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[ 106 ] June 15, 2016 |


After the death of Muhammad Ali, Bob Costas, moralistic blowhard, decided he needed to set the record straight on Cassius Clay, a complicated Kentuckian who turned against slavery even though he was born into the slaveholding class. Costas needed to call Clay an abolitionist. Ta-Nehisi Coates rebukes Costas, noting correctly that Clay was not an abolitionist, but rather a complicated individual who bravely moved against slavery, even though it was against the interest of his class and society, even while he was still actually selling slaves.

Even as Clay freed those people whom he personally held enslaved on his estate, he “retained in slavery a number of Negroes who were attached to the estate without being his personal property.” When you are black and your namesake is literally a slave-holder, there is nothing ironic about calling it a “slave name.”

Now, I find Clay heroic. Clay did not ask to be a slave-holder. He was born into slave-holding and, at great financial loss to himself, freed those he personally held in bondage. This was not a small thing—collectively, enslaved people, represented the greatest asset in the country at that time. Clay, himself, took a $50,000 loss—in 1860 dollars—in order to live out his principles. He went even further—loudly denouncing slavery as evil, and thus constantly courting danger. This isn’t enough for Bob Costas. Clay can’t be a brave and complicated human. Clay has to be the wholly innocent, wholly righteous white guy in the black movie.

But Muhammad Ali would not define himself through Clay’s legacy. Ali was more interested in the legacy of Emily, the enslaved woman whom Clay sold away. That was the entire point of Ali changing his name. Unfortunately none of that could save Ali from Bob Costas’s need to be all loud an the smug of chorus of “Well, actually…” that must dog us all into our very graves.

Coates really sums up the problems with Costas, who it sounds like will mercifully retire soon. I know I just can’t wait for his simplistic monologues during Olympics coverage this summer…


Are Left-Populists Wrong About Political Campaigns?

[ 282 ] June 15, 2016 |


Over the next few days, I’m going to be writing about a number of interesting Democratic primary post-mortems. Not Freddie DeBoer’s. Not enough mangoes in the world for that, although I see Scott made a gigantic mango smoothy earlier with it. I started this yesterday. Today, I want to highlight Joshua Holland’s Rolling Stone piece, where he asks if the fundamental beliefs of left-populists like Thomas Frank that running a truly left candidate would overthrow the Democratic machine in a primary election are wrong:

The answer seemed simple: Give low- and middle-income folks — i.e., the majority of the country — an opportunity to vote in a way that would better serve their economic interests. This would bring “Reagan Democrats” and socially conservative blue-collar types back into the fold, giving them reason to stop bitterly clinging to their God and their guns.

This was also seen as an answer to the midterm drop-off effect — the tendency of key Democratic constituencies to only vote in presidential years — that’s long bedeviled the party and, in recent years, delivered unified Republican control of 30 statehouses and both chambers of Congress. After the 2014 midterms that Barack Obama called a “shellacking” for the left, Frank told Salon we were seeing Democrats demonstrate “a logic that’s very familiar here in Washington, D.C. You move to the center, you always move to the center. But it’s a logic that’s just going to lead to more and more disasters down the road.” He warned that “if they do enough of this triangulation, they’ll become a party that has become so similar to Republicans, then why bother with them?”

I’m a big fan of Frank, and I’ve always believed this story. People don’t give up their deeply held beliefs easily. In fact, they tend to construct elaborate defenses when those beliefs are threatened. But we just had a natural experiment with this theory in America: Bernie Sanders ran the campaign left-leaning Democrats have been dreaming of for years. He wasn’t a one-trick pony, as some characterized him; he talked about climate change and criminal justice reform. But he focused relentlessly — and accurately — on how the 1 percent had made out like bandits and left the rest of us sucking their exhaust fumes.

Sanders did better than anyone expected. He’s poised to end his campaign with the highest favorability ratings of any candidate this cycle. According to a recent survey, he’s the most popular senator on Capitol Hill. His policy provisions poll well. But Sanders lost. He ran the campaign we dreamed about but couldn’t make it through the Democratic primaries. He lost to a candidate whose own supporters acknowledge she has deep flaws. And it was closer to a curb-stomping than a squeaker — with only D.C.’s contest left to go, Clinton has won 57 percent of the popular vote, and races in 16 of the 20 most populous states. She never led by fewer than 7.5 percentage points in FiveThirtyEight’s weighted average of national polls.

So what are the lessons of a credible leftist campaign failing to win the primary? I don’t think the lesson is that the populist left is completely wrong. I think there’s a lot of bitterness out there right now because Sanders supporters believed he legitimately could have won, but since I mostly did not see that as likely or even possible, I think that the campaign did much better than expected. That said, there are some lessons that could be learned for a future campaign, which I sure hope will happen, especially on the local and state level. Here’s a quick list:

1) No left-populist candidate can win the Democratic primary without African-American and Latino support. This is the biggest lesson and one that I found a lot of Bernie fans really defensive about. But it’s just the reality. No support in the black community, especially in the early states, no victory. It’s that simple. Any future candidate has to be prepared to deal with that.

2) Campaigns can’t start in 2015. Hillary Clinton has basically been campaigning since 2005 and has fully been laying groundwork for this run since 2013. Whatever the next leftist primary candidate looks like, that person has to start a long time before the year before the election be make the inroads necessary to beat an entrenched candidate. It’s not impossible under certain circumstances, such as Barack Obama, but then that takes us back to point 1, not to mention Obama’s generational political skills.

3) People have to understand that just because all their friends support Bernie that doesn’t mean that really everyone supports Bernie except for sellouts and fools. We all talk to like-minded friends and family. It’s very easy to get in a bubble. The Democratic Party is a complex beast of a lot of different constituencies. The winner has to win most of those, not just me and my friends.

4) A better candidate. Let’s face it–Bernie Sanders wasn’t a great candidate in a lot of ways. He struggled on a lot of issues, has no foreign policy interest, couldn’t talk outside of his talking points, was not good at intersectionality, got too obsessed with his own personal vendettas, etc. He was very good at many other things, don’t get me wrong. But he’s not in the upper echelon of excellent politicians of all time. Combining his strengths of straight talk and passion with someone more savvy could really pay off in the future.

5) Focus on the local and state level first. The worst part of the 2016 Democratic Primary was the intensive focus on personalities, how two politicians who have very similar positions on many issues are fundamentally different. Sanders’ “political revolution” was also pretty annoying because it assumed that the president could just change things and showed very little structural analysis. That’s a big problem. If the Thomas Frank model of running populist campaigns is going to work, it needs to start on the local and state level and take govenrment from the bottom up. Even in the comments here, with a bunch of really attentive and political people, commenters have admitted they’ve paid almost no attention to state or even Senate races so far. That’s a big problem and we really need to learn from this about the relative importance of various offices in change creation.

So it’s more complicated than Frank or others believe. But there’s one lesson the left should not learn: that elections aren’t worth it or that, God forbid, “let’s vote Jill Stein so we can throw the election to Donald Trump and SHOW THAT VILE DEBBIE WASSERMAN-SCHULTZ!!!! The real disaster would be to say “screw it, nothing can change.” That’s so obviously untrue as to be laughable, but too many believe it. As Scott has pointed out many times recently, the major difference between Hillary Clinton in 1996 and Hillary Clinton in 2016 is the times are drastically different. She and Bill were responding to growing conservatism in the 90s. They are responding to a progressive tide in 2016. For some, that’s a sign that they aren’t “authentic.” I don’t actually care what Hillary Clinton believes in her heart. I care what she will do in power. There is some crossover there, but it’s not the same thing. If she keeps getting major pressure from the left, she will move to the left. She already is. The answer to what the left needs to do is, mostly, more of the same, but maybe a little smarter and craftier in the electoral realm. As for the Fight for $15, people protesting debt, demanding free college education, higher wages, better health care, jobs, etc., outside of running candidates, the left is doing an awesome job. More is always better, but things are moving in the right direction. Keeping it up and putting even more pressure on politicians is how things get better.

Child Labor and Supply Chains

[ 11 ] June 15, 2016 |


Your daily reminder how western corporations use supply chains use by turning their heads away from child labor while claiming no responsibility for the working conditions of the goods that enter their products. The hideously awful palm oil industry, responsible for massive deforestation and tropical ecological disasters, also relies heavily on exploitable labor. Two plantations, certified as sustainable and that contract with PepsiCo, are awful. The plantations are owned by an Indonesian company that has a western CEO named Mark Wakeford, who claims they are following Indonesian law. But….

Indofood allegedly relies heavily on casual and other precarious forms of labor on its plantations.

Of the 41 workers interviewed, 20 were employed as either casual workers, limited-duration contract workers or so-called “kernet” workers, informal workers who have no direct employment relationship with the company.

“These [casual and kernet] workers had no job security, earned as little as half or less the pay than permanent workers, sometimes paid for their own safety equipment and health care, and faced increased health and safety risks,” the report said.

Indofood itself has admitted that half of its workers are employed on a casual basis. The company does not, however, report on the presence or number of kernet workers on its plantations.

Indofood allegedly sets unrealistically high daily quotas for its employees, forcing them to enlist the help of these informal kernet workers.

According to the report, plantation workers often engage the help of kernet workers in order to meet their quotas. These kernet workers are allegedly often children or employees’ wives.

One of the kernet workers interviewed for the report was a 13-year-old boy. He said he’d stopped attending school so he could earn some money on the plantation.

At least three harvesters told researchers that their daily quota was 2 or more tons of fresh fruit bunches per day. “To achieve their quota, harvesters must often walk long distances, particularly during the low-yield season, to cut and collect the necessary amount of fruit bunches,” the report said. One harvester said he had to collect between 140 and 160 fruit bunches per day, each weighing between 30 and 45 pounds.

Indofood is also accused in the report of keeping its workers at “unethically low wages,” paying both permanent and casual workers below the district’s minimum wage.

Casual and kernet workers reported regularly making between 20 percent and 75 percent less than the district monthly minimum wage.

One harvester said he paid a 16-year-old kernet worker just $1.50 a day plus food and cigarettes. (The district minimum wage is $6.10 per day.)

“What kind of adult person would want to get paid that much? [But] that’s how much I can afford,” the harvester is quoted as saying.

Though no evidence was found of Indofood directly hiring child laborers, at least three children under the age of 17 were allegedly found working as kernet workers.

A fourth boy, a 19-year-old kernet worker, said he’d been working at the plantation since he was 12. Several harvesters also said they’d hired children to help them on the job.

According to the International Labour Organization, working in agriculture is one of the “worst forms of child labor,” as it exposes children to extreme hazards, such as dangerous tools and harmful pesticides.

Workers on the plantations were exposed to hazardous chemicals, including paraquat, a toxic herbicide banned in many Western countries.

The report alleges workers were often not provided with adequate health care and safety equipment despite this exposure.

Casual and kernet workers reported having no health insurance and limited access to the on-site company clinic. The company allegedly did not provide any protective gear to kernet workers.

Maybe this company is following Indonesian law in the strictest sense, but like corporations everywhere, will seek to get around the law as often as possible. It might not be directly employing child labor but it’s contracting out for child laborers and doesn’t monitor this. OK. This is why I say again and again that codes of conduct and declarations of sustainability from outside organizations simply are nothing more than window dressing on an exploitative system. If we don’t want our Cheetos made from child labor, we have to force Pepsi to be responsible for everything that happens in its supply chain. If we don’t want workers being exposed to paraquat, we have to force Pepsi to be responsible for everything in its supply chain. Legal responsibility has to be the standard. We can enforce codes and laws on what gets imported into the United States. We have done it and continue to do so.

Part of this process will include opening supply chains to public scrutiny. That’s what GoodWeave International CEO Nina Smith calls for in her essay on ending child labor in the supply chains.

The solution to the problem is clear: companies must deploy deep supply chain investigation and remediation. But there is a distinction between ensuring an absence of child labor from production sites, and stopping child labor altogether. To eradicate the problem, we must change the social norms and other conditions that foment exploitation. By opening their supply chains to full mapping and accountability for all producers, industry can take a huge step in achieving both.

Taking this step is good for business. Selling child-labor-free products can lead to higher margins, increased product quality, and more stable sources of supply. Irene Quarshie, Target’s Vice President of Product Quality and Responsible Sourcing, reports: “By supporting GoodWeave’s mission, our guests can buy…a rug at Target and know they’re playing a part in eliminating child labor in the rug industry, and educating thousands of children in India. That’s a really big deal, and something we’re very proud of.”

I frequently visit GoodWeave’s Hamro Ghar (Our Home) rehabilitation center in Nepal for rescued child laborers, where 46 children are now in residence. The stories of their experience with abuse play out every day, all over the world. Their circumstances are the direct outcome of corrupt producers literally stealing labor—to the tune of $150 billion in annual profits. We cannot chase down and punish every perpetrator, but we can take their profits away by cutting them out of the market.

This clearly has to be part of the solution. Cutting them out of the market is the goal and we do that by not allowing their products to be sold in the United States unless they can be certified as not made with child labor. I think that punishing perpetrators can be done, through court cases within the United States and other nations with even more leeway for lawsuits around human rights, but that’s the ultimate step. Stopping the sale of these products in the United States should be a top priority for everyone who thinks child labor is a terrible thing and must end.

Human Rights Work and Political Advocacy

[ 9 ] June 15, 2016 |


A long-time human rights worker, who has written reports for Human Rights Watch, focusing primarily on Africa, takes to the Boston Review to revisit his own sins, mistakes, and regrets, ultimately questioning the role of the human rights worker entirely.

On-the-ground humanitarians learned tough lessons in Somalia, Sudan, and central Africa in the 1990s. Relief agencies adapted to the emerging sociological critique of humanitarian action. But human rights organizations and their practices of documentation and advocacy were not compelled to change, even though they had faced similar dilemmas and made similar mistakes. But, rather than reflecting on where they had succeeded and where they had failed, human rights organizations turned their agendas into the philanthropic version of a Jurassic Park sequel: bigger, louder, more teeth. They consolidated as a kind of Global Ethics, Inc., accommodating their own critique to power, especially American power. Too often, their concern has been to influence U.S. government power at the margin. Achieving that goal has blunted their political principles. The ascent of Samantha Power—whose 2002 book A Problem from Hell excoriated American inaction in Rwanda and elsewhere—from critical journalist to senior member of the Obama administration speaks to the rise of this liberal interventionism.

The fundamental tensions of human rights activism have not changed. The moral cogency of a human rights narrative is compelling but partial: it is incomplete and it takes sides. Making the human rights counternarrative into a dominant agenda is a dangerous success, whether it involves endorsing authoritarianism in Rwanda or advocating American military intervention as a remedy for mass atrocity. Human rights advocacy is a critique of power, not a directive for exercising it; humility is not only a necessary character trait but also an ideal. I now believe that a fully emancipatory human rights practice must be based on an agenda set by the affected people. This requires challenging the iniquitous structures of power that too often stand in the way of emancipation or co-opt narratives of human rights for their own ends.

I don’t know; certainly the trajectory of Samantha Power is one that should make us cautious. But there are many aspects to interventionism and in the modern world, there are really no isolated peoples or population that already lack western interventions, even without the human rights community getting involved. The internet of course is a huge propagandistic force for whoever can use it. The arms manufacturers seek to sell their wares to horrible people abroad who will use those weapons to kill. Disney and Nike are everywhere in some form or other. When I was on a small island off the coast of Sumatra in 1997, where indigenous people still dressed in traditional dress and lived in traditional homes, their sons were wearing Michael Jordan t-shirts, even though they had probably never watched television. American companies seek to intervene all over the world, seeking cheap labor and new frontiers in their supply chains.

So the principles of this essay are good. Human rights workers should show humility and admit their mistakes. They should try to learn from their mistakes. Co-opting narratives for their own political aims is less than optimal. Absolutely, an emancipatory human rights practice should be generated from the agenda of affected people. On the other hand, I don’t think it’s useful to become so cautious as to back away from doing the best you can in the moment. Responding to horrific violence is hard to do at the moment. It’s hardly surprising that in raising awareness in the West to try and get someone to do something about this awful event, like the Rwandan genocide, that human rights workers would screw some of it up. But it’s still almost certainly better than doing nothing at all.

Newt Gingrich is a Nice Man with Good Policy Ideas

[ 74 ] June 14, 2016 |
Alger Hiss, seated at extreme right, tells members of the House Un-American Activities Committee on August 5, 1948 that "I am not and never have been a member of the Communist party."   At committee bench, from left: Representatives John McDowell, R-Pa., Karl Mundt, R-ND., John Rankin, D-Miss, Edward Hebert D-La., Norris Cotton, R-NH, Clarence Brown R-Ohio, Earl Michener, R-Mich, Charles Deane D-NC, Charles Hoeven, R-Iowa, and John Butler, R-NY.  (AP Photo)

Alger Hiss, seated at extreme right, tells members of the House Un-American Activities Committee on August 5, 1948 that “I am not and never have been a member of the Communist party.” At committee bench, from left: Representatives John McDowell, R-Pa., Karl Mundt, R-ND., John Rankin, D-Miss, Edward Hebert D-La., Norris Cotton, R-NH, Clarence Brown R-Ohio, Earl Michener, R-Mich, Charles Deane D-NC, Charles Hoeven, R-Iowa, and John Butler, R-NY. (AP Photo)

I guess it’s not surprising that an open defender of Belgian colonialism in the Congo would respond to something like Orlando like calling for the recreation of HUAC. I’ll bet there’s some secret Muslims in Hollywood that politicians would love to persecute to serve their personal ambitions!

Federal Reserve and Banking: A Brief History

[ 15 ] June 14, 2016 |


Read Mike Konczal’s review of multiple recent books dealing with the intersection of the Federal Reserve and the banking system.

PEOPLE MAY REMEMBER that in his 1933 inaugural address, Franklin Delano Roosevelt told us “that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself.” What they might not remember is that Roosevelt also described “an adequate but sound” currency as one of his core “lines of attack” against the Great Depression. Adequate was key there; putting it first, above sound, was a clear signal that Roosevelt would no longer let the supply of gold determine the amount of currency in circulation. Two days after that address, Roosevelt suspended the convertibility of money into gold, effectively taking us off the gold standard.

The story of how this happened is told in excellent detail by Eric Rauchway’s The Money Makers. Rauchway provides both the particulars and an entertaining story about the connection between the high-level monetary ideas of Roosevelt and Keynes, and how they acted on them. The first “fireside chat” features Roosevelt arguing that there is something “more important than gold, and that is the confidence of the people themselves,” and the economy has never been the same since.

That it is portrayed as a clear decision consistently executed puts Rauchway’s account at odds with much of the recent New Deal scholarship. Historians tend to focus on the flailing and contradictory nature of what the New Deal wanted to accomplish with its economic policy. Economist Alvin Hansen stating that he doesn’t “know what the basic principle of the New Deal is” in 1940, and the more generous “chaos of experimentation” formulation of the historian Richard Hofstadter, tends to characterize the literature on New Deal economic policy.

Worse, tomes on the New Deal often spend a few sentences on this crucial decision to go off the gold standard, focusing more on government spending. When people looked to the New Deal to deal with the Great Recession, what to do about money was sorely lacking in public discussion. Rauchway provides a useful corrective here, showing that the major decisions weren’t an accident, but a conscious decision emanating from political commitments that would continue in the postwar order built at Bretton Woods.

Plenty to chew on throughout.

The Two Democratic Primary Winners

[ 85 ] June 14, 2016 |


I really liked this Harold Meyerson piece, considering where the Democratic Party is after the primary. He argues that both Clinton and Sanders won the primary because the latter won the battle of ideas and represents the new direction in the Democratic Party, even if the former is the nominee.

Clinton changed her positions to embrace his—and the number of issues on which Sanders changed his positions to embrace hers. By my tally, the presumptive nominee reversed her stance on the Trans-Pacific Partnership to one of opposition; reversed her stance on slowing the rise of Social Security benefits to increasing those benefits; opposed the Keystone XL Pipeline, which as secretary of state she’d said she was inclined to support; moved to embrace a $15 minimum wage in some cases; and backed off her earlier enthusiasm for charter schools.

Sanders’s challenge was far from the only reason she switched her positions, of course: The unions and environmental organizations that backed her also pressured her to shift her stances; Senator Elizabeth Warren also mounted a powerful challenge to many of Clinton’s initial positions; and the party as a whole was clearly moving left: The percentage of Democrats who call themselves liberal has doubled since the 1970s. But if Sanders hadn’t mobilized millions to his cause, it’s hard to imagine Clinton repudiating so many previous positions in favor of more progressive ones.

As to the number of issues on which Sanders changed his positions to embrace Clinton’s: I can’t think of any. To be sure, as the campaign developed, he became more comfortable discussing issues of social, and not just economic, inequality, but he began that transition when first challenged by Black Lives Matter protestors, well before the Clinton campaign was paying any attention to him.

The second, and more fundamental, measure of Sanders’s ideological victory was his success at placing the issue of economic inequality, and a range of remedies to combat it, at the center of Democratic discourse. In the mid-1960s, at the height of the broad prosperity of the postwar period, the Democrats, under Lyndon Johnson’s leadership, rightly redefined their mission as one of extending the rights and economic security that white working- and middle-class men had won under the New Deal Order, to those left out of the deal: At first, African Americans, then women, immigrants, other racial minorities, gays, lesbians, and transgender individuals. During those decades, however, the vibrant and relatively equitable economy that existed at the time of Johnson’s pivot slowly crumbled, as unions were decimated, manufacturing offshored, jobs subcontracted, and income shifted from labor to capital. The diminution of the middle class was an issue to which the Democrats came late, and it’s taken Sanders’s candidacy to re-position that issue at the center of the party’s concerns.

The question now for Meyerson is how to build upon this. For him, the answer is for organized labor to take the lead on making issues of racial, social, and economic justice central to the Democratic Party platform in Philadelphia.

Indeed, there’s a happy precedent for unions pushing a center-left presidential nominee to embrace a more progressive, and popular, platform. In 1948—the last time the Democrats held their convention in Philadelphia—President Harry Truman, the party’s nominee for re-election, favored a bare-bones, insubstantial civil rights plank. The CIO unions, particularly Walter Reuther’s United Auto Workers, had joined with other progressive organizations to back a full-throated civil rights plank, though the White House did not encourage their efforts. Minneapolis Mayor Hubert Humphrey had said he’d give the speech putting the plank before the convention, but fearing White House disapproval, he decided the night before not to speak. UAW attorney Joe Rauh argued with Humphrey all night, until, at 5 a.m., Humphrey agreed to give the speech. When he did, the following day, it was a stemwinder, sweeping the delegates off their feet. At the prompting of their union-member fellow delegates, they voted for the plank; four Southern state delegations walked out and formed the short-lived Dixiecrat Party, which ran South Carolina Governor Strom Thurmond for president. But the plank, which Truman then embraced and ran on, won him much liberal support and enabled him to reduce support for the third-party candidacy of former-FDR-Vice-President Henry Wallace to just 2 percent in the November election.

Will the unions do for Clinton what they once did for Truman? Will they play the role they’re well positioned to play, helping shape a progressive program that will appeal both to Clinton and Sanders supporters and the electorate at large? They’ve worked hard to win the votes they’ll wield at the convention. They should put them to good use.

It’s somewhat interesting that it’s 1948 Meyerson uses as his touchstone, not because it’s inaccurate but because some on the left still call the CIO sellouts for not backing Henry Wallace. In any case, despite its weakened state, organized labor is in better shape for pushing this agenda within the Democratic Party than in 1948. First, there are no Dixiecrats to worry about. The party is united and farther to the left on many issues than it has ever been. Second, the largest unions are also the most politically progressive unions–SEIU, AFSCME, AFT, and NEA. Sure, some of the building trades folks are going to vote for Trump, but those unions have never been nearly as close to the Democratic leadership as the UAW and USWA used to be and SEIU and AFT are today. Third, those unions have done a ton of work in the last 4 years fighting against inequality, including SEIU’s work on the Fight for $15 and UFCW’s now largely defunct but still somewhat important Walmart campaign. And it’s not just a chip they can cash in; it’s become the central message of the Democratic Party in 2016 because it’s the central message the Democratic Party base wants to hear and demanded to hear. Bernie Sanders deserves a lot of credit for this of course but so does organized labor, especially for doing a much better job than Sanders of connecting economic struggles with racial inequality. Let’s hope for a vigorous platform fighting all forms of inequality.

Conservative Eating Establishments

[ 244 ] June 14, 2016 |


I thought every conservative knew that when seeking food in COLONIAL HEIGHTS, VIRGINIA that one has to eat at the BIG ASS ARBY’S in order not to be discriminated against by evil LIBURLS who are probably NOT WHITE.

The TPP and Big Ag

[ 33 ] June 14, 2016 |


As I have stated many times, I don’t really care about GMOs in terms of thinking of them as any sort of health threat and I think concerns on that end are much closer to chemtrails than a legitimate issue. But the patent side of GMOs is highly concerned, as they make farmers dependent upon corporations to an unprecedented extent. That’s especially true as the ag companies push overseas. Even since the beginning of the Green Revolution, corporations have taken more and more control over developing world farming because of the expensive seed and fertilizer and heavy equipment required for this new farming. This has its benefits, but has also contributed to millions of people losing their land and becoming the easily exploited labor force for maquiladoras and sweatshops, not to mention contributes heavily to undocumented immigration into the United States. So while we can safely roll our eyes at any claims about GMOs being a particularly evil form of farming, we can be very worried over how the ag-tech companies used the Trans-Pacific Partnership as the next step in consolidating their profitable control over global farming and note that while the Obama administration has only paid lip service to labor and environmental standards in the TPP, it has also worked very closely with these corporate interests from the very beginning of the negotiations.

 And work closely they did. While the terms of the TPP were kept secret from the public and policymakers during negotiations, USTR negotiators relied heavily on input from the corporate insiders who populate the US government–appointed Industry Trade Advisory Committees (ITACs). A representative from BIO sits on ITAC-15, the committee that focuses on intellectual property (IP) rights, and BIO spent roughly $8 million on lobbying each year while the TPP was under negotiation, paying firms like Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld $80,000 annually to lobby for “patent provision in the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade negotiations.”

The results of this lobbying blitz were unknown until the final text of the agreement was released in November of last year. Signed on February 4 and awaiting ratification by its 12 member countries—Australia, Canada, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, Peru, United States, Vietnam, Chile, Brunei, Singapore, and New Zealand—the TPP is the largest regional free-trade deal in the world. While many have scrutinized its potential for offshoring jobs, lowering wages, and raising drug prices, few have paid attention to the TPP’s impact on the sector BIO prioritized above any other: agricultural biotechnology. Experts have called the TPP a “big win” for the biotech seed industry, and many warn that the trade deal will further enrich seed companies at the expense of farmers’ rights.

 While the United States and Japan did not succeed with their proposal of including patent protections for GMO plants—the provision, based on the US patent model, was removed in response to resistance from the majority of member countries—the TPP requires that member countries make patents available for “inventions that are derived from plants.” According to Burcu Kilic, a legal and policy director at the advocacy group Public Citizen who has written extensively on the TPP, the provision will likely translate to patents on genes that, once inserted into plants, render the plant patent-protected. So, for example, one could not patent an herbicide-resistant soybean, but one could patent the gene that makes a soybean herbicide resistant. The patent holder would then have the exclusive rights to the manufacture, sale, and use of any organism that contains that gene. In other words, the final language in the TPP became more palatable to skeptics whose approval of the agreement was needed, but patents on “inventions derived from plants” will likely be indistinguishable in practice.

“It’s ambiguous,” acknowledges Kilic with respect to how the language differs from the originally proposed patents on plants. “And when it is ambiguous, it’s scary, because the implementation will shape everything.” Currently, only three of the TPP member countries make patents available for plants, so if experts are right about the implications of this provision, nine other countries could see the introduction of US-style patents on plants.

The TPP also requires all member countries to join the Budapest Treaty on the International Recognition of the Deposit of Microorganisms for the Purposes of Patent Procedure, which Public Citizen says will “make it procedurally easier to apply for a patent.” Each member country must join the International Convention for the Protection of New Varieties of Plants 1991 as well, which effectively outlaws the saving of seeds from one season to the next, a practice the majority of the world’s farmers rely upon. “Farmers are prohibited from saving, replanting, and exchanging protected seed, and breeders are granted exclusive right to germplasm,” Maywa Montenegro, a PhD candidate at UC Berkeley researching seed systems, says of the treaty. While farmers in some TPP member countries technically have this right enshrined in the International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture, the conflict between these agreements coexists without resolution.

As the linked article goes on to discuss, intellectual property rights for plant innovations serve the interests of first world corporations, not developing world peoples. The traits these plants are bred for are not to promote what consumers in Asia, Africa, and Latin America need, but rather, high yields and resistance to damage from the petroleum-intensive pesticides and herbicides used to kill off competition, rather than drought resistance or growing in salty soil. That’s not to mention the very real concerns about biodiversity that global agribusiness discourages.

And once again, we need to note that the TPP is not about free trade in a region with very few remaining trade barriers. It’s a global corporate rights agreement to benefit American companies and American foreign policy aims. It would be nice if its promoters argued honestly about the aims here.

Who Supports Trump?

[ 170 ] June 14, 2016 |


Racists. Racists support Trump.

Moving from the least to the most resentful view of African Americans increases support for Trump by 44 points, those who think Obama is a Muslim (54 percent of all Republicans) are 24 points more favorable to Trump, and those who think the word “violent” describes Muslims extremely well are about 13 points more pro-Trump than those who think it doesn’t describe them well at all.

Like Klinkner, my colleagues Max Ehrenfreund and Scott Clement found that Trump received a plurality of support — 43 percent — from respondents who expressed racial resentment. But they also found that economic anxiety played a significant role: 40 percent of respondents who said they were struggling gave their support to Trump, far more than any other candidate.

“Those who voiced concerns about white status appeared to be even more likely to support Trump than those who said they were struggling economically,” Clement and Ehrenfreund wrote, “but the results did not clearly show which concern was more important among Trump’s coalition.

The biggest predictor of Trump support among Republican and Republican-leaning voters was a belief that “the growing number of newcomers from other countries threatens U.S. values.” Republicans holding this belief felt 18 points more positively toward Trump, on a 100-point scale, than Republicans who didn’t feel this way.

Belief that Islam encourages violence, and that it’s “bad” for the country that blacks, Latinos and Asians will someday make up the majority of the population, accounted for eight-point jumps in positive feelings toward Trump.

Erik Visits an American Grave, Part 35

[ 18 ] June 13, 2016 |

This is the grave of Archibald MacLeish.

2016-02-12 13.36.25

Born in Illinois, MacLeish grew up rich, went to Harvard, served in World War I, and went to law school. But his career took a sharp left turn in the 1920s, when he decided to commit himself to a literary life and became part of the American expatriate community in Paris. He moved significantly to the left, even as he was writing for Fortune, and became an important part of the Popular Front in the 1930s, although one willing to criticize communist actions as well. He committed himself to fusing populism and nationalism, turning his back on his expatriate years for a new commitment to American ideals in a leftist light. FDR spent actual political capital naming MacLeish the Librarian of Congress because the poet was known for his communist sympathies and received significant Republican opposition. He became assistant director of the Office of War Information during World War II. After the war, he became a target for anticommunists, but this did not much affect his career. He taught at Harvard from 1949 until he retired in 1962. He died in 1982.

If you want a good chuckle, you can read MacLeish’s Conservapedia entry. HE WORKED FOR THE SAME LAW FIRM AS ALGER HISS!!!!

Also, just to point out how hard I work to please you people and the sheer physicality of blogging, note that I had to drive up a rural country dirt road into the mountains to find this. Then the cemetery was covered in 6-10 inches of snow. I had to do some investigation to figure out what part of the cemetery this was in and then went and started moving snow off of likely areas. The whole thing really reinforced my masculinity.

Archibald MacLeish is buried in Pine Grove Cemetery, Conway, Massachusetts.

Verizon Strike Postmortems

[ 8 ] June 13, 2016 |


A couple of good reads on the incredibly successful Verizon strike. Michael McCormick notes that one of the biggest victories here is the inclusion of the retail stores in the bargaining unit, pointing the way forward for further organizing.

Perhaps the biggest step forward brought about by the victory is the fact that it’s the first contract for Verizon retail workers in Everett, MA and Brooklyn, NY. These workers finally have a union and a contract in an occupation that is known for low pay and erratic scheduling. Verizon has also fiercely resisted the unionization of employees in their wireless retail locations. It is only after years of organizing that this location was able to join the CWA in 2014. As a wall between the land-line workforce and wireless workforce at Verizon erodes, workers in both divisions can build power.

The win in the working-class city of Everett was particularly sweet. Anyone driving by a Verizon store in Everett or in the greater Boston area (where this author has lived and worked) during the strike was sure to be greeted by the same sight: workers picketing enthusiastically, while the store’s parking lot remained empty of customers, who refused to cross the picket line. After decades of blue-collar work in Everett being increasingly replaced by lower-paying service sector jobs, seeing Verizon workers assert their rights to better pay and increased job security should serve as encouragement to other workers in the service sector. The shift from manufacturing to services in the U.S. economy reverberated through the residential city like most areas in the United States, and low-paying service jobs became the norm. So it was encouraging to see workers at the Verizon store there make national news for their involvement in the strike, asserting that workers in the service sector deserve the same dignity as any other occupation.

Mike Tisei, chief steward at the Everett Verizon store, said that the new contract “means a better quality of life and meaningful economic security for our families. Today [May 30th] is a great day for my family and working families along the East Coast, and it’s only possible because we stood together.” The strike clearly has concrete implications for people beyond wage increases and the minutiae of profit-sharing schemes; they feel empowered at their workplaces and are getting a fair shot at a middle class career.

And Mary Anne Trasciatti places the strike in some historical context, noting its reclaiming of the direct action of the now distant past.

The other avenue of attack was the mobile picket. First used in 1912 by Lawrence strikers, workers in those days would encircle a factory or some other place of business and try to convince strikebreakers, verbally and sometimes physically, not to go to work.

Today, a mobile picket might traverse several miles on a highway, but the goal is the same. Just with more baroque restrictions.

As Eramo explains: “When a van leaves a facility to do our work we are by law allowed to follow that vehicle, as long as we remain fifteen feet away, with no more than five guys picketing one person.”

Verizon strikers taunted, screamed, and generally attempted to make the situation as uncomfortable as possible for scabs. Eramo says the surveillance and heckling were very effective, “and kind of intimidating.”

When tempers flared, the picket turned into a contest between dueling cameras. Scabs tried to catch strikers making threats or engaging in other prohibited behaviors (which could cost them their jobs when the strike was over), and strikers recorded their own video for proof of innocence.

Wobblies knew that a strike was more likely to endure and succeed when strikers remained engaged. Picketers in Lawrence and Paterson sung their hearts out. They marched in strike parades and processed for May Day.

Led by Italian anarchist Carlo Tresca, whose flair for the dramatic is hard to exaggerate, they held public funerals (both mock and genuine) for fallen comrades.

Such tactics effectively transformed the strike into a form of political theater. In the case of Paterson, strikers actually reenacted their struggle as a pageant in New York City’s Madison Square Garden.

The CWA showed a similar penchant for performance. Pennsylvania strikers staged a funeral procession for the “corporate pig” (complete with a casket) in a Verizon retail parking lot that would have had Tresca cheering.

But the most raucous actions were reserved for hotels that put up strikebreakers — strikers harbored particular disdain for scabs who were willing to travel to take their jobs. Hundreds gathered at 5 AM to ring cowbells, blow whistles, bellow, and jeer until police arrived with special response teams.

Technically a form of third-party picketing, the tactic is illegal. It was also very popular. And it proved successful. At least one Manhattan hotel kicked out strikebreakers that were staying there.

It’s hard for me to overstate how important I think this strike was. It’s rare that private sector unionism wins anything in 2016, but for direct action tactics to lead to enormous victories is a really important precedent if the labor movement will be rebuilt. Of course, the Department of Labor’s role here is also important, which is also why one hopes that the Clinton administration will build upon Obama’s labor record in the DOL.

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