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Does Ezra Klein Really Not Understand the Point of Politics?

[ 334 ] April 8, 2014 |

So Ezra Klein’s big lead-off article at Vox was, well, strange. Not that I disagree with all of it, although there is way too much both sides do it in here. But see here:

The silver lining is that politics doesn’t just take place in Washington. The point of politics is policy. And most people don’t experience policy as a political argument. They experience it as a tax bill, or a health insurance card, or a deployment. And, ultimately, there’s no spin effective enough to persuade Americans to ignore a cratering economy, or skyrocketing health-care costs, or a failing war. A political movement that fools itself into crafting national policy based on bad evidence is a political movement that will, sooner or later, face a reckoning at the polls.

The point of politics is not policy. The point of politics is power. This is blindingly obvious. I know that there is a subset of Beltway pundit types who really wish that politics was about policy. They want to talk about policy and wonkish details. They don’t want to talk about building social movements. But that is a severe misreading of what politics actually are about. The civil rights movement or the conservative movement did not succeed because of policy debates. They succeeded because they were able to marshal power. The environmental movement faded in part because it did begin to believe that politics was about policy and deemphasized its base expressing power. To a lesser extent, the labor movement did the same thing. The Koch Brothers and Sheldon Adelson laugh at Klein’s formulation.

And the idea that the right evidence is going to save a political party and the wrong evidence is going to destroy one, I don’t think there’s a lot of evidence to this unless you are cherrypicking fairly significantly. I mean, OK, Hoover’s actions during the Depression did doom the Republicans. But while Obama won in 2008, I don’t exactly recall Bush’s many failed policies making him one of the worst presidents in American history permanently dooming the Republican Party. Oh yeah, because Republicans knew how to take power in a number of ways that frustrate the majority of the country today.

Maybe some of this is that I take a longer-term view because I’m a historian. But maybe some of it comes from some pretty significant ideological blinders that Klein wears.

Thanks to friend of the blog Robert Cruickshank for bringing this to my attention.

Wellness Programs as Tools of the Boss

[ 82 ] April 8, 2014 |

Not at all surprising that employee wellness program shifts responsibility for unhealthy workplaces off of the employer and onto the employee:

“Many of the individual behaviors you are focusing on in your health and wellness programs [such as] stop smoking, eat better, exercise more, are in fact the consequences of the environments in which they [employees] are working,” Pfeffer says. “If you work people to death, of course they are going to smoke more, drink more and eat worse.”

Pfeffer outlined his concept of “social sustainability,” where companies invest more in making their human capital sustainable.

“Work organizations ought to be measuring the health of their workforce,” he said in his keynote speech. “Just as many places today measure carbon, renewables and environmental impacts, we ought to measure human sustainability just as much as we measure environmental sustainability.”

When determining well-being and longevity of workforces, Pfeffer said that most company wellness programs – which conventionally promote individual health and wellness, biometric screenings and smoking and drinking cessation programs – do fall short of really instituting change. Indicators such as work-family conflict, lack of job control, perceived fairness at work, as well as layoffs and economic insecurity, all play a huge role in workforce health, he added.

“The higher you are [in the organizational structure of your company] the more control you have; the lower you are, [the] more flows down hill,” Pfeffer said, while noting that low control over one’s work increases a person’s likelihood of having a cardiovascular event.

That this Stanford researcher told this to a conference of employers means I’m surprised he wasn’t howled down on the spot. If companies can charge workers higher premiums if they don’t live up to their standards of health, even more money stolen from workers!

Another Family Values Republican

[ 60 ] April 7, 2014 |

If there’s one thing we know to be true about Republicans, it’s that they are never hypocritical on sexual issues. They always live up to their Christian faith and they value their own marriages just as much as they value pressing their views on marriage to the society at large.

Congressman Vance McAllister issued a statement Monday afternoon “asking for forgiveness” after The Ouachita Citizen first reported McAllister was captured in a video recording passionately kissing and embracing a member of his congressional staff.

“There’s no doubt I’ve fallen short and I’m asking for forgiveness,” McAllister said in a statement. “I’m asking for forgiveness from God, my wife, my kids, my staff, and my constituents who elected me to serve. Trust is something I know has to be earned whether your a husband, a father, or a congressman. I promise to do everything I can to earn back the trust of everyone I’ve disappointed.”

Throughout last fall’s congressional campaign, McAllister, a Republican from Swartz, touted his Christian faith and in one television commercial, he asked voters to pray for him. At least two other campaign television commercials featured McAllister walking hand in hand with his wife, Kelly, while their five children walked along. One television commercial captured the McAllister family in the kitchen of their home preparing breakfast before attending church.

McAllister and his wife have been married for 16 years.

McAllister told The Ouachita Citizen during last fall’s campaign that he would not shy from stressing his Christian faith. McAllister and his family are members at North Monroe Baptist Church. That faith prepared him for public service, he said during an interview.

McAllister’s campaign benefited from support from the Robertson family of “Duck Dynasty” fame. Phil Robertson publicly supported McAllister while Willie Robertson endorsed McAllister in a YouTube video. Also, Willie Robertson recorded “robo” calls on behalf of McAllister’s campaign.

In January, Willie Robertson attended President Obama’s State of the Union address in Washington as McAllister’s guest.

Of course, like David Vitter, he’ll be forgiven because he’s a white evangelical Republican. If he was a black politician doing the same thing, all we’d hear is slightly veiled snickering about uncontrollable black sexuality, Chicago-style politics, and talk about the immorality of Democrats.

Capital Mobility and the Death of Steady Work

[ 103 ] April 7, 2014 |

Once again, capital mobility is the biggest threat to modern labor.* Companies already outsourced much work from the United States, contributing to the decline of unions, the split between labor and environmentalists, the end of steady work, the corporate domination over American politics, Gilded Age levels of income inequality, and the rapid decline of working-class voices in American debates.

Well, it’s no better for Indian workers since companies will dump those workers to in order to fight ever cheaper labor, making the conditions necessary for a permanent middle class nigh well impossible.

NEW DELHI: Struggling to diversify the delivery footprint to take advantage of low-cost centres, India’s BPO industry is currently losing 70 per cent of all incremental voice and call centre business to competitors like Philippines and countries in Eastern Europe, says a report.

“It is estimated that in the ongoing decade India might lose $ 30 billion in terms of foreign exchange earnings to Philippines, which has become the top destination for Indian investors,” Assocham Secretary General D S Rawat said. Thus there is a need to reduce costs and make operations leaner across the BPO industry,” he added.

BPO companies could reduce the total operating costs by 20-30 per cent by moving to a low-cost city within India, with a cost differential of around 10-15 per cent for non-voice processes and upwards of 20 per cent for voice processes, the report pointed out.

Several Indian firms have set up substantial operations in Philippines which has a large pool of well-educated, English-speaking, talented and employable graduates. Almost 30 per cent graduates in Philippines are employable unlike 10 per cent in India where the training consumes considerable amount of time, according to the report.

David Atkins on the importance of this.

The labor arbitrage game continues worldwide as corporations shift from country to country looking for highly trained workers to sell their labor for next to nothing on the global marketplace. These corporations are like parasites, putting jobs in one country for a decade or two, only to destabilize them and move the jobs elsewhere the moment something cheaper and better trained comes along.

Combined with increased capital mobility, labor arbitrage is giving corporations the upper hand in the battle with governments worldwide. The fate of the world’s economy–and, given the realities of climate change perhaps even the human race itself–will depend largely on whether the governments of the world can cooperate to neutralize the parasitic, plutocratic threat of global corporations.

I agree entirely. Fighting capital mobility needs to be at the very highest level of the progressive agenda. It is not today.

*One can make an argument for automation here as well.

If We Start Enough Wars, Surely One Will Work Out

[ 87 ] April 7, 2014 |

Reihan Salam provides of somewhat less than compelling defense of why he is still a neo-con and why America needs his point of view. He fully admits that Iraq was a total disaster. But it’s justified because maybe, just maybe, involving the United States in regime change in countries where it has no vested interest might have worked some other times:

The neocon impulse proved badly misguided in Iraq, where it contributed to a moral calamity. But there are other cases, in South Asia in 1971 and in Bosnia in the early 1990s, to name two examples among many, where it might very well have prevented one.

Note he can’t name any cases where it actually did prevent one. But maybe these other times would have gone better. So let’s get the gang back together and do this all over again. I’m sure it’ll work great the next time. And if not then, one of the other times.

A Cultural Politics That Might Make Even Republicans Blanch

[ 396 ] April 6, 2014 |

Well, maybe not. But anyway, this is pretty gross:

Far-right National Front leader Marine Le Pen said on Friday it would prevent schools from offering special lunches to Muslim pupils in the 11 towns it won in local elections, saying such arrangements were contrary to France’s secular values.

France’s republic has a strict secular tradition enforceable by law, but faith-related demands have risen in recent years, especially from the country’s five-million-strong Muslim minority, the largest in Europe.

“We will not accept any religious demands in school menus,” Le Pen told RTL radio. “There is no reason for religion to enter the public sphere, that’s the law.”

The anti-immigrant National Front has consistently bemoaned the rising influence of Islam in French public life.

France has seen periodic controversies over schools that substitute beef or chicken for pork from menus to cater to Muslim children. Some of the FN’s new mayors have complained there are too many halal shops in their towns.

Nothing freaks me out like Muslims eating meat butchered in a fashion that affects me in no demonstrative way. I haven’t been that scared since I noted the lack of bacon at my town’s Jewish deli. What’s the deal with that? My entire identity is no more. I’m now voting for the most racist politicians I can find.

Also, I’m glad the French are so much more culturally and socially advanced than we Americans. I’m sure I won’t mention this the next time someone from France talks to me about how screwed up the U.S. is.

VD is for Everybody

[ 28 ] April 5, 2014 |

In 1969, the Ad Council provided a very important message about venereal disease with a tune as catchy as the clap. Remember friends, VD is for everybody.

It’s Hard Out There for Confederate Apologists

[ 134 ] April 5, 2014 |

Poor Natchez. It turns out that people in 2014 may not be so interested in Confederate nostalgia tourism. It has no idea what to do, like you

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know, talking honestly about slavery.

Smooth Jazz Fridays

[ 42 ] April 4, 2014 |

Because I like soulless music I don’t have to think about, I love smooth jazz. Those relaxing vapid sounds really sum up a Friday night. And nothing screams relaxing

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and smooth like Charles Gayle.

Gilded Age Food Poetry

[ 23 ] April 4, 2014 |

In Gilded Age cities, people were separated from meat production for the first time in American history. Even in early 19th century American cities, meat was produced nearby. Pork could be something of an exception (they didn’t call Cincinnati “Porkopolis” for nothing), but it salted so well that people were comfortable with it. Beef, chicken, lamb, etc.,–these were a lot more sketchy traveling long distances.

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Local butcheries could handle most of this but the explosively growing cities of the Gilded Age made this no longer possible for many. Packaged meats replaced fresh meat for millions. And that quality of that packaged meat, well, allow me to quote the New York Evening Post (although I do not have a date):

Mary had a little lamb
And when she saw it sicken
She shipped it off to Packingtown
And now it’s labeled chicken.

This reference is from Jeffrey Pilcher, Food in World History, p. 59

A Cruel and Unusual Nation

[ 223 ] April 4, 2014 |

The United

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States’ commitment to solitary confinement as a standard operating procedure in our prison system is a horrible, horrible thing. That it remains so common today speaks very poorly for this nation. How this is constitutional under the Eighth Amendment is impossible for me to understand, outside of the bloodthirsty nature of far too many Americans.

Tax ‘Em!

[ 158 ] April 4, 2014 |

Alex Pareene makes a lot of sense on progressives giving up on campaign donations as an issue and instead focuing on a much better idea that will also help solve the campaign issue. Expropriate the wealth of rich people:

If the super-rich had less money, they would have less money to spend on campaigns and lobbying. And unlike speech, the government is very clearly allowed to take away people’s money. It’s in the Constitution and everything. I know it wasn’t that long ago that it also seemed obvious that the government could regulate political spending, but in this case the relevant constitutional authority is pretty clear and there is no room for a so-called originalist to justify a politically conservative reading of the text. Congress can tax income any way it pleases.

There is one glaring problem with my plan, of course, which is that Congress is already captured by wealthy interests, and is not inclined to tax them. But all I’m saying is that would-be campaign finance reformers ought to give up on their lost cause and shift their energies toward confiscation and redistribution.

I don’t think this would totally solve the campaign finance issue unless the tax rates were set very high; after all, Sheldon Adelson is a very rich man. But it would help. Also higher taxation on the rich would do a lot more to solve the much more important social problems in this country.

Should we start at 70% taxation on everything, including capital gains and all investments, for all money over $1 million a year, 90% on everything over $10 million? Seems a good place to start. We can always raise it if we want more of their money. Also, massive punishments for using offshore tax havens. Perhaps property confiscation.

…..It’s also worth reviewing the history of the income tax as a popular economic justice movement.

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