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Category: General

How To Build A Strawman: Learning From the Master

[ 148 ] June 11, 2016 |


Jamelle Bouie made an anodyne point about the mix of support for the Sanders campaign yesterday:

The point is neither difficult to understand nor should it be remotely controversial. Sanders voters are, on balance, more liberal than Clinton voters. But many Sanders voters (like Clinton supporters) are ideological moderates or don’t have coherent ideological views. Sanders’s margins in West Virginia, for example, were essentially identical among Democrats who ID as “very liberal,” “somewhat liberal” and “moderate,” and as has been widely discussed Sanders won among both voters who wanted policies more and less liberal than Barack Obama, although his margins among the former were larger.

The point is simply that you can’t impute a single, collective worldview to Sanders voters. It would be ridiculous to say that Sanders’s unexpectedly strong campaign doesn’t reflect an increasingly liberal Democratic electorate (which is reflected in the party moving to the left, even if to Freddie it’s always 1996.) It would also be ridiculous to claim that each and every Sanders voter — including those whose candidate preference order is Trump > Manchin > Sanders > Clinton > Obama — is screaming for MOAR SOCIALISM.

No point, however, can be simple enough to stop Freddie deBoer from what now occupies virtually all of his time on the internets, arguing with imaginary liberals:

This is a misreading in almost farcical bad faith. Bouie does not deny that there are people to his left. He does not deny that there are supporters of Bernie Sanders who are to his left. He does not deny that Sanders is to Clinton’s left. Bouie did not make the argument that deBoer attributes to him, for the obvious reason that nobody believes these things. It’s about as pure a strawman-burning as you’re ever going to find. He’s arguing with literally nobody.

And, of course, this is a close cousin to the argument that if you make the (unambiguously true) observation that white supremacy is a significant factor in explaining Trump’s capture of the Republican nomination, you therefore oppose policies that would help working-class voters. Needless to say, Freddie is also a big fan of this argument, and also needless to say has identified a grand total of zero liberals who have the views he attributes to them. He’s become so obsessively focused on arguments that everyone on the left of the American political spectrum he perceives as being to his right is Doing Leftism Wrong or is a closet conservative I’m not sure he would be capable of engaging with an actual argument with an actual liberal even if he wanted to. It’s all strawmen, all the way down.

And now, the punchline:

Projection is one hell of a drug.


Organizing Chinese Walmart Workers

[ 8 ] June 11, 2016 |

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Walmart’s horrendous labor practices have long exploited the American working class and it’s anti-union extremism makes it a nearly impossible place to organize, despite significant resources from unions going toward efforts to open it up to unions. The same labor policies are in place in China and Chinese workers, increasingly empowered to stand up for themselves, are making the same complaints.

 Activists like Zhang Jun are part of an increasingly militant rank-and-file movement, which runs a loose network of about 5,000 Walmart workers across China, organized through social media, and has forged ties with labor advocates in Hong Kong and even the United States, with an open letter expressing solidarity. Though Walmart’s China operations count for just 3 percent of global retail sales (contrasting with China’s outsized manufacturing role in Walmart’s supply chain), they employ more than 100,000 workers at 433 outlets in 169 Chinese cities.

The Walmart brand itself turns out to be an ideal organizer. The plans to introduce “flexible” schedules as part of a workforce “optimization” program have galvanized workers’ anger across China, along with rising fears of labor deregulation.

Zhang Jun tells The Nation that under the initiative, workers would face intensified workloads and be deprived of legal recourse to challenge unfair schedule policies in the civil legal system. The destabilization of working conditions would “potentially make workers more fearful and less assertive in voicing their concerns on various grievances in terms of organizing unions,” he adds.

Walmart in China contends the “flexibility” initiative has “support from the majority of employees,” but it would “maintain open communication with” others “who are temporarily unable to understand,” reports The Sixth Tone. Walmart Corporate representative Marilee McInnis states via e-mail that the system “will enable Walmart to execute strategic talent management.”

Of course, if Walmart is using the same worker model in China as in the U.S., it can use its security model as the U.S. too, which is to call the cops for every little thing, effectively outsourcing its security onto taxpayers.

The Express-Times, like the Tampa Bay Times, found that Walmart was the site of more police calls in one year in its region than anywhere else. It published a similar story to the investigative report that had appeared earlier in the Tampa Bay Times and showed how Walmarts here had accounted for about 16,800 calls in a year, or two an hour, every hour of every day.

Casey then wrote to Walmart President Doug McMillon, urging the company “to examine its internal security protocol to ensure effective deterrence measures are in place and reduce the burden on local police.”

“Of course, police protect and serve every member of our communities, but the significant volume of calls from Wal-Mart stores raises serious questions about whether the company’s current security infrastructure effectively deters crime without overburdening local police departments, many of which already operate on stretched budgets,” the senator wrote in the letter, a copy of which The Express-Times posted online.

The Tampa Bay Times found that a large portion of calls to Walmart were for shoplifting, but an even bigger slice concerned general disorder, including drunk customers, mouthy teens and panhandlers. Experts said that more staffing, uniformed security and better store layouts could help Walmart deter many of those problems.

Casey contended that “large retailers like Wal-Mart bear responsibility to have in place reasonable security measures to assist in the deterrence of frivolous crimes.”

Reasonable security measures are for suckers. Walmart didn’t become a successful corporation through caring about anything but it’s bottom line. And I don’t doubt the Chinese police will be happy to help, especially if there are union organizers involved.

A Dead Party

[ 155 ] June 11, 2016 |


The California Republican Party is dead and buried in the ground.

 In a year when control of the Senate hangs in the balance—a year in which both parties are competing feverishly for every advantage—California’s seat is up for grabs. Senator Barbara Boxer, a Democrat who was first elected to the Senate in 1992, is retiring.

But instead of a contest between a Democrat and a Republican in the state that once saw some of the most intensely partisan and politically engaged Senate races in the country, the fight to fill Boxer’s seat will be between two Democrats.

Under California’s nonpartisan “blanket primary” law, which was enacted by the voters in 2010, Tuesday’s Senate primary ballot featured all the candidates on one list. Democrats, Republicans, and several dozen third-party and independent candidates competed against one another in a race where only the top two finishers could earn a place on the November ballot.

That would not have been much of a challenge for a functional Republican Party. But it was an insurmountable challenge for the California Republican Party. Several GOP contenders hit the campaign trail, but none of them got anywhere close to being competitive. They simply split a minority of the vote and languished in single digits.

To be fair, the blanket primary law is pure Third Way bullshit, designed to make sure that reasonable moderates acceptable to elites are elected so that, in precisely this situation, Republicans can have a conservative Democrat to vote for, even though her own party doesn’t want Sanchez to be in the November election. But this situation also shows just how dead California Republicans have come. And given the reasons for that (thanks Pete Wilson!) and the changing demographics of the United States, this could happen in more states if the Republicans continue their ever more intense commitment to white supremacy. Now, that will reinforce the party in some states, but Kansas and Idaho does not a successful party make.

But in the short term, Trump should totally try to win California. Please expend as many resources as possible there. As a Democrat, I am very scared of this possibility!

When Are the Bribery Charges Filed?

[ 25 ] June 11, 2016 |


The open and seemingly illegal deal making between Trump and various Republican lawmakers over his “university” is so blatant, I have trouble seeing why charges won’t be filed.

Florida’s attorney general personally solicited a political contribution from Donald Trump around the same time her office deliberated joining an investigation of alleged fraud at Trump University and its affiliates

The new disclosure from Attorney General Pam Bondi’s spokesman to The Associated Press on Monday provides additional details around the unusual circumstances of Trump’s $25,000 donation to Bondi. After the money came in, Bondi’s office nixed suing Trump.

The money came from a Trump family foundation in apparent violation of rules surrounding political activities by charities. A political group backing Bondi’s re-election, called And Justice for All, reported receiving the check Sept. 17, 2013 — four days after Bondi publicly announced she was considering joining a New York state probe of Trump University’s activities.

And of course Trump has demanded this process.

The timing of the donation by Trump is notable because the now presumptive Republican presidential nominee has said he expected and received favors from politicians to whom he gave money.

“When I want something I get it,” the presumptive Republican nominee said at an Iowa rally in January. “When I call, they kiss my ass. It’s true.”

In addition to the money given by his foundation, Donald Trump himself has donated $253,500 since 2002 in Florida, most of it going to Republican candidates, the state party or political committees affiliated with GOP officials. His daughter, Ivanka Trump, also gave a $500 check to Bondi a week before her father’s money was reported as being received, as well as another $25,000 to the Republican Party of Florida the following year.

That’s pretty ugly. And then of course there’s also Texas.

Guess which Texas Republican is the only politician who Donald Trump contributed to his campaign, and is coincidentally the same person who used his political power to abruptly end the probe of Trump University for criminal misconduct? That former Texas Attorney General is now Republican Governor Greg Abbott. He ended the case against Trump University, then a few years later received $35,000 in campaign contributions as his reward. All told, Donald Trump was facing a settlement cost of $5,400,000, but Texas Republican Greg Abbott let him off the hook with nothing more than a promise to leave Texas, leaving taxpayers on the hook for the costs of investigating, and leaving scammed students in the lurch.

I’m no legal expert, but I’m struggling to figure out how this is legal.

Race and the Economy

[ 8 ] June 10, 2016 |


The Roosevelt Institute has an important new report on the connections between race and economic inequality, focusing specifically on African-Americans. This is your Friday night homework.

Legal Responsibility, Not Voluntary Codes of Conduct, Is Necessary to Ensure Ethical Trade

[ 17 ] June 10, 2016 |


Last month, I spoke about Out of Sight to a class at Brown. These were, naturally enough, pretty wealthy kids. They liked the book, which was assigned to them in a class, but found one thing uncomfortable. That was the open contempt I have toward corporate behavior, seeing them as enemies of both labor standards and environmental sustainability. In their questions to me, they kept coming back to this, asking about “good corporations” or voluntary codes of conduct. I of course rejected all of this, stating that even if you have a “good” CEO, if that person leaves, the corporate culture can very easily change and that the ultimate point of corporations is to profit, not be responsible citizens. This story about the berry company Driscoll’s, which claims to have a fair trade standards and advertises that they do, is why I feel this way.

Farm workers, mostly undocumented and Indigenous, doubled their movement for a union contract this year, inspired by the winning Fight for 15 campaign but demanding more.

“It’s almost the same fight,” Ramon Torres, berry picker and director of Families United for Justice, told teleSUR. The differences, though, are important.

Since most migrant farm workers do not have U.S. citizenship, they are not protected under labor law, nor by their employees, no matter how progressive their labor policy. They also see much more cases of child labor and of wage theft.

The fruit producer is heavily backed by supermarket chains like Costco and Whole Foods, who insist that its practices comply with fair trade standards.

After the Sakuma workers brought attention to their dismal conditions — poor housing, up to 15 hours of work a day without no breaks, racial harassment — Driscoll’s responded that, “Sakuma is in compliance with our standards and is making continuous improvements in providing a forum for open dialogue and empowerment for their farmworkers.”

Because Families United for Justice is not able to register as a union under state law, Driscoll’s said there is nothing else they can do.

Still, Torres said that it proudly distributes a sticker that guarantees fair trade practices, essentially a lie that covers up continuing mistreatment of its employers.

Simply put, voluntary fair trade standards without legal requirements are utterly meaningless. That doesn’t mean they are terrible in themselves or anything. If a company wants to engage in fair trade standards and then actually does so, then good. But if nothing is forcing them to and there’s no monitoring of it by outside organizations, the chances is that it’s just the labor version of greenwashing.

The Reality of Oil Production, In Sight for Once

[ 27 ] June 10, 2016 |


The big story in the Northwest right now is the overturning of the oil train in Oregon’s beautiful Columbia Gorge, leading to a big explosion and fire. Katie Herzog at Grist tells us that these oil trains are weapons of mass destruction.

That’s true. Everything about oil production is a horrible for the environment and for the communities around the oil wells and refineries. But it’s worth noting how much of this production we have banished out of sight. These sorts of terrible events happen pretty much every day in Saudi Arabia, in Venezuela, and in Nigeria. Even in the United States, the refineries are located where most of us never have to see them, but where poor people of color have to live next to them. What the oil trains have done is bring the reality of oil production into our sight when they derail or catch fire. Hopefully, we build on this not just to push against oil trains passing through our cities and beautiful places but to demand safer labor, environmental, and transportation standards throughout the oil industry, no matter where the wells and refineries are located.

There’s a train wreck, picking up survivors from a plane crash

[ 290 ] June 10, 2016 |


Your latest reminder that the Trump campaign is a disaster:

If Donald Trump were an otherwise normal candidate — with a reasonable knowledge of public policy and no pronounced affection for authoritarian rulers or habit of blurting out overtly misogynistic and racist comments — the Republican Party Establishment would still be in complete meltdown right now over his campaign’s political incompetence. Recent reports have uncovered a slew of hair-raising details about the campaign’s amateur/quasi-nonexistent status. Trump is raising nowhere close to the level of money required to run a modern presidential campaign. His campaign staff is skeletal and lacks the ability to coordinate a message, leading to chaotic setpieces where the entire Democratic Party message apparatus is being countered only by Trump’s personal Twitter account. (Sad!) Trump is wedded to bizarre strategic notions like competing in heavily blue states.

Barring economic calamity the Republican Party as currently constituted is already at a serious disadvantage in the Electoral College. Even a merely competent candidate is an underdog in most circumstances. An unusually, perhaps historically bad candidate is an anvil they really can’t afford. The assumption that fundamentals largely determine presidential elections — itself something of an oversimplification — is premised in part on parties normally running presidential campaigns with a minimum standards of professionalism. All signs point to Trump not meeting those standards. You might be able to get away with that in low-turnout primary elections in a crowded field, but at the presidential level it’s not going to work.

Not only will Trump not have the resources a good presidential campaign needs, he has a strategery of wasting scarce resources trying to flip deep blue states:

He is devoting what few resources he does have to hopeless projects like hiring a pollster to help him win New York, where Republican presidential candidates have failed to reach even 40 percent of the vote in decades.

Trump’s ally and state campaign co-chair Carl Paladino reveals his two-prong plan to overcome their massive party registration deficit:

They will also rely on conventional get-out-the-vote efforts and blanketing the upstate region with signs and bumper stickers.

“Upstate will give us a wave in this election, and my instruction from HQ is really simple. It’s one word: Win,” he said. “And that’s what we intend to do.”

So, prong one: bumper stickers and signs — thousands of them, maybe even millions, so many you cannot walk anywhere in upstate New York without having a Trump sticker get stuck to the bottom of your shoe. The sheer psychological force of this effort will apparently overwhelm the people. And then, prong two: “win.”

Although the plan was apparently conceived by a Western New Yorker, it sounds like something hatched by the kind of person who likes to generalize about “upstate” while thinking that it starts at 86th Street. We’ve been through this before, but for the uninitiated New York is not a state like Washington, where the metropolis and coastal towns swamp the very conservative rural areas. Obama won or was within a point and a half of carrying the vote in every NY congressional district but one in 2012. Even if you exclude the New York City boroughs, Long Island, Westchester and Rockland Obama would have carried the state easily. Plastering Rochester and Syracuse with Trump signs is not going to change that. And as Chait says, one excellent illustration of this is…Carl Paladino, the store-brand version of Trump who got the piss beaten out of him at a time when the GOP was still seriously contesting statewide elections.

So Trump is going to be underfinanced, he’s going to mobilize a large turnout from voters of color, his staffing is amateur hour, and his plans are worse than having no plans at all. His brief spike in the polls has already begun to recede, and the polls don’t account for Clinton being endorsed by Obama and Warren and all-but-endorsed by Sanders yet. Good luck with that.

Mr. Hockey

[ 59 ] June 10, 2016 |


R.I.P. to Saskatchewan’s finest:

Gordie Howe, the legend who became so synonymous with his beloved sport that he was “Mr. Hockey,” has died.

He was 88 years old.

Howe died Friday morning in Toledo, Ohio. He had been staying there with his son, Murray.

“Today is a sad day for the Detroit Red Wings and the entire hockey world as together we mourn the loss of one of the greatest hockey players of all-time,” Red Wings owner Mike Ilitch said in a statement. “The Red Wings organization and the National Hockey League would not be what they are today without Gordie Howe. There is no nickname more fitting for him than “Mr. Hockey.” He embodied on and off the ice what it meant to be both a Red Wing and a Detroiter. He was tough, skilled, and consistently earned success at the highest level. His achievements are numerous and his accomplishments immeasurable. It is truly a blessing to have had him both in our organization and our city for so many years. He will be deeply missed.”


Howe practically is synonymous with the Wings: He played for them from 1946 to 1971, leading them to Stanley Cup championships in 1950, 1952, 1954 and 1955. The team retired his jersey in 1972, and a statue of him graces the concourse at the Joe.

Was he the greatest NHL player before Gretzky? It’s hard to argue with. A 6-time MVP and a physical two-way winger who led the league in scoring 6 times, his peak value is up there. And given that his last MVP award was at age 34 and he was still a credible NHL player at age 51, his career value is off the charts. He remains one of the greatest. And his son Mark, who finally got elected to the Hall of Fame a couple years ago and should have gone in much sooner, is one of the most underrated players ever.

…Petchesky has a nice tribute.

Thursday in Rhode Island

[ 66 ] June 9, 2016 |


What does an average Thursday look like in Rhode Island? Something like this:

Federal investigators are digging for the remains of a Boston businessman who prosecutors have said was murdered in a gangland slaying 23 years ago, the Target 12 Investigators have learned.

Steven DiSarro, then 43, of Westwood, Mass., was murdered in 1993 but his body has never been recovered.

Multiple sources tell Target 12 that agents from the FBI are digging for DiSarro’s remains behind an old factory off Branch Avenue in Providence.

Target 12 has learned investigators discovered something from the dig site Wednesday afternoon, which forensic experts are now going to examine for a possible link to the case. It’s unclear if the Office of the Medical Examiner removed the object or not.

The FBI is expected back on site on Thursday.

Earlier on Wednesday, a spokesperson for the Rhode Island Medical Examiner’s office confirmed they had been contacted by the FBI to inform them of the dig. One of the medical examiner’s trucks arrived on scene at about 6:15 p.m.

No one has ever been charged for DiSarro’s murder, though former New England mob boss Francis “Cadillac Frank” Salemme was indicted by the U.S. Attorney’ Office in Boston on two counts of obstruction of justice in 2004 for making false statements about what he knew about the murder.

Providence: Massachusetts’ dumping ground since 1636.

Well, I wonder what’s going on with my city councilman:

A Providence city councilman has been arraigned on charges he misused campaign funds and embezzled more than $127,000 from a youth organization he founded.

Kevin Jackson was released on personal recognizance at his arraignment Wednesday.

The 57-year-old Jackson is charged with felony embezzlement, unlawful appropriation over $1,000 and related crimes.

Investigators say Jackson misappropriated $12,074 in campaign contributions for his personal use and has embezzled $127,153 from the Providence Cobras, a youth track and field organization, since 2009.

The embezzlement and unlawful appropriation charges each carry a prison sentence of up to 20 years.



Surely I can look to the state legislature for moral behavior, right?

Another major player at the Rhode Island State House has fallen from power, amid reports of a state and federal investigation into his activities: House Finance Chairman Raymond E. Gallison Jr.

House Democrats are being apprised in a closed-door caucus on Tuesday that Gallison, 64, of Bristol is resigning from the House, effective immediately and that Rep. Marvin Abney, D-Newport, has been asked to take his place at the helm of the budget-writing committee in these critical weeks leading up to the release of a proposed new $9 billion state budget.

Mattiello reportedly learned of Gallison’s “personal” troubles for the first time, when the House Finance Committee chairman cancelled a fundraiser he had been scheduled to have at the Metacomet Country Club on May 9.

Mattiello reportedly learned of Gallison’s “personal” troubles for the first time, when the House Finance Committee chairman cancelled a fundraiser he had been scheduled to have at the Metacomet Country Club on May 9.

No official explanation has been given for Gallison’s stunning fall.

The investigation is linked to “prostitution” allegations, sources have told The Journal.

Evidently, he was running a prostitution ring.

Incidentally, Speaker Nicholas Mattiello is a horrible human being on a truly epic level. I mean a purely awful figure. Some friends were in town for a conference in April. We went to a bar. Naturally, because this always happens in Rhode Island, the entire ring of grotesque Rhode Island state politicians were there holding a fundraiser. My friend said “They look like the cast of Goodfellas.” I said, “Yes, but there’s far less crime in Goodfellas.”

But I guess not running a prostitution ring. So he’s one of my state’s more admirable figures.

Gene Drive Technology

[ 148 ] June 9, 2016 |


An interesting set of ethical questions here:

A revolutionary technology known as “gene drive,” which for the first time gives humans the power to alter or perhaps eliminate entire populations of organisms in the wild, has stirred both excitement and fear since scientists proposed a means to construct it two years ago.

Scientists dream of deploying gene drive, for example, to wipe out malaria-carrying mosquitoes that cause the deaths of 300,000 African children each year, or invasive rodents that damage island ecosystems. But some experts have warned that the technique could lead to unforeseen harm to the environment. Some scientists have called on the federal government to regulate it, and some environmental watchdogs have called for a moratorium.

On Wednesday, the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine, the premier advisory group for the federal government on scientific matters, endorsed continued research on the technology, concluding after nearly a yearlong study that while it poses risks, its possible benefits make it crucial to pursue. The group also set out a path to conducting what it called “carefully controlled field trials,” despite what some scientists say is the substantial risk of inadvertent release into the environment.

All I know as an environmental historian is that there is zero chance of unexpected consequences by humans deciding to just eliminate a species. None at all.

Deadbeat Donald

[ 179 ] June 9, 2016 |


If you do business with Donald Trump you’re making a YOOOOOOOGE mistake:

During the Atlantic City casino boom in the 1980s, Philadelphia cabinet-builder Edward Friel Jr. landed a $400,000 contract to build the bases for slot machines, registration desks, bars and other cabinets at Harrah’s at Trump Plaza.

The family cabinetry business, founded in the 1940s by Edward’s father, finished its work in 1984 and submitted its final bill to the general contractor for the Trump Organization, the resort’s builder.

Edward’s son, Paul, who was the firm’s accountant, still remembers the amount of that bill more than 30 years later: $83,600. The reason: the money never came. “That began the demise of the Edward J. Friel Company… which has been around since my grandfather,” he said.

Donald Trump often portrays himself as a savior of the working class who will “protect your job.” But a USA TODAY NETWORK analysis found he has been involved in more than 3,500 lawsuits over the past three decades — and a large number of those involve ordinary Americans, like the Friels, who say Trump or his companies have refused to pay them.

What’s especially impressive about this is that despite not bothering with typical business expenses like “paying people who do work for you,” he still managed to go bankrupt running a business that involves customers giving you their money in exchange for nothing.

Donald Trump is the 2016 Republican nominee for president. His business experience is the closest he comes to having a credential for higher elected office.

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