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Category: General

The Whitest Protest Movement in Global History

[ 70 ] October 8, 2015 |


People who need to reconsider their priorities:

It’s nothing personal, says Ben Ewen-Campen, he just doesn’t think French impressionist Pierre-Auguste Renoir is much of a painter. Monday, the Harvard postdoc joined some like-minded aesthetes for a playful protest outside the Museum of Fine Arts. The rally, which mostly bewildered passersby, was organized by Max Geller, creator of the Instagram account Renoir Sucks at Painting, who wants the MFA to take its Renoirs off the walls and replace them with something better. Holding homemade signs reading “God Hates Renoir” and “Treacle Harms Society,” the protesters ate cheese pizza purchased by Geller, and chanted: “Put some fingers on those hands! Give us work by Paul Gauguin !” and “Other art is worth your while! Renoir paints a steaming pile!” Craig Ronan, an artist from Somerville, learned about the protest on Instagram and decided to join. “I don’t have any relationship with these people aside from wanting artistic justice,” he said. The museum hasn’t commented on the fledgling movement, but a few folks walking by Monday seemed amused. “I love their sense of irony,” said Liz Byrd, a grandmother from Phoenix who spent the morning in the museum with her daughter and grandchild. “I love Renoir, but I think this is great.

On first glance, this is just stupid. But on second, it’s actually pretty offensive because it lampoons those who actually care about social change, trivalizing actual issues, whether one is on the left or right. And I guess that’s fine if they want to–it’s a free country if you are a rich, white, heterosexual male–but these people probably laugh at real protesters and find them worth mocking.

Also, regardless of the merits of the art, Renoir fathered Jean Renoir and anything that led to Rules of the Game cannot be bad.


Environmental News and Notes

[ 24 ] October 8, 2015 |


A bunch of smaller stories on environmental issues that deserve some attention:

1) With buildings collapsing in Oklahoma from the plethora of earthquakes caused by fracking, maybe someone in the state will make the connection and suggest that we need to research these earthquakes before going ahead with the procedure? Probably not.

2) I get that this essay about runners racing on the Grand Canyon trail and throwing their energy packs and water bottles on the trail and defecating around the trail has more than a little bit of the “kids get off my lawn” feel. But the issue is real enough. Are public lands designed for the kind of endurance racing, record setting, and extreme sports that a growing number of people love, even though they can cause real damage and degradation of the land? Or are they for a gentler use? Do societal norms exist on the trail or is it a dog-eat-dog world of extreme individualism? Naturally enough, these questions reflect trends in larger society, as do the sports of choice themselves.

3) Texas water use is totally sustainable. Just keep piping that water to new suburban developments.

4) I’m not sure what Gregg Easterbrook is thinking here. He’s right that we need new environmental legislation to deal with greenhouse gases. But he’s hopelessly muddled in how he thinks that’s going to happen:

But there is a compromise the political world has missed: The Democratic presidential contenders endorse the Keystone pipeline, in return for the Republican presidential contenders’ backing the E.P.A.’s effort to reduce carbon emissions from power plants.

This is a classic compromise in which each side gives something and gets something. The pipeline would help ensure American petroleum security; activists of the left should drop the silly pretense that Keystone is some kind of doomsday device. Carbon restrictions on power plants absolutely must come, and are likely to be good for everyone; activists of the right should stop fighting the future.

If the presidential contenders could shake hands on this compromise — even if any pair of two did so — the nation would benefit, and the stage might be set for constructive revisions of environmental laws following the 2016 election. Peace needs to break out on environmental protection. The presidential contenders can prove they are leaders by taking the first step.

This is super dumb. Even if we accept his Keystone argument (and doing so underplays the symbolic importance of it to popular conceptions of environmentalism; given the role of consumers and citizens in shaping American environmental policy over the last 60 years, one must take it into consideration), in what alternative universe does the Republican Party of 2016 agree to this? They are on a race to the intellectual bottom in denying climate change and hating the EPA. Such an agreement assumes that rational politics would not torpedo a given Republican’s chance to win the nomination. “Activists of the right should stop fighting the future.” Oh, OK. Because clearly the environment is the ONLY issue in which they are doing that.

Pesticide Protections for Farmworkers

[ 7 ] October 8, 2015 |


One of the most important and underreported stories over the last few weeks was the EPA setting new pesticide protections for farmworkers.

The new rules, announced by EPA administrator Gina McCarthy, Labor Secretary Thomas Perez, and United Farm Workers (UFW) president Arturo Rodriguez, include the following stipulations:

All pesticide applicators will be required to be at least 18 years old, rather than 16;

Whistleblower protections, including for undocumented workers, must be implemented so that farm laborers can safely file complaints over workplace abuse;

Workers or their representatives must be allowed easy access to records involving hazardous chemical exposure.

These are the first new regulations designed to promote farmworker safety since 1992. One reason for that is that the new pesticides developed to protect consumers from pesticide poisoning strike hard and fast, but don’t persist. That means that their entire human impact is on the farmworkers, but consumers were safe. That basically ended the pesticide exposure movement among foodies (the organic movement is different but related, but both focus almost entirely on consumers) and left farmworkers high and dry as far as effective allies go for protecting them from pesticides. We’ll see how effective they are; my guess is an improvement but a lot of workers will still get sick.

Agribusiness is of course furious, with all the expected stated reasons being used to hide the real reason, which is that they don’t mind killing farmworkers if it increases their profits.

I’ll also note how the United Farm Workers, despite being a non-entity among unions and that includes those actually organizing farmworkers, remains the historical touchstone that centers them in narratives of farmworker protection in the present as well. If I was an organizer for the Farm Labor Organizing Committee or Coalition of Immokalee Workers, this might annoy me.

Thou Shalt Not Undermine BENGHAZI, The Greatest Scandal There Absolutely Ever Was With the Possible Exception of Steroids

[ 154 ] October 8, 2015 |

Film The Simpsons


Representative Kevin McCarthy on Thursday abruptly took himself out of the race to succeed John A. Boehner as House speaker, apparently undone by the same forces that drove Mr. Boehner to resign.

Mr. McCarthy’s candidacy was damaged when he suggested in an interview on Fox News last week that the House committee investigating Benghazi had the political aim of damaging Hillary Rodham Clinton’s presidential campaign.

As shocked members left the room there was a sense of total disarray, with no clear path forward and no set date for a new vote. Representative Peter King, Republican of New York, said that in dropping out of race, Mr. McCarthy told the room, “I’m not the one to unify the party.”

It’s a real mystery why nobody wants the job of driving this particular clown car.

Today In GOP Outreach to Women

[ 56 ] October 8, 2015 |


Remember the all-too-characteristically atrocious opening scene of The Newsroom in which the heroic newsman proves his genius with a rant from his trite nostalgia file directed against a strawman “sorority girl”? Perhaps John Kasich is using it as a model:

My hand was raised, my body half-way out of my back-row seat, when Gov. John Kasich finally acknowledged me.

“I’m sorry, I don’t have any Taylor Swift concert tickets,” he said, his eyes meeting mine.

The older members of the audience chuckled as my friends’ jaws dropped to the floor. It was astonishingly clear that Gov. Kasich did not come to Richmond for my vote.


What continues to strike me is the hypocrisy of his condescension. He touted his ambitious energy as an 18-year-old man, but as soon as I, an 18-year-old woman, exhibited ambition, I became the target of his joke. The same passion that drove Kasich to speak with President Nixon drove me to ask the candidate a question I care deeply about. In a way, I was taking the governor’s advice: “Always ask.”

What a card! Hey, all those arbitrarily disenfranchised voters probably just want to use the voting booths to listen to hippty-hop music anyway.

[People who think that I’m being unfair to Sorkin can view the scene here. You’ll be sorry. I especially admire Sorkin for the classic tell: his male heroes who derie the superficiality of feminine hobbies and interests never fail to note that they’re sports fans. But, in fairness, there was that Olivia Munn character with 42 PhDs.]

MRA Primer Podcast

[ 80 ] October 8, 2015 |


Majority Report recently did a show on Men’s Rights Activists, starring our beloved David Futrelle. It’s a really interesting conversation, covering important topics like how manosphere lingo is making its way into “mainstream” conservative lingo and how white supremacy movements have become increasingly intertwined with the various MRA-sympathetic groups. Listen!

Brave, Brave Sir Ben

[ 110 ] October 8, 2015 |


Shorter Ben Carson: “Once, I had someone point a gun at me at Popeye’s. I had the courage to tell him it was OK to shoot the cashier as long as he spared me. This proves we don’t need gun control laws.”

More on Carson’s retrospective armchair courage here.

Nobody Could Have Etc.

[ 120 ] October 8, 2015 |

In breaking news, drug testing welfare recipients is about attacking their privacy and dignity, not about saving money:

Tennessee’s first year of drug testing welfare recipients uncovered drug use by less than 0.2 percent of all applicants for the state’s public assistance system.

The state implemented the testing regime in the summer of 2014, adding three questions about narcotics use to the application form for aid. Anyone who answers “yes” to any of the three drug questions must take a urine test or have their application thrown away immediately. Anyone who fails a urine test must complete drug treatment and pass a second test, or have their benefits cut off for six months.

In total, just 1.6 percent of the 28,559 people who applied for Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) benefits in the first year of testing answered one of the three screening questions positively. Out of the 468 people who peed in a state-funded cup, 11.7 percent flunked the test.

With 55 people testing positive for drugs out of an applicant pool of nearly 30,000, Tennessee’s testing system uncovered that a whopping 0.19 percent of those who applied for aid were drug users. Ultimately, 32 applicants were denied benefits for failing to complete the state’s mandatory drug rehab process for those who test positive.

Tennessee officials say the year of testing cost $11,000, or $200 per failed drug test. But that only accounts for what the state paid to the outside vendor who conducted the actual tests, excluding staff hours that went into processing the new application materials and managing the logistics of testing those who gave an affirmative answer to a screening question.

Seven states that drug test welfare recipients have now spent about $1 million on the tests, according to previous ThinkProgress research. Each state has found drug usage rates among welfare applicants to be far below the national average of 9.4 percent for all Americans.

This Hour’s Idiotic Republican Presidential Candidate Argument

[ 231 ] October 7, 2015 |


Carly Fiorina claims that her B.A. in medieval history she received nearly 40 years ago gives her qualifications to fight ISIS. Yeah, no. Medieval historian David Perry with the smackdown:

As a medievalist, I believe that we need to study the past in order to respond to the present, but we must learn the right things. Isis is, undoubtedly, inspired by medieval and pre-medieval Islamic ideas about power, purity and what they believe to be the “true nature of Islam.” Medieval Islam, like all religions, contained many different types of ideas and practices. Some were comparatively tolerant and open to innovation and differences; others were more restrictive. I argue, as the president did in February, that you can look into the history of any religion and find examples of both the best and worst of humanity within it, then draw inspiration as you see fit.

It’s vital to recognize, though, as John Terry writes in Slate, that the viciousness of Isis emerges from its modernity, not its artificial links to the past. Terry writes: “Isis is not re-enacting the seventh-century Arab conquests, even though some among its ranks may think they are. They’re nostalgic for a make-believe past, and those among them who know plenty about Islam’s first decades have conveniently revised medieval history to fit modern ideological needs.”

Isis depends on modernity. Their growth was made possible by modern wars – from the division of the Middle East post-World War I to the most recent wars in Iraq and Syria. It’s only in this ultra-modern context that a group like Isis could grow and flourish. They expertly deploy modern technology to recruit and communicate. Some of their recruits even purchased Islam for Dummies before trying to head to the war zone. Now there’s an ultra-modern “fake it until you make it” mentality.

If Carly Fiorina really wants to draw on the Middle Ages for inspiration, I do have some suggestions. Lesson one: support universities, scholars, writers and artists, as their contributions outlive us all. Lesson two: peasants, oppressed for too long, always rebel. Lesson three: don’t go to war in the Middle East without a good exit plan.

In other words, “medieval” is just an incorrect word to describe policies we find distasteful, not only is no one qualified to lead the United States because they have a particular degree but Fiorina is especially unqualified because she misunderstands ISIS and what period of history created them, and third, Fiorina, like the Bush administration and all the other Republican presidential candidates not only doesn’t understand Islam but doesn’t want to understand it because said understanding would create complexity and get in the way of bombing the savages and making Americans feel awesome about themselves through war against unworthies. Meanwhile, actual medieval Islam was saving the knowledge of the Greeks from the illiterate, warlike, and brutal European tribes marauding through Rome.

The Left, Politics, and the Democratic Party

[ 162 ] October 7, 2015 |


Dissent’s new issue is titled “Arguments on the Left” and pairs authors together to argue a point. One of the questions is the relationship of the left to the Democratic Party. This is a case however where both sides are essentially correct because they aren’t really arguing with each other. First, Michael Kazin argues that the left must also be Democrats:

It would be wonderful to belong to and vote for a party that stood unambiguously for democratic socialist principles, articulated them to diverse constituencies in fresh and thrilling ways, and had the ability to compete for every office from mayor to legislator to governor to senator to president. But not many Americans speak Norwegian.

In the United States, there are innumerable obstacles to starting and sustaining a serious new party on the left: the electoral laws work against it, most of the media would ignore it, the expenses of building the infrastructure are prohibitive, and the constituency for such a party doesn’t currently exist. A majority of Americans do say they would like to have a third party to vote for. But at least as many of those people stand on the right as on the left, and many others just despise “politics as usual” and seldom, if ever, vote. In the meantime, a tiny, existing left-wing party can run a famous individual for president who manages to win enough votes to tip a critical state to the Republican nominee. In 2000, if just one percent of the 97,488 Floridians who voted for Ralph Nader had, instead, chosen Al Gore, George W. Bush would have remained in Texas. And the United States would probably not have invaded Iraq in 2003. Bernie Sanders knows all this—which is why he decided to run for president as a Democrat.

For Americans on the left, whether to vote and canvass for Democrats, and perhaps run for office as one, ought not to be a matter of principle. It’s a pragmatic question: can one do more to make the United States a more just and humane society and help people in other societies by working inside, as well as outside, the party, or by ignoring or denouncing it? Of course, leftists in the United States should continue to do what they have always done: stage protests, build movements, educate people, lobby politicians, and create institutions that try to improve the lives of the people whom they serve. But political parties are essential to a healthy democracy. And right now, the Democrats are the only party we have.

Right. There is no question that any serious discussion of how left-leaning change will happen must include running through the Democratic Party. There are no third-party alternatives in the United States, moreover THERE NEVER HAS BEEN. Third parties at best can be advocacy groups to promote a cause that eventually gets taken up by one or both of the two dominant parties. But it’s usually an awfully ineffective way to raise the issue because the amount of work it takes to build the party detracts from working on the actual issue. The only possible exception is the Populists, but as I have stated many times before, the Populists only gained traction in states that did not have a functional second party and totally failed in any state that was competitive. And then when it did try to go national, it was easily co-opted by the Democrats and completely collapsed. This one example, 120 years ago, is the best example third party activists have. So that’s not good.

But at the same time, it’s not like all leftist activity should go through the Democratic Party. That would also be a terrible idea. Tons of organizing needs to happen on every issue outside the 2-party system in hopes that the necessary policy changes to enact those agendas becomes part of the legislative conversation. David Marcus:

It has often been said that citizen activism alone is not enough—that real political action begins after the street marches and sit-ins. This is when the tough and necessary compromises of politics happen, the so-called “sausage making” required to turn a movement’s demands into policies and legislation. And the point is well taken. In a liberal democracy, elected representatives will almost always be the main agents of social change and the democratic left—no matter how committed it is to a citizen politics—will never entirely be released from its obligation to engage with the Democratic Party.

But the left’s strength, and its power, will always lie outside formal politics. From the abolitionists and the suffragists to the civil rights and antiwar movements of the 1960s, our advantage has always been the result of our outsider status. By working outside formal bodies of power, we can demand what appears to be impossible to those within; our acts of organized dissent—our pressure and publicity campaigns—can insist on a set of political alternatives. Michael Harrington was right to see the democratic left as a core element of the “left wing of the possible,” those working within the Democratic Party to help elect and empower its liberal and progressive factions. But we must also remain just left of the possible, reminding those in power not only of what is achievable within the limits of the political system but what ought to be achievable.

This is a politics of protest and public persuasion, the work of citizen activists and amateur politicians organizing and persuading neighbors and co-workers. It will almost certainly take too many evenings, as Oscar Wilde once complained. But this is also the steady work that has always been the purview of a left committed to democratic opposition. “Socialism is done from below,” a Cuban activist recently told one of our writers. Our hope is that one day it will also trickle up.

That’s fine too. In fact, I don’t even think they really disagree. Kazin doesn’t say to avoid non-party politics and Marcus doesn’t seem to support pointless third party runs. Rather, he’s saying that organizing should take place on the ground and in the streets. Which is absolutely correct. Labor should work to elect Democrats but it should also promote grassroots activism outside the political realm, like the Fight for $15. Environmentalists should work to promote Obama’s EPA coal-fired power plant restrictions and get arrested over the Keystone XL Pipeline. Etc. There’s plenty of room to create change both inside and outside the Democratic Party. What I hope we can unite around is that third parties are a pointless waste of time and resources that rarely if ever serve a good for anyone. But as for outside or inside the political system, both please.

Biden and Reproductive Freedom

[ 95 ] October 7, 2015 |
20 Sep 1991, Washington, DC, USA --- Senator Joseph Biden holds up the book Order and Law by Charles Fried during the Clarence Thomas hearings. --- Image by © Wally McNamee/CORBIS

20 Sep 1991, Washington, DC, USA — Senator Joseph Biden holds up the book Order and Law by Charles Fried during the Clarence Thomas hearings. — Image by © Wally McNamee/CORBIS

I have argued that dreams of a Biden run for the presidency only have a couple of minor problems, such as that he’s plainly a much worse candidate than Clinton and there isn’t a dime’s worth of difference between them on policy. On the latter point, I was being unfair to Clinton:

It’s no secret that Biden is personally a pro-life Catholic. He takes what he believes is a “middle-of-the-road” position on abortion law, as he wrote in his 2007 campaign memoir, Promises to Keep: “I still vote against partial-birth abortion and federal funding, and I’d like to find ways to make it easier for scared young mothers to choose not to have an abortion, but I will also vote against a constitutional amendment that strips a women of her right to make her own choice.” That, at least, was an improvement from 1982, when, as a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, he did vote for a constitutional amendment to overturn Roe v. Wade.

In 2012, the National Right to Life Committee compiled a report on Biden’s anti-abortion voting record that was intended to highlight what it called Obama’s “extreme pro-abortion positions.” The documentation in the dossier is solid. There is a scan, for example, of a 1994 letter that Biden sent to a Delaware constituent who was concerned that abortion funding would be included in health care reform. “I will continue to abide by the same principle that has guided me throughout my 21 years in the Senate: those of us who are opposed to abortion should not be compelled to pay for them. As you may know, I have consistently – on no fewer than 50 occasions – voted against federal funding of abortions.”

It must be said in Biden’s defense that Roe would have been overruled had Robert Bork not been defeated, a defeat Biden played a major role in. It must also be said that he seemed cowed by the remarkably successful Republican effort to argue that accurately characterizing Robert Bork’s views was the greatest breach of civility in the history of American political discourse, and his subsequent handling of the Thomas hearings was a disaster for women on every possible level.

Would Biden being worse on reproductive freedom than Clinton as an occupant? Possibly not, although I’m not sure if I would trust him to veto clever anti-abortion legislation that got passed by a Republican Congress like Bill Clinton did. Is there any reason to think he’s a better choice for the Democratic nomination than Hillary Clinton? No.

Among the Most Pathetic of the Worst

[ 175 ] October 7, 2015 |


Lindsey Graham, who has managed the impressive feat of being a nonentity even by the standards of 2016 Republican presidential candidates, is an asshole:

Lindsey Graham is asking for federal aid for his home state of South Carolina as it battles raging floods, but he voted to oppose similar help for New Jersey in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy in 2013.


Graham was among the Republican senators who opposed a federal aid package in January 2013 to assist states hit by Hurricane Sandy, but now he doesn’t remember why.

“I’m all for helping the people in New Jersey. I don’t really remember me voting that way,” Graham said.

But lots of primary voters hate me, so I must be a moderate!

Anyway, fellow also-sorta-ran Bobby Jindal is not about to be out-assholed by anyone:

In a lengthy blog post published on his presidential campaign website Tuesday, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal (R) claimed the father of Oregon gunman Chris Harper Mercer was a “complete failure” and demanded that he apologize for the shooting.

In the blog post — titled “We fill Our Culture With Garbage, And We Reap The Result” — Jindal blamed the prevalence of mass shootings in America on “deep and serious cultural decay in our society,” jumping from a condemnation of violence in media and a reference to abortion to a discussion of the reported absence of the father of the Harper Mercer in the young man’s life.

“This killer’s father is now lecturing us on the need for gun control and he says he has no idea how or where his son got the guns,” Jindal wrote. “Of course he doesn’t know. You know why he doesn’t know? Because he is not, and has never been in his son’s life. He’s a complete failure as a father, he should be embarrassed to even show his face in public. He’s the problem here.”

It’s amazing how the United States has vastly worse parents and worse culture than any other liberal democracy, even if the parenting and culture situations are much better than they used to be. At any rate, you can be sure policy has nothing to do with it.

…Ben Carson, Retrospective Armchair Warrior (TM), makes a strong entry:

GOP presidential candidate Ben Carson implied Tuesday that the Oregon shooting victims didn’t do enough to save themselves, and that if he himself had been there, he would have been more aggressive in confronting the attacker.

“I would not just stand there and let him shoot me,” Carson said on “Fox & Friends,” as seen in the clip above. “I would say, ‘Hey, guys, everybody attack him. He may shoot me, but he can’t get us all.'”

It’s amazing how easy it is to be courageous thousands of miles away from and several days after the shootings. At least he didn’t politicize them!

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