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Economic Populism

[ 129 ] February 22, 2016 |


We know how the appeal of Bernie Sanders is based around economic populism, especially since he’s primarily a 1-issue candidate and that’s the issue. And we know why–growing income inequality, a lack of jobs, student debt, a declining middle class, etc., etc. These are real issues and the political elite in the Democratic Party don’t take it very seriously, not to mention of course the Republican elites. But this is also part of the Trump appeal. While I don’t believe that he would do anything to actually stop American companies from crushing the working class and sending jobs overseas, Trump’s rhetoric is tapping into that same economic discontent in its older white supremacist form, allowing the white working class to blame foreigners for their loss of their jobs and seeking to vote for a candidate that allows them to be racist in their own nation while also able to blame someone for their economic problems. Trump is going to be the Republican nominee because Republican voters agree with his statements and see him as giving them dignity, which the other candidates can’t do, either appealing just to fundamentalists like Cruz and Carson or to capitalists like Rubio and Kasich. As Surowiecki writes, both Sanders and Trump are ultimately critiquing capitalism:

A week ago Sunday, one of the two eventual winners of the New Hampshire primaries assailed the power of corporate lobbyists over the U.S. government, labelling them “bloodsuckers.” He attacked defense contractors for forcing the government to buy missiles it didn’t need. He blasted oil companies and insurers. And he vowed to use the bargaining power of the U.S. government to drive down drug prices. Surprisingly, this was a speech not by the democratic-socialist Bernie Sanders but, rather, by the self-proclaimed billionaire Donald Trump.

Even before the Trump and Sanders victories in New Hampshire last week, the surface parallels between the men had attracted lots of comment: both are insurgents, channelling widespread political disaffection. Less apparent, but more interesting, is the fact that they’re also channelling profound disaffection with three decades of American economic policy. Trump and Sanders are popular not just because they’re expressing people’s anger but because they offer timely critiques of American capitalism.

That’s obvious in the case of Sanders, whose campaign has focussed on income inequality and the undue influence of corporate élites. Trump’s economic populism, on the other hand, tends to be drowned out by his incendiary anti-immigrant and anti-Muslim positions. Nonetheless, it’s what distinguishes him most strongly from other hard-line conservatives, like Ted Cruz. Trump has called for abolishing the carried-interest tax loophole for hedge-fund and private-equity managers. He’s vowed to protect Social Security. He’s called for restrictions on highly skilled immigrants. Most important, he’s rejected free-trade ideology, suggesting that the U.S. may need to slap tariffs on Chinese goods to protect American jobs. These views put Trump at odds not only with the leadership of the Republican Party but also with the main thrust of economic thinking since the nineteen-eighties, which has been to embrace globalization.

The reality is that the free trade globalization project was never popular with voters, but deeply appealed to the wealthy and political elites in both parties. People are sick and tired of seeing their jobs go overseas and they are sick and tired of the rich dominating America. Whether they then take that discontent and channel toward a society that would help everyone or a society that would seek to blame people of color depends on the individual. However, given the centrality of white nationalism to American history, it’s hardly surprising to see more working-class voters going with the latter.

To me, the question what happens if Hillary or non-Trump Republican wins, or if Trump wins and then doesn’t do anything to stop this. Will we see one or both parties develop a more in-depth critique of globalization that actually does something to help American workers? And if not, will we see more grassroots revolts until someone wins who will do something, whatever that something may be from universal health care and guaranteed basic income to repealing the Immigration Act of 1965?


What Do Voters Want?

[ 23 ] February 22, 2016 |


Above: “The Great Presidential Puzzle,” 1884

Asking what voters want in a presidential candidate is one thing, taking their answers seriously is another. But nonetheless, there are some interesting tidbits here.

Last March, more than a year before the first primaries, more voters valued a hypothetical candidate with “experience and a proven record” (50%) than one who had “new ideas and a different approach” (43%). Just six months later, those numbers had flipped – 55% said it was more important for a candidate to have new ideas, while 37% valued experience and a proven record.

This shift came entirely among Republican and Republican-leaning voters. The share of Republicans saying it was more important for a candidate to have new ideas increased by nearly 30 percentage points over this period, from 36% to 65%. Opinions among Democratic voters remained far more stable. In September, 50% valued experience, about the same as the 46% who said this in March.

In other words, the Democratic base has shifted very little in the last year and I assume that this divide pretty closely mirrors support for Clinton or Sanders. But now that the Republicans have options that allows them to unfurl the racist freak flag, “new ideas” is a lot more appealing than a boring old establishment candidate that would only move the nation significantly to the right.

Political pundits often focus on the “electability” of candidates – how they might fare in a general election contest. But in September, majorities of voters in both parties said it was more important for a candidate to share their positions on the issues.

Two-thirds of both Republican (67%) and Democratic (65%) registered voters said it was more important for a candidate to share their positions on issues than it was for a candidate to have the best chance of defeating the other party’s nominee.

This pretty clearly helps frame what this election is looking like on both the right and the left.

Other, less interesting, notes include that a lot of voters still love the military and that atheists are a horrible evil who must be kept far, far away from the White House.

Buy New Music!

[ 209 ] February 21, 2016 |


Since this primary season makes me want to melt my own face in acid, I imagine many of you feel the same way. So here’s a good argument about nothing political at all–stop listening to the music of your teenage years and explore new tunes. Nothing says “I stopped trying to listen to music years ago” than a person saying, “The kids these days just aren’t making good music.” Of course, exploring older music also has value so even going beyond listening to Dylan and Stones records to explore Sir Douglas Quintet albums is a good idea. But this is most important for listening to new music. Which you need to do.

In early 2012, Fusilli wrote about the Gee-Bees in a column for the Journal and started a website called, devoted to introducing out-of-touch listeners to some of the best new music being made today—from Bon Iver to D’Angelo, Frank Ocean to the Arctic Monkeys, Janelle Monae to St. Germain. And the idea led to his new book, “Catching Up: Connecting with Great 21st Century Music,” which compiles 50 of his columns with short essays on the generational bias that too often passes for deep insight or sturdy critical thinking.

“We’re surrounded by people who, despite a narrow perspective, insist the music of their youth is superior to the sounds of any other period,” he writes. “Most people who prefer old music mean no harm and it’s often a pleasure to listen to them talk about their favorite artists of the distant past. But others are bullies who intend to harangue is into submission, as if their bluster can conceal their ignorance. They ignore what seems to me something that’s self-evident: rock and pop today is as good as it’s ever been.”

This is an important idea, especially in 2016, when pop music seems like a uniquely apt medium for a range of expression. Kendrick Lamar and Beyoncé, among others, are addressing African-American identity and police brutality in stirring songs like “Alright” and “Formation.” Adele and Taylor Swift are writing eloquently about female desire, while Sturgill Simpson and Kacey Musgraves are helping to overturn the gloss-country establishment in Nashville. And if guitar rock is your thing, look to Australia, where acts like Courtney Barnett, Royal Headache and Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever are producing some of the most exciting indie-rock anthems of the decade.

The idea that these young artists should be considered alongside the Beatles and the Stones and Dylan might be easily dismissed as another form of generational bias if it came from a millennial or even a Gen-Xer. But Fusilli is a Baby Boomer who grew up in the ’60s and ’70s and has been writing about music for most of his life. He has a deep knowledge of pop history and even penned an excellent book on the Beach Boys’ “Pet Sounds” (as part of the 33 1/3 series), but more crucially he possesses a driving curiosity about the new music. That makes “Catching Up” a galvanizing read even for those listeners who can name every jazz artist on “To Pimp a Butterfly” or every sample on Kanye’s “The Life of Pablo.” But Fusilli says he wrote the book for “people who are the opposite of the Gee-Bees—that is, secure in their status and welcoming of new ideas.”

In that spirit, I’ve really enjoyed the music of John Moreland in recent weeks. This is off his 2015 album, “High on Tulsa Heat,” which I strongly recommend.

And the new Wussy album is coming out soon. The first song, “Dropping Houses” is typically great.

And in the spirit of older music you might not know if you aren’t of that age, allow me to introduce you to Sir Douglas Quintet, led by the single most underrated individual in the history of rock and roll, the late great Doug Sahm, not to mention Augie Meyers on the organ. Evidently Hugh Hefner had his own late-night show where he wore a tux, interviewed people, and danced to rock and rollers like Sir Douglas Quintet. If you look carefully, you can see Michael Caine dancing as well. 1969, what a time.

Erik Visits an American Grave, Part 20

[ 36 ] February 21, 2016 |

This is the grave of Martin Luther King, Jr.

2016-01-09 16.18.21

Martin Luther King is a man who gave one speech in his life. In that speech he talked about dreams in such a vague way that he actually meant to give support to whatever conservative talking point happens to be in vogue today. King had no interest in economic justice, opposing the war in Vietnam, building an inclusive society, desegregating housing and schools except in the most formal legal way, or fighting against white supremacy. Nope, he was just a man with a vague dream.

Martin Luther King, Jr and Coretta Scott King are buried at the Martin Luther King, Jr. National Historic Site, Atlanta, Georgia.

New Adventures in Capital Mobility

[ 29 ] February 21, 2016 |
epa01150223 Two men carrying goods to be recycled ride their flatbed tricycles past a red Porsche Cayman parked outside a high end housing complex in Beijing, China, 18 October 2007. Chinas economic growth is widening the gaps between the rich and the poor. By the government's own statistics, 20 million people in China still live in absolute poverty, and tens of millions more on less than a dollar a day, while a survey published last week found that the number of dollar billionaires had exploded to more than 100 last year from just 15 the year before. China's leader Hu Jintao announced in his speech on the first day of the 17th communist party conference, that the tax system would be reformed to redistribute wealth from the super-rich to the poor. EPA/DIEGO AZUBEL

epa01150223 Two men carrying goods to be recycled ride their flatbed tricycles past a red Porsche Cayman parked outside a high end housing complex in Beijing, China, 18 October 2007. Chinas economic growth is widening the gaps between the rich and the poor. By the government’s own statistics, 20 million people in China still live in absolute poverty, and tens of millions more on less than a dollar a day, while a survey published last week found that the number of dollar billionaires had exploded to more than 100 last year from just 15 the year before. China’s leader Hu Jintao announced in his speech on the first day of the 17th communist party conference, that the tax system would be reformed to redistribute wealth from the super-rich to the poor. EPA/DIEGO AZUBEL

Chinese capitalists are getting inventive in getting their money out of China.

But China’s experience has often proved that money will find a way to flow where it wants. In a post published on Sunday on Seattle-headquartered law firm Harris & Moure’s China Law Blog, Mr. Harris detailed his conversation with an adviser to a Chinese company. The adviser had called him essentially to ask Harris & Moure to help the Chinese company deliberately lose a lawsuit for a phony breach of contract that would result in a payout of $3.5 million, which the Chinese company would then send to the U.S.

The money, as it turns out, would be paid to entities in the U.S. controlled by the Chinese company itself.

Mr. Harris told China Real Time that the company, a privately-held Chinese manufacturer, wanted to pursue such a fake arbitration, rather than fake a simple legal settlement for the same amount of money, because it was concerned about convincing government regulators who have been closely scrutinizing offshore remittances.

“They wanted it to look really official,” he said in a phone interview. “Arbitration also moves quickly, so they could conceivably do it within three months.”

Mr. Harris said he got the call in the last two weeks, and it was the first and only of its kind he’s so far received. He said he altered the nationality of the adviser recounted in his blog post – the adviser was a Westerner, but not Australian – to shield the identities of those involved.

It became clear to Mr. Harris in his conversation with the Western adviser to the Chinese company that there wasn’t even a real counter-party in the U.S., where the Chinese company wanted to move its funds. “We would have helped to form this company that would have sued this Chinese company,” he told China Real Time.

Curious as to how China deals with these issues going forward, especially as large swaths of its wealthy class really sees the West as a more desirable place to live.

Zika and Inequality

[ 4 ] February 21, 2016 |


Disasters, however “natural,” are a wonderful (well, horrible really) entry point into exposing to the public to deep fissures on inequality in a society. That’s true whether they are earthquakes, hurricanes, floods, fires, or disease epidemics. This includes Zika, even as our knowledge of what is really going on remains very much a work in progress. But what is clear is how it exposes the severe inequality problems of Brazil:

What kind of country can be denounced by a mosquito? For a start, it is a country where Arthur Chioro, a doctor trained in the field of public health, was removed from the ministry of health at the moment when the ministry most needed to be led by a public health physician. At that time, last September, the dengue epidemic, also caused by the Aedes aegypti, was reaching tragic proportions: in 2015 there were over 1.6 million likely cases and the number of related deaths increased by more than 80%.

Against that backdrop, the president handed over control of the department of health – the ministry with the largest budget – to a politician from the Brazilian Democratic Movement party, which Rousseff needed to appease in order to pass government bills in congress and stave off the threat of impeachment. Political horse-trading thus resulted in a public health specialist being replaced by the psychiatrist and career politician Marcelo Castro.

Faced with the link between Zika and microcephaly, the new health secretary has come out with a collection of bizarre statements. Castro declared that “sex is for amateurs, pregnancy for professionals”. He said that women protect themselves less than men from mosquitoes “because they expose their legs”. He stated that he “hoped women would catch Zika” before they reached a fertile age, since “that way they would be immunised” and would not need a vaccine. But perhaps the most damning of all his statements was the following warning: that the epidemic may give rise to “a handicapped generation in Brazil”.

The Aedes mosquito has proliferated in Brazil due to the negligence of the state: an inadequate sewage system, poor management of waste, precarious urban development and the difficulties a section of the population faces in accessing drinking water, making it necessary to store it. The distribution of the number of suspected cases of microcephaly linked to the Zika virus, according to the Brazilian Association of Public Health, shows that those affected are the poorest members of society, who live in dramatic socio-environmental circumstances.

Official discourse, however, holds the individual citizen responsible for containing an epidemic that has only taken on such proportions because the authorities have proved to be incapable of moving beyond palliative measures. On Saturday, the government promoted a “national day of action to combat the Aedes aegypti”, a high-profile operation involving more than 200,000 soldiers inspecting homes. Rousseff led a rally wearing a T-shirt bearing the slogan: “A mosquito is not stronger than an entire country.”

Now, the problems of inequality and poverty in Brazil run far deeper than the corruption problems of the Dilma government. For most of Brazil’s history, it has been governed by elites who did not care about the poor one bit, with a military ready to overthrow democratically-elected regimes with U.S. support if that changed too much. The Lula and Dilma governments have at least attempted to change the course of the country on this path. So blaming her exclusively for these problems is like blaming Castro for relying too much on sugar in the early decades of the Cuban Revolution. That road was blazed a long time ago. Yet that doesn’t mean that her government and the tremendous corruption problems Brazil faces isn’t a major problem in addressing Zika and other public health problems. Certainly replacing experts with political appointees is rarely a good idea. For those of us who are not Brazilian, at least this becomes an opportunity to have a serious discussion of the interaction between disaster and inequality there and throughout the world, a reminder that events like Hurricane Katrina expose the same problems in American society.

Nineteenth Century Coroner Reports

[ 17 ] February 20, 2016 |


This is a pretty amazing digitized collection of 19th century coroner reports from South Carolina, put together by historians at the University of Georgia, which go into great detail about the deaths of individuals. The coroners were investigators of sorts so they wrote a lot about these deaths, including that of slaves. Here’s one example:

The State vs. Gabiel Coats for killing a Negro woman the property of John Brown. The voluntary confession of Gabriel Coats. He saith that on Tuesday the 14th Instant when he was correcting a negro boy the property of said John Brown that a Negro woman the mother of said boy & the property of said Brown named Sylvia came to him and ordered him to quit whipping the boy. Coats ordered her away, she then rushed between him and the boy. He coats then pushed her aside with his hand, and continued to correct the boy. She rushed in between them again, and Coats says he gave her a stroke over the arm with the switch he was whipping the boy with and ordered her away again. The Negro woman then said to him, “My God, don’t do that again,” and pushed in between him and the boy again. Coats says he struck her over the shoulder again, and ordered the boy to pick up the seed corn that he had spilt, and Sylvia ordered the boy to go to replanting corn, and she would pick up the corn herself. She then began picking up the corn, and in about from 5 to 10 minutes afterwards she fell down and complained that he had hurt her, and continued to complain every time he seen her afterwards until Sunday night the 19th Instant when she died, but he says that he think that she was not injured by the two strokes he gave her.

Also, if you want to read a lot of cases of infanticide, you can now do so. Pretty incredible stuff and a great resource.

Sprawl and Art, Africa and California

[ 21 ] February 20, 2016 |


Sometimes I read about art projects dealing with socially conscious themes and think “wow, this shows a real lack of self-awareness.” That’s how I felt when reading about this:

Nick Brandt has been photographing the grandeur of East Africa’s stoic wildlife since 2001, but during his many trips he has observed a troubling pattern:

“The destruction of the natural world was occurring at an alarming rate — faster than my already pessimistic imagination could have anticipated,” Brandt said from his studio in the Santa Monica Mountains.

His forthcoming series of photos, “Inherit the Dust,” was conceived as his elegy to Africa’s natural world. He came up with the idea of photographing displaced animals in places where just three years earlier they used to roam — but no longer can because of rapid urban sprawl. Factories, garbage dumps and quarries now stand where elephants, lions, rhinos and cheetahs once lived.

To compose his latest photos, Brandt had life-size prints of the animals transferred onto giant panels and erected in situ — once familiar ground where people are oblivious to the giant creatures in their midst. Like ghosts in a landscape.

“It was an effective way of showing this level of present-day dystopia that humans are creating,” Brandt said.

For his ghosts, he selected never-before-published black-and-white portraits including one of his favorite subjects, Craig, a 40-year-old Amboseli bull elephant.

Photos printed in California were shipped and glued to aluminum and plywood frames. The panels, up to 30 feet long and sometimes rising even higher, were loaded onto trucks and driven to their designated sites. As many as 23 men worked in heat that reached 100 degrees to set up and strap down the panels in often rugged terrain. Horizon lines were carefully matched up with the composition of the original photo and contours of the land.

What does the art intend to convey?

Filmmaker and conservationist Dereck Joubert said every photographer-conservationist struggles with the dual desire to show beauty in the wild while protesting what is happening in formerly pristine lands. “What Nick has done is combine the two in a way that sends a visual protest but doesn’t detract from the beauty inside of each wildlife frame,” Joubert said, calling the result a “juxtaposition of celebration and regret.”

Brandt’s “Wasteland With Elephant” depicts an elephant walking through a river of garbage in central Kenya. “Just three years ago, zebras, gazelles and impalas could be seen roaming through these places,” he said.

Sitting in a trash-filled alleyway next to a stagnant pool of fetid sewage, a solemn chimpanzee lowers his head as if mourning the loss of his former home.

Where does this horrible sprawl remind the photographer of?

Brandt compared the “out-of-control development, overpopulation and crowds” in some parts of modern Africa to that in parts of China and India. “I never thought I’d put Africa in the same category,” he said.

And where will Brandt’s art be shown?

An exhibition of “Inherit the Dust” will open March 24 at Fahey/Klein Gallery in Los Angeles and will run through May 14.

Well, it’s a good thing that the art is going to be shown in Los Angeles but he has nothing to say about sprawl in California. Clearly that was environmentally sustainable and totally didn’t destroy habitat for wildlife!

None of this is to say that the massive sprawl of African cities isn’t terrible for wildlife, not great for people, and isn’t something that westerners shouldn’t address. But there are so many assumptions at play in this artist’s work–that Africa is inherently natural and should be maintained that way for the enjoyment of the western mind and tourist, that there’s no need to ask actual Africans what they want their world to look like, and that the problems over there are completely different than our world. So this artist can live in the Santa Monica Mountains and come to Los Angeles all the time where eighteen million people have decimated the environment over 5,000 square miles and he can completely ignore the vast poverty where he lives while talking about the degradation of Africa.

Now, I don’t want to assume too much here. Obviously, some of the problematic framing of all this could be on the reporter and it’s possible the artist does care very much about these issues in California. I don’t want to castigate the man for expressing real concern about real problems. And certainly he is aware of how this pollution affects the people who live in these slums. But there are also some red flags raised that need addressing.

Trying to Catch That Reagan Magic

[ 36 ] February 20, 2016 |


I wonder how true this actually is.

An Iranian official said “Republican rivals of the current US administration” attempted to stall last month’s Iranian-U.S. prisoner swap until the eve of the U.S. presidential election, Tasnim News Agency reported.

According to the semi-official Iranian news outlet, Ali Shamkhani, the secretary of Iran’s Supreme National Security Council, made the claims during a speech Thursday at a rally in Yazd, Iran.

“In the course of the talks for exchanging prisoners, the Republican rivals of the current US administration who claim to be humanitarians and advocates of human rights sent a message telling us not to release these people [American prisoners] and continue this process [of talks] until the eve of US presidential elections,” Shamkhani said, according to Tasnim.

“We acted upon our independent resolve and moved the process forward,” Shamkhani said.

Given that under current Republican ideology, Democratic presidents have to stop governing in the last year of their term, it wouldn’t actually shock me if there was some level of truth to this. Besides, all those Republican candidates want to be Reagan on January 20, 1981, announcing the hostages have returned from Iran on the first day of his administration.

Lubbock: America’s Worst Mid-Sized City

[ 86 ] February 19, 2016 |


Lubbock is a truly dreadful place in all conceivable ways except for one. That one is not its tolerant politics.

Lubbock officials are re-evaluating security and working with local and federal investigations after what Mayor Glen Robertson described as an “Arabic flag” spent much of Monday dangling from the city-owned Citizens Tower in downtown Lubbock.

After evaluating the situation and blocking traffic on a portion of nearby Avenue K, city crews cut down the flag shortly after noon, sending the flag and the two cinder blocks used to stabilize it crashing onto the red brick street near the dilapidated building.

The flag, noticed on the building early Monday, prompted Robertson to write a letter to City Manager James Loomis, requesting Lubbock police notify the Department of Homeland Security, the FBI and the Lubbock County Sheriff’s Office.

“I am also requesting that we take whatever steps are necessary to secure the building and ensure that this does not happen again,” Robertson wrote in the letter he shared with A-J Media. “I fully understand that we must gather more facts before we make a knee-jerk reaction but I am concerned on several levels. Please keep me informed as we learn more about this situation.”

The black flag, which featured script over a red heart, was hanging over the edge of the roof of the building at 14th Street and Avenue K.

Syrian native Hasan Almekdash, 35, is an Arabic language instructor at Texas Tech. Almekdash moved to this area in 2012; he said he has never experienced any type of Islamophobia, but he can see how the display did not go over well.

“Literally translated, it says ‘love is for all,’ ” he said.

And here I thought Isis was totally taking over Lubbock and probably the entire Panhandle as part of its scheme to destroy America, probably through Jade Helm.

That one way Lubbock is good is its contributions to American music, with Terry Allen, Joe Ely, Jimmie Dale Gilmore, Butch Hancock, Buddy Holly, and even the one and only Mac Davis from there.

Is the Wildcat Strike Back?

[ 5 ] February 19, 2016 |


Probably not in any meaningful way, but it’s interesting to see groups of workers taking these actions:

Longshoreman at the New York and New Jersey ports launched a classic wildcat strike on Friday, January 29, catching the Port Authority, the Shipping Association and their own International Longshoremen Association totally unaware. The strike, which cost businesses that rely on the ports to ship goods in and out of the country hundreds of thousands of dollars in a few short hours, was apparently in protest of a government agency, the Waterfront Commission of New York Harbor, imposing new job requirements on top of and outside the bounds of the longshoremen’s collective bargaining agreement.

The walkout seems to have been a genuinely spontaneous action, sparked and spread within a few short minutes and over by nightfall. Industry observers are still scratching their heads at what it all meant, and whether it will happen again.

The following Monday, NYC-based drivers for the controversial “rideshare” app, Uber, began a 24-hour work stoppage and staged a rally outside of the company’s local headquarters. The tech firm is notorious for its questionable legal practices of treating its employees as “independent contractors” and often operating outside of taxi and limousine regulations in order to undercut traditional yellow cabs and car services. Drivers struck in protest of a 15% reduction in Uber’s fares, a cost that they alone must absorb.

While planned at least a day or two in advance, this wildcat strike was organized by an informal network calling themselves “Uber Drivers United,” according to the homemade fliers they handed out (although some coordination with the Taxi Workers Alliance has been noted). Uber was designed by its Silicon Valley founders to “disrupt” traditional work rules and regulation and to definitely be union free. The strikers are not demanding union recognition in the modern sense, but simply demanding a rollback of the wage cut.

While the smug business press scoffs (Fast Company said of the strike, “The irony, of course, is that by taking a slew of drivers off the road, the strike actually serves as a good opportunity for other drivers to profit from surge pricing, the fare increase that Uber imposes when demand is high”), the protests could spread to other cities.

Earlier in January, a faction of Detroit schoolteachers led by former Detroit Federation of Teachers (DFT) president Steve Conn staged a wildcat sickout over the abhorrent physical conditions of the school buildings that forced 64 out of 97 schools to close. Conn’s group is exactly the sort of alternative competitive union that I have predicted will become the norm if unions embrace non-exclusive members-only organizing.

Like most everything with isolated worker actions, we need to be very careful with reading anything into them. A few dozen more wildcat strikes and maybe there is something interesting going on here. But some workers will always find ways to fight for better lives and if short walkouts work, then that’s great. Definitely something to keep an eye on at least. Ultimately, we simply can’t know what will spark a new wave of workplace activism. Could be this strike or another or something a few years from now.

“It just seems like you can just make up your own facts now.”

[ 80 ] February 19, 2016 |


The Center for Public Integrity is running a great series on how corporations buy scientists. These hack-scientists are truly horrible humans.

At 2:15 in the morning, an insomniac corporate defense lawyer in San Francisco finished crafting a “revolutionary” scientific theory.

Now Evan Nelson of the law firm Tucker Ellis & West needed a scientist willing to publish it in a medical journal. If his theory were given scientific validity, Nelson could use it to win lawsuits.

Nelson defended companies that had exposed people to asbestos, a heat-resistant, fibrous mineral. Asbestos causes several deadly diseases, including mesothelioma, a rare cancer that often drowns the lungs in fluid.

Nelson had expressed frustration with the argument that asbestos is the only known cause of mesothelioma. After scouring the scientific literature and applying his own logic, Nelson came up with a new culprit: tobacco.

Nelson sent a typo-ridden email to Peter Valberg of Cambridge, Massachusetts. A former professor at the Harvard School of Public Health, Valberg was by then a principal at the environmental consulting firm Gradient Corporation, with offices in Harvard Square.

“We can collaborate to publish several key, revolutionary articles that you will see unfold as I present this stuff to you,” the lawyer wrote in the 2008 email.

Citing a few scientific articles, Nelson drew a hypothetical link between the fact that cigarette smoke contains radioactive particles and limited evidence that people exposed to radiation had higher rates of mesothelioma.

“It is amazing that no one has pout [sic] this together before me, but I am confident that you will agree it is solid science that proves tobacco smoke causes mesothelioma — you just have to look at the tissue [sic] through the proper lense [sic].”

There was an obvious problem with Nelson’s “science.” Researchers for decades have exhaustively analyzed data on the health of hundreds of thousands of smokers. Since 1964, the U.S. Surgeon General has summarized the findings of study after study, none of which shows evidence that tobacco causes mesothelioma.

Valberg wrote back within hours, calling Nelson’s scientific theory “very intriguing.” He was game to try to disseminate it in peer-reviewed journals. He later sent Nelson a contract agreeing to write the first of three articles and even offered him a 10-percent discount. In the meantime, Valberg would adopt Nelson’s theory as an expert witness in lawsuits, using it against mesothelioma victims such as Pam Collins of Bellevue, Ohio.

The whole article gets a lot more disturbing.

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