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Archive for May, 2012

The Fashion of Rick Barry

[ 11 ] May 31, 2012 |

This fashion show of former Golden State Warriors legend Rick Barry over the years is outstanding.

California Fracking

[ 126 ] May 31, 2012 |

The California Senate has rejected a fracking bill that seems like common sense:

Under Pavley’s bill, oil companies would be required to give 30 days notice to land owners whose property line or residence is within 300 feet of a fracking operation. The firms would also have to notify local governments and water boards. The state’s oil and gas agency would then post the information on its website.

Does anything about this seem onerous to you, even if you support lightly regulated production of energy in a manner that has unknown consequences? All the companies would have to do is tell property owners and local governments what they are going to do.

Oh hell no.

Republicans characterized the bill as a job-killing regulation for an industry that employs many Californians. “This bill is nothing more than to slow down oil and gas production in California,” said state Sen. Jean Fuller (R-Bakersfield).

I suspect the issue of public knowledge is the real heart of the opposition. If people know where fracking is taking place, they can monitor it. And the gas industry certainly doesn’t want that.

1CA Rules DOMA Unconstitutional: What Will the Supremes Do?

[ 42 ] May 31, 2012 |

Obviously good news.

I should probably defend my claim that there’s an outside chance that Thomas could join an opinion upholding the 1st Circuit’s opinion.  I have a couple reasons for saying so:

  • Thomas is the closest there is on the Supreme Court to being an exception to Lemieux’s dictum that Nobody Cares About Federalism.   Gonzales v. Raich showed that Thomas, unlike Scalia and Kennedy, was willing to prioritize federalism over the policy preferences of Republican officials.
  • Of course, marijuana prosecutions aren’t exactly a core priority either, and for Thomas as for everyone else when legal principles conflict with deeply held policy desires the latter will likely prevail if there’s any way of making the argument.
  • So, the question is whether for Thomas same-sex marriage is a core issue or a more peripheral one, like medical marijuana.   Scalia will obviously vote to reverse because he 1)cares a lot less about federalism than Thomas, and 2)cares a great deal about preserving discrimination against gays and lesbians.   Thomas, however, distanced himself from Scalia’s culture warfare in his own Lawrence dissent, and it’s not clear how important same-sex marriage is to him.

This isn’t to say that I think there’s a really good chance that it will happen — DOMA is different than anti-sodomy laws.   It also doesn’t really matter, because it’s impossible to imagine an anti-DOMA ruling that Thomas would join that Kennedy and the four Democratic appointees wouldn’t.   But I wouldn’t be completely shocked if Thomas provided a sixth vote, and Roberts might go along in that case too.   I would be very surprised if there weren’t at least 5 votes to uphold it, though.

Can We Just Pay Our Corporate Overlords? That’s Real Freedom

[ 103 ] May 31, 2012 |

Honeywell CEO David Cote, when he asked what he thought the corporate tax rate should be answered, “zero.” Why? “But at the the end of the day, jobs come from companies and if we wanted to create the most effective foreign direct investment pipeline you’ve ever seen, we would have the lowest rate possible.” Please, we can have even lower rates. If I have to pay 20% of the wheat I grow directly to my feudal corporate overlords, wouldn’t that be even lower? Yes. What about if I indentured myself to a corporate overlord for years of unpaid labor? That’s true freedom.

And you might say, well, he’s just another jerkoff greedy CEO, an extremist. Except for one thing. He’s a member of the Bowles-Simpson Deficit Commission. So he’s only playing a gigantic role in shaping our future, a role he was named to by a Democratic president.

Love that cat food!

The Last Days of Appalachian Coal

[ 10 ] May 31, 2012 |

Eric Lipton’s feature on the decline of coal in Kentucky is interesting, though flawed. He tells a heartbreaking story for these coal miners, helping us understand just how deeply people in eastern Kentucky believe in coal. Even if other economic opportunities appeared in the region, a lot of people just don’t want to imagine a world not dominated by coal. Of course, the fact that the coal industry has ruled this area as a feudal domain for a century doesn’t help.

Both Lipton and the Kentucky coal operators are giving environmentalists too much power. The idea that environmentalists can set policy in 2012 is pretty laughable and flies in the face of a huge amount of evidence. Environmentalists can be a useful ally if more powerful players want something to happen. New York and Chicago are moving away from supplying power through coal because Bloomberg and Emanuel want it to happen. Sierra Club lobbying might be making a difference but they are hardly, say, passing national legislation or even state-level legislation on these matters. Environmentalists are an easy target. And by including pollution controls on new coal-fired plants, they have raised the cost of doing business. But environmentalists are an easy target that ignores what’s really going on.

And that’s fracking. The economics of natural gas just make a lot more sense. And for as horrible as fracking can be (and for all the problems we have ignored while just plowing ahead), it is almost certainly better for everyone with a stake in energy than coal, except for the coal miners themselves. Natural gas is tremendously efficient for home heating. It’s less dirty than coal. It doesn’t change the climate as quickly. And it’s just a lot cheaper at the present time. Even if you don’t have the pollution controls on new plants, coal can’t compete with natural gas right now.

And one issue the article elides is the fact that Americans are still mining enormous amounts of coal–but it is increasingly in Wyoming instead of Kentucky and West Virginia. Lipton mentions the overseas market for coal, especially in Asia. But high-quality coal seams are disappearing in Appalachia; after over a century, it is finally drying up. So the ability of Appalachia to transition to an overseas market is limited. The companies know this and they are invested whole hog in western coal.

Ideally, the government would step in here like Bill Clinton did during the spotted owl crisis. Settling the issue more or less in favor of environmentalists, as needed to happen, Clinton also ensured significant federal aid and job retraining programs to people who lost their jobs. But there’s no way that is going to happen in 2012. Loggers in 1993 weren’t any much pro-Democratic president than coal miners are today. But Oregon and Washington also had huge local constituencies who wanted to see old-growth logging on federal lands end and there’s just not that local community in Kentucky and West Virginia lobbying for the end of coal. It’s even more of an insider-outsider paradigm than the ancient forest campaigns proved to be. Even more important is the shrinkage of the welfare state and the overt hostility today to helping even white people, as opposed to the 90s when subsidies for poor white loggers were OK but welfare for black mothers was repealed.

The Obama Drone War

[ 216 ] May 31, 2012 |

Like Ta-Nehisi Coates and others, I am pretty disgusted that the Obama Administration has defined any male of military age killed by a drone bombing to be a combatant. This is morally bankrupt and is a cheap way to justify the huge number of collateral casualties from drone strikes and other imprecise military actions. Coates:

The Obama administration considers any military-age male in the vicinity of a bombing to be a combatant. That is an amazing standard that shares an ugly synergy with the sort of broad-swath logic that we see employed in Stop and Frisk, with NYPD national spy network, with the killer of Trayvon Martin.

I am not one to say that there’s no difference between Obama and Romney on foreign policy; that would be stupid. After all, look at all the crazy things Romney is saying. However, on this issue, there is sadly likely to be very little that separates them.

And let’s face it–when the U.S. is killing innocent people from the air, it’s really hard to see how our actions are less a form of terrorism than the Al-Qaeda killing of civilians we have found so offensive in the last decade. Certainly it is helping terrorists recruit new members. Why not join when an American drone strike has killed your sister? I know that any anti-terrorist actions are deeply problematic and the drone strikes have eliminated a number of top targets who meant to do our nation harm. But the embrace of drone strikes, the assumption that everyone killed by a bombing is an enemy combatant, and the number of dead innocent people are deeply problematic from both a moral and strategic perspective.

North Carolina Trying to Make Measuring Climate Change Illegal

[ 24 ] May 31, 2012 |

The Tar Heel State is moving up the list of insane states.

There is virtually universal agreement among scientists that the sea will probably rise a good meter or more before the end of the century, wreaking havoc in low-lying coastal counties. So the members of the developers’ lobbying group NC-20 say the sea will rise only 8 inches, because … because … well, SHUT UP, that’s because why.

That is, the meter or so of sea level rise predicted for the NC Coastal Resources Commission by a state-appointed board of scientists is extremely inconvenient for counties along the coast. So the NC-20 types have decided that we can escape sea level rise – in North Carolina, anyhow – by making it against the law. Or making MEASURING it against the law, anyhow.

Here’s a link to the circulated Replacement House Bill 819. The key language is in section 2, paragraph e, talking about rates of sea level rise: “These rates shall only be determined using historical data, and these data shall be limited to the time period following the year 1900. Rates of seas-level rise may be extrapolated linearly. …” It goes on, but there’s the core: North Carolina legislators have decided that the way to make exponential increases in sea level rise – caused by those inconvenient feedback loops we keep hearing about from scientists – go away is to make it against the law to extrapolate exponential; we can only extrapolate along a line predicted by previous sea level rises.


This is bound to protect the endangered Outer Banks tourist industry!

Foreign Entanglements: SOF in North Korea

[ 9 ] May 30, 2012 |

Two days ago, David Axe posted a short piece on the Diplomat blog reporting that a US general had indicated that US and ROK special forces could be operating in North Korea. All hell proceeded to break loose. US Force Korea essentially called Axe a liar, several other reporters spoke up in his defense, and the situation eventually settled around the explanation that the US general had been speaking hypothetically. Fortunately, I had previously scheduled an episode of Foreign Entanglements with David for Tuesday evening, which proved to be the eye of the hurricane. Enjoy!

A Revolution of Canned Green Beans

[ 57 ] May 30, 2012 |

So it seems Quebec has started the Casserole Revolution. When I was growing up, casseroles were something I ate at hot dish night every Wednesday at our local Lutheran church. Today, they are revolutionary. Does this revolution include tater tot pie? Or canned green beans (french cut naturally)? If there’s no cream of mushroom soup, I can’t support it. After all, as the old leftist slogan goes, “It’s not a revolution unless you can eat gray food with it.”

Environmental Inequality and Poverty from Space

[ 47 ] May 30, 2012 |

The number of trees in an urban neighborhood proves a very strong determinant of the area’s income level. This means you can judge income inequality in satellite images.

Caro And Legislative Power I: LBJ And Harry Byrd

[ 49 ] May 30, 2012 |

One of the many reasons that The Passage of Power is fascinating is that it deals with the beginning of an unusually effective administration in terms of domestic policymaking. Because Johnson replaced a president who, whatever his other virtues, was unusually ineffective at pursuing his domestic agenda, the book tells us a lot about how presidents can matter. One thing I’ll try to do in discussing the new Caro is to detail the influence LBJ had on the legislative process, what’s repeatable and what represented LBJ taking advantage of unusual circumstances.

As I mentioned yesterday, Becker and Shane’s otherwise superb account of the Obama administration’s arbitrary terrorism policies quotes someone expressing a common view of how LBJ achieved his success: “Lyndon Johnson would have steamrolled the guy.” This common view is what one might call the Ian Faith view of Johnson: he proves that if a president is behind something he can ram it right down Congress’s throat. (Preferably, this should be accompanied by a colorful anecdote in which LBJ gives someone The Treatment or makes someone watch him take a dump or something.) But that’s not really it. A lot of LBJ’s unusual effectiveness, for better or worse, was in his willingness to compromise with evil and/or stupidity and to give in on fights he couldn’t win. The tale of LBJ, Harry Byrd, and the tax bill is instructive.

As many of you know, one reason the filibuster was so effective was that it could be used to stop the Senate from doing anything; as long as a civil rights bill was pending the apartheid wing of the Democratic Party could stop Congress from passing other legislation. This was crucial, because it peeled off the substantial number of legislators who didn’t oppose civil rights legislation but didn’t place a high priority on it either. Against the explicit advice of the Master of the Senate, JFK had failed Legislative Tactics 101 by sending his civil rights bill to the Senate while most of the rest of his agenda, including his centerpiece tax cut bill, was still pending. Finance Committee Chair (and, of course, staunch segregationist and reactionary) Harry Byrd had kept the bill locked up in the Finance Committee, and the fact that this would also be used as leverage to stop civil rights legislation from coming to a vote was an additional feature.

Upon taking office, LBJ knew that he had to get the tax bill passed if there was any chance of getting a civil rights bill through Congress. And dealing with Byrd, he immediately grasped what the Kennedy team never did; that the arbitrary $100 billion dollar limit on 1965 federal spending Byrd was insisting on was non-negotiable. (Anticipating the Aaron Sorkin debating-school theory of American politics, Kennedy seemed to assume that since this spending limit was irrational Byrd would move off it if a persuasive enough case for other spending was made.) So LBJ did what he needed to do: he gave Byrd what he wanted, accompanied by a lot of rhetoric about “economizing.” There were Ian Faith elements to the story, but they involved LBJ bullying cabinet members who served at his pleasure to cut employees and budgets to meet Byrd’s stupid targets, not bullying key members of Congress. With a variety of senseless spending cuts to the 1965 budget having been agreed to, the tax cut bill was let out of committee and passed Congress, clearing the deck for civil rights legislation.

One question Caro doesn’t fully answer is why Byrd allowed himself to get outmaneuvered on the larger civil rights issue. There are a variety of potential factors, all of which probably mattered to some degree. Byrd was a tired old man who wasn’t really doing his homework on the big picture. He may have (plausibly enough) thought that a substantive civil rights bill would be a non-starter anyway. But another part of it is that before breaking the coalition of conservative Republicans and Democrats that had dominated Congress since 1938 was possible, LBJ had been willing to do the bidding of the apartheid faction in a variety of issues as a member of Congress and then a congressional leader. Because of LBJ’s past compromises with evil the Byrds and Russels were complacent about LBJ’s actual commitment to civil rights until it was too late. A lot of the political capital LBJ accumulated to pass the Civil Rights Act involved surrendering to the most odious forces in American politics (just as the New Deal did.)

Which is why I think that the Ian Faith image of LBJ is so enduring; it’s much easier to live with ruthlessness if it means Always Winning rather than (more realistically) losing a lot so that you can win on some crucial big things. I was interested in the recent discussion in comments about Humphrey in 1968, in which some of out most astute commenters said that even in retrospect they couldn’t have voted for Humphrey and that HHH should have resigned rather than cheerlead for Vietnam. My own take is that 1)cheerleading for Vietnam was Humphrey’s job, 2)his resignation would have done absolutely nothing to stop the carnage, and 3)a Humphrey that crossed LBJ (and his crucial labor allies) would have had less than no chance of winning what was still an elite-driven nomination process in 1968. But doing what it takes to win is a lot more attractive in theory than in practice, and because unlike Johnson he never got a chance to be president, Humphrey was just a sellout. But, for better or worse, he was doing exactly what his mentor would have done. Fortunately, Nixon and Kissinger proved that it didn’t really matter by wrapping up the war quickly and not starting to bomb Cambodia or something…

This Day in Labor History: May 30, 1937

[ 23 ] May 30, 2012 |

On this date in 1937, Chicago police opened fire on strikers in front of the Republic Steel mill, killing 10 workers. Part of the “Little Steel” strike, where smaller steel corporations refused to follow U.S. Steel into signing contracts with the Steel Workers Organizing Committee (later United Steelworkers of America), the Memorial Day Massacre was one of the last great spasms of organized, lethal state violence against labor in American labor history.

The Steel Workers Organizing Committee was a central part of the CIO’s industrial union strategy. Successfully targeting U.S. Steel, they convinced that company to sign a contract on May 2, 1937. This contract standardized pay, granted the 8-hour day, and instituted overtime pay. However, the smaller steel companies were if anything more vociferously anti-union that U.S. Steel and they refused to sit down with their workers. SWOC and the CIO therefore made them the next target. On May 26, 1937, 25,000 people walked off the job in plants in Illinois, Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Ohio. By the 28th, 80,000 were on strike, 46,000 of whom worked for Republic Steel, headed by anti-union die hard Tom Girdler.

Girdler hired the Chicago police as a private army, paying for their guns and ammunition. The committee found that the companies had spent $40,000 on weapons for the police. Between 1933 and 1937, the Little Steel companies purchased more poison gas (nausea-inducing rather than fatal) than the U.S. military.

The steel workers and their supporters decided hold a major event on Memorial Day. Hundreds of supporters gathered to picket in front of Republic’s main gate. A line of policemen met them. After a brief, confused conversation about letting the workers pass, the police opened fire on the strikers, both with live fire and gas bombs. Mollie West, a member of the Typographical Union remembered the cops yelling at her, “Get off the field, or I’ll put a bullet in your back.” The cops began beating the strikers as well. In addition to the 10 workers who died (4 on site, 6 in the hospital), another 30 suffered serious injuries, 9 of which were permanently disabled through gunshot wounds or police beatings.

The Memorial Day Massacre is perhaps most notable for being caught on film. News cameras caught the whole thing. Here it is for you to watch. Actual footage starts at about 4:30. If you ever wanted to watch the police kill strikers, now is your opportunity.

No one was prosecuted for the massacre.

The cops and Republic Steel talked about the violent protestors, etc., but the footage showed peaceful people being massacred by the police. It was shown before a Senate committee on civil liberties led by Robert LaFollette, Jr. His committee concluded that the police were “loosed to shoot down citizens on the streets and highways.” And while Republic’s massacre of workers in Chicago was the big event, 6 additional strikers had been murdered outside of various Republic plants in Ohio.

Despite the filmed violence, SWOC lost the strike. Continued violence combined with financial pressures to force the workers back in without a contract. Yet time was on the steelworkers side. Some of the companies signed contracts in 1938. In 1942, President Franklin Roosevelt, not wanting any labor issues during the war, put major pressure on the Little Steel companies through the National War Labor Board to recognize SWOC as the legitimate bargaining agent for their workers, which finally forced Girlder and the other steel magnates to cave.

This series has also discussed Bacon’s Rebellion of 1676 and the founding of the Knights of Labor in 1869.

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