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The Future Is Now in the Northwest

[ 38 ] August 2, 2015 |


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?

[ 121 ] August 2, 2015 |


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

[ 77 ] August 2, 2015 |


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 |


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 |


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.

New Problems for the Trans-Pacific Partnership

[ 2 ] August 1, 2015 |


After the overwrought celebrations over “defeating” the Trans-Pacific Partnership in Congress a few months ago that immediately fell apart the next week when Congress passed fast track, we should be extremely skeptical of putting any hopes into defeating the TPP. But it is good news that it is delayed because the ministers of various countries are fighting each other over protecting specific industries. The reason that’s good is news is that any delay, particularly with some talk of not revisiting it until after the upcoming Canadian elections, means that it becomes more unlikely to pass Congress during a U.S. election year and therefore can be part of the debate in 2016. Forcing it into the public debate during an election is the best strategy we have for killing it. It probably won’t work either, especially given that despite whatever distancing Hillary Clinton has done toward the TPP, there’s no good reason to expect she wouldn’t sign it–unless she fears outraging the base that just elected her. Yeah I know, I’m not counting on that either. But still, in a fight like this, you work with the best odds you have.

A Preview of 2016

[ 206 ] August 1, 2015 |

Hillary Clinton Addresses National Urban League Conference

Couple of thoughts from Hillary Clinton savaging Jeb Bush at the Urban League forum yesterday.

1. Republicans really struggle to talk to anyone but their own base of aging white conservatives and plutocrats. Hillary able to call him out directly and totally outclass him, leaving him utterly unable to respond, is something that he will be more prepared for in the future, but also shows just how many terrible things all these clowns running for the Republican nomination have done and the difficulty of walking back that record to appeal to broad electorate.

2. Bernie Sanders is very bad at talking to people who are not white liberals. I thought he was a skilled enough politician to show the needed dexterity to talk to a variety of people in their own spaces that would combine his own particular focus on income inequality with other issues that mattered to his audience. It’s becoming clear that he’s really not that good of a politician.

“I will profane your fucking remains, Lannister”

[ 40 ] August 1, 2015 |

Well this is some damn fine news.

Ian McShane will appear on the upcoming season of “Game of Thrones,” Variety has confirmed.

Details on McShane’s role are being kept under wraps, but he will play a key role in the season’s plot with a small amount of screen time, reports EW.

If I had to pick one character from the HBO oeuvre who could not only survive, but indeed thrive, in Westeros, it would be Al Swearengen.

Quick Salon labor update

[ 7 ] August 1, 2015 |


More information here. Yes, someone at Salon should actually cover this, but we’re all exhausted beyond the telling, so it’s going to have to wait.

Also, in terms of the clickbait-to-content ratio at Salon that Other Scott’s complaining about, it’s worth juxtaposing the sudden reappearance of Paglia with the current labor dispute and wondering if there isn’t some sort of connection between the two, as was alluded to in the previous IBT article.

More Words Next to Each Other From America’s Worst Public Intellectual

[ 113 ] August 1, 2015 |


A couple of days ago Paul linked to a particularly witless and rambling interview in Salon with a person who for reasons nobody has ever explained or would want to explain was briefly famous in the 90s.  He did spare you from one horror:  this interview was a three part series, because said person would never say in three words what she could say in 400.  Let us gaze at the…not thoughts, I dunno, spew of the latest installment.  (No link because I wouldn’t bring another incentive for clickbait into this world! This post is an abortion, David! It is utter crap David!  Crap! And I had it killed because this must all end!)

First of all, when we look at the abundance of candidates who have put themselves forward on the GOP side, compared to the complete paralysis of the Democratic party by the Clinton machine, I think you have to be worried about the future of the Democratic party. Young feminists are asking why there hasn’t been a woman president and automatically blaming it on male sexism.  But there are plenty of women Democratic politicians who are too scared to put themselves forward as candidates because of the Clinton machine. There’s something seriously wrong here with Democratic thinking. You either believe in the country, you believe in your party, or you don’t!

Given the problems facing the nation, this passive waiting for your turn is simply unacceptable.  The Democrats have plenty of solid, capable women politicians who are just too timid to challenge the party establishment.  Well, excuse me, that proves they don’t deserve to be president!  You sure won’t be able to deal with ISIS if you can’t deal with Debbie Wasserman Schultz!  The paucity of declared Democratic presidential candidates is a major embarrassment to the party.  Look at that herd of eager-beaver competitive guys on the Republican side–overflowing with energy and ambition. There’s even a woman, Carly Fiorina, who has no political experience and therefore no chance of winning, but she is bravely putting herself forward and speaking out.  And she has impressively informed herself about international politics, which is a No. 1 requirement for any woman presidential candidate. I said in a recent op-ed for Time that women must take responsibility for mastering more than the usual social welfare issues. Women politicians have to develop themselves beyond the caretaking side of the spectrum. All this talk about the lack of women engineers and how that’s somehow evidence of sexism–oh, really?  It’s mostly a self-selecting process, as proved by the way that the overwhelming majority of women politicians around the world actually behave. What do they instantly gravitate towards?  Social welfare, caretaking, the environment.  They ignore military history and strategic geopolitics.

So, to summarize: 1)It is a disaster for the Democrats that Hillary Clinton is a prohibitive frontrunner because 2)Democrats can’t let real talent like Carly Forina shine and 3)this all shows that women don’t care about “military history and strategic geopolitics” because 4)in an ideal world we might get a woman who had been, say, been Secretary of State for 4 years, but it’s hard to see how that could happen now. I find your thoughts fascinating and would like to subscribe to your usenet group. (Note: any attempt to summarize America’s Worst Public Intellectual makes her spew sound much more coherent than it actually is.)

So what is this great talent that Hillary Clinton is oppressing?

I have constantly said that Senator Dianne Feinstein should have been the leading woman presidential candidate for the Democratic party long ago.

Jesus Christ, I know that personal narratives confessing embarrassing behavior has become of online clickfarms, but really some embarrassing personal facts should remain in the closet.

But I bet her analysis of the Republican Party is better!

I thought that Mitt Romney was an excellent choice by the GOP four years ago, even though he was opposed by the Tea Party. He was an old-style Rockefeller Republican, a type that doesn’t exist anymore. Nelson Rockefeller was governor of New York when I was in college in the 1960s, and he was flooding the state university system with tons of money in an attempt to make it equivalent to the University of California. I was very grateful for what he did, because I had a superb education at Binghamton, with wonderful new facilities and funding of programs like the film society. Rockefeller collected abstract art.

Mitt Romney was the new Nelson Rockefeller, because his plan to savagely cut public spending to fund upper-class tax cuts is just like how Rockefeller flooded the New York educational system with money back in the day. Also, kindly old Nelson had that great art collection stored below his North Korean plaza, awesome! Mitt Romney wouldn’t have done that, which is central to my point. Also, where’s the discussion of abstract art today? THANKS OBAMA!

Look, I know it’s hard out there for an online media publisher. But there has to be a more dignified way of getting traffic than this — maybe have an intern write 20 stories a day headlined “How America Learned To Love Looking At Lesbian Pictures Of Nude Kim Kardashian Naked Anal” or something.

IP in the TPP

[ 32 ] July 31, 2015 |

J-31 fighter prototype at the Zhuhai airshow. By 天剣2 – Licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

My latest at the Diplomat takes a look at some of the logics for why the US is pursuing a hard line on IP in the TPP:

One of the biggest ongoing arguments in the TPP negotiations (as far as we know, anyway) remains the question of how far the United States can push the other signatories to adopt its views on intellectual property law. The contentious points revolve around the ability to undertake criminal legal action against IP violators. “The U.S. wants the standards for damages to be very high, and to go beyond TRIPS (Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights) obligations for injunctions and the destruction of infringing goods,” according to James Love of Knowledge Economy International. The United States has also pushed for increasing the ability of government to undertake criminal legal procedures against intellectual property infringers.

What’s at stake? The criminalization of IP infringement in a multilateral agreement would give the United States legal teeth for enforcing its preferred system of intellectual property protection across the world.

Deflategate prediction

[ 54 ] July 31, 2015 |


Stephanie Stradley has a good summary of the current state of the legal issues in the deflategate matter (Btw was there a handy suffix for scandal neologisms prior to Watergate? And will we ever come up with another one? I suppose the persistence of the -gate formulation is another tribute to the power of baby boom demographics).

TL;DR: The NFL’s case is pretty shaky from the perspective of labor and employment law, physics, and economic common sense.

That may help explain why Tom Brady has decided not to pursue an injunction, which could have put his quarter-season suspension into limbo for the life of the litigation, which, given the number of lawyers involved and their billing rates, could well have lasted until Brady was kicking it on a beach somewhere permanently with Giselle. (Miss Flite, in re Jarndyce v. Jarndyce: “I expect a judgment. Shortly. On the day of judgment.”)

Reckless prediction: The parties will settle on a one-game suspension, after somebody finally convinces Roger Goodell that he isn’t paid $44 million per year to shoot himself and The League in their collective feet.

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