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Not Decline So Much as Regression to the Mean

[ 18 ] September 21, 2015 |

USS Colorado (BB-45) New York 1932.jpg

“USS Colorado (BB-45) New York 1932” by U.S. Navy[2] – U.S. Navy National Museum of Naval Aviation photo No. 2004.042.052 [1]. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons.

My latest at the National Interest builds on some thinking that I’ve been doing, for a while, on the relative decline of US military power:

Last week, Air Force General Frank Gorenc argued that the airpower advantage the United States has enjoyed over Russia and China is shrinking. This warning comes as part of a deluge of commentary on the waning international position of the United States. The U.S. military, it would seem, is at risk of no longer being able to go where it wants, and do what it wants to whomever it wants. Diplomatically, the United States has struggled, as of late, to assemble “coalitions of the willing” interested in following Washington into the maw of every waiting crisis.

Does this mean that U.S. global power in on the wane? If so, should we blame this decline on specific policy decisions made by this administration, or the previous administration? As Dan Drezner has argued with respect to who is “winning” the Ukraine crisis, the answer depends crucially on the starting point.


Sprawl Notes

[ 56 ] September 21, 2015 |


A bunch of stories about urban sprawl that deserve attention:

1. If you live in Louisville, Miami, or Salt Lake City, you suffer the nation’s highest urban heat island effects.

2. Even in liberal California, a meaningful state climate bill had to sacrifice the goal to reduce the state’s gasoline consumption in order to pass. Nothing, and I mean nothing, is going to get in the way of Americans love to drive.

3. What will traffic look like in the Washington DC area by 2040 with expected population growth? It will suck.

4. Chinese sprawl, 1988 and 2015. Dang.

5. At least one area of sensitive habitat in the Bay Area is protected from a housing development for now at least.

Indigenous Mexican Migrants to American Farms

[ 3 ] September 21, 2015 |

Mixtec Immigrant Picking Strawberries

David Bacon, who has done so much great work over the years exposing the plight of Mexican migrants to the U.S., has an excellent piece on how so many of the farmworkers in the U.S.–and more specifically the farmworker activists–are indigenous Mexicans, primarily from poor regions of Oaxaca, the state in southern Mexico where my wife does her academic research.

Agribusiness farming started in San Quintin in the 1970s, as it did in many areas of northern Mexico, to supply the U.S. market with winter tomatoes and strawberries. Baja California had few inhabitants then, so growers brought workers from southern Mexico, especially indigenous Mixtec and Triqui families from Oaxaca. Today an estimated 70,000 indigenous migrant workers live in labor camps notorious for their bad conditions. Many of the conditions are violations of Mexican law.

Once indigenous workers had been brought to the border, they began to cross it to work in fields in the U.S. Today the bulk of the farm labor workforce in California’s strawberry fields comes from the same migrant stream that is on strike in Baja California. So does the migrant labor force picking berries in Washington State, where workers went on strike two years ago.

Two of the 500 strikers at Sakuma Farms were teenagers Marcelina Hilario from San Martin Itunyoso and Teofila Raymundo from Santa Cruz Yucayani. Both started working in the fields with their parents, and today, like many young people in indigenous migrant families, they speak English and Spanish – the languages of school and the culture around them. But Raymundo also speaks her native Triqui and is learning Mixteco, while Hilario speaks Mixteco, is studying French, and thinking about German.

“I’ve been working with my dad since I was 12,” Raymundo remembers. “I’ve seen them treat him bad, but he comes back because he needs this job. Once after a strike here, we came up all the way from California the next season, and they wouldn’t hire us. We had to go looking for another place to live and work that year. That’s how I met Marcelina.” They both accused the company of refusing to give them better jobs keeping track of the berries picked by workers – positions that only went to young white workers. “When I see people treat us badly, I don’t agree with that,” Hilario added. “I think you have to say something.”

For these workers, Spanish is not their first language. They are discriminated against in Mexico–perhaps not to the same degree as Native Americans in the United States, but this is mostly because of the reservation system in the US and the sheer number of indigenous people in Mexico–and are taking the hardest jobs in the United States when they migrate. Many of these indigenous villages are almost completely devoid of people between the ages of 15 and 50 except during Fiesta when people come back if they can. This discrimination is trans-national, as they are likely to be undocumented, may lack Spanish language skills not to mention English (although this is increasingly less common among younger people), and have little capital–financial or cultural–to be upwardly mobile in either country. But they are willing to fight for better lives. Progressives do a terrible job of recognizing indigenous issues in the U.S., not to mention Mexico, but we also have to recognize when we think about immigration that indigenous status is a really important part of that.

The SUPERGENIUS of Chip Kelly, SUPERGENIUS: A Progress Report

[ 144 ] September 20, 2015 |


You may recall that Chip Kelly, the second best former PAC-12 coach currently employed as a head coach in the NFL and with two reasonably successful seasons as a head coach under his belt, was given complete control of team personnel this offseason. He HACKED the NFL with the innovative strategy of throwing money at name running backs and a famous but not very good and injury-prone QB. In even better news, in week 2 he faced a Dallas defense that is injury-riddled and not terribly good to begin with and a Dallas offense missing one of the best receivers in the league. And as a bonus, Dallas also lost their very fine QB in the third quarter, leaving the team with the quarterback-like stylings of Mr. Brandon Weeden. So that must have worked out well, right?

Well, expensive QB Sam Bradford was hideous, posting 6.1 yards/A and 2 picks, and with the former padded with garbage time yards. (His QBR was 5.6. To put this in context, Geno Smith has a QBR of 44.3 last year.) The first very expensive RB, DeMarco Murray, parlayed 13 carries into 2 yards. His second, some less expensive RB got 1 carry for zero yards. The decentish #2 CB Kelly paid like an elite #1 did force a fumble, but was also torched on a decisive 42-yard touchdown by the Canton-bound duo of Weeden and Terrance Williams.

None of these players are this bad. But it’s pretty clear that Kelly didn’t have some kind of mystical insight that would make moves that looked ghastly on paper good. And while the Eagles were over a barrel, giving Kelly complete control of personnel never made any sense. In the contemporary NFL, it’s enormously difficult to do both jobs well. Sure, Belichick more or less does it, but 1)do not try what works for one of the very greatest coaches in the history of North American professional sports at home, and 2)Belichick has been around the NFL since the Ford administration. Even if Kelly eventually could have been a good personnel guy, the chances that this would work out after two years of seasoning were remote. He really should have known this.

And, worse for Eagles fans, they’ve underachieved enough to make you wonder about Kelly’s coaching, which looked solid. Bradford has been a below-average QB by any metric and it is was foolish to trade a draft pick to drive massive dumptrucks of money up to his house, but Kelly had previously gotten adequate performance from QBs with even worse track records. Giving big money to running backs who have been worked hard has a horrible track record, but this doesn’t explain why Murray has made Trent Richardson look like Jim Brown. In fairness to these gentlemen, the abysmal Eagles offensive line and the sketchy wideouts don’t help matters, but while that mitigates the performance of Bradford and Murray to some degree it’s not a mitigating factor for Kelly: he chose to allocate his resources this way.

And yet, for all this, the team it still not out of it. While Kelly is in a class with Josh McDaniels as a personnel director I don’t think he’s suddenly lost it as a coach. And with Romo and Bryant out the division currently has nothing remotely resembling a good team. (The Giants have to be kicking themselves for blowing two 4th quarter leads, the first one with incomprehensibly bad game management.) If Kelly’s offseason moves allow Daniel Snyder to get into the playoffs, though…

Wage Theft Enforcement in California

[ 16 ] September 20, 2015 |


California is leading what should become a federal law to crack down on wage theft:

The bill, known as SB 588, was sponsored by state Senator Kevin de León of Los Angeles. It would allow California’s labor commissioner to place a lien on the property of an employer cited for wage theft.

It would also help prevent cited employers from skipping out on paying penalties and back wages by requiring them to post a bond of at least $50,000 to continue doing business. It would also prohibit the company from closing down and re-opening with a different name.

“Stealing the pay of employees who don’t make that much money to begin with is unconscionable. It takes food off their tables and makes it difficult – if not impossible – to provide for their families,” said De León in an emailed statement. “It also violates the fundamental promise of an honest day’s pay for an honest day’s work. With SB 588 we can give the Labor Commissioner the tools necessary to enforce the law for the workers and target the bad actors to level the playing field for honest businesses.”

As I’ve said repeatedly, the only way to deal with employers and corporations is to punish them where it hurts. Forcing employers to post bonds is one way to do that. For some, it wouldn’t matter that much because of their large amount of capital, but most of the employers engaging in wage theft are lower end businesses like nail salons. So this would threaten them with really hard times if they don’t comply. There is potential here to move employee rights forward in a meaningful way.

The Seahawks Debate Black Lives Matter

[ 153 ] September 20, 2015 |


I’m not particularly optimistic about the Seahawks beating the Packers today. Part of that is the holdout of Kam Chancellor (which the Seahawks simply cannot budge on, not if they don’t want all their stars holding out in the future) but part of it is that I think the Packers are a better team all around right now. But in an era of Tom Brady endorsing Donald Trump (and really, Brady may be the world’s biggest douche), it is refreshing that the Seahawks’ internal culture allows its players to debate the nation’s issues of the day with great honesty and it’s no big deal. In this case, Richard Sherman mouths some cliches about bootstraps while Michael Bennett publicly corrects him about the very real discrimination black people face against police forces. It’s just nice to have athletes willing to talk about these things, something that the Pete Carroll atmosphere encourages.

Let this all serve as the open thread for this weekend’s football. LOL to USC, Texas, Alabama, and Auburn fans. And really, Ohio St. as well.

Immigrant Detention Prisons

[ 9 ] September 20, 2015 |


The Obama administration has not done a good job on immigrant detainees:

Immigrant detention facilities are violating detainees’ civil and constitutional rights and failing to meet basic standards of treatment, according to a scathing report released Thursday by the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights.

The bipartisan commission, composed of four presidential appointees and four congressional appointees, urged President Barack Obama, Vice President Joe Biden and House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) to limit immigrant detention as much as possible, particularly for women and children.

“All people, no matter whether they are immigrants or asylum-seekers, deserve to be treated as humans,” Chairman Martin R. Castro, a Democrat who was appointed to the commission by Obama, said in a statement.

“Now, more than ever before, we need to treat fairly and humanely those persons, especially women and children, who are seeking sanctuary from violence and instability in their countries,” he added.

The report builds on months of backlash to the Obama administration’s use of family detention. Opponents have argued for years that immigrant detention, particularly of non-criminals, is overly punitive. Last year, the administration fueled that criticism by deciding to ramp up family detention, and critics are hoping to eventually end the practice altogether.

Ramping up family detention was a bad idea and overall, the Obama administration’s immigration record is decidedly mixed, a combination of proposing new policies and using some executive actions in very positive ways with a rise in deportations and effectively putting immigrants into prison. Obama has another 16 months or so in office. I hope he works hard to improve that record.

“Possibly wanted to be arrested?”

[ 317 ] September 20, 2015 |

I’m old enough to remember when Richard Dawkins wasn’t widely viewed as an embarrassing crank.

For someone who seems to be deeply serious about not believing invisible or imaginary things, there’s a whole lot of magical thinking going on…

Jimmy Carter, Radical?

[ 22 ] September 20, 2015 |


I certainly respect Jimmy Carter’s post-presidency. And one can argue he was underrated as a president. A bit, I guess. But he was significantly to the right of his own party in Congress, really did not want to sign a meaningful Humphrey-Hawkins bill that could have significantly expanded the government’s interest in working people, screwed up big time in the Iran hostage rescue attempt, and was generally uninspiring. On the other hand, he was visionary on environmental issues and should be remembered as a president who wanted to set the U.S. on a path that might have led to significant leadership on clean energy and climate change.

But while one expects a certain amount of paeans to a dying Democratic president, let’s not get crazy. Moreover, just because Jimmy Carter said some things that might sound radical to us now, those things are basically meaningless without looking at the context of the time. And that context suggests that Carter could have been far more effective as a president because he ruled way to the right of where he needed to be. That’s a lot more important. One would especially think a labor-oriented publication like In These Times to recognize Carter’s sketchy labor record.

This line of analysis of old presidents really drives me crazy. It’s the same kind of “hey, here’s a speech, it must be meaningful!” analysis that leads people to think that James Garfield would have been some great president on civil rights, that Ulysses Grant was a really great president (he was underrated and now he is overrated), that Reagan or Eisenhower actually respected immigrants and organized labor, respectively, and that Lincoln would have acted to stop the Gilded Age exploitation of workers from taking place. All of these common assertions about dead presidents are usually based on non-contextual cherry-picking and they all mislead as to the potential and reality of those presidents.

America’s Scummiest Couple

[ 12 ] September 20, 2015 |


Kevin Johnson and Michelle Rhee.

Also, America’s Scammiest Couple. I love how a couple that has become famous talking about the supposed corruption of teachers’ unionism are pulling a scam Whitey Bulger would be proud of.

The Constitution and Slavery

[ 13 ] September 19, 2015 |


Slave auction, Charleston, 1856

What’s really amazing about Sean Wilentz’s self-immolation this week isn’t so much that he’s decided to become a hack for Hillary Clinton, but how a once-esteemed U.S. historian has shows such willingness to sacrifice good historical analysis in order to be that hack. That means that his argument was swatted away by many with ease. Just a couple of examples. First, David Waldstreicher:

Another clause in Article I allowed Congress to mobilize “the Militia” to “suppress insurrections”—again, the House with its disproportionate votes would decide whether a slave rebellion counted as an insurrection. Wilentz repeats the old saw that with the rise of the northwest, the slave power’s real bastion was the Senate. Hence the battles over the admission of slave and free states that punctuated the path to Civil War. But this reads history backwards from the 1850s, not forward from 1787. The shaping policies of the early republic were proslavery because the federal government was controlled by southern expansionists like Jefferson and Jackson, who saw Africans as a captive nation, a fifth column just waiting to be liberated (again) by the British.

The refusal to mention slavery as property or anything else in the Constitution means something. But what it meant was embarrassment—and damage control. Domestic and foreign critics had lambasted Americans for their hypocrisy in calling themselves a beacon to human freedom while only a few states moved on the slavery question. The planters didn’t need or even want an explicit statement that slaves were property; it would have stated the obvious while opening up the United States to international ridicule in an era when slavery was coming into question.

On balance, the Constitution was deliberately ambiguous—but operationally proslavery. Perhaps more so than Madison wanted, as Wilentz maintains. But Madison’s putative intentions are all that matters to Wilentz. He’s outdone original-intent jurisprudence in reducing history to a morality play of good founders, bad critics. He loses sight of what actually happened when the ambiguously worded but slavery-suffused Constitution was finally released to an anxious public.

And Lawrence Goldstone:

In late July, after two months of wrangling, the convention appointed a five-delegate Committee of Detail to draft, in secret, a prototype constitution. Anyone who has been in business or government knows that creating the working document bestows enormous influence and power. To chair this all-important committee, the delegates unanimously agreed on South Carolina’s John Rutledge, “Dictator John,” the convention’s fiercest, most unapologetic defender of slavery. (James Madison, whose influence had been waning as the months wore on, was specifically excluded.) Rutledge’s selection made certain that whatever terms emerged would protect slaveholders’ interests.

And so they did. When debate resumed, based on the committee’s report, slaveholders won a series of concessions—on the makeup of the Senate, fugitive slaves, admission of new states, the election of the president, and even the Electoral College. In late August, however, the question of the national government’s control of commerce came up. Here, the North would not budge. In a compromise fashioned principally by Rutledge and fellow Committee of Detail member Oliver Ellsworth of Connecticut, the slave trade was extended for 20 years (after which the South would be protected by population shifts) and the free flow of commerce was assured when a proposal by the South to require a two-thirds majority to pass navigation acts was stricken. Virginia delegates were livid, none more so than the influential George Mason, who denounced the “infernal traffic” in a speech for which he has been incorrectly lauded by some historians, since he was convention’s largest slaveholder. (Rutledge was number two.) So upset was Mason that he refused to sign the Constitution, and Virginia, a state that had taken the lead in calling for a new constitution, only barely agreed to adopt the document during the ratifying conventions.

So, perhaps as Professor Wilentz suggests, the Constitution didn’t specifically anoint slavery as a national institution, but in clause after clause it tried to make certain that slavery would endure as one.


And Julia Azari:

Wilentz’s piece reads as if a clear delineation exists between national issues and state issues. It’s true that if you look at how day-to-day social policy was made and implemented, prior to the Progressive era, you find a more limited role for the federal government, and up until the New Deal you find much clearer boundaries. But just because this policy distinction held up, doesn’t mean that it applies to the Constitution or the political system generally. The relationship between federal government and the states was contested all the time. This happened in court cases like McCulloch v. Maryland, over the Constitutional status of the national bank, and Gibbons v. Ogden, which posed the question of control over waterways. The provisions of the Constitution intended to clarify what should be left to the states and what could fall under national control have never been obvious in their meaning. Furthermore, the question of whether the federal government was constituted by a compact of states, or represented a distinct entity on its own – a whole greater than the sum of its parts, legally – was a big controversy in the early republic. Andrew Jackson rejected the “compact theory” approach when he rejected South Carolina’s attempt to nullify tariff laws. Not everyone bought it, as evidenced by the eventual secession of the Confederate states. But to suggest that the early American republic was characterized by a clear boundary between national issues and local issues is to miss the basis of much of the political conflict from the Founding to the Civil War.

What’s notable here is that these historians don’t even have to try to refute Wilentz. The famous Wilentz now writes like an uninformed master’s student with an agenda. It’s pathetic and it’s sad. And so long as Bernie Sanders is in the race, we can probably expect more and we can probably expect the New York Times to publish it.

The Low Self-Esteem of Milo Yiannopoulos

[ 88 ] September 19, 2015 |

Actual photo of Milo Yiannopoulos

It’s hard to imagine someone having lower self-esteem than Milo Yiannopoulos. The woman who abetted two murderers because they were nice to her? Even she’s like “Wow, that Milo has some issues.” Indeed. Milo Yiannopoulos, a self-loathing gay man, seeks the approval of the elite. And by elite I mean basement-dwelling, misogynistic, emotionally-stunted, neckbearded, pseudo-nerds. There’s possibly no one on the planet more pathetic than Milo Yiannopolous. He’s worse than the woman who calls into shopping channels to rave about the latest offerings from Joy Mangano, she’s the woman who listens and nods along approvingly.

Some of you may know Milo from his role as Gamergate’s most dick-sucking cheerleader. Some of you may know him as the world’s best younger-hipper-Richard-Brookhiser-who-doesn’t-sleep-and-maybe-has-some-prostitutes-stashed-in-his-crawlspace impersonator. But mostly Milo is just a frightened little boy who desperately wants the approval of the internet’s new bullyboys: Gators, MRA’s and librotarians.

He’s furiously working the wangs of the bullyboys in his latest offering, a self-refuting mish-mash of evo-psych, MRA-speak, and dickcheese. If he weren’t such a loathsome human being, I’d feel sorry for him.

Oh, and a quick note on sexbots: I think you’d be hard-pressed to find bigger proponents than internet feminists. Feminists, of all people, are not coming to take your sexbots away. I, for one, am 1000% in favor of them. The idea of these dudes sequestering themselves away with their vidya, porn and bots makes me happy. It makes me really happy. I want these dudes to retreat more and more. I figure the more time they’re diddling their dolls, the less time they have to try to drive women to suicide, ya know? And, hey, if all the sexbot sexytime made them happy perhaps they’d learn to be less horrible. BRING ON THE SEXBOTS. Jesus Christ, they can’t get here fast enough.

UPDATE: It appears that some of you are concerned about my oral sex jokes. You don’t have reason to be. The only person who cares that Milo Yiannopoulos is gay is Milo Yiannopoulos. I wouldn’t even care if he were self-loathing if that self-loathing didn’t fuel him to use his platform to damage other gay people. But he is and he does, so there you have it. In the past I have made the almost identical joke about NRO’s Kevin D. Williamson, whom I’m assuming is not gay but is very certainly self-loathing. I think if there’s a lesson we can take from this it’s just that I am a rude, crude person. There’s nothing more nefarious going on here, I assure you.

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