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Black Lung Blues

[ 19 ] July 31, 2013 |

Black lung is returning with force to the miners of Appalachia. Coal companies have fought against meaningful reforms (or even recognizing it exists) for over a century, and longer if you go back to the coal mines of 19th century England.* The only time workers have ever managed a major breakthrough was with the passage of the Federal Mine Safety and Health Act of 1969, which coincided with a larger move toward meaningful workplace safety reform at a time when social tumult (including grassroots activism against an unresponsive union leadership) combined with economic prosperity to create a new set of demands for working people. The Mine Safety and Health Administration made real progress against black lung. But new technologies have increased exposure to the increasingly few workers in the mines and black lung rates are rising again. The MSHA hasn’t done anything to stop it because the coal industry cares far more about stopping meaningful reform than any equally powerful consistency does about pushing it through.

*Read Alan Derickson’s Black Lung, if you are interested in this issue. Which you should be.

Legacy Pollution

[ 44 ] July 31, 2013 |

In Carson, California, Shell Oil used to have an oil tank farm. Then, thanks to America’s lax environmental regulatory state, a housing development was built on top of it when Shell no longer needed it. Shell claims the land is safe and they have no responsibility for it. Residents say their soil is poisonous. Soil tests taken five years ago show elevated levels of benzene and petroleum. Residents claim an array of health problems The Los Angeles Regional Water Quality Board has ordered Shell to clean up the soil, but there is significant debate over whether to clean it up right now as an emergency or do the necessary testing that would delay the cleanup for a year. Shell is unhappy.

A dark side of southern California’s landscape is the legacy of nearly a century of oil production. You don’t always see that legacy, but it’s there. It became famous during the 1969 Santa Barbara oil spill that spawned an array of environmental legislation, but the roots go back to the early 20th century, as does local resistance to it. Too often, corporations get away with improper cleanup, leaving a legacy of pollution for residents, often the poor who can afford to buy houses in a ecologically degraded neighborhood.

Not Allowing Prayer in Classrooms Is Totally the Same Thing as Genocide

[ 198 ] July 31, 2013 |

Conservatives in Kentucky are very angry. After all, the state might adopt scientific standards that teach actual science instead of Christian mythology. The responses are quite rational:

Matt Singleton, a Baptist minister, is one of the opponents who spoke to the board about why the standards should not be adopted, according to The Courier-Journal. “Outsiders are telling public school families that we must follow the rich man’s elitist religion of evolution, that we no longer have what the Kentucky Constitution says is the right to worship almighty God,” Singleton said. “Instead, this fascist method teaches that our children are the property of the state.”

Another opponent, Dena Stewart-Gore, suggested that the standards will make religious students feel ostracized. “The way socialism works is it takes anybody that doesn’t fit the mold and discards them,” she said, per the The Courier-Journal. “We are even talking genocide and murder here, folks.”

What killed the Jews in the Holocaust was the Nazis teaching them that the Earth was not 6000 years old. They all dropped dead of heart attacks or something.

Ag-Gag Bills Defeated

[ 9 ] July 31, 2013 |

In just about the only good thing for progressives in this year’s horror film of state legislation, all 11 ag-gag bills were defeated. Attempts by agribusiness to criminalize anyone taking footage of their operations went down to defeat. However, I am extremely pessimistic that we will repeat such a record in 2014. After all, North Carolina will continue on its road to become America’s worst state and I have no confidence that lovely state legislature would reject such a bill twice.

Where Have All the Jobs Gone?

[ 119 ] July 30, 2013 |

Overseas, quite decisively.

The above chart measures percentage growth in employment from U.S. multinational corporations both in the U.S. and abroad.

Worldwide employment by U.S. multinational companies (MNCs) increased 1.5 percent in 2011 to 34.5 million workers, with the increase primarily reflecting increases abroad. In the United States, employment by U.S. parent companies increased 0.1 percent to 22.9 million workers, compared with a 1.8 percent increase in total private industry employment in the United States. The total employment by U.S. parents accounted for roughly one-fifth of total U.S. employment in private industries. Abroad, employment by majority-owned foreign affiliates of U.S. MNCs increased 4.4 percent to 11.7 million workers.

U.S. multinationals accounted for 20.9% of U.S. private sector payrolls in 2011, 21.8% in 1989. Yet from 1989 to 2011, U.S. MNCs decreased their employment in the United States by 3.3 million workers while expanding employment abroad by 6,5 million employees. The share of employment by MNCs in the United States went from 79% of their total employees in 1989 to 66.3% by 2011. Multinational corporations are clearly doing their hiring abroad.

This is why I don’t understand why so many people still think the current economic doldrums is just a product of the banking/housing crisis and a poor government response to it. These are permanent changes in the economy. There simply are not stable jobs for Americans anymore. Extreme capital mobility has shifted more and more jobs overseas. At first this was just manufacturing, now it is lower level law positions and middle management. What jobs that haven’t been moved are in the process of being mechanized to the point that the jobs won’t exist any longer (such as professors and MOOCs). People’s blind faith in capitalism’s ultimate beneficence to the American people have blinded themselves to the reality of 21st century America–a land increasingly without steady work or meaningful job creation, unless you are in the corporate elite.

More Farina

[ 5 ] July 30, 2013 |

An outstanding obituary of the great Dennis Farina by Alex Pappademas. Farina is one of those people who had a fairly minor career in the big scheme of things, but who affected so many people and who everyone loves and misses dearly upon their death.

Time to Draw the Line

[ 92 ] July 30, 2013 |

I think it’s time we draw a line in the sand on hipsterdom. This, from the Oregon Brewers Festival:

Perhaps you’ve heard the tale already. Rogue Ales brewmaster John Maier discovered that the wild yeast growing in his beard could be cultivated to a state suitable for fermenting beer. So that’s exactly what he did. Thirsty yet? If you manage to get past the mental block that goes with drinking an ale with human beard yeast in it, you’ll find a very fruity beer that smells and tastes of ripe bananas and pineapple. Gimmicky? You betcha. Successful? Absolutely.


Look, I like weird beer. And I have beard envy, being unable to grow one. But at some point, one must draw a line in the sand to protect civilization. I mean, I thought that gross Maple Bacon Porter put Rogue over the top. But beard yeast? From the brewmater’s beard? Please excuse me while I vomit.

San Francisco Bleg

[ 140 ] July 30, 2013 |

Since SEK got so many good tips on his travel post, let me ask you all for some advice. Later this week, I have a 5 hour layover in San Francisco. After taking BART from the airport and needing to get back with enough time to board my flight, I figure we are talking 2-2 1/2 hours in the city. I don’t know San Francisco all that well, but I’ve been twice. My wife has never been there. This layover is in the evening, so dinner and a drink is in order, as well as perhaps a touch of walking around in a cool neighborhood or by the water.

What would you suggest I do to make the most of my time in San Francisco?

Rheeism=Pure Objectivity

[ 59 ] July 30, 2013 |

What a surprise that those supposedly “measuring” school success change their data for political convenience.

Former Indiana and current Florida schools chief Tony Bennett built his national star by promising to hold “failing” schools accountable. But when it appeared an Indianapolis charter school run by a prominent Republican donor might receive a poor grade, Bennett’s education team frantically overhauled his signature “A-F” school grading system to improve the school’s marks.

Emails obtained by The Associated Press show Bennett and his staff scrambled last fall to ensure influential donor Christel DeHaan’s school received an “A,” despite poor test scores in algebra that initially earned it a “C.”

“They need to understand that anything less than an A for Christel House compromises all of our accountability work,” Bennett wrote in a Sept. 12 email to then-chief of staff Heather Neal, who is now Gov. Mike Pence’s chief lobbyist.

The emails, which also show Bennett discussed with staff the legality of changing just DeHaan’s grade, raise unsettling questions about the validity of a grading system that has broad implications. Indiana uses the A-F grades to determine which schools get taken over by the state and whether students seeking state-funded vouchers to attend private school need to first spend a year in public school. They also help determine how much state funding schools receive.

Why, it’s almost as if school reformers care more about pushing Republican policy points than helping children! Surely those scoundrels at the American Federation of Teachers are at the bottom of this! In fact, teachers did lead a campaign to defeat Bennett, who was rewarded for his failure by getting a sweet job doing the same thing in Florida.

God Certainly Wouldn’t Want Virginia to End Up Like Mexico

[ 16 ] July 30, 2013 |

The Richmond Daily Dispatch, July 29, 1863, arguing that God would not allow the South to become like Mexico:

The convulsion which is to cause a permanent disruption of the Federal Government and its division into Governments, embracing smaller areas of territory, is a Providential event. Its purpose is to adapt this immense country to the condition of things which has been so greatly changed since the formation of the Federal Government. It cannot be defeated or much delayed in its course.

Such a vast country, inhabited by a civilized and enlightened people, cannot be controlled by one Government. It was easy, and indeed mutually advantageous to the old thirteen States in their infantile and feeble condition to join in a confederacy for limited purposes and common interests. But in their present populous condition, with conflicting and hostile sectional and social interests and feelings, which have been developed and strengthened as rapidly as the population itself, it would be impossible to hold them together by any means short of a force superior to the spirit and power which resists the union and struggles for separation. It is not probable — nay, we say possible — that so much force can be brought to resist the inevitable disintegration from these causes. Could it be, the States held by force would no longer be free States, and the Government that ruled them would of necessity be despotic. This would not be all. The subjugated States would soon degenerate, and society in them cease to be what it is. Ruined in their wealth and agriculture — ceasing to be the producers of staple exports, their people would have neither energy nor spirit, and in the scale of civilization would in time come to a level with the Mexicans.

Turns out God, if such a thing exists, might not have taken too kindly with your treason in defense of slavery ideology after all. Mexico it is! If Eric Cantor and Ken Cuccinelli aren’t wearing somberos and drinking tequila by tomorrow night, I might think Confederate newspaper editors might have been a bit full of themselves.

Be Safe. Live in Cities

[ 99 ] July 30, 2013 |

Despite our national culture of fearing cities and creating myths about rural America being the Heartland and such, living in a city is far safer than living in the countryside.

Would be interesting to see a comparison of suburbs to inner cities.

Ho Chi Minh and America

[ 80 ] July 29, 2013 |

Last week, Barack Obama had a meeting with Vietnamese president Truong Tan Sang. After the meeting, Obama had some remarks about the relationship between Ho Chi Minh and American history:

At the conclusion of the meeting, President Sang shared with me a copy of a letter sent by Ho Chi Minh to Harry Truman. And we discussed the fact that Ho Chi Minh was actually inspired by the US Declaration of Independence and Constitution, and the words of Thomas Jefferson. Ho Chi Minh talks about his interest in cooperation with the United States. And President Sang indicated that even if it’s 67 years later, it’s good that we’re still making progress.

All true. But conservatives are flipping out that the Kenyan Usurper supports Vietnamese communism, which they already knew anyway.

Several conservative media outlets blasted the president on similar terms. “Obama may have just been trying to flatter his guest who was obviously eager to show that Ho was not the monster history shows him to be,” Chris Stirewalt, digital politics editor for Fox News wrote. “But his connection between the American founders and Ho shows either a massive lack of historical knowledge on the part of the president or a remarkable degree of moral flexibility.” (The Drudge Report quickly picked up the Fox piece.) The headline at read, “Obama Praises Communist Dictator & American Enemy Ho Chi Minh.” And so on and so forth.

Hilarious stuff. But Ho’s history with the United States goes back well before 1945, when Ho appealed to the U.S. for help against French colonialism at the close of World War II. In 1919, Ho Chi Minh was a 29-year old Vietnamese nationalist living in Paris. Like nationalists across the colonized world, Ho was inspired by the words of Woodrow Wilson around national self-determination. Ho already had a positive view of America’s revolutionary history and hoped he could enlist Wilson in the Vietnamese cause. He was not alone. Nationalists in Africa, China, and India also held onto Wilson’s words as a great promise. Of course what none of these people knew was that Wilson was a white supremacist and colonialist and that his vision of self-determination existed solely for European white people. Ho tried to meet with Wilson, but the president of course refused and gave America’s support to French colonialism in Asia. When Wilson failed to live up to the promise that Ho and others had projected upon him, they turned to the alternative of the Soviet Union. But in 1919, this was a decidedly second choice. Not only was the USSR weak, divided, and in the middle of a raging civil war, but the nationalists from colonized countries preferred U.S. help because of the vision of freedom and democracy it represented. Unfortunately, American rhetoric has never lived up to reality, especially when it comes to nations of brown people. The Haitians were inspired by the American Revolution and the U.S. isolated it after it kicked out the French. The nations of Latin America were inspired by the American Revolution and we know how the U.S. have treated those nations throughout the post-1821 years.

So in thinking about Ho’s relationship with the United States, it’s a story not only of his, perhaps idealized, vision of the United States, but of the failed opportunities of American foreign policy to reject colonialism after both World War I and World War II and create positive relationships with developing nations. I’m not saying this was a particularly realistic stance for the United States to take in 1919 (although it was in 1946), but in the history of mistakes with bad consequences, blowing off Ho Chi Minh has to be pretty high.