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Category: General

Lock Out the Kids!

[ 12 ] March 4, 2015 |

The refinery giant Tesoro has decided that it can’t allow youth baseball leagues to use the fields it owns next to its Martinez, California refinery. That’s because there are pickets at the plant due to the refinery strike. Oh, and also to protect the kids from the horrors of the outside agitator.

Oil giant Tesoro is locking out 600 youth baseball players from practicing on 15 fields located next to its refinery in Martinez, California. As part of a nationwide work stoppage involving some 7,000 workers, the Martinez workers have been on strike since Feb. 2, with regular pickets from the United Steelworkers and their allies protesting health and safety conditions.

“It’s for the safety of the kids and the parents and spectators that would have to cross picket lines,” Tesoro spokeswoman Patricia Deutsche explained to the local press. “We just don’t have to expose them to any negative interactions.”

In another interview, Deutsche specifically mentioned the threat of outside agitators from groups like Occupy, the California Nurses Association and Communities for a Better Environment, a group that works on environmental justice issues affecting low-income and minority communities.

These groups insist they pose no threat to children.

“This is a PR stunt,” said Nile Malloy, Northern California program director for Communities for a Better Environment. “It’s just really sad — like, really? … Everybody who protests is peaceful. They’re there to demonstrate solidarity with the workers, to protect the health and safety of the community, the climate.”

“Nurses are a threat to kids playing baseball?” said Charles Idelson, spokesman for the CNA. “How disgraceful [for Tesoro] to be blaming anybody else but themselves.”

“There’s just absolutely no way we’d picket a Little League field,” Scott told the Vallejo Times-Herald.

Tesoro spokeswoman Tina Barbee told International Business Times “there have been reports of strike-related incidents deemed to be unsafe at the gates of our refinery and in the areas near the facility’s ballfields.” But when asked for more information about the “strike-related incidents,” Barbee said she did not “have additional details to share.”

That is pretty pathetic. I guess it is an attempt to turn the community against the strike, but that is lame.

The Secret Talks

[ 10 ] March 4, 2015 |

The secrecy revolving around the Trans-Pacific Partnership continues to disturb those who are interested in fair trade. Noting that this agreement isn’t really even about American exports since the world is already basically fully globalized already, Robert Reich and Richard Trumka express their concerns over the TPP’s secrecy.

In the first three decades after World War II, “free trade” meant other countries opening their borders to American-made products, and the U.S. opening its borders to their goods. The United States chose free trade, and it worked. Living standards rose here and abroad. Jobs were created to take the place of jobs that were lost. Worldwide demand for products made by American workers grew and helped push up U.S. wages.

But American corporations have gone global, and in recent decades the payoffs from trade agreements have mainly gone to those at the top. Now they make many of their products overseas and ship them back to the United States. Recent trade agreements have protected their intellectual property abroad — patents, trademarks and copyrights — along with their overseas factories, equipment and financial assets.

But those deals haven’t protected the incomes of most Americans, whose jobs have been outsourced abroad and whose wages have gone nowhere.

As for the problems with the TPP? What’s been leaked about its proposals reveals, for example, that the pharmaceutical industry would get stronger patent protections, delaying cheaper generic versions of drugs.

Also, in Out of Sight, I argue for international trade law that empowers workers to sue employers in the country of corporate origin. I fully expect some to say that is a ridiculous and unworkable idea. But the TPP would guarantee something similar to this, except strictly to benefit corporations:

The deal also gives global corporations an international tribunal of private attorneys, outside any nation’s legal system, that can order compensation for lost expected profits resulting from a nation’s regulations, including our own. These extraordinary rights for corporations put governments on the defensive over legitimate public health or environmental rules.

The TPP would go far to override international law. Now, I doubt the Vietnamese could realistically attack the U.S. for its environmental legislation. After all, these trade deals do not leave all nations on an equal playing field. More likely is that American corporations go after the environmental and labor laws of the poorer nations. Either way, this is a horrible principle that continues what international trade law has done for a half-century–allow corporations to evade regulatory statues and laws that allow people to live a dignified life.

At the very least, shouldn’t Congress have the right to debate this treaty as it moves forward? I believe Obama is, frankly, completely deluded when he thinks the TPP will counter Chinese influence in the Pacific and it certainly isn’t worth risking American environmental and labor law over. There is no reason to give him fast track authority. This needs to be a public process. Right now, the TPP is as opaque as any corporate executive could desire. That is a very bad thing.

Previewing Two Years of Journalistic Excellence in Election Coverage

[ 17 ] March 4, 2015 |

Did Rand Paul clap loudly enough for Netanyahu’s speech? That’s what Jen Rubin wants to know at the beginning of an election cycle that is sure sure to be filled with hard-hitting two years of journalistic excellence. The Republican primaries are sure to be filled with such important points as who can scream loudest at Democrats and who can genuflect enough to Likud. But it’s not like coverage of the Democrats is going to be any better, as the e-mail “scandal,” which no doubt contains Hillary’s admission of personally murdering Vince Foster, shows.

For King v. Burwell Day

[ 149 ] March 4, 2015 |

I have an explainer about the case up at Gawker.  (Immense credit to them for the awesome graphic at the top.)  For the record, without benefit of oral argument I remained a pessimist:

To oversimplify, the political science literature on judicial behavior suggests that the votes of Supreme Court justices in politically controversial cases tend to be largely determined by the policy views of the justices. When it comes to predicting close cases, however, that “largely” can be confounding, since the justices with the median votes in a given case tend to have the least predictable views. Assuming that all of the Democratic nominees would have voted for the ACA and all of the Republican nominees would have voted against it if they were members of Congress, the “attitudinal model” got 8 of the 9 votes in the last ACA case right–and Pete Carroll was having a great postseason until his last offensive play.

As Ian Millhiser explains, the majority of the Court’s votes can be predicted with near-absolute certainty: the four Democratic nominees will vote with the government, and Justice Alito is “more likely to be struck by lightning while committing in-person voter fraud” than to vote to uphold the IRS regulation. I would put Thomas and Scalia in the latter group as well, and given Kennedy’s hostility to the ACA he’s only marginally more likely to side with the government.

So this case essentially comes down to the Chief Justice. If I was one of those compulsive types who just has to bet, I would say that Roberts is more likely than not to side with the troofers. If you bet that justices will follow their political views, you won’t always be right but the odds are in your favor. But that’s really just a guess, since his vote will depend on factors – how strongly he substantively he opposes the ACA, how he perceives how a particular decision will affect the legacy of his Court, etc. – that are unknowable to outsiders.

[…]

If you want to allow yourself any optimism about how Roberts will vote, the horrible consequences of the Court siding with the challengers could be a factor. Republicans, certainly, are going out of their way to reassure the Court that denying the subsidies to federally established exchanges is no big deal. The funniest and most pathetic example of this was seen earlier this week, as House Republicans demanded that Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Burwell explain her top-secret plan to magically stop all of the bad effects should the latest Republican challenge to the ACA succeed. In related news, House Republicans plan to steal Burwell’s car and then demand to know her strategy for getting them off if they crash it into a school bus after a 7-martini lunch.

Initial reports from oral arguments suggest that I may have been a tad too pessimistic; in particular, the federalism argument seemed to have substantial appeal to Kennedy. I’ll have more when I have a chance to read the transcript.

How law schools priced themselves out of the higher education market

[ 19 ] March 4, 2015 |

canary

‘How did you go bankrupt?’ Bill asked.
‘Two ways,’ Mike said. ‘Gradually and then suddenly.’

— The Sun Also Rises —

Over the past half century, higher education in America has been a spectacularly successful growth industry. At the beginning of the 1960s about 400,000 people were graduating each year with four-year degrees: by 1970, the demographics of the baby boom and the passage of the original Higher Education Act had combined to more than double that figure.

Despite the baby bust (there were fewer 18-23 year-olds in the US in the late 1990s than there had been 30 years earlier), enrollments and graduation totals grew slowly but steadily between the early 1970s and the late 1990s, and then began to zoom upwards again about 15 years ago: annual college graduation totals increased by 56% between 1998 and 2014. American colleges and universities currently produce nearly twice as many bachelor degrees annually as they did forty years ago, and about four times as many as they did 50 years ago. (The traditional college-age population cohort is only about 10% larger than it was in 1974).

Still, there may be storm clouds on the horizon. Read more…

Radio Silence

[ 100 ] March 4, 2015 |

still-of-kevin-costner-and-wayne-knight-in-jfk-(1991)-large-pictureAbove: Michael Carvin prepares for oral arguments. Jonathan Gruber was spotted on the grassy knoll.

Today is oral arguments day in King v. Burwell.  My question: is there any good reason why they’re not streamed live, rather than being held until Friday?  I know I have a professional self-interest here, but when a literal life-or-death matter is before the nation’s highest tribunal it seems as if the public should be able to listen in real time.

I also don’t think there are any good arguments against televising Supreme Court proceedings, but baby steps.

While you wait for the transcript to go up, if you’re into that kind of thing, Beutler is excellent once again:

As exercises in bad faith go, Barnett’s double standard is trivial, perhaps even unintentional. By contrast, the crucial elements of the King casethe political theatrics, the enlistment of plaintiffs, the historical revisions, the legal arguments themselvesare all breathtaking in their duplicity. The current challenge offends the sensibilities of its detractors more than the constitutional challenge that nearly voided the law three years ago, because the law’s opponents have enlisted such indefensible tactics. And the horrible thing about it is, they might very well succeed.

[…]

You have to be delusional or dishonest to claim that Congress imposed a huge condition on the subsidies, or that we can’t know what Congress was trying to accomplish. Yet a swing justice could decide that “by the State” does not equate to “by the federal government on behalf of the State”to ignore the fuller contextand thus that the law doesn’t do what Congress wanted when Congress wrote it. That would be a huge coup for diction scolds and people who get angry at the thought of poor people going to the doctor. It would also reflect a conscious decision to ignore the clarity of the law’s purpose. If that’s the thin reed on which the Supreme Court interprets Obamacare, in defiance of the democratic process that brought it into existence, something will have gone very, very wrong.

…my longer preview piece is up here.  

Today In Post-Racial America

[ 24 ] March 4, 2015 |

Who would have thunk it?

The Justice Department will issue findings Wednesday that accuse the police department in Ferguson, Mo., of racial bias and routinely violating the constitutional rights of black citizens by stopping drivers without reasonable suspicion, making arrests without probable cause and using excessive force, officials said.

[…]

The findings come as Justice Department officials negotiate a settlement with the police department to change its practices. If they are unable to reach an agreement, the Justice Department could bring a lawsuit, as it has done against law enforcement agencies in other jurisdictions in recent years. A U.S. official said that Ferguson officials have been cooperating.

As part of its findings, the Justice Department concluded that African Americans accounted for 85 percent of all drivers stopped by Ferguson police officers and 90 percent of all citations issued.

The Justice Department also plans to release evidence this week of racial bias found in e-mails written by Ferguson police and municipal court officials. A November 2008 e-mail, for instance, stated that President Obama could not be president for very long because “what black man holds a steady job for four years.”

As I said in November, real federal supervision of this department is very much necessary.

An Attica Horror Story

[ 30 ] March 3, 2015 |

A horrible atrocity:

Mr. Williams was wondering why a sergeant would be doing the grunt work of conducting an impromptu drug test when, he said, a fist hammered him hard on the right side of his rib cage. He doubled up, collapsing to the floor. More blows rained down. Mr. Williams tried to curl up to protect himself from the pummeling of batons, fists and kicks. Someone jumped on his ankle. He screamed in pain. He opened his eyes to see a guard aiming a kick at his head, as though punting a football. I’m going to die here, he thought.

Inmates in cells across from the dayroom watched the attack, among them a convict named Charles Bisesi, 67, who saw Mr. Williams pitched face-first onto the floor. He saw guards kick Mr. Williams in the head and face, and strike him with their heavy wooden batons. Mr. Bisesi estimated that Mr. Williams had been kicked up to 50 times, and struck with a dozen more blows from nightsticks, thwacks delivered with such force that Mr. Bisesi could hear the thud as wood hit flesh. He also heard Mr. Williams begging for his life, cries loud enough that prisoners two floors below heard them as well.

A couple of minutes after the beating began, one of the guards loudly rapped his baton on the floor. At the signal, more guards rushed upstairs and into the dayroom. Witnesses differed on the number. Some said that as many as 12 officers had plunged into the scrum. Others recalled seeing two or three. All agreed that when they were finished, Mr. Williams could not walk.

[…]

After the beating ended, an inmate who was across from the dayroom, Maurice Mayfield, watched as an officer stepped on a plastic safety razor and pried out the blade. “We got the weapon,” Mr. Mayfield heard the guard yell.

Mr. Williams was handcuffed and pulled to the top of a staircase. “Walk down or we’ll push you down,” he heard someone say. He could not walk, he answered. His ankle was broken. As he spoke, he was shoved from behind. He plunged down the stairs, crashing onto his shoulder at the bottom. When guards picked him up again, he said, one of them grabbed his head and smashed his face into the wall. He was left there, staring at the splatter of his own blood on the wall in front of him.

That’s an excerpt from an essential piece of investigative reporting that will absolutely reward your attention.

The officers responsible have agreed to a plea bargain that can’t be called justice:

Three guards accused of beating an inmate at the Attica Correctional Facility so severely that doctors had to insert a plate and six pins into his leg, each pleaded guilty here on Monday to a single misdemeanor charge of misconduct. The last-minute plea deal spared them any jail time in exchange for quitting their jobs.

And, yet, as the first story makes clear, the surprise is not that the sanctions are so light but that they were prosecuted at all. The system is completely broken.

I assume most of you are aware of Attica’s history. I can’t wait for Heather Thompson’s forthcoming book on the 1971 uprising and its aftermath to come out, but here’s a good summary of the cover-up of the crimes committed by the guards.

Today in the World’s Most Farcical Legislative Body

[ 59 ] March 3, 2015 |

filepicker_FZLKRu3aTQujSPegOvqg_clown_car

House Republicans reiterate their demands for the administration’s TOP-SECRET PLAN to mitigate the damage should the judicial arm of the Republican Party decide to wreck a majority of the country’s health insurance exchanges:

A Republican House subcommittee chairman is accusing the Obama administration of secretly preparing a fallback strategy if the Supreme Court strikes down a major piece of its healthcare reform law later this year, even as officials publicly maintain that no plan exists.

Rep. Joe Pitts (R-Pa.), chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Health Subcommittee, says federal officials are hiding a roughly 100-page document on the looming court case. The case, King v. Burwell, could cut off ObamaCare subsidies in three-quarters of states and potentially collapse the national marketplace.

Pitts confronted the head of the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) about the plan, which he says is being circulated among senior officials, for the first time on Wednesday.

HHS Secretary Sylvia Mathews Burwell said she does not know of a planning document.

“This is a document I’m not aware of,” she said in response to Pitts’s questions, before moving on to outlining the negative affects of a ruling against the law. 

”We believe we do not have any administrative actions,” she reiterated.

Rep. Joe Barton (R-Texas) pressed Burwell further.

“I take you at your word that you haven’t seen the plan, but don’t you think it’s prudent that there should be a plan?” he said. “I hope I don’t have a primary opponent, I hope I don’t have a general election opponent, but I have a plan in case I do.”

Burwell held her line.

“We don’t have an administrative action that we could take so the question of having a plan, we don’t have any administrative action that we believe could undo the damage,” Burwell replied.

“The administration is just going to hold up your hands and say we surrender?” Barton added.

“We believe the law as it stands is how it should be implemented,” Burwell replied.

Rep. Leonard Lance (R-N.J.) repeatedly also pressed Burwell on whether she knew of the planning document. Burwell did not categorically deny its existence, saying only that she does not know of it.

“If there is this document, and you know it, I would certainly like to know about a document, because I don’t have knowledge of a 100-page document,” Burwell said.

When Burwell again dove into the negative affects of a Supreme Court ruling against the law, Lance interrupted, “That’s filibustering.”

“I’m not familiar with the document you’re referring to,” Burwell replied.

Democratic Rep. Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.) came to Burwell’s defense, noting that Republicans are supporting the high court challenge.

“It’s somewhat ironic that my Republican friends are demanding that the administration fix problems that they themselves created,” Engel said.

It should be noted that this TOP-SECRET 100 PAGE DOCUMENT also contains THE NAME OF EVERY COMMUNIST IN THE STATE DEPARTMENT RESPONSIBLE FOR BENGHAZI! and RICHARD NIXON’S SECRET PLAN TO END THE VIETNAM WAR and A FULL TRANSCRIPT OF MICHELLE OBAMA’S WHITEY TAPE.

In fairness, the idea that House Republicans would have their own contingency plan is even more ridiculous than this, so why not.

 

India’s Carrier Conundrum

[ 53 ] March 3, 2015 |
INS Vikramaditya in Baltic Sea.jpg

“INS Vikramaditya in Baltic Sea” by Indian Navy. Licensed under CC BY 2.5 in via Wikimedia Commons.

Some more thoughts on India’s nascent carrier fleet over at the Diplomat:

Reports have emerged that India’s second indigenously built carrier, expected to be the third carrier to enter service in the next two decades, may utilize nuclear propulsion. This is alongside a set of other innovations that the Vishal might adopt, including EMALS catapult technology (possibly developed in association with the United States). India has taken strides on nuclear propulsion recently, with the launch of INS Arihant, its first domestically constructed nuclear submarine.

Why would India need a nuclear powered aircraft carrier?

Tuesday Creature Feature Links: Crocodilians and Anti-Suffragettes and Polar Bears–Oh My!

[ 55 ] March 3, 2015 |

Not looking forward to 19 more months of this

[ 139 ] March 3, 2015 |

Hillary Clinton running for president is going to be nothing but wall to wall fake “scandals,” since expecting even-the-liberal-media to react any differently is equivalent to expecting a classic rock station not to play Stairway to Heaven ever again.

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