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Vo Quy, RIP

[ 15 ] January 12, 2017 |

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Vo Quy, the pioneering Vietnamese environmentalist and communist who not only convinced Ho Chi Minh to create Vietnam’s first national park, but also played a critical role in bringing his nation and the United States to an agreement on dealing with the ecocide the Americans committed after the war, has died at the age of 87.

Here is more about him.

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Enjoy the Last Days of a President Who Does the Right Thing

[ 23 ] January 12, 2017 |

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The last days of Obama make me sad because there are enough good things happening, even though I have my strong criticisms of his presidency, that it’s incredibly depressing think about what could be versus what will be. Two critical items, just from the last three days.

First, there’s OSHA’s announcement that it will pursue a federal workplace standard on workplace violence for health care and social service workers.

The effort to provide better protections for health care and social service workers has gained momentum in recent months. In December, OSHA issued a Request for Information about whether to propose a standard aimed at preventing workplace violence in the two industries, citing a Government Accountability Office report that noted rates of workplace violence in the health care and social service industries were “substantially higher” than in private industry.

“Our nurses came to D.C. today to speak out on the importance of passing an enforceable workplace violence prevention standard, and we are thrilled to know that OSHA has granted NNU’s petition for that standard to begin to take shape,” Bonnie Castillo, health and safety director for Silver Spring, MD-based NNU, said in a press release. “Such regulations are vital to protecting nurses and other health care workers, as well their patients, from the epidemic of workplace violence across the U.S.”

In Congress, Rep. Bobby Scott (D-VA) has called on OSHA to promulgate a workplace violence standard. Earlier this month, outgoing OSHA administrator David Michaels sent a letter to Scott thanking him for his concern and supporting his position.

“I agree with you that workplace violence is a serious occupational hazard that presents a significant risk for health care and social assistance workers,” Michaels wrote. “Evidence indicates that the rate of workplace violence in the health care and social assistance sector is substantially higher than private industry as a whole and that the health care and social assistance sector is growing. In response to this problem, OSHA has used the General Duty Clause in cases involving employers that expose workers to this recognized hazard in a growing number of workplaces. OSHA has also revised its guidance on preventing workplace violence for health care and social service workers, and has conducted its first comprehensive workplace violence training for its Compliance Officers.

I think we all know this is going to go nowhere under Trump and Andy Pudzer’s Department of Labor.

And then there is Obama using the Antiquities Act for what I imagine is the last time, creating three new national monuments and expanding two others. He has created the first national monument to remember Reconstruction, in South Carolina, as well as national monuments in Birmingham and Anniston to remember the civil rights movement. He also expanded the California Coastal National Monument and the Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument along the Oregon-California border. Given that I’m an Oregonian and that there is slow momentum building toward monuments to eventually be created out of the old growth Cascade forests and the wild southeastern part of the state, it would be great to see the Antiquities Act continue. And maybe it will be–after all, I don’t know that the western Republicans outraged by these monuments have the political clout to get the Senate votes and few presidents want to give away their own power. But of course anything is on the table right now. Maybe we can convince Trump to name his own properties national monuments to himself, along with a huge check from the government to compensate him.

But hey, at least 25 year olds will soon be denied access to their parents’ health insurance so that if they survive their cancer, they will be in debt forever. Freedom is finally at hand.

Booker

[ 338 ] January 12, 2017 |

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Cory Booker has a reasonably high chance of being the Democratic nominee in 2020. There are good reasons for this. He gave a great speech at the DNC that really rallied everyone who heard it against hate. Given the amount of hate that is coming, this is a good thing. His testifying against Jeff Sessions was excellent. He is charismatic and has a great chance of reviving the Obama coalition. That charisma and leadership potential is absolutely crucial for whoever the nominee is going to be.

At the same time, the nominee is almost certainly to be someone who can speak to some sort of economic populism. Maybe that can be Cory Booker. But he has a lot to answer for. His embrace of charter schools and the inherent anti-unionism involved in them made him a heck of a lot of enemies. So have his close ties to Wall Street. And now we have him voting against allowing the importation of prescription drugs from overseas. All of these are real problems for him and should make us ask him very hard questions. I get that he is from New Jersey. He is also basically untouchable in that state. He can defy Wall Street and the Big Pharma companies based in New Jersey to run for the presidency. He needs to if he indeed is going to do that. Unfortunately, he does not seem to understand that. And thus he is going to be rightfully criticized from the left.

Booker has mostly been a pretty good senator. Despite his past apostasy, I could potentially see supporting him in 2020 and of course certainly will if he is the nominee. He’s light years better than Andrew Cuomo or Rahm Emanuel. But he needs to be a lot smarter about his votes and a lot smarter about adopting economically progressive positions if he is going to make that run. Because someone is going to be the economically left candidate and that person is going to make a compelling case to a whole lot of voters, no matter what happens in the next 3 years before the Iowa caucus. It could be Booker. But right now, it’s not.

Globalization: A Political Project to Concentrate Wealth at the Top

[ 162 ] January 12, 2017 |

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The Boston Review has an outstanding forum led by Dean Baker with commentary from several other economists about how globalization is a series of political decisions that sought to protect the wealthy from competition while subjecting the poor to a global race to the bottom. I will excerpt from Baker but every commenter is worth reading as well.

Among the many myths about globalization, the worst is that the loss of large numbers of manufacturing jobs in the United States (and Europe) was inevitable. Because the developing world is full of low-paid workers, this argument goes, it was impossible for Americans to compete. Economists and politicians promoting this view might consider the outcome unfortunate for U.S. workers, but also unavoidable. They take comfort in the growing living standards of billions of impoverished people in the developing world.

This is a palatable view of the history of the last forty years for those who were not its victims, but it is wrong in just about every way.

Globalization need not have taken the course it did. There was nothing inevitable about large U.S. trade deficits, which peaked at almost 6 percent of GDP in 2005 and 2006 (roughly $1.1 trillion annually in today’s economy). And there was nothing inevitable about the patterns of trade that resulted in such an imbalance. Policy decisions—not God, nature, or the invisible hand—exposed American manufacturing workers to direct competition with low-paid workers in the developing world. Policymakers could have exposed more highly paid workers such as doctors and lawyers to this same competition, but a bipartisan congressional consensus, and presidents of both parties, instead chose to keep them largely protected.

It is not just the volume and direction of trade flows that reflect policy choices. A second assumption in the familiar story about globalization concerns the content of those flows. Trade deals negotiated by administrations of both parties have been designed to enable U.S. corporations to manufacture goods in developing countries and return the output to the United States with minimal restrictions. This choice puts U.S. manufacturing workers in direct competition with low-paid workers in the developing world. Our economy may gain as a whole from access to low-cost goods made in the developing world, but a predictable and actual outcome of this pattern of trade is the loss of U.S. manufacturing jobs and downward pressure on the wages of less-educated workers generally.

There were other options, and there still are. Just as we can save money on shoes and shirts by buying goods made in China, we could save on our medical bills and legal services if we allowed low-paid doctors, lawyers, and other professionals from developing countries to practice in the United States.

As it stands, almost nothing has been done in this era of trade liberalization to reduce the barriers protecting our most highly paid professionals. It is illegal for a doctor to practice medicine in the United States unless she has completed a U.S. or Canadian residency program. (The number of slots in these programs is strictly limited, with a small fraction open to foreign-trained doctors.) Dentists are prohibited from practicing in the United States unless they graduate from an American dental school; the lone exceptions among foreign nationals are graduates of Canadian dental schools.

It is absurd to believe that the only way to be a competent doctor is to complete a U.S. residency program. If we applied our free-trade principles to medical and dental services, as well as to the work of other highly paid professionals, we would establish an international system of credentialing that would allow foreign professionals to train to our standards and practice in the United States. This is not some absurd fantasy. Able workers in these fields already collaborate all over the world; the bones and teeth and hearts in India are no different from those of Americans.

….

In short, almost everything about the story of globalization as a natural or necessary process is false. The United States does not need to run a trade deficit, large or small, with the developing world. And these trade deficits are not prerequisites for reducing poverty there.

If globalization in the current mode was not preordained, it was also not an accident. The exposure of American manufacturing workers to competition with low-paid foreign workers follows policy choices made by officials who knew their decisions would result in lower pay for Americans.

Ending protectionism for highly paid professionals and intellectual property would help to reverse the past four decades of upward income redistribution, but it will not be enough on its own. It is also necessary to attack the bloated financial sector and its excessive paychecks, fix a broken corporate-governance structure that allows CEOs outlandish salaries, and rethink macroeconomic policy that has sacrificed employment on the alter of low inflation. I address these issues more thoroughly in my new book, Rigged.

And let me reiterate, there is no such thing as market forces. These are not immutable laws like gravity. These are all a series of decisions made by humans. They have the option to make other decisions. They do not do so. But we should not naturalize this. We could have had a system of globalization that sought to share economic benefits equally. But because the process was controlled by the rich for the benefit of the rich (and let’s remember that the core reason for globalization in the last 50 years is CEOs and shareholders seeking to bust unions and escape environmental protection by moving overseas), that never happened. Today, the capitalists have naturalized the process to deflect how they control all of it. This is basically believed not only on the right and by elites in both parties but also by those liberal writers who believe that Paul Theroux is history’s greatest monster for pointing out the real costs of this to Americans. We have a long ways to go. Dean Baker is doing a lot of the work to help give us the tools to push back against this orthodoxy.

Subtext: A Quaint Idea of the Past

[ 49 ] January 12, 2017 |

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Remember when we used to talk about how sometimes Republicans would “say the quiet parts loud” or that “subtext became text” when they would say the racist stuff out loud without trying to hide it? That’s such a cute thing of the past. Because in Trump’s America, you can just be an open racist and wave that freak flag. That very much includes people in power, such as Alabama’s lizard congressman Mo Brooks.

Alabama Rep. Mo Brooks said in a radio interview on Tuesday that criticism of Alabama Sen. Jeff Sessions, who is Donald Trump’s pick to be attorney general, is part of an ongoing “war on whites” by Democrats.

“It’s really about political power and racial division and what I’ve referred to on occasion as the ‘war on whites.’ They are trying to motivate the African-American vote to vote-bloc for Democrats by using every ‘Republican is a racist’ tool that they can envision,” the Republican congressman said on “The Morning Show With Toni & Gary” on WBHP 800 Alabama radio. “Even if they have to lie about it.”

Wanting black people to be able to vote and trying to keep Nathan Bedford Forrest out of the Attorney General’s office is indeed a war on whites.

See also:

“Mr. President. Build Up That Wall!”

[ 63 ] January 12, 2017 |

It’s nice that Trump advisors see communist East Germany as an inspiration.

The American version of the Stasi will be fun. As will the pogroms against Mexicans.

Liberals Lost the White Working Class When They Started Eating at Popeye’s Instead of Chik-Fil-A

[ 234 ] January 11, 2017 |

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Unfortunately, Jacobin is increasing the number of articles it publishes that effectively take right-wing cultural critiques of liberals and apply them from the nominal left. First we had the evils of Meryl Streep. Now we have how “elite liberal” reaction to a New Yorker cartoon demonstrates how out of touch they are and how much they look down on “democratic politics” (which is of course coded white since, you know, black people vastly supported Hillary Clinton over Bernie Sanders, which is where this piece goes as it relitigates the primary for the 10,000th time)

In conclusion, I look forward to the forthcoming piece on how the working class eats French’s and liberals lost the 2016 election because they prefer Grey Poupon.

I will however agree with anyone on the political spectrum that New Yorker cartoons are almost universally terrible.

There’s Always a Market to Blame Black People

[ 114 ] January 11, 2017 |

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Damon Linker, Very Serious Thinker, follows up on his pre-election writing that Donald Trump and his fans just can’t be a bunch of racists and his earlier concern trolling about immigration by blaming intersectionality for the decline of the Democratic Party.

This is a Very Serious Thinker.

I wonder what the connection is between all of these pieces? I just can’t put my finger on it…..

The Philosophy of the New Gilded Age

[ 245 ] January 11, 2017 |

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That Ben Shapiro is a horrible human being is not up for debate. And hey, at least he is articulating the true Republican position on health care.

On Sunday, Senator Bernie Sanders took to Twitter to deliver one of his usual messages. “People go to the doctor because they’re sick, get a diagnosis from their doctor, but they can’t afford the treatment,” he wrote. “How crazy is that!” I responded snarkily, “I go to a fancy store to check out a piece of furniture, can’t afford it. That’s totally crazy!”

This prompted spasms of apoplexy on the left. How could I dare to compare medical care to furniture? Was I equating the value of the two? Was I suggesting that the necessity of furniture was somehow comparable to the necessity of medical care?

Yes, imagine the outrage from the left. Who can imagine why someone would be offended!?!

Morally, you have no right to demand medical care of me. I may recognize your necessity and offer charity; my friends and I may choose to band together and fund your medical care. But your necessity does not change the basic math: Medical care is a service and a good provided by a third party. No matter how much I need bread, I do not have a right to steal your wallet or hold up the local bakery to obtain it. Theft may end up being my least immoral choice under the circumstances, but that does not make it a moral choice, or suggest that I have not violated your rights in pursuing my own needs.

Welcome to the core ideology at the heart of the actual replacement of the ACA! Die poor person, die!

But the left believes that declaring necessities rights somehow overcomes the individual rights of others. If you are sick, you now have the right to demand that my wife, who is a doctor, care for you. Is there any limit to this right? Do you have the right to demand that the medical system provide life-saving care forever, to the tune of millions of dollars of other people’s taxpayer dollars or services? How, exactly, can there be such a right without the government’s rationing care, using compulsion to force individuals to provide it, and confiscating mass sums of wealth to pay for it?

Actually, yes, that’s precisely what I demand.

Let’s say your life depended on the following choice today: you must obtain either an affordable chair or an affordable X-ray. Which would you choose to obtain? Obviously, you’d choose the chair. That’s because there are many types of chair, produced by scores of different companies and widely distributed. You could buy a $15 folding chair or a $1,000 antique without the slightest difficulty. By contrast, to obtain an X-ray you’d have to work with your insurance company, wait for an appointment, and then haggle over price. Why? Because the medical market is far more regulated — thanks to the widespread perception that health care is a “right” — than the chair market.

This is almost amazingly stupid, even for Shapiro. Clearly, ending any government regulation of medicine will allow for cheap medical care for all! Cancer treatment is totally like chairs! Because, hey, repealing the Pure Food and Drug Act and replacing it with a return of patent medicines is some kind of health care!

Revising the Worst President Ever List

[ 175 ] January 11, 2017 |

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One never wants to have a reason to revise a worst president list. I basically stand by this 2011 list I made, although I think the similarities in corruption between Trump and Harding are going to drop the latter down the list and at this point I would flip Johnson and Buchanan. But I really wonder if Trump will indeed be the worst president in American history, even beating out James Buchanan and Andrew Johnson. With all due respect to the horrors caused by both of those men, I suspect it is even odds that the answer will be yes. And that is deeply, horrifyingly disturbing.

The Seafood Rule and Import Standards

[ 5 ] January 11, 2017 |

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For those who think the U.S. can’t legitimately do anything about the conditions of work and environmental exploitation overseas, please examine the new seafood importation standard implemented by the Obama administration starting January 1.

On Jan. 1 the United States started enforcing a new import rule, which requires fisheries exporting seafood to the United States to protect marine mammals at standards comparable to those required for U.S. fisheries. This rule aims to leverage American market power to reduce marine mammal bycatch worldwide. It also aims to level the playing field for U.S. fishermen, who currently face monitoring costs and fishing restrictions to reduce marine mammal bycatch – unlike some of their foreign competitors.

If this rule succeeds, it could serve as a model for responsible globalization by demonstrating that countries can be competitive in global trade without “racing to the bottom” in their environmental standards. But to make this happen, the United States will have to set the right standard, work with other countries that need help to comply and possibly defend the rule in international courts.

Under the Marine Mammal Protection Act, enacted in 1972, federal regulators monitor marine mammal bycatch in U.S. fisheries. They also develop plans to ensure bycatch remains within well-defined limits that will not threaten marine mammal populations. If a fishery exceeds these limits, regulators can require fishermen to change their fishing gear or methods, or even close the fishery temporarily.

The MMPA is one of the world’s strongest marine mammal protection laws, and has greatly improved the status of Pacific dolphins, harbor porpoises and California sea lions. But it also has made U.S. fisheries less competitive by imposing fishing restrictions and monitoring costs that vessels in many other countries do not face.

The new rule, administered by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, gives countries that want to export seafood to the U.S. a five-year grace period to prove that their exporting fisheries monitor and limit marine mammal bycatch as effectively as U.S. fisheries are required to do under the MMPA. The idea is to level the playing field for U.S. fishermen by encouraging other countries to raise their environmental standards, rather than lowering U.S. standards. By benefiting both U.S. trade competitiveness and marine mammal conservation, this rule should have bipartisan appeal.

None of this is to say there aren’t challenges, as the article delineates. Perhaps the biggest is the world trade system, of course with the United States as its biggest supporter, that makes it difficult to enforce trade standards. A WTO challenge is extremely likely. Moreover, the standard is far from sufficient, largely because while it chooses to enforce environmental standards, it does nothing to create labor standards in an industry that is arguably the single most exploitative in the world. But it is crucial to point to examples like this, like the bipartisan support to close the slave labor loophole in the Smoot-Hawley Tariff, and like older examples such as the Seaman’s Act of 1915, to demonstrate that the U.S. absolutely can exert some control over working and environmental conditions of the products brought into this country. That it chooses not to in most cases is a matter of political power, knowledge, and will rather than any meaningful legal barriers. We must work for comprehensive corporate codes enforceable anywhere. This is a step toward that.

Neoliberalism and Blood

[ 88 ] January 10, 2017 |

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A significant internal problem for the left is that the term “neoliberalism” is used as an epithet that now means “anything Democrats do that I don’t like.” This is a terrible thing, because neoliberalism is an actual thing with an actual meaning with actual consequences that has an enormous impact on our society and upon the global economy. And when I read this op-ed on the blood supply chain, I was struck by how deeply the idea of the privatization of public services and the potential to profit on them has advanced.

Still, a multi-billion dollar industry has evolved out of the demand for and supply of blood, with the global market for blood products projected to reach $41.9 billion by 2020. The United States constitutes the largest market for blood products in the world. Donors in the U.S. and some others countries are typically not paid.

In the U.S., the American Red Cross supplies about 40 percent of the blood, with America’s Blood Centers, with 600 blood donor centers, providing about 50 percent (and about one-quarter of the blood in Canada). The remainder is collected by hospitals and medical centers themselves or, lately, by profit-maximizing blood suppliers.

Prior to 2008, hospitals and other surgical centers consistently reported blood shortages every year. This resulted in the cancellation and postponement of elective surgeries.

Things changed. In part because of medical advances, some procedures do not require as many pints for transfusion. This decrease in demand for blood is posing great challenges for the industry, resulting in consolidations and mergers of testing labs and processing facilities.

In response to the drop in demand, suppliers formed partnerships. Mergers have taken place to counteract rising costs of blood banking operations and even to work for enhanced safety, availability and affordability of blood for hospital partners and patients. At times, the reconfigurations have included the closing of testing facilities as done by the Red Cross.

According to the America’s Blood Centers, the largest network of nonprofit community blood centers in North America, 19 partnerships and mergers were formed in the five years from 2010-2015 among their member blood banks, reducing the size of the network from 87 to 68 members. That represents a doubling from the 1990s, when 19 mergers took place during 10 years rather than five.

My colleagues and I have been researching blood supply chains, from enhancing their operations with collection, testing and distribution to hospitals and medical centers. The goal is to minimize costs as well as risk and waste and to optimize the supply chain network design.

More recently, our research has turned to the assessment of mergers and acquisitions, since some of its evolving features have taken on the characteristics of corporate supply chains, which we can learn from and take advantage of.

Now, I suppose blood transfusions have never exactly been a public service in the sense of the government actually controlling the supply. But should blood be seen as having a supply chain within a profit-seeking corporate structure? This is not to impinge the research of the writer of the above piece because if it exists, we have to understand it. But the entire premise of a blood supply chain should deeply offend us. People need blood and someone has to ensure that said blood gets where it needs to go. But given that most of our blood supply comes from the unpaid labor of people volunteering in blood drives, should it exist under a corporate structure? To me, the answer is that this is a public good that should be collected and supplied as such, without having to worry about mergers, corporate structures, or profit (which of course even in “nonprofits” absolutely matters in the sense of the heads of these organizations becoming wealthy). But of course one can say this about the entire medical industry, which is part of the reason why the AMA has done more than anyone to ensure that Americans don’t have universal quality health care.

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