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A Cruel and Unusual Nation

[ 223 ] April 4, 2014 |

The United

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States’ commitment to solitary confinement as a standard operating procedure in our prison system is a horrible, horrible thing. That it remains so common today speaks very poorly for this nation. How this is constitutional under the Eighth Amendment is impossible for me to understand, outside of the bloodthirsty nature of far too many Americans.

Tax ‘Em!

[ 158 ] April 4, 2014 |

Alex Pareene makes a lot of sense on progressives giving up on campaign donations as an issue and instead focuing on a much better idea that will also help solve the campaign issue. Expropriate the wealth of rich people:

If the super-rich had less money, they would have less money to spend on campaigns and lobbying. And unlike speech, the government is very clearly allowed to take away people’s money. It’s in the Constitution and everything. I know it wasn’t that long ago that it also seemed obvious that the government could regulate political spending, but in this case the relevant constitutional authority is pretty clear and there is no room for a so-called originalist to justify a politically conservative reading of the text. Congress can tax income any way it pleases.

There is one glaring problem with my plan, of course, which is that Congress is already captured by wealthy interests, and is not inclined to tax them. But all I’m saying is that would-be campaign finance reformers ought to give up on their lost cause and shift their energies toward confiscation and redistribution.

I don’t think this would totally solve the campaign finance issue unless the tax rates were set very high; after all, Sheldon Adelson is a very rich man. But it would help. Also higher taxation on the rich would do a lot more to solve the much more important social problems in this country.

Should we start at 70% taxation on everything, including capital gains and all investments, for all money over $1 million a year, 90% on everything over $10 million? Seems a good place to start. We can always raise it if we want more of their money. Also, massive punishments for using offshore tax havens. Perhaps property confiscation.

…..It’s also worth reviewing the history of the income tax as a popular economic justice movement.

The Founding Fathers Were Also Very Involved in Slavery

[ 179 ] April 4, 2014 |

It may be that the latest crop of Tea Party challengers to Republican incumbents are even stupider than previous crops:

Kentucky Republican Senate candidate Matt Bevin continued to address his presence at a rally for supporters of legalizing cockfighting by saying America’s Founding Fathers were very involved in the cockfighting world too.

“But it’s interesting when you look at cockfighting and dogfighting as well,” Bevin said in an interview on the Terry Meiners Show on Louisville’s WHAS on Thursday. “This isn’t something new, it wasn’t invented in Kentucky for example. I mean the Founding Fathers were all many of them very involved in this and always have been [sic.]”

Evidently, we are recreating Revolutionary society. Perhaps some of these morons can be bled to death by 18th century style doctors. If there’s one thing

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about Tea Partiers, it’s that their humours are majorly out of whack.

(Almost) Dead Horses in American History (X)

[ 70 ] April 3, 2014 |

It’s about time I got back to this and finished it up.

“City Enormities–Every Brute Can Beat His Beast,” New York, 1874

OK, this is not technically yet a dead horse. But it’s probably going to be pretty soon, as this image showing the horrible treatment urban horses received demonstrates. The dead horse problem was huge in American cities. In 1880, New York carted away 15,000 dead horses off the streets, weighing an average of 1300 lbs. This was a huge health and disposal problem in a society woefully

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underprepared for the growth of American cities. As late as 1912, Chicago still had 10,000 dead horses to deal with in a society transitioning to the automobile. This didn’t even begin to get to the problem of horse manure in cities without any mandates to horse owners on the collection of the stuff. Each horse created 15-30 lbs of manure a day. In Milwaukee during these years, that was 133 tons of horse manure every day.

So the horse in the American city was a major problem that would not be solved until the 1910s.

UPS Labor Intimidation

[ 46 ] April 3, 2014 |

In February, 250 UPS workers staged a 90-minute strike in response to the firing of a union activist.

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UPS has now fired all of them, despite their Teamsters membership. Because this is in Queens, the City Council is powerful enough to push back against UPS. We’ll see if it makes a difference. At the very least, it sends a message to the non-New York part of the nation to not challenge management.

Sex Work Prohibitionism

[ 440 ] April 3, 2014 |

Melissa Gira Grant’s new book is causing all sorts of discomfort among liberals who are just flat not comfortable with thinking of sex work as labor. Katha Pollitt’s latest piece is an excellent example of this. Unfortunately, while Pollitt is writing in the language of second-wave feminism, she’s also writing in the language of prohibitionism. She tries to stigmatize a reality of the world as immoral, but in fact just reinforces a system by which women are in fact victimized. Even the poor women she accuses Grant of ignoring are not helped by keeping sex work illegal. If you legalize sex work, you are going to make it harder for underground sex operations that treat women terribly to continue because a major reason why they exist is that sex work is illegal and therefore stigmatized. That’s not to say sex work is great–it’s a bad job—but keeping it illegal does not promote the equality that Pollitt wants to see.

…To clarify one point, I realize Pollitt is not really calling for sex work to remain illegal, but by using language that separates it from other kinds of work as inherently and perhaps uniquely awful, it reinforces long-standing arguments used to keep it illegal. Quibble with my characterization if you’d like, but I just wanted to clarify this point a bit.

The Money

[ 102 ] April 3, 2014 |

My thought on the McCutcheon case’s importance is as follows. Liberals need to quit whining about the money. I’m not saying the case isn’t a big deal. It is. But I am saying that the plutocrats have always had far more money than working people and they’ve always used it to control politics the best they can. In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, the corporate control over politics was far greater than today and working people organized on the ground to demand all sorts of changes that led to creation of the 20th century welfare state. The decline of unions and voices for the working class thanks to capital mobility and more aggressive corporate activism undermined these 20th century victories and has created a new Gilded Age in this country. Naturally, that’s going to include corporate control over elections. Such a decision is a symptom of larger problems, an result of American democratic decline, not a cause.

The problem today is that progressives believe the ballot box is where change is made, when in fact it is where change is consolidated. Organize on the ground to demand the change desired and the money can be overcome. But if you think a social movement is buying ad time on television or the right kind of media messaging, that’s a game that progressives are never going to win.

Obama’s Immigration Policy Error

[ 61 ] April 3, 2014 |

It’s not Obama’s fault that we don’t have immigration reform. That is the fault of the white supremacist Republican Party. There’s really nothing Obama could have done to pass comprehensive immigration reform.

Obama however has tremendous discretion over how to enforce immigration laws and his aggressive implementation of those laws leading to record deportation has severely depressed Latino belief in the American political system at a time when Democrats not only should be wrapping up Latino voters for the next generation but need them in the midterm elections. The decision to implement the laws in this way, I guess an attempt to show he was tough on undocumented migration to buy rhetorical points he could then use to pass legislative reform, was a huge error, both morally and politically. And it is making a difference that hurts Democrats.

The Double Standard

[ 54 ] April 2, 2014 |

As Richard Sherman points out, football players who grew up in the ghetto like himself and his former kids baseball teammate DeSean Jackson are treated quite differently than white players when it comes to their behavior and friends:

This offseason they re-signed a player who was caught on video screaming, “I will fight every n—– here.” He was representing the Philadelphia Eagles when he said it, because, of course, everything we do is reflective of the organization. But what did they do to Riley Cooper, who, if he’s not a racist, at least has “ties” to racist activity? They fined him and sent him to counseling. No suspension necessary for Cooper and no punishment from the NFL, despite its new interest in policing our use of the N-word on the field. Riley instead got a few days off from training camp and a nice contract in the offseason, too.

Commit certain crimes in this league and be a certain color, and you get help, not scorn. Look at the way many in the media wrote about Jim Irsay after his DUI arrest. Nobody suggested the Colts owner had “ties” to drug trafficking, even though he was caught driving with controlled substances (prescription pills) and $29,000 in cash to do who-knows-what with. Instead, poor millionaire Mr. Irsay needs help, some wrote.

But DeSean Jackson is the menace, right? He’s just as bad as those guys he parties with because he threw up a Crip sign in a picture and he owns a gangsta rap record label. If only all record label owners were held to this standard, somebody might realize that Dr. Dre and Snoop Dogg weren’t the bosses behind NWA. Jim Irsay lookalikes in suits were.

But go ahead and judge DeSean for the company he keeps. While you’re at it, judge me, too, because I still live in Los Angeles, and my family does, too. We didn’t run from where we grew up. We aren’t afraid to be associated with the people who came up with us. We brought some of our money back and started charities and tried to help out a few guys who were with us when we were nobodies.

Riley Cooper was just blowing off steam. But DeSean Jackson, look at those tattoos.

Structural Inequality and Infant Mortality

[ 114 ] April 2, 2014 |

I can’t recommend this Stephen Bezruchka essay on structural inequality and infant mortality strongly enough. Just a quick excerpt:

Everyone in a society gains when children grow up to be healthy adults. The rest of the world seems to understand this simple fact, and only three countries in the world don’t have a policy, at least on the books, for paid maternal leave—Liberia, Papua New Guinea, and the United States. What does that say about our understanding, or concern, about the health of our youth?

Infant death rates, those occurring in the first year of life, are a particularly sensitive measure of health in a population. According to a U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report released in 2013, our infant mortality rate is about 6.1 deaths for every thousand live births. Sweden has an infant mortality rate less than half of ours, 2.1 deaths per thousand births. If we had Sweden’s rate of infant deaths, the United States would have around forty-seven fewer infants dying every day in the United States. That is what is achievable: every day forty-seven babies wouldn’t die if we had Sweden’s rate of infant deaths.

Differences in mortality rates are not just a statistical concern— they reflect suffering and pain for very real individuals and families. The higher mortality in the United States is an example of what Paul Farmer, the noted physician and anthropologist, calls structural violence. The forty-seven infant deaths occur every day because of the way society in the United States is structured, resulting in our health status being that of a middle-income country, not a rich country.

There is growing evidence that the factor most responsible for the relatively poor health in the United States is the vast and rising inequality in wealth and income that we not only tolerate, but resist changing. Inequality is the central element, the upstream cause of the social disadvantage described in the IOM report. A political system that fosters inequality limits the attainment of health.

Resist changing? For Republicans, rising inequality is the stated goal, with an underlying racial tone that gets poor whites to buy in against their own economic interests.

The only thing I’d add that Bezruchka leaves out is how the decline of labor unions has played into this problem. He suggests worker-owned businesses as part of the strategy to overcome this structural inequality, but that he mentions this and not unionized workplaces says a lot about just how desperate organized labor’s situation has become. In all of American history, only labor unions have allowed workers to have a real voice on the job and provided a powerful and long-term voice for the American working class. Without that voice and the potential of delivering (or withholding) votes and money, politicians have little reason to care very much about structural inequality.

But otherwise, an outstanding essay.

World Cup Deaths

[ 17 ] April 2, 2014 |

It’s not only in Qatar that workers are dying to build World Cup stadiums. It’s also in Brazil, but unlike Qatar, which uses largely very poor migrant laborers, these are workers empowered to take matters into their own hands:

Builders at the Itaquerao Arena in São Paulo downed tools in protest at another death of a construction worker.

Organisers now fear the ground will not be completed in time for the curtain-raiser between the hosts and Croatia.A source said: “The stadium was originally due to be handed over last year. It is extremely worrying that deadlines keep being missed.”

Worker Fabio Hamilton da Cruz, 23, plunged 26ft to his death while installing seating, making him the eighth labourer to die at Brazil 2014 sites. Three deaths have been in São Paulo. Building firm Fast Engenharia, in charge of seating at the Itaquerao, have now vowed to put extra safety measures in place.

The End of the Strike

[ 39 ] April 2, 2014 |

It’s no wonder workers feel they don’t have any power at the workplace in the 21st century. For a variety of reasons, the ability of them to use their collective power in its most power-challenging form has been taken away:

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