Before this story gets totally forgotten, I want to revisit the Volkswagen issue. For it shows something that I point out repeatedly in Out of Sight (now available for a James Blaine campaign price of $18.84 if you have not purchased it) as well as Empire of Timber. Corporations simply cannot be trusted to self-regulate. It will never work because all the incentive is there for them to cheat. They want to profit and if the government isn’t watching, they will cut corners to do so. The auto industry has shown this for decades. Only sticks will work. You have to punish corporations–and specifically corporate executives with massive fines and jail time if you want corporations to obey the law and take safety and pollution seriously. One estimate has the Volkswagen emissions leading to approximately 106 deaths in the United States. VW will be punished for this, but if we want to stop other companies and other industries from similar evasion of regulations, we simply have to beef up our regulatory powers and funding for regulatory agencies significantly. Otherwise, other versions of this will happen again and again.
Author Page for Erik Loomis
Slaves in Jamaica
David Cameron visited Jamaica this week. Presumably, the farmer’s pig farmers locked up their stock for the duration. Anyway, Cameron went full Cass Sunstein in his speech to the Jamaican Parliament, telling the nation to get over slavery and focus on all the great things the British brought the island.
David Cameron has called for Jamaica and the UK to “move on” from the deep wounds caused by slavery but ducked official calls for Britain to apologise for its role or pay reparations.
Speaking to the Caribbean country’s parliament, the prime minister struck a defiant note as he spoke of his pride that Britain had played a part in abolishing the “abhorrent” trade, without highlighting its historic involvement in the transfer of slaves from west Africa and ownership of slaves in the Caribbean.
He called for the two countries to “move on from this painful legacy and continue to build for the future”.
His trade trip to Jamaica, the first for 14 years by a UK prime minister, has been overshadowed by the issue of slavery. Cameron was warmly received by a military band playing God Save the Queen on arrival at the airport and received a hug from the country’s prime minister, Portia Simpson Miller.
Reparations obviously are controversial and could be problematic, although given the amount of wealth the British stole from the island, one could argue for them on a number of levels. But to not apologize over slavery? Why? Oh yeah, because David Cameron is a massive jerk.
The UK is to spend £25m on building a prison in Jamaica so that foreign criminals in the UK can be sent home to serve sentences in the Caribbean.
More than 600 Jamaican nationals are in UK jails but cannot be deported because of Jamaica’s poor prison conditions.
Prime Minister David Cameron announced the deal as he began a visit there.
Importing Africans to work on brutal sugar plantations, holding Africans under colonialism until 1962, and now building them prisons to incarcerate Africans. It’s gifts all the way down!
So let me tell you about my day yesterday.
I am on one of my periodic trips to western Pennsylvania and I chose this day to do some exploring. If you are out here, most of the history is kind of depressing, although I did run across the Edward Abbey historical marker since he is actually from here. Anyway, among my destinations yesterday were the newly opened Flight 93 National Memorial visitor center (very minimalist, not sure what I think about it) and a visit to the the site where the wealthy Pittsburgh-based hunting club’s dam broke causing the Johnstown Flood. These are 2 of the 6 worst disasters in American history by death toll.* So I was feeling pretty great about our history, as you can imagine. Then while I was out, I heard about the shooting at Umpqua Community College. This hits a bit close to home, although not quite as close as in 1998 when my high school Spanish teacher was killed by her son who then went on to shoot up the other high school in town. It’s an hour south of my home town. In fact, in high school I was dragged to a hilariously awful Christian rock show in the auditorium at that school.**
So yesterday was a full embrace of the massive death that happens to the people of this nation. That it has become so common because people love their guns so much is even more depressing. There’s almost nothing to say at this point, except that I would like to see the Second Amendment repealed, the government to invade your homes and take all your guns, and those who resist should serve time in prison for breaking my new anti-gun laws. And yes, I would indeed like a pony.
But I notice that each of these three disasters have a particularly evil person behind them. So it’s time for an LGM readership poll. Who is the most evil? Is it Osama Bin Laden, mastermind of 9/11? Henry Clay Frick, the comically evil capitalist who was head of the club that did not maintain the dam that caused the Johnstown Flood? Or Wayne LaPierre, head of an organization that is the U.S. equivalent of the wealthy Saudis who fund terrorism?
Personally, I’d say it’s a tie. Wayne LaPierre and his henchmen are as evil as Osama Bin Laden and his henchmen. And Frick and his fellow Gilded Age capitalists are as evil as the other two. But maybe we can lighten up our morning by discussing who is actually the most evil.
Good times America. Good times.
*In order, it’s the 1900 Galveston hurricane, the 1906 San Francisco earthquake, the 1928 Florida hurricane, 9/11, Pearl Harbor, and the Johnstown Flood. Hurricane Katrina is 8th.
** The music was, of course, atrocious. But the real comedy came when the drummer for this band, who, even obvious to my 1990 very unhip self, was not very far in the closet for a Christian rock band, got upset that his electric drum kit was having some problems. He had to switch to real drums. He then told us how he asked God for His forgiveness over his anger and frustration over the electric drums and that it was a lesson for all of us. Truly a classic moment.
Cass Sunstein said some no good, very bad things in his article rejecting the idea of climate reparations for poor nations. Now, one can wonder why a major figure felt the need to repudiate an idea that is never going to come to fruition anyway. And one can also suggest that climate reparations are probably not a very workable idea, to some extent for reasons Sunstein suggests. But then Sunstein decides to tell these poor nations that, despite this tiny problem of climate change, the West has brought them so much and made their lives so much better!
Their contention is that rich nations, which created the problem of climate change, have an obligation to fix it, not least by providing compensation for the high costs that, in their view, global warming has already imposed. Their argument adds that rich countries have gotten rich as a result of cheap energy (mostly coal); poor countries should be paid if they are to be deprived of the same opportunity.
That isn’t entirely crazy, but like other arguments for reparations, it runs into serious objections. For one thing, it depends on notions of collective responsibility. Most people in wealthy nations — whether rich or poor, or whether American or British or German — did not intend, and are not personally responsible for, the harms faced by citizens of India. Are they nonetheless obliged to pay reparations?
The corrective justice argument also conflates current generations with past generations. Much of the current “stock” of greenhouse gas emissions was produced by the actions of people who are now dead. The median American was born in 1979. How, exactly, does he or she owe reparations to people now suffering from warmer climates in India, Vietnam or Bangladesh?
It’s nice of Sunstein to copy the arguments of conservatives talking about it was their ancestors who owned slaves so what do we have to do with racial inequality today? Yes, the people of Britain and Germany might not have personally burned the coal that is leading to the inundation of Bangladesh–but they are sure benefiting from it in their rich nation society. The same for dead Germans and English and Americans. So this is a shockingly stupid argument. But it gets worse.
There is a subtler problem. Through industrial activity, trade, and technology, rich countries have conferred big benefits on poor ones, not least in the form of improved health and opportunity. Consider the recent response to the Ebola crisis, life-saving medical innovations or the dissemination of cell phones throughout the world.
A full accounting might require poor countries to pay the rich ones back for those benefits. No one in rich nations is asking for any form of restitution. (And they shouldn’t.) But if we are really interested in measuring who has helped and hurt whom, a claim for reparations puts the issue on the table.
So…… Rich nations have provided nothing but benefits to poor nations and maybe those poor nations should pay back rich nations for those benefits? I mean, sure 10-11 million slaves were taken from west Africa between 1500-1800, but some Nigerians owe us today because they use cell phone technology developed in the United States! And hey, sure the British let Indians starve during El Niño-induced famines in order that they maintained the proper level of exports back to the home country, but they also now speak English and call work in call centers! What gifts we have brought them!!! And let’s not forget the enormous debt the people of Congo owe the Belgians!
And certainly it’s quite clear that even though the U.S. blasted their Pacific island colonies after World War II with nuclear weapons and today those islands are disappearing because of climate change, the people who live actually owe us because they have television and sliced bread.
How did an article like this get through the editing process? Or is Cass Sunstein now like Niall Ferguson and can say any old horrifying thing with impunity because of who he is?
The other day I was listening to an album by the great Irving Fields, the brilliant pianist who merged jazz, the sort of Jewish-American popular music I associate with Catskills resorts in the 1950s, and Latin music in the 1950s, making legendary albums like Bagels and Bongos and Champagne and Bongos, which are just flat out pleasant and fun albums to listen to. I knew Fields was still working even though he is very old. I did a little research and found out that he just turned 100 and still plays at an Italian restaurant in New York. I’ve actually known about that for awhile and have never gone when I’m in the city, which is a huge error, even when time is limited as it often is there. The video in the attached article plays him up a bit as a lovable and slightly silly very old man, unfortunately not uncommon in a society that infantilizes the very old. But he can still play. And if you haven’t heard Bagels and Bongos, do it. He also recorded some excellent albums for Tzadik, John Zorn’s label, and the one with the percussionist Roberto Rodriguez is really fantastic. Highly recommended.
I have no idea why the right has so demonized Saul Alinsky as the greatest evil of all time, although that was really more a 2008-12 demon than today. But in any case, his organizing strategies were certainly influential. But there’s a strong critique to made against them from the left and the radical historian and colleague of Alinksy, Staughton Lynd, makes it. It’s not an easy thing to excerpt, so I would recommend just reading it for Lynd’s stories of trying to work in an Alinsky organization after 1968 and had quickly it all fell apart.
In so many cases, the building of the organization was actually the point of Alinsky’s style of organizing, which could be disastrous in the case of the United Farm Workers, when Cesar Chavez actively opposed empowering workers who could threaten the organization and frankly preferred working with white volunteers who would simply do whatever he told them. Chavez would purge members who disagreed with him, take resources away from the lettuce workers who actually wanted to organize to focus on the grapes where Chavez decided the fight should exist, etc. Focusing on building around preexisting issues and fostering natural leaders are certainly good strategies, but it’s long been clear to me that Alinksy-style organizing had very real limitations, including lacking a broader agenda or long-term goal, centralizing authority in a few people’s hands, and could deemphasize or even demonize the political agenda of members. Coming out of the New Left falling apart, some of that makes sense in some circumstances–organizing is hard and complicated and there’s no clear way to do it–but Alinsky and his followers went way too far. Alinsky-style organizing may provide useful strategies for current organizers but it’s hardly a model to follow to the letter.
Which brings us back to the bizarre question of why Alinsky is so scary for conservatives, but then I don’t really have a good answer for that except to say that he was key in the founding of the community organizing model, Barack Obama was a community organizer for 5 minutes, and therefore Kenyan Muslims come to power illegally or something.
A couple of years ago, the NFL changed its kickoff rules to minimize this dangerous play. Moving the kick up has allowed for more touchbacks, which means less returns, and less damage to players’ bodies. I suppose it might have taken a little excitement out of the game and it’s certainly created a lot of bad decisions by players taking out from 6 yards deep and returning it to the 11. College football did something of the same thing by creating a stronger incentive not to return kicks by making a touchback bring the ball out to the 25.
It’s certainly time to do the same with punting, probably banning the practice entirely. It’s the most dangerous play in football.
One week earlier, a sixteen-year-old freshman football player in Winnsboro, Louisiana, was fatally injured during a punt return in the fourth quarter of a Friday-night high-school game. His neck was reportedly broken when an opposing player hit him. “He loved his family, his team, and the game of football. He will be missed,” his school’s Facebook page read. It was Tyrell Cameron’s first and last high-school football game. His coffin was decorated with the colors of his Franklin Parish Patriots.
“Sure, it’s one of the more dangerous positions,” the Atlanta Falcons return specialist and receiver Devin Hester, who holds the N.F.L. record for punt-return touchdowns and total return touchdowns, told me recently. Football is thrilling and dangerous at every level, as fans of the game are increasingly aware. A 2013 study by the National Center for Catastrophic Sports Injury Research found that a dozen high-school and college football players die each year during practices and games. There hasn’t been a death during an N.F.L. game since 1971, but the league itself expects a third of all its retired players to develop some form of long-term cognitive problem, such as Alzheimer’s or dementia, as a consequence of head injuries endured on the gridiron. And a new independent report conducted by researchers with the Department of Veterans Affairs and Boston University found that chronic traumatic encephalopathy—or C.T.E., a disease caused by repeated head trauma, which can result in depression and dementia—affected ninety-six percent of N.F.L. players and seventy-nine percent of all football players whom researchers examined. (The researchers have examined the brain tissue of one hundred and sixty-five former players.)
Obviously, the CTE problem is much larger than punting but subjecting players to getting their bodies smashed, usually for not much as the average punt return is around 8-9 yards, means that a real step forward in safety would be a “punt” that just gave possession of the ball to other team 40 yards down the field, or perhaps halfway to the goal for punts inside the opponents’ 50. Something like this anyway. That’s the kind of adjustment that can actually make the game somewhat safer.
Last week, we all got a refresher on the problems with capitalist markets in pharmaceuticals. Martin Skhreli raised the cost of an HIV drug by 5000 percent, causing an outrage that forced him to backtrack (although as soon as he said that, all the media attention went away and so he’s probably still going to raise the price by a lot, just not as much as he originally said). There’s no good reason for companies not to do this, not when the American government lets them. Drug companies are doing the same thing with cancer drugs:
And now, research reveals the yawning gap between the price of widely used cancer drugs and their actual cost.
The true cost — what drug makers have to spend to get those pills to your local pharmacy — is made up of the active ingredient and other chemicals, their formulation into a pill, packaging, shipping and a profit margin.
British researchers, in a report to be delivered this weekend at a European cancer conference, say the price of five common cancer drugs is more than 600 times higher than they cost to make.
For instance, the analysis figures the true cost of a year’s supply of Gleevec (generic name imatinib), used to treat certain kinds of leukemia, at $159.
But the yearly price tag for Gleevec is $106,322 in the U.S. and $31,867 in the U.K. A generic version costs about $8,000 in Brazil.
“We were quite surprised just how cheap a lot of these cancer drugs really are,” pharmacologist Andrew Hill of the University of Liverpool said in an interview. “There’s a lot of scope for prices to come down.”
And the implications stretch way beyond these specific cancer drugs. Overall prices for cancer medications have been going up at a fast clip. Dr. Peter B. Bach of Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York has documented a nearly 100-fold increase in cancer drug prices since 1965 after adjusting for inflation.
“The rate of rise exceeds the rise in benefits from these drugs,” Bach says. “This is a ginned-up pricing structure that isn’t a product of careful analysis. It’s not a bunch of guys in green eye-shades but a bit of dart-throwing and chutzpah. And if there’s a critical Op Ed piece or a Twitter avalanche [in response to a high price] they’ll lower it.”
Bach speaks from experience. Three years ago, he and two other colleagues announced in a New York Times Op Ed piece that Memorial Sloan Kettering would not be prescribing a new colon cancer drug because it didn’t improve outcomes despite its high price tag. The manufacturer responded by halving the price.
I grant that in some of this pricing comes from the cost of research. However, a lot of this price gouging is from capitalists like Skhreli who buy up drugs and never put a dime of research into them. Also, a lot of drug research is federally-funded. So what we are really seeing here is an American medical system that rewards killing people who can’t afford these drugs because just enough can to keep these companies making money. Even with the advances of the ACA, the American medical system is still a hot mess and greed is at the core of the problem. Really, only the government can solve this problem and politicians need to turn away the Big Pharma money and look toward acquiring affordable drugs for Americans that has some connection to the cost of production plus a reasonable profit for the companies, with “reasonable” not defined by venture capitalists or shareholder wishes.
Scott is not incorrect that a major problem with bagels is the ridiculous amount of cream cheese. I am fairly agnostic on the point as I like cream cheese, but the point is fair. But a far greater problem is the terrible quality of the 99% of the bagels in the United States. It drives me absolutely crazy that 80 miles outside of New York City, no one bothers to prepare bagels properly and everyone, including the ex-New Yorkers, seem perfectly happy to accept Dunkin’ Donuts bagels, or even more atrocious, bagged and frozen bagels, products not deserving of the name. We are in a major food renaissance in this country, with middle and upper-class white people appropriating food cultures from around the world for their own tastes, focusing on fusion, new experiences, regional foods of Mexico and Thailand instead of what has become broadly known as Mexican and Thai food in the U.S., local ingredients, organic, whatever. And yet, for all the hipsters who have come in and out of Brooklyn in the last 10 years, it seems that no one has decided that a great idea would be to combine the food artisanship of the time with learning how to make good bagels and then moving to Portland/Austin/other hipster site of the moment and opening a first-class (or even second-class) bagel shop. Instead, we are in a world of poor bagels except for the rare times most of us get to New York (or Montreal–I don’t want to offend those who believe in that tradition, which I have never had since I’ve never been there).
So who is responsible for the terrible bagels of America? There are probably many perpetrators, including Murray Lender, a man Yglesias lauds precisely for his mediocre product, because of course. but one is a man named Daniel Thompson, who just died. His “contribution?”
Daniel Thompson, who five decades ago automated the arcane art of bagel making, a development — seen variously as saving grace and sacrilege — that has sent billions of mass-produced bagels raining down on the American heartland, died on Sept. 3 in Rancho Mirage, Calif. He was 94.
His family announced the death last week.
A California math teacher turned inventor, Mr. Thompson was a shaper of postwar suburban culture in more than one respect: He also created the first wheeled, folding Ping-Pong table, a fixture of American basements from the mid-20th century onward.
But it was for the bagel machine that Mr. Thompson remained best known. The invention changed the American diet, ushering in the welter of packaged bagels — notably Lender’s — now found in supermarkets nationwide, and making the bagel a staple of fast-food outlets.
“There was a kind of schism in bagel-making history: pre-Daniel Thompson and post-Daniel Thompson,” Matthew Goodman, the author of “Jewish Food: The World at Table,” said in an interview on Monday. “What happened with the advent of the automated bagel-making machine was that bagel makers were capable of producing far more bagels than had ever been imagined.”
I like defeating my brother at ping pong, so I give the man some credit. But his bagel machine was clearly a mixed blessing, if one can call it that. I guess that maybe–maybe–one can argue that without mass popularized bagels, it would have fallen by the wayside like a number of other Jewish foods and instead there is the potential for a demand for a better product. This is basically what Yglesias argued about Lender in the link above. On the other hand, given that New Yorkers, or a lot of them anyway, still demand a quality product produced properly, I doubt it. But if we assume this argument might have some legs, I guess we could look at the rise of Taco Bell moving into more sophisticated Mexican food as maybe a path to bagels, although again, here the increasingly popularity of a better class of Mexican food is really related to larger immigration patterns and the exposure of whites to that food through randomly stopping in an Oaxacan restaurant (although the reality is that Oaxacan-owned restaurants in the U.S. only serve a small fraction of what Oaxacans actually eat, including few of the best dishes for reasons that I think are about modernity and work practices but that’s for another post).
Anyway, most of the bagels we eat are pointless lumps of carbs with little value. Daniel Thompson is partially to blame. Demand better bagels!
It’s also worth noting how the bagel machine was used to bust the bagel makers’ union.
Bagel-making was still a skilled trade then, restricted to members of the International Beigel Bakers Union, as the name was Romanized after the organization was founded in New York in 1907. (Until well into the 1950s, the minutes of the union’s board meetings were taken down in Yiddish.)
The bagel-maker’s craft was passed down from father to son, fiercely guarded from outsiders’ prying eyes. In a contingency that seemed straight out of Damon Runyon, or perhaps “The Untouchables,” nonunion bakers trying to make and sell bagels risked paying for it with their kneecaps.
“Every bagel that was made in New York City up until the 1960s was a union bagel — every one,” Mr. Goodman said. “The reason why this union was strong was that they were the only ones who knew how to make a proper bagel. And that was the keys to the kingdom.”
The union — New York’s Local 338, with some 300 members — could hold the entire metropolitan area gastronomic hostage and, in disputes with bakery owners over working conditions, often did.
“Bagel Famine Threatens in City,” an alarmed headline in The Times read in 1951, as a strike loomed. (It was followed the next day by the immensely reassuring “Lox Strike Expert Acts to End the Bagel Famine.”)
Then, in the early 1960s, Mr. Thompson’s machine changed the bagel forever.
That’s really written in an anti-union fashion, given the use of the term “gastronomic hostage” to describe what seem to be bad working conditions. You know what would be great? Quality food made by unionized workers who are well-paid in safe conditions. Instead we have low quality food made by non-union workers who are paid peanuts. Welcome to America.
One of the many awesome features of Oregon is that you can ski in the summer on Mt. Hood. Not that I am a skier personally, but for those who are, this is an unusual feature of the state. But this summer has seen the combination of a severe drought (which is rare but historically possible) with skyrocketing temperatures now going back for years (which is about long-term climate change). This has had a major effect on that summer ski season, which, because of its public nature, can serve as a warning signal for the region.
Oregon has more mountain ice than most (it’s second only to Alaska), but experts say the region’s disappearing summer skiing and shrinking snowpack are leading indicators that major climate shifts are happening. “It’s not just about skiing, but it is this canary in the coal mine — it’s really, really visible,” Anne Nolin, professor of geography and head of the mountain hydro- climatology research group at Oregon State University, says. “When things go from bright white, glittering snowpack to brown dirt and flaming forests, everyone sees it.”
With the smaller snowpack, Nolin and a team of OSU researchers took streamflow measurements this summer that were the lowest they’ve ever seen. That has a ripple effect beyond the ski area. When less meltwater flows into the streams, economies that depend on summer recreation suffer, too. This season, rafting companies experienced some of the fewest viable days for kayaking and rafting on the nearby Deschutes River. “Our society tends to ignore the fact that rural communities depend on what others might consider an elitist sport,” Nolin says. “I’m concerned about the loss of income to rural communities that depend on summer and winter recreation — everyone hurt financially this year.”
Those economic impacts are real. Oregon in 2015 is not Oregon in 1985. The timber jobs are gone and for many small communities, tourism is the lifeline. With the huge forest fires affecting the region this year and the never-ending above average temperatures, the future of outdoor recreation, water supplies, and economic sustainability in much of the Northwest is in question. That’s scary.
Hey, Cambridge/Boston/surrounding area folks! I am going to speaking about Out of Sight at Porter Square Books in Cambridge next Tuesday, October 6, at 7 p.m. You should come! I will be signing books. Even better, I’ll be in conversation with the excellent labor writer Laura Clawson from Daily Kos, so you can meet her too. Maybe I’ll even start telling Harvard jokes!
Friends, we have a lot of serious problems in this nation. But none are more serious than the abuse of Beetle Bailey by Sarge. Luckily, a cranky old soldier is on it, through the classic communication method of the old crank, the letter to the editor:
As a retired member of the U.S. military I am concerned about the impression left by the cartoon “Beetle Bailey” carried by your paper. Readers of the cartoon could possibly get the impression from the cartoon that it is acceptable for a senior noncommissioned officer (as depicted by Sarge) to physically assault a junior enlisted man.
It seems that quite often the story line of the cartoon depicts Sarge brutalizing or threatening to brutalize Beetle. I am aware that the cartoon has been around for quite some time and it was based on the U.S. Army during the time frame of around the Second World War, but even then, it was something not sanctioned or tolerated by the military. If any concerned family members were to take the actions depicted in these supposedly funny frames as the norm in the U.S. military, then the Walker family is doing a disservice to our military members.
I certainly wouldn’t encourage any son or daughter of mine to become a member of such an organization. The truth of the matter is that any officer or noncommissioned officer found to be physically abusive to a junior enlisted man would be up on charges and, at a minimum, demoted if not removed from the service. I am sure that there have been instances of abuse at times in the military service, but the habitual abuse depicted in the cartoon would not have been tolerated. When Gen. George Patton slapped an enlisted man back in World War II it caused an outrage that almost ended his career.
If the Walkers can’t find a different story line for their cartoon, maybe they should end it. In my years in the military I never met a senior staff NCO or an officer who didn’t treat junior enlisted men with anything but care and concern. Even when trying to push men to test their ability to withstand pressure that nowhere near replicated combat, which included plenty of pressure and loud voices, it never included the kind of beatings that are commonplace in the cartoon “Beetle Bailey.” Hopefully readers recognize this as fiction.
I mean, I think this cartoon should end too, but that’s because it’s been horrible for 25 years, like almost everything else on the comics page, not because of cartoon violence. But it is pretty clear that cartoon violence does lead to real life violence. That’s why all those years of watching Itchy and Scratchy on the Simpsons has led me to wrap my brother’s intestines around a rocket and shoot him to the moon and why today’s military routinely has noncoms beating loafing privates who pull their hats down too far over their heads. Won’t somebody think about the children?