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Is Climate Change the Next Gay Marriage?

[ 39 ] November 19, 2014 |

This piece argues that climate change could be the next gay marriage in terms of young Republicans supporting meaningful action on it while old Republicans hate the idea of even considered it. Well, maybe. But I think there are some problems here. Primarily, I’m not sure how this manifests itself in policy. Gay marriage has a simple solution: making gay marriage legal. But climate change is far more complicated with no clear situation. Polling showing young people would pay $20 extra a month in home heating have some value but let’s be clear, that ain’t solving climate change. So what happens then? And the mechanism for change is much murkier. Ballot measures mean people can vote to legalize gay marriage. Lawsuits can force states to do the same. There isn’t really a similar mechanism for climate change. Weaning us off coal is great, but it doesn’t solve the problem either. So I’m glad to see young Republicans reasonable on this issue, but it’s not gay marriage.

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Why Affirmative Action Should Not Be Categorically Eliminated

[ 74 ] November 19, 2014 |

I have a piece up about the latest effort to get the Supreme Court to rule affirmative action unconstitutional in all cases.

To expand on one of the points I make there, the litigants have adopted the “grand bargain” justification for ending affirmative action — i.e. that schools who can’t consider race at all will attempt to achieve diversity through such means as eliminating legacy admissions and increasing scholarships to poorer students. The problem, as with most “grand bargains,” is that eliminating affirmative action will not in fact compel most universities to eliminate legacy admissions or increase need-based aid (and, indeed, most will not have the resources to do so.)

And even if I thought the policy arguments were more credible, I just don’t believe that either the Fourteenth Amendment or the Civil Rights Act makes affirmative action the equivalent of racial classifications intended to uphold a caste system.

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[ 83 ] November 19, 2014 |

They are an endangered species, but there are a few capitalists who see the income inequality of the New Gilded Age as a threat to capitalism, as they should. One is Nick Hanauer, who was an early investor in Amazon. He writes a lengthy essay in Politico about how awful it is that overtime for workers has gone away and what President Obama can do about it:

So what’s changed since the 1960s and ’70s? Overtime pay, in part. Your parents got a lot of it, and you don’t. And it turns out that fair overtime standards are to the middle class what the minimum wage is to low-income workers: not everything, but an indispensable labor protection that is absolutely essential to creating a broad and thriving middle class. In 1975, more than 65 percent of salaried American workers earned time-and-a-half pay for every hour worked over 40 hours a week. Not because capitalists back then were more generous, but because it was the law. It still is the law, except that the value of the threshold for overtime pay—the salary level at which employers are required to pay overtime—has been allowed to erode to less than the poverty line for a family of four today. Only workers earning an annual income of under $23,660 qualify for mandatory overtime. You know many people like that? Probably not. By 2013, just 11 percent of salaried workers qualified for overtime pay, according to a report published by the Economic Policy Institute. And so business owners like me have been able to make the other 89 percent of you work unlimited overtime hours for no additional pay at all.

In my defense, I’m only playing by the rules—rules written by and for wealthy capitalists like me. But the main point is this: These are rules that President Barack Obama has the power to change with the stroke of a pen, and with no prior congressional approval. The president could, on his own, restore federal overtime standards to where they were at their 1975 peak, covering the same 65 percent of salaried workers who were covered 40 years ago. If he did that, about 10.4 million Americans would suddenly be earning a lot more than they are now. Last March, Obama asked the Labor Department to update “outdated” regulations that mean, as the president put it in his memo, “millions of Americans lack the protections of overtime and even the right to the minimum wage.” But Obama was not specific about the changes he wanted to see.

So let me be specific. To get the country back to the same equitable standards we had in 1975, the Department of Labor would simply have to raise the overtime threshold to $69,000. In other words, if you earn $69,000 or less, the law would require that you be paid overtime when you worked more than 40 hours a week. That’s 10.4 million middle-class Americans with more money in their pockets or more time to spend with friends and family. And if corporate America didn’t want to pay you time and a half, it would need to hire hundreds of thousands of additional workers to pick up the slack—slashing the unemployment rate and forcing up wages.

The Obama administration could, on its own, go even further. Many millions of Americans are currently exempt from the overtime rules—teachers, federal employees, doctors, computer professionals, etc.—and corporate leaders are lobbying hard to expand “computer professional” to mean just about anybody who uses a computer. Which is almost everybody. But were the Labor Department instead to narrow these exemptions, millions more Americans would receive the overtime pay they deserve. Why, you might ask, are so many workers exempted from overtime? That’s a fair question. To be truthful, I have no earthly idea why. What I can tell you is that these exemptions work out very well for your employers.

I’m not a labor lawyer, so I will leave the legal specifics to others. But according to Hanauer, Obama can unilaterally change the overtime regulations. And the president has acted a bit on this issue. There is no good reason for Obama not to make a really significant change to the overtime rules except that he, like most Democrats in Washington, actually believe that corporate leaders are correct when they talk about “burdensome regulations” and themselves as “job creators.” Hanauer says these are outright lies, later going into what the capitalists actually spend their money on (note: it may make you angry). But that ideology is so incredibly powerful among the American political elite, an ideology backed up by the need for massive campaign contributions in a post-Citizens United world, that the reality matters less than pleasing the plutocrats. And that’s the Democrats. As for the Republicans, impoverishing the American working class is an outright goal.

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NSA Bill Killed By Fillibuster

[ 58 ] November 19, 2014 |

This was probably unsurprising. Also unsurprising to anyone paying attention is that 41 of the 42 no votes were Republican. Including, natch, America’s foremost champion of civil liberties and the true progressive alternative in 2016, Mr. Rand Paul.

Now, yes, yes, unlike most of his Republican colleagues, Paul ostensibly opposed the bill because it wasn’t robust enough. But this makes about as much sense as most heighten-the-contradictions arguments (i.e. none.) This was, to be clear, far from a great bill. But it’s also quite clearly better than anything that’s going to be passed by the next Congress. As Savage and Peters observe:

One possibility would be a bill that is scaled back enough to win over more hawkish Republicans, while relying on the votes of some Democrats, like Senator Dianne Feinstein of California, who were more skeptical of broad-based reform.


But resistance from inside the Republican Party has been unrelenting. Before Tuesday’s vote, two top former officials from the Bush administration — Michael B. Mukasey, the former attorney general, and Michael V. Hayden, the former N.S.A. and C.I.A. director, essentially called the bill a gift to terrorists in an op-ed article in The Wall Street Journal that carried the headline “N.S.A. Reform That Only ISIS Could Love.”

Senator Marco Rubio of Florida, another possible 2016 presidential candidate, has staked out a position consistent with more hawkish Republicans. On Tuesday he called the bill “a reaction to misinformation and alarmism.”

McConnell strongly opposed this legislation as doing too much to rein in the NSA, and especially with Udall losing the chances of a better bill emerging next year can be safely estimated at 0%. So Paul’s motives for opposing the legislation are irrelevant; he’s a cat’s paw for the Mukasey/Hayden team when the rubber hits the road, and all the showoff filibusters in the world won’t change the fact that he voted for this one too.

By the way, in case you had any doubts about whether this is a bad outcome, I note that it’s been endorsed by the man who thinks there isn’t a dime’s worth of difference between Sonia Sotomayor and Sam Alito and that John McCain totally would have signed the Affordable Care Act, Mr. Matt Stoller. Right, Rand Paul isn’t a self-aggrandizing blowhard but a Machiavellian mastermind who’s going to outwit Mitch McConnell. Now that Obama can’t pull the wool over people’s eyes and sellouts like Mark Udall are out of Congress, the people will rise up and a unified Republican Congress will pass real NSA reform! Just you wait!

UPDATE: Rand Paul does “feel bad” about being a complete fraud, which is certainly worth nothing.

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The Prison Labor Complex

[ 58 ] November 19, 2014 |

The California Attorney General’s office opposed the release of inmates because the state wanted to use them as cheap firefighter labor.

Last week, the Los Angeles Times reported that attorneys in Harris’ office had unsuccessfully argued in court that the state could not release the prisoners it had agreed to release because “if forced to release these inmates early, prisons would lose an important labor pool.” Those prisoners, the Times reported, earn wages that range from “8 cents to 37 cents per hour.”

In a Sept. 30 filing in the case, signed by Deputy Attorney General Patrick McKinney but under Harris’ name, the state argued, “Extending 2-for-1 credits to all minimum custody inmates at this time would severely impact fire camp participation — a dangerous outcome while California is in the middle of a difficult fire season and severe drought.”

Approximately 4,400 California prisoners help the state battle wildfires, at wages of about $2 a day. There is an exception in the agreement that allows the state to retain firefighters — but only firefighters — who are otherwise eligible for release.

Like incarcerated firefighters, inmates who perform “assignments necessary for the continued operation of the institution and essential to local communities” draw from the same pool of inmates who pose a limited threat to public safety, the state argued in a September filing. Therefore, reducing that population would require the prisons to draw more incarcerated workers away from its firefighting crews.

This is the reality of the labor force today–states actively rely on incarcerated labor for work. I don’t think I need to list the many problems with this.

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Prosecute the Apparel Companies

[ 13 ] November 19, 2014 |

Sweatshop factories in California are making a non-zero amount of your clothes:

Workers in the California garment industry are enduring poor working conditions and insufficient pay, the US Department of Labour has found. More than 1,500 Southern California garment workers are owed over $3 million in unpaid wages, the government department found following a year-long survey – which also concluded that American companies Nasty Gal, Macy’s, Nordstrom and JC Penney, among others, were producing garments in the factories concerned.

You want to stop this? Charge huge fines to Nasty Gal, Macy’s, Nordstrom, and JC Penney for doing business with people who make clothes in this manner. That’s how you stop it. We make decent working conditions part of the cost of doing business. This so often gets portrayed as an issue of “ethical sourcing.” That’s not incorrect, but it misstates the problem. The problem isn’t sourcing production with the right contractors. It’s the entire system of apparel contracting. It’s that the apparel industry gets away from washing its hands of responsibility through it’s don’t ask don’t tell position about its contractors. Only by holding these companies fiscally and legally responsible will clothing be produced ethically

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Tales From the Dark Ages of the Internets

[ 51 ] November 18, 2014 |

People with long memories for trivia may remember beloved HIV troofer and advocate for executing journalists insufficiently deferential to George W. Bush, Mr. Dean Esmay. He’s apparently found a new gig as a men’s rights crank. Hopefully he’s thrown some work to Kim Du Toit and Stephen Den Beste!

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Well, That’s Troubling

[ 59 ] November 18, 2014 |

If you’re anything like me, you grew up with a debilitating, Bloom County-induced terror of being eaten by a walrus.

It has become clear that, if anything, Opus wildly understated the problem.

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[ 56 ] November 18, 2014 |

The Senate bill was filibustered to death. The effect of this on Mary Landrieu’s re-election chances will be essentially nothing, as the effect of any other outcome would be.

Based on this vote, the next Senate would not have the votes to override a veto.

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An awkward kind of justice

[ 142 ] November 18, 2014 |

“It’s very awkward,” O’Donnell said. “Isn’t it awkward?”

“It’s more than awkward, it’s a tragedy,” co-host Nicolle Wallace responded. “Either 13 women were raped by someone too powerful to face the criminal justice system or an innocent man is being falsely accused.

The kind of informal public shaming ritual to which Bill Cosby is now being subjected is obviously a potentially dangerous sort of social practice, at least in the abstract. In the concrete circumstances presented by what appears to be a very long history of serial sexual assault, it may be the only justice available to a perpetrator’s many victims. If the fourteen women who are known to have accused Cosby of sexual assaulting them are to be believed — and it’s almost impossible to come up with any plausible explanation for the collective nature of their stories other than that those stories are true — then of course the number of women Cosby has actually assaulted is likely to be much larger. (Update: Another woman, the model Janice Dickinson, has come forward with another accusation of sexual assault that closely tracks the details of the other stories).

For obvious reasons the criminal justice system is now of no use in regard to extracting any retribution for these crimes, although perhaps that system might still have deterrent value as to Cosby’s future acts, given the attention these accusations are now getting. As for lawsuits, women raped by rich and famous men rarely sue them, for reasons that are even more obvious. (One of Cosby’s accusers did sue him. The case settled out of court, but not before thirteen other women offered to testify that they too had been sexually assaulted by Cosby).

So the present spectacle may be, in the case of Cosby and his alleged victims, the only justice to be had.

(Several comments in the couple of previous threads on this subject have suggested that these accusations are only getting attention — from the media in general and from mighty LGM in particular — because Cosby is African American. [Edit: Denverite points out that the precise claim made by commenters in previous threads was that accusations of sexual assault against African American men are more or less automatically believed. But that's really just another way of saying such charges are given unjustified attention, since charges that are treated as unbelievable won't get nearly as much attention.] It’s difficult to describe the absurdity of this claim. What’s truly remarkable is that, nine years ago, fourteen women announced they were willing to testify under oath that one of the most famous entertainers in America sexually assaulted them, and the matter got relatively little media attention at the time — Scott noted this past February in the context of the Woody Allen story that he wasn’t aware that Bill Cosby had been accused by multiple women of sexual assault; I was similarly unaware of that fact, which by itself doesn’t prove anything, but is suggestive regarding the level of coverage the story received. If anything, this suggests that the role racism played in this story was to keep accusations against a “beloved” –i.e., acceptable to white people — black man from getting the attention they otherwise would have gotten.)

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The Leather Industry and Outsourced Pollution

[ 34 ] November 18, 2014 |

Jason Motlagh and Josh Eidelson have an excellent piece up on the horrors of the Bangladeshi leather industry. When you buy leather goods, where do you think the leather comes from? How does it become leather? Of course you don’t ask yourself that question. You just like the shiny jacket. But it is just awful:

The worst conditions are endured by 8,000 to 12,000 tannery workers, who toil 12 to 14 hours a day, seven days a week for less than $2 a day, according to the local Tannery Workers Union. Abdul Kalam Azad, head of the union, says even experienced workers with 10 or more years on the job rarely earn more than $150 a month.

In one factory, which supplies black leather to wholesalers in Hong Kong, Korea, and Italy, hides are churned in giant wooden drums filled with toxic chemicals such as chromium sulfate and arsenic, which are used to soften them. Many workers handle the barrels without gloves and walk barefoot on floors covered in acid. “They are working in those conditions with little or no protective equipment and little or no concern for their health care from the tannery owners,” says Richard Pearshouse, who investigated factory conditions in 2012 for Human Rights Watch. Prolonged exposure to these chemicals has been known to cause cancer.

Nur Mohammad, 35, a veteran worker, has severe chemical burns on his hands and feet. “I’m always in pain,” he says. Workers risk being fired if they take time off to seek medical treatment, he says. “Sure, I would like to find a different job, but I have six children to support.” A factory manager, who declined to give his name for fear of retribution, says his tannery provides first aid and a medical stipend of as much as $20 a month. He concedes that while allowances are made for longtime employees to take leave, an excess of cheap labor ensures workers can easily be replaced.

On top of this is the effect of this pollution on surrounding people who live near this hellhole that exists for our consumer preferences. That’s a mere 160,000 people.

I talk a bit about this industry in Out of Sight and the fundamentals are the same as most of the rest of globalized capitalism–developed world nations are offloading the worst parts of the industrial process onto the world’s poor, keeping these realities far away our consumers’ eyes and brains, and ensuring that they hold no responsibility for what happens. The only way this really gets improved is for global standards that empower workers and the people of these communities to seek financial compensation from and legal repercussions for every company that makes or contracts goods that comes from this leather. Even if Bangladesh cleaned up its leather industry, the clothing companies and other big leather buyers would find an even poorer country to move it too. That’s why global standards have to follow industries no matter where they travel. It must be our goal in the apparel sweatshops, the food industry, the leather industry, and everything else.

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“Or We Could Try To Appeal to a Broader Group of Voters.” [pause] “HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!”

[ 124 ] November 18, 2014 |

Simpsons 1

Just in case vote suppression isn’t enough, some Republicans are proposing to take the United States even further from democracy:

Last week, Michigan state Rep. Pete Lund (R) revealed a plan that would rig the Electoral College to ensure Republican victories in 2016 and beyond if it were enacted in a sufficient number of states. Like similar proposals from GOP lawmakers who proposed rigging the Electoral College in the past, Lund’s proposal takes advantage of the fact that there are several large states that tend to support Democrats in presidential election years but that are currently controlled by Republicans.

Right now, nearly every state allocates 100 percent of its electoral votes to the candidate who wins the popular vote in the state as a whole. Lund’s proposal would change that calculation in the blue state of Michigan, however, while continuing to award each red state’s full slate of electoral votes to the Republican candidate for president. If this plan had been in effect in 2012, for example, Mitt Romney would have won a quarter of Michigan’s electoral votes despite losing the state to President Obama by nearly 10 points…

The electoral college is a horrible, indefensible anachronism.  You can tell this not only because it has no international influence, but because the states that otherwise slavishly followed the federal model in designing their political institutions don’t use it.  But norms like electors following the will of the voters and winner-take-all allocation in almost every state have allowed it to work tolerably well in most cases.  For the electoral college to subvert the popular vote, you now generally need an unusual confluence of circumstances — a razor-close vote and voter purges and administrative incompetence and a mendaciously narcissistic vanity candidate and a nakedly partisan Supreme Court.  But the problem is that the electoral college and the fact that the states are given the discretion to unilaterally change the way they allocate the votes just lies around like a loaded weapon, waiting for a party to just say the hell with it, if it’s formally legal and might allow our candidate who gets drubbed in the popular vote to take office, let’s do it.  I suspect it will happen sooner rather than later.

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