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Pittsburgh First!

[ 60 ] November 5, 2013 |

The campaign poster of Pittsburgh City Council candidate Jim Wudarczyk:

The inspiration for this brilliance:

Really, it’s about time we saw Red Scare era political imagery become hip again. A new age of Harding, this.

Mrs. Lydia Pinkham’s Herbal Supplements

[ 157 ] November 5, 2013 |

What a surprise that the herbal supplement/alternative medicine industry is filled with hucksters, scam artists, and grifters, the likes of which American medicine hasn’t seen since the days of patent medicine before the establishment of the Food and Drug Administration in 1906

For the study, the researchers selected popular medicinal herbs, and then randomly bought different brands of those products from stores and outlets in Canada and the United States. To avoid singling out any company, they did not disclose any product names.

Among their findings were bottles of echinacea supplements, used by millions of Americans to prevent and treat colds, that contained ground up bitter weed, Parthenium hysterophorus, an invasive plant found in India and Australia that has been linked to rashes, nausea and flatulence.

Two bottles labeled as St. John’s wort, which studies have shown may treat mild depression, contained none of the medicinal herb. Instead, the pills in one bottle were made of nothing but rice, and another bottle contained only Alexandrian senna, an Egyptian yellow shrub that is a powerful laxative. Gingko biloba supplements, promoted as memory enhancers, were mixed with fillers and black walnut, a potentially deadly hazard for people with nut allergies.

Of 44 herbal supplements tested, one-third showed outright substitution, meaning there was no trace of the plant advertised on the bottle — only another plant in its place.

Many were adulterated with ingredients not listed on the label, like rice, soybean and wheat, which are used as fillers.

In some cases, these fillers were the only plant detected in the bottle — a health concern for people with allergies or those seeking gluten-free products, said the study’s lead author, Steven G. Newmaster, a biology professor and botanical director of the Biodiversity Institute of Ontario at the University of Guelph.

Unfortunately, we live in a society of extreme individualist consumerism where the everyday person thinks they can make their own medical decisions based on whatever information then glean from the internet and Jenny McCarthy appearances on The View, ignoring the advice of real doctors, refusing to give vaccinations to their children, starting public health crises, etc. That there’s a market of corporations openly taking advantage of these people is hardly shocking. What would shocking is if people realized medicine should not be a consumer choice to be taken lightly.

Of course, if we had a well-funded FDA with greater power to investigate, inspect, enforce, and punish, these products would be safe, even if they didn’t do anything for you. But returning America to the Gilded Age means undermining the FDA and opening up new markets for those selling adulterated foods and medicines. Poisoning consumers is the definition of freedom for this world view.

Dengue Fever

[ 12 ] November 5, 2013 |

So I hear Dengue Fever is coming to my town and I hope it is this:

Unfortunately, it is this:

This past summer, Aedes aegypti—the invasive African mosquito best known for carrying the potentially deadly diseases dengue and yellow fever—made its unexpected debut in California, squirming up from Madera to Clovis to Fresno and the Bay Area.

For a blood-sucking nightmare, Aedes aegypti is surprisingly attractive: Its dark skin and bright white polka-dots make it hard to miss. Unfortunately, it is also notoriously difficult to control. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Aedes aegypti can lay its eggs in less than a teaspoon of liquid and survive without water for months.

Climate change studies predict that dengue—which infects as many as 100 million people a year—will expose an additional 2 billion by 2080. In 2009, the mosquito kicked off a Florida outbreak of dengue in a state that hadn’t seen the disease in more than 70 years, and Thailand is currently undergoing its worst dengue epidemic in more than 20 years.

Suicides and Plant Closures

[ 53 ] November 4, 2013 |

Reuters has an interesting piece on how Volkswagen’s previous attempt to operate a union factory in the U.S. failed and how this relates to its attempts to institute a German-like workers’ council through the United Auto Workers. One major challenge I think this attempt faces going forward is the strong hostility toward organized labor by the American managerial class that will be dealing with the UAW on a daily basis. The Germans are going to have to mandate serious cooperation with the union if their goal of a workers council will come to fruition.

But that’s not why I linked to this. It’s to reiterate the real and often deadly cost of job loss:

While the landscape is very different from 25 years ago, the legacy of the older plant’s failure is part of the troubled history the UAW will have to overcome as it tries to represent VW workers again — this time in Tennessee, where the automaker employs 2,500 people building Passat sedans.

After the 1988 closure of VW’s plant in southwestern Pennsylvania, Ron Dinsmore kept a grisly toll of the pain: the number of suicides of former workers. He stopped counting at 19.

“I used to go to every funeral home,” said Dinsmore, 71. “I quit doing it. It got morbid.”

Minimum of 19 suicides out of a 2500 person workforce. That’s a huge number. You saw the same thing in Oregon and Washington and northern California when the timber industry laid everyone off in the 1980s. I have one story in my research of a pastor in northern California who had to counsel a couple not to commit suicide, which they were considering because they couldn’t provide for their children and had an insurance policy that could. This is the cost of unemployment and factory closure. Way too often, even in the progressive blogosphere, this is abstracted to thinking about economic policy and decisions in Washington. That’s fine of course, but it’s also easier than reckoning with the real human costs. Sad, sad stuff.

Today in the Sixth Extinction

[ 35 ] November 4, 2013 |

Goodbye to the western black rhino.

The People We Need to Stop From Voting

[ 76 ] November 4, 2013 |

Who is having trouble registering to vote under the new Texas voter ID law? None other than former Speaker of the House Jim Wright. Now 90, he doesn’t have a valid driver’s license. So his voter registration attempt was denied. He’ll work it out because he’s Jim Wright. But what about all the older people will less political power, the poor, college students, brown people? In other words, the Texas law is working precisely how its writers hoped it would. But hey, at least Jim Wright’s political career has a nice cycle to it.

We want to make sure that every eligible Texan who wants to cast a ballot can,” Pierce said. “We want to help any Texan who needs additional information.”

Wright, who said he has voted in every election since 1944, lamented that such help is called for.

“From my youth I have tried to expand the elections,” Wright said. “I pushed to abolish the poll tax. I was the first to come out for lowering the voting age to 18.”

Began in an age of voter suppression. Ends in an age of voter suppression.

‘Merica

[ 63 ] November 4, 2013 |

In the face of Texas A&M painting its team name in the end zone red, white, and blue, Northwestern has upped the ante, going with full on flag uniforms. Clearly proving that Northwestern loves America while Ohio State and Michigan are affiliates of Al-Qaeda.

A Bum Deal

[ 12 ] November 3, 2013 |

Why do I spend my time watching French cigarette commercials from the 30s? I do it for you of course.

Mitt Romney is a Nice Man

[ 222 ] November 3, 2013 |

I should avoid the crack of the excerpts from Halperin and Heilemann’s new book about the presidential campaign. Such books bring out the worst in the political class–the gossip, the insider knowledge, the focus on personalities over issues. But as I have low character, I can’t help myself. So what do we learn?

1. Mitt Romney is a massive asshole who likes to make fun of fat people as if he were an insecure 14 year old boy desperate to prove he’s better than others. Oh wait, that accurately describes Mitt Romney.

2. Romney picked Paul Ryan in no small part because he reminded him of the young go-getters at Bain, showing that Romney actually did conceive of himself as a venture capitalist CEO ready to bring those insights to the White House. Boy, running the nation like that would have been awesome.

3. Bill Frist was a semi-finalist for vice-president? Was Howard Baker too fresh and relevant for Romney?

4. Of the 11 semi-finalists, there were 9 white men, Marco Rubio, and Kelly Ayotte. Given how irrelevant the VP actually is, you’d have thought Romney would at least thought about the optics and considered Susana Martinez or Nikki Haley or even a moron like Bobby Jindal. But of course not.

5. Chris Christie has just a slight corruption problem. Along with his own asshole problem.

6. Obama rightfully saw the pick of Ryan as incredibly stupid.

Now I realize that it’s way too early to being thinking seriously about the presidential campaign in 2016. But Rob’s post on Cruz and Paul yesterday brings home just how damaged every major Republican possibility is. Cruz and Paul are insane and couldn’t win a general election barring some sort of monstrous catastrophe that makes the Democratic brand toxic. Christie can’t win the primary and even if he could, there’s the corruption and his awful personality that won’t play in most of the nation. Jeb Bush is a has-been. Rubio is probably finished as a serious contender. Ryan’s views are so unpopular that I don’t think he gained a single thing by being the VP candidate. I’m interested in how much his media presence has declined in the last year. Scott Walker is probably the candidate that scares me the most, but he also has major corruption problems that will haunt him in a general election. I suppose that leaves the plain vanilla conservatives like Pawlenty or Portman or Daniels, but color me skeptical that’s the kind of person who wins this thing.

I’m not Nate Silver or Dave Brockington, but I have trouble seeing a generic Democratic candidate with less than a 75-80% chance to win in 2016 simply because every single major Republican candidate has such glaring problems. It’s going to be crazy.

The War on Workers

[ 10 ] November 3, 2013 |

Mike Konczal usefully summarizes Gordon Lafer’s new report on the Tea Party’s class warfare. Although the media and most blogs have focused on Tea Party legislators’ work to undermine voting rights and reproductive rights, typically their work undermining employee rights has gone underreported. An excerpt:

Crucially, as Lafer emphasizes, this isn’t about what we colloquially refer to as “conservative values.” Rather than rolling back the state, tea party Republicans are calling for extensive observation and disciplining of unemployed people.

Tennessee conservatives and business interests, for instance, are pushing “the Unemployment Insurance Accountability Act of 2012 [which] would add scenarios that disqualify a worker from receiving unemployment in the first place [and] call for audits of 1,000 claimants weekly.” So much for smaller government and more privacy.

And for all the conservative talk about making programs as local as possible, what is often referred to as “subsidiarity” or “devolution,” that principle is ignored when it comes to repealing labor protections. Many conservative states have pushed laws designed to override localities that seek to create or increase their minimum wages, prevailing wages, living wages or mandatory sick days. Given that many states have big cities where more extensive labor protections exist, this matters for many people.

Effectively, the purpose of the Republican war on workers is to recreate the Gilded Age, a project going quite smoothly for the plutocrats, even if they are having trouble controlling the electoral implications of the angry people they’ve unleashed.

Those Awful Hats

[ 61 ] November 2, 2013 |

D.W. Griffith’s 1909 film about how much it sucked when Progressive Era women with gargantuan hats sat in front of you at the theater.

The Cry of Jazz

[ 121 ] November 1, 2013 |

Edward Bland’s 1959 documentary The Cry of Jazz is one of the most remarkable films I’ve ever seen. An early statement of the black nationalism that would become famous in the late 60s, Bland argues in this 30 minute film that only African-Americans have the soul and history to play jazz and that whites need to understand their inferiority in the genre is precisely because of their racist history. It’s an amazing film.

Shot for nearly nothing, The Cry for Jazz has bad acting, cheesy dialogue, and an awesome political point. There’s some sort of jazz club meeting. Whites and blacks are both there. They start arguing about race and jazz. The whites typically eschew any sense that blacks are better at jazz or that they have any responsibility for racial inequality or the legacy of slavery and racism. And for Bland, those two things are inseparable. The rest of the film switches from a narrator explaining the relationship between race and music (along with some quite technical information about the music, not every casual fan would get all the references) and the conversation continuing onto new points. The black characters in the room utter such lines as “The Negro is the only Human American” and “If whites had souls, they wouldn’t have tried to steal the Negro’s.” The legacy of racism creates the suffering that allows jazz to exist, thus “Jazz is the one element in American life where whites must be humble to Negroes.”

At the point of maybe convincing the whites, the lead narrator makes an even more shocking statement–Jazz is dying. Why? Because it can’t contain the black experience. New forms of music are needed, a clear reference to rock and roll. One assumes Bland saw hip hop as the extension of this late in life, but I wonder. And let’s face it, jazz is pretty white in 2013. Not exclusively so. But pretty white.

Who thus was Bland’s choice as the vanguard of the African nationalist music at the time? Why Sun Ra and his Arkestra! First, it’s of course the appropriate choice but who knows how obvious that was in 1959? Second, this is the first known footage of the Arkestra! It’s shot very darkly so most of it is of John Gilmore and you only see Ra’s back. But wow.

The film was quite controversial within the African-American intellectual community. Ralph Ellison hated it. LeRoi Jones, later known as Amiri Baraka, loved it. For a period where assimilationism dominated the civil rights movement, this is quite the forward thinking statement.

Certainly not the best movie I’ve ever seen but judged for its jaw-dropping message and audacity, it’s a must see.