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Bipartisanship! And Big Ideas! With Leadership!

[ 44 ] February 13, 2015 |

I suppose I should respect what Bob Packwood has to say about passing major legislation, given he was a big player in the Senate for a long time before his personal improprieties brought him down. But I couldn’t help but roll my eyes at his prescription for a bipartisan tax bill:

First, is the president willing to get behind any bill that might pass Congress on a bipartisan basis? He must be on board ahead of time. If his position is that the bill must raise revenue and Congress’s position is that it must not raise revenue, forget it. Work instead on the Keystone XL pipeline, defeating the Islamic State, achieving Middle East peace and other issues that might find bipartisan congressional and presidential support.

Next, pick a small cadre, and start working on a bill.

Then, don’t dither. Get at it quickly, and finish it quickly.

And do it secretly. When the secret meetings are over, spring the bill full-blown.

Finally, make sure the bill has grandeur. Small steps will not stir mankind. Giant ones will.

Will the president lead with leadership? Will this bill stir mankind? What does that even mean in this context? I think one can safely say Packwood struggles to understand the present dynamics of U.S. politics, especially the relationship between the Senate and President Obama.

Mueller

[ 154 ] February 11, 2015 |

The conservative movement is filled with a tremendous number of horrible human beings.

Live Music

[ 126 ] February 11, 2015 |

If you think live music sucks, the problem is probably you.

Stewart

[ 80 ] February 10, 2015 |

It’s hard to imagine The Daily Show without Jon Stewart, but this is probably a good time for him to leave. Once the 2016 elections start, it would be awfully hard to leave. I haven’t watched The Daily Show regularly in years, really since Obama took office. For me, the real value of the show was therapy during the Bush years. I know it’s still good because politicians are still venal and Republicans are still crazier than loons so fresh material keeps on flowing but I kind of moved on. I have no idea who will replace Stewart and I can’t imagine stepping into those shoes. The show should be considered pretty legendary though in the annals of television, with Stewart a visionary figure on the level of Jerry Seinfeld, Bill Cosby (regardless of his crimes) and other great comedians who transformed television.

Plus destroying the first iteration of Crossfire in one segment earns him all the accolades.

Remembering Lynching

[ 57 ] February 10, 2015 |

The Equal Justice Initiative has researched a new history of lynching, documenting nearly 4000 lynchings in the South, including attempts to find the precise locations where they took place. The hope is thus to memorialize these spots with historical markers and other forms of interpretation. That can be powerful–after all, if that tree right over there and that particular branch even once held the body of a lynched black man, well, that’s a pretty strong statement of how near the history of lynching is to us today. So I fully support these efforts.

It is totally understandable that this project is only focusing on the lynchings of African-Americans in the South. After all, it is run by African-Americans in the South. However, this is far from the full story of lynching in American society, even if it often gets framed that way. After all, Malcolm X’s father was possibly lynched in Lansing, Michigan (and even if it really was an accident, his family was severely harassed in several states). And the American West is full of racially motivated lynchings against Mexicans, Native Americans, and African Americans. Leaving these incidents out of the history of lynching is problematic because it reinforces the idea of racism as a southern problem and covers up a lot of horrible crimes committed in left-leaning places today. There are some attempts to alleviate this loss of public memory, such as this walking tour of lynching sites in downtown Los Angeles (I believe a reader brought this to my attention). That doesn’t mean the EJI attempt to memorialize these lynching sites shouldn’t go on, only that I hope there is equal attention paid to lynchings in New Mexico and Wyoming as in Louisiana and Alabama.

Bar Lines

[ 222 ] February 9, 2015 |

I like a good rant. Especially when it is for a good cause. Such as people holding up bar lines to order complicated drinks.

The faddish reintroduction of “cocktail culture” on these shores has been a boon for liquor distillers and prohibition cosplayers. But it’s turned the once-efficient practice of ordering drinks into a sick and broken system. To be stuck in line behind a cocktail drinker when all you need is someone to pop the top off a beer is to be victim to a cruel and defective practice.

It is time to fight back against this invasive species.

There’s an obvious solution. Patrons at packed, under-staffed bars should consider the long line of customers behind them as they order a Gin Fizz or whatever, and instead purchase a drink that requires less time to make, such as: one beer. This will never happen, because people are assholes. And so we are forced to consider another option: Segregation.

Separate lines, each with its own bartender. One for those of us attempting to buy a quick beer, shot, or any liquor on the rocks; another for anyone purchasing a cocktail.

Will people cheat the system, like they do for express check-out lines and HOV lanes? Of course. “Could you put some bitters in that bourbon?” they’ll ask in the express lane. “Maybe a splash of vermouth, too?” No, fuck you. These rule breakers can be dealt with, with expulsion from the establishment. Customers will no doubt complain at first, too. Expel them. As the place is emptied out by force, the path to the bar becomes ever clearer.

I like a good mojito but I never order them at a busy bar. Why? Because it’s a jerk thing to do. It really operates in the same world as people talking loudly at concerts (I paid for this after all!) and, far more seriously, people choosing not to get their kids vaccinated. It’s the apotheosis of individualistic ideology that. Of course I shouldn’t be surprised by this ideology infecting all parts of our life since it central to is the consumerist individualism so promoted by modern capitalism and the corporate behavior that allows executives to make enormous decisions that affect millions of people based upon a quarterly report.

Of course, one can say this is ridiculous and that people ordering complicated drinks in a crowded bar (and probably tipping 50 cents for them) is meaningless. And maybe it’s true. But it’s not like these daily choices aren’t shaped by larger factors.

Obama on Inequality

[ 66 ] February 9, 2015 |

Barack Obama gets why income inequality is so stark and why the fortunes of American workers have declined so far in the past forty years.

President Barack Obama did an interview with Vox.com.

At one point he was asked what he thought was leading to growing income inequality in the US.

Here’s what he said:

“Some of it has to do with technology and entire job sectors being eliminated — travel agents, bank tellers, a lot of middle management — because of efficiencies with the internet and a paperless office.”

“A lot of it has to do with globalization and the rest of the world catching up. Post-World War II, we just had some enormous structural advantages because our competitors had been devastated by war, and we had also made investments that put us ahead of the curve, whether in education or infrastructure or research and development. And around the ’70s and ’80s and then accelerating beyond that, those advantages went away at the same time as, because of technology, companies are getting a lot more efficient.”

“One last component of this is that workers increasingly had less leverage because of changes in labor laws and the ability for capital to move and labor not to move.”

Add all that up, and Obama says workers are in a tougher position. He was then asked about taxes, and he gave this additional reason for pressure on wages:

I think that part of what’s changed is that a lot of that burden for making sure that the pie was broadly shared took place before government even got involved. If you had stronger unions, you had higher wages. If you had a corporate culture that felt a sense of place and commitment so that the CEO was in Pittsburgh or was in Detroit and felt obliged, partly because of social pressure but partly because they felt a real affinity toward the community, to reinvest in that community and to be seen as a good corporate citizen. Today what you have is quarterly earning reports, compensation levels for CEOs that are tied directly to those quarterly earnings. You’ve got international capital that is demanding maximizing short-term profits. And so what happens is that a lot of the distributional questions that used to be handled in the marketplace through decent wages or healthcare or defined benefit pension plans — those things all are eliminated. And the average employee, the average worker, doesn’t feel any benefit.

I know Obama is constrained by the realities of the limitations of power to pass legislation. But it is quite striking to me that while he well understands the problems of income inequality and stagnating wages, his trade policies are so counter to the interests of American workers. The promoters of the Trans-Pacific Partnership, which Obama is trying to convince Congress to give him fast-track authority for, say that the problems of NAFTA won’t be repeated here and that the TPP will create American jobs. There is simply no reason to believe this. The TPP will just continue the process of the worldwide race to the bottom while protecting corporations from lawsuits and giving workers even less power than they do now to live a dignified life. It’s very difficult for me to believe that someone who supports the TPP and hires advisors like Larry Summers and Tim Geithner really has the interests of American workers in mind. Or maybe Obama does have their interests in mind, but is so under the control of the dominant ideologies of neoliberalism and global capitalism that he can’t see beyond his limited horizons to understand that a significant departure from current economic orthodoxies is necessary to reverse these trends. It’s certainly true that some of these problems are bigger than anything any president could do; the U.S. isn’t going to be in a position where so many of the world’s nations are either recovering from war or opting out of the global economy again. But Obama’s plans for the TPP are certainly not going to help.

I’m glad my president understand the roots of these problems. I just wish he could articulate better solutions.

Workplace Safety

[ 23 ] February 9, 2015 |

One of things that drives me really crazy is when people talk about unions only in terms of financial gain. While workers (or anyone) will never turn down more money, unions are not primarily about money. They are about dignity on the job and worker power to have a say in their work life. To achieve that dignity and that voice, workers may very well want higher wages. But they may also want shorter hours, better equipment, a break for lunch, not to have to provide their own clothing or safety equipment, and an end to arbitrary firings, just to name a few of the issues workers have fought for in the past and/or fight for in the present.

Central to these demands is workplace safety. The United Steelworkers went on strike last week against the oil industry, in large part over workplace safety issues. Steelworkers president Leo Gerard:

In Anacortes, Wash., last week, approximately 200 Tesoro workers began picketing the oil refinery where an explosion incinerated seven of their co-workers five years earlier.

Butch Cleve walks that picket line, serving now as strike captain for the USW local union at Tesoro. On the day of the catastrophe in 2010, Cleve walked the coroner to the shrouded bodies of three of his friends.

Steve Garey, who helped make the decision to strike as a member of the USW’s oil bargaining policy committee, wept repeatedly that April day five years ago as he told the relatives of his dead friends that their loved ones would never come home.

Kim Nibarger, a USW health and safety specialist, suffered flashbacks of an earlier blast as he investigated the one at Tesoro. He was an operator in 1998 at the refinery adjacent to Tesoro in Anacortes when a massive detonation instantly cremated six of his co-workers.

The Tesoro strikers are among more than 5,000 USW members nationwide on unfair labor practice strikes demanding corporations respect their bargaining rights and the rights of workers and communities to safety.

Over the past two negotiation cycles, the USW’s 30,000 refinery and chemical workers struggled to persuade their highly profitable employers to include strong safety language in the collective bargaining agreements. The deaths at Tesoro, as well as fatalities, injuries, explosions, fires and toxic releases at other plants nationwide since then, demonstrate that the measures didn’t go far enough. Now refinery and chemical workers are trying to increase the odds that they aren’t killed at work and that their communities aren’t engulfed in flames or fumes.

No one cares more about workplace safety than unions. Sometimes, unions care more about workplace safety than the workers themselves, as at times work cultures develop that connect masculinity, tradition, and workplace danger in what can be a toxic combination that creates tensions between union safety officers and the rank and file. When unions and workers are on the same page though, it can create a powerful motivation for workplace action, including strikes. With the oil industry so dangerous, the need for action is very real. Hopefully, this strike and the bad publicity the oil industry so wants to avoid will force the companies to make concessions that make work safe.

The NFL’s Systemic Homophobia

[ 25 ] February 9, 2015 |

There is no excuse other than homophobia for why Michael Sam is getting shut out of the NFL.

Jim Caldwell Disapproves

[ 24 ] February 8, 2015 |

What a blow to old-school football, where 18 yard field goals and punting on 4th & 1 from the 40 are manly traditions:

After the Packers lost to the Seahawks in the NFC Championship game, head coach Mike McCarthy said he was unaware that linebacker Clay Matthews was dealing with an injury in the second half of the game because he was focused on calling the plays for the offense.

McCarthy may not have that issue to deal with again in 2015. Chris Havel of WDUZ in Green Bay is reporting that the Packers will promote offensive coordinator Tom Clements to associate head coach and give him the play calling responsibilities while also moving Edgar Bennett from wide receivers coach to offensive coordinator.

Let’s just hope Clements holds to real man football and avoids going for a 4th down all season.

When Are The Coen Brothers Directing a Biopic of Jay Lovestone?

[ 43 ] February 8, 2015 |

Following up on news of Steve McQueen directing a biopic of Paul Robeson, it seems Raoul Peck will be directing The Young Karl Marx, depicting the friendship between Marx and Engels. Quite a heady time for film adaptations of leftists.

Stupid or Dishonest

[ 73 ] February 8, 2015 |

Tucker Carlson may be the dumbest person in the United States. Or maybe he is just dishonest.

Fox News host Tucker Carlson on Sunday declared that all slavery in the world had been eradicated thanks to the Christian faith.

At the National Prayer Breakfast last week, conservatives accused President Barack Obama of comparing Christianity to the Islamic terrorist group ISIS when he observed that many religions had been used to justify violence throughout history.

“So we’re responsible for the Crusades a thousand years ago?” Carlson complained. “Who’s ‘us’ anyway? And by the way, who ended slavery and Jim Crow? Christians. The Rev. Martin Luther King. Christians.”

“Christianity is the reason we don’t have slavery in the world today,” he added. “I mean, talk about ahistorical.”

Good thing none of those slaveholders were Christian. Because there’s no way that Christians would hold slaves or create a Christian doctrine around defending slavery.

While countless Union soldiers and northern civilians depended on theological narratives to sustain them, a providential view of history particularly influenced how Southerners reacted to and interpreted the events of the war. After all, the preamble to the Confederate constitution, unlike the federal one it replaced, explicitly invoked “the favor and guidance of Almighty God.” They were, Southerners believed, a people chosen by God to manifest His will on earth. “We are working out a great thought of God,” declared the South Carolina Episcopal theologian James Warley Miles, “namely the higher development of Humanity in its capacity for Constitutional Liberty.”

Miles held, though, that divine mandate extended beyond simply the Confederate interpretation of states’ rights, and that Southerners were bound by the Bible to seek more than merely “a selfish independence.” The Confederacy must “exhibit to the world that supremest effort of humanity” in creating and defending a society built upon obedience to biblical prescriptions regarding slavery, a society “sanctified by the divine spirit of Christianity.” In short, as the Episcopal Church in Virginia stated soon after the war began, Southerners were fighting “a Revolution, ecclesiastical as well as civil.” This would be a revolution that aimed to establish nothing less than, in the words of one Georgia woman, “the final and universal spread of Gospel civilization.”

This “Gospel civilization,” many believed, didn’t just permit slavery — it required it. Christians across the Confederacy were convinced that they were called not only to perpetuate slavery but also to “perfect” it. And they understood the Bible to provide clear moral guidelines on how to properly practice it. The Old Testament patriarchs owned slaves, Jewish law clearly assumed its permissibility and the Apostle Paul’s New Testament letters repeatedly compelled slaves to be obedient and loyal to their masters. Above all, as Southerners never tired of pointing out to their abolitionist foes, the Gospels fail to record any condemnation of the practice by Jesus Christ.

There is consequently a fascinating, if unsettling, paradox in the efforts of slaveholders to fulfill what they considered divinely imposed duties toward their slaves. Southern Christians believed that the Bible imposed on masters a host of obligations to their slaves. Most fundamentally, masters were to view slaves as fully members of their own households and as fellow brothers and sisters in the Lord. Therefore, as the South Carolina Methodist Conference declared before the war, masters sinned against their slaves by “excessive labor, extreme punishment, withholding necessary food and clothing, neglect in sickness or old age, and the like.”

Of course, like everything else in Christianity, slaveowners decided for themselves to what extent they would adhere to this ideology, so throwing an old slave out into the swamps to die or beating a slave to death, well, these things just happen. Praise Jesus.

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