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Category: General

What do Charles and David Koch want?

[ 139 ] June 26, 2017 |

The Koch brothers were at the scenic Broadmoor Hotel this weekend, tweaking their various Bond-villain plots for achieving total world domination:

The conservative resistance movement [ed.: ???] on Sunday celebrated its victories and plotted strategy for the 2018 election at a luxury resort in Colorado nestled between a placid lake with two snuggling swans and the picturesque mountains near Pikes Peak.

The political network backed by the Koch brothers gathered more than 400 of its wealthiest donors at The Broadmoor for a three-day retreat that emphasized its work in states across the nation.

Led by the organization’s political arm, Americans for Prosperity, the Kochs declared the state legislative sessions in 2017 as the network’s most successful ever. In Colorado, conservatives highlighted victories in equalizing state spending on charter schools and defeating a major tax hike to improve the state’s crumbling roads.

“We are seeing a once-in-a generation renaissance of freedom and prosperity policies being enacted at the state level, said Tim Phillips, one of the top Koch network strategists, in an interview. “The untold story is the dramatic policy advancements that are actually helping people at the state level.”

Koch network leaders credited the investment at the state level for their successes — one that rivals, if not exceeds, the investment made by the Republican Party at the national and state levels.

What made the difference, the leaders told donors at a strategy session, was the ability to define candidates on positive terms early in the race and and mobilize voter outreach efforts to boost turnout.

“This network is the only group that can engage this way because you support us with significant resources all year round,” said Emily Seidel, a top political strategist at Freedom Partners, a Koch network organization.

But the pitch to donors — all of whom gave at least $100,000 to attend the event — included a sobering message for 2018.

“Make no mistake, this midterm election cycle is far more difficult than in recent years,” Seidel said. “For one, we are facing a reinvigorated progressive left. Their activists are energized and their donors are giving at unprecedented levels.”

The Kochs aim to spend $300 million to $400 million nationwide in the 2018 cycle, the most ever for their organization, and suggest the spending is “headed to the high end of that range.”

[If you haven’t read Jane Mayer’s Dark Money, you should.]

According to Forbes’ estimate, Chuck and Dave have a net worth of $96.6 billion. The question that most interests me is why two men whose combined wealth is greater than the annual gross domestic product of two-thirds of the world’s sovereign nations (note: not hyperbole) are so obsessed with protecting and expanding the wealth and power of a national and global plutocracy that has already achieved obscene levels of both.

Obviously (?) their motivations can’t be material in the usual sense of the word, as they’ve acquired fortunes that would be impossible for not only themselves, but all of their even distantly foreseeable descendants, to spend. (They could spend ten million dollars per day, every day of the year, and they would still see their present wealth increase in real terms, in perpetuity). Even in purely prudential terms, you would think people in such a position would be far more concerned about avoiding the sort of social instability that could lead to the expropriation of their fortunes, and/or their being lined up against a wall and shot.

Instead, the Koch brothers work and most of all spend incessantly, to create political and economic conditions that will only exacerbate the grotesque inequalities of the new gilded age. Why? The simplest explanation is that lust for wealth and power can be literally insatiable, and perhaps that’s the answer.

I suspect that there’s another explanation: for people like the Koch brothers, evangelizing for the church of Ludwig Von Mises, Frederich Hayek, Ayn Rand, etc., is a kind of interminable self-justification for their fantastic privilege, while beneath that overtly secular faith the contemporary remnants of Weber’s Protestant ethic still lurk just beneath the surface. The latter quasi-theology identifies wealth with spiritual election, and poverty as a self-chosen condition, which makes attempts to eliminate or even seriously ameliorate it both pointless and immoral.

This, I think, helps explain why the Koch brothers are so fanatically devoted to denying or radically minimizing the reality of anthropogenic climate change. If man-made global warming is both real and potentially civilization-threatening, then it represents the biggest market failure imaginable, and one’s God must not fail.


The Court and the Muslim Ban

[ 50 ] June 26, 2017 |

As many of you will have heard, the Supreme Court issued an order today granting cert in the Trump travel ban case, while allowing it to go into effect for foreign nationals without a pre-existing relationship with the United States. This news is…not good, Bob:

The three most conservative members of the Court—Trump nominee Neil Gorsuch and Justices Clarence Thomas and Sam Alito—are nearly certain to rule the ban constitutional. All three justices dissented from the part of the Court’s order preventing the ban from being enforced against foreign nationals with a pre-existing relationship with the United States, and would have allowed the entire ban to go into effect this week. It would be shocking if any of these three justices held Trump’s ban to be unconstitutional.

With the four Democratic nominees likely to follow the lower courts in declaring the bans unconstitutional, the question is whether Roberts or Kennedy might be a fifth vote. We cannot be certain either way. But both the split of the 9th Circuit on partisan lines and the Court’s decision to hear the case are not very good signs. The smart money would be on a 5-4 decision upholding Trump’s travel ban as a legitimate exercise of presidential authority, despite the strong evidence of discriminatory intent.

Last week, the Supreme Court held that executive branch officials were immune from civil suits resulting from constitutional violations after 9/11. In his dissent, Justice Breyer detailed the ugly history, from the Alien and Sedition Acts to the internment of people of Japanese origin in World War II, of excessive deference to the executive branch during wartime. Specious national security justifications have time and again been used to justify the suppression of political dissenters and racial minorities while the Supreme Court has looked the other way. It is too early to know for sure, but Trump’s travel ban may well become the next cautionary tale.

Some liberals like the chances that Kennedy and/or Roberts will stand up to Trump here. I’m the other kind.

Sotomayor: One of Obama’s Best Lgacies

[ 47 ] June 26, 2017 |

Sonia Sotomayor had an excellent church-and-state opinion today. Alas, it was a dissent to a 7-2 opinion:

History is definitely on the side of the dissenters. Sotomayor painstakingly details the decision made by one state government after another to end experiments in religious funding. “The course of this history shows that those who lived under the laws and practices that formed religious establishments made a considered decision that civil government should not fund ministers and their houses of worship,” concludes Sotomayor. Missouri’s policy is consistent with this insight, and to argue that the Constitution actually forbids Missouri from making this sensible decision is wrong.

Sotomayor ended her careful evisceration of Roberts’ opinion by pointing it out that it leads to a place where “separation of church and state is a constitutional slogan, not a constitutional commitment.” She’s right: Missouri’s policy of secularism is meant to protect religious institutions based on hard-earned historical lessons. It’s dismaying that two Democratic nominees joined with the majority’s undermining of a critical constitutional principle.

Sotomayor is already the most important liberal voice for civil liberties on the Court, and apparently she will have that role on church-and-state cases as well.

Eric Trump Has a Fashy Haircut Now

[ 57 ] June 26, 2017 |

I’m sure it’s just a coincidence.

The Hidden Villain Behind TrumpCare

[ 92 ] June 26, 2017 |

Is John Roberts:

The direct consequences of the decision were bad enough. Nineteen states still haven’t taken the Medicaid expansion, with the result that millions of poor, disabled, and/or elderly people are being denied insurance. But the indirect effects have also been very bad. The utter decimation of Medicaid is at the core of TrumpCare (it is even worse in the Senate version than in the House one). This would have been a lot harder to pull off if those 19 holdouts—all of them Republican-controlled—had taken the expansion money.

A new study shows that when a state took the Medicaid expansion, its residents became more likely to support the ACA. It would be more difficult to wreck Medicaid if more Republican voters had benefitted from the expansion. As the policy analyst Sean McElwee acidly put it, “The Republican Party’s strategic choice to brutalize their own voters by denying them health care basically worked.”

It would be one thing if these awful consequences came from a decision with a compelling legal basis. But the Medicaid expansion holding in Sebelius was, at best, a massive stretch. Nothing in the text of the Constitution places explicit limits on the conditions the federal government can place on money it offers to the states.

When the Supreme Court held in 1987 that it was constitutional for the federal government to use the threatened withholding of federal highway funds to create a de facto national drinking age of 21, it argued that the Constitution places implicit limits on the ability of the federal government to coerce the states to achieve national objectives. But the implication of the decision was that, if there were a case in which conditions on federal spending power were unconstitutional, it would involve an indirect objective only obliquely related to the central purpose of the spending. Nothing in the Court’s decision suggested to Congress that a straightforward condition—such as, “if you want Medicaid money you have to accept the conditions of the Medicaid program”—would be unconstitutional. In fact, the conditions placed on states that take Medicaid had been changed many times before the ACA.

Far from having the compelling legal basis that would be needed to justify its sweeping implications, the Medicaid expansion holding in Sebelius is a ludicrously incoherent mess.

This matters a great deal going forward. Let’s say President Kirsten Gillibrand takes over in 2021 with Democratic majorities in both houses of Congress. One of their top priorities will be to fix the damage inflicted by the Medicaid cuts, which in the Senate’s version of TrumpCare will phase in fairly slowly. How can Congress be sure its attempts to restore funding won’t be found to be unconstitutionally “coercive” changes to Medicaid spending? The answer is, it can’t be sure. Sebelius didn’t create any kind of workable standard, providing no meaningful guidance to Congress about how far is too far. And even worse, the more people a restored Medicaid insures, through new conditions on the disbursement of Medicaid funds, the more likely it is to be struck down. It’s a truly perverse situation.

One answer is to bypass the spending power issues by simply making a greatly expanded Medicaid a purely federal program like Medicare. Only this creates its own problems. While Roberts voted to uphold the mandate in the ACA as a valid use of the taxing power, he found that it exceeded Congress’s powers under the Commerce and Necessary and Proper clauses. Especially if Trump and McConnell are able to confirm one or two more justices, there’s a real chance that expanded public insurance programs might be struck down based on whatever quarter-baked constitutional argument cooked up on a conservative legal blog sounds best to the Republican Supreme Court nominees.

The Medicaid holding Sebelius was a 1)completely inherent mess that 2)made repeal of the ACA more likely and 3)gives Congress no meaningful guidance whatsover about how to repair the damage. Heckuva job!

There is a defense of this dog’s breakfast along the lines of “there will always be tough cases.” There will always be marginal cases where a police office can’t be 100% she if her search is “reasonable” even of the Court does a good job making it as clear as possible. But this really won’t fly here. First of all, this isn’t just about tough cases; Congress has no idea at what line a Medicaid expansion covers too many people to avoid being unconstitutionally “coercive.” And, second, that defense makes sense when the Court is enforcing an explicit constitutional provision. That’s not the case here. If you can’t create a workable standard to enforce a dubious judicially-created inference from the structure of Constitution, then just forget the whole thing. And that goes double if your holding is literally killing people.

Isn’t Flying Fun?

[ 122 ] June 26, 2017 |

Who else is excited for new innovations in pointless airport security?

The TSA is testing new requirements that passengers remove books and other paper goods from their carry-on baggage when going through airline security. Given the sensitivity of our reading choices, this raises privacy concerns.

Tests of the policy are underway in some small airports around the country, and DHS Secretary John Kelly recently said that “we might, and likely will” apply the policy nationwide. “What we’re doing now is working out the tactics, techniques, and procedures, if you will, in a few airports, to find out exactly how to do that with the least amount of inconvenience to the traveler,” he told Fox News. The policy may also apply to food items.

The rationale for the policy change given by Kelly and the TSA is that the imposition of growing fees for checked baggage by the airlines has prompted passengers to more densely pack their carry-ons, and that this has made it harder for screeners to identify particular items amid the jumble of images appearing on their screens. Laptops must already be pulled out separately because they are regarded as a heightened threat and can be better examined if they are not scanned in a bag with many other objects. It is not clear to me whether books are also regarded as a special threat or whether they are hard for the TSA to distinguish from explosives. I do know from a tour I was given of the TSA’s testing facility a few years ago that the scanners highlight items that are especially dense, and items that are organic (since explosives are made of organic, i.e. carbon-based, matter). That’s probably why the agency thinks it would speed things along to pull out food and books.

That said, books raise very special privacy issues. As my colleague Nicole Ozer has discussed, there is a long history of special legal protection for the privacy of one’s reading habits in the United States, not only through numerous Supreme Court and other court decisions, but also through state laws that criminalize the violation of public library reading privacy or require a warrant to obtain book sales, rental, or lending records.

And we know that in the airline screening environment in particular, there have been multiple cases where passengers have been singled out because of their First Amendment-protected expressions. For example, in 2010 the ACLU sued on behalf of a man who was abusively interrogated, handcuffed, and detained for nearly five hours because he was carrying a set of Arabic-language flash cards and a book critical of U.S. foreign policy. We also know that the DHS database known as the “Automated Targeting System,” which tracks information on international travelers, has included notations in travelers’ permanent files about controversial books in their possession.

A person who is reading a book entitled “Overcoming Sexual Abuse” or “Overcoming Sexual Dysfunction” is not likely to want to plop that volume down on the conveyor belt for all to see. Even someone reading a bestseller like “50 Shades of Grey” or a mild self-help book with a title such as “What Should I Do With My Life?” might be shy about exposing his or her reading habits. And of course someone reading Arab or Muslim literature in today’s environment has all too much cause to worry about discrimination. To at least one woman who experienced the new policy, “The scrutiny of my books, magazines and food feels even more invasive” than the body scanners, swabs, and pat-downs.

Is it justified?

Of course, it is true that TSA agents have long had the authority to search your bag if they see an anomaly or unidentifiable object in the x-ray, and such a search would include seeing any reading materials therein. The fact is, exposure of reading materials is part of the privacy that is lost when we allow bag searches. But this policy would lead to more routine and systematic exposure and, inevitably, greater scrutiny of passengers’ reading materials in the course of the screening process. (To be clear we’re talking strictly about physical reading materials here; there is no justification for a TSA screener to look through an e-book reader or other data-storage device. Users of e-books face different privacy concerns.)

If this passes, I will bring a copy of Lenin’s What is To Be Done every time I fly.

Leftist “Joy” at the Election of Trump

[ 157 ] June 26, 2017 |

I’ve stated before that even the most prominent scholars can say incredibly myopic and shallow things about contemporary politics, even Eric Foner. And as a labor historian, I have to say that I’ve seen really smart labor scholars say some really dumb things, including at the conference portrayed here. But I was just at the Labor and Working Class History Association conference, and maybe it was that I attended the right panels, but I heard nothing that made me roll my eyes. Then I check the blog of the organization. And there is this:

Like many of my friends and colleagues who study class and are worried about the increasing economic inequality of this country, I was at first overjoyed that the recent presidential election would force us to reckon with the subject of class. Usually ignored, working-class people were now becoming subjects of a national conversation.

As a labor historian, allow me to say that if you found anything joyful at the election of Donald Trump, I just don’t even know what to say to you. Me, I cried for 2 days. Sure I’m just a massive neoliberal sellout, but I think that the actual suffering of millions of Americans somehow does not make up for people talking about the white working class in national politics. Again, neoliberal sellout here so what do I know. But the idea of being “overjoyed” at Trump’s election? I have to say that this might be the single most reprehensible sentence I’ve read about the 2016 election. But hey, both parties are the same, right?

Honestly? This election wasn’t a referendum on anything. We had no good candidates to choose from. We didn’t choose either one of them. Millions of Americans sat out the vote (or were pushed out, but that is another story). And each of the millions of people who did had their own reasons for casting their vote. Most likely we’ll never be able to get to the bottom of how much racism, sexism, and other prejudices motivated voters in this election. (On a side note, is it really that surprising that a critical mass of white people respond to racist dog whistles?) Yes, we need to try to understand the attraction of a strange man who seems to appeal to our worst instincts and desires, but not at the risk of failing to come together to continue the fight for a better world for all of us. Politicians manipulate. Let’s stop focusing on who is manipulated and why and focus instead on making sure this doesn’t happen again.

What do you think the chances are she would have written these words if Bernie Sanders had been the nominee and lost? Is there something lower than 0 percent? If Bernie was nominated by the same numbers Hillary was nominated, it would have been the most important referendum in the last century for this scholar. And it’s not as if she is wrong about many of the points she discusses. She’s right that racism, sexism, etc. played a huge role. But you know what didn’t help fight that? Saying that “we didn’t choose the nominees.” Call me a neoliberal sellout again, but I think people did choose the nominees. I’m sorry that Bernie got into the race really late and had no ability to speak to the black voters who make up the actual base of the Democratic Party, as opposed to leftist labor scholars who may lower themselves to vote for a centrist Democrat with a progressive platform under the right circumstances. However, that’s the reality. Hillary Clinton won more votes and it wasn’t because of History’s Greatest Monster Debbie Wasserman Schultz either. But, no, on the labor left, you can say anything completely ignorant about elections so long as the Democratic Party sucks.

The rest of the piece is bog standard stuff about Republicans, which is fine, and then bromides about how we need to build coalitions that cross class and race lines, which is about as original and fresh as a box of Hamburger Helper. The sad reality is that being a scholar of the labor movement or the left does not ensure that your takes on elections are any better than something you would here from a stoned 19 year at a party in the apartment of the head of the local student activist group. Such arguments would actually be completely fine at that age and in that stage of activism. From an experienced scholar, it’s really bad.

Erik Visits an American Grave, Part 96

[ 9 ] June 26, 2017 |

This is the grave of Voltiarine de Cleyre.

Born in 1866 in Leslie, Michigan and named after Voltaire, her father placed her in a convent at the age of 12 so she could get the best education possible. It turned her into an atheist. That was not the intent of her family, but they were very political to begin with, with connections with abolitionists before the war. The family was very poor and this also contributed to her radicalization. She moved to Grand Rapids as a young adult and became part of the freethinking movement. After the murder of the Haymarket martyrs in 1887, de Cleyre committed to anarchism because she lost her last remaining faith in the government. She moved to Philadelphia where she became of the nation’s most articulate advocates of anarchism. In doing so, she maintained an ecumenical approach to the subject, refusing to commit to a particularly brand of the ideology; I wish we had more of this on the left, past and present. All of this made her uncomfortable with a more class-consciousness vision of anarchism and she did not much get along with Emma Goldman because of the latter’s enthusiasm for the destruction of property. She mothered a child in 1890 out of wedlock with another free-thinker after agreeing he would have nothing to do with his upbringing. She gave the influential 1895 lecture “Sex and Slavery,” which argued that the legal ability of husbands to rape their wives was a form of slavery. The North Carolina legislature should be locked in a room and forced to read it.

She had a lot of health issues, particularly crippling depression. She died of meningitis in 1912, only 45 years old.

Voltairine de Cleyre is buried in Forest Home Cemetery, Forest Park, Illinois.

Sunday Present

[ 67 ] June 25, 2017 |

Here’s Patrick Stewart playing Lenin in a 1974 British TV production. In this scene, he meets Leon Trotsky and explains his version of Marxism.

Different Nations Have Different Standards for Fainting and Heat Exhaustion in Factories–And That’s OK!

[ 33 ] June 25, 2017 |

Clearly, supply chains with no accountability for the parent companies who create a system where they get cheap exploitable labor with no legal consequences is a great thing….

Women working in Cambodian factories supplying some of the world’s best-known sportswear brands are suffering from repeated mass faintings linked to conditions.

Over the past year more than 500 workers in four factories supplying to Nike, Puma, Asics and VF Corporation were hospitalised. The most serious episode, recorded over three days in November, saw 360 workers collapse. The brands confirmed the incidents, part of a pattern of faintings that has dogged the 600,000-strong mostly female garment workforce for years.

The Observer and Danwatch, a Danish investigative media group, interviewed workers, unions, doctors, charities and government officials in the country’s garment industry, worth $5.7bn in 2015.

The women who collapsed worked 10 hour days, six days a week and reported feeling exhausted and hungry. Excessive heat was also an issue in three factories, with temperatures of 37C. Unlike in neighbouring Vietnam, where factory temperatures must not exceed 32C, Cambodia sets no limit, though if temperatures reach a “very high level” causing difficulties for workers, employers must install fans or air conditioning.

According to unions, short-term contracts – common for workers in three of the factories – were also a key source of stress and exhaustion.

The minimum monthly wage in Cambodia is £120 and two hours’ overtime a day boosts it to between £150 and £190, depending on the factory. Wages vary, but none of the four factories pays the “living wage”, which in Cambodia is £300 a month, according to the workers’ rights alliance Asia Floor Wage.

Bent Gehrt, south-east Asia field director for the Worker Rights Consortium, which monitors factories making clothing for US universities, said: “There is no proper investment in an adequate working environment and no investment in the living wage. If workers are fainting, it should be a clear indication you need to do something more drastic.”

Short-term contracts were a “root cause” of job insecurity, he added, meaning people cannot refuse overtime: “Workers say if you don’t do overtime, you won’t get your contract renewed.”

But Nike is providing these Cambodian women with the wondrous benefits of global capitalism! Anyone who wants these workers to not faint is anti-feminist! Why oh why can’t I see the glories of this system instead of arguing for a legal system that allows these workers the potential to improve their lives?!?

Finally, the Poor Will Have the Freedom to Die

[ 46 ] June 25, 2017 |

While officiating Secretary of the Treasury Jay Gould’s third wedding, Vice-President Torquemada found time to tweet a picture of the wedding of a bunch of millionaires (sitting at the distant tables no doubt) and billionaires and use this as the message:

Class war, indeed. Anyway, what’s the kind of personal responsibility the party of mass murder is talking about?

Senate Republicans are expected to revise their health bill early next week, adding in a provision that could lock Americans out of the individual market for six months if they fail to maintain continuous insurance coverage.

Miss a payment, no health care for 6 months! Sounds like freedom to me!

Erik Visits an American Grave, Part 95

[ 63 ] June 25, 2017 |

This is the grave of Ralph Waldo Emerson.

Born in 1803 in Boston at the site of the Macy’s downtown (there’s a little plaque on the building), Emerson was the most important of the transcendentalists, a literary movement which is honestly kind of intolerable to read. Maybe I am not much of a romantic (oh, hey Happy Anniversary to my wife. Too bad I am in Seattle at a conference and doing research in fishing industry publications while you are packing up my apartment), but the flowery language and ideology of Emerson never appealed to me. Part of this is also his emphasis on American individualism, which I see as a plague that seriously gets in the way of class consciousness or collective solutions to any problem. Not that Emerson was a bad guy. He certainly had good politics and the right people hated him, although he was not a real public person and did not speak out much about slavery even though he despised it. I know I should have more to say about Emerson, but I don’t have the patience or time right now to revisit his essays, which I found tiresome the first time I read them 15 years ago or so. Call me a heathen, if you will. In any case, no one can question his importance to American letters or American philosophy (and I certainly do appreciate his call for an American style of letters). He died in 1882.

Ralph Waldo Emerson is buried in Sleepy Hollow Cemetery, Concord, Massachusetts.

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