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Category: General

Obama Opens East Coast to Oil Drilling

[ 86 ] July 22, 2014 |

My dismay toward President Obama’s decisions to open the ocean off the east coast to oil drilling cannot be overstated. This is a terrible decision that is in line with his drilling policies throughout his entire administration. Combined with his restrictions upon coal-fired power plants, my evaluation of Obama’s overall energy policy is that it has been nothing less than incoherent, good in some areas and terrible in other, closely related, areas. Moreover, the technology that allows oil companies to find the deposits has potentially devastating impacts on already overstressed and declining marine wildlife:

The sonic cannons are often fired continually for weeks or months, and multiple mapping projects may operate simultaneously. To get permits, companies will need to have whale-spotting observers onboard and do undersea acoustic tests to avoid nearby species. Certain habitats will be closed during birthing or feeding seasons.

Still, underwater microphones have picked up blasts from these sonic cannons over distances of thousands of miles, and the constant banging — amplified in water by orders of magnitude — will be impossible for many species to avoid.

Whales and dolphins depend on being able to hear their own much less powerful echolocation to feed, communicate and keep in touch with their family groups across hundreds of miles. Even fish and crabs navigate and communicate by sound, said Grant Gilmore, an expert on fish ecology in Vero Beach, Fla.

“We don’t know what the physiological effects are. It could be permanent hearing damage in many of these creatures just by one encounter with a high-energy signal,” Gilmore said.

More than 120,000 comments were sent to the government, which spent years developing these rules. The bureau’s environmental impact study estimates that more than 138,000 sea creatures could be harmed, including nine of the world’s remaining 500 north Atlantic right whales.

These whales give birth and breed off the coast of Florida, Georgia and the Carolinas.

“Once they can’t hear — and that’s the risk that comes with seismic testing — they are pretty much done for,” said Katie Zimmerman, a spokeswoman for the South Carolina Coastal Conservation League based in Charleston, S.C.

“Even if there were oil out there, do we really want that? Do we really want to see these offshore rigs set up?” she asked.

The answer to that question for the Obama Administration is obviously yes.

“Do Everything You Can To Attack the ACA” Is A Kind of Principle

[ 136 ] July 22, 2014 |

I will have more on this, but two Republican hacks at the D.C. Circuit have embarrassed themselves by accepting a particularly bad statutory argument that would throw the exchanges into chaos.

my piece is here. More imminently.

Pulling Back the Curtain of Production Concealment

[ 21 ] July 22, 2014 |

Concealment.

This is primary benefit of outsourcing work and supplies from the United States. That goods are produced far, far away from the eyes of consumers benefits the corporations tremendously. It means that when the Rana Plaza factory in Savar, Bangladesh collapses, no Americans see the deaths that result from a system that provides them cheap clothing at Wal-Mart, Gap, and other retailers. That’s very different from the Triangle Fire, when New Yorkers were outraged when they personally saw the deaths of the women who made their clothing. They acted and conditions in the textile factories improved. Today, most of us have absolutely no idea what the conditions of work are in the places that make our clothing, that grow our food, that produce our paint and glass and steel and auto parts. That’s exactly how companies want it. When it comes to meat production, you have states like Idaho passing ag-gag bills, making it a crime to document what happens in a meat production factory. Knowledge is indeed power and the meat producers want to make sure that you have none of it so they have all the power.

One of the complexities of modern capitalism though is that American business don’t just want to outsource production. They also want to open up new markets for their products. That’s certainly true for fast food corporations, who have vastly expanded around the world over the past two decades. This means that in at least some places, production and consumption takes place in the same country and thus when the supply chain system inevitably fails as the big corporations want to push down costs and the suppliers respond through cutting corners on safety, outrage results:

The Chinese outlets of McDonald’s and KFC have stopped using meat from a Shanghai company after a local television news program accused the supplier of using chicken and beef past their expiration dates, setting off an investigation by food-safety officials.

The program, broadcast Sunday evening on Dragon TV, showed hidden-camera footage of workers at a meat-processing plant operated by Shanghai Husi Food using out-of-date chicken and beef to make burger patties and chicken products for McDonald’s and KFC. In some cases, workers were shown scooping up meat that had fallen onto the assembly line floor and throwing it back into a processing machine.

In response, the Chinese units of McDonald’s and KFC said in news releases posted from their official Sina Weibo social-media accounts that they had halted use of all products from Shanghai Husi, which is owned by the OSI Group, based in Aurora, Ill. Starbucks also said it had pulled sandwiches with chicken from Shanghai Husi from the shelves of its stores in China. Starbucks said a supplier for the sandwiches had used the meat.

When people see footage of horrors they act. That is what has happened in China. It’s what happened at Triangle and when the Cuyahoga River burned and during the Santa Barbara oil spill in 1969. Thus, the corporate strategy becomes making sure you see nothing. In this case, the curtain was pulled back, but just in one factory. McDonald’s and KFC have no intention of running a tighter ship with their meat suppliers and they certainly don’t want to run their own meat production sites, although this is an entirely reasonable solution for them. Rather, they want the problem to go away. Such disgusting conditions could be taking place in 100 Chinese meat production factories, just as they could be (and are) in the United States meat industry. It is precisely this kind of information getting out that leads to ag-gag bills here and I’d be shocking if the fast food companies aren’t having behind the scenes talks with Chinese authorities to clamp down on such information becoming public there. That this production facility is owned by an company based in the United States should remind you that there’s no reason to think what you eat is safer, not in a system dominated by exploitative New Gilded Age era capitalism without proper regulatory frameworks and vastly underfunded inspection agencies.

The justice system

[ 60 ] July 22, 2014 |

The murder of Dan Markel triggered a memory: On April 4, 1991, Mary Joe Frug was hacked to death with a seven-inch military-style knife, a couple of blocks from the home she shared with her husband Gerald Frug and their two children. (The crime remains unsolved). I had met Frug at a conference in Boulder a few days earlier, and this news made a particular impression on me.

A year to the day after her death, this happened:

On April 4, 1992, the Harvard Law Review held its annual gala banquet, when the torch of the nation’s most prestigious legal journal is passed to a new generation of editors. Among those invited: the murdered woman’s husband, Gerald Frug, a member of the Harvard Law School faculty. Had he attended, he would have found on his plate a parody of his wife’s last article. The parody, titled “He-Manifesto of Post-Mortem Legal Feminism,” was produced by the Law Review’s editors and paid for by the school. It depicted Ms. Frug as a humorless, sex-starved mediocrity and dubbed her the “Rigor-Mortis Professor of Law.”

The alleged satire poses a question that is certain to outlast all the finger-pointing, ducking, blaming, petitioning and posturing that has overtaken Cambridge in the nearly two weeks since the “joke” came to light: how can Harvard’s best and brightest, the men and women who will soon write the opinions of some of the nation’s most powerful judges, also be its cruelest and crudest?

Earlier this year, Ms. Frug’s article, “A Postmodern Feminist Legal Manifesto (An Unfinished Draft),” appeared posthumously in the Harvard Law Review. Several conservative editors fought unsuccessfully to block the piece, a bluntly worded examination of how, Ms. Frug maintained, the law perpetuated the subjugation of women.

As the banquet approached, the Law Review’s editors, their coveted, career-making judicial clerkships in hand, turned their efforts to the Harvard Law Revue, an annual send-up of the publication. Along with others who had opposed publication of the Frug article, Craig Coben and Kenneth Fenyo set about to lampoon it.

The result was a five-page, footnote-laden parody, saturated with inside jokes and sexual innuendoes. The article was purportedly dictated “from beyond the grave” by one Mary Doe, described as the “Rigor-Mortis Professor of Law, New England School of Law, 1981-1991″ and “wife of Gerald Frug, Professor of Law, Harvard Law School.” In it, Ms. Doe recounts childhood sexual fantasies about men in tight swim trunks, defended the use of obscenities in her scholarly work, and reflected on “the irony that I, a postmodern feminist, am being published because of my husband’s tenure here.”

“Postmodern feminists represent a diverse group of people,” the parody continued. “Some of us are intellectuals. Many are politically committed. Most are disillusioned. Others are just plain horny. But there is one thing that we have in common: we have no sense of humor.”

The memory of these events made me wonder what Coben and Fenyo have accomplished in the 22 years since they exhibited what might be interpreted as extreme psychopathic tendencies. (It’s worth noting in this context that, at least according to the two of them, none of their colleagues on the HLR objected to their “joke” before the fact).

The answer is that, in conventional terms, they have gone on to stellar careers in the business world:

Ken Fenyo has deep expertise in loyalty programs, digital coupons, personalized offers, e-commerce, and customer insights and analytics. He launched the retail industry’s first digital coupon program and has created new loyalty programs for Kroger, Caesars Entertainment, and General Mills among other companies. He is a frequent speaker on digital trends in retail including how mobile is transforming the shopping experience.

Ken completed the sale of YOU Technology, Inc. to Kroger (NYSE: KR) in February 2014. As CEO, Ken built the business into the retail industry’s largest digital coupon network delivering over 1 billion digital coupons to over 10 million shoppers at over 10,000 stores nationwide. YOU’s clients included over 20 leading retail chains and over 100 top brand advertisers. Prior to joining YOU, Ken was Vice President, Loyalty & Digital at Kroger, where he launched the industry’s first digital coupon program in November 2007, expanded Kroger’s fuel rewards program nationwide, created the new Kroger rewards loyalty program, and overhauled its $100 million personalized marketing program. Earlier in his career, Ken started a venture-funded e-commerce technology provider and served as a senior consultant with McKinsey & Company and Prophet Brand Strategy, where his clients included Caesars Entertainment, Time Warner, Dell, and HP. He has degrees from Stanford University and Harvard Law School.

Ken also apparently found love.

Meanwhile, Coben has also found his law degree to be remarkably versatile:

Bank of America Merrill Lynch (BoAML), which has been playing a leading role in some of the biggest transactions in the London market so far this year, has appointed a new head of UK equity capital markets (ECM).

The bank, which is advising on the Pets at Home flotation, the RSA rights issue and worked on the recent Kennedy Wilson share listing, is relocating James Fleming from its Hong Kong office to become head of UK ECM.

BoAML jumped from fifth place to second place in European ECM last year, due in part to its success in the UK. The bank sees the UK as the second most important market globally after the US and last year worked on the Royal Mail privatisation, the Barclays rights issue and the first sale of shares in Lloyds Bank.

Fleming, who has 16 years’ experience in ECM, will report to Craig Coben, the head of European ECM at BoAML.

Meanwhile:

It took a relatively obscure former British academic to propagate a theory of the financial crisis that would confirm what many people suspected all along: The “corporate psychopaths” at the helm of our financial institutions are to blame.

Clive R. Boddy, most recently a professor at the Nottingham Business School at Nottingham Trent University, says psychopaths are the 1 percent of “people who, perhaps due to physical factors to do with abnormal brain connectivity and chemistry” lack a “conscience, have few emotions and display an inability to have any feelings, sympathy or empathy for other people.”

As a result, Boddy argues in a recent issue of the Journal of Business Ethics, such people are “extraordinarily cold, much more calculating and ruthless towards others than most people are and therefore a menace to the companies they work for and to society.”

How do people with such obvious personality flaws make it to the top of seemingly successful corporations? Boddy says psychopaths take advantage of the “relative chaotic nature of the modern corporation,” including “rapid change, constant renewal” and high turnover of “key personnel.” Such circumstances allow them to ascend through a combination of “charm” and “charisma,” which makes “their behaviour invisible” and “makes them appear normal and even to be ideal leaders.”

Bad Business Fee

[ 50 ] July 22, 2014 |

Should businesses who pay atrocious wages, just offloading the responsibility to keep people fed and clothed onto the state, be taxed to make up for it?

Can you name the worst job you’ve ever had? For Cliff Martin, that’s not an easy question. All three of his current jobs—delivering newspapers, delivering magazines and working as a janitor—are strong contenders. Taken together, they pay so poorly that the 20-year-old Northfield, Minnesota, native relies on MNsure, the state Medicaid plan, for healthcare and lives at home with his father to save money. But what if Martin’s bosses had to fork over a fee to the state for paying him so badly? That money, in turn, could be used to help support Martin and his fellow low-wage workers in a variety of ways, from direct subsidies for food and housing to social programs such as Medicaid or public transportation.

TakeAction Minnesota, a network that promotes economic and racial justice in the state, wants to make that fee a reality. It’s developing the framework for a bill that it hopes will be introduced in 2015 by state legislators who have worked with the network in the past. As conceived, the “bad business fee” legislation would require companies to disclose how many of their employees are receiving public assistance from the state or federal government. Companies would then pay a fine based on the de facto subsidies they receive by externalizing labor costs onto taxpayers.

TakeAction Minnesota’s plan is one prong of a larger national effort. As progressive organizations grapple with how to turn years of public outrage over income inequality into policies for structural change, a network of labor and community organizing groups has seized upon the bad business fee as a solution that might take off.

It’s certainly an interesting idea. Moreover, if one state promoted this, even if it didn’t pass, I do believe you’d see a pretty quick turnaround in workers’ wages, at least locally. A real threat to punish corporations for their antisocial behavior would likely cause change. We’ve seen that many times in the last century and the repeal and erasure of that century of gains in recent years reflects the defeat of the forces who forced those changes, especially but not solely labor unions, a strategy corporations affected through capital mobility and outsourcing work abroad.

The Teleological Fallacy

[ 73 ] July 22, 2014 |

K-Drum makes a good point about the recent Thomas Frank Salon article that I neglected to:

But if it’s so easy to see this conservative delusion for what it is, why isn’t it equally easy to recognize the same brand of liberal delusion? Back in 2009, was Obama really the only thing that stood between bankers and the howling mob? Don’t be silly. Americans were barely even upset, let alone ready for revolution. Those pathetic demonstrations outside the headquarters of AIG were about a hundredth the size that even a half-ass political organization can muster for a routine anti-abortion rally. After a few days the AIG protestors got bored and went home without so much as throwing a few bottles at cops. Even the Greeks managed that much.

Fearless navigator of our new comment system JeremyW puts it well:

[W]hat strikes me about this article is that he seems to have replaced the institutional status quo bias of our current political system with something that works the opposite way. Rather than a system where actual progressive change is difficult to win support for and subject to several veto points, he seems to think we have one where radical changes are constantly on the cusp of occurring and the whole neoliberal enterprise must be held together by a dastardly sellout president who can subvert the will of the people.

The most crucial underlying premise of Frank’s argument is that the American political economy was on the verge of a radical transformation in 2008, and this was prevented from happening because Barack Obama saved neoliberalism’s bacon. This is a rather problematic for his argument given its transparent falsity. It’s simply not true that most Americans drew the same conclusions from the financial meltdown that Frank did, and even they did the elites who control or strongly influence many key veto points in the American system certainly didn’t. As someone capable of being elected president of the United States Barack Obama is not a radical critic of capitalism, but in terms of whether American capitalism was going to be “put out of business” this is neither here nor there anyway.

Similar premises are also generally seen on attacks on the ACA from the left. To argue that the ACA isn’t better than the status quo ante from a progressive standpoint would be ridiculous, so the strategy is to change the baseline and compare the ACA to another alternative. In policy terms, this isn’t challenging, since you could throw a dart at a map of Western Europe and get a health care system preferable to the ACA. But it’s also completely irrelevant, because the choice wasn’t between the ACA and the French health care system but the ACA and nothing or almost nothing. To get around the obvious political reality, left ACA critics smart enough not to argue that Barack Obama could have forced the Senate to pass single payer through such brilliant strategery as promising senators that he would campaign for them in states where he’s enormously unpopular turn to assertions that the American insurance industry was on the verge of collapse before Barack Obama saved it. And, again, this is sheer lunacy. The American health care system circa 2008 was grossly inefficient and disastrous for many Americans, but for the most politically powerful vested interests — insurance companies and their executives, medical professionals, affluent customers, people over 65 — it works perfectly well or better. (To people who confuse American politics with the Oxford debating society, the success of Medicare should make Medicare for all highly popular. In reality, the overwhelmingly conservative white beneficiaries of Medicare are much more likely to take the lesson of “I’ve got mine and to hell with you.”) The American health insurance industry wasn’t going anywhere had the ACA not passed.

And what’s going on with Republican statehouses and the Medicaid expansion should draw a line under that. The typical Republican state politician is willing to turn down huge pots of free money from the federal government to validate the principle that if the working poor get sick it should be left to the Great Market in the Sky to sort things out. To believe in this context that the collapse of the private American health insurance industry was inevitable absent the ACA is to enter a land of fantasia.

It’s Archie and Betty and Veronica, Not Archie and Betty and Steve

[ 70 ] July 21, 2014 |

Via…

I have no idea what the Soviet talk has to do with anything, but then I rarely have any idea what the wingnuts are nattering on about.

 

In other news, my latest piece is up. It’s a been a long time.

Nancy Reagan on Pants

[ 28 ] July 21, 2014 |

In 1968, Nancy Reagan spoke out on one of the important issues of the day: opposing women wearing pants.

Dan Markel

[ 21 ] July 21, 2014 |

Absolutely horrible news about one of the most valuable legal writers in the known blogosphere. R.I.P. and condolences to his friends and family.

“Back in the day, Fats Waller, and tons of other artists were robbed of their publishing. This is the new version of it, but on a much more wider scale.”

[ 30 ] July 21, 2014 |

I certainly don’t care about the fate of most record labels, but streaming services increasingly make it difficult for musicians in less popular genres like jazz or classical to survive. Really, if you listen to music, you do owe it to the artists to buy some of their music. If it’s U2, who cares. Stream away. If it is Wussy, the album sales make a difference. That’s especially true if the labels start taking cuts of artists’ other income to make up for record sale declines. Streaming is fine to check out new artists and hear new albums, but at some point, music fans need to support the artists through purchasing their products in some way or another.

The Return of Contra Violence

[ 99 ] July 21, 2014 |

The 35th anniversary of Nicaragua’s Sandinista Revolution has just passed. The Sandinistas, although a very different organization than in 1979, are today in power, with Daniel Ortega winning free and fair elections. Of course, the Nicaraguan right always hated the Sandinistas and thanks to illegal funding from Ronald Regan, fought a brutal war to defeat the Sandinistas. After the Sandinistas agreed to elections in 1990 and lost, they peacefully stepped down. The violence that plagued Nicaragua faded and today the country, while still very poor, is one of the most peaceful in Central America. Alas, the 35th anniversary celebrations brought out some of the old hate from the Sandinistas’ enemies:

A deadly midnight ambush targeting pro-government supporters in northern Nicaragua has stirred the sleeping dogs of war and raised new fears of a pending military campaign against rearmed guerrillas hiding in the mountains.

Five people were killed and 19 injured early Sunday morning in what appears to be a coordinated series of attacks against Sandinista party members traveling by bus through the mountainous coffee-growing region of Matagalpa, one of the main battlegrounds of Nicaragua’s civil war in the 1980s.

The buses, filled with pro-government supporters returning from Managua after a day of celebrating the thirty-fifth anniversary of the Sandinista Revolution, were fired on indiscriminately from the darkened shoulder of the road by unidentified men armed with AK-47s. The first bus was ambushed near KM75 of the Pan-American highway, while the second bus was attacked at the some time in the nearby town of San Ramon. Four unidentified suspects have been detained for questioning, according to police.

A group claiming to be the successor to the Contras has claimed responsibility but it is difficult to ascertain the truth of that claim at this point. But it’s pretty clearly a right-wing political attack. Bad stuff.

Southern Democrats: Are They Making Poor Political Decisions?

[ 54 ] July 21, 2014 |

Bob Moser has a very interesting essay on what he sees as the poor political decisions made by southern Democratic senatorial candidates in 2014. Essentially, he sees Kay Hagan, Michelle Nunn, Mary Landrieu, and the like making a huge mistake by embracing old DLC-style distancing from President Obama. Rather, he argues that the better decision is to run as a liberal and motivate African-American, Latino, and youth voters to go to the polls this fall. He notes this is a plausible political strategy by citing how these states have rapidly growing minority populations that hate the Republicans.

I’m of two minds here. On one hand, given that this is a midterm election with a highly motivated and hateful set of older white Republican voters and given the historically low turnout rates for Democratic core demographics in the midterms, running away from Obama might make sense. On the other hand, it probably doesn’t since, with perhaps the exception of Landrieu because of her personal power in the Senate, that strategy doesn’t really give anyone a good reason to vote for you. Plus maybe it is possible, at least in Georgia which is now only 60% white and will probably become a majority-minority state by 2030, to run as a liberal, inspire voters, and win an election. I’m not inclined to say that political advisers are idiots, although they are scared of failure, so I would think that they feel this is not a successful strategy in 2014. But maybe they are wrong. And giving voters an actual reason to vote for you does seem wise.

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