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Category: General

Climate and Empire

[ 14 ] February 10, 2016 |


The question about climate change and empire is sadly ever more relevant as climate change drastically transforms the world. So more research like this is valuable:

A new paper, just published Monday in the journal Nature Geoscience, proposes a link between a marked cooling event in the fifth and sixth centuries AD and a period of dramatic social change across Europe and Asia, including a pandemic plague outbreak, food shortages, political turmoil in China, migrations and even the rise of the Islamic empire. It’s impossible to say for sure whether the climatic shift was actually responsible for all the upheaval that went on during that time, the researchers say — but since the two periods coincided, the scientists are proposing that a connection is likely.

“There are a lot of things that occurred at the same time, and now it’s certainly very difficult to disentangle to what degree was it caused by climatic fluctuations,” said the study’s lead author, Ulf Büntgen, who heads a research group specializing in tree-ring science at the Swiss Federal Institute for Forest, Snow and Landscape Research. “But we just cannot exclude it anymore.”

In Europe, the colder climate is believed to have contributed to a decrease in agricultural output, which resulted in widespread food shortages. Around the same time, there was an outbreak of plague in the Byzantine Empire, which started around 541 AD and eventually achieved pandemic status as it spread throughout Europe, killing millions and contributing to the weakening of the Empire.

The researchers have hypothesized that the agricultural declines may have helped the plague bacteria spread from Asia into Europe via wildlife moving into the increasingly abandoned agricultural fields, although they acknowledge in the paper that much remains unknown about the plague’s origin and its link to climate during this time.

Additionally, historians believe there was a great deal of political turmoil in central Asia during this time period, with particular conflict within the regimes governing northern China. Meanwhile, it appears that Slavic populations were spreading across Europe. These events may have also been triggered by social instability caused by famine, crop shortages and disease outbreaks.

The authors have even suggested that there may be a link between climate and the eventual rise of the Islamic Empire. Changes in precipitation patterns, caused by the cooling, may have helped enable the growth of scrub vegetation on the Arabian peninsula, they note in the paper, adding that“larger camel herds may have facilitated transportation of the Arab armies and their supplies during the substantial conquests in the seventh century, during which the reconstructed fraction of human land use seems relatively high in the Arabian Peninsula.”


Guestworker Exploitation

[ 6 ] February 10, 2016 |


When people talk about the undocumented immigration “problem” outside of Republican debates calling for giant fences to keep out brown people, politicians and pundits often speak of a guestworker program as a way to provide the cheap labor American businesses want without forcing people to cross without papers. There can be a sympathetic piece to this argument because thanks to the militarization of the border, those people are forced into very dangerous situations, including crossing way out in the desert when they can and do die of heat exhaustion and thirst. But the history of these programs is one of rank exploitation, with workers having few rights. That was certainly true in the Bracero Program. And it remains so today, as Michelle Chen explores:

 According to a new report by the Economic Policy Institute (EPI), the guestworker labor force provides US employers jobs on the cheap, offering less in wages and virtually nothing in terms of labor rights or benefits.

EPI’s analysis of a decade of data on guestworkers under the H-2B visa program, which pipes immigrants into temporary low-wage service-industry jobs, shows that the visa allows bosses to employ guestworkers at “hourly wage rates that are far lower than state and national averages in the overwhelming majority of cases.” For example, in the most popular H-2B industry, landscaping and groundskeeping, “employers saved on average between $2.59 and $3.37 per hour by hiring an H-2B worker instead of a worker earning the national average wage.”

 This is not the standard protectionist argument about immigrants’ “taking jobs,” it’s about inequality being baked into a contract system that grants legal status in exchange for rights. In a sense, contracted guestworkers are less free than undocumented workers who can at least try to switch employers. As a recent NPR story on agricultural guestworkers points out, despite the dangers of living in the country without papers, undocumented workers at least have relative autonomy (albeit without any legal protections) to try to escape an abusive boss and reenter the underground labor market.

 A civil suit recently brought by a group of Jamaican H-2B guestworkers charges the Kiawah Golf Resorts in South Carolina with systematic wage theft, alleging that the resort violated the Fair Labor Standards Act and never paid the mandated wage set under the program’s guidelines, … in part to various travel costs and fees imposed on the workers as a condition of their employment. Some workers had allegedly been underpaid by as much as $2.20 per hour. They were working as housekeepers, servers, and bell persons for patrons who paid up to $1,000 per night for their lavish service.

Complaining about the system can cost a worker a livelihood and legal status. Shellion Parris, a former H-2B worker from Jamaica, helped launch a federal crackdown when she and coworkers organized an uprising against a Florida staffing agency, charging them with fraud and exploitation after they were denied the hotel housekeeping jobs they were promised and held in squalid conditions. Her hopes of vindication were upturned, however, when her petition for immigration relief foundered, leaving her destitute and stranded abroad after paying thousands. “We were all in debt when we came here,” Parris told The Nation last October. “We’re still in debt.”

These guestworker programs are just too problematic and open for labor exploitation to be part of the solution to immigration and labor problems. Republicans in Congress have of course just expanded the program and lowering the very limited labor protections in the program. Republicans read these stories and think, “yeah, we need a lot more of this, except maybe stopping the workers from filing civil suits. Tort reform!”

The Stakes Are Raised Again

[ 19 ] February 10, 2016 |


As Erik alluded to earlier, the Supreme Court has stayed the Clean Power Policy while the D.C. Circuit considers legal arguments that are various shades of neoconfederate gibberish being asserted against them.  I have some thoughts on the matter.

The more I think about it, the more outraged I am about eventheliberal Laurence Tribe legitimizing these arguments.  Whether he’s doing it solely for the money or has become intrigued by Richard Epstein’s belief that the 5th and 10th Amendments enacted Mr. Robert Nozick’s Anarchy, State and Utopia  and wishes to subscribe to his newsletter, given both how high the stakes are and how terrible the arguments are he really should be ashamed of himself.

Be Very Quiet. They’re Culling Rabbits.

[ 63 ] February 10, 2016 |

It turns out Mount St. Mary’s plans to use surveys to identify bunnies in need of drowning and/or Glocks to the head involved questions like these:

“How often were each of the following things true in the last week?:

I felt depressed.
I felt that I could not shake the blues, even with the help of family and friends.
I thought my life had been a failure.
I felt that people disliked me.”

Every time an institution takes advantage of its position of power to extract information about mental illness, and then uses that to hurt them, it teaches people with mental illness that it is dangerous to ask for help. Universities in particular have a duty of care to their students. Some incoming freshman are still legally minors who have left their home to reside in college dorms.  It is just viciously irresponsible to teach teenagers that their university might be planning on using a disclosure of depression against them. Further, I am just a simple caveblogger, and not a lawyer, but this seems like an ADA violation to me. Perhaps commenters more sophisticated about the law can weigh in.



A People’s History of the Marvel Universe, Week 3

[ 69 ] February 10, 2016 |

People's History Week 3

Face front, true believers!

Welcome back to A People’s History of the Marvel Universe, where I explore how real-world politics (and weird bits of pop culture) was presented in some of my favorite bits of classic Marvel comics. In this issue, I’ll be discussing how Captain America made the transition from his Timely Comics incarnation to the Marvel era.


Read more…

Profiles in Courage

[ 57 ] February 10, 2016 |


Paul Ryan is a real leader:

Members of the Congressional Black Caucus said House Speaker Paul Ryan told them he backs a bill to restore portions of the Voting Rights Act gutted by the Supreme Court, but won’t bypass his committee chairman to bring it the floor for a vote, The Hill reported.

Rep. Emanuel Cleaver (D-MO) told The Hill that Ryan had signaled support for the Voting Rights Amendment Act, a bipartisan bill sponsored by Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner (R-WI), at a meeting with the group of black lawmakers Wednesday.

“So somebody was saying, ‘Well, why don’t you go tell your committee chair to do it?’ ” Cleaver said. “And he said, … ‘Look, I can’t do that.'”

According to The Hill, Ryan does not want to step on the toes of House Judiciary Committee Chairman Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-VA), whose committee has jurisdiction over the legislation. Goodlatte has said that what’s left of the Voting Rights Act is enough to protect the franchise and thus the bill is not necessary. Ryan, a former committee chairman himself, has expressed a commitment to a bottom-up approach to leadership that defers to committees on advancing legislation.

“He said, ‘I told my own conference I’m not going to do it, so I’m not going to come up here and tell you anything differently. … I want it to be the product of the committee,’ ” Cleaver recounted, according to The Hill.

“I support the bill but I’m going to let a white supremacist committee chairman kill it. But I totally support you anyway. Remember that when black voting participation falls thanks to voter suppression tactics meant to keep me in power.”

Now that my friends is what you call brave leadership.

The tragi-comedy of the commons

[ 69 ] February 10, 2016 |


Jon Chait points out that the looming Trump Tower casting its shadow over the Babylon of the GOP nomination struggle is a product of a classic collective action problem: it’s in the interest of the Republican establishment as a whole to unify to stop Trump (and Cruz), but doing so isn’t in the interest of individual establishment candidates, unless and until they become the Anointed:

Before New Hampshire, National Review’s Tim Alberta reported that, if Bush finished ahead of Rubio, it might “prove crippling” to the younger Floridian. That proved prophetic. After Rubio’s debate choke, Bush can claim vindication that Rubio is not up to the challenge of a presidential campaign, let alone the presidency. Yet Bush is nowhere close to consolidating Establishment support. He carries the fatal burden of a last name that is a general-election branding disaster, while also being a massive liability within his own party (a shockingly high percentage of Republican voters disapprove of Bush — perhaps as a reaction against his brother, and perhaps as an expression of contempt for his status as a regular victim of Trump bullying). John Kasich has neither the money, the organization, nor the message to plausibly unite his party.

That leaves Bush and Rubio in a death struggle to be the sole alternative acceptable to a party Establishment that loathes both Trump and the candidate who has given Trump his strongest competition, Ted Cruz. The Texas senator may have finished third, but he enjoyed a strategic victory greater than his outright win in Iowa. Cruz saw the crippling of the strongest competition for a candidate of the conservative movement, Rubio. If he finds himself ultimately matched up against either Bush or Trump, Cruz will enjoy something close to unified conservative-movement support.

Trump has performed better than any of his critics (myself included) imagined possible when he first seized control of the race last summer. If he has a ceiling, it’s no lower than that of any of his competitors. His internal opposition has declined. He has gotten better at politics. But he has also benefited from a hapless Republican Establishment that now faces the prospect of a takeover by an outsider it cannot control, and that richly deserves its predicament.

The problem here is not merely game theoretical but ideological: Since the contemporary GOP got a gentleman’s C- in Econ 101 and never took any of the advanced courses, it doesn’t believe in collective action problems, because such concepts suggest that a blessedly unregulated Market might not always be a source of omniscient beneficence for rich people society as a whole.

Anyway the odds of Trump being the next president of the United States are now 24.763% (approximately).

What Happens When You @ a Reason Writer

[ 89 ] February 10, 2016 |

Last night I made the mistake of @ting Reason Writer and enthusiastic Gamergate supporter, Cathy Young. She retweeted my innocuous tweet, sicking her followers on me. I ended up with a bunch of Reason readers/Gaters blowing up my mentions.  Ms. Young never said anything particularly vile or rude to me. (She did refer to me as fauxgressive. I guess because I don’t think alt-right-sympathetic boys have a right to social media platforms so they can dogpile and harrass.) But I do think when you have a much bigger platform than the person your @ting and RTing, you have to use care. She didn’t and I have a feeling she knew she wasn’t using care. So while I won’t count that as harassment, I definitely count it as shitty. I will say, in the interest of being honest and fair, no one in my timeline was particularly abusive or rude. Just obnoxious and obtuse. But, honestly, I’m glad the little dust-up happened because it gave me a chance to organize some more thoughts on the vileness that is Gamergate.

Why I Care More About the General Election than the Primary

[ 200 ] February 10, 2016 |


People don’t understand why I am not FeelingtheBern as much as others. I’m a socialist after all, right? I am actually feeling it to some degree, but between having a cautious nature and being very much a historian, I don’t really do full-throttled cheerleading for anyone. But part of it is also that the general election is about 100 times more important than the primary and that’s what I am gearing up for. This is why it’s more important:

A divided Supreme Court agreed Tuesday to halt enforcement of President Barack Obama’s sweeping plan to address climate change until after legal challenges are resolved.

The surprising move is a blow to the administration and a victory for the coalition of 27 mostly Republican-led states and industry opponents that call the regulations “an unprecedented power grab.”

By temporarily freezing the rule the high court’s order signals that opponents have made a strong argument against the plan. A federal appeals court last month refused to put it on hold.

The court’s four liberal justices said they would have denied the request.

The plan aims to stave off the worst predicted impacts of climate change by reducing carbon dioxide emissions at existing power plants by about one-third by 2030.

This basically means that the climate requirements are going to be overturned based on the constitutional principle of 5 old conservative men hating hippies. Given my belief that a Sanders presidency isn’t going to be able to do anything close to what he is claiming (and honestly, the recent prison promise seems impossible), to me, the general is just far, far more important and where the real choice is to be made. That doesn’t mean people shouldn’t care about the primary. But this is what is shaping my preferring not to write about it too much.

New Hampshire

[ 269 ] February 9, 2016 |


On the GOP side, this was the best possible result for Trump: a blowout win, combined with a continued fracturing of the Not-Trump/Not-Cruz vote. Kasich is polling at around negative two percent in South Carolina and Florida, but it’s not completely unreasonable for him to hope that somehow he’ll now emerge as the establishment darling. Jeb! did just not-horribly enough to trudge on. The night was a total disaster for Rubio, but since he was the favorite to win the nomination until about 17 minutes ago among the very large contingent of pundits etc. who continue to assume that Trump certainly can’t win and Cruz probably can’t, he’s not going anywhere soon. Christie may well stay in it for a couple of more weeks just so he can steal Rubio’s milk money a couple more times.

This is probably the end of the line for both Fiorina and Dr. Carson’s Traveling Medicine Show and 24/7 Griftathon, but they have been total non-factors for weeks now, so their departure affects nothing.

Trump has got to be the solid favorite at this point, as bizarre and terrifying as that prospect is.

As for the Democrats . . . I’m not sure what to think. Yes New Hampshire is a much better state for Sanders than almost all the others going forward, but Clinton did beat Obama here, and she got destroyed tonight. My guess is that this is going to be a real battle now.

New Hampshire Open Thread

[ 297 ] February 9, 2016 |

I’m inclined to stay out of the predictions racket tonight — if the Maple Leafs can dump Dion Phaneuf’s contract and somehow get a second round draft pick back surely anything is possible. Some links:

  • Greg Sargent has a good deep dive into the issue of Clinton and bankruptcy. I think he’s right on both counts. On the narrow issue, I agree that if a (superfluous) yes vote on one version of a bill was necessary to get an amendment that made it better inserted, it’s a worthwhile tradeoff.  But the fact that such an egregiously anti-consumer statute was ultimately able to pass is about as good an example of Sanders’s structural critique of the American political process as you could wish for.
  • What’s much worse than the Donald using a sexist vulgarity is that his strong endorsement of torture was wildly received.
  • Which certainly isn’t to say that Trump’s sexism isn’t also meaningful.
  • Kilgore is good on what happens if the Rubiobot falls back in with the Governors.
  • The Rubiobot also malfunctions on same-sex marriage. (The fact that Rubio went with the “ask your legislators to change the law rather than the DICTATORS in BLACK ROBES” talking point in a state where the legislature in fact legalized same-sex marriage is extra awesome. Admittedly, this shell game is hardly Rubio’s alone.)
  • Ted Cruz wants Supreme Court justices who are human manifestations of the most recent platform of the Texas Republican Party.  The Alitobot rather than the Robertsbot, in other words, as the latter has been programmed to retain a shred of legal principle in a few high-profile cases.

Brown As An Anti-Integration Weapon

[ 31 ] February 9, 2016 |
Mrs. Nettie Hunt, sitting on steps of Supreme Court, holding newspaper, explaining to her daughter Nikie the meaning of the Supreme Court's decision banning school segregation.  Courtesy of Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division LC-USZ62-127042

Mrs. Nettie Hunt, sitting on steps of Supreme Court, holding newspaper, explaining to her daughter Nikie the meaning of the Supreme Court’s decision banning school segregation. Courtesy of Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division LC-USZ62-127042

My colleague Ryane McAuliffe Straus and I have a new paper out, “The Two Browns: Policy Implementation and the Retrenchment of Brown v. Board of Education.” As many of you know, de facto segregation of American schools is on the rise. Part of the reason for this is some crucial Supreme Court decisions, beginning in the early 70s with key votes provided by the 4 justices nominated by the Last Liberal President (TM) Richard Nixon, that essentially provided states with a roadmap for how they could maintain segregated schools with the approval of federal courts. This culminated with John Roberts’s famous Parents Involved tautology, “[t]he way to stop discrimination on the basis of race is to stop discriminating on the basis of race.” In practice, this means that the Supreme Court is now more likely to use Brown to thwart integration than to require it.

One way of describing this is to say that Milliken and its progeny effectively overruled Brown v. Board. The argument we advance here is a little more complicated. One problem with Brown has always been that the Court never actually made clear what states had to do, a problem that was exacerbated by the paradoxical “all deliberate speed” standard of Brown II. In a sense, the Warren Court’s integrationist interpretation of Brown and the Roberts Court’s anti-intergerationist reading of Brown are both consistent with the letter of the original decision, even if the former is much closer to its spirit. One lesson here is that you can’t just look at whether precedents have been formally overruled when determining how much Supreme Court doctrine has changed. No Supreme Court justice has ever suggested that Brown should be overruled, but how the Supreme Court has interpreted Brown has radically changed since 1968. Conservative justices have no need to overrule Brown when they can actually use it as an anti-civil rights weapon.

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