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Category: General

Our National Shame

[ 49 ] August 4, 2015 |

hula_hawaiian_pizzaAbove: would you like some Spam-infused vodka with that?

Look, it’s one thing to be responsible for Ted Cruz, Magic!, and Matt Cooke, but some stains just cannot be washed away:

But Sam Panopoulos, 81, of London, Canada, a small city about halfway between Detroit and Toronto, can take it one step further. He can remember inventing what’s now one of the most popular pizzas in the world: the Hawaiian pizza.

I know that any apology I could offer on behalf of my nation would be hopelessly inadequate. I go to the box, and I feel shame. At least ketchup-flavored potato chips don’t seem to have caught on south of the border…

“Shooting This Unarmed Person in the Back Was Perfectly Justifiable. Ask This Scientician!”

[ 81 ] August 3, 2015 |

Every state abuse needs its own junk scientist to defend it:

When police officers shoot people under questionable circumstances, Dr. Lewinski is often there to defend their actions. Among the most influential voices on the subject, he has testified in or consulted in nearly 200 cases over the last decade or so and has helped justify countless shootings around the country.

His conclusions are consistent: The officer acted appropriately, even when shooting an unarmed person. Even when shooting someone in the back. Even when witness testimony, forensic evidence or video footage contradicts the officer’s story.

He has appeared as an expert witness in criminal trials, civil cases and disciplinary hearings, and before grand juries, where such testimony is given in secret and goes unchallenged. In addition, his company, the Force Science Institute, has trained tens of thousands of police officers on how to think differently about police shootings that might appear excessive.

A string of deadly police encounters in Ferguson, Mo.; North Charleston, S.C.; and most recently in Cincinnati, have prompted a national reconsideration of how officers use force and provoked calls for them to slow down and defuse conflicts. But the debate has also left many police officers feeling unfairly maligned and suspicious of new policies that they say could put them at risk. Dr. Lewinski says his research clearly shows that officers often cannot wait to act.

“We’re telling officers, ‘Look for cover and then read the threat,’ ” he told a class of Los Angeles County deputy sheriffs recently. “Sorry, too damn late.”

What Trump Means

[ 306 ] August 3, 2015 |

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While I rarely disagree with my colleague Paul, I pledge to offer him a four-pack of Colorado’s finest barleywine should Donald Trump win more than one Republican primary. I take the point about the persistent underestimation of Reagan, but Reagan was a very shrewd coalition-builder who became the de facto leader of the Republican Party’s ascendant conservative wing while being a two-term governor of a liberal state. Trump is just a bomb-throwing vanity candidate, the 2016 version of Hermain Cain. I also think that this class of Republican candidates is notably stronger than 2012, in which the far-from-sterling Mitt Romney ran effectively unopposed and struggled to win anyway. (Rick Santorum, the runner-up-by-default last time, is polling between Bobby Jindal and George Pataki among the one percenters this time.)

Does this mean that Trump’s candidacy is irrelevant? Not necessarily:

A new analysis by the Pew Research Center shows how quickly the partisan balance has flipped in the state. For years, the Cuban-American community, whose political orientation was dominated by a reaction against the Cuban revolution and an alliance with the Republican Party, defined the Florida Latino vote. As recently as 2006, Republicans still held a voter-registration advantage among Latino Floridians. In 2008, Democrats nudged ahead, and the gap has widened since.

How do Republicans plan to rebuild their standing in Florida? Nominating a Floridian who speaks Spanish would probably help. What’s not going to help them is Donald Trump.

A new Wall Street Journal/NBC/Telemundo poll finds that 75 percent of Hispanics hold a negative view of Trump. The danger posed by Trump is not that he’ll win the party nomination, an outcome that remains fantastically improbable, but that he’ll maintain a loyal following that Republicans will need. If Trump can avoid total self-immolation, he can force Republicans to give him a speaking spot at their convention, and generally treat him as a respected ally. That would be a poisonous outcome for the party, but Trump can probably obtain it if he wants to, because he can credibly threaten a third-party run that would make it virtually impossible for Republicans to win.

And even if he can’t keep the Potemkin shop afloat long enough to speak at the convention, he will increase the salience of immigration in the Republican primaries. It’s worth remembering that before Rick Perry’s repeated inability to speak coherent English sentences put his campaign out of its misery, Romney had delivered the fatal blow by getting to Perry’s right on immigration. That dynamic will, if anything, be stronger in 2016: it will be almost impossible to be too anti-immigrant in the 2016 Republican primaries. This is excellent news! for Hillary, not least because it is probably excellent news! for Scott Walker, who would be the weakest general election candidate of the three frontrunners.

[PC]:

“Ever since the beginning of time, John Roberts has yearned to destroy the Voting Rights Act.”

[ 6 ] August 3, 2015 |

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I have a piece up about two excellent recent articles about the Republican war on voting rights:

Essentially, the Republican Party worked a clever bait-and-switch. Legislators would nominally support the Voting Rights Act, while Republican executive officials, judges, and statehouses worked full-time to undermine its effectiveness at every turn. This incremental war against the Voting Rights Act has the benefit of advancing Republican policy views and interests without attracting the public attention that would come from outright refusing to re-enact the Voting Rights Act.

But let’s be clear: The Supreme Court reflects the views of today’s Republican Party much more than the 2006 vote does. (Note that Congress has not acted to revise the Voting Rights Act, although the Supreme Court nominally left the door open for a different pre-clearance formula.)

And this war against the Voting Rights Act is connected to a broader movement against voting rights. Higher voter turnout generally benefits the Democratic Party. Not coincidentally, various rules that make it harder to vote have been enacted by Republican-controlled states. Such vote suppression is generally defended on the grounds that it’s intended to thwart voter fraud, but these arguments are pathetically feeble.

In another essential article, Ari Berman of The Nation describes this campaign of disenfranchisement. Berman links the beginning of this campaign to the crucial 2000 election, which among other consequences led to a long-time enemy of voting rights being nominated chief justice of the Supreme Court. George W. Bush’s razor-thin plurality in Florida was the product of vote suppression on both ends. Before the fact, the Florida government (governor: Jeb Bush) engaged in a purge of the voter rolls that included many eligible voters. After the fact, both Bushes worked tirelessly to prevent a fair recount. This all culminated in Shelby County‘s only competition for the worst Supreme Court decision of the last 20 years: Bush v. Gore.

The Rutenberg and Berman pieces linked within are very much worth reading.

He Seems Nice

[ 94 ] August 3, 2015 |

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I can’t say “memoir by Mark Sanford’s former speechwriter” would rank very high on books I would consider reading, but damned if this doesn’t make a decent case. One thing that makes clear is that Sanford really is a remarkable number of types of asshole. For example, the grammar troll who believes that good writing consists of adhering to arbitrary rules they vaguely remember from grammar school that virtually every good writer ignores:

“He knew bad writing when he saw it, except when he was the author,” Mr. Swaim says. Once, the governor storms into the office, fulminating about Mr. Swaim’s decision to write “towns of Lee County” instead of “towns in Lee County.” He tends to combine absolute certainty with a complete misunderstanding of what he is talking about. “There’s a rule against beginning a sentence with a preposition — conjunctions, whatever — and you can’t break rules,” Mr. Sanford declares.

And we also have more examples* of Sanford being one of the world’s biggest rich skinflints:

Mr. Sanford’s former wife, Jenny, has already provided evidence of his legendary parsimony in her memoir, “Staying True” (in his earlier stint in Congress, she notes, Mr. Sanford brought his laundry home on weekends to avoid paying to have it done in Washington). Mr. Swaim adds more examples: how, at receptions, the governor stuffs boiled shrimp and deviled eggs into his pockets to eat for dinner; how he refuses to send his clothes to the dry cleaners and once wore the same shirt for almost two weeks straight; how he gave an employee a Christmas ornament saying “Merry Christmas! Love, the Peterkins.”

Look, I spent 8 years total in grad school. And since that grad school was in political science my disposable income remains modest to this day. In other words, I like free food and drink at conferences and the like as much as the next guy. Nonetheless, I can confidently say that I have never stuffed shellfish that’s likely to be pretty dodgy in the first place and appetizers involving hard-boiled eggs into my pockets for later consumption. And, unlike Sanford, I actually wash my clothes.

It probably goes without saying that he’s a “capricious, bad-tempered boss” too. I’m sure he has plenty of company in this on both sides of the aisle, but it’s everything else that makes him special.

*my favorite previous ones:

Item 3: Mark and Jenny are newlyweds, and it is Jenny’s birthday. He gives her a hand-drawn card — with a picture of half a bicycle. For Christmas, another card — with a picture of the other half. “Months later, he delivered the gift to me, a used purple bike he had purchased for $25!” Jenny’s initial response, the right one, is “disbelief. . . . In time, however, I came to know this was just part of who he was.”

By the time Mark is in Congress, Jenny is reduced to instructing the scheduler to remind him of her birthday. And there is the touching moment when Mark has a friend pick out a diamond necklace for Jenny, has a staffer hide the present in her closet and faxes notes to Jenny and the boys cluing them in on where to search. A few weeks later, when Mark sees the necklace, he exclaims, “That is what I spent all that money on?! I hope you kept the box!’ ” Mark “returned the necklace the next day, thinking it was not worth the money he had spent,” she writes. “I wouldn’t have felt comfortable wearing it in his presence, so what was the point?”

There’s a line between “being frugal” and “being a dick,” and Sanford passed it about 10 miles ago.

Winners Endorse Winners

[ 38 ] August 2, 2015 |

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Jim Webb received the near endorsement from someone I know every LGM reader has been waiting to hear from in this election cycle: Holy Joe Lieberman.

In his presidential campaign announcement, Webb centered his message on teamwork. Here at No Labels, that’s a message we second.

No Labels is a nonprofit focused on bringing bipartisanship back to Washington and supporting leaders who fix, not fight. I’ve seen the damage that years of politicking and partisanship has caused our nation, and now I believe it’s time for a change.

While’s No Labels and Lieberman’s position on defending the Confederate flag are not delineated in this article, I’m just glad that Real Americans, by which I mean wealthy Beltway elites who believe that cutting entitlements, balancing the budget on the backs of the poor, shoveling endless amounts of money to Israel, and mining all the fossil fuels we have regardless of environmental consequences to show how Democrats really want to be Republicans while caving on all issues that Republicans care about, are finally represented in the 2016 elections. I wonder what Ron Fournier has to say about this!

I’m also curious about this:

I am encouraged by Sen. Webb’s focus on bipartisanship in his campaign — especially given his proven track record of success — and that we have yet another candidate in the race so committed to working with Congress. As we have seen over the years, when our politicians toe the party line instead of collaborating, it is the American people who suffer the consequences. Partisan politics just doesn’t work.

Partisan politics just doesn’t work for who exactly? Obama supporters who have recently seen many victories thanks to the president eschewing bipartisanship except when it serves his interests? Republicans who have managed to hold off much if not all legislative victories from Obama? Or just Holy Joe, Harold Ford, Sam Waterston, and other No Labels types who demand that the political system work precisely in their interests?

The Pre-College History Textbook and Persistent Dunningism

[ 61 ] August 2, 2015 |

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James Loewen calls out the eminent historian of the Civil War, James McPherson, on the middle school U.S. history textbook emblazoned with his name for its coverage of Southern secession. McPherson’s own great Battle Cry of Freedom makes it perfectly clear that the South seceded for slavery. But the middle school textbook does not and rather pushes myths about “civil liberties” and other canards to explain secession. Immediately I thought, I’ll bet McPherson outsourced the writing of the textbook. Loewen suspected this himself and McPherson basically confirmed it, saying he had little to do with the book “for at least the last ten years.” And while I get that if I was a super famous historian, it would be pretty easy to cash a large check for doing nothing, there’s also something about quality control around my own name brand. That’s an embarrassing find. Purging sub-college textbooks of faulty and racist historical interpretation must happen. Loewen does yeomen’s work for this purpose. At the very least, professional historians need to take ownership and responsibility over what is published under their names.

The Future Is Now in the Northwest

[ 37 ] August 2, 2015 |

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Having started my annual summer trip to see family in the Pacific Northwest, it’s incredibly depressing to see what’s happening to the climate and thus the ecology of the place I grew up. Basically, this year has seen the California drought spread all the way up the Pacific coast into Alaska. Some of this is a lack of precipitation, but a lot of it is only slightly below average participation amounts backed with sky-high temperatures that meant no snow pack. Record heat throughout the region throughout the entirety of 2015 has stressed what little water supplies exist To add to this, with the arrival of El Niño, the winter rains should go a long way to solving the drought in southern California, but will devastate Washington and points north, with Oregon probably dryish but not terrible. All of this has combined in a single year to create what will likely be an unprecedented fire season except that it will probably be dwarfed by next year. The salmon are dying in huge numbers because water temperatures are 5-7 and even up to 13 degrees above average–a shockingly large number considering the lack of normal variation in water temperatures. This not only is an ecological disaster but an enormous cultural disasters with huge implications for regional identity, foodways, and Native American heritage.

Yes, some of this is a confluence of unique events. Drought happens. Unprecedented heat however does not happen, not when the world set its all-time heat record in 2014 and is on the way to breaking that again in 2015. This hasn’t received the attention it should in the U.S. because one of the only parts of the globe that has been colder than normal in 2015 is the northeast of the United States. But whether the Northwest is specifically fated to see vastly higher temperatures than other parts of the world or not, if this is the climate change future, it’s a grim one indeed. There will be cool years and the rain and snows will come again. But if this is the new norm for the Northwest more years than not, the cherished forests and streams and snows and rains of the region will be radically transformed in awful ways.

Is the Supposed STEM Shortage a Myth Used to Serve Tech Companies Labor Policies?

[ 119 ] August 2, 2015 |

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Michael Hiltzik strongly suggests yes.

Alice Tornquist, a Washington lobbyist for the high-tech firm Qualcomm, took the stage at a recent Qualcomm-underwritten conference to remind her audience that companies like hers face a dire shortage of university graduates in engineering. The urgent remedy she advocated was to raise the cap on visas for foreign-born engineers.

“Although our industry and other high-tech industries have grown exponentially,” Tornquist said, “our immigration system has failed to keep pace.” The nation’s outdated limits and “convoluted green-card process,” she said, had left firms like hers “hampered in hiring the talent that they need.”

What Tornquist didn’t mention was that Qualcomm may then have had more engineers than it needed: Only a few weeks after her June 2 talk, the San Diego company announced that it would cut its workforce, of whom two-thirds are engineers, by 15%, or nearly 5,000 people.

The mismatch between Qualcomm’s plea to import more high-tech workers and its efforts to downsize its existing payroll hints at the phoniness of the high-tech sector’s persistent claim of a “shortage” of U.S. graduates in the “STEM” disciplines — science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

As millions of students prepare this summer to begin their university studies, they’re being pressed to choose STEM fields, if only to keep America in the lead among its global rivals. “In the race for the future, America is in danger of falling behind,” President Obama stated in 2010. He labeled the crisis “our generation’s Sputnik moment.”

The high-tech industry contends that U.S. universities simply aren’t producing enough graduates to meet demand, leading to a “skills gap” that must be filled from overseas if the U.S. is to maintain its global dominance. Low unemployment rates among computer workers imply that “demand has outpaced supply,” Jonathan Rothwell of the Brookings Institution told me by email. “Companies struggle to fill job vacancies for skilled programmers and other STEM fields.”

Yet many studies suggest that the STEM shortage is a myth. In computer science and engineering, says Hal Salzman, an expert on technology education at Rutgers, “the supply of graduates is substantially larger than the demand for them in industry.” Qualcomm is not the only high-tech company to be aggressively downsizing. The computer industry, led by Hewlett-Packard and Microsoft, cut nearly 60,000 jobs last year, according to the outplacement firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas. The electronics industry pared an additional 20,000 positions.

The high-tech industry then lobbies for more H-1B visas, allowing for immigration of high tech workers from nations like India. Is the reason a shortage? No, it’s to flood the market and lower wages for all. And it’s a great strategy–wrap your labor strategy up in a nice passage of national security and Sinophobia, convince Congress, the president, and the entire world of higher education that universities are not serving the needs of important American industries, and *presto*, you can start driving down wages for highly skilled labor by flooding market at both ends, creating a massive oversupply of labor.

As a historian in one of the disdained departments by university administration, watching the chickens come home to roost on this when all the STEM graduates can’t get good jobs is going to be interesting.

Today in Outsourcing

[ 76 ] August 2, 2015 |

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The Chicago factory that makes Oreos is closing and moving to Mexico. 600 people thrown out of work. The company’s CEO makes a cool $21 million a year.

Settler Violence

[ 80 ] August 2, 2015 |

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The 21st century version of the white colonialist settler state continues committing horrifying violence against the indigenous people in its way. Extremist Israeli settlers burned a Palestinian house, killing an 18-month old baby boy. And while Netanyahu and even the settler spokesmen condemn it as an act of terrorism, it’s really just a particularly sad event in a recent history of the Israeli government encouraging settler extremism and then of course doing nothing about it when the Palestinians complain. Max Fisher:

The causal chain of events is not difficult to see.

Israel’s occupation of the West Bank inevitably empowers and abets a movement of extremist Jewish settlers.

This movement of extremist Jewish settlers inevitably promotes vigilante violence against Palestinians.

This vigilante violence against Palestinians inevitably results in terrorism such as the murder of Ali Dawabsheh.

The line connecting Israel’s occupation of the West Bank to extremist settler violence against Palestinians could not be clearer. By its very nature, the Israeli occupation of the West Bank deliberately and systematically privileges the rights of settlers over those of Palestinians, even using different justice systems. And that is when Israeli occupation authorities bother applying justice at all. According to one recent study, only 7.6 percent of Palestinian complaints about settler violence lead to indictments, and only 33 percent of legal proceedings lead to a conviction.

The occupation has abetted the disturbing rise of settler violence; according to one UN report, the number of settler attacks on Palestinians more than doubled between 2009 and 2011. The forward-most outposts of the occupation naturally attract hardcore ideologues who oppose the very idea of a Palestinian state in the West Bank and see it as Israeli land. That movement, for various reasons, has grown in recent years; its members see it as their duty to enact violence against Palestinians. The nature of the occupation, which privileges the rights of settlers, grants them the physical and legal cover to do it, even if it sometimes also punishes them later.

The only way to stop this is for the Israeli government to end the occupation of the West Bank, tear down the settlements, and return to 1967 boundaries.

Uber and Civil Rights

[ 92 ] August 1, 2015 |

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Uber executives love to compare themselves to civil rights leaders. Because there’s nothing closer to being Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King than being a millionaire CEO. But despite this, one might argue that said Uber executives actually are analogous to figures in the civil rights movement–for instance Orval Faubus and George Wallace:

But there is a better analogy from the US civil rights era for law-flouting firms of the on-demand economy. It’s just not the one corporate leaders claim. They are engaged in what we call “corporate nullification”, following in the footsteps of Southern governors and legislatures in the United States who declared themselves free to “nullify” federal law on the basis of strained and opportunistic constitutional interpretation.

Nullification is a wilful flouting of regulation, based on some nebulous idea of a higher good only scofflaws can deliver. It can be an invitation to escalate a conflict, of course, as Arkansas governor Orville Faubus did in 1957 when he refused to desegregate public schools and president Eisenhower sent federal troops to enforce the law. But when companies such as Uber, Airbnb, and Google engage in a nullification effort, it’s a libertarian-inspired attempt to establish their services as popular well before regulators can get around to confronting them. Then, when officials push back, they can appeal to their consumer-following to push regulators to surrender.

This happened just last week in New York City, when mayor Bill de Blasio moved to limit the number of Uber cars choking city streets during the heaviest hours of congestion. Uber pushed out advertisements voiced by celebrities including model Kate Upton and urged its wealthy users to write to city hall in protest. Mayor de Blasio stood down. Consistently, these nullifying companies claim they are striking a blow against regulations they consider “out-of-date” or “anti-innovation”. Their major innovation, however, is strategic and manipulative, and it’s meant to undermine local needs and effective governance.

Consider what it would mean for such a universalising approach to prevail. The business model of Uber would become that of law-flouting bosses generally. Reincorporate as a “platform”, intermediate customer requests and work demands with an app, and voila!, far fewer laws to comply with. Worse, this rebel attitude signals to the larger culture that laws and regulations are quaint and archaic, and therefore hindrances to progress. That could undermine faith in republican government itself.

In the 1950s and 60s, Southern governors thought they’d found a similar tactic to avoid the civil rights laws that they most despised. Though the strategy failed, the idea still animates reactionaries. Former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee, now running for president, has even suggested that the US supreme court’s recent gay marriage decision should effectively be nullified by sovereign states.

Of course, a republic can’t run without authorities who follow the rule of law. Civil disobedience by citizens can be an important challenge to corrupt or immoral politicians, but when corporate leaders themselves start breaking the law in their own narrow interests, societal order breaks down. Polishing their left-libertarian veneer, the on-demand economy firms now flouting basic employment and anti-discrimination laws would like us to believe that they follow in the footsteps of Gandhi’s passive resistance, rather than segregationists’ massive resistance. But their wealthy, powerful, nearly-all-white-and-male cast of chief executives come far closer to embodying, rather than fighting, “the man”.

As Silicon Valley guru Peter Thiel has demonstrated, the goal of tech firms is not to compete – it is to so monopolise a sector that they basically become synonymous with it. Uber’s and Airbnb’s self-reinforcing conquests of markets attract more venture capital (VC) investment, which in turn enables more conquests, which in turn attracts more VC money. As that concentration of economic power continues apace, it’s more vital than ever to dispute Silicon Valley oligarchs’ self-aggrandising assertions that they follow in the footsteps of civil rights heroes.

One might complain the argument is a bit overwrought, but hardly more so than the outlandish claims of Silicon Valley executives themselves.

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