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Archive for March, 2016

Improve Your Personality

[ 28 ] March 31, 2016 |

Some advice from 1951. Certainly I could use it.

Also, here’s a great piece about why the Soviets didn’t have American enemies in their Cold War films while Americans were making Red Dawn and Rocky IV.

I watched Pickup on South Street earlier this week. It was great, but equally good was the bonus material that included Sam Fuller talking about how he got such an overtly unpatriotic film with no sympathetic characters made, which was himself and Darryl Zanuck going to J. Edgar Hoover, listening to his objections, and then Fuller pointing out that they both knew the same corrupt cops and the like who had done the very things Fuller shows in the film.

Finally, I saw Lady Snowblood for the first time last night. So. Incredibly. Awesome. Lots of spurting blood with geyser sound effects combined with beautiful cinematography is my kind of thing.


Who’s feeling tanned, toned and ready to be tested?

[ 97 ] March 31, 2016 |

I’m sure I’m not the only one who has been watching the Republican’s imitation of the Batley Townwomen’s Guild and wondering if the nation’s strategic popcorn reserves will last until November what M. Fleur de la Merde has to say about the pending GOPcon.

If we have somebody who we think has been battle-tested and has strong conservative principles and the ability to articulate them, and they are nominated at this convention, there will be a lot of acrimony from the people who were seeking the nomination. But if it’s somebody who has, you know, has those convictions that they can express in a compelling way, we could come out of the convention in relatively strong position, because we do have, you know, look.

Wait. Candidate Battle-bot Articulated Principles will make people angry, but Candidate Express Compelling Convictions … won’t? Perhaps this would make sense if I was a rich, terminally spoiled creep who broke out in hives when I heard the words “living wage.” Alas.

Donald Trump excites a lot of enthusiasm. But he also excites a lot of anger within the Republican Party and outside of the Republican Party.

Thanks a lot Obama!

And a fresh face might be the thing that could give us a chance to turn this election and win in November against Hillary.

So. Rove’s cunning plan is to pull a fresh face – that isn’t attached to Marco Rubio apparently – out of a hat at the convention.

I don’t think there’s that much popcorn in the world, but I’d be willing to go without if only that would happen.

As an aside, what’s Harold Watson Gowdy v. 3.0 up to these days?

How Obama Created Trump: A Theory For Idiots

[ 148 ] March 31, 2016 |


Daniel Henninger has a superb entry in the “Donald Trump’s rise is the fault of everyone but his Republican enablers and the people who vote for him” sweepstakes:

Today, the last men standing amidst the debris of the Republican presidential competition are Donald Trump, a political independent who is using the Republican Party like an Uber car; Ted Cruz, who used the Republican Party as a footstool; and John Kasich, a remnant of the Reagan revolution, who is being told by Republicans to quit.

History may quibble, but this death-spiral began with Barack Obama’s health-care summit at Blair House on Feb. 25, 2010. For a day, Republicans gave detailed policy critiques [sic with extreme prejudice] of the proposed Affordable Care Act. When it was over, the Democrats, including Mr. Obama, said they had heard nothing new.

That meeting was the last good-faith event in the Obama presidency. Barack Obama killed politics in Washington that day because he had no use for it, and has said so many times. The Democrats survived the Obama desert by going to ground. But frustrated Republicans outside Congress eventually started tearing each other apart.

Ah, yes, the current Republican implosion is due to the perfidy of Barack HUSSEIN Obama, and the fact that he rejected such sage, detailed policy advice as “we should make deregulate insurance markets and establish worthless state-level risk pools rather than actually doing comprehensive health care reform” and instead decided to pass a health care bill with the unprecedented, dictatorial method of having a bill passed by a majority of the House of Representatives and a supermajority of the Senate. Truly, not just politics but democracy itself died on that day, leaving the Republicans with no choice but to nominate an unelectable crackpot. Hard to see any flaws in that logic.

[via Matt O’Brien]

The Rules That Will Govern a Meltdown

[ 85 ] March 31, 2016 |

As many of you have will have already discovered, Ed Kilgore’s blogging about GOP convention rules has been invaluable. This is a really good discussion of why the contemporary political convention is very poorly suited to actually choosing (rather than coronating) a nominee. Today, he has a good analysis of how difficult it would be for the Republicans to install a white knight in place of Trump or Cruz:

Now, obviously, the shoe is on the other foot, and there is a growing possibility that the two strongest candidates for the GOP nomination, Trump and Ted Cruz, could join their considerable forces to insist on maintenance of Rule 40(b) or something much like it to prevent their common Republican Establishment enemies from exploiting a multi-ballot convention to place someone else at the top of the ticket.

Trump is currently the only candidate who is beyond the eight-state-majority threshold for competing for the nomination under the strict terms of Rule 40(b). But Team Cruz is confident enough that its candidate will also satisfy the rule that he’s the one out there arguing that Rule 40(b) means votes for John Kasich are an entire waste because they won’t be counted in Cleveland. And with both Trump and Cruz repeatedly claiming that the nomination of a dark horse who hasn’t competed during the primaries would be an insult to the GOP rank and file, maintaining Rule 40(b) is the obvious strategy to close off that possibility. A good indicator of the new situation is the evolving position of Virginia party activist and veteran Rules Committee member Morton Blackwell, a loud dissenter against Rule 40(b) before and after the 2012 convention, who now, as a Cruz supporter, is arguing that changing the rule “would be widely and correctly viewed as [an] outrageous power grab.”

But can the Republican Establishment stack the Rules Committee with party insiders determined to overturn Rule 40(b) and keep the party’s options wide open going into Cleveland? Not really. That committee is composed of two members elected by each state delegation. No likely combination of Kasich and Rubio delegates and “false-flag” delegates bound to Trump or Cruz but free to vote against their interests on procedural issues is likely to make up a majority of the Rules Committee, or of the convention. Indeed, most of the anecdotal evidence about “delegate-stealing” in the murky process of naming actual bodies to fill pledged seats at the convention shows Team Cruz, not some anti-Trump/anti-Cruz cabal, gaining ground. If Trump and Cruz stick together on this one point no matter how many insults they are exchanging as rivals, they almost certainly can shut the door on any truly “open” convention and force Republicans who intensely dislike both of them to choose their poison.

In theory, convention rules can be preemptively changed. How this would be accomplished to specifically stop Trump and Cruz from attaining the nomination remains very unclear.

Skyping with Rousseau

[ 28 ] March 31, 2016 |

Normally I try to keep in mind that one’s dreams are almost always boring to other people, but this one I think may be an exception. Not your average teaching stress/anxiety dream.

In my dream last night, the latest technological innovation was the capacity to skype with deceased persons from the afterlife. This valuable innovation comes at a very high cost; a single skype session costs a huge amount of money. Despite this cost, I petition and ultimately persuade my employer to cover the costs of a skype session with one of the canonical figures whose work I teach in my history of political theory class. I leave the choice up to students, using single transferable votes, but Rousseau is the clear winner. As I begin the process of the paperwork to arrange for the skype session, I learn from the Dean’s office that the funding has been pulled. There was evidently some concern that bring in a man who so willingly and callously discarded his own children, and spent his life prevaricating and offering various excuses and justifications, was perhaps not fully in line with our Catholic and Marianist values. I was mildly annoyed, but my students were well and truly outraged. In response to what they understood to be an affront to their academic freedom, they organized a series of in person and on-line protests, making “Dayton bans Rousseau” the viral outrage of the moment. At the moment that I woke up, I was preparing to be a guest on Morning Joe to discuss the controversy, a prospect I was really dreading. Once I was over the initial confusion of waking up mid-dream, I was mostly just relieved I wouldn’t have to go on Morning Joe.

Keep on Fracking!

[ 40 ] March 31, 2016 |


Now that the USGS has determined that Oklahoma has as much chance of a damaging earthquake in the next year as California, the only solution is to frack, frack away!

I was in your state writing about water not long ago, and the big worry indeed was that a quake would wreck the aqueduct network that carries water from rainy Northern California to the south. The big worry in Oklahoma is about another liquid: oil. Scientists say you can’t stop the quakes without cutting back drastically on the amount of wastewater pumped back into the ground, but the oil and gas industry can’t pump up the good stuff without bringing a torrent of wastewater with it, and if there’s no place to put it, pumping has to stop, or at least be dialed way back.

The prospect that Oklahoma’s cash cow might have to run dry to stop the tremors all but paralyzed state officials for years. You had the odd spectacle of hopping-mad citizens demanding action even as the governor ruminated that, well, maybe something else is making the state shake. Kansas, meanwhile, deemed quakes an imminent threat to the public and ordered steep cutbacks in waste disposal a year ago.

Life for Garment Workers in India

[ 20 ] March 31, 2016 |

The global production economy is obviously great for workers. Thank you Walmart, Gap, and Target for providing these workers in India jobs by contracting production out to the lowest bidder who have every incentive to beat and rob workers at every point of the process.

Rahul was earlier being paid Rs. 5813. However, he says, the working hours are rarely limited to eight. “Generally, we work for 12 to 14 hours per day,” said Prajapati. Money for ‘overtime’ is paid but rarely according to official rates which should be double the usual wages. For someone getting Rs. 7600 as salary, money for per hour of ‘overtime’ should amount to around Rs. 60 (with the daily pay being Rs. 250 approximately, the per hour rate would come to around Rs. 30). Prajapati said that workers like him got anywhere from Rs. 27 to Rs. 30 as payment for overtime, in gross violation of the official guidelines.

Virender Ram is a tailor, a higher-up in the hierarchy of garment factory workers. He came to work here two years ago, from the plains in Nepal. Although he is getting the newly revised salary of approximately Rs. 9000, he is still not entitled to any paid leaves or regular weekly offs, nor does he get the payment for “overtime” according to the official rates.

Ajay Kumar came to Udyog Vihar looking for work a decade ago. Initially, he received Rs. 2600 as salary for his work as “helper”. He continued at the same factory all these years and is now getting paid the revised minimum wage. He told me that while he was getting payment for “overtime” at the official rate – double of the usual rate – the behaviour of the supervisors in the factories in Udyog Vihar left much to be desired. “They are often abusive,” he told me.

Other workers corroborated the allegation. “The lower level of management treats workers badly,” said a worker on condition of anonymity. The reasons for the ire of the supervisor can often be a small delay in finishing lunch or having the tea within the stipulated time – they are allowed half an hour for lunch and fifteen minute breaks for tea twice a day. “Especially those in the housekeeping department, like sweepers for example, are treated the worse. They can be fired for the smallest of reasons, and that too only on the basis of suspicion sometimes,” said Rithik Kumar who has worked as a sweeper among other odd-jobs in these factories. He told me he had worked in several factories in Udyog Vihar and physical abuse was a recurring feature everywhere. “If they abuse us verbally, we also respond at times. If you have hands, so do we,” he said, explaining how fights took place. He added that no one was happy working in these factories. “People return to their villages as poor as when they came to work here,” said Rithik.

Rithik and other workers also claimed that while money for Provident Fund was deducted from every worker’s salary, hardly anyone received it. “They even throw you out if you fall sick a couple of times in quick succession,” another worker added.

Others pointed to the open drain near which many workers live as an important source of occurrence of illness. It traversed the entire length of the colony on one side. Flies and other insects hovered above its dirty water, with garbage rotting on its sides.

“What can be worse than this? Kids are playing next to the open drain. It is filthy here,” said one of the workers. “We are also human beings. But the way we are treated in these factories, I am afraid to set foot in them,” Rithik told me. Other workers added that even going to the loo was highly restricted and controlled, with workers expected to do it as quickly as possible.

India has different workplace and environmental standards and I guess that’s OK! Those workers should be thankful when they are beaten or when their kids get sick from the poisons around the factory! Yay capitalism! Obviously opposing this system of exploitation is a sign on my own immorality in denying these workers these wonderful lives they are now leading.

Where Are the Obama Pardons?

[ 117 ] March 31, 2016 |


President Obama rightfully noted the injustice leading to so many people, largely people of color, thrown in prison for long periods of time because of drug crimes. He wanted to pardon many of them. But that hasn’t happened, despite a few yesterday. This led to the resignation of the attorney in charge of the process a few days ago. Why? This is a good piece on the limits of rapid presidential action on complex issues like this.

The pardon office didn’t have the resources it needed to process all the applications it was receiving. Partly this is the fault of Congress, which responded to the Obama administration’s moves in 2014 by trying to defund them. As a result, the office couldn’t hire the extra attorneys it needed to process the new petitions coming in. That’s what Leff’s letter was referring to when she says that “the requests of thousands of petitioners seeking justice will lie unheard.”

But this isn’t entirely Congress’s fault. Leff says she’s been “instructed to set aside thousands of petitions for pardon and traditional commutation” in order to look at the applications the Obama administration asked prisoners to send in 2014. The letter makes it seem that the Obama administration was already dealing with a backlog when it solicited thousands of new applications, without a plan for how it was actually going to process either the new ones or the existing ones.

The pardon attorney didn’t have enough of a role in the pardon process. The president makes the final decision on all pardons and commutations. But before an application reaches the president’s desk, a recommendation is made by the pardon attorney, then by the White House Counsel.

Leff, however, writes that she didn’t have any access to the White House Counsel’s office to explain her recommendations. Furthermore, she says, in an “increasing number of cases,” the Department of Justice “reversed our recommendations.” Given the stinginess of commutations so far, it’s reasonable to assume this means the Department of Justice has been stepping in to recommend that commutations be denied, even when the pardon attorney’s office says they should be granted.

In other words, the president is not all-powerful and big initiatives like this take a lot of resources and attention. The president saying he support something can get a ball rolling, but it can’t go very far without a lot of resources in the face of other parts of the government protecting their own interests by resisting.

A People’s History of the Marvel Universe, Week 8: Cap Saves Altamont

[ 34 ] March 31, 2016 |

people's history week 8

Face front, true believers!

As I discussed in Week 5, a lot of work had to be done to make Captain America work for the 1960s. But in addition to the political work I talked about (and will discuss a lot more in the future), it also meant a good deal of cultural work as well.

Sometimes, this could be rather awkward, as Stan Lee (48 at the time) hustled like hell to keep Marvel comics relevant in an industry whose primary consumers were teenagers in the midst of one of the largest generational divides in U.S history:


And as my colleague Elana notes, it often takes comics a decade or more to catch up to cultural changes, which can lead to awkward juxtapositions where characters like Nightwing are rocking a 70s disco v-neck costume well into the 90s (oh no! I just got DC in my Marvel!)

But sometimes, sometimes, even the squarest comic book writers and artists can catch onto a wavelength from youth culture and create something fascinating. Hence why in Marvel continuity, Captain America saved the Altamont Free Concert from the (copyright-friendly equivalent of the) Hells Angels:


Read more…

The War on Reproductive Freedom Is A War On Women, Their Security of the Person, and Their Privacy

[ 73 ] March 31, 2016 |


Djw observes below that opponents of reproductive freedom are nothing if not creative in their use of state coercion to obstruct and punish women who choose to obtain abortions. Non-state actors can be similarly creative, and similarly reprehensible:

With assistance from her lawyer, over the course of the next few days, AJ would learn that in addition to the anonymous phone calls that had been made to the clinic while she and her daughter waited for her procedure, people unknown to AJ had faxed her daughter’s personal information—her name, medical information, and even her social security number—to countless numbers of doctors, police, and other strangers in at least two states, without AJ’s knowledge or consent. She would discover that her daughter had been picked up from school and driven across the state border by a person that AJ did not know. And before the saga was resolved, AJ would even find out that an attorney she’d never heard of had purported to represent her daughter, and had sent threatening letters to the abortion clinic, directly interfering with her daughter’s medical treatment.

A Rewire investigation has found that at the center of the drama that unfolded in AJ’s life was a document produced by Life Dynamics, the prominent anti-choice group that is based in Denton, Texas, which receives the majority of its funding from the fracking billionaires Dan and Farris Wilks. The Wilks brothers are also the main backers of Sen. Ted Cruz’s presidential campaign.

The document is a bogus “notice” that tricks women into believing they have signed away their legal rights to receive an abortion. Providers throughout the country have told Rewire that this document has been used for years to deceive and intimidate both patients and providers by threatening them with legal action should they go through with obtaining or providing an abortion.

For all the controversy that Donald Trump’s Kinseyian gaffe on abortion has attracted, Ted Cruz is even more horrible on the issue. As was Marco Rubio. Reasonable, moderate, thinking person’s man’s conservative John Kasich is also an anti-reproductive freedom fanatic. This is what Republican policy is.

Bernie’s Path Forward

[ 301 ] March 31, 2016 |


Is there still a path for Bernie Sanders to win the Democratic nomination? Yes, but it’s awfully challenging, requiring him to build on his momentum over the last caucuses in the West to win most of the remaining states, some by large margins. Of course, “win” can have multiple meanings in this context and I think there’s no question that if Clinton wins, her Cabinet will be significantly farther to the left on economic and labor issues than it would have been without Sanders. The rise of the openly left flank of the party is a good thing for all involved and I think it will have a concrete presence within a Clinton administration.


[ 32 ] March 31, 2016 |

Today in appalling innovations in abortion law:

Utah Gov. Gary Herbert just signed a law that will require doctors to ignore best medical practice and give some women unnecessary anesthesia for abortions. This is the first time any state has tried this, even during a veritable boom of creative anti-abortion lawmaking at the state level.

The idea behind SB 234, or the Protecting Unborn Children Amendments, is to prevent a fetus from feeling pain during an abortion at 20 weeks or more. It requires a doctor performing an abortion at this stage to “administer an anesthetic or analgesic to eliminate or alleviate organic pain to the unborn child.”

The problem? Thorough reviews of medical evidence reject the idea that fetuses can actually feel pain at 20 weeks. They don’t fully develop the proper neurological structures to feel pain until later, around 29 to 30 weeks in the third trimester.

The bigger problem? There’s really no such thing as “fetal anesthesia” in standard medical practice. And the law doesn’t specify how doctors are supposed to make it happen.

“I’ve emailed the governor and asked him to tell me what to do, because I don’t know what to do,” Dr. Leah Torres, an OB-GYN and abortion provider in Utah, told Vox. “It’s like saying, ‘Take someone’s widget out using standard medical practice.’ I don’t know what that means.”

Elizabeth Nash, a policy analyst at the Guttmacher Institute, told CNN that the law could amount to a “de facto” ban on abortions at 20 weeks or later, because no doctor would give a patient anesthesia who doesn’t need it.

And banning abortion after 20 weeks is exactly what Utah lawmakers were trying to do in the first place, the Salt Lake Tribune reports. The bill’s sponsor, Republican Sen. Curt Bramble, initially proposed a total ban on abortion after 20 weeks but changed it after he was told the ban would be unconstitutional.

The headline for the story suggests Utah doctors are “dumbfounded” by the new law. Perhaps they are, but if they’ve been paying attention they shouldn’t be. What’s going on here should be fairly obvious, especially in light of Donald Trump’s gaffe (and uncharacteristically speedy and thorough walkback). They understand it’d be a political disaster for them if they tried to use the criminal justice system to punish women who seek abortions, but that doesn’t mean they have to give up on punishment altogether. Punishment comes in many forms. The story here isn’t “Utah Republicans have false beliefs which lead to bad, unnecessary law,” it’s one, or both, of the following: “Utah Republicans looking for backdoor ways to enact unconstitutional abortion bans”/”Utah Republicans use doctors as a tool to administer an extra-judicial punishment.”

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