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The TPP and GIFs

[ 5 ] October 22, 2015 |


Do you like animated GIFs? I don’t care much about them but many do, especially in the sports world. Among the many horrible things about the Trans Pacific Partnership is that it seriously threatens GIFs because this pro-corporate agreement tightens copyright protections for corporations. Given how the NFL just cracked down on Gawker and SB Nation, this is a real thing, just like the Investor State Dispute Settlement courts that undermine national sovereignty and protect American corporate rights around the world at the cost of people’s basic enjoyment of images.


Economics and Mythology

[ 396 ] October 22, 2015 |


My most recent post on History’s Greatest Monster Paul Theroux for Caring About American Workers has led to a lot of comments that say a great deal about both ideology of the New Gilded Age and about what I believe. I think it’s time to address a few. So let me refer directly to comments, if you don’t mind.

From yet_another_lawyer

So, when do we begin the social programs for the only moderately rich who live in NYC? They’re well aware that there’s local people who make even more than they do, as are the only somewhat well-off residents of Beverly Hills.

“There are people even more poor!” is frequently disingenuous, because it’s uttered by people who do nothing to combat global poverty. But if you do actually care about poverty, benefiting the already-globally-wealthy poor Americans at the expense of the actually poor is morally dubious. Is nationalism really what’s going on here? Never met an American who would support policies that benefit poor Canadians at the expense of poor Africans, but if you change it to Americans suddenly the equation changes.

(And I put my charity money where my mouth is. My charity dollars go almost exclusively to globally poor nations.)

Well that’s fine and good although your “charity” just makes you feel good about yourself as a rich white person. But the NYC comparison is completely irrelevant as if you make $100,000 in New York there are likely opportunities for you across the country while if you are actually homeless in New York, there are not. To me, this argument is indicative of someone who is not around American poverty and does not know poor people personally. This is policy created by rich people, central to the problems of modern America. Plus this, as well other comments made here, avoid the political aspect to this. Do you live in the United States? Yes, I assume. Do you want voters in this nation to care about what you care about and not support proto-fascists? Presumably. Then you might want to find these people jobs so they don’t revert to pure racial ideology. This gets back to the zero-sum game ideology of Lowrey, Matthews, etc., who revert to free market economics ideology without recognizing that the domestic issues they dislike are deeply connected to the lack of jobs for working people today who vote their resentments rather than their economic interests. Yet, their own ideological blinders, as constrictive as those of fundamentalist Christianity or Islam, do not allow them to see this.

Ransom Stoddard says:

It’s interesting how lefties have an anti-intellectual bias when it comes to economics, when usually they (correctly) mock conservatives for denying the validity of research that conflicts with their prior beliefs. “Basic economic facts” become “Econ 101 blather”, “distinguished economists” become “sell out corporate shills”, “The lifting of hundreds of millions of people out of absolute poverty in a single generation” becomes “the creation of a small middle class”, etc. I wonder what the typical “globuhlization sux u neoliberal tool!!” commenter would make of learning that Paul Krugman got his start in public writing in the 90s informing hippies that sweatshops are good, free trade makes everyone better off, and so on.

I’m also curious as to why the Vox crowd’s use of data to explain why they’re correct “obsession with data” on the issue of trade is wrong and worthy of scorn, while using data to explain why high taxes don’t slow economic growth, why Keynesian fiscal stimulus is good, why minimum wage increases don’t reduce employment and so on is generally approved of. Imagine if a supply side hack said “Okay, so you’ve used ‘data’ to show that high income taxes don’t reduce growth. But do you even understand the social context of being an entrepreneur in a country that punishes you for success? I Just Know, without data, that your view is wrong.”

This is wrong on so many levels. First, there’s the idea that economics is some sort of field above ideology when it is so clearly not. Second, there’s the idea that all economists agree on the impacts of global trade, clearly incorrect. I read economists like Mike Konczal and Marshall Steinbaum all the time who reject these ideas. There’s the idea here that “data is this objective thing” as opposed to serving ideological constructions. This is a place where economists could learn a lot from Science Studies and other disciplines who have shown just how much “data” has served pre-conceived ideological notions, but criticisms of that presentation get presented as idiot Luddites who dare question our true objectivity. Data is nothing more than socially constructed numbers choosing to serve our own ideological notions and the sooner economists understand that they are not a science and that instead most, albeit not all, are lapdogs of capitalism, the better off we will all be. A data set is not wrong, but it can’t mean much without the context of the ideological presumptions of the people making it. I will also say that the entire idea that a field of pure pro-capitalist ideology like Economics deserves a Nobel Prize and that somehow gives the field some sort of credibility is utterly laughable, especially when looking at the utter hacks that have won the award for their support of crushing democracy and dooming the poor to greater poverty. And no, I don’t care at all that Krugman won the award, given that the award should not exist in the first place. Better off creating a Nobel Prize for film, for at least that field advances human dignity.

Sapient contends:

Eric certainly contends that protectionism is a path to autarky. That’s his main thing.

I’ll forgive the serial misspelling of my name to state that I have never once stated that traditional protectionism is the path of the future. And I challenge anyone to say otherwise.

In the end, as I argued in Out of Sight, we have a deeply unfair trade regime. We can make it more fair. Doing so means rejecting the idea that free market economics are anything more than an anti-social capitalist plot to concentrate wealth in the 1 percent. But it also means rejecting the idea that local poverty is irrelevant. The idea that the poor in Alabama or New Mexico are irrelevant is a politics as stupid as supporting Lawrence Lessig for president. Rejecting the need to find people in our own nation jobs as “nationalism,” as free market fundamentalists (again, a group that makes ISIS look rational) tend to do, is totally insane because it assumes that they themselves are stateless. That of course isn’t true. They live in a nation where the poor, or at least the white versions of them, can vote. They often vote for policies that said free market fundamentalists don’t like. And then these fundies don’t understand why. Well, maybe if they had jobs, they’d reconsider. This seems utterly self-evident, yet the arrogance of capitalists gets in the way of this obvious point.

Again, I don’t think traditional protectionism is a way we can move forward. But I do think that policy making from 30,000 feet based on free-market ideology is a total disaster. In fact, capitalist ideology is the last of the 20th century ideologies that led to the century’s mass deaths, as utterly evil in its pure form that is so popular in 2015 as fascism or communism. Instead, we have to find ways to improve the quality of lives of workers in the U.S. and overseas at the same time. I suggest several ways we can do that in Out of Sight and I urge skeptics to read it to get how we can move forward here. Because the arrogant idea of wealthy white Americans that they are moving justice forward through free-market capitalism while contemptuously avoiding the real-world context of these decisions in the United States leads to meaningful consequences of their ideological arrogance.

History’s Greatest Monster for Caring About American Workers and the Concept of Relative Poverty

[ 200 ] October 21, 2015 |


Above: Lee County, Arkansas

I have to go back to the terrible Vox community response to Paul Theroux’s op-ed on deindustrialization and American workers one more time. That’s because David Dayen reached out Theroux to have a conversation about the response. Theroux went into the issue of relative poverty in that conversation.

Theroux provided a more impressionistic version of Bruenig’s argument, informed by his experience living among the poor all over the world, a project that goes back to his work in Malawi in the Peace Corps in the early 1960s.

“People aren’t aware of how desperate life is on a cold day in Mississippi with no heat,” Theroux said, arguing that the experience of being poor, beyond gross domestic product, is relative. Here he drew on the work of Angus Deaton, winner of the Nobel Prize in economics just this week, who pioneered studies into comparing poverty across different economies.

“Angus Deaton said you cannot determine poverty by income,” Theroux said. “You can visit a village in Africa made of mud huts and think how desperate it all is. But in that community, in that climate, a mud hut may be preferable. A thatched roof may be preferable to a tin roof. Just because they’re earning a dollar a day, they’re not unrelated to someone in Mississippi.”

Right. I think this gets at a major problem with the Vox crew’s ideological obsession around data. Yes, the raw numbers show that workers in Zimbabwe are poorer than they are in Mississippi. And that’s true. So that allows Annie Lowrey to tell off a poor woman in Mississippi in grotesquely brusque ways. But it by no means tells the whole story. Relative poverty matters a ton too because when poor people see wealthier people around them, it leads to all sorts of social problems on top of just poverty. Angela Garcia’s excellent book on how this plays out in northern New Mexico is really valuable on this. In that area, you have long-time indigenous and Hispano populations who have been displaced by whites since the late 19th century. Every time they look at the mountains, they literally see the land that once sustained their ancestors and now they have no rights to use in traditional ways. Moreover, the growing wealth of whites in Santa Fe and in Los Alamos makes their relative poverty all the more clear. This leads to some of the highest rates of heroin use, suicide, crime, and other terrible social indicators in the country. What is frustrating is that Annie Lowrey, Dylan Matthews, Matt Yglesias, etc., fully recognize that those are terrible social outcomes but they fail to see that they are caused by some of the precise policies that they support around economic dislocation of American workers through globalization. Those workers in Mississippi feel terrible about their lives because they know what it used to be and they know how other Americans live. That kind of relative poverty has to be taken seriously. And it usually is not, at least not by the new generation of Broder-esque media in Washington.

I was also curious about this claim about literacy rates in Lee County, Arkansas:

Theroux described large regions of the south as the equivalent of deserts, without access to hospitals, decent schools, economic opportunities, or even basic financial services and nutrition. The illiteracy rate in Lee County, Arkansas, he said, was 25 percent, an astonishing number for the developed world. And these poor southerners have not cultivated subsistence skills, he said, to the extent of those in African villages, who through the centuries have managed to make their lives more viable. Lots of the people Theroux profiled in Deep South “talked about how they used to eat squirrel stew, or smother-fried squirrel. But they’re not doing it anymore.”

And I don’t know if it is actually 25 percent, but it is very, very bad.Those people need help too. That includes jobs.

Another Example of Poor Workplace Safety

[ 14 ] October 21, 2015 |


The conditions workers face at New York’s B&H Photo Video face are just far too common for low-wage workers in the United States.

In the main B&H warehouse located in Brooklyn’s Navy Yard, the walls and ceilings are insulated with fiberglass that fills the air and flecks off onto the worker’s skin, causing rashes, respiration problems and daily nosebleeds, employees say. Inside a second warehouse, on Evergreen Avenue in Brooklyn, employees say they have worked amid asbestos-insulated tubing. “They would tell us to clean the tubes,” recalled maintenance worker Miguel Angel Muñoz Meneses, “but nobody wanted to touch them.”

The men, many of whom are undocumented, testify of suffering from kidney stones, dizziness and fainting after being denied access to water or bathroom breaks. They say there is often a lack of basic safety equipment. “If we ask for gloves, they answer that they do not have gloves, because gloves are too expensive,” said Isaias Rojas, a B&H employee.

One man reported he was badly cut while lifting boxes, and the managers refused to call an ambulance, instead advising him to simply wait until the bleeding stopped. Another said a manager threw hot water on him and slapped his face. Others report those who complain are fired or threatened with deportation.

“They treat us as if we were animals,” Florencio Salgado said. “We are involved in this because we are tired of being abused.”

For many of the men, the most egregious offense occurred on Sept. 5, 2014, when two tractor trailers parked adjacent to the Navy Yard warehouse burst into flames, sending clouds of black smoke into the shipping and receiving section as the workers were inside.

Silverio Cano Alberto, who has worked for B&H for seven years, said he was on the second floor as the flames licked the outside of the warehouse.

“There was smoke and yelling and no one, including the manager, paid any attention,” he said. “Finally, they told us we could leave, but we each had to pass through the metal detectors, which took about a half hour. When I got outside, the parking lot was filled with firemen and police. Imagine — if the fire had spread, we would never have all made it out.”

Pretty terrible. But with so few options for workers today, it’s hardly surprising. The only way this story came out was because one of the workers’ brothers knew about a worker center nearby, reiterating why these non-union efforts by organized labor and community organizers to reach out to low-wage labor are so important. How often do conditions like this happen for years or decades because there is no union or worker centers to contact? Luckily, these workers are on the way to unionization with the United Steelworkers. How many don’t have that chance?

You May Not Be Surprised….

[ 9 ] October 21, 2015 |


….that a ProPublica investigation found massive racial disparities in debt collection lawsuits.

That’s not only true in Jennings. The story is the same down the road in Normandy and in every other black community nearby. In fact, when ProPublica attempted to measure, for the first time, the prevalence of judgments stemming from these suits, a clear pattern emerged: they were massed in black neighborhoods.

The disparity was not merely because black families earn less than white families. Our analysis of five years of court judgments from three metropolitan areas — St. Louis, Chicago and Newark — showed that even accounting for income, the rate of judgments was twice as high in mostly black neighborhoods as it was in mostly white ones.

These findings could suggest racial bias by lenders or collectors. But we found that there is another explanation: That generations of discrimination have left black families with grossly fewer resources to draw on when they come under financial pressure.

Over the past year, ProPublica has investigated a little-known but pervasive shift in the way debt is collected in America: Companies now routinely use the courts to pursue millions of people over even small consumer debts. With the power granted by a court judgment, collectors can seize a chunk of a debtor’s pay. The highest rates of garnishment are among workers who earn between $25,000 and $40,000, but the numbers are nearly as high for those who earn even less.

Despite their prevalence, these suits remain remarkably hidden, even to people in the communities most burdened by them.

Why, it’s almost like structural racism exists and that we should take those issues seriously and create policy, like public housing, affirmative action, schooling, etc., that seek to break down those legacies. Of course, all those policies I just mentioned have either been eliminated or significantly repealed by the courts or for that matter by upper class white people sending their children to private schools or moving to the suburbs for the schools. There’s something of a solution to the debt problem, which is significantly reforming the laws allowing for punitive debt collection, but the real story here is the long-term structures that leave African-Americans without the ability to fight against debt collectors or even realize what rights they have, problems whites face at significantly lower rates. More on the structural side of this:

The Metropolitan St. Louis Sewer District provides service to almost all of the city of St. Louis and the surrounding county. The bill is not usually a large one — the average monthly rate in 2012 was about $29 for a single family home — but MSD, unlike other utilities like electricity, lacks the power to shut off service to customers who fall far behind.

In 2010, MSD decided too many customers weren’t paying their bills, so it dramatically increased its collection efforts. It went from filing about 3,000 suits in 2010 to filing about 11,000 in 2012, more than any other company that year.

Most of MSD’s customers are white, but the suits were largely filed against residents of black communities like Jennings. ProPublica examined MSD’s court judgments against residents of lower- and middle-income neighborhoods and found that MSD obtained judgments in the mostly black neighborhoods at a rate about four times higher than in the mostly white ones.

When MSD sues, the debts can be quite small, even as little as $350. And the size of those debts may help explain why MSD files so many more suits in black neighborhoods.

ProPublica’s analysis of court data for Newark and Chicago found that the debts that led to suits in mostly black neighborhoods were, on average, about 20 to 25 percent smaller than the debts of residents of mostly white ones.

In the Newark area, for instance, when a company sued a resident of a middle-income white neighborhood, the average balance was $3,466; in a black neighborhood, the average was $2,628.

This suggests white consumers are, in general, better able to resolve smaller debts.

This is sort of thing that both reflects difference created over generations and creates difference that will last for generations.

Breaking! Must Credit LGM!

[ 84 ] October 21, 2015 |

Apparently, Joe Biden will not be the Dem nominee and Bill Kristol was hilariously wrong about something. I’m as surprised as you are.

Swiss Mister

[ 67 ] October 21, 2015 |

Kevin D. Williamson remains a horrible human being. News at 11.

“We Will Not Use A Green Lantern. We Will Use An Emerald Lantern.”

[ 83 ] October 21, 2015 |


Lawrence Lessig had a fascinating new strategery.  He would ask a Republican House to pass a salutary reform package.  Republicans would have no choice but to pass this statute because running a single-issue campaign transforms a campaign into a referendum because something.  And then he would triumphantly resign, perhaps to turn the reigns over to Jim Webb who would also get bored in a couple weeks and turn the White House over to Fred Thompson, and so on.

Alas,  the “take my ball and go home” component of the plan is now inoperative:

The resignation idea was mine, so naturally, I resisted the skepticism. But I was wrong to resist it. And just how wrong was shown to me in the first poll we could run after our campaign was funded.

In a 1,008-person survey about the idea of a referendum presidency, Drew Westen, perhaps the Democrats’ most influential messaging guru, tested both the idea of a campaign focused on fixing our democracy first, and the idea of a president resigning once that work was done.

The resignation idea was a total bust. No one liked it. At all.

But the idea of an outsider making fundamental reform the central issue of the campaign blew the race apart.

After a careful description of the idea, and me, the poll found that my support didn’t just increase. It dominated the field. And while the survey was not designed to test the ultimate strength of one candidate against the other—so the (insanely high) numbers it found supporting me can’t be read as a measure of actual predicted support—the survey did show the astonishing potential for such a campaign in America today. This fundamental issue, properly presented, totally changed the race.

Whoa, back up:

Drew Westen, perhaps the Democrats’ most influential messaging guru

1)Please tell me that the “most influential” assertion is not true.
2)Lessig working with Westen seems over-over determined.

Anyway, I’m sure Westen has created polling data showing that if Lessig focuses on procedural reforms without the resignation idea, Lessig will “blow the race apart.” Good luck with that!

So now what?

That makes sense—for a politician. The data show that from a politician, the message of reform isn’t effective. People don’t believe it. For a politician, the better strategy is to promise the moon—ignoring the truth that the rocket can’t get off the ground.

But I am not constrained in the way the politicians are. Westen’s data shows that. And so if you believe as I do that restoring our democracy is the most important challenge before us—the thing we must do if we’re to do anything else—then it’s time to swallow pride, and follow the data.


If the Democrats won’t take seriously a candidate with a viable, credible, and professionally managed campaign just because it includes a promise to step aside once the work is done, then fine. You win. I drop that promise.

I am running for president. I am running with the purpose of restoring this democracy. I will make that objective primary. I will do everything possible to make it happen first, by working with Congress to pass fundamental reform first.

After we pass that reform, I will remain as president to make sure the reforms stick. I will work with Congress to assure they are implemented. I will defend them against legislative or legal attack.

Lessig has a plan to get a Republican House to pass legislation that would be contrary to both its ideological and practical interests. His previous plan was to force the House to do this because the election would be a REFERENDUM (note: not actually a referendum.) His new plan is to argue that DATA shows that this can happen so long as the president is an outsidery outsider. Data complied by…Drew Westen, a man almost comically ignorant about the most basic details of how the political process functions.

The fact that this all starts out by arguing that for a mere politician “the better strategy is to promise the moon—ignoring the truth that the rocket can’t get off the ground” just makes it extra awesome.

Waiting for Jutland

[ 5 ] October 21, 2015 |
HMS Iron Duke (1912).jpg

“HMS Iron Duke (1912)” by User Morven on en.wikipedia – Downloaded from Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons.

My latest at the National Interest takes a look at the setting of the stage for Jutland:

The naval war between Germany and the United Kingdom was more complex and multifaceted than is commonly understood in public memory of the First World War. This article looks at where the two great navies stood 100 years ago, and how the approached the problem of figuring out how to destroy one another.


A Tale of Two Chucks and One Matt

[ 155 ] October 21, 2015 |

I follow Charles Johnson on twitter. He’s the liberal (leaning, at least) blogger behind Little Green Footballs. Chuck C. Johnson is a rabidly conservative white supremacist “journalist.” For the past few months Charles Johnson (I’ll call him “Good Chuck”) has been enthusiastically documenting Chuck Johnson’s (I’ll call him “Upchuck”) idiocy. It’s been an amusing–if somewhat confusing–twitter battle to watch.

But it just got way more amusing, because Upchuck has decided to weigh in the latest installment “Star Wars.

Star Trek is a productive of a white America whether or not we want to accept it.

I literally have no idea what that means, but it’s clear that Upchuck is a big fan of “Star…Something.”

Matt Binder weighs in:

OTHER Wednesday Links…

[ 5 ] October 21, 2015 |
The Battle of Trafalgar by William Clarkson Stanfield.jpg

“The Battle of Trafalgar” by William Clarkson Stanfield.  Licensed under Public Domain via Commons.

Some links for your Wednesday morning:

Wednesday Links

[ 32 ] October 21, 2015 |

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