a band-aid on the problem and not solving it. First off, opening up new wells may drive down prices temporarily, but big oil (yes, I'll be cliche) will be back for its profits and not long after drilling begins prices will soon go back up.

Secondly, by driving down energy prices it will make alternative energy less competitive with oil. President Obama said recently, "...We're going to need to harness traditional sources of fuel even as we ramp up production of new sources of renewable, homegrown energy." However, allowing drilling is going to simply feed our addiction and compete with new sources.

Ever hear a smoker say they will quit "as soon as they want to?" That usually means they aren't going quit any time soon. Finally, we are gambling with our irreplaceable ecosystems from Alaska to Florida. We are about to witness what could be one of the biggest oil spills in history, and this time it's in one of the worlds most unique ecosystems, the Mississippi Delta.

Instead of increasing the risk of another oil spill we should be aggressively pursuing alternative energy sources. The recent approval of the Cape Wind project in Massachusetts was a step in the right direction, but more should be done. This impending ecological disaster should be a lesson to the administration, we need leadership from the top to get us out of our dependence on oil. As of now the Obama administration is taking one step forward, one step back.

BREAKING NEWS: President Obama places a hold on new offshore drilling projects pending proper safeguards.

Obama's SWAT Team

On Wednesday the 28th, President Obama visited Quincy, Illinois. A group of patriotic, harmless Americans showed up to protest the egregious, communist policies being shoved down America's throat by the President. Out of a combination of cowardice and hatred of freedom, the out-of-control president sent a SWAT team to put down the protest.

...or, at least, so goes the story according to the Republican noise machine. Michelle Malkin's blog Hot Air covered the story with the headline "Video: SWAT team outside Obama event beats back geriatric tea-party hordes." There is only one problem with this narrative: it is complete garbage.

The reality is that President Obama's motorcade was about to drive down the street on which the protesters were standing. Local police were sent in to clear the street. Yes, the policemen were wearing riot gear. Yes, that was overkill. No, that does not make them a SWAT team. Terminology aside, the police were there about 15 minutes, and never approached the crowd except to ask them to get off the street and onto the sidewalk.

So let's get this straight. The President of the United States is driving down a street. Protesters on the street are asked to move to the sidewalk, and suddenly we are living in Communist Russia? No, the protesters don't look particularly dangerous, but I don't think I need to remind you that members of the Tea Party have in fact advocated violence. Clearing a road for a president is a reasonable safety precaution regardless of circumstance. Yet, if we are to believe the right-wing blogs, this is a major incident.

And people talk about the death of American political discourse...

(Credit to for the video, for the quote, and Steve Benen at for the inspiration)

EDIT: The Hot Air post actually admits at the beginning of the article that the unit isn't a SWAT team. However, the headline remains unchanged. Anyone familiar with the way people consume news can guess how much of an effect that will have on readers.

The Hunger Strike Ends, The Fight Goes On

First, thanks to all our friends and badass progressives who showed up the week of the hunger strike, whether you were just sitting on the quad or fasting with us- you are all awesome.

Going into the hunger strike, we did not expect Notre Dame’s investment office to suddenly have a change of heart and publicly admit that they are invested in a company that consistently breaks multiple tenants of Catholic Social Teaching (and possibly the law…) And, no surprise, ND made only one public statement to the Observer, affirming once again that they believe HEI to be an “outstanding” company.

However, the hunger strike was, in many ways, a victory. Not only did it publicize our campaign, make Notre Dame’s investment a bigger issue on campus and ruffled some feathers in the investment office, but it also moved campaigns on other college campuses and inspired workers in HEI hotels across the country to keep fighting.

While we were fasting, we had three different skype calls with works at three different hotels. In each one, we heard stories of injustice and poor working conditions. It was these incredibly courageous workers that fight for their rights daily despite the fear of losing their jobs, who reminded us why we were fasting to begin with.

We have been in dialogue with the investment office through e-mail this week, and we are continuing to pressure them to release the factual information as to why HEI is considered “outstanding.” They have yet to point to any concrete evidence that disputes the concrete evidence we have given them.

If they show us something that proves that the 30-40 workers across the country that we have personally spoken to (and the many others involved in the fight) are lying or in some way mistaken, we will change our minds. The workers of HEI as well as student campaigns are also being supported by clergy, politicians, lawyers, professors, and other community supporters. Until this discrepancy of information is resolved (which we believe is impossible), we will continue to support the workers in their fight for justice.

Check out this Lefty's Last Cry exclusive video from the conclusion of the Hunger Strike:

Get hyped for more actions, more feistiness, more pressure and more love for workers.
PS: if you have yet to do so, SIGN OUR PETITION! =)

UPDATE: U. Penn just sent a letter to HEI questioning their labor practices. Notre Dame has now put itself in opposition of 3 major schools (Penn, Brown and Yale) who have all made public statements against the mistreatment of workers in HEI hotels by continuing to not only support HEI but make public statements that they are "oustanding."

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Lefty's Exclusive Interview: Professor Dan Graff

Dan Graff
Daniel Graff is a professor of history at the University of Notre Dame. He is the Director of Undergraduate Studies in the Department of History and the Associate Director of the Higgins Labor Studies Program. Dan specializes in general US labor history, 19th century US history, and race and gender in the US.

We would like to thank Professor Graff for his time and wisdom. The following interview has been condensed and edited for your reading pleasure.

Henry Vasquez: Professor Graff, we have talked extensively in your course about the frameworks used to discuss the labor question. What are some of the obvious assumptions we tend to make when discussing the labor question that are problematic?

Dan Graff: There are two assumptions that are widespread and problematic. First, is that the rights employers enjoy/assume are both natural and inevitable. A great example is the phrasing "giving someone a job." Second, is the mentality that unions were only necessary before. I hear many people, including liberals, saying [more or less] "people are more enlightened. Government does the job unions once filled." This is a linear view of unions as a product of a bygone era.

Henry Vasquez: Opponents of unions often use the zero-sum model to argue that unions take wages and/or jobs away from other workers. How do you unions contribute to a net higher standard of living for everyone?

Dan Graff: Within the zero-sum model, it is more likely that unions are taking wealth from management and capital and not from other workers. In general, a system by which workers can claim a greater portion of the surplus wealth is more desirable. It is about giving people ownership over their work. It isn't only about wages. Unions are important in building space for social movements and civic engagement.

Henry Vasquez: Broadly, what are the prospects for the US labor movement in the next 20 years?

Dan Graff: Honestly, I can't see the rate of private sector unionism going any lower. It is already extremely low. I am concerned about the continuing inability of the union movement to mobilize for itself when it has so effectively mobilized for others, namely–the Democratic Party. On the positive side, your generation (Generation Y) seems significantly more interested in unionism than my generation.

Henry Vasquez: Noam Chomsky and others have pointed out that in a pure market society, labor must be allowed to move like capital, goods, and the means of production. How is this current incongruence problematic? How can it be resolved?

Dan Graff: The point Chomsky and others are making is intended to show the hypocrisy of the "free market" mentality. Clearly, most liberals don't actually want this outcome. Instead of making labor more mobile, why not use regulation to make capital a little less mobile? Completely fluid movement of labor, beyond the difficulties presented by nationalism and security, means that people will have a lesser sense of place and commitment to where they reside.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Language Defines Meaning: The Labor Question

Reposted from Henry James Vasquez: Experimental Word Science

I'd like to break from my normal style and dig deep into a discussion about words and meaning. I believe the topic to be, however timeless and theoretical, relevant to our discussions of workers' rights and social justice. I hope you enjoy it.

I am currently taking a labor history course with my fellow editor Brendan McPhillips taught by professor Dan Graff. The class focuses on the history of labor in the United States since the New Deal. We often discuss "The Labor Question," which explores the employment relationship in different contexts. Yesterday, the question was posed by a classmate of mine: "Is the relationship between labor and management naturally adversarial?"

Given my obsession with words, I thought that it might be interesting to dig deeper into our understanding of the words labor and employee and how they might affect our answers.

To start, here are some of the most common definitions of labor in the noun form from Merriam-Webster:
  1. expenditure of physical or mental effort especially when difficult or compulsory
  2. the physical activities involved in giving birth
  3. an economic group comprising those who do manual labor or work for wages
These are all very familiar uses of the word, but which came first?

An aside–There are a number of ways to find etymologies. Recently, I've been addicted to the website for my daily dose of language entertainment. It tends to make etymology fun and not too serious. If you share this interest, I highly recommend frequent visits. For a more serious experience, I recommend this site instead.

The use of the word labor in English is believed to originate around 1300 CE. This original use meant "physical exertion of the body" (definition #1). Much later, labor began to also be associated with child-birthing (definition #2). It wasn't until modern economics that we saw labor being classified as one of the key elements of economic activity (definition #3). The following shows the different uses of "labor" with their approximate original years.

#1: To mean "physical work"1300 CE
#2: To mean "childbirth"1595 CE
#3: To mean "working class"1839 CE

The evolution of these uses affects the way in which we define the word. When we talk about the employment relationship, the meanings of the words labor and employee are critically important. Where some might speak of workers or laborers with a proud sense of accomplishment and dignity (definition #1), others might use it in a more theoretical manner (definition #3) to convey a specific power dynamic.

If you don't believe language is all that important, consider how language affects our understanding through the word employee.

Why College Democrats Won Club Of The Year

Why did College Democrats win 2010 Club of the Year?

The short answer: you.

I'd like to thank Chris Rhodenbaugh for the celebratory post after this story broke. Once we found out about winning Notre Dame Club of the Year, I was curious how the big news would be covered by the campus media. Sure enough, The Observer nabbed our story from the docket and released the news in today's paper. This is the article, directly from the Observer website. I italicized the quotes for you all. Thanks again to everyone who nominated our club. You made the difference!

College Democrats named top club
by Kristen Durbin

When the leaders of Notre Dame’s 334 student clubs were notified about the nomination process for the Club of the Year award, the officers of the College Democrats of Notre Dame knew they had a legitimate chance at receiving the honor.

“We listed all our accomplishments throughout the year, and we knew we would be competitive for the award given the consistency of club events and the number of students getting involved,” junior Chris Rhodenbaugh, co-president of College Democrats for 2009-10, said.

Rhodenbaugh attributed the club’s recognition to the consistency of club activity, including the weekly efforts of students working on health care reform, energy issues and various foreign policy matters.
Senior Henry Vasquez, co-president of College Democrats, said the club’s success has been a result of its strong ties to students and other campus organizations.

“The success of the club is inextricably tied to the vision of the College Democrats — to become a nexus for the progressive community at Notre Dame,” Vasquez said. “I imagine that we benefited from the nomination process because of our strong relationships with so many students and organizations who were able to express their support for our club.”

The club, which regularly attracts 25 to 40 members at weekly meetings, has achieved several substantial goals throughout the year, including helping secure 2nd district Rep. Joe Donnelly’s and Sen. Evan Bayh’s, both Indiana democrats, votes for the national health care reform bill.

“We made over 6,000 calls for health care reform this year,” Rhodenbaugh said. “We also wrote a letter to Congressman Donnelly and issued a press release explaining our commitment to working for candidates who vote for health care reform.”

Rhodenbaugh also said the press release emphasized that the club holds its leaders accountable for their actions and has expectations for the leaders it worked hard to elect in 2008. In addition, Rhodenbaugh said winning the award outside of an election year and on a limited budget speaks to the dedication of the club’s members.

“It’s a real honor to win this award because it shows the commitment of our members to changing American politics and accomplishing the goals of the president we worked so hard to elect,” Rhodenbaugh said. “Political activism is an essential part of being an American citizen, and I’m proud that so many students were involved in the political process.

The high level of commitment of members of College Democrats has allowed the club to operate over 20 phone banks in cooperation with Organizing for America, co-sponsor a city-wide health care rally, maintain consistent weekly club programming and work extensively on issues such as clean energy, GLBT rights, foreign policy and labor, Rhodenbaugh said.

We see ourselves as a club that works hard for candidates and issues that has made a legitimate impact in South Bend and our country,” Rhodenbaugh said. “We also serve the purpose of getting students involved and developing the future leaders of our country, regardless of whether or not students end up in politics.

Vasquez echoed Rhodenbaugh’s thoughts on the club’s role in the local and national political realms and the dedication of its members.

Our members are an enthusiastic and cohesive family and they don’t stop being College Democrats when the meeting is over,” Vasquez said. “We are especially proud of our relationship with the South Bend community and the entire state of Indiana.”

Rhodenbaugh also cited a commitment to social justice as the motivation for the club’s goals of reforming the political system. He said he believes that the club’s high level of activism has helped change perceptions of Notre Dame students as predominantly Republican while adhering to the principles of Catholic Social Teaching.

Much of our activism has been rooted in a holistic interpretation of Catholic Social Teachings,” Rhodenbaugh said. “We have worked hard to open minds and challenge traditional views about religion and politics on this campus, and we have had a lot of success.”

Monday, April 26, 2010

What Happened to My America?

In the past, I've always been proud to call myself an American. I lived in a country based on civil liberties and overall freedom. Despite all of the political struggles that have occured in my life, at the end of the day, I was still proud. Well, after this past weekend, I'm not sure I can say that. I was shocked to hear of recent immigration legislation that was passed in the state of Arizona. On April 23rd, Governor Jan Brewer (R) signed a bill (SB 1070) that demands that all citizens have proper identification paperwork from anyone as long as there is "reasonable suspicion" that the person in question is an illegal immigrant. In addition, all citizens have the right to sue their local government if they personally believe that the immigrations laws are not being enforced.

It's almost not worth discussing how unreasonable and, frankly, horrific this legislation is. People from across the country have been outraged with the governor's decision and words like "Nazism" and "facism" are being painted all over the situation. To be honest, I'm right there with them. This legislation is a nightmare for all of those working against racism in states along the Mexican border. Even President Obama has spoken out against Governor Brewer's decision:

"[The government's] failure to act responsibly at the federal level will only open the door to irresponsibility by others, that includes, for example, the recent efforts in Arizona, which threaten to undermine basic notions of fairness that we cherish as Americans, as well as the trust between police and their communities that is so crucial to keeping us safe. (from POLITICO)"
My problem with this bill is two-fold. Firstly, it is going to make racial profiling not only easy but legal. The governor of Arizona has assured her opposition that this won't happen. She's even gone so far as to imply that people concerned with racial profiling don't have faith in their law enforcement. I'm sorry, Gov. Brewer, but what else would law officials be basing their "suspicions" on if not appearance? It absolutely baffles me that she believes that this won't be an issue of racism.

My second point may be a bit of a stretch for some of you, but I beg you to consider it fully. I've devoted a lot of my life to organizations that work to understand genocide and try and prevent its reoccurence. The most common question we ask ourselves is "how did we let this happen?" Why didn't anyone ask questions when the Nazis were exterminating millions of people during WWII? How could we let the same thing happen to the Rwandan people in 1994? How are crimes against humanity still being committed even as I write this post? We have to stop ignoring the warning signs.

I don't want to blow this legislation out of proportion but I really do want to emphasize the seriousness of the situation. In Nazi Germany, Jewish people were required to have identity papers with them at all times. In pre-genocide Rwanda, every person had their ethnicity listed on their identification cards. I realize that this is a small piece of legislation but it's also one that is very terrifying to see passed. I do not mean to imply that we are on our way towards some sort of American genocide against the Hispanic community. I simply mean to emphasize that while immigration reform is necessary, this is a step in the wrong direction.

(Photo courtesy of Yahoo News)

It Takes One To Know One

I think I may have been the last one to hear about this, but evidently employees of the Securities and Exchange Commission really, really like porn. Like, so much that they can't even wait to go home to look at it. During the lead-up to the financial crash of 2008, people at the SEC were finding ways around the filters the U.S. government puts on its computers to view pornographic material while on the job, with one spending up to eight hours a day doing so. The lengths to which these people went to do this are kind of astounding.
In one case, the report noted, an employee tried hundreds of times to access pornographic sites and was denied access. When he used a flash drive, he successfully bypassed the filter to visit a "significant number" of porn sites. The employee also said he deliberately disabled a filter in Google to access inappropriate sites. (from ABC News)
But anyway, as weird as that is, I'm actually not here to write too much about the actual offenses. My issue is more the reaction so far. To this point, most of the people who have vocalized opinions on the subject have been Republicans (aside from some of our awesome commenters). This annoys me. That's partially because I'm easily annoyed, but also for a couple of more legitimate reasons.

First of all, I'm not even sure why a person would bother to condemn this stuff. Government employees getting their jollies at work is so obviously wrong that it's just boring to talk about it. That's why I'm not doing it -- I would probably fall asleep. It's like making fun of the Oakland Raiders, only less fun because you can't link to pictures (and you don't have any of these guys involved. See how much fun that picture was? My point exactly). But more importantly, I have a message for the Republicans.

Really? REALLY?

You guys are less than a month past a scandal involving the expenditure of official RNC money at a damn bondage club. You really think that you're currently in a position to be doling out shame for violations of moral mettle? I mean, even before this I thought it was absurd that a party who inspired things like the blog post "Rating the Greatest GOP Sex Scandals of the Past 20 Years" ever tried to criticize anyone for anything like this, but to do it so soon after a major scandal is just about as close to a textbook definition of "hypocrisy" as you can get.

I just don't understand how these individuals expect to be taken seriously when they're taking shots at an easy target after their own committee just got through a sex scandal of its own. I don't see the point. I don't see why they don't just shut up.