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Subtext: A Quaint Idea of the Past

[ 49 ] January 12, 2017 |

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Remember when we used to talk about how sometimes Republicans would “say the quiet parts loud” or that “subtext became text” when they would say the racist stuff out loud without trying to hide it? That’s such a cute thing of the past. Because in Trump’s America, you can just be an open racist and wave that freak flag. That very much includes people in power, such as Alabama’s lizard congressman Mo Brooks.

Alabama Rep. Mo Brooks said in a radio interview on Tuesday that criticism of Alabama Sen. Jeff Sessions, who is Donald Trump’s pick to be attorney general, is part of an ongoing “war on whites” by Democrats.

“It’s really about political power and racial division and what I’ve referred to on occasion as the ‘war on whites.’ They are trying to motivate the African-American vote to vote-bloc for Democrats by using every ‘Republican is a racist’ tool that they can envision,” the Republican congressman said on “The Morning Show With Toni & Gary” on WBHP 800 Alabama radio. “Even if they have to lie about it.”

Wanting black people to be able to vote and trying to keep Nathan Bedford Forrest out of the Attorney General’s office is indeed a war on whites.

See also:

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“Mr. President. Build Up That Wall!”

[ 63 ] January 12, 2017 |

It’s nice that Trump advisors see communist East Germany as an inspiration.

The American version of the Stasi will be fun. As will the pogroms against Mexicans.

Liberals Lost the White Working Class When They Started Eating at Popeye’s Instead of Chik-Fil-A

[ 234 ] January 11, 2017 |

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Unfortunately, Jacobin is increasing the number of articles it publishes that effectively take right-wing cultural critiques of liberals and apply them from the nominal left. First we had the evils of Meryl Streep. Now we have how “elite liberal” reaction to a New Yorker cartoon demonstrates how out of touch they are and how much they look down on “democratic politics” (which is of course coded white since, you know, black people vastly supported Hillary Clinton over Bernie Sanders, which is where this piece goes as it relitigates the primary for the 10,000th time)

In conclusion, I look forward to the forthcoming piece on how the working class eats French’s and liberals lost the 2016 election because they prefer Grey Poupon.

I will however agree with anyone on the political spectrum that New Yorker cartoons are almost universally terrible.

There’s Always a Market to Blame Black People

[ 114 ] January 11, 2017 |

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Damon Linker, Very Serious Thinker, follows up on his pre-election writing that Donald Trump and his fans just can’t be a bunch of racists and his earlier concern trolling about immigration by blaming intersectionality for the decline of the Democratic Party.

This is a Very Serious Thinker.

I wonder what the connection is between all of these pieces? I just can’t put my finger on it…..

The Philosophy of the New Gilded Age

[ 245 ] January 11, 2017 |

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That Ben Shapiro is a horrible human being is not up for debate. And hey, at least he is articulating the true Republican position on health care.

On Sunday, Senator Bernie Sanders took to Twitter to deliver one of his usual messages. “People go to the doctor because they’re sick, get a diagnosis from their doctor, but they can’t afford the treatment,” he wrote. “How crazy is that!” I responded snarkily, “I go to a fancy store to check out a piece of furniture, can’t afford it. That’s totally crazy!”

This prompted spasms of apoplexy on the left. How could I dare to compare medical care to furniture? Was I equating the value of the two? Was I suggesting that the necessity of furniture was somehow comparable to the necessity of medical care?

Yes, imagine the outrage from the left. Who can imagine why someone would be offended!?!

Morally, you have no right to demand medical care of me. I may recognize your necessity and offer charity; my friends and I may choose to band together and fund your medical care. But your necessity does not change the basic math: Medical care is a service and a good provided by a third party. No matter how much I need bread, I do not have a right to steal your wallet or hold up the local bakery to obtain it. Theft may end up being my least immoral choice under the circumstances, but that does not make it a moral choice, or suggest that I have not violated your rights in pursuing my own needs.

Welcome to the core ideology at the heart of the actual replacement of the ACA! Die poor person, die!

But the left believes that declaring necessities rights somehow overcomes the individual rights of others. If you are sick, you now have the right to demand that my wife, who is a doctor, care for you. Is there any limit to this right? Do you have the right to demand that the medical system provide life-saving care forever, to the tune of millions of dollars of other people’s taxpayer dollars or services? How, exactly, can there be such a right without the government’s rationing care, using compulsion to force individuals to provide it, and confiscating mass sums of wealth to pay for it?

Actually, yes, that’s precisely what I demand.

Let’s say your life depended on the following choice today: you must obtain either an affordable chair or an affordable X-ray. Which would you choose to obtain? Obviously, you’d choose the chair. That’s because there are many types of chair, produced by scores of different companies and widely distributed. You could buy a $15 folding chair or a $1,000 antique without the slightest difficulty. By contrast, to obtain an X-ray you’d have to work with your insurance company, wait for an appointment, and then haggle over price. Why? Because the medical market is far more regulated — thanks to the widespread perception that health care is a “right” — than the chair market.

This is almost amazingly stupid, even for Shapiro. Clearly, ending any government regulation of medicine will allow for cheap medical care for all! Cancer treatment is totally like chairs! Because, hey, repealing the Pure Food and Drug Act and replacing it with a return of patent medicines is some kind of health care!

Revising the Worst President Ever List

[ 175 ] January 11, 2017 |

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One never wants to have a reason to revise a worst president list. I basically stand by this 2011 list I made, although I think the similarities in corruption between Trump and Harding are going to drop the latter down the list and at this point I would flip Johnson and Buchanan. But I really wonder if Trump will indeed be the worst president in American history, even beating out James Buchanan and Andrew Johnson. With all due respect to the horrors caused by both of those men, I suspect it is even odds that the answer will be yes. And that is deeply, horrifyingly disturbing.

The Seafood Rule and Import Standards

[ 5 ] January 11, 2017 |

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For those who think the U.S. can’t legitimately do anything about the conditions of work and environmental exploitation overseas, please examine the new seafood importation standard implemented by the Obama administration starting January 1.

On Jan. 1 the United States started enforcing a new import rule, which requires fisheries exporting seafood to the United States to protect marine mammals at standards comparable to those required for U.S. fisheries. This rule aims to leverage American market power to reduce marine mammal bycatch worldwide. It also aims to level the playing field for U.S. fishermen, who currently face monitoring costs and fishing restrictions to reduce marine mammal bycatch – unlike some of their foreign competitors.

If this rule succeeds, it could serve as a model for responsible globalization by demonstrating that countries can be competitive in global trade without “racing to the bottom” in their environmental standards. But to make this happen, the United States will have to set the right standard, work with other countries that need help to comply and possibly defend the rule in international courts.

Under the Marine Mammal Protection Act, enacted in 1972, federal regulators monitor marine mammal bycatch in U.S. fisheries. They also develop plans to ensure bycatch remains within well-defined limits that will not threaten marine mammal populations. If a fishery exceeds these limits, regulators can require fishermen to change their fishing gear or methods, or even close the fishery temporarily.

The MMPA is one of the world’s strongest marine mammal protection laws, and has greatly improved the status of Pacific dolphins, harbor porpoises and California sea lions. But it also has made U.S. fisheries less competitive by imposing fishing restrictions and monitoring costs that vessels in many other countries do not face.

The new rule, administered by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, gives countries that want to export seafood to the U.S. a five-year grace period to prove that their exporting fisheries monitor and limit marine mammal bycatch as effectively as U.S. fisheries are required to do under the MMPA. The idea is to level the playing field for U.S. fishermen by encouraging other countries to raise their environmental standards, rather than lowering U.S. standards. By benefiting both U.S. trade competitiveness and marine mammal conservation, this rule should have bipartisan appeal.

None of this is to say there aren’t challenges, as the article delineates. Perhaps the biggest is the world trade system, of course with the United States as its biggest supporter, that makes it difficult to enforce trade standards. A WTO challenge is extremely likely. Moreover, the standard is far from sufficient, largely because while it chooses to enforce environmental standards, it does nothing to create labor standards in an industry that is arguably the single most exploitative in the world. But it is crucial to point to examples like this, like the bipartisan support to close the slave labor loophole in the Smoot-Hawley Tariff, and like older examples such as the Seaman’s Act of 1915, to demonstrate that the U.S. absolutely can exert some control over working and environmental conditions of the products brought into this country. That it chooses not to in most cases is a matter of political power, knowledge, and will rather than any meaningful legal barriers. We must work for comprehensive corporate codes enforceable anywhere. This is a step toward that.

Neoliberalism and Blood

[ 88 ] January 10, 2017 |

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A significant internal problem for the left is that the term “neoliberalism” is used as an epithet that now means “anything Democrats do that I don’t like.” This is a terrible thing, because neoliberalism is an actual thing with an actual meaning with actual consequences that has an enormous impact on our society and upon the global economy. And when I read this op-ed on the blood supply chain, I was struck by how deeply the idea of the privatization of public services and the potential to profit on them has advanced.

Still, a multi-billion dollar industry has evolved out of the demand for and supply of blood, with the global market for blood products projected to reach $41.9 billion by 2020. The United States constitutes the largest market for blood products in the world. Donors in the U.S. and some others countries are typically not paid.

In the U.S., the American Red Cross supplies about 40 percent of the blood, with America’s Blood Centers, with 600 blood donor centers, providing about 50 percent (and about one-quarter of the blood in Canada). The remainder is collected by hospitals and medical centers themselves or, lately, by profit-maximizing blood suppliers.

Prior to 2008, hospitals and other surgical centers consistently reported blood shortages every year. This resulted in the cancellation and postponement of elective surgeries.

Things changed. In part because of medical advances, some procedures do not require as many pints for transfusion. This decrease in demand for blood is posing great challenges for the industry, resulting in consolidations and mergers of testing labs and processing facilities.

In response to the drop in demand, suppliers formed partnerships. Mergers have taken place to counteract rising costs of blood banking operations and even to work for enhanced safety, availability and affordability of blood for hospital partners and patients. At times, the reconfigurations have included the closing of testing facilities as done by the Red Cross.

According to the America’s Blood Centers, the largest network of nonprofit community blood centers in North America, 19 partnerships and mergers were formed in the five years from 2010-2015 among their member blood banks, reducing the size of the network from 87 to 68 members. That represents a doubling from the 1990s, when 19 mergers took place during 10 years rather than five.

My colleagues and I have been researching blood supply chains, from enhancing their operations with collection, testing and distribution to hospitals and medical centers. The goal is to minimize costs as well as risk and waste and to optimize the supply chain network design.

More recently, our research has turned to the assessment of mergers and acquisitions, since some of its evolving features have taken on the characteristics of corporate supply chains, which we can learn from and take advantage of.

Now, I suppose blood transfusions have never exactly been a public service in the sense of the government actually controlling the supply. But should blood be seen as having a supply chain within a profit-seeking corporate structure? This is not to impinge the research of the writer of the above piece because if it exists, we have to understand it. But the entire premise of a blood supply chain should deeply offend us. People need blood and someone has to ensure that said blood gets where it needs to go. But given that most of our blood supply comes from the unpaid labor of people volunteering in blood drives, should it exist under a corporate structure? To me, the answer is that this is a public good that should be collected and supplied as such, without having to worry about mergers, corporate structures, or profit (which of course even in “nonprofits” absolutely matters in the sense of the heads of these organizations becoming wealthy). But of course one can say this about the entire medical industry, which is part of the reason why the AMA has done more than anyone to ensure that Americans don’t have universal quality health care.

The Sessions Record

[ 27 ] January 10, 2017 |

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As the confirmation hearing for Nathan Bedford Forrest to serve as Attorney General goes on today, Adam Serwer does a great deep dive into the one case that Forrest and his defenders use to say he’s totally not a racist.

Supporters have repeatedly pointed to Sessions’s record to insist that he is in fact a champion of civil rights. But as in the Donald case, those claims have rarely held up to close scrutiny. Despite once claiming to have filed dozens of desegregation cases, Sessions appears to have filed none––instead taking credit for work done by the civil-rights division on which his signature was included merely as a formality. By contrast, one of Sessions’s signature efforts as a prosecutor was an attempt to convict three voting-rights activists on charges of fraud for assisting elderly voters in filling out ballots.

Sessions’s record as a senator has led civil-rights groups, including the NAACP, the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, and Color of Change, to oppose his nomination and question whether he would fairly administer laws protecting against discrimination on the basis of race, gender, or sexual orientation. He opposed the decriminalization of homosexual sex, opposed same-sex marriage, blamed school shootings on laws protecting disabled students, and supported the Supreme Court decision striking down key portions of the Voting Rights Act, saying “now if you go to Alabama, Georgia, North Carolina, people aren’t being denied the vote because of the color of their skin.” More recently, he was among the first to back Donald Trump’s proposal for a ban on Muslims entering the country, and trivialized the president-elect’s admission of sexual assault.

The Trump transition has urged supporters to highlight Sessions’s “strong civil rights record.” But the more closely that record is examined, the less it looks like the record of a civil-rights advocate of any kind, and the more it appears to be the standard, unremarkable record of a longtime conservative Republican from a Southern state.

Where Should We Go On Trade?

[ 11 ] January 10, 2017 |

**FILE**Workers at a Nike factory on the outskirts of Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam, assemble shoes in this Oct. 10, 2000, file photo. Michigan State, among many schools with sponsorship agreements with Nike and the school will have senior associate athletic director Mark Hollis joining Nike officials for an upcoming tour of manufacturing facilities in Vietnam and China. (AP Photo/Richard Vogel)

As I have been saying, even though we are facing a government of deplorables led by likely Attorney General Nathan Bedford Forrest and are naturally going to be fighting against the horrors to come, such as Meryl Streep speaking out against Trump which clearly shows that Jacobin will be leading the anti-fascist fight, we also must continue to articulate the world we want to see. And as the left has struggled to articulate a solid vision on trade in an era of globalization, we need to work on that too in order to counter the capitalists and the simplistic nationalistic narratives that pass for the trade agenda on large parts of the left. I have an essay in the new print issue of Dissent titled “A Left Vision for Trade” that expands upon what I wrote in Out of Sight to articulate more thoroughly what the national and international mechanisms for containing capital mobility and ensuring international labor and environmental rights would look like. You can read the intro to it above, but it is behind the paywall. I want you to subscribe to Dissent so you can read it, but I also want to include some of the meatier material here as well. Here is a small piece of that.

The first step in addressing these deficiencies would be to pass a new law that I call the Corporate Accountability Act, which would bind U.S. companies wherever they operate, whether at home or abroad. Such a law would need to include a regulatory function to monitor and punish recalcitrant corporations, set basic pollution and workplace standards, mandate living wages based upon the location of the factory, and ban the physical punishment of workers and violence against union organizers, among other things. Perhaps most importantly, it would seek to make corporations legally responsible for their supply chains, forcing companies like Walmart and Target to be accountable for conditions in their factories, wherever they are located.

Of course, another law does not solve the problem of enforcement. One way to do this is to open American courts for workers and citizens overseas to demand the enforcement of American treaties and laws. Specifically, activists should argue for the use of the Alien Tort Claims Act (ATCA) of 1789, which would allow corporations who violate the human rights of their workers abroad to be tried in U.S courts. Under the provisions of this law, U.S. district courts have the right to hear claims from foreign citizens if they have suffered from actions “in violation of the law of nations or a treaty of the United States.” In Filártiga v. Peña-Irala in 1980, a U.S. court ruled that a Paraguayan national could use the ATCA to sue another Paraguayan living in the United States for torturing him during that nation’s dictatorship. This opened the door to a series of cases being tried in U.S. courts for crimes committed abroad.

In 2013 in Kiobel v. Royal Dutch Petroleum, when Nigerians sued foreign oil companies for aiding their government in torturing and killing civilians protesting oil exploration, the U.S. Supreme Court sided with the oil companies, claiming the suit did not involve U.S. companies and therefore had no place in U.S. courts. But there is nothing in that decision closing the door to suits against American companies operating overseas, although legally it remains unclear whether this would also enable suing companies within supply chains. There are significant possibilities here for using this law to shape a global regulatory regime for companies who want to sell their goods in the United States.

Even though Trump and congressional Republicans are unlikely to support a new law such as the one above, interpret the ATCA generously, or appoint justices who will side with workers over oil companies, we must encourage leading politicians on fair trade, like Senator Sherrod Brown, to repeatedly introduce such initiatives, build support for them among Democrats, and dare Republicans to vote them down. Such an exercise would mark clear distinctions between the positions of Democrats and Republicans on trade and the economy. The Trump era will end, and when it does, our organizations and movements must be prepared with a clear vision and proposals for how corporations will be held accountable and workers will be protected, not just in the United States, but abroad too.

Organized labor in this country has often struggled to build international solidarity. Foreign or immigrant workers have frequently served as targets of hate for many American workers for the last two centuries. In 2016, this contributed to the high number of union members who voted for Donald Trump. (Exit polls showed only 51 percent of union households voted for Hillary Clinton, the lowest number for a Democrat since Walter Mondale in 1984.) Looking ahead, the American labor movement will need to see the world’s workers as allies and reject the divisive rhetoric that puts the workers of different nations at loggerheads. Breaking out of the constraints of national frameworks and matching corporations by forming an international movement for a more equitable global economy is an essential part of challenging this nativism. Encouraging foreign workers to seek redress in American courts can be a central part of that strategy.

Erik Visits an American Grave, Part 65

[ 27 ] January 8, 2017 |

This is the grave of Carl Pohlad.

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Born in 1915 in Des Moines, Carl Pohlad moved to California to play junior college football. He was discovered by none other than Bing Crosby, who convinced him to go to his alma mater Gonzaga University in Spokane to play football, even though he was in his late-20s already. He then fought in World War II beginning in 1943 where he was supposed to be part of the Normandy invasion until he got poison oak. But he was wounded later in the war and won the purple heart and silver star. He had already gotten involved in business even before he played football, starting to make money by foreclosing of people’s farms during the Depression. After the war, he became a major banking investor and from there a general businessman involved in any number of ventures that made him a billionaire.

In 1984, Pohlad bought the Minnesota Twins, one of the most pathetic franchises in the game. But under his ownership, they won the World Series in 1987 and again in 1991. He spent resources to resign stars like Kirby Puckett and Kent Hrbek instead of letting them to go free agency. But as the price of baseball players grew, Pohlad became a stingy owner, dooming his team to being terrible. His sense of public service over profit was never strong. When the state of Minnesota balked at paying for a new stadium, Pohlad started looking to bail. He nearly sold the team to a businessman with the intention of moving it to Charlotte in 1997. And then in 2001, he volunteered to have his own team contracted in Bud Selig’s idiotic contraction plan. This led to howls of fury from Minnesota fans. Moreover, this was a pure profit motive from Pohlad, who would have received between $125-250 million for it, more than the team was worth. Moreover, Pohlad had lent $3 million to Selig, giving a strong and probably accurate impression that a quid pro quo was in action here. Selig was forced to give up his idea but Pohlad defended the move to the end of his life in 2009.

Of course, Pohlad tried to avoid paying estate taxes by transferring most of his ownership in the Twins to his son before he died. This led to an IRS suit against the family that was eventually settled for far less than the family should have paid.

Pohlad has never been a character in a film or on TV. Maybe someday there will be a show on the sheer greed of billionaire sports owners.

Carl Pohlad is buried in Lakewood Cemetery, Minneapolis, Minnesota. Oddly, he is buried right next to Paul Wellstone. The number of famous people with no connection buried next to each other in this nation is bizarre, including Andrew Carnegie and Samuel Gompers. When I wrote the Wellstone post last week, I neglected to mention that the lake in the background, which you can also see above, is Lake Calhoun. Because for some reason Minnesota felt the need to name a lake after John C. Calhoun. Unfortunate that Wellstone has to overlook a lake named after such a terrible human. More fitting for Pohlad.

Can the Koch Brothers Purchase Americans Changing Their Minds About Environmental Protections?

[ 24 ] January 6, 2017 |

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Don’t know, but we are about to find out.

The Kochs, whose use of their fortune to promote climate-change denial research has angered environmentalists, are quietly courting new allies in their quest for a fossil fuel resurgence: minorities.

Since its start in the spring of 2016, Fueling U.S. Forward has sent delegates to, or hosted, at least three events aimed at black voters, arguing that they benefit most from cheap and abundant fossil fuels and have the most to lose if energy costs rise.

Fueling U.S. Forward is “dedicated to educating the public about the value and potential of American energy, the vast majority of which comes from fossil fuels,” the group says on its website. “We’ll talk to people of diverse backgrounds — industry employees, small-business owners, community leaders and low-income families — and share their stories.”

The group has seen early results from its outreach.

“Policies that subsidize electric vehicles and solar panels for the wealthy raise energy prices and harm the black community,” read recommendations adopted by delegates at the National Black Political Convention in Gary, Ind., in August. The event brought together African-American political groups and counted Fueling U.S. Forward among its sponsors.

“We’re standing up for poor, underserved communities,” said Linda Haithcox, executive director of the National Policy Alliance, which organized the convention. She said her group’s funding from Fueling U.S. Forward and other energy groups had not affected its position on energy.

In a statement, Charles Drevna, president and chief executive of Fueling U.S. Forward and a former vice president at Sunoco, the company behind the Dakota Access oil pipeline, confirmed that the group was supported by Koch Industries, among other backers. “I am proud to help Fueling U.S. Forward promote the importance of domestic oil and natural gas to making people’s lives better,” he said.

You’d like to think these groups won’t take Koch money, but LOL at that.

Fueling U.S. Forward is a more emotional campaign. “How do we start winning hearts and minds?” Alex Fitzsimmons, the Fueling U.S. Forward spokesman, wondered in a Facebook Live broadcast he hosted with Mr. Drevna in August at the RedState Gathering in Denver.

Eddie Bautista, executive director of the NYC Environmental Justice Alliance, a nonprofit that works with low-income and minority neighborhoods on environmental issues, called the campaign “an exploitative, sad and borderline racist strategy.” He pointed to the falling costs associated with renewable energy, which he said made shifting away from reliance on fossil fuels a winning proposition for everyone.

In seeking to change hearts and minds, Fueling U.S. Forward addresses a greater conundrum for the Kochs, their private empire — which generates an estimated $100 billion in sales a year — and the wider fossil fuel industry.

I don’t know whether it will as successful as the hearts and minds campaign of the U.S. toward South Vietnam during the Vietnam War, but the catastrophe of climate change will certainly be comparable or worse to the death toll of that war. But hey, there was so much corporate profit to be made in both!

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