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Archive for November, 2011

Score One for OWS

[ 60 ] November 29, 2011 |

The Republicans have decided to back the payroll tax extension, fearful of being painted as anti-middle class in the coming elections.

As Kos noted in a tweet, there’s no way this happens without Occupy Wall Street. This is concrete evidence of how OWS has changed the discussion in America. Remember 6 months ago? The Republicans were in full ascent, talking tough, showing no compromise, going all-in for the 1%. Now we have recalls in Wisconsin, the irrelevancy of the Tea Party governor in Maine, the repeal of SB-5 in Ohio, and now this. Republicans are starting to run scared. Democrats need to start pushing them hard, keep them on the retreat.


Speaking of Nonsensical Conspiracy Theories

[ 20 ] November 29, 2011 |

I suppose Edward Jay Epstien’s is at least more creative than Naomi Wolf’s, but it’s no more convincing.

…see also Irin Carmon.

Blame it on Cain

[ 36 ] November 29, 2011 |

The news that Herman Cain is “reassessing” his presidential campaign after a woman’s claim that she had a 13-year extramarital affair with him became a news story once again illustrates the unfortunate tendency to confuse legitimate news stories with pure gossip whenever the word sex is involved.

The Cain campaign’s response to the claim attempts to take advantage of this confusion:

In a statement, Cain’s campaign called the accusations just another attempt to “derail the Cain Train.”

“The Cain Campaign is not surprised that another female accuser has come forward due to the fact that earlier allegations were unable to force Herman Cain to drop his presidential bid to renew America,” the campaign said in a statement.

The previous allegations against Cain all involve alleged sexual harassment on his part against his employees, i.e., a species of serious employment discrimination which is actionable under state and federal law, and they were, if credible, obviously of great relevance to Cain’s candidacy. A sexual liaison between consenting adults is a different matter altogether, but the Cain campaign is trying to take advantage of the widespread belief that sexual harassment is about personal sexual behavior per se, (or to put it more bluntly, that sexual harassment is just another word for crazy vengeful gold-digging tarts upset about whatever stuff women inexplicably get upset about), rather than about the abuse of power in an employment context.


[ 185 ] November 29, 2011 |

Sarah Jaffe has been all over the issue of debt lately, chronicling who is profiting from the massive debt young people have to take on in order to graduate from college and how people are fighting back. Great stuff. See here and here.

This debt is one of the most important issues Occupy Wall Street has brought attention to. The current level of debt is completely unsustainable. It’s still better for a young person to take on that debt than to not go to college at level (at least in terms of future earnings), but it causes massive social and economic problems. The debt forces people into long-term debt that is either impossible to repay or makes them take corporate jobs rather than follow their dreams in order to pay it back. It flat cannot continue at this pace.

DNA and the Authoritarian Fantasy Life of Prosecutors

[ 87 ] November 29, 2011 |

Andrew Martin has a fascinating article about how things work in a winger-dominated DA’s office in Illinois.   First, people are convicted based almost entirely on not-very-plausible confessions extracted from the kind of marathon high-pressure interrogations that will produce many false positives.    And then, once a convicted defendant is essentially exonerated by DNA evidence, the prosecutors respond by trying them again (or refusing to try the real killers) based on baroque theories that would need substantially more coherence and underlying evidence to rise to the level of being “implausible”:

His theory for why there was sperm that did not come from Juan Rivera inside 11-year-old Holly Staker on the day she was murdered is, to his mind, simple and straightforward. She and her twin sister, Heather, were sexually active, Mermel argues, and Holly must have had sex with someone else before Rivera came along and raped (but didn’t ejaculate) and murdered her. There was scant evidence to support this sexual-activity theory, but Mermel dismissed that objection. “Nobody is going to admit to having sex with an 11-year-old girl, even if the statute of limitations has run out,” he told me. “But there was a lot of evidence that came to our office that these two girls were sexually active.”

Sure, we don’t have any evidence that this 11 year-old girl had sex the day she was raped and murdered by someone who apparently left no forensic evidence at the scene, but we have evidence that she was sexually active — conjecture is a kind of evidence, right? And evidence has come into our office! Not the kind of evidence that can be presented in open court or anything, but it’s out there!

An initial examination found no evidence of sexual assault in the case, and Hobbs never mentioned it in his confession. Two years after his arrest, though, a private laboratory hired by his lawyers discovered that there had been sperm in Laura’s vagina, anus and mouth, and they tested a sample. The defense lawyers immediately announced that DNA analysis showed the DNA did not match Hobbs’s.

When Mermel heard about the findings, he dismissed them and suggested that Laura could have got the sperm on her while playing in the woods, where couples might have sex.

Right. I’m sure this has happened to all of us — you go for a quick chaste stroll in the woods, and you come back with your genitals covered in semen. Happens all the time.

At least in the latter case, the innocent man is free, although the DA has refused to prosecute the probable killer identified by the DNA evidence. The first exonerated defendant remains in prison after being convicted yet again. Obviously, Rivera’s post-DNA convictions represent failures by the jury and/or defense counsel as well as the DA. But an interview with the victim’s guilt-ridden twin sister late in the article shows how the jury can err; no matter how ridiculous the DA’s theory, most people have no idea how unreliable confessions secured under coercive methods are. The DA’s office has no such excuse.

Labor Notes

[ 23 ] November 29, 2011 |

1. Conditions at Chinese computer manufacturing plants remain horrible. Apple has claimed they will look into these problems, but actual action remains unlikely. The workers themselves are fed up and 1000 employees at a Jingmo Electronics Corporation factory, which makes keyboards for many computer companies, have gone on strike:

According to what workers have told China Labor Watch, the motivation behind the strike was the factory’s decision to make workers work nightly overtime. The factory decided to require workers to work from 6 p.m. until 12 p.m., and sometimes even until 2 a.m. the next morning, in addition to their regular work hours (7-11:30 a.m., 1-5 p.m.) Workers now commonly worked anywhere from 100 to 120 hours of overtime a month. Moreover, the factory refused to let the workers work this overtime on Saturday, which would necessitate paying them double wages in accordance with Chinese Labor Law.

Apart from the overtime issue, the workers said that they also had other grievances with the factory. These include the high rate of workplace injuries (there have been nearly 20 recently), mass layoffs of older workers and the lack of any benefits. Apart from these more tangible hardships, factory managers often verbally abuse and bully the workers, causing them severe emotional distress.

But hey, if workers would only give up negotiating everything but wages, they would totally gain more power!

Corporate claims that they don’t have control over the factories where their products are made are absurd. These contractors do whatever the multinational wants. If Apple and IBM decide to sacrifice a small amount of profit to pay workers more, reduce workplace injuries, and hire more workers rather than make current employees work obscene hours, it will happen very quickly.


2. Of course, the great thing about the race to the bottom is that companies can make working conditions in the United States really bad too! If you haven’t read Spencer Soper’s piece on the terrible working conditions at Amazon warehouses, you will want to check this out. Soper won a Sidney for this piece. An outstanding piece of labor journalism.

3. I guess conservatives are right–Obama is directly costing people jobs. Or at least, one lunatic has decided he won’t hire anyone until Obama is gone! Good luck keeping your company open!

4. Cooper Tire has locked 1050 workers out of its Findlay, Ohio plant after the United Steelworkers represented employees rejected a new contract that would not only include higher insurance premiums but outright pay cuts. Cooper is moving to use scabs. The salary of Cooper CEO Roy Armes has risen from $2.6 million in 2008 to $4.7 million in 2010.

5. American Airlines is following its competitors into bankruptcy in order to reduce labor costs. Depressing.

Obama’s judge problem

[ 17 ] November 29, 2011 |

I have a piece in the Daily Beast, commenting on the fact that Obama’s judicial nominations are getting rejected by the ABA at four times the rate that Bush II’s and Clinton’s were.

Just in case you need to bluff your way out of a war.

[ 36 ] November 28, 2011 |

(This be yet another one of them posts. The direct sequel to this one, in fact.)

In the previous post, we learned that the Doctor can accomplish quite a bit by yelling at things. Admonishment, it could be said, is his only consistent source of power. He has the uncanny ability to be clever at precisely the right moment, and if he lacks the tools required to bring his clever plan to fruition, he possesses an improvisonal knack for making do with whatever’s at hands. As a list of powers go, the Doctor fares quite favorably to no known hero—though he could be compared to a Malthussian Lex Luthor. (He did steal the TARDIS, after all.) Point being, by the time the Doctor regenerates into his Matt Smith incarnation, his reputation is such that he can stand on a rooftop, unkempt and in other people’s clothes, and stare down the very same spaceship that, moments earlier, was going to incinerate the entire planet.

Quite the reputation, that is, but what has he done to deserve it? “Been very clever with stuff on multiple occasions” covers it, but inadequately. Unlike Superman, the Doctor possesses no singular power that would require him to face a particular kind of foe in a particular type of manner. He can stand alone against an alien armada precisely because he lacks any clearly defined (or plausible) method of doing so. To quote the man himself in “The Pandorica Opens,” in which the Doctor finds himself trapped beneath Stonehenge and the Earth surrounded by an alien armada:

Doctor who - the pandorica opens - the big bang00135

Doctor who - the pandorica opens - the big bang00141

Doctor who - the pandorica opens - the big bang00141

Doctor who - the pandorica opens - the big bang00141

Note how director Toby Haynes monkeys around with the shots in this short sequence. In the first frame, the Doctor is looking out the door, the locked Pandorica behind him, and he looks sheepish not only because of his slumped shoulders and pathetic frown, but because he’s being oppressed by the compositional elements of the frame. Amy Pond and River Song flank him, and even though the shot scale is medium close-up—meaning the camera captures him from the waist to the top of his head—Haynes uses an unusually high level of framing, which creates an awkward amount of space between the top of the Doctor’s head and the upper limit of the frame. This unusual level of framing makes it so the compositional oppressiveness parallels the narrative—or vice versa, as the relation between the narrative and composition is interdependent in film. In other words, it’s as if Haynes squished the Doctor but left the camera in the same position it occupied pre-squishing.

But wait! There is a second frame in which the Doctor has one of his brilliant ideas!

Read more…

The GOP Foreign Policy 1%

[ 11 ] November 28, 2011 |


As a recent CBS poll showed, the neoconservative agenda remains broadly unpopular among Americans, but as long as neocons continue to occupy prominent think tanks, editorial boards, and cable news channels, and without any comparably well-funded counterweight within the conservative movement, we’ll have to keep hearing from them, and have to keep reading articles about how they’re still around.

This has been a consistent theme of mine own work at Right Web; dominance of the archipelago of right wing think tanks (not to mention the Washington Post) means that neoconservatives get to set the GOP agenda for a very long time. Moreover, it’s not easy for would-be GOPster foreign policy wonks to find a way up the ladder without paying obeisance to the existing power structure. Not everyone can be an intern at CATO, or work in the office of one of the Pauls.

How the great and mighty dress themselves.

[ 43 ] November 28, 2011 |

(This be another one of them posts.)

Remember that post I wrote at the beginning of the quarter about the first episode of the fifth season of Doctor Who? Of course you don’t: it’s still in my draft folder. The whole point of that post—which I’ll briefly recapitulate here—is that there’s something unusual about a man sporting tweed and bowtie playing the cultural equivalent of Superman. Spandex and tights? That’s American. But tweed and a bowtie? That’s academic, and surely no one wants the weight of the world resting on academic shoulders.

Unless, of course, you’re English. In which case it makes perfect sense. So, to begin that post I never posted, here’s Superman coming out of the closet and into his own:

Read more…

Prick Erry

[ 15 ] November 28, 2011 |

The threat of his becoming President of the United States has passed, but Texans (including the many who didn’t vote for him) remain stuck with him.

The Problem With Wolf’s Anti-Federal Fetish

[ 33 ] November 28, 2011 |

Corey Robin has more, and it’s crucial reading:

Like many critics of state coercion in America, Wolf seems to assume that political repression requires or entails national coordination and centralized direction from the feds. But as I argued in this piece in the Boston Review in 2005, and in a much longer piece in the Missouri Law Review [pdf], that notion gets it wrong.

From the battles over abolition to the labor wars at the turn of the last century to the Red Squads of the twentieth-century police departments to the struggles over Jim Crow, state repression in America has often been decentralized, displaying that very same can-do spirit of local initiative that has been celebrated by everyone from Alexis de Tocqueville to Robert Putnam. Though Tocqueville and Putnam were talking of course about things like creating churches and buildings roads, the fact is: if the locals can build a church or a road on their own, they can also get rid of dissenters on their own, too, no?

Obviously, there have been major instances of federal repression, and we don’t even know to an absolute certainty that the OWS crackdown wasn’t a federal initiative (although this is implausible and is supported by no evidence.)   But the fact is that local governments have been the primary initiator of political repression in the United States, and to assume that the OWS crackdowns must have been initiated by the feds plays into states-centric biases that in the context of American politics are inexorably reactionary.

see also.

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