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Did Occupy Change the Conversation About Economic Inequality?

[ 120 ] November 8, 2013 |

For the past 2 years, there’s been a common theme on the left that regardless of Occupy’s staying power, the one thing it did was change the conversation about economic inequality.

That might have been true at one time. It probably was true. Occupy focused important attention on personal debt, corporate domination over American society, the unfairness of the New Gilded Age. But if it did change the conversation, the conversation has changed back. The almost complete lack of outrage or even really serious political conversations over slashed food stamps benefits, the continued willingness of many in the Democratic Party, not to mention the Evil Capitalist Party Republican Party to make the life of the poor miserable in exchange for short-term political benefits/stories in Beltway media about how serious they are/donations from rich people. There are a couple of news reports, such as this one today about how food stamp cuts are forcing the poor to make hard choices they can’t really make. But that’s it. Where is the general anger? Why aren’t people on the street? There are many reasons for this. But in the end, even a brief but vigorous opposition to economic inequality can only have a limited staying power.

To be clear, I’m not blaming Occupy for this. I have my critique of that movement, but its trajectory and its members have no responsibility for the backsliding of America into a plutocratic-friendly political class and indifferent or hopeless working class. Occupy, however short-lasting, was purely beneficial. However, whatever Occupy may have done to focus attention on unemployment, income inequality, the welfare state, debt, and other issues of great economic unfairness in this nation has passed and the plutocrats reign as powerful as ever. It is going to take a much more sustained effort to draw attention to these problems. Because we have short attention spans and a political class and media not responsive to the poor, truly changing the conversation to get to a place where food stamps don’t get cut to make political points on the backs of the poor is a multi-year if not multi-decade effort of very hard work.

This is really just a reasonably half-baked thought after an evening of conversation with another historian concerned about these issues. But if the conversation changed somewhat, it’s basically back to 2009.

Hurricane Season

[ 30 ] November 7, 2013 |

Well, the US avoided any hurricanes this year so maybe things are going OK in the weather world, right?

Oh dear.

Super Typhoon Haiyan hit the Philippines at 4am local time today with winds near 195 mph, making it the strongest tropical cyclone to make landfall in recorded world history, according to satellite estimates. That astounding claim will need to be verified by actual measurements at ground level, which should be collected over the coming days.

The storm (known as Yolanda in the Philippines) has officially maxed out the Dvorak scale, which is used to measure strong strength using satellites. That means Haiyan has approached the theoretical maximum intensity for any storm, anywhere. From the latest NOAA bulletin:


Put another way, the most commonly used satellite-based intensity scale just wasn’t designed to handle a storm this strong. At its peak, one real-time estimate of the storm’s intensity actually ticked slightly above the maximum to 8.1 on an 8.0 scale.

But, um, well, at least these kind of superstorms won’t become more common in a world with rising ocean temperatures. Right? Right?

Demonizing Jonathan Martin

[ 262 ] November 7, 2013 |

How the NFL and its supporters have rallied around Richie Incognito over the hazing and threatening of Jonathan Martin is both disgusting and typical. Martin is essentially being drummed out of the league. It’s really hard to see how he returns to the league. It would take the right kind of coach, the right kind of locker room, one that seemingly doesn’t exist in the violent, homophobic, misogynistic NFL. Everyone on the Dolphins supports Incognito and is blaming Martin, saying he wasn’t enough of a man to just punch Incognito in the face, which evidently is the solution to all problems. Peter King is opening his site at Sports Illustrated to a former Dolphin who is basically saying the same thing (I love the “I’m only interested in the truth” line. Ah). What’s more, everyone is saying there’s no way Incognito can be called a racist. After all he did was call his black teammate a “half-nigger,” who could call that racist! We all know that the only real racists in American society are those who support equality for blacks and who therefore are racist toward whites. And while of course no one in the NFL is tying their explanation away or half-apologies for Incognito’s racist text to the modern conservative political definition of racism, they are in fact closely related. In our society, no one is a racist. The mom who dressed her kid up as a KKK member for Halloween? She’s just continuing a family tradition. Why, I bet some of her best friends are black! There evidently are no racists anymore. The word itself has become demonized, as if it doesn’t actually describe certain behaviors and is itself a term more offensive than “half-nigger.” It’s all horrifying.

Also, given all of this, anyone think a gay NFL player is possibly going to come out? And put up with the horrors of the locker room, not to mention other teams? What would Richie Incognito do to a gay teammate? I don’t really want to know.

I love football. But I’m getting really close to limit. It is such a reprehensible institution. Nonetheless, I’m going to watch the Ducks defeat Stanford in 10 minutes. Such are the contradictions of life.

That Pro-Liberty Rand Paul

[ 129 ] November 7, 2013 |

All I hear from the brogressive crowd is that Rand Paul is a great defender of civil liberties unlike those evil Democrats. Let’s remember Julian Assange after all:

“The libertarian aspect of the Republican Party is presently the only useful political voice really in the U.S. Congress…[I] am a big admirer of Ron Paul and Rand Paul for their very principled positions in the U.S. Congress on a number of issues.”

Today, the Employment Non-Discrimination Act passed the Senate by a 64-34 vote. How did the greatest defender of civil liberties of all time in the Senate vote on banning discrimination in employment based upon sexual orientation or gender identity?

No of course
. And this after trying to tack on an amendment to create a national right to work law, giving workers the definition of true freedom–exploitation by their employers. But I’m sure Matt Stoller and Conor Friedersdorf and Glenn Greenwald and Julian Assange will still talk about Paul as the only senator willing to stand up against tyranny or something.

Making OSHA Reports Public

[ 14 ] November 7, 2013 |

Great news, with one caveat, from the Department of Labor:

The Labor Department wants companies to begin filing all workplace injury and illness reports electronically so they are available for anyone in the public to see.

The department’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration will announce the plan on Thursday as part of a proposed rule that would dramatically change the way companies file safety records, according to a person familiar with the proposal.

The person was not authorized to discuss the matter publicly and spoke anonymously.

In a description of the rule, OSHA said a new electronic reporting system would help the government, workers, researchers and the public more effectively prevent workplace accidents and illnesses. The agency said the change also supports President Barack Obama’s initiative to increase public access to government data.

The plan would apply only to companies with more than 250 employees.

While the proposal is expected to please labor and workplace safety groups, business groups are likely to oppose it. They say raw injury data can be misleading or contain sensitive information that can be misused.

Of course business will oppose it. Business has always opposed any knowledge of their callousness toward worker safety. Business has long fought giving workers the right to know the chemicals they are exposed to at the workplace, fought the right for them to see their own medical records on the job, and fought public knowledge of pollution and emissions.

So it’s great to see this proposal for this information to go online. A huge benefit to labor reporters and the general public. My only criticism is the limit of firms with 250 employees. That’s a lot of employees and this will exclude a whole lot of factories where dangerous work takes place, including most timber mills which of course is my industry of expertise. I’m not surprised that this compromise would take place and starting with 250 is a good first step, but there’s no reason that all safety violations shouldn’t be available to the public.

I Am Somebody

[ 41 ] November 7, 2013 |

Jesse Jackson on Sesame Street, 1971.

I especially like the line affirming those on welfare. Which I wish was still a relatively robust program, hey thanks Bill Clinton for making political points on the backs of the poor.

The Worst Person in the World

[ 43 ] November 7, 2013 |

Jeffery Loria.

Who may also be the worst sports owner of all time, a category that includes racist slum lord/owner of the most embarrassingly bad team in the NBA for 20 years Donald Sterling and William Clay Ford who wouldn’t fire Matt Millen for years because he was a good Christian.

Unreasonable and Unnecessary Force

[ 79 ] November 6, 2013 |

This is just terrible.

The US Border Patrol will continue using lethal force against people throwing rocks, as well as people inside vehicles—ignoring a set of recommendations from an independent review of lethal force practices at the agency.

Border Patrol Chief Mike Fisher told the Associated Press in an interview that the recommendations were “too restrictive” and that “[j]ust to say that you shouldn’t shoot at rock-throwers or vehicles for us, in our environment, was very problematic and could potentially put Border Patrol agents in danger.”

Twenty people have been killed by Border Patrol since 2010, and last year sixteen members of Congress demanded an investigation into the death of Anastasio Hernandez Rojas, an undocumented immigrant who was tased and beaten by Border Patrol agents.

Often times, people on the Mexican side of the US border will toss rocks at agents in order to create a diversion and open space in a nearby border area. The use of deadly force against people throwing rocks is an unfortunately common theme in these deaths; eight of the twenty people killed by Border Patrol since 2010 were accused of throwing rocks at agents

This is exactly the kind of scenario where Obama can unilaterally order a review of tactics along the border. This is simply unacceptable behavior on the behalf of the Border Patrol to use lethal force in areas where it is completely uncalled for. Once again, Obama’s record on immigration is not very good at all, even outside of the inability of Congress to pass immigration reform legislation. This has to stop, like yesterday.

Black Lung Follow Up

[ 22 ] November 6, 2013 |

Great news. I recently linked to the Center on Public Integrity’s excellent series on how coal miners are denied black lung benefits by Johns Hopkins doctors who always rule in favor of industry. Johns Hopkins has now suspended its black lung program and is investigating what has happened. This is excellent news for coal miners who hopefully will begin to receive their rightful compensation in the future. It’s also an example of the positive impact journalists can make in society.

What Happens When You Don’t Vaccinate

[ 79 ] November 6, 2013 |

I was reading the obituary of the recently passed lefty journalist Doug Ireland. I didn’t know he was a polio sufferer. He seems rather young for it. But then there was this:

At 10, according to a newspaper report, he was admitted to a hospital with polio, given an emergency tracheotomy and placed in an iron lung, where he was confined for at least a year, friends said in interviews. Mr. Ireland told friends that his parents were Christian Scientists who had refused to have him inoculated against the disease.

Well there you go. When you don’t vaccinate, you put your child at risk, as well as other children. You are a public health hazard.

MOOC Class on the Civil War, Taught by Daniel Day-Lewis

[ 103 ] November 6, 2013 |

Well, this is the natural progression of MOOCs and college courses as profitable entertainment:

Free online courses do big numbers these days. So-called MOOCs, or massive open online courses, typically get tens of thousands of sign-ups to watch video lectures delivered by tweedy academics, some more photogenic than others. But imagine how many students would tune in—or make it through the class without dropping out—if instead of bookish professors, Hollywood stars delivered the lessons.

That’s one idea under consideration by leaders of EdX, the nonprofit provider of MOOCs started by Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

“From what I hear, really good actors can actually teach really well,” said Anant Agarwal, CEO of EdX, who was until recently a computer-science professor at MIT. “So just imagine, maybe we get Matt Damon to teach Thévenin’s theorem,” he added, referring to a concept that Agarwal covers in a MOOC he teaches on circuits and electronics. “I think students would enjoy that more than taking it from Agarwal.”

Casting Damon in a MOOC is just an idea, for now: In meetings, officials have proposed trying one run of a course with someone like Damon, to see how it goes. But even to consider swapping in a star actor for a professor reveals how much these free online courses are becoming major media productions—ones that may radically change the traditional role of professors.

Now of course a free course that anyone can sign up for, whatever. The quality of education isn’t going to be very good anyway, in no small part because actually evaluating students is impossible. And if the goal here is to offer history courses to a broad general public of people sitting around and wanting to learn something, who cares. It’s not going to be any worse than the non-existent educational content of the History Channel. The problem is that these MOOCs want to replace traditional university education and hiring an actor to lecture off cue-cards to 75,000 people pretty much sums up how these so-called education reformers view higher education. Not only is there a complete lack of understanding about what professors actually do, there’s really no interest in actually educating people. The interest is in centering profits in the hands of the 1%, both the capitalists who run the companies and the high administrators of universities who pad their salaries and boost their careers by supposedly cutting costs on wasteful things like teaching.

In other news, Slate is impossible to parody.

Today in the Sixth Extinction

[ 12 ] November 5, 2013 |

Good times in Hawaii:

This “odd animal sighting” could be bad news for Hawaii’s native wildlife: a five-foot long boa contrictor recently ended up as roadkill along Hawaii’s Pali Highway.

The thing that makes this odd is that it should be impossible to run over a snake in Hawaii, because there aren’t supposed to be any snakes there. As an isolated archipelago, the only way for wildlife species to get to the Hawaiian Islands is to fly or swim across the Pacific Ocean.

As a result, most of Hawaii’s native wildlife are birds, insects, and marine mammals. It has taken them hundreds of thousands of years to establish populations, evolve together, and create a balanced ecosystem. There is only one non-marine mammal native to Hawaii, the Hawaiian hoary bat. It is both endemic (found no where else on the planet) and endangered. There are no native snakes in Hawaii.

This makes native Hawaiian species in this once-isolated ecosystem extremely vulnearable to species from other parts of the world, particularly predatory species such as snakes, because they have no natural defense against them.

When such invasive exotic species are introduced by human activity–which is now happening in Hawaii at a rate thousands of times faster than it would otherwise naturally–native Hawaiian animals found nowhere else on the planet start going extinct.