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Today in the Rhode Island Democratic Party Dumpster Fire

[ 31 ] November 16, 2015 |


Above: The Rhode Island Democratic Party

I’ve talked before about how the Rhode Island Democratic Party is an out of control dumpster fire. In a 1-party state, being a Democratic politician means nothing more than “I want power.” That’s how you have the Rhode Island Democratic Party borrowing legislation from Oklahoma banning municipalities from setting their own minimum wages. It’s also how you have an open racist as the Speaker of the House.

One of Rhode Island’s most powerful Democrats doesn’t believe that “white privilege” exists. In a recent interview with the Providence Journal, Nicholas Mattiello, the state’s speaker of the House, said that that racial disparities are simply due to African-Americans’ and other minority groups’ failure to “take advantage” of the opportunities available to them.

Mattiello was invited to discuss racial issues with a panel from The Providence Journal, which is producing an extensive series on race in Rhode Island. He told the panel that, before he was asked that question, he had never thought of the phrase “white privilege.”

Mattiello was responding to an op-ed previously published in The Providence Journal by David R. Carlin, the former Democratic Senate Majority Leader, which argued that racial disparities were the result of “appallingly dysfunctional subculture that is pervasive among the black lower classes.”

This subculture fosters attitudes that lead to astronomical rates of out-of-wedlock births, millions of fathers who give little or no support to their children, high rates of crime and violence, high levels of drug abuse, a poor work ethic and very poor academic achievement. Unless this subculture is eradicated, we may expect that great numbers of blacks will live in misery.

Mattiello said he wasn’t sure about the phrase “subculture,” but seemed to agree with the overall point — namely, that “white privilege” doesn’t exist and that there is a “breakdown” within minority communities that explains racial disparities.

“You have to find ways to get the community to access and to take advantage of [opportunity]. Some people do, but not enough do. And there’s a reason why they don’t, and that’s something that I quite frankly don’t understand, and I need help with that,” Mattiello said.

Mattiello said that education was “the great equalizer” but dismissed criticisms that Rhode Island schools were effectively segregated. “I would say that it’s not segregated, it’s just that it reflects the population that it serves… I don’t know that you start busing people and so forth.”

“I don’t see racism because that’s not how I live my life… But I’ve never seen it because it’s not the way I live. And I’ve never been the victim of it,” Mattiello added.

Well, I guess he at least admits that racism might exist. But of course he’s not racist because no one is racist in 2015 except for people who believe that white privilege might exist or people who voted for Obama and therefore support the war on whites. Meanwhile those black people are just lazy and the state’s significant segregation just happens because white people like to live next to white people and black people choose to live that way.

My disdain for third parties is well-known, but really it’s a different beast on the state level. In Rhode Island, with the Republican Party a non-entity at the local level in most districts and the Democrats who do get elected (not all, but a sizable number including Mattiello) essentially Republicans themselves in Democratic clothing, there really isn’t any reason not to at least try to primary these people. While I remain skeptical that building a state-level third party is a good use of resources because, like on the federal level, the energy that goes into the party-building could be better spent on issue-based campaigning, one can certainly make a much better case for it in Rhode Island than nationally.


Bought and Sold by Dirty Energy

[ 6 ] November 16, 2015 |

When David Vitter isn’t missing votes to visit prostitutes, he’s a paid man of the oil and gas industry.

Sen. David Vitter (R-LA), who last month won a spot in Louisiana’s upcoming gubernatorial run-off, made an appearance late last week on the SportsChat radio show out of Acadiana. When the discussion turned to policy, the host asked Vitter to name an example of somewhere he’d like to cut the deficit. The Louisiana Republican pointed to encouraging solar panels as an example of government excess.

“We have some tax credits that are really giveaways and spending items by another name. For instance, the solar tax credit. That’s a check from the taxpayers for folks to buy solar panels,” Vitter said. “It’s really a spending program and it’s a big check. I don’t think the state taxpayer should be in the business of buying folks solar panels, mostly folks who are perfectly well off.”

Vitter has received over $1 million in donations from dirty energy industries through his political career.

As for the question of taxpayer support of clean energy, the obvious rejoinder but one that is never effective, is that taxpayers have supported the oil and gas industries for decades.

ouisiana has devoted around $147 million to solar tax credits since 2009, covering half the cost of rooftop installations. State lawmakers have already passed legislation to end solar tax credits by the end of 2017.

Meanwhile, the oil and gas industry has collected over $2.4 billion from Louisiana taxpayers since 2008, according to a new documentary. In other words, for every $1 in tax credits that goes towards the solar industry annually, approximately $14 goes to oil and gas companies.

In addition, those oil and gas tax credits could balloon to $1 billion annually with continued growth in the fracking industry, according to some estimates.

But these are naturalized forms of support, going back so long that no one thinks of them as taxpayer subsidies anymore. Meanwhile, solar energy is something hippies like so it’s a waste.

Ban the Box

[ 30 ] November 16, 2015 |


I don’t think anyone mentioned this when it happened two weeks ago, so let me do so here. Obama deciding to “ban the box,” i.e., eliminate the job application question about an applicant’s criminal record for the federal government, is an important step forward for both racial and labor justice. As is common, racial justice is labor justice and labor justice is racial justice. This movement has enough momentum that at least a few Republicans, like Chris Christie, are also supporting it. Hopefully, we can eliminate this discriminatory question from job applications entirely. The question is inherently racist given the racism of the criminal injustice system and it furthers institutionalized racism and poverty for people convicted of nothing more than holding marijuana while black.

Today in the Sixth Extinction

[ 58 ] November 15, 2015 |


After humans finish with the Sixth Extinction, presumably ending in our own species going extinct, what will the planet look like? Probably filled with small creatures:

From sharks to giraffes, many of Earth’s biggest and most magnificent species are threatened with extinction. A new study of the fossil record indicates that once large vertebrates disappear, evolution cannot quickly restore them — for tens of millions of years, most animals remain small.

The study, published Thursday in Science, emerged from research carried out by Lauren Sallan, a paleontologist at the University of Pennsylvania.

Studying fish that lived during the Mississippian Period, from 359 million to 323 million years ago, she noticed that they were substantially smaller than their ancestors.

“It piqued my curiosity,” Dr. Sallan said in an interview. “Why are these fish so small?” (She earned a nickname from her fellow paleontologists: the Sardine Queen.)

Other paleontologists had previously noticed that some groups of species seemed to shrink in size over time. It’s called the Lilliput Effect, after the fictional island in Jonathan Swift’s “Gulliver’s Travels” inhabited by tiny people.

Researchers found that the Lilliput Effect often occurred after abrupt and widespread extinctions. Dr. Sallan’s fish appeared to fit the pattern: They shrank after a mass extinction at the end of the Devonian Period, 359 million years ago.

Likely this means that house cats complete their takeover of the world, probably assisted by their jellyfish allies in the ocean.

It May Not Surprise You That……

[ 95 ] November 15, 2015 |


Giant corporations and their outsourcing firm friends are gaming the H1-B Visa program to get almost all of the immigrants, squeezing out all other employers.

Congress set up the H-1B program to help American companies hire foreigners with exceptional skills, to fill open jobs and to help their businesses grow.

But the program has been failing many American employers who cannot get visas for foreigners with the special skills they need.

Instead, the outsourcing firms are increasingly dominating the program, federal records show. In recent years, they have obtained many thousands of the visas — which are limited to 85,000 a year — by learning to game the H-1B system without breaking the rules, researchers and lawyers said.

In some years, an American employer could snag one of these coveted visas almost anytime. But recently, with the economy picking up, the outsourcing companies have sent in tens of thousands of visa requests right after the application window opens on April 1. Employers who apply after a week are out of luck.

“The H-1B program is critical as a way for employers to fill skill gaps and for really talented people to come to the United States,” said Ronil Hira, a professor at Howard University who studies visa programs. “But the outsourcing companies are squeezing out legitimate users of the program,” he said. “The H-1Bs are actually pushing jobs offshore.”

Those firms have used the visas to bring their employees, mostly from India, for large contracts to take over work at American businesses. And as the share of H-1B visas obtained by outsourcing firms has grown, more Americans say they are being put out of work, or are seeing their jobs moved overseas.

Of the 20 companies that received the most H-1B visas in 2014, 13 were global outsourcing operations, according to an analysis of federal records by Professor Hira. The top 20 companies took about 40 percent of the visas available — about 32,000 — while more than 10,000 other employers received far fewer visas each. And about half of the applications in 2014 were rejected entirely because the quota had been met.

Two of those applications came from Mark Merkelbach and his small engineering firm in Seattle. For water projects in China, he needed engineers and landscapers who speak Mandarin, and he could not find them in the local market. With his H-1B visas denied, Mr. Merkelbach had to move the jobs to Taiwan. Another denial went to Atulya Pandey, an entrepreneur from Nepal who founded an Internet company in the United States and now can no longer work legally in this country for his own business.

This is just more evidence that we need legal crackdowns on outsourcing if we want to preserve any sort of American jobs. The H1-B Visa program should be a good thing that helps build the nation through bringing in workers that can help companies while diversifying the nation. But this level of abuse by corporations who want to outsource as many employees as possible is actually forcing work abroad. The system needs serious reform if it doesn’t contribute to income inequality and joblessness rather than promoting the needs of innovative companies.

The TPP and Labor Rights

[ 25 ] November 15, 2015 |


Finally, details of the Trans-Pacific Partnership are going public. A few points and initial thoughts.

The deal would grant multinational corporations the right to challenge laws and regulations in secret tribunals when they are considered trade barriers. Countries can ban tobacco companies from taking part in these tribunals.

The agreement’s language was influenced by multinational companies including pharmaceutical firms, recording studios, agribusinesses, and others. Critics say the deal was forged in secrecy.

The pact calls for improved freedoms and more attention to the needs of indigenous people and overall public health, better access to medicine for people living in the TPP countries and increased protections for drug patents.

Malaysia, whose Prime Minister Najib Razak is accused of stealing nearly $700 million from a development fund, would be required to allow freedom of movement for victims of human trafficking and negate rules restricting labor unions.

With the threat of trade sanctions, TPP countries are required to ban child labor and employment discrimination and give workers the right to form unions.

New markets would open for Vietnamese clothing firms and Malaysian electronics companies.

First, the Investor State Dispute Settlement courts are still horrifying precisely because there is no accountability at all. If nations can’t pass laws based on their own interest without extra-legal courts overruling them, that’s a major defeat for democracy worldwide. That tobacco companies are excluded actually just reinforces this point because all it is doing is claiming one industry is too immoral for these courts. Thus an exception is claimed but who decides in the future if an interest lacks the moral fiber to participate? I don’t per se have a problem with international courts making some level of decision on trade issues. But they have to have some sort of openness and accountability and they have to allow citizens some level of access. Creating international law that undermines the ability of citizens to improve their own nations is a horrible idea.

The greater powers to Big Pharma, agribusiness, and entertainment companies are all deeply problematic, allowing primarily American companies to profit off poor nations by undermining the ability to provide cheap medicines and the extension of America’s ridiculously pro-corporate copyright laws.

I simply don’t believe that the provisions around labor rights will be enforced. We have a long history of trade deals and they never work out for worker rights. Malaysia is required to crack down on its human trafficking, but what is the actual consequence for not doing so? As we saw from the Obama administration’s reclassification of Malaysia’s human rights record in order to allow that key trading partner into the TPP, it’s unlikely, especially as many administrations in the future are likely to care less about international labor rights than Obama. And while banning child labor and the like is great in principle, if workers can’t access this agreement and instead it depends on nations and their powerful corporations, all of whom have interests in keeping this system of child labor, color me extremely skeptical about all of this.
Judy Gearhart of the International Labor Rights Forum has similar thoughts:

In fact, language for an effective labor chapter offered by a coalition of national union federations from the affected countries was largely ignored:

The agreement makes no progress on enforcement, ignoring common-sense proposals like requiring the parties to conduct timely, impartial investigations of allegations of non-compliance and firm deadlines for implementing necessary reforms.

Requests to prohibit the trade of goods made with forced or child labor and to establish mechanisms to seize such goods at the border came out with the TPP merely “discouraging” trade in goods made with these egregious human rights violations.

Requests to include protections for migrant workers, such as regulating labor recruiters or prohibiting confiscation of passports, were wholly ignored, despite well-documented, systemic exploitation of migrant workers in a number of TPP countries.

Proponents of the TPP argue that separate bilateral agreements on labor and human rights for Vietnam, Malaysia and Brunei will improve conditions in these countries despite long-standing disregard for the most fundamental human rights, such as freedom of association and elimination of forced labor. This argument is based on the flawed premise, however, that serial labor rights violators will make necessary reforms after they receive the benefits up front.

We have seen this approach fail repeatedly. In the lead up to the CAFTA vote in 2005, the Bush Administration promised that the U.S. government would hold Guatemala, Honduras, and other parties accountable if they failed to improve their dismal records on labor rights enforcement. Ten years later, despite the filing of complaints that clearly show how Guatemala and Honduras continue to fail to enforce their labor laws, worker organizers continue to face threats, abuse, and worse. The Solidarity Center reported last month that more than 70 worker activists have been killed in Guatemala since 2007, and the AFL-CIO reported more than 30 were killed in Honduras since 2009.

I just talked about how these trade agreements have consistently failed Guatemalan workers. There’s not much reason to believe that nations like Vietnam and Malaysia will treat workers any better. As Gearhart states, if you give all the benefits for nations who have no interest in labor rights up front, they are unlikely to then enforce those rights and it’s even more unlikely that the corporations with major investments in these economies are going to accept those nations being thrown out of the agreement or pressing major sanctions upon them.

In short, like NAFTA and CAFTA, it’s highly likely the TPP is not good for the world’s workers. But we keep swallowing the bill of goods supporters of these trade agreements give us about how it will help workers in the U.S. and abroad.

Bought and Sold by the Nail Salons

[ 16 ] November 15, 2015 |


You may remember the big New York Times nail salon labor expose of a few months ago that made a real difference in allowing these workers, primarily women with few English skills and often here without documentation, to have some semblance of dignity in their lives. Well, the nail salon owners know how to fight back. By buying off politicians:

In a packed hall in the Bronx a few months ago, Ron Kim, a New York State assemblyman, stood clutching a ceremonial pen in his left hand, the other extended into the crowd as labor advocates, politicians and immigrant rights workers thronged to shake it. Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo had just used the pen to sign into law a bill protecting nail salon workers from labor abuses and potentially dangerous chemicals. It was a measure that Mr. Kim, who represents the mostly Asian enclave of Flushing, Queens, had spent a painstaking summer helping to craft.

Less than a month later, however, Mr. Kim, a Democrat, began to publicly question the law — particularly a provision designed to protect workers from wage fraud. He soon became one of the statute’s most vociferous critics.

Other elected officials and civic groups have expressed concerns about the statute, which passed the State Legislature after The New York Times published a two-part series in May on abuses in the industry. They argued the law was discriminatory and overly burdensome on immigrant-run businesses, and contended it unfairly lumped responsible nail salon owners in with those who are mistreating workers.

But Mr. Kim came to play a critical role in the owners’ battle, helping them strategize and connecting them to a lobbying firm where he used to work. Among the firm’s first tasks was to help with public relations around a lawsuit filed by the owners challenging the legality of portions of the law.

There is clearly a political upside in the nail salon fight for Mr. Kim, who in interviews covered by the Korean-language press has alluded to his hope that the issue will help mobilize Asian-American voters and in that way strengthen his position in the Assembly. More tangibly, Mr. Kim’s campaign coffers are swelling.

Give the nail salon owners credit–they may be immigrants themselves but they rapidly learn the American way of fighting against pesky reformers. A big check will do it.

The Best Response

[ 104 ] November 14, 2015 |

Child Performers

[ 61 ] November 12, 2015 |


Child models and performers are workers too and they deserve protection, often from their own parents. Glad to see legislation introduced into Congress to given them those protections.


[ 48 ] November 12, 2015 |


Your long read of the day should be David Dayen’s essay on the need for a new era of antitrust enforcement and perhaps new legislation. After all, the Sherman Anti-Trust Act did not anticipate much about the present. You may not be surprised to find out that Robert Bork plays a huge role in the shift away from aggressive antitrust legislation. And many of the problems we see in the New Gilded Age are partially or wholly caused by monopoly, that feature of the first Gilded Age. An excerpt:

In 1964, historian Richard Hofstadter gave a speech at the University of California, Berkeley, titled “What Happened to the Antitrust Movement?” He wondered why anti-monopoly sentiment ceased to become the subject of public agitation. “Once the United States had an antitrust movement without antitrust prosecutions,” Hofstadter said. “In our time, there have been antitrust prosecutions without an antitrust movement.”

Now we have lost both the movement and the prosecutions. When we talk about banks that are too big to fail, we’re talking about antitrust. When we talk about the high cost of health care, we’re talking about antitrust. So many of our key domestic issues are fundamentally questions about whether we should tolerate monopolies, or dismantle them. But this formulation—a centerpiece of public debate in the last robber-baron era between the 1880s and 1910s—has all but disappeared from popular discourse.

Can anti-monopoly sentiment be revived? When New York’s Working Families Party first recruited Zephyr Teachout to run for governor, she said she would only do it if she could talk about monopolies. “They polled it, and they were correct that nobody knew what I was talking about,” Teachout says. But when she eventually ran an insurgent campaign against incumbent Andrew Cuomo, she was determined to talk about it anyway.

“The minute you got past the sound-bite level, people responded to the concentration of power,” Teachout says. They did campaign events at places where people paid their cable bills, using the pending Comcast–Time Warner merger, eventually abandoned, as the hook. She engaged farmers in upstate New York about monopsony power, and discussed Amazon and big banks on the stump. And it resonated. After only one month of campaigning, Teachout won 35 percent of the vote, with particular strength in upstate counties where farming issues were prominent.

“The Tea Party talks to people and says, ‘You’re out of power because government is taking it away from you,’” Teachout says. “Far too often, Democrats say, ‘You’re wrong, you’re not out of power.’ That’s dissonant with our lived experience. You’re out of power … because your priorities don’t matter and JPMorgan’s do.”

Building a New Left?

[ 107 ] November 12, 2015 |


Harold Meyerson asks whether Bernie Sanders’ “historic” campaign can build a new New Left?

The shorter answer is no. The longer answer though I think is necessary. First, Meyerson’s framing seems to not recognize that we are actually in a period of an upsurge in activism. Starting with Occupy (or maybe the Obama 08 campaign), going through Black Lives Matter, the Fight for $15, and the campus protests of the last 2 weeks, this is a period where a lot of people are fed up with poverty and racism and are standing up against it. The Sanders campaign isn’t creating that. It’s simply tapping into it, or at least a certain sector of it that is primarily white and well-educated. Of course, in that sense it’s no different from the previous New Left.

I also think we need to stop burdening every little political or social movement with the giants of the 1960s and 1970s. Those movements weren’t nearly as well-organized then as they are in our memory today. By comparing every movement to the past, we, whether accidentally or intentionally, view them as coming up short. It’s unfair to those working on these movements today. Is something the new Civil Rights Movement, new mass-organizing labor movement, new Women’s Liberation movement, etc., is a useless question. These movements are what they are and they are shifting and morphing daily.

In addition, I don’t think Sanders’ run is “historic” in any meaningful way. Bernie Sanders is basically a liberal lion senator of the past 40 years who likes to call himself a socialist. That’s cool and is a useful addition to our political debates. He’s pulled Hillary Clinton to the left and marginalized the Mark Penn-types from her campaign. That’s great. But it’s not some great social movement he’s developing here. It’s another manifestation of the broader dissatisfaction with inequality that is causing all sorts of change, one of which includes supporting Bernie Sanders.

As for the creation of an active Left that Meyerson rightfully says we need, we are actually seeing that I think to some extent, but that left is going to include a huge number of people of color, groups in which Sanders has almost no play. That’s another reason he’s not going to be the creator of this movement.

Finally, and I will be expanding on this point in a piece at another publication soon, I don’t actually think the difference between a Bernie Sanders presidency and a Hillary Clinton presidency is all that great, not with the structures of American politics limiting what presidents can do. This is why I have really not written about the Democratic primary much at all. I also think it’s a fallacy to look at presidential candidates as saviors and think that if we just elect the right person, our problems will be fixed. It doesn’t happen that way. We’ll never elect “the right person.” We will influence politics by organizing, as is happening right now in the 2016 election on both race and class-based inequality.

Why Conservatives Support Israel

[ 92 ] November 11, 2015 |


Support for Israel on the right has many strands that have increasingly come together–U.S. geopolitical interests for some, Israelis seen as an island of whites in a sea of scary Arabs for others. But at its core, right-wing support for Israel comes down to biblical prophecy that at its core is about the elimination of Judaism entirely. Usually this is more or less kept under wraps in the respectable political world but sometimes it slips out. Such as for Michelle Bachmann.

“Almost every article in the paper” has to do with conflicts in Israel, Bachmann said, “and it ties with so much biblical prophecy. This week really was about biblical prophecy in many ways. And we’re seeing as events are speeding up, events are speeding up so quickly right now, and we see how relevant the Bible is, and we’re reading our newspaper, at the same time we’re learning about these biblical events, and it’s literally day by day by day, we’re seeing the fulfillment of scripture right in front of our eyes, even while we’re on the ground.”

“We recognize the shortness of the hour,” she said, “and that’s why we as a remnant want to be faithful in these days and do what it is that the Holy Spirit is speaking to each one of us, to be faithful in the Kingdom and to help bring in as many as we can — even among the Jews — share Jesus Christ with everyone that we possibly can because, again, He’s coming soon.”

Once that giant biblical Israel is created, Christ is totally coming back to judge us all, so convert you filthy Jews! But steal some more Muslim land first!

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