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The Wages of Fracking

[ 10 ] November 11, 2014 |

Oh fracking. You are so great with your cheap gas prices and profits for fossil fuel companies. Let’s just keep going full bore into this technology without adequate research on its impact on people or the land. Earthquakes? It’s just Jesus giving you a little shake. Keeping it real for you. As for fracking’s impact on workers, it’s just their sacrifice for the greater good:

A new study published in Environmental Health reveals air pollution data on major, in some cases previously underestimated, health risks from toxic contamination at gas production sites related to fracking. Air samples gathered around “unconventional oil and gas” sites by community-based environmental research teams contained unsafe levels of several volatile compounds that “exceeded federal guidelines under several operational circumstances,” and that “Benzene, formaldehyde, and hydrogen sulfide were the most common compounds to exceed acute and other health-based risk levels.”

This suggests fracking may bring risk of cancer, birth defects and long-term respiratory and cellular damage to local towns and farms. Building on other studies on drilling-related water contamination, the air pollution research may stoke growing opposition from communities near drilling sites, who must weigh the industry’s promises of new investment and jobs against the potential cost to the human health.

The findings also raise questions about the safety of fracking-site workers, who may have far less legal recourse over potential health damage than do local homeowners. Many work contract jobs under harsh, isolated conditions, in a volatile industry where pressure to pump profits is high and labor protections weak.

In contrast to other forms of oil and gas extraction, fracking is a particularly murky field because the process uses massive volumes of chemicals, with little regulatory oversight or corporate transparency.

It’s hard to see how this could lead to long-term health issues since American industry has never, ever, ever, ever, ever killed a worker through a lack of safety and health precautions.

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21st Century Organized Crime

[ 66 ] November 11, 2014 |

With civil asset forfeiture, the real organized crime in this country these days is not the Mafia, it’s the police. Or certain police departments anyway that self-fund by stealing your stuff whether or not you have actually committed a drug crime:

The seminars offered police officers some useful tips on seizing property from suspected criminals. Don’t bother with jewelry (too hard to dispose of) and computers (“everybody’s got one already”), the experts counseled. Do go after flat screen TVs, cash and cars. Especially nice cars.

In one seminar, captured on video in September, Harry S. Connelly Jr., the city attorney of Las Cruces, N.M., called them “little goodies.” And then Mr. Connelly described how officers in his jurisdiction could not wait to seize one man’s “exotic vehicle” outside a local bar.

“A guy drives up in a 2008 Mercedes, brand new,” he explained. “Just so beautiful, I mean, the cops were undercover and they were just like ‘Ahhhh.’ And he gets out and he’s just reeking of alcohol. And it’s like, ‘Oh, my goodness, we can hardly wait.’ ”

Mr. Connelly was talking about a practice known as civil asset forfeiture, which allows the government, without ever securing a conviction or even filing a criminal charge, to seize property suspected of having ties to crime. The practice, expanded during the war on drugs in the 1980s, has become a staple of law enforcement agencies because it helps finance their work. It is difficult to tell how much has been seized by state and local law enforcement, but under a Justice Department program, the value of assets seized has ballooned to $4.3 billion in the 2012 fiscal year from $407 million in 2001. Much of that money is shared with local police forces.

The practice of civil forfeiture has come under fire in recent months, amid a spate of negative press reports and growing outrage among civil rights advocates, libertarians and members of Congress who have raised serious questions about the fairness of the practice, which critics say runs roughshod over due process rights. In one oft-cited case, a Philadelphia couple’s home was seized after their son made $40 worth of drug sales on the porch. Despite that opposition, many cities and states are moving to expand civil seizures of cars and other assets. The seminars, some of which were captured on video, raise a curtain on how law enforcement officials view the practice.

From Orange County, N.Y., to Rio Rancho, N.M., forfeiture operations are being established or expanded. In September, Albuquerque, which has long seized the cars of suspected drunken drivers, began taking them from men suspected of trying to pick up prostitutes, landing seven cars during a one-night sting. Arkansas has expanded its seizure law to allow the police to take cash and assets with suspected connections to terrorism, and Illinois moved to make boats fair game under its D.W.I. laws, in addition to cars. In Mercer County, N.J., a prosecutor preaches the “gospel” that forfeiture is not just for drug arrests — cars can be seized in shoplifting and statutory rape cases as well.

And if you are found not guilty of these crimes, do you get your stuff back? Ha ha ha. Of course not.

This obviously should be illegal and I’m glad there is push back growing. But at the same time, police departments are looking to increase their seizures. It’s a plague that must stop.

Another gift from the War on Drugs. Just Say No kids!

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[ 23 ] November 11, 2014 |

So…should I be listening to this?  Is it as addictive as everyone says?

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Everybody Wins

[ 228 ] November 10, 2014 |

A friend altered me to this highlight of American culinary history.


The definition of everybody winning is hot cocktail sauce.

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The Only Progressive Choice in 2016

[ 76 ] November 10, 2014 |

Rand Paul: thinking person’s choice as political leader:

Senator Rand Paul (R-KY) wrote the foreword for a new book from Fox News senior judicial analyst Andrew Napolitano. Napolitano has promoted 9-11 conspiracy theories, attacked President Abraham Lincoln, and defended a former Paul aide with “neo-Confederate” and “pro-secessionist” views.

Napolitano’s Suicide Pact: The Radical Expansion of Presidential Powers and the Assault on Civil Liberties is described by publisher Thomas Nelson as “a shocking chronicle of America’s descent from a free society to a frightening surveillance state.”

In the foreword, Paul writes, “Now President Obama says he just wants to ‘balance’ liberty and national security. Judge Napolitano succinctly answers President Obama. To Napolitano, it isn’t possible to balance rights and security because ‘rights and [national security] are essentially and metaphysically so different that they cannot be balanced against each other.”

Paul praises Napolitano for “unravel[ing] the labyrinthine assault on civil liberties that has taken place as a side effect of the War on Terror.”

He concludes, “Judge Napolitano gets it, and I hope his new book will help the American public to get it; to wake up and mount a defense of our most precious liberties before it’s too late.”

Sen. Paul has engaged in a highly publicized effort to court the black vote for the Republican Party, visiting cities like Ferguson, Atlanta, Chicago and Detroit as well as colleges like Howard University to speak to black audiences. He has also spoken about criminal justice reform and worked with Democrats on the issue.

Yet the pundit he describes as someone who “gets it” has a history of downplaying the racial elements of the Confederacy while attacking President Abraham Lincoln.

In a 2014 appearance on Fox Business’ The Independents, Napolitano said he is a “contrarian” on Lincoln’s legacy and “bemoan[ed] the fact” that the president has been “mythologized.” He attacked “the public school establishment” who “would have you believe he is the fourth member of the blessed trinity.”

Napolitano accused Lincoln of having “set about on the most murderous war in American history” over slavery rather than “allowing it to die” because it “was dying a natural death.” He also argued that Lincoln possibly could have purchased slaves and then freed them, “which would have cost a lot less money than the Civil War cost.”

Napolitano even claimed that “it’s not even altogether clear if slavery was the reason for secession.” (The Daily Show later devoted a segment to dismantling Napolitano’s argument.)

Napolitano claimed that Lincoln’s prosecution of the Civil War – described as “government violence” — led to the creation of Jim Crow laws and the Ku Klux Klan. Napolitano decried the image of Lincoln as having “Godlike stature” because of “the demonizing of the south.”

Since Rand Paul has already stated he supports private businesses’ right to discriminate and segregate, the same arguments opponents of the 1964 Civil Rights Act used, though he now claims to not believe that, we can legitimately ask whether Paul thinks Napolitano “gets it” on race and the Confederacy too. Rand Paul can pretend like he’s not a white supremacist all he wants to, but not withstanding a few recent speeches made for political gain, his record his clear. The people he runs with and his own past demonstrate this clearly.

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Because I’m an equal opportunity shit-stirrer…

[ 4 ] November 10, 2014 |

I spoke to Chris Kluwe about my earlier interview with Adam Baldwin. This part should amuse some of the folks who commented on the previous post:

Kluwe began by noting that it was strange that Baldwin, a critic of journalistic ethics, requested that the interview be conducted on Twitter, which is not conventional journalistic procedure — but that he understood the desire to work in a format in which ideological opponents would not be able to manipulate your words.

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America’s First Asian Fantasy

[ 34 ] November 10, 2014 |


In 1846, Senator Thomas Hart Benton (D-MO) gave a speech on the Senate floor titled “The Destiny of the Race.” This fundamental articulation of Manifest Destiny and its sibling white supremacy not only justifies American expansion around the world, but reads like the nation’s first Asian sex fantasy. In part:

The van of the Caucasian race now top the Rocky Mountains, and spread down to the shores of the Pacific. In a few years, a great population will grow up there, luminous with the accumulated lights of European and American civilization. Their presence in such a position cannot be without its influence upon eastern Asia….The sun of civilization must shine across the sea; socially and commercially, the van of the Caucasians, and the rear of the Mongolians must intermix. They must talk together, and trade together, and marry together. Commerce is a great civilizer–social intercourse is great–and marriage greater. The White and Yellow races can marry together….Moral and intellectual superiority will do the rest; the White race will take the ascendant.

The van of the Caucasians and the rear of the Mongolians indeed.

Part of what Benton is doing here is basically providing an intellectual justification for the great taboo of American history–interracial sex because he so clearly means white men and Asian women while providing assurance that some sort of mongrel race like the Mexicans (which is how antebellum Americans viewed Mexicans) will not develop for long, thanks to the obvious superiority of Euro-American culture and blood.

I grabbed this speech out of a textbook years ago when I was first writing lectures and came across it again today when reviewing some lecture notes. Some other excerpts from this speech are here, although not the entire thing.

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So, I interviewed Adam Baldwin about GamerGate…

[ 62 ] November 10, 2014 |

…and Animal Mother/Jayne didn’t disappoint.

Though he did want to talk about the Frankfurt School more than I expected.


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And Sometimes Bad News Is Probably Just Bad News

[ 126 ] November 10, 2014 |

It may well have been two whole hours since you’ve read one of my columns.  Fortunately, the suspense is over!  My take on the Supreme Court’s decision to jump the Halbig en banc and decide the ACA troofer case:

This is why the Supreme Court’s decision to step in is so disturbing. If there was still a circuit split, one couldn’t really infer very much about the position of the justices. But the court preempting the en banc hearing of Halbig is another story. “There was no reason to take this case in order to uphold the ACA, given the nearly certain result of the en banc,” Margo Schlanger of the University of Michigan Law School told me. “So that means there are four justices who want to strike it down who think they have five votes to do so.”


It’s very likely, in other words, that John Roberts is on a crusade to slowly poison the ACA to death without issuing a single high-profile ruling holding the ACA unconstitutional. First, he re-wrote the Medicaid expansion in a way that denies health insurance to millions of poor people (while not even meaningfully protecting state sovereignty). And now, Roberts might be ready to join the court’s other Republicans to destroy most of the exchanges based on legal arguments that are even more dubious.

Don’t be fooled. Such a ruling would not reflect any legal principles. Rather, it would reflect the Republican Party’s longstanding offer to people who lack health insurance: nothing.

But read the whole etc. if you want to be angry on a Monday morning.

I should note that some smart observers are more optimistic than I am: see for example Brianne Gorod and Ian Millhiser. The latter makes an interesting argument about how Roberts could use the arguments advanced by 18 states to save the subsides while advancing other reactionary federalist goals. It’s very possible, given his third way in Sebelius. And one might think that a large number of states filing briefs in favor of the federal government’s position, although I would caution that 36 states filing or signing amicus briefs supporting the federal government didn’t stop the Supreme Court from striking down part of the Violence Against Women Act in the name of “states’ rights.”

Let’s also be clear that this a life or death issue: see Beutler, and in a particularly heartbreaking essay, David Tedrow.

Finally, this twitter thread uncovered by Josh Marshall really tells you a great deal about modern Republicans. You have your Michael Cannons who are just straightforwardly giddy about people being stripped of their insurance. But then there are people who just think that it’s unpossible that someone could get their health insurance cancelled and be ineligible for Medicaid under the status quo ante, because Free Market Ponies! What can you say? It’s this moral and political universe in which it is quite likely that five Supreme Court justices will claim they’re enforcing the will of Congress by enforcing a nonsensical interpretation of a statute no member of Congress who voted for the legislation agrees with then or now.

…Bill Gardner is a fellow pessimist.

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Today, Even Good News Takes the Form of Bad News

[ 50 ] November 10, 2014 |

6CA’s decision to force the Supreme Court’s hand is likely to ultimately have good consequences.  Sutton’s opinion unintentionally reveals why the bans can’t be defended:

Finally, Sutton reverts to the fancy theoretical means conservatives use to justify exclusionary traditions: originalism. One conservative legal blogger argues that Sutton’s claim that “[n]obody in this case…argues that the people who adopted the Fourteenth Amendment understood it to require the States to change the definition of marriage” should “be the beginning and end of the analysis.”

Let’s leave aside the many problems with the originalist approach to constitutional interpretation. The fact is that relying on the particular policy expectations of individual framers isn’t even good originalism. The framers and ratifiers of the Fourteenth Amendment enacted a general principle of equal protection, not the specific policy expectations of individual lawmakers.

Indeed, most framers and ratifiers of the Fourteenth Amendment thought that segregated schools and bans on interracial marriage were consistent with the equal protection of the laws, but this doesn’t make Brown v. Board of Education and Loving v. Virginia wrong. The only question is whether the Fourteenth Amendment’s equal protection principles are consistent with excluding gays and lesbians from the fundamental right to marry. The answer to that question is “no.”

The most fundamental problem with Sutton’s argument, as Judge Daughtrey eloquently observes, is that “the majority treats both the issues and the litigants here as mere abstractions” while not “recognizing the plaintiffs as persons, suffering actual harm as a result of being denied the right to marry where they reside or the right to have their valid marriages recognized there.”

All of the hand-waving about federalism and judicial rights cannot disguise the fact that this case involved victims of unconstitutional, invidious discrimination that does very real harm to their lives. Hopefully, the Supreme Court will correct this injustice sooner rather than later.



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Position-Taking is Not the Problem

[ 270 ] November 10, 2014 |

Rich Yeselson’s midterm postmortem should be read in its entirety. I’d particularly like to highlight this:

Based on number five, it would seem that Meyerson makes a strong point: Democrats need to act like, at the least, a party of leftist populism in order to galvanize its core constituency of the young, single women, and people of color, increase turnout, and more fully resist the GOP extremists. The problem is that while this is the right thing to do normatively, there is no particular evidence it would be that effective politically. The Democratic senators who got beat ran ahead of Obama’s approval percentage in their states. And a lot of them got killed.

It’s not the 1930s anymore — white people in Kentucky, Louisiana, and Arkansas despise anything that reminds them of the national Democratic party, which they already think is socialist as it is. They don’t want it to move left, they think it’s grotesquely left enough.

It was craven for Alison Grimes to not even say whether she voted for Obama, but there’s no social science or historical evidence that would indicate most Americans are intensely interested — as a matter of voter-motivated preference — in greater union bargaining rights, redistributive public programs, and the taxes that would be needed to pay for them.

This cuts the other way, too — Grimes probably didn’t gain much by running away from Obama and especially the ACA, since she’s tied with both anyway, so you might as well try to make a positive case (especially when many people in your state are benefiting from the Medicaid expansion.) But the idea that voters in most of the states where the Democrats lost are looking for full-throated left-wing populism is dreaming in technicolor. The number of voters in these races who don’t like Obama because they don’t think he’s liberal enough are essentially a rounding error. Enacting populist economic policies could well have substantial political benefits (although as the passage of the most important progressive legislation in nearly five decades shows, maybe not), but politicians talking about them more won’t.

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Sunday Evening Open Music Thread

[ 50 ] November 9, 2014 |

Since it is quiet here tonight, I might as well talk about music.

I had the occasion to have a slightly extended weekend thanks to giving a midterm and thus drove out to the far distant school where my wife teaches. In my world, that means listening to a lot of music. I know there are good podcasts out there. But none of them are as good as a good album. So I don’t listen to them. Instead, I listen to albums. And usually full length albums as opposed to what the kids these days call “playlists” what with their baggy jeans and the like.

So, on the way out there, I listened to the following:

Wooley/Rempis/Niggenkemper/Corsano, From Wolves to Whales
Rilo Kiley, Under the Blacklight
Akira Sakata & Chikamorachi, Friendly Pants
L7, Bricks Are Heavy
Wussy, Attica
V/A, Festival in the Desert (a collection of live recordings from the annual festival in Timbuktu, although I don’t know if it still going on with the whole violence and all)
Roky Erickson, The Evil One
Bob Dylan, Bringing It All Back Home
Merle Haggard, Down Every Road, Disc 3
Bill Callahan, Woke on a Whaleheart
Bruce Cockburn, High Winds White Sky
Bonnie Prince Billy, Ease Down the Road
Sonny Rollins, Live at the Village Vanguard, Volume 2

And driving back today, here was my playlist:

Ralph Stanley, Classic Stanley Disc 1
Osborne Brothers, From Rocky Top to Muddy Bottom
Curtis Mayfield, Superfly
Herbie Hancock, Live September 1973 (some radio show recording a friend gave me years ago. As I attempt to reconstruct my music collection following the theft, I am really glad I burned this on a CD at some point)
Bill Callahan, Apocalypse
Pavement, Slanted and Enchanted
White Stripes, Elephant
Mates of State, Mountaintops
Flying Burrito Brothers, Farther Along: The Best of the Flying Burrito Brothers
Bill Frisell, The Intercontinentals
Townes Van Zandt, Townes Van Zandt
Irving Fields, Bagels and Bongos

Overall, a reasonable facsimile of my normal listening patterns.

Talk about whatever music you want.

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