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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.

Deporting Immigration Activsts

[ 33 ] November 1, 2013 |

Regardless of what one thinks of the strategy of civil disobedience from immigration activists who risk deportation, actually deporting one of them is incredibly awful.

Perez’s lawyer, David Bennion, explains that deportation doesn’t make sense. She came to the country at the age of four, graduated from a high school in North Carolina. According to Bennion, Perez did not have a criminal record and left in 2009 to pursue her future in Mexico because of “attrition by the [United States] government’s harsh policies.”

Perez could have qualified for “prosecutorial discretion,” based on a 2011 Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) memo which directs federal authorities to focus deportation efforts on criminal immigrants. Instead Bennion claims that officials chose to make an example out of Perez for “political motivations” to deter future activists from attempting to cross the Mexican border in the same high-profile way.

The Texas regional ICE public affairs officer Leticia Zamarripa which handled Perez’s case, wrote, “The individual in question, a Mexican citizen, was afforded full due process under law and the opportunity to present the facts of her case before an impartial immigration judge. After a review of the case by the immigration judge, the individual was determined ineligible for immigration relief.”

Whether this was an attempt to silence activism like this, I don’t know. But it will almost certainly have that effect. And deporting someone who is an incredibly useful member of society (just by being this politically active if nothing else) sets an awful precedent.

Obama’s immigration policy has been mostly bad, as Latinos and immigration activists have long complained. Regardless of Republicans not allowing an immigration bill to pass, the drastically increased deportations has alienated many of the fastest growing segment of American society and while the recent emphasis on deporting criminals and leaving others alone has had some effect, there is still a lot of room for unnecessary deportations. Really disturbing stuff.

They Eat Lard

[ 107 ] November 1, 2013 |

British lard advertisement, 1957

Just because. Are they also drinking a lard-based cocktail?

….Jewish Steel in comments suggests this could be a parody. Sad if true. Good parody though.

Food Stamp Cuts

[ 63 ] November 1, 2013 |

The poor wouldn’t be poor if they stopped drinking/went to church/confirmed to my moral standards of the day. So I don’t see why they should eat more than once a day, especially if 0.0000001% of my tax money goes to it. Therefore, we should build off today’s glorious victory against subsidizing poor people driving to the store in their Cadillacs to buy t-bone steaks by eliminating food stamps entirely.

….Mijin Cha with more on this type of thinking.

Can We Just Have the UN Institute a One-World Government and Be Over With It?

[ 174 ] November 1, 2013 |

Dumb upon dumb:

The Alamo will not fall under United Nations control if it is named a UNESCO World Heritage site, the Texas Land commission assured Texans on Wednesday, according to the San Antonio Express-News.

In a statement Wednesday Jerry Patterson, the Texas land commissioner, called rumors that the U.N. might manage the Alamo and other Spanish missions in Texas “horse hockey.”

“The people of Texas own the Alamo now and in the future. Nothing is going to change that,” Patterson said at a gun rights rally at the Alamo on Oct. 19.

George Rodriguez, former president of the San Antonio Tea Party, stirred up rumors in a piece titled ‘The New Battle of the Alamo.’

Rodriguez said Wednesday that he never stated that the U.N. would take control, but that he merely provided a “cautionary tale.”

“I’m just constantly saying ‘may’ or ‘might,’” he explained. “I’m never once saying that this is going to happen. We need to be aware.”

The two times I visited the Alamo went as follows.

1. I was driving to Houston. Stopped in San Antonio to check it out. Was after closing so I didn’t do the tour. But didn’t much care about that. I go up to the Alamo doors itself and there are all these irritated white people milling around. Some Latino guys totally decked out in Spurs gear head to foot are getting their pictures taken in front of the Alamo and the white people are wondering what they are doing and why they are taking so long. Turns out that someone’s mom and girlfriend or something was taking pictures of them flashing their gang signs in front of the Alamo and they wanted lots of pictures of doing this. Reconquista indeed. Of course none of the white people could figure out what they were doing. Then I turn around and walk toward the shops across the street. A bus comes past from a visiting Texas high school. The name emblazoned on the bus: “Hereford Whitefaces.” The nickname of the high school was indeed the Whitefaces. I understand this is partially related to the look of that particular brand of cattle. But in Texas, it’s not just that. Oh no. I walked away thinking this is the weirdest place I’ve ever been.

2. A few years later I was living in Texas. Was taking a historian friend around to various sites of public memory in central Texas. Went to the LBJ ranch, the monument commemorating all the Germans the Texas slaughtered for trying to flee to Mexico during the Civil War because they opposed slavery. Then went to the Alamo. There was some bizarre ceremony going on with some fraternal organization inducting new members or something. They had stands and everything. They introduced the six flags that have flown over the Alamo. No one cheered for the French flag (I’m unclear what right the French ever had over the region but whatever). There were a few claps for the Spanish. None for the Mexican flag. And then a whole lot for the Confederate flag. Only time I’ve ever seen the Confederate flag cheered for. Then we turn around to walk away and there’s a whole group of African-American Revolutionary War reenactors walking toward us. Huh? What the heck?

In any case, I don’t mind if the UN comes and conquers Texas or internationalizes the Alamo or whatever, so long as it remains the weirdest place in the United States.

Black Lung Blues

[ 47 ] October 31, 2013 |

The Center for Public Integrity is running a really great series about how coal miners get black lung from decades in the mines and then face a wall of denial of their claims far harder than any coal seam. The second part of the 3-part series came out yesterday, detailing how doctors at Johns Hopkins deny all black lung claims. This is just awful.

Doctors have come and gone from the unit over the years, but the leader and most productive reader for decades has been Dr. Paul Wheeler, 78, a slight man with a full head of gray hair and strong opinions.

In the federal black lung system, cases often boil down to dueling medical experts, and judges rely heavily on doctors’ credentials to resolve disputes.

When it comes to interpreting the chest films that are vital in most cases, Wheeler is the coal companies’ trump card. He has undergraduate and medical degrees from Harvard University, a long history of leadership at Johns Hopkins and an array of presentations and publications to his credit. In many cases, judges have noted Johns Hopkins’ prestige and described Wheeler’s qualifications as “most impressive,” “outstanding” and “superior.” Time and again, judges have deemed him the “best qualified radiologist,” and they have reached conclusions such as, “I defer to Dr. Wheeler’s interpretation because of his superior credentials.”

Yet there is strong evidence that this deference has contributed to unjust denials of miners’ claims, the Center found as part of a yearlong investigation, “Breathless and Burdened.” The Center created a database of doctors’ opinions — none previously existed — scouring thousands of judicial opinions kept by the Labor Department dating to 2000 and logging every available X-ray reading by Wheeler. The Center recorded key information about these cases, analyzed Wheeler’s reports and testimony, consulted medical literature and interviewed leading doctors. The findings are stark:

In the more than 1,500 cases decided since 2000 in which Wheeler read at least one X-ray, he never once found the severe form of the disease, complicated coal workers’ pneumoconiosis. Other doctors looking at the same X-rays found this advanced stage of the disease in 390 of these cases.
Since 2000, miners have lost more than 800 cases after doctors saw black lung on an X-ray but Wheeler read the film as negative. This includes 160 cases in which doctors found the complicated form of the disease. When Wheeler weighed in, miners lost nearly 70 percent of the time before administrative law judges. The Labor Department does not have statistics on miners’ win percentage in all cases at this stage for comparison purposes.
Where other doctors saw black lung, Wheeler often saw evidence of another disease, most commonly tuberculosis or histoplasmosis — an illness caused by a fungus in bird and bat droppings. This was particularly true in cases involving the most serious form of the disease. In two-thirds of cases in which other doctors found complicated black lung, Wheeler attributed the masses in miners’ lungs to TB, the fungal infection or a similar disease.
The criteria Wheeler applies when reading X-rays are at odds with positions taken by government research agencies, textbooks, peer-reviewed scientific literature and the opinions of many doctors who specialize in detecting the disease, including the chair of the American College of Radiology’s task force on black lung.
Biopsies or autopsies repeatedly have proven Wheeler wrong. Though Wheeler suggests miners undergo biopsies — surgical procedures to remove a piece of the lung for examination — to prove their cases, such evidence is not required by law, is not considered necessary in most cases and can be medically risky. Still, in more than 100 cases decided since 2000 in which Wheeler offered negative readings, biopsies or autopsies provided undisputed evidence of black lung.

It’s not clear why this one doctor has dedicated himself to denying black lung claims, but this is a person who has committed a great evil in the world. Despite his self-serving rhetoric about his ethics, he has done nothing but deny relatively small amounts of money to very sick people. Workers have no recourse once the experts at Johns Hopkins led by Wheeler deny their claims. They work for decades. They die in misery. Wheeler is a big reason why.

Seriously, read the whole thing. This is how the system defeats working class people’s attempts at a dignified life. Very powerful stuff.

Walls

[ 13 ] October 31, 2013 |

No doubt the solution to drug smuggling tunnels between the U.S. and Mexico is higher border walls. And the drones America’s favorite racist Sheriff Joe Arapio wants to deploy to catch the brown people.

Happy Halloween

[ 47 ] October 31, 2013 |

Happy Hail Satan Day Halloween! Pay your respect to the dark lord by indulging in some candy corn that is horrible to actually eat but is so charming in this 1950s ad

Goblin approved indeed.

Meanwhile, let Roky provide the appropriate tunes for the day.

I will be spending my day at the Rhode Island DMV, a hellish experience that no one can replicate in a Halloween costume. There’s not really a human experience that quite matches the Rhode Island DMV. But to give you a sense of it, I have to get a Rhode Island driver’s license so I can get my new union-made vehicle. Yeah sure it’s been 2 years that I’ve lived here and I haven’t done but my Texas license was still valid and we all know how awesome it is to represent the Lone Star State. Anyway, to get a driver’s license in Rhode Island you have to go to 1 specific DMV. That serves the entire state. The last time I was there I waited in line for 2 1/2 hours. Which is why I still have a Texas driver’s license. Luckily, I have a big stack of papers to grade, which the DMV makes look pretty appealing.