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Virtually Speaking

[ 6 ] June 12, 2015 |

Sure you are getting tired of me promoting various Out of Sight related events. But I’d stop if every reader bought my book, as well as copies for their families and friends. In lieu of that, I was on Jay Ackroyd’s show Virtually Speaking last night for a full hour. In the last 5 minutes, we discussed what made LGM so awesome, i.e. a bunch of loud mouth writers and a great commenting community. So that can be an extra benefit for you to listen to me talk about outsourcing, the global race to the bottom, the capitalist war on the world’s workers, the decline of the American middle class, and other of my favorite uplifting topics.

I was also on the Rick Smith Show today discussing the defeat of Trade Adjustment Assistance in the House and what the victory means for the larger anti-Trans Pacific Partnership movement. So check that out too.


Left Forum

[ 123 ] June 12, 2015 |


I’ve always been fascinated by Left Forum, the annual New York gathering of the far left on panels with the reputation for a) being hijacked by real odd ducks and b) consistently having more presenters than audience members given the ratio of panels to conference attendees is like 2:1 because no panels are rejected. Now I really do have to go just to witness this. Amber Frost:

At its worst, however, Left Forum is Comic Con for Marxists—Commie Con, if you will—and an absolute shitshow of nerds and social rejects. There are bitter old codgers that will harangue you about a thirty-some-years-old internecine grudge, and there are politically unsophisticated kids with Che Guevara t-shirts and Adbusters subscriptions. There are sanctimonious Trotskyists, ridiculous Maoist Third-Worldists, condescending horizontalist anarchists, smug social democrats and a glut of ardent adherents to similarly esoteric ideological traditions, all competing for the title of Most Insufferable Anti-Capitalist. Left Forum is notorious for grueling Q&A sessions, often with nary a “Q” to be found. People like to demonstrate how many books they’ve read (or worse, have written and self-published) in embarrassing displays of pretension and/or machismo, and cynicism is frequently substituted for insight.

But the grumps and the brats, the blowhards and the sectarians, the narcissists and the pessimists—all of these people are bearable to me, some even charming. No, the worst part of Left Forum is the crackpots, the paranoiacs, the hysterics, and all the other truly dysfunctional personalities attracted by the conference’s most infamous policy: no panel submission will be rejected.

That’s right: If you pay your registration fee and fill out the proper forms, you get a room and a table and a spot on the schedule. So in addition to all those experienced and intelligent rabble-rousers, Left Forum is a home for 9/11 Truthers, those who would save us from the terrors of “mandatory fluoridation,” and the generally batshit and/or pathologically anti-social. No one is required to observe their lectures, but they wander into other people’s and there is something truly dispiriting about not being able to distinguish self-identified radicals from the parodies of us imagined by the right wing.

In fairness, I’ve also heard very good things about it in that there are a lot of great people there to meet, even if you have to wade through the conspiracy theorists and the last 20 hardcore Stalinists in the United States.

But live tweeting this sounds like the reason I was put on this planet. Really, the worst part of all of this is the idea of not rejecting panels. My revolution rejects lots of things. Being inclusive is one thing. Having no standards is not a project I can support.

What’s Next in the Trans-Pacific Partnership Battle?

[ 14 ] June 12, 2015 |

After the stunningly large defeat of Trade Adjustment Assistance in the House, a move promoted by Democrats to torpedo fast track of the TPP, what is next? Time to turn to a real reporter. Dayen:

Here are the options now in the House:

Pass TAA on a re-vote. Speaker John Boehner set this up for a vote next week, where they will try to persuade more Democrats and Republicans. Republican support topped out at 93 (votes started moving away from TAA once it was clear it wouldn’t pass), meaning that 124 Democrats would need to give their support. That’s a very tall order, especially now that it’s clearly the only thing standing between the President and his trade authority. Democratic groups, which demanded a no vote on TAA, will surely continue to whip the vote on their side.

Pass a separate standalone fast track bill. Just the threat of this, leaving Democrats with the President’s trade authority in place and no TAA, might be enough to get TAA passed. But it shouldn’t be. Just because 219 members voted for fast track on a meaningless vote today doesn’t mean they would be there on a standalone vote. Also, there is no way the Senate would concur on a fast-track trade bill without TAA: that would lose too many Democratic votes to pass. So this seems like an idle threat. Mitch McConnell could pass fast track with a promise to pass TAA later, but he’s already done that gambit once, getting fast track forward with a promise of a vote on reauthorizing the Export-Import Bank. That promise has been broken, and there’s no reason for Senators to believe McConnell again.

Make changes to TAA or fast track to get enough Democrats on board: This is what Pelosi was intimating, but it’s hard to see how that could plausibly occur. They would have to get any changes agreed to by the House and the Senate, which opens the process up to a lot of messiness. And even if all the issues with TAA were dispensed with – no paying for the assistance with Medicare cuts, no exemptions for public employees, etc. – the bill has now become the impediment to more corporate-written trade deals that set regulatory caps and facilitate job loss, and liberal Democrats know it. As Rep. Keith Ellison, co-chair of the Progressive Caucus, told the Huffington Post, “You can’t take the politics out of politics.”

Give Democrats something they want: Nancy Pelosi’s Dear Colleague letter makes this clear: “The prospects for passage (of fast track) will greatly increase with the passage of a robust highway bill.” This means that, if Republicans vote for more infrastructure spending, Pelosi would be likely to supply the votes for trade. But it’s not clear whether this is coming from Pelosi only, or if it would have buy-in from her caucus. She might be making a deal her caucus hasn’t empowered her to make. Plus, that would involve Republicans in the House and Senate agreeing to fund more infrastructure, and nobody knows where the money would come from.

I feel labor has been burned so many times by corporate Democrats that something bad will end up happening. But none of these options seem particularly likely. I imagine the full blitz from Obama will be on for the next week, but it’s already been turned on full blast and Democrats have overwhelmingly rejected it. Combined with Republicans who won’t vote for anything Obama wants and maybe there really isn’t a way forward. In any case, as Dayen states, this may well at least slow this bill down until the calendar turns and then we are in primary season. So maybe this was indeed a major victory.

Trade Adjustment Assistance

[ 57 ] June 12, 2015 |

Northern part_ Packard Motors Plant_ Detroit_ 2006 copy

The defenders of the Trans Pacific Partnership, likely the single worst thing Obama has ever done in his presidency given how hard he has fought for it, say that Trade Adjustment Assistance will at least help displaced workers recover and adjust to the new economy.

No it won’t, as this 2012 study demonstrates.

In the case of the four-decade-old U.S. Trade Adjustment Assistance Program (TAA), which helps workers whose jobs were axed because of increased imports, the answer is no, write associate professor Kara M. Reynolds and student John S. Palatucci, both of American University’s Department of Economics.

Reynolds and Palatucci compared the employment and salary trajectories of TAA beneficiaries with those of workers laid off in similar circumstances who weren’t eligible for the program. In 2007, approximately 150,000 Americans received a total of $850 million of TAA aid in the form of income support, health insurance, job search assistance, relocation compensation, and retraining. The 2009 stimulus expanded the program’s roster and benefits.

After controlling for geography and other factors, the authors found that TAA beneficiaries fared no better at getting new jobs than those who didn’t participate in the program. Furthermore, the TAA beneficiaries who did find jobs earned roughly 30 percent less than they did in their previous positions, while the other workers typically earned 18 percent less. (This disparity owes much to the fact that the TAA program targets workers who are most in need of help.)

But what’s really important here is giving American corporations extralegal rights and the ability to outsource even more American jobs overseas. Of course, labor in these nations are also urging the defeat of the TPP, but let’s not forget that the same American corporations who are so wonderful to us in this nation are providing jobs to the world’s poor like the beneficent overlords they are. So let’s just be grateful to them for all they do for the world.

Vietnamese Labor Leaders Oppose the Trans Pacific Partnership

[ 38 ] June 12, 2015 |


Of all the conversations around the global race to the bottom, I think the one that bugs me the both is the portrayal of these low-wage, dangerous jobs as gifts American corporations are giving to these poor people around the world who would have nothing without our beneficent overlords. This is a paternalistic, colonialist argument that does not take actual workers and their desires into account. Rather, what we need to do in wealthy world nations is to support the workers’ movements of developing world nations so that they can live dignified lives in this system of global production.

This principle provides us another reason to oppose the Trans Pacific Partnership as Vietnamese labor leaders urge Congress to reject it.
They do so because they claim the TPP will destroy their attempts to fight for better lives.

The House is expected to vote Friday on a bill that would grant Obama so-called “fast-track” authority, which would prevent Congress from amending or filibustering any trade pact he negotiates. Obama cannot pass his trade agenda without fast-track powers. U.S. labor unions are concerned that the pact will drive down domestic wages by forcing American workers to compete with low wages and abusive practices abroad. Obama and Republican leaders say the pact will benefit all parties involved by boosting economic growth. The vast majority of Democrats in Congress are opposed to both TPP and the fast-track bill.

In their letter, labor leaders in Vietnam noted that many American companies profit from the exploitation of Vietnamese workers, singling out Nike, which operates factories in the country. In May, Obama made a pitch for the TPP deal from a Nike facility in Oregon. The labor leaders also sent lawmakers a separate study on Nike’s practices in Vietnam, detailing poverty wages paid to workers that forced them to borrow money to cover basic expenses. Nike was not immediately available for comment.

“In order for human and labor rights that are clearly spelled out in UN Conventions and in the Vietnamese Constitution to be truly respected in Vietnam, we believe that the U.S. Congress must use the opportunity of granting fast track authority as leverage to make immediate transformative changes so that the citizens of Vietnam can enjoy their human rights and basic freedoms,” the letter reads.

“Immediate and transformative changes.” Yes. They have a lot of specific demands that range from higher wages to the freeing of imprisoned leaders. I would also suggest the creation of labor standards the U.S. demands for any products coming from nations in the TPP with real enforcement mechanisms. It should also allow workers to bring suit against American companies for the violations of these standards, including if contractors are the actual employer. The workers of Vietnam do indeed deserve human rights and basic freedoms.

The Kind of Right Angles and Hard Falls Our Kids Need to Gain Moral Fiber

[ 76 ] June 11, 2015 |


I think most of us who grew up in the 70s and 80s, British or American, understand all too well the brutalist playground with its right angles, ugly architecture, and hard, hard surfaces. These examples are more extreme than our average playground but in the same universe as what we knew.

Out of Sight Book Talk in Washington, DC

[ 4 ] June 11, 2015 |


Hey DC people–I will be doing a book presentation for Out of Sight at Busboys and Poets Takoma Park store on Monday evening at 6:30. It will be a conversation between myself and Wenonah Hauter of Food and Water Watch. You should come out. I’ll sign your book. It’s entirely possible beverages may be had after we are done. Not vodka though.

I am going to spew some serious Beltway wisdom, so watch out!

I even got a shout out from DCist for the event.

Occupy’s Influence

[ 88 ] June 11, 2015 |


I was hoping this Michael Levitin piece at the Atlantic about how Occupy has changed organizing communities throughout the country and around different issues would get at a question I’m genuinely interested in, which is what happened to the Occupiers, especially those who were not previously professional activists. In fact the piece doesn’t and is just assertion without evidence–I’m willing to believe that Occupy might have had a great influence on the anti-Keystone pipeline movement but arguments do need evidence. Levitin was deeply involved in Occupy and so this reads primarily as a justification of the actions he helped create and it could be so much more. I think the real impact of that movement has to be told in part by following trails of individuals who had their lives transformed by it and then worked to transform the world.

Ornette Coleman, RIP

[ 54 ] June 11, 2015 |

Ornette Coleman, one of the greatest jazz musicians to ever live and quite possibly the greatest jazz musician living in 2015, has died at the age of 85.

I guess I’d now give that greatest living jazz musician title to either Cecil Taylor or William Parker. Probably the latter.

….Also of course Sonny Rollins, who actually probably does take that title.

[SL]: The Coleman show I saw in 2008 was easily one of the 5 best musical experiences of my life. This a huge loss — he was a true giant of American art.

Fast Food Nation

[ 156 ] June 10, 2015 |


I find it fascinating that as the lower end fast food chains find their sales slipping, a solution is to create the most ridiculous and/or disgusting food possible. Such is the new Pizza Hut hot dog pizza. I never thought I would object to mustard on anything, but I guess I am wrong.


[ 64 ] June 10, 2015 |


Sadly, the New York Times Disunion series has come to an end. I was hoping it would continue into Reconstruction, as the union was not exactly reunited immediately when the war ended and in many ways Reconstruction is as important as the Civil War for understanding modern America.

Of course, the series was really at its peak in late 2010 and early 2011 as the paper chronicled the daily events of the union falling apart. Naturally enough, there weren’t enough stories and authors to really keep up at that pace for the next four years, but consistently solid articles continued to be published, many of which I have linked to here.

Pelosi and the TPP

[ 21 ] June 10, 2015 |

It’s becoming increasingly clear that fast track for the Trans-Pacific Partnership is going to pass and it’s going to include the Trade Adjustment Assistance as a sop to American workers. That Nancy Pelosi is working hard to round up Democratic votes in the House to support Obama’s agenda here provides more evidence for this outcome.

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