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BBC’s top 100 century list

[ 257 ] August 25, 2016 |

The BBC list has been making the rounds; seems like it deserves a thread.

I think I share two of my top three with the list; In The Mood For Love remains a clear #1 for me (indeed, I’d have to go back to at least the 70’s to think of a film that would challenge it for me), and while I need to rewatch it I’m prepared to keep Mulholland Drive at #3. I’m pleasantly surprised to see Spike Lee’s 25th hour as high as it is; I hadn’t realized critical consensus was finally catching up to where it should be.

More fun that debating what’s too high or too low is most egregious inclusions and exclusions. Here’s mine:

Most egregious exclusions, of the top of my head:

1. Bad Education. #2 so far for me; my favorite Almodovar by far. (Talk to Her is just about right around #30). How many directors have rattled off four films in a row as strong as All About My Mother–Talk To Her–Bad Education–Volver?

2. The films of Hirakazu Kore-eda. Still Walking is probably in my top 10; Our Little Sister isn’t far behind. There are lots of films and directors who’ve been influenced by Ozu and for the better, but with these two films I’m tempted to believe in reincarnation–the man directing these films just has to be Ozu. The effortlessness with which these films, like Ozu’s best work, produce powerful emotional moments from a series of moments from ordinary life is just remarkable. As with Ozu I find it difficult to convey exactly why these films work so well for me. After Life and Nobody Knows are a step below those two, and more Ozu-influenced than Ozu-embodying, but probably both make the backend of my list as well. The conceit of After Life (basically, when you die you get to pick out one day from your life, which you’ll experience over and over again forever. There are council

3. Assayas is represented, properly, with Carlos at 100, and while his very best work is from the 1990’s, at a minimum Summer Hours belongs on this list as well. Structurally similar to Still Walking, and while I prefer the Kore-eda the performances Assayas gets out of Binoche, Berling and Renier are among their best work, and the layering of the family conflict is near-perfectly done. Clouds of Sils Maria is on my must see soon list; Lemieux and Loomis will tell you it belongs on the list. And I don’t know that Clean would make my top 100, but it’s an excellent treatment of addiction, and gets great work from Nolte and Cheung.

4. No Zhang Yimou? Have Hero and House of Flying Daggers seen a decline in their critical reputation? I like them both at least as much as Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon. I haven’t seen them since the theatrical releases, but on the strength of my reactions to them at the time I’d say they belong at least on the back-end, especially Hero.

5. On the Pixar front, Up is much better than Ratatouille (which I liked a fair bit) or Finding Nemo (which was just OK).

6. On the non-Pixar animated front, I think a decent case could be made for The Iron Giant
. EDIT: No, a case can’t be mounted, becuase no matter how good The Iron Giant is, it came out in 1999.

Most egregious inclusions:

Spring Breakers. Critics seem to be under some sort of bizarre spell regarding Korine. I’ll actually defend Kids, but Korine hasn’t really had any new or good ideas since as far as I can tell, and has only become more pretentious. I almost walked out of Spring Breakers and by the end I regretted not having done so.

I find Moulin Rouge! to be completely and totally unwatchable. I started it three times, never made it more than 30 minutes in. I just don’t understand.

On the Linklater front, I can’t quite call Boyhood an egregious inclusion. It was a legitimately interesting and not unsuccessful experiment. I doubt it would make my top 100 but including it on the back-end of such a list wouldn’t be entirely unreasonable, and I’m amenable to bonus points for technical difficulty. But #5? Come on. And Before Sunset is just awful. Ethan Hawke might be a decent actor for all I know, all I can think about when I see him is how much I loathe everything about the Before movies.

Korine has a pretty staggering pretension to achievement ratio, but von Trier tops him for Dogville. A dumb, silly, dull film.

And while I feel like a bit of a philistine for saying it, what’s the deal with the love for Apichatpong Weerasethakul? I don’t hate his films–they’re pretty to watch and he’s clearly got some talent as a director, but I find myself checking the time pretty frequently when watching his films. None of them are bad, just kind of boring.

[SL]…It is just amazing to me that Dogville‘s reputation survives in 2016. Even at the time the defenses of it could basically be boiled down to “George W. Bush sucks.”

[djw]…three more egregious exclusions worthy of an update:

1. Donnie Darko. Either you agree of you don’t, so no point making the case.

2. Turtles Can Fly. Follows a group of war orphans who scavenge for undetonated mines in a Kurdish refugee camp on the eve of the 2003 Iraq war, working with non-professional Kurdish kids as actors. Hilarous moments (especially a scene where the leader/boss of the kids offers his translation services for George W. Bush speeches, but tells the village elders what he thinks they want to here), but the plot twist/reveal that’s as emotionally devastating as anything from any of these films.

3. Blind Shaft. A film about murderous grifters who work in illegal mines in Northern China. They pick up itinerant workers, convinvce them they can get them a job if they claim to be a relation of some sort, and once they get him in the mines they kill him, make it look like an accident, and extort the owners/managers of the mine. Scathing, haunting indictment of Chinese capitalism, and the place of excess labor in the social order.

[EL] A few thoughts here. First, some of the films are ridiculously high. The Tree of Life? Really? Another 45 minutes of random dinosaur images in between this sort of story about growing up in the 50s would totally make it #1. I do get that in an era where TV has replaced film as the visual media of prestige that someone trying new things gets a major pass, but Tree of Life is just not very good. Albeit it’s a hell of a lot better than To The Wonder, which is an atrocious film. Also, Inside Llewyn Davis at #11? I grant that the cat was cute. But A Serious Man is far, far better. I’m far from sold on Synecdoche, New York at 20. The Master was a complete mess and does not belong at 24. The Social Network? Stop.

Also, Lars Von Trier is a terrible director who has made a career on exploiting women on screen.

That said, I was highly pleased that films seemingly forgotten like Fish Tank; Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter, and Spring; The Return, and The Gleaners and I made the list. The Return especially is one few have seen but is truly outstanding.

What is missing? The Hateful Eight for starters. After all, he only wanted a blanket. Dirty Pretty Things, which is flawless and wonderful. There’s no Ken Loach and Sweet Sixteen is well worth inclusion. In the Mood for Love is well worth its position at 2 but 2046 is nearly as good and surely should be in the top 100. Arnaud Desplechin is missing entirely. Kings and Queen is outstanding. So is A Christmas Tale. The entire Romanian New Wave is missing. That’s ridiculous. 4 Months, 3 Weeks, and 2 Days should be there. (So it is there there. The Romanian New Wave still should have more than 1 film) 12:08 East of Bucharest too. Another great and obvious inclusion should be Carlos Reygadas’ Silent Light. Where are the films of Johnnie To? Exiled at the very least should be included. I know everyone loved Sarah Polley’s Stories We Tell and I liked it too. But I thought Take This Waltz was really great and has one of my five favorite scenes of all time. Rithy Panh’s The Missing Picture is incredibly powerful. And Olivier Assayas’ Clouds of Sils Maria, definitely.

But it’s good enough to argue about, which is really the point. Even though I simply refuse to accept Boyhood at #5. And unlike everyone else on this blog, I really like the Before Sunrise/Sunset films But c’mon.

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Genteel Union-Busting in the Ivies

[ 50 ] August 25, 2016 |

Like many of you, I was overjoyed to hear that the NLRB had ruled that graduate students in private universities once again have the right to form a union. This case was especially meaningful to me, because I was an undergraduate when Columbia University graduate students last tried to organize and ran headlong into the 2004 Brown decision.

As a result of this experience, I’m entirely unsurprised that Columbia’s response to the ruling is to threaten an appeal and put up a union-busting website. Thanks to the training that I acquired at Columbia, I can tell you that Columbia is a historically union-busting institution: President Seth Low personally approved the use of Columbia students to help bust a national machinist worker’s strike in 1901, and the tradition continued with Columbia students acting as strike-breakers in a 1905 transit strike, a 1920 railroad strike, and a building trades strike in 1936, until the rise of student leftism finally made collegiate scabbing uncouth.

And again, I was there when the GSEU held a “Free the Ballot Box” protest on the steps of Low Library to protest management having locked up the ballot boxes in the NLRB election that had been held shortly before the Brown decision, which election had come only after four years of management stalling and failed appeals that dragged on for years after the NLRB had made its ruling in 2000 granting the right to organize.

Well, as an alumni, an eight-year veteran as a unionized graduate student and union activist, and currently unionized adjunct, I thought I’d check out the website, and see what union-busting looks like up in Morningside Heights.

Read more…

A hero for our time

[ 37 ] August 25, 2016 |

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Tales from the New Gilded Age, Part Infinity:

America is the only developed nation that lets drugmakers set their own prices on life-saving medications. One of the great things about this liberty-maximizing approach is that it gives pharmaceutical entrepreneurs the incentive to innovate.

And few entrepreneurs have done more to disrupt the provision of life-saving drugs than Mylan CEO Heather Bresch. In 2007, Bresch added EpiPen to Mylan’s portfolio. At that time, the emergency epinephrine-injector pens sold at an average wholesale price of $57.

Now, EpiPens aren’t a new, sexy drug. They’ve been around for more than four decades. And, traditionally, drugmakers have been reluctant to drastically raise the price of the penlike devices because so many American children rely on EpiPens to protect against fatal allergic reactions.

But where less daring executives saw an obstacle, Bresch saw an opportunity: If some people rely on EpiPens just to survive, surely they’d be willing to pay more to access them. After all, isn’t $57 a disgustingly low price to put on the value of a human life? . . .

Over the course of nine years, Bresch gradually brought the price of EpiPens in line with their true worth. To do that, she thought outside the box and made sure to use every tool at her disposal — including her familial connections on Capitol Hill. In 2012 and 2013, Mylan spent $4 million lobbying Congress to pass the 2013 School Access to Emergency Epinephrine Act, which encouraged schools across the country to stock up on her product. The act was passed by the House and Senate (where Bresch’s father, Joe Manchin, works) and was signed into law by President Obama.

In total, Bresch raised the price of EpiPens by over 400 percent, to an average wholesale value of $317.82. That helped Mylan triple its stock price, from $13.29 in 2007 to $47.59 in 2016.

But that’s not all: Bresch also found time to disrupt her company’s tax burden by officially “relocating” it to the low-tax Netherlands, even as the company maintains most of its offices in Pittsburgh.

By itself, that record would make Bresch a great entrepreneur. But what makes her a true hero is what she chose to do with her company’s increased profitability. You see, for Bresch, making it easier for poor kids to die from allergy attacks is about something a lot bigger than herself. That’s why she chose to take a huge bite out of America’s gender pay gap by increasing her own salary from $2,453,456 in 2007 to $18,931,068 in 2016 — an increase of 671 percent!

Still, as impressive as Bresch’s accomplishments are, it’s important to remember that they’re only possible because of the system we all created together. And if that doesn’t make you proud to be American, then maybe you should “relocate” to the Netherlands, too!

Texting while driving

[ 155 ] August 25, 2016 |

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I see people texting while driving constantly. A couple of months ago I was a passenger in a car that got rear-ended by a driver who was in the midst of posting an update to her Facebook page.

Three years ago, AT&T approached Werner Herzog about making a few short public service messages about texting and driving. The great director delved into the topic and decided that crafting an effective message required a documentary film:

“Originally I was supposed to do four spots, 30 seconds long, but I immediately said these deep emotions, this inner landscape can only be shown if you have more time. You have to know the persons. You have to allow silences, for example, deep silences of great suffering.”

The result is a powerful and harrowing film that’s difficult to watch, but which really ought to be seen by anyone who drives and texts, even if they have never done so at the same time.

Banning “Burkinis” is a Disgrace

[ 264 ] August 25, 2016 |

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Katha Pollitt is excellent on why coercively policing the appearance of women in the name of secularism is not better than doing so in the name of religion:

But how do bans on Islamic dress—the head scarf, the niqab, and now the burkini—free women? That would be true only if wearing them were enforced by Muslim communities regardless of women’s own preferences. This is the case in Saudi Arabia and Iran, where covering is the law, and in parts of many Muslim-majority countries by social custom. When France instituted its ban on head scarves in public schools in 2004, it was justified as necessary in part to protect schoolgirls from male relatives keen to control them. (Those views now seem overblown.) The same theory explains why the ban on wearing the niqab (the two-part full-face veil) in public calls for a €150 fine for the woman, but a whopping €30,000 fine and a year in jail for any person who forces a woman to wear it. (No one has yet been convicted.) As Ed Vulliamy points out in The Guardian, though, the penalty for wearing a burkini (€38 in Cannes) falls on the woman alone. Are those women subjugating themselves? “It is my choice to try and cover whilst poolside so I can feel comfortable and make the most out of my love for swimming, and my faith,” writes Shereen Malherbe on Muslimah Media Watch.

The apparent fact that some Muslim women want to wear burkinis doesn’t mean that the garment isn’t sexist. Sexism would never have become the powerful social force it is if women didn’t buy into it too. That’s why it’s easy to find women who think that a woman who won’t wear a burqa—or a knee-length skirt—is asking to be raped. Still, it’s hard to see pathbreaking Muslim Olympic athletes like the hijab-wearing American fencer Ibtihaj Muhammad or Egyptian volleyball player Doaa Elghobashy as lacking agency. Even if you think Islamic garb—or Orthodox wigs, or fundamentalist-Mormon prairie dresses—is a fashion prison, it doesn’t follow that banning it is the path to liberation.

In fact, it does the opposite: It fetishizes Islamic covering as a communal identity marker and turns it into a way of poking the majority culture in the eye. It also further marginalizes Muslim women. Not men, who dress as they please with no awkward questions about whether they truly want to sport that beard or crocheted skullcap. In France, street attacks on women in Muslim dress have increased since the niqab ban. A Muslim woman in a head scarf can’t work in a government job. According to a recent legal ruling, she can even be denied a job in a day-care center lest she give toddlers the wrong idea about a woman’s place. Prime Minister Valls even wants to ban the head scarf from universities. This isn’t feminism; it’s cultural panic.

Local Food? What About Local Farm Working Conditions?

[ 32 ] August 25, 2016 |

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Liberals love local food. But for the most part, they really don’t want to know what’s going on at the farm. They are fine with pictures of community members going out to the co-op farm and picking tomatoes or whatnot. But working conditions simply do not matter to most consumers. That’s almost as true for the liberals going to the farmers market as the everyday person shopping at Walmart. What is happening on those farms? Don’t we have to know this to know if we are creating a sustainable food system? Can sustainability exist in the face of exploitative working conditions? These are the questions Margaret Gray explores in this excellent Jacobin piece.

But my research, dating back to 2000, reveals that working conditions on local farms in New York’s Hudson Valley are not very different from those on the factory farms that dominate the headlines.

Of the farm hands I met, 99 percent were foreign born. The vast majority, 71 percent, were non-citizen Latinos; 20 percent were on H-2A guest-worker visas and hailed from Jamaica or Latin America. Most of the Latinos spoke little English, had low literacy in their native languages, and, on average, received a sixth-grade formal education.

The lack of English skills actually benefits their employers, who see learning the language as a stepping-stone to becoming American. The problem with American workers, farmers told me, is that they don’t have a work ethic.

Hudson Valley farmworkers were not primarily migrant workers: they lived in New York year-round, even if their farm jobs were seasonal. About one-third of those I met also lived with their families. This family reunification counters the workers’ loneliness, but it also undermines their financial goals.

Manuel expounded on this point:

I currently have nothing. You make dollars, but here you spend dollars, not like at home where the money goes further. The situation would be different if I made money here and sent it back to my country, but my family is here. You honestly cannot save money here.

The workers reported even worse economic exploitation in their home countries: age discrimination in factory work, bosses who paid in food, and subsistence living.

One comment raised both environmental issues and the retraction of irrigation programs and farm subsidies in Mexico post-NAFTA: “I used to have my own potato farm, but there is no water. Nothing happens with land that is dead.”

Those I spoke to also described their fear of losing their jobs or being deported. They also did not know their rights.

These factors, coupled with their desire to return home, created a vulnerable workforce willing to make tremendous sacrifices. To protect vital income for their families, they kept their heads down, set aside concerns about their own well-being, and complied with employer demands.

Many acutely analyzed their positions — they were utterly dependent on farm wages, lonely, and alienated.

A twenty-two-year-old Guatemalan woman broke into tears when she described how much she missed her home. She spoke to her mother often over the phone, but said she never related her sadness or complained about the work. Like others I interviewed who downplayed their hardships, her goal was to optimize her income even as she was painfully aware of her meager earning potential.

The work they perform is difficult, dirty, and strenuous; it requires repeated bending or crouching, sometimes with sharp implements, and sometimes in extreme weather for long hours. “You are dead by the end of the day; your arms and your feet ache because of standing all day,” one worker said.

A field hand told me he thought dogs were treated better than he was. But then he got worried that he was telling me too much. Many workers were reluctant to share stories about their working conditions, using phrases like “I better not say” and expressing fear of reprisals.

There are stories of wage theft, human trafficking, sexual harassment, illegal firings, and intimidation. But even if employers were prosecuted for such violations of existing law, the job would still exploit workers.

In New York — as in most other states — farmworkers do not have a right to a day of rest, they do not have a right to overtime pay, and they do not have a right to collective bargaining.

This means that some work eighty to ninety hours a week, for minimum wage, sometimes over seven days. Farmworkers argue that the law sets them up for exploitation since it fails to recognize them as equal to other workers. Heriberto, a farmworker who has given public talks, tells New Yorkers that they should be embarrassed by these laws.

This is not agribusiness. This is the local farm out in the countryside, growing such tasty veggies sold at roadside stands and farmers’ markets. There is massive exploitation on these farms. Yet none of this is really on the radar for most food consumers, even those who describe themselves as having a food consciousness, who buy organic and local. For food writers like Michael Pollan, these issues are even less important. And he should know better. But he’s never really paid much attention to work, preferring a romanticized past of mom laboring in the kitchen for hours each day without pay, ignoring the reality of modern life. Simply put, a food movement that allows for labor exploitation has no right to call itself sustainable. And yet the food movement has never cared about workers. As I discussed in the food chapter of Out of Sight, the fear of vegetables laden with pesticides led to a real consumer movement. But the companies completely defanged it by changing the pesticides to a new style that hits hard and fast and then dissipates. That protects the consumer but makes the lives of workers far more dangerous and poisonous. Consumers were fine with that. Once again, Margaret Gray:

If we are sincere in our solidarity with farmworkers, we must pay equal attention to labor conditions at smaller farms. Organic produce is thriving because consumers said they wanted it; animals are treated better because consumers said they cared.

While supporting farmworker efforts against corporate giants is commendable, we also need look in our own backyards and confront our local farmers — which should be one of the benefits of intimacy.

And that’s only the start. Those concerned with the politics of food need to think more clearly than Kingsolver, Pollan, and the other avatars of the “locavore” movement about the range of problems contemporary farms, industrial and “pastoral” alike, face — and to be more sanguine about the limits of consumer activism.

The plight of hyper-exploited workers on small farms will remain hidden if activists continue to portray factory farming as a unique evil facilitated by some kind of spiritual disconnect from the land, rather than one particularly telling example of capitalism’s inhumanity.

There is much to admire about small, local farms. But any serious effort to address the food supply chain must be big and international.

Until there is a food movement that takes place on those terms, produce cultivated under fair labor conditions will stand for little more than “organic” and “cage-free” do now: the costly mark of good conscience available only to the small few who can afford it.

Indeed.

The GOP’s minority outreach programs are 100% successful

[ 18 ] August 25, 2016 |

GOP minority outreach often looks like some sort of sick joke to people who aren’t members of the GOP. Is that talk about welfare addiction and shared values while simultaneously blaming people for ruining America  supposed to work? After some thought I’ve concluded that the answer is yes. And it does.

To understand how, imagine that instead of a political party, the GOP is a man named Ron Magnus. Ron may not be a card-carrying MRA/PUA, but he’d be right at home with them. Ron’s ego is such that he’d rather perform a sex act with a running meat grinder than admit failure, and he knows a few things about women:

  • He’s entitled to sex with women because he’s a real man and women exist to have sex with men;
  • Women are so stupid they don’t know that they’re created to have sex with men;
  • Women have to be tricked into giving men sex, but they’re stupid, so it’s easy; but/and
  • Women are evil and delight in denying men the sex to which men are entitled.
  • (Also something about the perfidy of wearing makeup, based on some of the stuff that filters into my section of the Twitterverse.)
  • (Possible exception for Mom?)

Ron’s methods for convincing a woman to undertake the tedious, unpleasant and brief task of giving him sex can best be described as severely limited and counterproductive. And that’s before one takes into account his habit of talking loudly and at length about the evilness and stupidity of women, his history of making them miserable and how he plans to make even more women miserable if he’s given a chance. In fact, a rant about how much he hates most women – but you’re not like that, are you sweetheart? may be his favorite pickup monologue.

However, Ron knows his methods must be effective because he learned them from Dad and 32-Chan, it is not possible for him to fail, and how hard can it be to get a dumb slut to take off her panties anyway?

So Ron sets out to find women to give him his sex that is his. Sometimes a woman does what she’s supposed to do. When this happens it’s proof that he’s so super and they’re so stupid.

But despite the sure-fire technique for picking up girls, Ron does not succeed in tricking women into handing over his sex nearly as often as he would like. Does this mean that when Ron spends a romantic evening with a bottle of lotion and a sock it is because he failed?

No. Remember: In the Gospel According to Ron, Ron is infallible. What really happened is he received confirmation that women are evil. Victory is his once again!

And that’s why GOP outreach to minorities can never fail.

Cities versus States

[ 49 ] August 25, 2016 |

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This is a good piece on the battles in conservative states between their liberal enclave cities and the right-wing extremists who control the statehouse.

“PREEMPTION” LAWS ARE not new, nor are they necessarily about undoing local legislation. But with some notable exceptions, past preemption laws have generally enforced what can be called “minimum preemption”: They force localities to do something where they might otherwise have done little or nothing. As it’s often said, they set a “floor” for regulation. For instance, the federal government has been setting minimum standards of environmental protection for years, preempting the states from allowing lower environmental standards. Similarly, states often set a floor for various local regulations, whether regarding pollution, trade licensing, gun ownership, or other matters.

Most current preemption laws, by contrast, are what one might call “maximum preemption.” These laws aren’t about setting minimums; instead, they prohibit local regulation. States have prevented localities from creating paid sick leave requirements for businesses, or raising the minimum wage. Many who oppose these measures blame their proliferation on the conservative American Legislative Exchange Council, known as ALEC, which has drafted “model” preemption bills for state lawmakers to use. “Pretty much anything you can think of that matters to the American family is under assault by local preemption,” says Mark Pertschuk, the director of Grassroots Change, which fights preemption laws around the country.

Earlier this year, a fight in North Carolina over Charlotte’s anti-discrimination ordinance cast such maximum preemption laws into the national spotlight. The Charlotte City Council had passed a measure extending civil-rights protections for its LGBT community. The policy also allowed transgender individuals to use the bathroom that corresponds with their gender identity rather than with their biological sex. Including gay and transgender people in anti-discrimination ordinances has become a standard business-friendly move; nationwide, 225 cities and counties have passed similar measures, in part to attract businesses. While Republican Governor Pat McCrory and state legislature leaders threatened to intervene in Charlotte, Charlotte Mayor Jennifer Roberts, an advocate of the measure, wasn’t overly concerned. “I thought they’d make a big noise about it but they’d recognize it was just Charlotte, it’s a progressive city, and they didn’t need to come in and change anything because it would jeopardize the economy,” she says.

But when the state Republicans responded, they sent shockwaves around the country by passing a maximum preemption measure that invalidated all local anti-discrimination ordinances, including those protecting women and racial minorities. Not only did they force transgender people to use public bathrooms based on their reproductive organs; for good measure, they also rolled a provision into the bill that forbade any North Carolina city from increasing the minimum wage.

There’s a very specific reason why conservatives fetishize state government, even to the point of calling for the repeal of the Seventeenth Amendment. All the talk about devolution that came out of the 90s stops right at the state capitol. It’s not about principle. It’s about conservative control. The federal government is too big for corporations or movement conservatives to easily control. Cities are too small. States are just right. State legislators can be bought off for incredibly small amounts of campaign donations. So making the federal government powerless, unless it wants to do corporate bidding, and making the cities powerless is part the conservative game to maintain power. And it’s been that way since at least the 1930s, when corporations complained about federal control and wanted power to reside at the state level. That’s what these wars on liberal cities are about in red states. Some of these cases, like the Denton fracking ban or Austin’s rejection of Uber, are about corporate control, others like HB 2 in North Carolina, are not. But for each type of conservative group, the state is where they see power residing precisely because that’s where it’s easiest for them to control that power.

The Clinton Rules: Still In Effect

[ 240 ] August 25, 2016 |

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I mentioned earlier this week how the Washington Post used misleading language to try to turn distinctly non-scandalous behavior into a scandal because Hillary Clinton. Well, the AP had an even more ambitious attempt at making a scandal out of nothing at all, which Clizza et al. immediately swallowed whole. The problem is that it was also a massive trainwreck. LeTourneau:

But here is where the AP blew their story. In an attempt to provide an example of how this becomes an “optics” problem for Hillary Clinton, they focused much of the article on the fact that she met several times with Muhammad Yunus, a Clinton Foundation donor. In case you don’t recognize that name, he is an economist from Bangladesh who pioneered the concepts of microcredit and microfinance as a way to fight poverty, and founded Grameen Bank. For those efforts, Yunus won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2006, the United States Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2009 and the Congressional Gold Medal in 2010.

The connection the AP tries to make is that SoS Clinton met with Yunus because he was a Clinton Foundation donor. What they didn’t mention is that their relationship goes back over 30 years to the time Hillary (as first lady of Arkansas) heard about his work and brought him to her state to explore the possibility of implementing microfinance programs to assist the poor.

During the time that Clinton was Secretary of State, the government of Bangladesh was trying to discredit Yunus and remove him from leadership at Grameen Bank due to the fact that he was seen as a political threat.

I used to be a Democrat, but since I found that Hillary Clinton met repeatedly met with Muhammad Yunus I’m outraged that Bill and Hillary Clinton lost money in a minor Arkansas land deal and plan to support someone who has ripped off and defrauded so many people he can’t get a loan from an American bank instead.

Yglesias:

According to their reporting, Clinton spent a remarkably large share of her time as America’s chief diplomat talking to people who had donated money to the Clinton Foundation. She went out of her way to help these Clinton Foundation donors, and her decision to do so raises important concerns about the ethics of her conduct as secretary and potentially as president. It’s a striking piece of reporting that made immediate waves in my social media feed, as political journalists of all stripes retweeted the story’s headline conclusions.

Except it turns out not to be true. The nut fact that the AP uses to lead its coverage is wrong, and Braun and Sullivan’s reporting reveals absolutely no unethical conduct. In fact, they found so little unethical conduct that an enormous amount of space is taken up by a detailed recounting of the time Clinton tried to help a former Nobel Peace Prize winner who’s also the recipient of a Congressional Gold Medal and a Presidential Medal of Freedom.

Here’s the bottom line: Serving as secretary of state while your husband raises millions of dollars for a charitable foundation that is also a vehicle for your family’s political ambitions really does create a lot of space for potential conflicts of interest. Journalists have, rightly, scrutinized the situation closely. And however many times they take a run at it, they don’t come up with anything more scandalous than the revelation that maybe billionaire philanthropists have an easier time getting the State Department to look into their visa problems than an ordinary person would.

There is a liberal critique of the Clinton Foundation, which as recently as last month I found fairly credible, that even if they weren’t doing anything wrong, it created the unnecessary potential appearance of corruption. The view of the Clintons is apparently that literally anything they do will be treated as scandalous so if they think the Clinton Foundation is a net positive it’s worth doing. I suppose both can be true, but the ridiculous reporting this week makes me think that the latter position is more accurate.

Happy Centennial to the National Park Service

[ 10 ] August 25, 2016 |

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One hundred years ago today, Woodrow Wilson signed the bill creating the National Park Service. While other nations do have national parks, no other nation has used the idea to also tell interpretations of the nation’s history, protecting not only battlefields and a few other nationally famous places, but also relatively obscure places that tell different stories, often outside of the mainstream of national narratives. During the last 8 years, with bills to create new national parks out of the question in the face of hostile Republicans utterly outraged by gay people’s existence, not to mention their acceptance in American society, President Obama has used the Antiquities Act to create national monuments, usually to add to the diversity of experiences told by the NPS, including the Stonewall Inn. Just yesterday, Obama created a new national monument, the Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument in northern Maine. There have been calls for a national park in northern Maine for a very long time, but the lack of federally controlled land combined with the hostility of local residents who believe the timber industry is going to make a comeback to make it very difficult. Finally, the founder of Burt’s Bees gave nearly 90,000 acres of pristine land to the government to make it happen. Hopefully, this sets the groundwork for an expansion of the park over the years, especially as tourist dollars start flowing to the region. Expect more national monuments between now and January, particularly the Bears Ears in Utah and unprotected areas around the Grand Canyon in Arizona, as well as more land in Nevada as Harry Reid has sought to cement his legacy in that state, in part by making the land where Cliven Bundy was illegally grazing a national monument.

Of course, the National Park Service also faces major problems, including that all these new monuments do not come with additional funding and there is a ridiculous backlog of basic maintenance projects that is forcing the agency to seek corporate funding and therefore sponsorship, which is a form of pollution. But who can blame them? Another major issue is of course climate change, where the parks are having to adapt to rapid changes in often very sensitive locations. The parks are trying to educate the public about climate change, despite continued hostility from Republicans who refuse to fund any of it. They are also making infrastructure changes where they can, especially in coastal regions. That’s going to be a continued struggle. Maybe someday Congress will actually properly fund the agency again.

Even with those problems, the national parks are also national treasures and it’s exciting to see President Obama so proactive in creating new ones, protecting American lands and telling American historical stories for the future.

The A2/AD Challenge

[ 5 ] August 25, 2016 |
US Navy 080621-N-8467N-001 Pre-commissioning Unit New Hampshire (SSN 778) sits moored to the pier at General Dynamics Electric Boat shipyard moments before her christening ceremony commenced.jpg

USS New Hampshire. By U.S. Navy photo by John Narewski – Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=8181221

Stephen Biddle and Ivan Oelrich recently wrote an important article about the balance of military technology in the Western Pacific. This is the first of what will likely amount to three commentaries:

In a recent article in International Security, Stephen Biddle and Ivan Oelrich have developed a formidable analysis of how the balance of power and technology in the Asia-Pacific may shift over the next three decades. The argument, discussed earlier by Steven Stashwick, suggests that technology may push the United States and China into a rough stalemate in the middle part of the 21st century.

Biddle, longtime scholarly analyst of military affairs and the author of numerous books and articles on land warfare (both its conventional and counterinsurgency variants), and Oelrich undertake an uncharacteristically technology-heavy analysis, concentrating on the physical limitations of extant and speculative strike and surveillance systems. The authors frame their analysis around a Chinese effort to coerce regional powers (most notably Taiwan) into submission through means of a bombing campaign, a blockade, or an invasion.

Party of Trump, Party of Breitbart

[ 151 ] August 25, 2016 |

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Really good piece by Zack Beauchamp about Breitbart portending Trump, with its indifference to both truth and policy, overt racism, and belief that political correctness is the biggest threat facing the country:

So in March, when then-Trump campaign manager Corey Lewandowski manhandled Breitbart reporter Michelle Fields and then denied it, the site faced an existential dilemma. Back your reporter, like any journalistic outlet would do, or side with the Trump campaign, like a Trump Super PAC would?

We all know the answer at this point. Breitbart forbade its reporters from supporting Fields (who, I should disclose, is a personal friend of mine). A Breitbart editor, Joel Pollak, published a piece arguing that the incident “could not possibly have happened” as Fields described it. Fields quit Breitbart in disgust, as did several members of the site’s staff.

Trump is the vindication of everything Breitbart has ever stood for, so standing with him over Fields made sense.

Overriding focus on attacking political correctness? Check. Harsh anti-immigrant rhetoric? Check. Broadsides against the conservative elite? Check. Politics of white resentment? Check, check, and check.

The whole thing is very much worth reading.

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