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Useful Idiots

[ 261 ] January 13, 2017 |


I only engaged on Facebook with random “leftists,” which in 2016 and 2017 is not about policy but rather about how much one hates the Democratic Party, one time in the months before the election. This was right before the election. I was told that there was no reason to vote for the Democrats since Hillary would start World War III with Russia. I quickly regretted my decision. But we all know how happy the far left was to be useful idiots for Putin. Jill Stein traveling to Russia before the election was the peak but there was the consistently terrible coverage from The Nation, which of course is usually good on other issues than Russia. But it was all over the place. This is a good run-down of the useful idiots. And I bring you this particular anecdote.

Another Nation staple, contributing editor Doug Henwood, has maintained a professional relationship with WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, yet is apparently very tetchy about the collaboration, as I also discovered when I engaged him.

Henwood had planned to work with Assange on putting out a book about Hillary Clinton’s Goldman Sachs speeches—Henwood annotating, Assange writing the foreword—transcripts of which were of course originally hacked by Russian intelligence and disseminated through WikiLeaks, at least according to 17 different U.S. intelligence agencies, two of which concluded that this was done with the express purpose of helping Trump get elected. When I brought up this pending project, as detailed both on the book publisher’s website and in multiple articles, Henwood called me a “fucking idiot.” (Henwood’s publisher, when contacted for this story, noted that Henwood was no longer affiliated with the endeavor, saying that he had now grown “weary of chronicling Hillary Clinton’s boundless political shortcomings.”)

Henwood and Assange are made for each other. Which is tragic because when Henwood talks about the economy he is great and when he talks about politics he is absolutely out of his mind. But then I’m probably a “fucking idiot” too.


The Republican War on Higher Education

[ 46 ] January 13, 2017 |


Above: One of Many People the GOP Wants to Make Sure Students Know Nothing About

Another year, another set of Republican legislators seeking to engage in a political war on those liberals in higher education. First, Arizona.

Saying students are being taught hatred at public expenses, a Republican lawmaker from Flagstaff is proposing new limits on what and how schools, colleges and universities can teach.

Rep. Bob Thorpe said a 2010 law that targeted “ethnic studies” courses at some public schools, including those at Tucson Unified School District, does not go far enough with its prohibition against teaching anything that promotes resentment toward another race. He wants to expand that list to include gender, religion, political affiliation and social class.

And Thorpe wants a ban on not just classes but any events or activities that “negatively target specific nationalities or countries.”

But it does not stop there.

HB 2120 would extend the new restrictions to community colleges and universities, not just in terms of what’s taught in the classroom but also any event or activity. And it gives the attorney general the unilateral power to withhold up to 10 percent of state aid if he or she determines a college or university is in violation.

Thorpe said Thursday his bill is aimed specifically at things like a “privilege walk” exercise sponsored by the University of Arizona and a course entitled “Whiteness and Race Theory” at Arizona State University.

This is of course nothing more than a politicized attack on higher education. Republicans want people like myself and the other members of this blog fired for teaching anything that does not confirm whatever the conservative talking points of the moment may be. And that takes us to Missouri.

College graduates in Missouri should be able to find jobs that correspond with their degrees, and their professors should help them do so, says State Rep. Rick Brattin, a Republican.

To make that happen, Mr. Brattin says, he would eliminate tenure at Missouri’s public colleges and universities. House Bill 266, introduced this month, would outlaw awarding tenure in Missouri after January 1, 2018. (The bill would not apply to faculty members awarded tenure before January 1, 2018.)

HB 266 would also require public colleges to publish more information, including the estimated price of individual degrees, employment opportunities expected for degree earners, and a summary of the job market for each degree, among other things.

But let’s be clear, for Brattin, a man who never attended college, this is about politics, not job prospects. The link also included an interview with him.

Q. Are you concerned that eliminating tenure would damage academic freedom, or professors could get fired for political reasons?

A. Like I said, in what area do you have protection of your job for whatever you say, whatever you do, you’re protected? You don’t have that. Their job is to educate, to ensure that students are able to propel themselves into a work force and be successful. That’s their job.

If they are going off the rails and not doing what they are supposed to as a hired staff of educating those kids, should they not be held accountable? Should they have the freedom to do whatever they wish on the taxpayers’ dime and on the students’ dime? That should be more the question: Should they have that freedom to do that? Their focus should be to ensure that we have an educated person to be able to succeed beyond their wildest dreams.

Q. Specifically, what do you mean “things aren’t being done” according to a professor’s job description?

A. When we have college graduates making up 40 percent of unemployed Americans, after they have been promised if they come here and they receive this degree, they’ll be able to do this, that, and the other, and they find out it’s an out-of-date degree program or degree, it’s an injustice to our youth.

Something’s wrong, something’s broken, and a professor that should be educating our kids, should be concentrating on ensuring that they’re propelling to a better future, but instead are engaging in political stuff that they shouldn’t be engaged in. Because they have tenure, they’re allowed to do so. And that is wrong. It’s an abuse of taxpayers dollars. If you want to go get grant money, or you want to be privately funded to do your endeavors of whatever, that’s fine. When you’re on the taxpayer dollar, I don’t think that’s a proper use of the taxpayers’ money.

Q. Let’s say a geologist at the University of Missouri is tenured and his responsibility entails research. Part of his job is to do research on publicly funded dollars. Do you think that should be publicly funded?

A. If that’s his job and he was hired by the university to do x, y, and z, and he’s performing x, y, and z, that’s what he was hired to do. It’s when these professors receive tenure that they are all of a sudden allowed this astronomical freedom to do whatever they wish, and they’re virtually untouchable, I’m sorry, it’s taxpayer dollars.

There should be accountability with whatever you’re doing. And it’s quite clear by the numbers that what’s being done is not at the best level and the highest echelon that it should be.

Of course this guy doesn’t know anything about how higher education actually works. Since research is part of the job of a tenured and tenure-track faculty, maybe he could find out that his bill makes no sense. But then the issue is not “professors doing research” but rather “professors doing research conservatives don’t like.” You also have to love the a priori assumption that it is un-American to be able to speak your mind at work. This guy is a real peach.

I don’t know what the chances of passage of these bills are in the respective states, but given that Arizona already banned ethnic studies in K-12, this is certainly scary. And we can certainly expect many more bills like this as conservatives seek to destroy the American institution where liberalism remains the strongest.

Vo Quy, RIP

[ 15 ] January 12, 2017 |


Vo Quy, the pioneering Vietnamese environmentalist and communist who not only convinced Ho Chi Minh to create Vietnam’s first national park, but also played a critical role in bringing his nation and the United States to an agreement on dealing with the ecocide the Americans committed after the war, has died at the age of 87.

Here is more about him.

Enjoy the Last Days of a President Who Does the Right Thing

[ 23 ] January 12, 2017 |


The last days of Obama make me sad because there are enough good things happening, even though I have my strong criticisms of his presidency, that it’s incredibly depressing think about what could be versus what will be. Two critical items, just from the last three days.

First, there’s OSHA’s announcement that it will pursue a federal workplace standard on workplace violence for health care and social service workers.

The effort to provide better protections for health care and social service workers has gained momentum in recent months. In December, OSHA issued a Request for Information about whether to propose a standard aimed at preventing workplace violence in the two industries, citing a Government Accountability Office report that noted rates of workplace violence in the health care and social service industries were “substantially higher” than in private industry.

“Our nurses came to D.C. today to speak out on the importance of passing an enforceable workplace violence prevention standard, and we are thrilled to know that OSHA has granted NNU’s petition for that standard to begin to take shape,” Bonnie Castillo, health and safety director for Silver Spring, MD-based NNU, said in a press release. “Such regulations are vital to protecting nurses and other health care workers, as well their patients, from the epidemic of workplace violence across the U.S.”

In Congress, Rep. Bobby Scott (D-VA) has called on OSHA to promulgate a workplace violence standard. Earlier this month, outgoing OSHA administrator David Michaels sent a letter to Scott thanking him for his concern and supporting his position.

“I agree with you that workplace violence is a serious occupational hazard that presents a significant risk for health care and social assistance workers,” Michaels wrote. “Evidence indicates that the rate of workplace violence in the health care and social assistance sector is substantially higher than private industry as a whole and that the health care and social assistance sector is growing. In response to this problem, OSHA has used the General Duty Clause in cases involving employers that expose workers to this recognized hazard in a growing number of workplaces. OSHA has also revised its guidance on preventing workplace violence for health care and social service workers, and has conducted its first comprehensive workplace violence training for its Compliance Officers.

I think we all know this is going to go nowhere under Trump and Andy Pudzer’s Department of Labor.

And then there is Obama using the Antiquities Act for what I imagine is the last time, creating three new national monuments and expanding two others. He has created the first national monument to remember Reconstruction, in South Carolina, as well as national monuments in Birmingham and Anniston to remember the civil rights movement. He also expanded the California Coastal National Monument and the Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument along the Oregon-California border. Given that I’m an Oregonian and that there is slow momentum building toward monuments to eventually be created out of the old growth Cascade forests and the wild southeastern part of the state, it would be great to see the Antiquities Act continue. And maybe it will be–after all, I don’t know that the western Republicans outraged by these monuments have the political clout to get the Senate votes and few presidents want to give away their own power. But of course anything is on the table right now. Maybe we can convince Trump to name his own properties national monuments to himself, along with a huge check from the government to compensate him.

But hey, at least 25 year olds will soon be denied access to their parents’ health insurance so that if they survive their cancer, they will be in debt forever. Freedom is finally at hand.


[ 338 ] January 12, 2017 |


Cory Booker has a reasonably high chance of being the Democratic nominee in 2020. There are good reasons for this. He gave a great speech at the DNC that really rallied everyone who heard it against hate. Given the amount of hate that is coming, this is a good thing. His testifying against Jeff Sessions was excellent. He is charismatic and has a great chance of reviving the Obama coalition. That charisma and leadership potential is absolutely crucial for whoever the nominee is going to be.

At the same time, the nominee is almost certainly to be someone who can speak to some sort of economic populism. Maybe that can be Cory Booker. But he has a lot to answer for. His embrace of charter schools and the inherent anti-unionism involved in them made him a heck of a lot of enemies. So have his close ties to Wall Street. And now we have him voting against allowing the importation of prescription drugs from overseas. All of these are real problems for him and should make us ask him very hard questions. I get that he is from New Jersey. He is also basically untouchable in that state. He can defy Wall Street and the Big Pharma companies based in New Jersey to run for the presidency. He needs to if he indeed is going to do that. Unfortunately, he does not seem to understand that. And thus he is going to be rightfully criticized from the left.

Booker has mostly been a pretty good senator. Despite his past apostasy, I could potentially see supporting him in 2020 and of course certainly will if he is the nominee. He’s light years better than Andrew Cuomo or Rahm Emanuel. But he needs to be a lot smarter about his votes and a lot smarter about adopting economically progressive positions if he is going to make that run. Because someone is going to be the economically left candidate and that person is going to make a compelling case to a whole lot of voters, no matter what happens in the next 3 years before the Iowa caucus. It could be Booker. But right now, it’s not.

Globalization: A Political Project to Concentrate Wealth at the Top

[ 163 ] January 12, 2017 |


The Boston Review has an outstanding forum led by Dean Baker with commentary from several other economists about how globalization is a series of political decisions that sought to protect the wealthy from competition while subjecting the poor to a global race to the bottom. I will excerpt from Baker but every commenter is worth reading as well.

Among the many myths about globalization, the worst is that the loss of large numbers of manufacturing jobs in the United States (and Europe) was inevitable. Because the developing world is full of low-paid workers, this argument goes, it was impossible for Americans to compete. Economists and politicians promoting this view might consider the outcome unfortunate for U.S. workers, but also unavoidable. They take comfort in the growing living standards of billions of impoverished people in the developing world.

This is a palatable view of the history of the last forty years for those who were not its victims, but it is wrong in just about every way.

Globalization need not have taken the course it did. There was nothing inevitable about large U.S. trade deficits, which peaked at almost 6 percent of GDP in 2005 and 2006 (roughly $1.1 trillion annually in today’s economy). And there was nothing inevitable about the patterns of trade that resulted in such an imbalance. Policy decisions—not God, nature, or the invisible hand—exposed American manufacturing workers to direct competition with low-paid workers in the developing world. Policymakers could have exposed more highly paid workers such as doctors and lawyers to this same competition, but a bipartisan congressional consensus, and presidents of both parties, instead chose to keep them largely protected.

It is not just the volume and direction of trade flows that reflect policy choices. A second assumption in the familiar story about globalization concerns the content of those flows. Trade deals negotiated by administrations of both parties have been designed to enable U.S. corporations to manufacture goods in developing countries and return the output to the United States with minimal restrictions. This choice puts U.S. manufacturing workers in direct competition with low-paid workers in the developing world. Our economy may gain as a whole from access to low-cost goods made in the developing world, but a predictable and actual outcome of this pattern of trade is the loss of U.S. manufacturing jobs and downward pressure on the wages of less-educated workers generally.

There were other options, and there still are. Just as we can save money on shoes and shirts by buying goods made in China, we could save on our medical bills and legal services if we allowed low-paid doctors, lawyers, and other professionals from developing countries to practice in the United States.

As it stands, almost nothing has been done in this era of trade liberalization to reduce the barriers protecting our most highly paid professionals. It is illegal for a doctor to practice medicine in the United States unless she has completed a U.S. or Canadian residency program. (The number of slots in these programs is strictly limited, with a small fraction open to foreign-trained doctors.) Dentists are prohibited from practicing in the United States unless they graduate from an American dental school; the lone exceptions among foreign nationals are graduates of Canadian dental schools.

It is absurd to believe that the only way to be a competent doctor is to complete a U.S. residency program. If we applied our free-trade principles to medical and dental services, as well as to the work of other highly paid professionals, we would establish an international system of credentialing that would allow foreign professionals to train to our standards and practice in the United States. This is not some absurd fantasy. Able workers in these fields already collaborate all over the world; the bones and teeth and hearts in India are no different from those of Americans.


In short, almost everything about the story of globalization as a natural or necessary process is false. The United States does not need to run a trade deficit, large or small, with the developing world. And these trade deficits are not prerequisites for reducing poverty there.

If globalization in the current mode was not preordained, it was also not an accident. The exposure of American manufacturing workers to competition with low-paid foreign workers follows policy choices made by officials who knew their decisions would result in lower pay for Americans.

Ending protectionism for highly paid professionals and intellectual property would help to reverse the past four decades of upward income redistribution, but it will not be enough on its own. It is also necessary to attack the bloated financial sector and its excessive paychecks, fix a broken corporate-governance structure that allows CEOs outlandish salaries, and rethink macroeconomic policy that has sacrificed employment on the alter of low inflation. I address these issues more thoroughly in my new book, Rigged.

And let me reiterate, there is no such thing as market forces. These are not immutable laws like gravity. These are all a series of decisions made by humans. They have the option to make other decisions. They do not do so. But we should not naturalize this. We could have had a system of globalization that sought to share economic benefits equally. But because the process was controlled by the rich for the benefit of the rich (and let’s remember that the core reason for globalization in the last 50 years is CEOs and shareholders seeking to bust unions and escape environmental protection by moving overseas), that never happened. Today, the capitalists have naturalized the process to deflect how they control all of it. This is basically believed not only on the right and by elites in both parties but also by those liberal writers who believe that Paul Theroux is history’s greatest monster for pointing out the real costs of this to Americans. We have a long ways to go. Dean Baker is doing a lot of the work to help give us the tools to push back against this orthodoxy.

Subtext: A Quaint Idea of the Past

[ 49 ] January 12, 2017 |


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:

“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 |


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 |


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 |


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 |


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.

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