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Japanese Whitewashing of the Past

[ 72 ] May 9, 2015 |


187 of the world’s most prominent historians of Japan have written an open letter to Japanese prime minister Shinzo Abe, urging that he stop whitewashing the atrocities committed by the Japanese during World War II. You can read the letter here. Of course, Japanese right-wingers refuse to allow this to happen, denying horrors ranging from the sexual slavery of comfort women to the depredations at Nanking. Abe has been pretty awful on these issues:

Earlier this year Japan took the unusual step of requesting the US textbook company McGraw-Hill to change its account of Japan’s wartime practice of rounding up women in occupied nations and providing them as sex partners for its soldiers. Abe himself has been part of an effort to suggest the women behaved in a voluntary manner in nations like Korea, and that local Koreans organized the military brothels, not Japan.

The 187 historians took exception with that revision:

“The ‘comfort women’ system was distinguished by its large scale and systematic management under the military, and by its exploitation of young, poor, and vulnerable women in areas colonized or occupied by Japan,” their letter said.

Incidentally, I just watched this documentary on Nanking earlier this week and I highly recommend it, disturbing as it is.

Explainers Should Explain Things

[ 13 ] May 9, 2015 |
Emperor Tiberius Denarius - Tribute Penny.jpg

“Emperor Tiberius Denarius – Tribute Penny” by DrusMAX – Photograph Previously published: Web. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

I’m the last person to complain about a good listicle, but an explainer and a listicle are not the same thing. This Vox piece purports to be the former, but is actually the latter, trying to explain the institution of the Imperator through a discussion of the characteristics of a few of its most colorful holders. And it’s too bad, because the explanation is really pretty simple. The Roman elite was exhausted by the civil wars of the first century BC, and in general had come to grips with the idea that the structures of the Roman Republic were insufficient to governance of the empire. It was simply too easy for a provincial governor to act as an independent warlord, amassing wealth, engaging in conquest, and developing a powerful army, then turn that wealth and power on the Senate. The institution of the Imperator as central, permanent military figure didn’t solve this problem entirely, but it helped quite a bit by making the provincial governors accountable to central authority. The tolerance of bad emperors was part of the cost of limiting the extent and frequency of civil wars. In other words, ending the Republic was the price of maintaining the Empire, and it was a price the Roman elite was, largely speaking, willing to pay.

There’s obviously some question regarding the degree to which the Roman elite consciously bought into this reasoning, but I’m generally of the view that people aren’t idiots, and that they understand the logics of their own governance.  It’s also worth noting that the Empire preserved many of the norms of Republican governance (and of elite privilege, even against the Emperor), until at least Diocletian.

Livestock and Riparian Ecosystems

[ 7 ] May 9, 2015 |


Nothing motivates the LGM readership like the relationship between agriculture and riparian ecosystems so let’s start this Saturday morning with me recommending you read this report from the Chesapeake Bay Commission on the need to keep livestock out of waterways. Basically, most livestock are allowed to enter riparian ecosystems where they cause shocking damage. But it’s really not that hard to restore riparian ecosystems to reasonable health if the cattle are left out. You create cleaner water, greater biodiversity, and arguably more profitable farming. But it often doesn’t happen for complex reasons the report lays out for the reader quite effectively that revolve around distrust of government, tradition, and regulatory complexity. Given how an organization like the CBC needs to carefully tread very conservative institutions, it’s a pretty good report with a lot of useful suggestions that environmentalists should prioritize.

I will however say that whoever chose the color scheme in that report needs retraining as that pink screen is truly blinding.

Medicaid Fraud

[ 23 ] May 8, 2015 |

Florida Gov. Rick Scott Attends Hurricane Conference

Electing a governor who looked and acted like a villain in a superhero movie seemed like a great idea. What went wrong?

Friday Creature Feature

[ 25 ] May 8, 2015 |

Please Do Not Tell SyFy Suits about This. Please. FOR THE LOVE OF GOD, DON’T GIVE THEM ANY IDEAS!!!!!!!!!!

Judicial Genuflection before Capitalists: New Gilded Age Style

[ 52 ] May 8, 2015 |


One sign of the New Gilded Age is how the courts back up obnoxious aggressive corporate behavior against citizen activism. In the first Gilded Age, this would happen in all sorts of ways, perhaps most prominently in completely disregarding the Sherman Anti-Trust Act when it could be applied to corporations but creating reasons to apply it against unions in order to bust their strikers. While on the federal level the upsurge in Obama-appointed judges after the judicial filibuster was broken is providing some buffer against this, in Republican states, the courts are issuing increasingly ridiculous decisions.

Take this example from, you guessed it, Texas. A fracking operation opened near a house. The residents of that house could then set their tap water on fire. They filmed it and complained. The company responded by filing a defamation suit. Even though this is absurd, there’s no way a regular family can fight this because they don’t have the money. The Texas Supreme Court said the defamation suit can go forward. The family now basically has no choice but take whatever the company offers to settle their complaints without actually solving any of the problems.

I Have Grifted My Way from the AEI to ALEC

[ 9 ] May 8, 2015 |


Lee Fang’s story for The Intercept about how Corinthian Colleges kept swindling students is first-rate journalism. A teaser:

The spectacular crash of Corinthian Colleges after years of systematically deceiving thousands of students into enrolling into low-quality, high-cost education programs has once again raised questions about how the for-profit college industry staved off stronger rules governing the $1.4 billion per year in federal loans that helped keep Corinthian afloat.

Some hints emerged today in the giant chain’s filing for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in Delaware. It shows that Corinthian made secret payments to an array of political consultants, think tanks and political dark money groups.

But read the whole etc. And, yes, Corinthian students should have their loans forgiven.

American Exceptionalism

[ 50 ] May 8, 2015 |

Shorter Verbatim Kevin Williamson: “Indeed, as societies grow wealthier and more integrated into the global economy, economic inequality tends to increase, a fact of life in such different countries as the United States, Sweden, Singapore, and India…”

Um, except: “If inequality simply reflects individual qualities, why can we observe such stark differences in its level over time, not to mention between different countries? The answer, of course, is that public policies shape the distribution of both market and post-tax and transfer income.

Abstract thought experiments and references to old novels are a more attractive way for conservatives to frame their defense of existing economic privilege than engaging with the actually existing debate over inequality. The context of this debate is that the tax and transfer system in the United States does less to reduce market inequality than the systems in nearly any other advanced economy.”

And in addition: “The US remains the most unequal nation (after taxes and transfers), but now a main driver of that inequality is market inequality. In this figure, the US (along with Ireland and the UK) has market income inequality substantially higher than the rest of the countries. In other words, it is the distribution of wages and income from capital, independent of the fiscal system, that makes the US comparatively unequal. Indeed, America also does less redistribution than several other rich countries, European countries in particular, so that’s still part of the story, but it’s not the whole story or even most of it.”

Mission Accomplished

[ 56 ] May 8, 2015 |


Jeb is really starting his campaign on a high point.

The Washington Post reported that Jeb cited his brother as an adviser on Israel, however, four sources confirmed to CNN that the comments were focused on foreign policy more broadly. Three of them said Jeb noted his brother was an adviser on the Middle East.

One of the people in the room jotted down Jeb’s comment as such: “What you need to know is that who I listen to when I need advice on the Middle East is George W. Bush.”


Searching for Meaningful Meaning with David Brooks

[ 56 ] May 8, 2015 |

This is not the first time Brooks’ increasingly-more-maudlin columns have been documented, but I’m not sure they’ve ever been documented in such exhaustive and hilarious detail.

I’ve been a pretty regular reader of the New York Times columnist since before he even came to the Times, going all the way back to his seminal 2000 book Bobos in Paradise: The New Upper Class and How They Got There, which revealed, to the astonishment of various residents of the East Coast media world’s upper crust, that the rich white people of the Clinton years were different from previous generations of rich white people, because they used their money to buy elite refrigerators instead of jewel-encrusted top hats.

Speak for yourself, dude. Some of us super-classy elites do both. Me, I bought a jeweled refrigerator in the shape of a top hat because I am a tastemaker.

You’d see a headline like “The Slow Virtues” or “The Hollow Century” or “Why the Teens Are Despicable,” and you’d know ol’ Dave’s coffee shop was out of plain croissants a week ago and the barista had a nose-ring and he’d decided he’d witnessed the death of the Western moral tradition.

In fairness, the barista was wearing the nose ring on his toe and was serving the coffee with his feet. They call it “coffee-surfing.” It’s the new planking. Millennials.


David Brooks is telling us something dark and sad—about loneliness and the search for connection; about social desolation and sexual frustration and sadness. Something deeply personal, about discovering, too late in life, that accomplishment and position and thinkfluence are no ameliorative for the rejection of your gross old-man wiener by cute millennials. Something not about what priorities he guesses Whole Foods Uncles will take into the voting booth in 2016, but about himself.


This is so silly,  and Brooks shouldn’t take it personally. Cute millennials only eat gluten-free, vegan weiner. Also, gluten-free, vegan weiners are what Whole Foods Uncles take into the voting booth with them, which is why you never, ever want to man polling places in hoity-toity neighborhoods.

The hot millennials do not want a New York Times columnist from whom to receive stimulating discourse about the moral and attitudinal deficiencies of the poor. No, they want a “not-repulsive person” who “does not look like a waxed talpid,” thanks to some cockamamie notion that “sexual attraction” might be a more fruitful basis for a relationship than “being lectured by a fusty boomer pissbaby about how masculine chivalry is the bedrock of civilization and both were destroyed by the sexual revolution.”

I got nothin’. Nothin’ but applause. This guy is good.

David Brooks sent his ex a dong shot. And then used his New York Times column to tell the world about it. Our man perches upon the edge of The Void, and hears its howl. Does it call his name? Or does he only want it to?


This is bad, sure, but I’m not checking on David ’til he sends a tweet saying simply “Poopin’.” Then again, I guess this guy is arguing that David’s been sending that long-form tweet for awhile now.

Warm Enough For You?

[ 36 ] May 8, 2015 |


The planet keeps getting toastier and toastier. In March, the atmosphere passed 400 parts per million of carbon dioxide for the entire month. This is the first time this has happened. Note that Bill McKibben’s movement, building off scientific recommendations, suggests carbon dioxide levels must be no higher than 350 ppm in order for the world to remain ecologically stable. So you can forget about that.

Luckily, Republicans are stepping up with forward thinking policy solutions.

Last week, the House Science, Space, and Technology Committee, headed by Texas Republican Lamar Smith, approved a bill that would slash at least three hundred million dollars from NASA’s earth-science budget. “Earth science, of course, includes climate science,” Representative Eddie Bernice Johnson, a Texas Democrat who is also on the committee, noted. (Smith said that the White House’s NASA budget request favored the earth sciences “at the expense of the other science divisions and human and robotic space exploration.”) Johnson tried to get the cuts eliminated from the bill, but her proposed amendment was rejected. Defunding NASA’s earth-science program takes willed ignorance one giant leap further. It means that not only will climate studies be ignored; some potentially useful data won’t even be collected.

The vote brought howls of protest from NASA itself and from wider earth-science circles. The agency’s administrator, Charles Bolden, issued a statement saying that the bill “guts our Earth science program and threatens to set back generations worth of progress in better understanding our changing climate.” In an opinion piece for the Washington Post, Marshall Shepherd, a professor of atmospheric science at the University of Georgia and the former president of the American Meteorological Association, said that he could not sleep after hearing about the vote. “None of us has a ‘vacation planet’ we can go to for the weekend, so I argue that NASA’s mission to study planet Earth should be a ‘no-brainer,’ ” he wrote.

The vote on the NASA bill came just a week after the same House committee approved major funding cuts to the National Science Foundation’s geosciences program, as well as cuts to Department of Energy programs that support research into new energy sources. As Michael Hiltzik, a columnist for the Los Angeles Times, noted, the committee is “living down to our worst expectations.”

We all know that science is anti-American anyway anytime its findings disagree with current Republican talking points. So you can see why House Republicans would seek to defund NASA.

The World’s Greatest Deliberative Body (TM) is obviously a lot more responsible:

As carbon dioxide levels surpassed 400 parts per million globally, Republican James Inhofe of Oklahoma headed to the Senate floor on Wednesday to explain the benefits of greenhouse gas emissions.

“Counter to the doomsday predictions of climate alarmists, increasing observations suggest a much reduced and practically harmless climate response to increased amounts of atmospheric carbon dioxide,” he remarked. “Also missing from the climate alarmists’ doomsday scenarios and well-scripted talking points are the benefits from increased carbon that has led to a greening of the planet and contributed to increased agricultural productivity.”

Inhofe, the chairman of the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works, wondered why people didn’t understand that carbon pollution was good for the Earth.

“People do not realize that you cannot grow things without CO2,” he said. “CO2 is a fertilizer. It is something you cannot do without. No one ever talks about the benefits that people are inducing that as a fertilizer on a daily basis.”

Inhofe, realizing that he can’t survive without oxygen, followed this speech by pledging to replace the other elements in his body with pure oxygen.

Siting Prisons on Coal Ash Dumps

[ 12 ] May 8, 2015 |


I know it’s the national pastime to degrade prisoners. But siting prisons on top of a coal ash dump, as Pennsylvania did in 2000, really should be a violation of the Eighth Amendment since giving them horrible illnesses just because the state’s contracting process was so shoddy as to allow this is indeed cruel and unusual punishment.

Soon after arriving at SCI Fayette, Foskey began to notice that “trucks were dumping this black stuff on top of the mountain.” At the time he didn’t know what it was, but he wasn’t the only one who noticed. Eric Garland, a guard at the prison, was familiar with the dangers of coal ash; his father has worked at a coal-fired power plant for 30 years. In 2010, he contacted the Center for Coalfield Justice (CCJ) with worries about the dump after he was diagnosed with hyperthyroidism. Concerns about the environmental and health effects of coal ash have been widespread in Pennsylvania for years. The state produces more than 15.4 million tons of the stuff a year, the most in the nation. Coal ash typically contains arsenic, lead, mercury, cadmium, chromium, and selenium—toxins that if ingested can cause cancer, heart damage, lung disease, respiratory problems, and a host of other ailments. Drinking water from a well near an unlined coal-slurry pond, like the one the coal-ash dump in La Belle was built on top of, increases your chance of getting cancer to one in 50.

After the CCJ heard from Garland, they forwarded his complaint to the ALC, a public-interest law firm in Pittsburgh that works on cases involving human rights abuses in prisons. In August 2013, the ALC began interviewing prisoners about their health issues and environmental concerns. In all, 75 inmates agreed to participate, but only 14 would be quoted by name, fearing retaliation from the prison. In “No Escape,” a report released on September 2, 2014, the ALC outlined the health issues people were experiencing in the prison, including skin conditions, throat and respiratory illnesses, thyroid issues, and tumors. Out of the 75 people surveyed, 61 reported experiencing breathing and sinus conditions, 51 had experienced gastrointestinal issues, 39 had experienced skin issues, and nine had been diagnosed with a thyroid disease or had a previously diagnosed thyroid issue that worsened after incarceration at SCI Fayette. The report also noted an alarming rate of cancer—11 of the 17 prisoners who died at SCI Fayette between 2010 and 2013 passed away from the disease.

Perhaps most concerning in the report were the inmate accounts of lack of medical attention and, in some cases, accusations of medical neglect. Darin Hauman, an inmate at SCI Fayette since 2010 who works in the prison infirmary, outlined how medical staff deprived a sick man (who later died of brain cancer) of drinking water. He told the ALC, “In his last few weeks of life certain nursing staff deliberately induced dehydration by simply refusing to assist him in drinking water. No hydration by way of intravenously either. With healthy humans it takes a short time being dehydrated for organs to begin shutting down. Regarding Greg, I would have to sneak into his ward area, I would have to dip my finger into water to moisten his lips as they were ‘glued’ shut, then would have to drip a few drops of water onto his tongue just so he could use a straw to get a few sips of water. Of all things I was yelled at numerous times for doing this. This pisses me off each time I think of this. To deny a man a drink of water speaks volumes as to the ideology of this particular nursing staff.”

Let’s face it, from the moment people, who are predominantly people of color as in this prison, enter the criminal justice system, they are treated as subhuman, whether by cops, prison guards, prison doctors, whoever. It’s a national shame. Or it would be if this nation was capable of shame. As the article states at the end, this is a case when environmental justice and prison reform are two movements that should be deeply intertwined.

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