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Category: General

Cage-Free Eggs

[ 160 ] April 14, 2016 |


Walmart has announced it will transition to all cage-free eggs by 2025. What does this mean? Is it a good thing? Is it more ethical to eat eggs now?

If you’re picturing happy flocks of chickens scratching away for insects on a sunny hillside somewhere (the kind of images egg companies love to adorn their cartons with), you’d be wrong. Cage-free facilities can still be industrial-scale chicken farming where thousands of hens spend their lives indoors in what many would consider cramped conditions.

Walmart will require all their egg suppliers to be certified by United Egg Producers and compliant with the trade organization’s Animal Husbandry Guidelines. The UEP—which represents U.S. chicken farmers who own about 95 percent of the country’s laying hens—updated its guidelines this year, including the standards for cage-free operations. Based on the guidelines each hen should be allotted between 1 and 1.5 square feet of space and 6 inches of elevated perch space, and 15 percent of the usable floor of the hen house must be a scratch area. This setup allows the birds to exhibit some of their natural instincts such as dust-bathing, scratching, perching, and wing flapping. There’s no provision that the birds be allowed outdoors.

One issue not fully addressed by Walmart is beak trimming, the practice of removing part of the top and bottom of a bird’s beak in order to prevent the animals from pecking each other in close quarters under stressful conditions—and in some cases cannibalizing each other. (The term “pecking order” is very much rooted in reality.) The procedure is painful, sometimes chronically so, and may reduce the chicken’s ability to eat. The UEP suggests that it only be carried out by “properly trained personnel monitored regularly for quality control,” that egg producers use more docile breeds that don’t require beak trimming, and that the procedure be done only when necessary to prevent feather pecking and cannibalism.

The open question is whether it is possible to have industrial farming of animals under some sort of ethical standards? I maintain that it is possible, or at least it is something we should strive for under any circumstances. Without outside monitoring, I worry that the egg lobby won’t really follow through, but Walmart is a powerful player and that should be the focus of efforts to enforce this. So obviously this is something of an improvement, where a chicken’s life is at least a little bit like a chicken’s life should be. But it’s certainly not great, not with the beak trimming. Chickens are easy enough to have around that people having them in their yards should be encouraged, although not roosters. It’s a small animal that can live a decent life and produce for human consumption without really harming them. As in the rest of the industrial food system, there’s a long ways to go and a lot of work to be done. But at least this is a little something to build upon.


A People’s History of the Marvel Universe, Week 9: The Mutant Metaphor (Part I)

[ 86 ] April 14, 2016 |

people's history week 9

This particular issue  is a long time coming – and fair warning, it’s going to be part one in a multi-part series; this topic is way too big to be covered in one go – because the “mutant metaphor” is absolutely core to the intersection between politics and Marvel Comics, and thus to the brief of this series.

A lot of people have discussed the manifold ways in which the “mutant metaphor” is problematic, but what I’m going to argue in this issue is that a big part of the problem with the “mutant metaphor” is that it wasn’t clearly defined from the outset, in part because it wasn’t anywhere close to the dominant thread of X-Men comics.[i] While always an element of the original run, as much time was spent on fighting giant Kirby robots or stopping the likes of Count Nefaria from encasing Washington D.C in a giant crystal bubble. And this was always problematic, because in the shared Marvel Universe, you need to explain why it is that the X-Men are “feared and hated” and must hide beneath the façade of Xavier’s School for Gifted Youngsters in Westchester, whereas the Avengers and the Fantastic Four were treated as celebrities and could live openly on Fifth Avenue and Madison Avenue, respectively.[ii]

So what did the “mutant” metaphor mean initially?


Read more…

Playing by the Rules

[ 333 ] April 14, 2016 |

I have been trying to finish a multi-part blog post for so long now I’ll never blog again if I don’t pop in in the middle of it.  So, hello!  If your Facebook feed is anything like mine, you hear a lot of complaints like the ones by Sanders supporters in this article: Sanders is being cheated in this election.  In my feed, I saw  Wyoming’s delegate apportionment cited as evidence that Clinton was “buying the election,” right next to this extremely useful corrective from Josh Marshall, which argues (and I agree), that the structurally anti-democratic features of the primary race are on balance beneficial to Sanders.  Sanders supporters who are convinced the game is rigged against them are not exactly even-handed when they choose which features of the race to complain about.  When the Sanders campaign explicitly argued that superdelegates should flip to him, even if Clinton led in both the popular vote and in pledged delegates, there were crickets from people who a few weeks earlier were howling about the superdelegates’ affront to democracy.  If the situation were reversed, and Clinton were performing better in caucus states, and Sanders in primary states, we would not hear the end of it.  If Sanders supporters who are lodging these complaints have a deep passion for representative democracy in the primaries, the existence of caucuses should be their first target.

But I don’t just want to point out hypocrisy.   If Hillary Clinton wins the primary, it will be because more people voted for her.  Even if she loses the primary, more people likely will have voted for her.  There are a lot of financial barriers to viability as a candidate, but in a two-person race, when each candidate has money for advertising and GOTV, a Clinton victory will be a sign of the will of the majority of the Democratic electorate.  The complaining about rules (especially when blind to the ways the rules are tilted towards their guy) and the insistence that this primary is a rigged game is a distraction from the fact that they live in a big, diverse country, with a lot of different constituencies, and other people have different opinions from them — even people who might share their values in a lot of ways!  The work of electoral politics is organizing the people who agree with you and persuading the people who don’t.  It’s hard.  I lived in Wisconsin during the recall Walker movement and participated in the protests. After the recall it was common to hear Madisonians complaining that the recall failed because of money in politics.  I found this assertion baffling.  In that particular election, the left-wing critique of Walker could not have been louder or better covered in the media.  There were thousands of mobilized people who could be organized for GOTV.  The recall failed because a majority of the Wisconsin electorate, people with their own intelligence and consciousness and values, decided they supported Walker.  The activity of the protests did not persuade them otherwise.  The right lesson to take from that experience was: our strategy did not achieve our goals.  What do we need to do differently?  The right lesson was not: it’s not fair! And similarly, the Sanders campaign has done remarkably well, but perhaps in the end, not well enough, at least for the goal of getting Sanders the nomination; it still will have accomplished some valuable left-wing muscle flexing either way.  People who are crushingly disappointed by that should be able to recognize that other Democrats just have different opinions than they do, and if they want a presidential nominee from the left wing of the party, they’re going to have to have to be better organized and more persuasive.  I fail to see how complaining that a fairly won election was rigged gets any closer to that goal.  It’s actually just insulting to the people voting for Clinton, whose votes are as valid as anyone else’s.  

What a Cruz Presidency Would Look Like

[ 55 ] April 14, 2016 |


Ted Cruz’s advisers were behind the North Carolina anti-gay bill.

As he worked to rally evangelical voters a week before North Carolina’s March 15 primary, Ted Cruz gave a speech at a church in the Charlotte suburb of Kannapolis, where he was joined by a trio of prominent local social conservative supporters: Charlotte pastor and congressional candidate Mark Harris and the Benham brothers, the telegenic real estate entrepreneurs whose house-flipping show on HGTV was canceled in 2014 when their history of anti-gay activism came to light. At the event, Cruz thanked Harris for “calling the nation to revival,” and called David and Jason Benham “an extraordinary voice for the Christian faith.”

For years, Harris and the Benhams have been at the forefront of every battle to oppose gay rights in North Carolina. This past February, they were at it again, this time against a nondiscrimination ordinance proposed in Charlotte that, among other things, allowed transgender people to use public restrooms based on their gender identity and protected LGBT people from discrimination by public institutions. The advocacy of these top Cruz supporters against the Charlotte ordinance eventually led the North Carolina legislature to push through one of the most sweeping anti-LGBT measures in the country, a law that has caused a national outcry and caused many companies, including PayPal, to scrap plans to invest in the state. The law, the Public Facilities Privacy and Security Act, strikes down all existing and future LGBT nondiscrimination statutes in North Carolina and requires that transgender people use bathrooms based on their sex at birth.

Not that any of you need reminders of what this hell would consist of, but the more you know.

Read the Comments

[ 94 ] April 14, 2016 |

It’s not often you’ll hear me recommend comment sections to a reader…but there’s a reason alicublog is one of my favorite internet haunts–its commentariat is amazing. I’m always asking myself why do I read alicublog? Is it Roy?

“Here, bitch, I used milk with the cheese powder instead of water. Now suck my cock.” Swoon!

Or is it the commentariat?

LittlePig • 20 hours ago
Many men who encounter a true feminist basically cower, act indifferent,
shrug, butter up, charm, demean, ignore, or attempt to flirt.

As opposed to what? This is a damn Zen koan. “Whereas a real man will take off his left shoe, put it on his head, and play The Star Spangled Banner on a kazoo sticking out of his ass…”

EndOfTheWorld LittlePig • 18 hours ago
When a man encounters a feminist he will basically blink, shift his weight from one leg to the other, breathe, pump blood through his veins, tilt his head slightly, blink again, and generate chemical energy with his mitochondria. Every. Single. Time.

I don’t know. I refuse to choose. All I know is that I click on the site a couple times a day hoping to read gems like these; they’re honest-to-gosh day brighteners.

Yesterday Roy took on–because he is a weird masochist into some pretty freaky shit–various Federalist authors butthurting over feminism.

Truly every word from the beginning of the the entry to the last word in the comments is a joy to read. So read. Let’s start this Thursday out on a good note.

This Day in Labor History: April 9, 1865

[ 58 ] April 14, 2016 |

HH 152

This post should have gone up on April 9, but sometimes, a professor can become so convinced of a piece of trivia like a date that said professor doesn’t actually look it up and then finds out it is wrong. Speaking of a friend of course.

On April 9, 1865, the traitor Robert E. Lee surrendered his forces to U.S. general Ulysses S. Grant at Appomattox Court House, Virginia, effectively ending the Civil War. But while this might have ended the war, the slave labor system the Confederates committed treason to defend was already crumbling. That’s because the slaves, as W.E.B. DuBois noted in his 1935 book Black Reconstruction: An Essay Toward A History of the Part Which Black Folk Played in the Attempt to Reconstruct Democracy in America, 1860-1880, had already committed a general strike by walking away from the plantations. That general strike is the subject of this post.

Slaves wanted freedom from the moment they were enslaved. Whether committing suicide on the slave ships by jumping into the ocean, engaging in open rebellions like Nat Turner or the Stono Rebellion, running away, or just dreaming of a free life, slaves always wanted freedom from the hell of their lives. They took any change to get it. During the American Revolution and the War of 1812, thousands of slaves fled to British lines because of the promise of freedom. Many thousands more would have fled if they could have reached the British.

The Civil War provided another opportunity for that long-cherished freedom. As soon as U.S. troops marched south, slaves began fleeing to their lines. This most famously became an issue for the American armies to deal with when three slaves reached Fort Monroe, Virginia, which was controlled by the U.S. and where General Benjamin Butler was in charge. When the owner came back and demanded the slaves back (by the way, the sheer temerity of Confederates to complain that the U.S. was violating the Fugitive Slave Act, as they did throughout the war, is amazing), Butler refused, classifying the slaves as contraband, although he never used the word. This received the approval of Republicans in Washington, who soon passed the Confiscation Act, which stated that if the Confederacy recognized slaves as property, that the United States had the right to confiscate that property in order to win the war.

But really, even without the Confiscation Act, slaves were going to take matters into their own hands anyway. Slaves like Robert Smalls would take enormous risks for freedom, in his case stealing a boat in the Charleston harbor while dressed as a Confederate ship captain, then picking up the families of the men with him who were at a waiting point, then fleeing north until they ran into an American ship. Smalls became famous for his bravery. Many fled to McClellan’s armies in the Peninsular Campaign in 1862. Planters quickly realized the danger and attempted to move slaves into the Confederate interior, especially western states like Texas and Arkansas. Perhaps most importantly, the slaves forced American officials and the Lincoln government to take the question of slavery seriously. Much to abolitionists’ frustration, Lincoln did not use the outbreak of war to end slavery. Union was his more important issue. But the slaves self-emancipating changed that. Faced with a fait accompli that slaves were going to flee on their own, Lincoln moved toward issuing the Emancipation Proclamation. I do think that Lincoln would have eventually done such a thing anyway, but certainly not in the fall of 1862. Slaves’ desire to flee slavery and then fight for the United States was an overwhelming argument for Lincoln and it shows how slave agency is absolutely central to our understanding of the decline of slave labor as an American institution.

Often, they completely overwhelmed northern armies that were marching in the South. That was especially true of that of William Tecumseh Sherman marching through Georgia and South Carolina. These slaves were often very poor and in terrible health. With the Confederacy going hungry by 1864 generally, slaves were getting less food than ever. But their sheer determination to win their freedom moved Sherman, who was no racial radical. These people were truly starving. Later they remembered scouring the ground to find nuts, roots, or wild greens to get something in their stomachs. Sherman marching through Georgia actually made slaves more hungry, but it also gave them the opportunity to win their freedom. Thousands of refugees were following Sherman’s armies by the time he got to Savannah in December 1864. That doesn’t mean that the officers wanted them. Some embraced the self-freed slaves, others wanted rid of them by any means necessary, but the now freed people were going to do whatever it took for obtain and keep that freedom.

Many of these slaves wanted to join the American military and seek to then fight for their own freedom and that of their loved ones. For example, John Boston fled from the plantation where he was a slavery in Maryland in 1862. He joined the military and later he was able to write to his wife, still stuck in slavery. He wrote, “My Dear Wife it is with grate joy I take to let you know Whare I am i am in Safety in the 14th Regiment of Brooklyn this Day I can Address you thank god as a free man I had a little truble in giting away But as the lord led the Children of Isrel to the land of Canon So he led me to a land Whare freedom Will rain in spite of earth and hell Dear you must make your Self content i am free from all the Slavers.”

This is the promise of freedom. This is how African-Americans self-emancipated. They simply walked away. When Confederate power faded, as it did with the arrival of American armies near plantations where male authority was waning as the war went on because of military service, they took their lives into the own hands. They effectively stopped growing cotton and rice, stopped working in the house, stopped supporting the plantation system. They followed the American army to freedom. They wanted more–primarily land, education, and eventually, the vote. Most of that would be temporary or denied or granted and then repealed in the case of Sherman’s Special Order No. 15 that gave slaves 160 acres of confiscated plantation lands between Charleston and the Florida border. The promises of emancipation would not be fully implemented. But whatever happened, slavery was dead. And it was dead in no small part because the slaves themselves decided they wouldn’t be slaves any longer.

And, not surprisingly, the now-freed slaves joyously rubbed their freedom in their masters’ faces when they could. The brilliant letter from ex-slave Jourdon Anderson to his ex-master Col. P.H. Anderson when the latter wrote to ask him to come back to work on the plantation after the war is the best way to conclude:

Dayton, Ohio,

August 7, 1865

To My Old Master, Colonel P.H. Anderson, Big Spring, Tennessee

Sir: I got your letter, and was glad to find that you had not forgotten Jourdon, and that you wanted me to come back and live with you again, promising to do better for me than anybody else can. I have often felt uneasy about you. I thought the Yankees would have hung you long before this, for harboring Rebs they found at your house. I suppose they never heard about your going to Colonel Martin’s to kill the Union soldier that was left by his company in their stable. Although you shot at me twice before I left you, I did not want to hear of your being hurt, and am glad you are still living. It would do me good to go back to the dear old home again, and see Miss Mary and Miss Martha and Allen, Esther, Green, and Lee. Give my love to them all, and tell them I hope we will meet in the better world, if not in this. I would have gone back to see you all when I was working in the Nashville Hospital, but one of the neighbors told me that Henry intended to shoot me if he ever got a chance.

I want to know particularly what the good chance is you propose to give me. I am doing tolerably well here. I get twenty-five dollars a month, with victuals and clothing; have a comfortable home for Mandy,—the folks call her Mrs. Anderson,—and the children—Milly, Jane, and Grundy—go to school and are learning well. The teacher says Grundy has a head for a preacher. They go to Sunday school, and Mandy and me attend church regularly. We are kindly treated. Sometimes we overhear others saying, “Them colored people were slaves” down in Tennessee. The children feel hurt when they hear such remarks; but I tell them it was no disgrace in Tennessee to belong to Colonel Anderson. Many darkeys would have been proud, as I used to be, to call you master. Now if you will write and say what wages you will give me, I will be better able to decide whether it would be to my advantage to move back again.

As to my freedom, which you say I can have, there is nothing to be gained on that score, as I got my free papers in 1864 from the Provost-Marshal-General of the Department of Nashville. Mandy says she would be afraid to go back without some proof that you were disposed to treat us justly and kindly; and we have concluded to test your sincerity by asking you to send us our wages for the time we served you. This will make us forget and forgive old scores, and rely on your justice and friendship in the future. I served you faithfully for thirty-two years, and Mandy twenty years. At twenty-five dollars a month for me, and two dollars a week for Mandy, our earnings would amount to eleven thousand six hundred and eighty dollars. Add to this the interest for the time our wages have been kept back, and deduct what you paid for our clothing, and three doctor’s visits to me, and pulling a tooth for Mandy, and the balance will show what we are in justice entitled to. Please send the money by Adams’s Express, in care of V. Winters, Esq., Dayton, Ohio. If you fail to pay us for faithful labors in the past, we can have little faith in your promises in the future. We trust the good Maker has opened your eyes to the wrongs which you and your fathers have done to me and my fathers, in making us toil for you for generations without recompense. Here I draw my wages every Saturday night; but in Tennessee there was never any pay-day for the negroes any more than for the horses and cows. Surely there will be a day of reckoning for those who defraud the laborer of his hire.

In answering this letter, please state if there would be any safety for my Milly and Jane, who are now grown up, and both good-looking girls. You know how it was with poor Matilda and Catherine. I would rather stay here and starve—and die, if it come to that—than have my girls brought to shame by the violence and wickedness of their young masters. You will also please state if there has been any schools opened for the colored children in your neighborhood. The great desire of my life now is to give my children an education, and have them form virtuous habits.

Say howdy to George Carter, and thank him for taking the pistol from you when you were shooting at me.

From your old servant,

Jourdon Anderson.

This is the 175th post in this series. Previous posts are archived here.

The Best of Haggard

[ 17 ] April 13, 2016 |

One more Merle Haggard post is necessary to commemorate of the career of one of the greatest musical artists in American history. I wanted to share with you 10 songs I think are just outstanding. My list might be a little different tomorrow and these aren’t his 10 more popular songs per se. Just 10 of my favorites and a bit about why.

10) “Wishing All These Old Things Were New”

Truthfully this probably isn’t my 10th favorite Haggard song but I wanted to represent his later career. But it’s a very good song off of a very solid album with one of the great lyrics ever to start off an album:

Watching while some old friends do a line
Holding back the want to in my own addicted mind
Wishin’ it was still the thing even I could do
Wishin’ all these old things were new”

Great stuff.

9) “Big City”

This 1981 hit was probably Merle’s best song of a lost decade. The 80s were rough on a whole lot of musicians of the 60s. This song doesn’t have the leftist politics that lots of people want from musicians to like them. It’s as incoherent as any Haggard song this way–he takes about how he just wants what’s coming to him when he leaves the city and moves to Montana, but he says to keep the retirement and the “so-called social security.” Which is of course what’s coming to him. Whatever. It’s a fine song about someone dying to leave his crappy job and the city and move to the country. A classic theme in country music and in American life.

8) “Swinging Doors”

Can’t do this list without a drinking song.

7) “Sing Me Back Home”

One of the great all-time prison songs.

6) “The Farmer’s Daughter”

Merle gets so much guff for his anti-hippie songs, and fair enough. But sometimes the characters he portrayed in his music had more space for accepting hippies. This lovely song is a good example. It’s also a good reminder that Merle was a pretty fair fiddler.

5) “Today I Started Loving You Again”

One of the great all-time broken heart songs, a staple theme of country music.

4) “Carolyn”

Haggard mostly avoided the big string arrangements of the 60s and 70s that came to the fore with Owen Bradley’s production of Patsy Cline and others are reached their apotheosis with Billy Sherrill’s productions of George Jones. I like that stuff fine. I also like that Haggard kept it simple, cutting through the overproduction for straight-forward unpretentious lyrics and arrangements. I think one reason I like “Carolyn” so much is that it is Haggard deciding to change things up and including some big arrangements. This version also benefits from Merle’s red leather jacket and Glen Campbell.

3) “Silver Wings”

The last time I saw Haggard, he dedicated this to the families of soldiers. My understanding is that this has nothing to do with the song as written, but it really gives the song it another meaning. Whether a military family or anyone else, there’s little as sad as watching a loved one fly away (or after 2001, leave them at security.

2) “Mama Tried”

I don’t think I need to explain this one. It’s Haggard’s most widely beloved song, for obvious reasons. Not sure about that set though.

1) “If We Make It Through December”

Simply one of my favorite songs of all time. This version is from 1978.

NHL Playoff Preview 2016: Canada-Free Edition

[ 39 ] April 13, 2016 |


Where have you been, my blue-eyed son? It’s time. All my powers of expression, and thoughts so sublime, could never do it justice, in reason or rhyme: the NHL playoffs. I’m sure the ghosts of electricity are howling through the ghosts of your face as we speak. After going 11-4 last year and 13-2 the previous year, you can take these picks STRAIGHT TO THE BANK, just like my predictions about Republican primaries. As always, we will be favored with the Eastern Conference wisdom of celebrated author, sniper, and former Grand Poohbah of American Literatchoor Michael Berubue. One more cup of coffee for the road, and we shall go to the valley below:

#1 DAL v. WC2 MIN Admittedly, I have a vested interest in the Stars making it to the conference final. But I see a slow train coming up around the bend for Minnesota here. The Stars are one of the best even-strength possession teams in the league, while the Wild can be found with the likes of the Canucks and Blue Jackets well below average. One caveat: the Stars have impressive firepower and solid defense, but their goaltending is more frailer than the flowers. The Wild won’t have Zach Parise but they do have an excellent goaltender in Dubnyk (and how about the Oilers selling low on him, huh? They’re idiots, babe, it’s a wonder that they still know how to breathe. Please, NHL, how about we give then 5 #1 picks in 7 years! They could hire Sam Hinke and keep the chain going!) If you have better goaltending, you have a chance. Still, I’m guessing the Wild will be quickly headed back to the golf course, I do believe they will have seen enough. STARS IN 5

#2 STL v. #3 CHI The Blues are an excellent team that has been left standing in the doorway, crying, in the dark land of the early rounds because of the simple twist of fate that they happen to share a conference with two better ones. They have the Hall of Fame coach, they have excellent defense, they have the Hall of Fame-caliber coach, but they haven’t had the Towes, the Kopitar, the transcendant talent than can be the difference between the very good and the great. If Tarasenko isn’t in that class now he’s certainly very close, Brian Elliot had an excellent year, and the still-formidable Blackhawks did show some decline with their depth having thinned out a bit and an awful lot of wear on the tires. The Blues might continue to be the Show-Me State’s answer to the Sharks. But I think it will finally be time for the Windy City’s tears. BLUES IN 7.

#1. ANA v. WC1 NASH Having records that outpaced their possession for years, the Ducks overcame an unlucky start and some free agent defections and were an elite team in every respect this year. This should make for a good series with a fine Nashville team that isn’t spectacular but is solid two ways.
But I feel there will be buckets of rain over the Nashville skyline by the time Anaheim’s superior front-line talent causes the Predators to throw it all away. DUCKS IN 6.

#2 LA v. #3 SJ You know the Kings — they’ve got everything they need, they’re artists, they don’t look back. They have solid offense, great defensive talent coached by a defensive master, size, goaltending. They’re the neighborhood bully; around them the sun’s not yellow, it’s chicken. And unlike Chicago, if anything they’re getting better. For San Jose’s longtime core, meanwhile, if it’s not dark yet it’s getting there. Still, Peter DeBoer has done a nice job getting a bounceback season for the Sharks. For all the postseason frustration that seems to be written in every leaf that trembles and every grain of sand, Thornton and Marleau appear forever young, and Hertl makes them devastating up the middle. Who knows — perhaps San Jose will find that they were so much older then, and they’re younger than that now, and we’ll see a changing of the guard. But given the matchup I think the groom will still be waiting at the altar. KINGS IN 6.

And, now, we turn to Michael:

Well, LGM readers, it’s time to turn that heartbeat over again. Any major dude with half a heart….

No, wait. No. Not this year. I’m not going to offer my Eastern Conference playoff picks by lacing them with Steely Dan lyrics. Not because I want to give you a break, but because you don’t deserve the effort. Year after year Scott and I comb through the catalogue of the craftiest, most convoluted, involuted, and self-indulgent songwriters in 70s rock in order to bring you the only NHL playoff predictions that tell you not only who to watch for but also to be careful what you carry, and all you do is complain. “Steely Dan sucks,” you wittily retort, because you’ve been telling me you’re a genius since you were seventeen. I was going to punish you all this year by making my first-round picks by lacing them with Billy Joel lyrics instead, but in the end I just couldn’t do it. It would hurt me far more than it would hurt you. And besides, when will you realize that Vienna waits for you? Me, I’ve got the old man’s car, I’ve got a jazz guitar, I’ve got a tab at Zanzibar….

Besides, my picks this year are determined by the fact that I got to precisely one game all year, Ducks v. Islanders in the Barclay Center, in late December when the Ducks were last in the West and Montreal was burning it up in the East. What the hell happened since then? A mess of stuff, I suspect.

(Metropolitan 1) Washington v. (Wild Card 2) Philadelphia. Feh. An annoying, perpetually underachieving team faces off against demon spawn. I suppose I should be grateful to the Flyers’ Brayden Schenn for colliding with surprisingly talented Penguins backup goalie Matt Murphy in the final game of the season and knocking him out of the lineup, but I’m not, really I’m not. As for the Caps, they will go very far someday, if and when they realize it takes four games to win a series in the new “best of seven” format. They were formidable in the regular season. Impressive, even. That will get them through round one—fairly easily. I think the only question is whether the Flyers will be reduced to pleading for God’s sake, don’t shut me out. Capitals in five.

(Atlantic 1) Florida v. (Wild Card 1) New York Islanders.I spent at least half the Islanders game wondering what it will mean for the franchise to have moved to Brooklyn. Back in the day (1972-73), building an arena in Nassau County and ensuring that mass transit could get nowhere near it was an emphatic statement: this is the burbs. This is not New York. This is the Gisland. This is O’Reilly-and-Hannity Land. We revereBilly Joel here. Whereas half the Barclay Center that night, it seemed, consisted of Rangers fans looking for cheap tickets (I got mine on StubHub below face value) and checking out the likely first-round competition. Alas, because the Isles dropped their final game (to the Flyers, an otherwise meaningless makeup-because-snowstorm game), they get the Panthers and the ageless Jaromir Jagr, 68 years old (I think?) and still a force to be reckoned with. This series could go either way, but something tells me it will go south, and who knows? The Panthers could make a real run, as they did for no discernable reason in 1996. They say the playoffs are either sadness or euphoria, and these two franchises have been all about the sadness for many years.Panthers in six.

(Metropolitan 2) Pittsburgh v. (Metropolitan 3) New York Rangers. So instead of Rangers-Isles, my boys in blue get to face the hottest team in the league, a team that just happens to have beaten the Rangers three times in March alone, a franchise that is still seething from the Rangers’ 2014 comeback from 3-1 (which derailed the Pens badly) and last year’s embarrassing five-game first-round exit. But Evgeni Malkin will not play. Starting goalie Marc-Andre Fleury is out with a concussion. Backup Murphy (see above) has been given a head injury by demon spawn. The poor Pens are frantically calling up a 20-year-old from Wilkes-Barre, Tristan Jarry, to serve as backup behind the very inexperienced Jeff Zatkoff. Tristan Jarry combines the épater-le-bourgeois rebound control of Tristan Tzara with the ubu-roi butterfly style of Alfred Jarry, which is to say that I have never heard of him. Meanwhile, two of the Rangers’ best are questionable–captain Ryan McDonagh will not start and franchise goalie Henrik Lundqvist has been uncharacteristically erratic in recent weeks (including one memorable meltdown in Pittsburgh!). This one is going to depend on who fills their holes better, and my head tells me Pens in six. But I can’t root against my own pick and I don’t want to see the lights go out on Broadway, so Rangers in seven because reasons, and who knows, we might even see backup Antti Raanta in net at some point. Facing down the fearsome Tristan Jarry of Wilkes-Barre.

(Atlantic 2) Tampa Bay v. (Atlantic 3) Detroit. Please, if you feel the need to complain about the fact that the NHL has teams in Miami and Tampa Bay, do it on some other blog. I am just tired of that shit. It is like complaining about the new “best of seven” format. The Lightning are a good team, an exciting team. They dispatched the Red Wings last year, then the Canadiens, then the Rangers– taking that series by winning three games in Madison Square Garden, the last two by convincing 2-0 shutouts– before falling to the mighty Black Hawks. (The first team to meet four Original Six teams in one playoff year!) Meanwhile, the Red Wings have made the playoffs for the 25th straight year. Remember when the St. Louis Blues made the playoffs for 25 straight years? Yes, well, the Blues did that from 1979 to 2004, and for the first 15 years of that run, the NHL had 21 teams and a 16-team playoff, leading Dick Young to quip that if World War II had been conducted like the NHL, Poland would have made the playoffs. The Blues did not reach the finals once– and reached the conference finals only twice– in that span. Whereas the Red Wings have won four Cups and have lost in the finals twice. The point is that this is a real streak; they are always to be feared, even when Pavel Datsyuk is distracting his teammates with talk of retirement. The Blues knew this well, developing a fatal case of wingedwheelphobia in the 1990s that sucked all the strength from their limbs whenever they had to face Detroit. Still, you can linger too long in your dreams, right? Now the Wings are in the East and the Blues cannot beat the Hawks. But I will leave that to Scott, of course (Hawks in six). All I will do is wonder why Detroit is back in the East and why the East has sixteen teams to the West’s fourteen. Was this to give Calgary, Edmonton, Winnipeg, or Vancouver a chance? Because that’s not working out so well. Lightning in six.

[SL]: I’ll take the Caps, Panthers, Red Wings, and (sorry Michael) Penguins. And now, to make up for the lack of SD references, I bring you this seminal event in the history of American music:

Likely Republican Presidential Nominee Made Key Contribution to Epochal Constitutional Battle

[ 73 ] April 13, 2016 |

Prophets and intellectual giants on the order of Christine O’Donnell and Antonin Scalia have been warning us about this slippery slope for years. If the Supreme Court continues to recognize a so-called “right to privacy,” then perhaps the most sacred right exercised by state governments — the power to ban masturbation — might be threatened. Fortunately, Ted Cruz was there to help protect the ability of the state of Texas, in its Equalistic Sovereign Dignitude, to prevent its citizens from manipulating their genitals in a non-state approved manner.

Can We Overturn the Two Party System? No. And What Good Would It Do for Progressive Causes Anyway?

[ 137 ] April 13, 2016 |


Last weekend was the Organization of American Historians meeting in Providence and I was lucky enough to be asked to be on a roundtable titled “New Directions in American Socialism.” My colleagues on the panel all had good things to say. The audience primarily wanted to talk about Bernie, which is fine, although as I pointed out, this whole situation does beg the question of what socialism actually means today. In any case, toward the end of the conversation, one person said something along the lines of “The two-party system oppresses workers and we can’t achieve socialism with it. How do we overturn the two-party system so a real workers’ party can achieve gains?”

My answer was that you can’t. The two-party system is never going away. There is 225 years of history now behind my assertion. There simply have not been viable third-parties at any point in American history. The strongest case for a third party is the Populists, but they are the exception that proves the rule. First, as Jeffery Ostler pointed out many years ago, the Populists only had strength in states that lacked a functional second party. In other words, on the state level, the Populists served as a second party in one-party state. Second, the Populists were completely co-opted in 1896 and it totally destroyed them immediately. Since then, look at what you have. Eugene Debs’ Socialist Party campaigns did attract some popular support but certainly never came anywhere close to electoral relevance outside of a few cities. There’s Roosevelt’s 1912 Bull Moosers, which was a “party” based around a single man’s ego. There’s the Progressive Party in 1924 that collapsed immediately. Then there’s Wallace in 1948, which is a good cautionary tale for leftist political parties. There’s a few protest third party candidates, mostly southern anti-civil rights types like Thurmond and Wallace. There’s whatever John Anderson (still living!) was about. There’s Perot’s Reform Party, which again, as a party didn’t stand for anything and couldn’t build on his momentum. And then there’s Nader and the Green Party, which did nothing to affect American politics except elect George W. Bush to the presidency. As Scott says, losing does not move the Democratic Party to the left.

That’s it. At this point, if you want a legitimate third party option on the left, or on the right for that matter, the evidence is on you to show me how this can happen. Because it can’t. At best, you might see one of the two political parties collapse and then out of its ruins, a third party develops. But in this case, it’s most likely to look something like the Republicans, which means most of the collapsed party plus some others attracted by the decline of the old order to the new positions. The American political system simply will not allow a third party to develop in any meaningful.

Moreover, third parties are a tremendous waste of organizing energy. Green Party organizers spend (or spent back in 2000 and 2004) a fantastic amount of time on party-building. They achieved nothing. Imagine if that energy had been spent on organizing around issue-based politics. So much could have been achieved. This is one the way forward for the socialist left. Given that the two-party system is entrenched and is not going anywhere, socialist energy should be split between organizing to move the Democratic Party to the left and making it more of a socialist party and organizing outside of the political parities on economic and social issues, ranging from the minimum wage to racist police violence. That organizing can then affect the political system, as we are seeing with the recent push to raise the minimum wage.

After I made these points, my colleague Peter Cole also made the valid point that nations with multi-party systems are not exactly socialist paradises. This is another burden of evidence that’s upon those who want third parties. What good will they actually do? How will multi-party democracies lead to greater socialism than two-party states? Where is that socialism in Britain or France or Italy or Germany? Seems to me that many of the same problems affecting the United States’ working class are also impacting those nations, although they were starting at places with greater rights for workers due to a variety of historical circumstances (traditionally less employer resistance to unions than the U.S., more homogeneous populations, the remaking of society and popular demand for socialism of some kind after World War II, etc).

I know that for most readers of this site, these points are well-known. But they remain powerful on the left, including with the Bernie or Busters. Most of those people will probably just sit out the presidential election and they wouldn’t have voted anyway if Bernie or maybe Warren wasn’t the nominee. But they have powerful stories to tell about the perfidy of the two parties and we need to fight back with strong political analysis.

How the Temp, Outsourced, and Contracted Economy is Fueling Political Discontent and the 2016 Election

[ 67 ] April 13, 2016 |



A favorite parlour game among the D.C. media is to ponder why Americans seem so angry this election season. Reporters drop themselves into primary states like Marlin Perkins in a Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom episode, trying to decipher these strange creatures who are so frustrated with the U.S. economy that they’d vote for a faux-populist billionaire or an avowed socialist. Why isn’t everybody satisfied with a status quo of slow-yet-steady economic recovery and a record number of consecutive months of private sector job growth?

But The New York Times’s Neil Irwin might have found an answer last week, when he pointed to eye-opening new research from Princeton’s Alan Krueger and Harvard’s Lawrence Katz on Americans in alternative work arrangements, which they defined as “temporary help agency workers, on-call workers, contract workers, and independent contractors or freelancers.” This cohort of the workforce grew from 10.1 percent in 2005 to 15.8 percent at the end of 2015, representing an increase of 9.4 million workers. That’s all of the growth in the labor market over the past decade.

It’s small wonder that most of the media and the politicians can’t look beyond raw numbers and actually investigate why people aren’t satisfied. That would take actual work. But let’s be clear, there are actual solutions here that don’t have to include completely dismantling the current employment system.

The answer, which Hill endorses in his book, is to make these workplace benefits simultaneously universal and portable. Employers shouldn’t have the opportunity to shift responsibilities to workers simply because of their job classifications. Workers should be able to participate in multi-employer benefit plans, similar to those that already exist for construction trades, which go with them from job to job.

These operate like insurance plans: Workers pay in a small amount in every week and get health and pension benefits, disability or unemployment insurance, even sick and vacation days. But to make them work, it’s essential that employers also have to contribute a matching portion of a worker’s salary into the plans, regardless of whether the employee is on staff or a contract worker. This way, independent contractors receive the same protections and benefits for doing mostly the same work as everybody else.

This would take the safety net for individuals out of the discretion of the employer, and end the discrimination against the 1099 worker. It could also lead to federalizing the safety net in ways that would widen the pool of workers covered, and lead to greater efficiencies. You could imagine multi-employer plans competing with one another to attract workers, offering extra perks like job training and apprenticeships, childcare, or other worker-linked benefits.

This is utterly sensible. Yet I think it is telling that such common-sense solutions to these problems are not part of the Democratic primary. I think that many Americans know they are unhappy. They have found a couple of candidates who give voice to that unhappiness. Trump allows them to embrace their racism and resentments, Sanders appeals to those who actually want to make the lives of people better. But we have been slapped in the face by a capitalism we thought would work for us and maybe worked for our parents but certainly is not actually working for half the population or more. We are at the stage where concrete solutions are still percolating up through the system. Some are closer to current policy possibilities like this, others a bit farther like my ideas to deal with unrestrained capital mobility. But we need to be prioritizing real, tangible solutions to economic crises of the New Gilded Age. This is the sort of program that Clinton or Sanders should be outlining in detail. The intellectual legwork and research has been done and is being done. This is sensible and real. Let’s support it.

Today in the Neoliberal University

[ 55 ] April 13, 2016 |


Normally, I avoid using the word “neoliberalism” whenever possible since people use it almost as irresponsibly as they use the term “genocide” to describe something they don’t like. But of course neoliberalism has a meaning, which includes the privatization of public resources. That is part, although not all, of the problem with academia today. With declining state resources for public universities, ballooning administrator salaries, increased competition to attract students through amenities, etc., there is a lot of room for private companies to profit. Add to this the fact that college and university governance boards, public or private, are increasingly made up of businesspeople instead of academics, and cutting programs, privatizing services, and slashing budgets is the way college administrators can rise. Thus it’s hardly surprising to read that the president of the University of Arizona and chancellor of the University of California-Davis took jobs as members of the DeVry Education Group board of directors.

As the president of the University of Arizona, Hart makes $665,000. As the chancellor of the University of California at Davis, Katehi makes $424,360. Like most leaders of public colleges, they are some of the highest-paid public officials in their states.

In February, they both accepted second jobs: as board members of DeVry Education Group, a for-profit education company, for which they would earn an extra $70,000 a year — plus $100,000 in stock.

Within days, California critics were calling for Katehi to give up her board seat, while others called for her to resign from her position at UC Davis.

DeVry, a for-profit university, is facing allegations from the Federal Trade Commission, which claims that the company made false claims about its job placement rates and its graduates’ earnings. By serving on DeVry’s board, critics say, public university presidents legitimize its practices.

“No public university representative should be sitting the board of a company that is still mired in scandal,” said Carmen Balber, executive director of Consumer Watchdog, a group that co-wrote an open letter asking Katehi to step down.

But Katehi’s story goes beyond DeVry: she had also served on the board of the textbook publisher John Wiley & Sons, which critics believe constitutes a conflict of interest.

When the second board membership came to light, California Assembly Member Kevin McCarty called for legislative hearings.

“It is unseemly,” he said in a statement, “for the chancellor to be moonlighting side deals to fatten her bank account, especially when it runs contrary to the interests of our students.”

Nearly one-third of public college presidents serve on corporate boards. Most of those companies exist in far-flung industries, and the issues at play are different: Why should college presidents involve themselves with shipping, with search engines, with banking?

That’s a good question. College presidents will come up with answers to that question, but will avoid the real answer, which is that they are cashing in at the expense of their students. When the differences between (at least theoretically) not-for-profit education and overtly predatory private higher education scams disappear, it’s because public education is turning into the latter.

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