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The 43 Students

[ 44 ] November 7, 2014 |

As you have may have heard, in September, the municipal police of a town in Guerrero, Mexico where the mayor and his wife had close ties with the cartels kidnapped 43 protesting students from a poor teachers’ college. The fate of the missing 43 is basically known in that everyone knows they are dead, but not only the families but the entire nation is demanding that the bodies be found and perpetrators brought to justice. One body was found and the way of killing the kid is too graphic to be repeated here. Searches have not discovered the missing students–but have uncovered 40 other unknown bodies, reinforcing the terrible situation in Guerrero especially.

As Alma Guillermoprieto reports, the response has the feeling of the moment where Mexicans stand up and say enough to the violence of the cartels and the indifference of the government. Whether they can do anything about it is a whole other thing, but it has forced Peña Nieto to respond publicly, a pretty rare thing for a Mexican president. Terrible, horrifying story but maybe it will lead to something better in the long run.


The Influence of 1994

[ 43 ] November 7, 2014 |

Ben Railton has an intriguing post about the influence of the 1994 elections on today. Outside of the obvious Gingrich and Contract with America stuff, he comes up with three:

1) Oliver North: True, former Reagan aide and Iran Contra figure North lost his Virginia Senate bid (to incumbent Charles Robb). But it’s far from a coincidence that North has gone on to become a Fox News star—every aspect of his campaign, from his emphasis on his born-again Christianity to his unrelenting attack ads on Robb, has become integral to the 21st century right-wing media world of which he’s now a part.

2) Bill Frist: One of the most surprising 1994 victors was Frist, a heart surgeon with no prior political experience who defeated three-term incumbent Tennessee Senator Jim Sasser. One of 1994’s most lasting influences has been the value placed on “outsiders,” not just to Washington but to the political realm itself; and no candidate fit that mold better than Frist, who would go on to become the ultimate insider as Senate Majority Leader.

3) Rick Santorum: Among the many GOP triumphs in 1994, relatively little attention was paid to Pennsylvania Congressman Rick Santorum’s victory over incumbent Senator Harris Wofford (in part because Wofford had been appointed after John Heinz’s tragic 1991 death, so was far from an established incumbent). Yet Santorum’s victory was hugely significant, and not only because he has gone on to be a perennial presidential candidate. It marked the growing presence and power of Christian Conservatives, a trend that would culminate in the election and presidency of George W. Bush six years later.

I have one to add, which is Tom Foley. His defeat marked the end of liberal Democrats being viable candidates in the rural West and the culmination of aggressively right-wing politicians in Idaho, Montana, Wyoming, Utah, and other areas that once had progressive representation (Mike Mansfield, Frank Church, etc). I guess Foley’s loss is more the end of that process than the beginning but was a pretty significant moment since he was Speaker of the House.

What else do you all have?

Chinese Chicken

[ 69 ] November 7, 2014 |

I know my trust in the quality of the chicken I eat (not that I eat very much) is really reinforced by the United States now accepting Chinese imports of cooked chicken products that come from chickens grown in “approved nations.” If there’s one thing, we can count on, it’s the safety and sanitation of imported Chinese goods.

China has been the given green light to start shipping chicken to America.

On Wednesday, the Agriculture Department told stakeholders it had certified four poultry processing plants in the Shandong province of China to export fully cooked, frozen and refrigerated chicken to the United States.

Though raw chicken must still come from countries approved by the USDA’s Food and Safety Inspection Service (FSIS) — the U.S., Canada and Chile — consumer rights activists are calling the certifications for cooked chicken from China dangerous.

“China’s food safety system is a wreck,” D.C.-based Food & Water Watch said in a statement Thursday. The group has been fighting the USDA on the issue since November 2005.

“There have been scores of food safety scandals in China and the most recent ones have involved expired poultry products sold to U.S. fast food restaurants based in China,” the statement said. “Now, we have FSIS moving forward to implement this ill-conceived decision, and it has not even audited the Chinese food safety system in over 20 months.”

Taking raw American or Canadian chickens, sending them to China for processing, and then returning them to the United States also says a lot about the absurdity of the global food system.

A World Without Jobs

[ 270 ] November 7, 2014 |

Technological advances are going to take away basically all of our jobs. This workless future should frighten all of us. It certainly worries Sun Microsystems cofounder Vinod Khosla. To say the least, Khosla’s solutions section is really murky because he can’t get past basically being a technofuturist libertarian, but his diagnosis of the problem is spot on. In part:

While the future is promising and this technology revolution may result in dramatically increasing productivity and abundance, the process of getting there raises all sorts of questions about the changing nature of work and the likely increase in income disparity. With less need for human labor and judgment, labor will be devalued relative to capital and even more so relative to ideas and machine learning technology. In an era of abundance and increasing income disparity, we may need a version of capitalism that is focused on more than just efficient production and also places greater prioritization on the less desirable side effects of capitalism.

Let’s look at the scale of change that the new machine learning and data revolution may bring and why it potentially could be different than prior technology revolutions like mobile phones, accessible computing and automobiles. Just in the Khosla Ventures portfolio alone, entrepreneurs already are trying to use machine learning technologies to replace human judgment in many areas including farm workers, warehouse workers, hamburger flippers, legal researchers, financial investment intermediaries, some areas of a cardiologist’s functions, ear-nose-throat (ENT) specialists, psychiatrists and many others. Efficiency in the business world generally means reducing costs, which results in using fewer well-paid but highly skilled minds and the technology they develop or capital to replace lower paid and less skilled workers.

In past economic history, each technology revolution—while replacing some jobs—has created more new types of job opportunities and productivity improvements, but this time could be different. Economic theory is largely based on an extrapolation of the past rather than causality, but if basic drivers of job creation change then outcomes may be different. Historically, technology augmented and amplified human capability, which increased the productivity of human labor. Education was one method for humans to leverage technology as it evolved and improved. However, if machine learning technologies become superior in both intelligence and the knowledge relevant to a particular job, human employees may be rendered unnecessary or in the very least, they will be in far less demand and command lower pay.

Machines with unlimited and rapidly expanding human-like capabilities may mean there will no longer be as much need to leverage human capabilities. In fact, there may be little for humans to augment or amplify even as productivity per human hour of labor increases dramatically all while far fewer people are needed for most tasks. This is not to say all human functions will be replaced but rather that many, and maybe even a majority, may not be needed.

What if machines, which may soon exceed the capability of human judgment, do most jobs better than humans even if people receive additional training? The magnitude of the problem of displaced workers and increasing income disparity especially in the face of abundance (increasing GDP) may become substantially larger. It is possible that this particular technology revolution does not allow for human augmentation and amplification by technology to a large enough degree and that education and retraining are not solutions at all, except for a very small percentage of the workforce. As Karl Marx said, “when the train of history hits a curve, the intellectuals fall off”. Extrapolation of our past experiences, a favorite technique of economists, may not be a valid predictor of the future—the historical correlation may be broken by a new causality. Efforts at estimating the number of jobs that are susceptible to computerization underestimate how technology may evolve and make assumptions that seem very likely to be false, similar to past “truths” (like the waning correlation between productivity and income growth for labor). Even with this underestimate, researchers concluded that of the 702 job functions studied, 47-percent are at risk of being automated.

If climate change is the greatest challenge faced by the human race, I would say that the elimination of work is the second greatest challenge. I know the usual critique, including among many commenters here, is to call any criticism of technology Luddism and continue in our blind faith in technology. But this is very real problem. There is no future for work in this machine-driven society. If machines can replace not only blue-collar but also white-collar work, what do we do to eat, to house ourselves, to live a decent life? We have already seen the impacts of mechanization on the American working class and the result is not pretty. We are able to ignore the endemic poverty and societal instability the loss of jobs has created because the white-collar, professional class has largely been unaffected. But that is changing very rapidly. Outsourcing jobs only adds to this. Is there any reason to pay Americans to do accounting work? Why shouldn’t that all be sent to India? Assuming we need any humans at all?

Sure, such a technological utopian near future could free us all from work and allow us to live the creative lives of leisure we all think we deserve. Hey, that’d be great! It’s also totally ridiculous to think that is the outcome here. Far more likely is the exacerbation of what we are already seeing: a new Gilded Age of extreme income inequality as the global 1% completely controls everything and the global 99% is a threat that is put down with police power. I have to say that anyone who says this is not the likely outcome is probably ignoring how power operates and the insatiable desire of the rich to horde resources.

I know this post sounds apocalyptic. But it’s not just me saying this is coming. It’s the business leaders ensuring it is happening.

Does This Explain the Burned Taste?

[ 101 ] November 7, 2014 |

I’m not completely convinced that this is central to the Starbucks recipe.

A New York pastor has warned that Starbucks coffees are flavoured with the “semen of sodomites”.

Coffee chain Starbucks recently launched a new ad campaign featuring two well-known drag artists – American Idol star Adore Delano and RuPaul’s Drag Race winner Bianca Del Rio.

Pastor James David Manning, of the ATLAH World Missionary Church in Harlem, claimed last week that Starbucks was “ground zero” for Ebola, which is being spread by “upscale sodomites”.

Racism and Republican Victory

[ 222 ] November 6, 2014 |

It’s pretty difficult to argue that racists are not a huge part of the Republican coalition. Every since the moment Obama won the presidency, white racial resentment has been flowing out of American conservatives and that is a hate well that remains uncapped.

Although birtherism is a complex phenomenon in its own right, Landrieu — like Bush before her — was referencing a much broader problem facing Obama, as well as herself, and the Democratic Party as a whole. You’re not supposed to call it “racism,” because racism means KKK mobs in hoods, and police siccing snarling dogs on young children, and we’re not like that anymore — see, we’ve got armored vehicles and sound cannons now!

But 40 years of data from the General Social Survey — the gold standard of American public opinion research — say otherwise. They tell us that Southern whites overwhelmingly blame blacks for their lower economic status, ignoring or denying the role played by discrimination, past and present, in all its various forms, and that the balance of Southern white attitudes has barely changed at all in 40 years. At the same time, attitudes outside the white South have shifted somewhat — but still tend to blame blacks more than white society, steadfastly ignoring mountains of evidence to the contrary — such as 60 years of unemployment data, over which time “the unemployment rate for blacks has averaged about 2.2 times that for whites,” as noted by Pew Research. It is only Democrats outside the white South who have dramatically shifted away from blaming blacks over this period of time, and the tension this has created within the Democratic Party goes to the very heart of the political challenge both Obama and Landrieu face — a challenge that is not going to simply go away any time soon.

Not only is the Democratic Party split between two dominant views — one in the white South blaming blacks more, the other outside it blaming discriminatory practices in white society more — the minority group within the party, white Southerners, is far more unified in its views.

In the white South, 42.4 percent blame blacks exclusively, compared to just 18.8 percent who blame discrimination, and 38.8 who blame both. That’s a lopsided 69/31 split between the two exclusive positions. Outside the white South, 27.7 percent blame blacks exclusively, 34.4 percent blame discrimination, and 37.9 percent blame both, a much narrower 45/55 split between the exclusive positions.

What all the above boils down to is that blaming blacks for being poor remains broadly popular in America today, and that taking note of continued discrimination is not. A modest majority of Democrats outside the white South disagree, and this creates a political fault line that Republicans have repeatedly exploited across the decades, with no end in sight. When conservatives get too crude — as was the case with Cliven Bundy, for example — this threatens to upset the apple cart, and appearances must quickly get restored. But it’s the crudity, not the underlying attitude of blaming blacks, that has fallen out of favor. This would hardly surprise a Southern gentleman of this or any other century. It’s just the way things are supposed to be. Always have been. Why ever change?

Of course, this racism has manifested itself into policy to restrict African-Americans voting. Five members of the Supreme Court are fine with this racism–the extent to which each of those justices personally share in the racism probably varies. Did that racist decision matter on Tuesday? To some extent, almost for sure, with several states such as North Carolina having close elections that disfranchised voters could have impacted. These laws may well have won that North Carolina seat for the Republicans. There’s little reason to believe new measures to stop brown and black people from voting are coming from the states, especially knowing they have a sympathetic Supreme Court.

This all reinforces Chait’s apocalyptic piece noting that Democrats will either face continued gridlock or “annihilation”
if Republicans win the presidency in 2016. While I’m a bit hesitant to go quite that far, his final point is scary.

Only that sort of freakish event would suffice. And Democrats might notice that, since winning back Congress requires a backlash against the president, their “positive” scenario requires first surrendering to Republicans’ total control of government. As long as Democrats hold the White House, Republican control of Congress is probably safe — at least for several election cycles to come.

The second conclusion is simpler, and more bracing: Hillary Clinton is the only thing standing between a Republican Party even more radical than George W. Bush’s version and unfettered control of American government

Things do change. But any Republican president winning in 2016 is almost sure to be significantly to the right of George W. Bush. And that is truly frightening.

NPR: Unionbuster

[ 10 ] November 6, 2014 |

Our valued commenter Bruce Vail has an important piece at In These Times on the Baltimore NPR station hiring a notorious unionbusting firm to ensure its workers do not have a voice

Jonathan Rogers, Chair of the WYPR Board of Directors and an executive of Merrill Lynch, the stock brokerage unit of Bank of America, told In These Times that the board had approved the hiring of Jackson Lewis but denied it was an attempt to defeat the union.

“We felt it was in the best interest of the station to ensure that the concerns of the organization were heard,” in the course of the NLRB process, Rogers says. Asked whether he was opposed to recognizing the union, Rogers replied, “My personal feelings are irrelevant.”

Marc Steiner disagrees. A former WYPR executive who now hosts a program for a competing radio station in the Baltimore market, Steiner was ousted from the station in 2008 after a showdown with current WYPR President Anthony Brandon over control at the station. He counters that the personal feelings of the board members are very relevant.

“The Board is made up of corporate executives and wealthy people, most of whom do not understand public radio,” Steiner says. “It is really run, or at least it was when I was there, more like a commercial station.”

Steiner says that WYPR workers he has spoken with wanted a union in part “to ensure a firewall between those corporate interests and programming. Unless things have changed [since I worked there], programming is under constant pressure to mold what is heard on the airwaves to interests of underwriters.” He also reports hearing consistent complaints about heavy-handed management techniques and substandard pay levels—many complaints revolve around Brandon’s perceived autocratic style of management. on the job.

Look, we hired this union busting firm but not because we wanted to stop our workers from unionizing. We wanted to make sure our corporate voice was heard through the kind of legal shenanigans that only a union busting firm can provide. Now please give us more money during the next pledge drive.

A Chicken in Every Pot

[ 90 ] November 6, 2014 |

Andrew Lawler provides an excellent history of chicken’s rise through the 20th century from minor part of the American diet to American companies feeding the world with it. The modern chicken is a technological marvel, with all the advantages and horrors that comes with it.

Also, I find it a little disturbing that the average American eats 100 lbs of chicken of year.

What’s Going on with the Mexican Cartels?

[ 13 ] November 6, 2014 |

Benjamin Smith has your day’s must read about the status of the Mexican drug cartels and what seems to be the Mexican government’s attempt to create a sort of super-cartel to keep the peace. There pretty much is no positive angle in any of this, be it the effects on the Mexican people, the possibility of a state-cartel alliance, or anything related to how it effects the United States. Depressing, but important and with excellent analysis.

Soviet Housing Foundations

[ 74 ] November 6, 2014 |

Leave it to the Soviets to have done the worst possible thing in any given situation:

After the war, with Brest’s Jewish community devastated, the Communists set about getting rid of the remnants of Jewish culture in the town. In 1959 they dismantled the Jewish cemetery-one of the oldest and largest in Belarus-and turned it into a sports stadium. As the dismantling process got underway, Communist Party members, along with enterprising locals, recognized the high quality of the headstones and “recycled them.” As well as in the foundations of houses, these Jewish graves have since been discovered in the makeup of Brest’s road surfaces, pavements, and gardens.

In May, with diggers churning up the ground to build a new supermarket, more recycled headstones started popping up. Debra Brunner, co-director of the Together Plan, a UK-based charity supporting community empowerment in Eastern Europe and the Former Soviet Union, told me, “I can’t even begin to explain what it felt like to actually stand among the graves. Picture a huge mound of freshly dug mud with Jewish headstones coming out at all angles. It was a macabre sight.”

I just….

Out of Sight

[ 40 ] November 5, 2014 |


Out of Sight: The Long and Disturbing Story of Corporations Outsourcing Catastrophe is now available for preorder at Amazon. I know Amazon is evil. However, many independent bookstores now base their orders on preorders from Amazon. So what are you going to do? I am going to have a follow up post about this issue more specifically. In any case, preorders actually really help move a book, or at least this is what I am told.

Anyway, you know it’s going to be an awesome holiday present for yourself or your family. That it isn’t being released until June should not matter in your decision making! If you pay now, you’ll forget about it by then and be surprised by the “free” book you received in the mail!

I am also rather fond of the cover.


[ 321 ] November 5, 2014 |

A few thoughts, loosely tied together, on last night’s disaster.

Obviously Democrats need to spend some time figuring out what the heck happened. In many ways, few fundamentals had changed since 2012. Gridlock dominates Washington. The economy is not really any worse for the 99%, but nor is it appreciably better. Yet people seem to genuinely dislike Barack Obama at all points when he is not actively campaigning. Mitch McConnell deserves a lot of credit for understanding that the politics of fireeating would work wonders because everyone would blame the president no matter whose fault the problems in Washington actually lie with. He knows that most Americans simply don’t understand how politics work and want the president to solve problems, period. Manipulating that was horrible for the country but great for the Republican Party.

So it’s tough out there.

I don’t want to hear that the problem last night was the map. Yes, the Senate map was tough for Democrats. Winning at this point in Arkansas, Louisiana, West Virginia, and South Dakota is very difficult. However, that’s a limited explanation because it says nothing as to how the widely despised Paul LePage was reelected in Maine even after Eliot Cutler dropped out. It says nothing as to how Scott Walker was reelected in Wisconsin and Rick Snyder in Michigan. It certainly says nothing as to how a Republican became governor of Maryland. Maryland! This is a lot more than a tough map. Also, you can mostly forget about easily winning the Senate back in 2016. That map isn’t so great either and Democrats are in a deep hole.

I also don’t want to hear too much about money. It’s not that it isn’t important. It’s that a) the plutocrats always have tons of money and have always used it aggressively except for a relatively brief period in the decades after World War II and b) it can be overcome and has been overcome. Elections can be bought but grassroots campaigns can make that not happen. Obviously, Democrats failed miserably on this point.

So what’s up? I think there are a few really important points. Democrats need to just stop trying to appeal to old white people. White men voted for the GOP 64-34. It is a loser strategy. This demographic overwhelmingly votes GOP. Alison Grimes, who ran an utterly pathetic and embarrassing campaign, refusing to say whether she voted for President Obama is the prototype of how not to do it. No one is going to believe you. Heard a bunch about the North Carolina race last night and all the discussion about how Ebola, ISIS, and immigration dominated voters’ agenda. When I hear those three things in this context, I hear three words: racism, racism, and racism. And the Supreme Court supporting racist policies to restrict blacks from voting by eviscerating the Voting Rights Act allowed racists to indeed restrict black voting in meaningful ways that may well have swung North Carolina to the execrable Thom Tillis. Developing entire political campaigns to swing a few of these voters to the Democrats isn’t going to work–as we saw quite clearly last night.

Instead, Democrats need to give Latinos, African-Americans, and the young a reason to vote. Check this out:


37%!! That means that Democrats simply could not get young people to vote while Republicans did an outstanding job motivating their base.

That means that Democrats have to rethink their midterm election strategy is a very real way. It’s one thing when there’s a presidential campaign. But the politics of midterm elections means that the same types of political calculations don’t work. How do you do that? You make your party about actual issues that young people and people of color care about. You support legalizing marijuana and prison reform. You support a vigorous government jobs program. You embrace immigration all the way, demonizing those who oppose a path to citizenship and the decriminalization of undocumented immigrants as racists. You make a $15 national minimum wage central to your campaign strategy. You have to call for student debt forgiveness. You have to make your party the party of the poor and the non-white, and not just in the passive way. If the racists and the plutocrats don’t like that, well, they weren’t going to vote for you anyway. Alexis Goldstein offers more radical ideas that may well be effective too. See also Harold Meyerson on this.

It’s increasingly clear, with the minimum wage hikes in deep red states and marijuana legalization continuing its march, that the nation wants these progressive policies, but they don’t see the Democratic Party as any vehicle to get them done. And maybe it isn’t. Certainly the party of Andrew Cuomo isn’t going to do much for the poor. And many may say that the Democratic coalition is too diverse for such a program. And the control of Wall Street over Democratic Party is toxic. But in the Senate at least, the remaining Democratic caucus is as progressive or more so than anytime in history. There simply aren’t conservatives left in that caucus outside of Manchin and King, both of whom could flip to the Republicans (although I am a bit skeptical McConnell wants them to since he can use them for his bipartisan cred). Mark Warner will be on the far right of the caucus. Elizabeth Warren, Bernie Sanders, Jeff Merkley, Sherrod Brown–these are people who represent what actual Democrats want to see. They are the future of the party. And the Democratic Senate can push forward really progressive legislation, even if it isn’t going to pass. They can lead the way in developing a left-leaning platform that, hopefully, motivates the young to vote.

Because whatever Democrats are doing is not working and will probably not work in 2018 either. Money will remain vital to that election and Democrats are scared of offending their big money donors (see Mark Pryor saying he doesn’t support raising the minimum wage even though it passes in his state). But that challenge must be overcome to motivate enough voters to compete in the midterms. More commercials about how Republicans are evil isn’t going to do that. Convincing base Democratic groups that the party wants to make their lives better and is the agent for doing that will.

So there’s a lot of work to be done. In case this post was too long, here is a short open letter to the Democratic Party with some visuals.

Dear Democrats,

Less this:


More this:



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