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Archive for December, 2015

New Year’s Eve 2015

[ 52 ] December 31, 2015 |

I hope everyone has a safe evening that in no way resembles a rocomedy that scored a solid 7% at Rotten Tomatoes.

Or Ben Carson’s presidential campaign.

As an aside: Who came up with the idea that women should stand on one foot – frequently while wearing heels – when kissing? You never see guys doing a half-assed attitude when they smooch. When the aliens show up and ask about this we’re going to be in big trouble.

Anyway, good luck.

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Looks Like the TPP Will Do to Vietnamese Chicken Producers What NAFTA Did to Mexican Corn Farmers

[ 60 ] December 31, 2015 |

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Vietnamese chicken farmers already see the writing on the wall from the Trans-Pacific Partnership. After NAFTA was passed, American food products, especially corn, flooded the Mexican market. That made it impossible for Mexican corn farmers to compete. Conveniently for American corporations, that led to millions of Mexicans leaving their land and requiring work that working in maquiladoras for low wages would provide. And if it didn’t, there was plenty of low-wage work in the United States if those former farmers could sneak across the border without being caught or killed.

Well, Vietnamese farmers are unlikely to migrate to the U.S., but they will be likely to lose their land and go to the cities to compete for the unsafe factory jobs making products for the American market that drives the TPP. That’s because American chicken companies are about to flood Vietnam with their poultry. In fact, it’s already happening. From the first link.

Vietnam’s poultry sector is expected to be one of the hardest hit by the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) when the free trade deal falls into place.

Experts say Vietnamese chicken, long crippled by low technology and high production costs, will not be able to compete with chicken imports from the world’s top producers. However, others say that taste may be more important than price.

In Hanoi, chicken pho is not authentic unless it is made with local free-range chicken, or ga ta in Vietnamese. Almost double the price of factory chicken, ga ta’s competitive advantage is product differentiation.

“Vietnamese free-range chicken has a plumpness and shine to it,” said celebrity chef Nguyen Phuong Hai. “The meat isn’t too tough nor too soft, and the skin is crunchy, not fatty. But industrial chicken is different, the meat is too soft, the thigh is dry and falls apart.”

Won’t matter, as we know. That cheap, tasteless, awful American chicken will win out. And while the facile analysis is that this is great for everyone except those chicken farmers and the taste buds of consumers because now chicken will be cheaper, let’s also note that it will also make Vietnam more dependent upon international commodity processes and make the poor less able to eat if those prices rise. This is what we saw in Mexico in 2007 when international corn prices skyrocketed, making the staff of life in that nation very hard for the poor to eat. This was a major domestic issue in Mexico and brought the downsides of NAFTA home for a lot of people. There’s no reason that this can’t happen in Vietnam and likely will at some point. And if the poor of Vietnam are competing with Americans for chicken supplies and prices rise, well, we all know who won’t be eating meat for awhile.

Ultimately, what international trade should do is give people reasonable options to work in decent paid jobs in factories or stay and farm. It should promote nations working together while also allowing domestic industries to survive for cultural and political reasons. But of course it doesn’t work that way. What these trade agreements do is allow American corporations to devastate local industries, throw people off their land and out of work, force them into factories to work for cheap, and then send the vast majority of profits to their shareholders’ pockets. That’s what NAFTA did and that’s what the TPP is going to do.

Eleven Albums I Loved in 2015 And Nineteen More I Thought Were Worthy

[ 96 ] December 31, 2015 |

I don’t know how people really come up with definitive Top 10 album lists. But everyone loves them. Even the AARP has one! I listen to a ton of music, at almost every waking moment, and unless you are dedicated strictly to listening to new music in order to produce a list like this, I don’t see how you can come up with anything definitive. The number of albums compared to, say, the number of films released in American theaters makes the latter a possible task and the former impossible. Plus I still buy a lot of older albums as well (for whatever reason most of the new jazz I got in the last year is actually 2-5 years old so that’s really underrepresented here) In any case, here are my 10 favorite 2015 albums, a list that will probably look way different a year from now when I listen to a lot more 2015 albums in between listening to 2016 albums and all my older albums.

1) Sleater-Kinney, No Cities to Love. A perfect comeback album for one of the 10 best rock bands to ever exist. Let’s just embed an entire show.

2) Torres, Sprinter. I thought this was just great. MacKenzie Scott has a tremendous amount of emotion in every note of her voice. I’ve heard her songs described as storms because of that voice. A really powerful album.

3) Courtney Barnett, Sometimes I Sit and Think and Sometimes I Just Sit. On everyone’s list and deservedly so. “Pedestrian at Best” was my most listened to 2015 song.

4) Ibeyi, Ibeyi. This is hard to describe. These are twin sisters, daughters of a famous Cuban musician, who sing in English and Yoruba using fairly sparse and often minimal instrumentation. And it’s just great.

5) Bomba Estéreo, Amanecer. This is a Colombian band combining elements of hip-hop, electronics, and traditional Colombian folk music, including a lot of traditional instruments. Really glad I ran across this.

6) Alabama Shakes, Sound and Color. I like the first Alabama Shakes album OK, but thought this was a huge artistic jump, with a serious move into psychedelic music.

7) Waxahatchee, Ivy Tripp. Call it whiny hipster music if you want. The problem you’ll face is that Katie Crutchfield is really good at what she does.

8) Tal National, Zoy Zoy. This band from Niger is another of my favorite finds of 2015. Incredibly enjoyable music

9) Kurt Vile, B’lieve I’m Goin Down. Guitar rock for the 21st century.

10) DJ Spooky and the Kronos Quartet, Rebirth of a Nation. DJ Spooky decided to create his own soundtrack to Birth of a Nation. You can read about his thoughts on it here. He recorded it with the Kronos Quartet. Makes for one of the most interesting albums of the year.

Live Album of the Year is far and away Drive-By Truckers, It’s Great to Be Alive. This amazing live band had never put out a proper live album. At this point in their career, even a 35-song, 3 1/2 hour beast doesn’t feel like enough because a lot of your favorites weren’t on there. Songs that are often overlooked like “Sounds Better in the Song” and “Space City” are great while “The Devil Don’t Stay” is just awesome. Great stuff.

Others albums I liked to various degrees in 2015, many of which I will no doubt listen to a lot more next year:

1) James McMurtry, Complicated Game
2) Sufjan Stevens, Carrie & Lowell
3) Jason Isbell, Something More Than Free
4) Speedy Ortiz, Foil Deer
5) Ashley Monroe, The Blade
6) Christopher Paul Stelling, Labor Against Waste
7) Joanna Gruesome, Peanut Butter
8) Dave Rawlings Machine, Nashville Obsolete
9) Daniel Romano, If I’ve Only One Time Asking
10) Robert Glasper, Covered
11) The Go! Team, The Scene Between
12) Olivia Chaney, The Longest River
13) John Moreland, High on Tulsa Heat
14) Fred Thomas, All Are Saved
15) Shamir, Ratchet
16) Mbongwana Star, From Kinshasa
17) Dave Douglas, High Risk
18) Dwight Yoakam, Second Hand Heart
19) Sarah Gayle Meech, Tennessee Love Song

Today in Fred Hiatt’s Rag

[ 60 ] December 31, 2015 |

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Above: People who Fred Hiatt wishes would go away

Fred Hiatt, who has no problem hiring 312 conservatives who all say the same thing, has fired Harold Meyerson, one of the paper’s only liberal voices. Why?

Of course. In Hiatt’s universe, writing about labor power has no value. Better that those workers are unemployed and then join the military so we can invade another Islamic nation for no good reason. Hey, he should hire another 14 writers for the op-ed page who want to see that happen!

[SL] Peter Dreier has more.

My “favorite” part of this is a guy who’s been paying Robert Samuelson to write the same column about how all federal entitlement programs need to be cut for decades firing Harold Meyerson because he writes about the same issue too much. But, of course, 1)Samuelson’s one column idea happens to dovetail with Fred Hiatt’s views, and 2)while “ideological diversity” may mean hiring torture apologists or universally derided hacks, as Erik says God forbid it extend to the left to apply to writers of actual talent.

Adventures in plutocracy

[ 23 ] December 31, 2015 |

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The Times had a piece on Tuesday describing the sharply declining effective federal tax rate of the nation’s 400 richest households over the past 20 years. Back in the days of the cultural revolution Clinton administration, the 400 (blessed be their names) were seeing almost 27% of their income expropriated by our insatiable federal government. Thanks to the No Billionaire Left Behind Act and other assorted legislative reforms passed under the wise reign of Bush the Younger, by 2012 this figure had fallen to 16.7%.

Less than 48 hours later the Times was running another piece, pointing out that the effective tax rate on 2013’s 400 highest “earning” households had shot up to 22.9%, thanks to changes in the tax structure enacted under Obama. The second piece was based on data released by the IRS yesterday. (Inquiring minds might want to know if that release was connected in some way to the previous day’s article).

I’m no tax expert, but I suspect the actual change in the very top end of the US tax structure is not as pronounced as this one-year rise in effective federal income tax rates suggests. This is because the effective rates themselves surely reflect the strategic behavior of the 400 households: that is, in 2012 these people subjected more of their wealth to taxes, precisely because they knew that tax rates on multi-billionaires were going to go up the following year, so they liquidated assets they otherwise would have held, etc. This hypothesis is supported by the fact that the average adjusted gross income of the 400 highest-earning households fell between 2012 and 2013 from $336,000,000 to $265,000,000, even though, for example, stock prices rose much more in the latter year than the former.

Anyway, as I’ve mentioned before, something that helps support what ought to be mind-boggling disparities in wealth is that the human mind isn’t very good at grasping vast mathematical discrepancies in a ready manner. So let’s do some simple calculations.

In 2012, the 400 highest-earning households pulled in, collectively, 134.28 billion dollars. One way of getting a grasp on how much that is would be to ask, how many households making the median household income in the US in 2012 (about $52,000), that is, the income level at the midway point of all 122,500,000 households would it take to add up to $134.28 billion in collective earnings?

Again, this is the kind of thing that’s hard for most people, including me, to estimate off the cuff. Ten thousand households? Fifty thousand? A hundred thousand? The answer is about 2.6 million.

Here’s another fun calculation. The $134.28 billion earned by the highest-grossing 400 American households in 2012 was the equivalent of the total earnings of the lowest X percentage of American households. What is X? This is trickier to calculate, but in 2012 the 20th percentile of household income was about $20,500 and the 10th percentile was just over $12,000. Scribbling on the back of a metaphorical envelope, this suggests that the average income of the bottom 15% of households (that’s more than 18 million households containing around 40 million people) was around $8,500. That adds up to 153 billion dollars, so we probably have to shave off around another percentile of the population to get down to $134 billion.

In other words, the 400 highest-earning families in 2012 probably made about as much as the lowest-earning 14% of the American population made collectively. 14% happens to be just about the official poverty rate, so the 400 richest households made the same amount of money as they would have if they had simply stolen every cent earned by every single poor person in America in 2012, which when you think about it is sort of what happened anyway.

Top Ten of 2015

[ 24 ] December 31, 2015 |

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Here are your top ten LGM posts of 2015!!!!!!

  1. Loomis, Today in the New Gilded Age
  2. Campos, Crazy old man rants in Central Park about young black men committing 95% of all murders
  3. Farley, “Possibly Wanted to Be Arrested?”
  4. Loomis, Those Lazy Professors
  5. Lemieux, Academia 2015
  6. Loomis, More on Paul Theroux, The Greatest Monster in Known History For Caring About American Workers
  7. Lemieux, Fake But Inaccurate
  8. Lemieux, There Is No Constitutional Obligation to Listen to Speeches
  9. Lemieux, “We Also Need to Solve the Pakistan Problem.”
  10. Loomis, Kasich’s War on Ohio Minorities

I think this is the first time I’ve cracked the list in four years or so.

OLDMAN CAT vs. THE BANGING PLACE

[ 17 ] December 31, 2015 |

(Because it is finally cold in Louisiana, today we allowed the Great Dane I affectionately refer to as THE HORSE hang out in the laundry room with the door closed)

OLDMAN CAT: I DON’T MEAN TO ALARM YOU

SEK: THEN USE YOUR INSIDE VOICE.

OLDMAN CAT: BUT YOU NEED TO BE VERY ALARMED THIS IS VERY ALARMING

SEK: What’s “very alarming”?

OLDMAN CAT: THE ROOM IN WHICH THE BANGING HAPPENS

SEK: Couldn’t think of a better way to put it, could you?

OLDMAN CAT: THERE’S EVEN MORE BANGING IN THERE NOW

SEK: There is?

OLDMAN CAT: ALSO A SMELL

SEK: Clean laundry?

OLDMAN CAT: NO THE OPPOSITE

SEK: Dirty laundry?

OLDMAN CAT: EVEN MORE OPPOSITE

SEK: That’s not how that works, but continue.

OLDMAN CAT: I WILL STAND GUARD

SEK: Thank you.

OLDMAN CAT: I WILL NOT LET YOU BE BANGED

SEK: Phrasing, little man.

OLDMAN CAT: YOU WILL NEVER BE BANGED AGAIN

SEK: This is on purpose now, isn’t it?

OLDMAN CAT: SO LONG AS I LIVE YOU WILL NEVER BE BANGED

SEK: Will you get away from the laundry door already, you little shit?

OLDMAN CAT: REMEMBER MY PROMISE I LOVE YOU BYE

5 Ingredients Or Less (Sort of)

[ 38 ] December 31, 2015 |

 

Around 15 years or so ago, my father-in-law bought a CD titled “1 Million Recipes.” (I know it was awhile ago because people were still purchasing things on CD–ADORABLE!!) Anyway, most of the recipes were fairly unremarkable recipes for home cooks. I only remember one, because it’s one I still use. It’s called “Chinese Pork Chops,” and I’ve made it many, many, MANY times. I think one of the reasons I go to it again and again is because it has so few ingredients, it’s easy to remember the recipe and it’s easy to put your own spin on it.

Chinese Pork Chops

Ingredients:

  • 4-6 bone in pork chops
  • 5 tbsp. water
  • 4 tbsp. sugar
  • 3 tbsp. vinegar (cider/white/rice or white wine all work fine)
  • 2 tbsp. soy sauce
  • 1 tbsp. sherry

Directions: 

  1. Mix all ingredients together (save the pork chops, of course).
  2. In a skillet, heat some oil ’til it’s rippling, then lightly brown the chops.
  3. Pour in the soy-sugar mixture. Bring the heat up to high/med-high and let the chops cook through while the sauce thickens.
  4. When the sauce forms a thick glaze, immediately remove pan from heat.
  5. Serve chops and glaze over hot cooked rice.

Now, this is very basic. But’s its easy to add some flair. These days I usually add some fresh or ground ginger, as well as a little dash of sesame oil and Sriracha to the sauce, and serve the whole thing with chopped cilantro on top. A squeeze of lime over everything would be good too, I imagine. I’ve added chopped bok choy to the glaze towards the end of the cooking time, which slows down the sauce to glaze process considerably (because it adds so much water to the mix), but it’s healthy and makes for a great one-pan meal.

The bottom line is that this is quick, easy (and cheap) recipe to work with. What are you favorite quick/easy/cheap, no-fuss, no-muss recipes?

Feel the Jeb!Mentum

[ 25 ] December 31, 2015 |

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Shorter Jeb! Bush: “Is my popularity waning? Oh, no, no, no, no, no, no…no, no, not at all. I, I, I just think that the.. uh.. my appeal is becoming more selective.”

Book Review: J.D. Zahniser and Amelia R. Fry, Alice Paul: Claiming Power

[ 7 ] December 31, 2015 |

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In the latter part of her career, the pioneering oral historian Alice Fry started a definitive biography of Paul’s life up to the passage of the Nineteenth Amendment. When she could not finish it due to the onset of Alzheimer’s Disease, J.D. Zahniser took it over and completed it. This new biography is by turns fascinating and frustrating, demonstrating both the power and limits of the biographical form.

Paul grew up in a Quaker family and she was pretty wealthy. These two issues are important, for while Paul was able to fairly easily move away from Quaker notions about not placing oneself too far out in front of political movements (although she was almost always characterized as someone who credited other people before herself), following her inner light clearly defined her career, seeing the truth as more important than respectability or conventionality. And her money, and the social status of most leading suffragists, did a lot to shield them from too much public approbation, although Paul would move beyond these protections through her direct action protests.

Paul’s early career was pretty typical of a lot of young Progressive women. She went to Swarthmore and then worked at a settlement house. But she didn’t care too much for class-based work and moved past that experience fairly quickly, getting a master’s degree from Penn. She then went to Europe, where she did a bit more social work, briefly getting a job in a London factory in order to learn what the lives of the poor were like. But again, this did not interest her much. Soon she gravitated toward the British suffrage movement. Specifically, she found herself close to the Pankhurst family, the leading family of radical British suffrage. They pioneered the radical direct action, including vandalism, arson, and violence, to demand equality. Paul became one of the most important American allies they had. She repeatedly put herself in dangerous situations, was arrested and then force fed in prison when she went on hunger strikes.

Paul returned to the U.S. in 1910 and instantly threw herself into the suffrage movement, providing a much-needed jolt of radical energy to a movement of wealthy women highly concerned about pushing Victorian respectability boundaries too aggressively. Her direct action tactics soon brought her into conflict with Carrie Chapman Catt and the National American Woman Suffrage Association (NAWSA), leading to a split. But Paul had her followers and, pushing herself to extreme limits, spent the next decade organizing, fundraising, committing direct action protests, and demanding the immediate support of all politicians for women’s suffrage. She got more aggressive rather than less as World War I came to dominate American politics. She and her followers targeted Democrats in the 1914 midterm elections because of their disgust over Woodrow Wilson’s unwillingness to support their cause, focusing on the states where women did have the right to vote, and evidently having some effect. It does seem that in states with suffrage, women voted for Charles Evans Hughes in 1916 because of his support for suffrage. This got increased attention from politicians, who worried about the effects of this vote on their party. Paul ramped up her campaign as the U.S. got involved in the war, leading to arrests, imprisonment in terrible conditions, attempts by the government to have her declared insane, hunger strikes, and near-torture conditions in prison. All this just served to increase attention for her cause. Paul knew this and encouraged it. Finally, Wilson came out in tepid support of what would be the Nineteenth Amendment and while neither party by any means unanimously supported women’s suffrage (the Republican dominated states of Connecticut, Delaware, and Vermont did not pass the amendment), it ensured its passage and eventual ratification, although only by a single vote in Tennessee.

This biography effectively demonstrates several key points we should know about Paul and suffrage movement. First, Zahniser and Fry show how fine a line Paul had to walk on race. With a long history of the women’s movement racebaiting their way to respectable politics and with racial attitudes hardening during the 1910s, inviting black suffragists into the movement was fraught with difficulty and Paul consistently walked a fine line here. Unfortunately, the biographers give us very little information on who these black women were. Moreover, when Paul and her followers burned Wilson in effigy, many northern suffragists were outraged, some because of the radical nature of the action, but many others because it seemed to validate the practice of lynching that many of them also opposed. Second, the two biographers clearly believe that the direct action of Paul had a much greater effect on ratifying the Nineteenth Amendment than the more moderate actions of Catt and the NAWSA. Several commenters of the time, including southern Congressmen who ended up voting for the amendment, said so themselves. Direct action was effective and Paul’s personal sacrifices make it impossible to think the movement could have won in 1920 without her. In fact, when one thinks how reaction was rapidly sweeping the country by 1920, had the Nineteenth Amendment not passed when it did, it’s entirely plausible that it could have taken until the 1930s and the New Deal for women to gain the vote.

Unfortunately, this book ends in 1920. At this time, Alice Paul was 35 years old. She had 57 years of life ahead of her. These last 57 years receive 3 pages. This is common in most writings about Paul. While I get that the passage of the Nineeteenth Amendment was obviously the peak moment of Paul’s political life, the last 2/3 of her life do deserve some focus, at least a chapter or two. Paul was a fighter for the Equal Rights Amendment, even at the end of her life. And she didn’t understand the cultural and sexual critiques of second wave feminism, showing befuddlement over the emphasis on abortion. Don’t these questions, as well as many other points in her last 57 years, deserve some attention to if we are to get the complete picture of Paul?

And yet despite this, the book, at over 300 pages of text, seems a bit long, demonstrating some of the limits of biography. How much information do we need to know about an individual? This obviously depends primarily on the interest of the reader. The question any biography has to answer is how to balance intricate details about the individual versus the larger context of the time. This biography, as many if not most do, tends to fall toward the former. This is why I usually find biographies frustrating. I am not reading books to focus on personalities. I get that’s why most people read biographies, but a book like this would be more useful if it signposted Paul’s life to the larger social and political world of the era more often. Certainly one gets a strong sense of Woodrow Wilson’s opposition to women’s suffrage and the details of how Paul and her allies influenced the 1916 election, because it’s absolutely necessary for the details of Paul herself, but more on Progressivism and other areas of women’s activism during the time would really flesh out the larger issues.

Overall, this is a book I would highly recommend to anyone interested in the history of women’s suffrage or in Alice Paul specifically.

Better Late Than Etc.

[ 108 ] December 31, 2015 |

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Cosby arrested.

Wednesday Night Reading

[ 3 ] December 31, 2015 |

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Pico Iyer on Kurosawa’s Ikiru.

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