Subscribe via RSS Feed

The Brazil Mining Disaster, Updated

[ 4 ] January 8, 2016 |


In November, I discussed the awful Brazil mining disaster sending tons of toxic mud down the Rio Doce toward the Atlantic. Well, it has now reached the Atlantic. It’s not pretty.

Since millions of gallons of mining waste burst from an inland iron ore mine a month ago, 300 miles of the Rio Doce stretching to the Atlantic Ocean has turned a Martian shade of bright orange, and the deadly consequences for residents and wildlife are just beginning to emerge.

At least 13 people died in the initial flooding, and many in communities along the river have suffered from diarrhea and vomiting as the toxic mud seeped into their water supply.

Eleven of the 90 native fish species in the river were already at risk of extinction prior to the spill, according to federal environmental officials, and experts believe that wide-ranging forms of animal and plant life will be wiped out as entire ecosystems are destroyed.

With Brazil’s level of biodiversity, the die-off is likely to include an untold number of species that have yet to even be discovered.

Several days ago, the toxic sludge, which continues to spew from the mining site, reached the Atlantic Ocean in the city of Linhares north of Rio de Janeiro, as workers undertake a series of emergency projects to mitigate the damage along the river and into the Atlantic.

“There’s never been a disaster like this before, so there’s no guidebook for what we’re supposed to do,” said Rodrigo Paneto, environmental secretary for Linhares, who is overseeing an emergency dam project to protect the city’s water source. “We’re in war mode, just running around responding to dangers as they appear.”

Meanwhile, residents of Linhares, nearby Colatina, and myriad inland communities join long lines to receive bottled water from the military.

Experts say diseases related to water supply issues will likely result in deaths of riverside residents. Authorities, meanwhile, struggle to learn what other types of toxic material have spewed from the broken dam. So far, they know that the mud contains extremely high levels of iron and manganese; dangerous levels of arsenic have also been detected.

We’ll see if anyone is really held accountable for this. Or whether, as is more likely, business-as-usual mining will go on around the world with more disasters like this inevitably occurring.


Black Pain, Past and Present

[ 31 ] January 8, 2016 |


I liked this Lisa Wade piece connecting the desperate attempts by ex-slaves to reconstruct their families through placing newspaper ads in the late 19th century to Black Lives Matter today in the terms of how white people consistently denigrate and ignore the emotional pain African-Americans have felt over the centuries over the violent destruction of their families and their bodies. It includes a link to this newly released digital collection of these advertisements. Wade’s conclusion:

I worry that white America still does not see black people as their emotional equals. Psychologists continue to document what is now called a racial empathy gap, both blacks and whites show lesser empathy when they see darker-skinned people experiencing physical or emotional pain. When white people are reminded that black people are disproportionately imprisoned, for example, it increases their support for tougher policing and harsher sentencing. Black prisoners receive presidential pardons at much lower rates than whites. And we think that black people have a higher physical pain threshold than whites.

How many of us tolerate the systematic deprivation and oppression of black people in America today — a people whose families are being torn asunder by death and imprisonment — by simply failing to notice the depths of their pain?

The Historic Home Tour

[ 29 ] January 8, 2016 |


Historic homes of famous old white people was one of the first ways Americans began remembering their past. But they have tons of problems. Largely, those problems can be summed up in the word boring. These were originally created, such as George Washington’s home at Mount Vernon, as ways to revere great past leaders. And they were ways to save old homes from destruction. But they always largely served an old, white, conservative audience, telling stories of continuity and comfort for people who wanted to hear them. These stories almost never included slavery, dispossession, violence, or anything other than fitting some obscure 18th century figure into narratives of American greatness.

But that doesn’t really play anymore. Most historic home tours are awful, saying nothing about the times and really nothing about the person either. They are just houses full of antiques, fussy and musty. So I love this story on a self-described “anarchist” rethinking the historic home and trying to make it relevant again, attempting to bring in local communities, creating signs in *gasp* Spanish and generally trying to tell stories about real human beings.

One of Vagnone’s best test cases is the Dyckman Farmhouse, a Dutch colonial-style house in Inwood that recently reopened after hiring a new executive director. That director, Meredith Horsford, was formerly Vagnone’s deputy at the Historic House Trust and contributed to the ideas within the Anarchist’s Guide. The farmhouse, along with three other homes (the Wyckoff Farmhouse in Brooklyn, the Bartow-Pell Mansion in the Bronx, and the Old Stone House in Brooklyn), has received $5,000 to test out innovative ideas, as part of a Historic House Trust initiative funded by the 1772 Foundation in partnership with the Chipstone Foundation.

The Dyckman Farmhouse receives about 6,000 visitors a year, and Horsford and her team are trying to up those numbers. Not surprisingly, Vagnone, at a planning meeting for the house, is willing to do whatever might be necessary to make the house more appealing, even if it means starting from scratch: “My first thought is, I wonder if you took everything out of the house and it’s a brand new house. What would you talk about? What stories would you tell?”

The Dyckman team has ideas: they’ve removed the wrought iron art deco barriers that had blocked the doorways into some of the rooms for decades. They are introducing Spanish text into the museum’s interpretive materials. This fall, museum studies graduate students from Cooperstown will troubleshoot some potential aesthetic changes to the home.

Even these fairly moderate changes drive the conservative old people who run these museums crazy.

At Dyckman, the staff members pondered ways to show the perspective of the free black man and woman who had lived in the house and were listed at the bottom of the family tree that was on display in the museum. Little information about them remains in the in-house archive. In the discussion, another example of Anarchist Guide-style thinking emerged: “What if we literally take that [family tree] and flip it upside down?”

These kinds of ideas are provocative in the historic house community. At some of his talks around the country—and even once before a New York City board—Vagnone says he has been confronted by audience members, had listeners walk out of his talks, and been called “a menace,” “nuts,” and an “idiot.”

Not only would stories like this be more interesting and challenging, but they would make more people care about history. Yet making more people care about history seems to actually be opposed by a lot of the people invested in these museums, not if it means making Spanish-speakers and poor people and LGBT communities finding things they can relate to in these places.

The Heritage Uncertainty Principle In Action

[ 14 ] January 8, 2016 |

ryan is a working man

Paul Ryan in 2011:

We will hold hearings in Washington and around the country. We will invite affected individuals and job creators to share their stories and solutions. We will look to the Constitution and common sense to guide legislation.

Replacing this law is a policy and a moral imperative.

The committees we lead will tackle these challenges with the seriousness and steadfastness of purpose they deserve.

Repeal is the first, not the last step. Compassionate, innovative and job-creating health care reform is what’s next.

Paul Ryan, 5 years later, after Congress passed a symbolic repeal of the ACA:

This week, House Republicans voted to repeal Obamacare and restore the health-care status quo. But what about replacing Obamacare with an alternative plan that does all of the wonderful stuff without any trade-offs, the one they’ve been promising since 2009? “Just wait,” a smiling Paul Ryan told reporters.

Today brings shocking news from Politico, which reports, “Senior House Republican aides and lawmakers say they do not plan to hold votes on many of the agenda items the party plans to unveil — such as a health care plan to replace Obamacare, or tax reform — because of a tight legislative calendar over the next few months and the reality that none of the bills would be signed by the president, anyway.”

Why, I’m beginning to think that not only do Republicans not favor Barack Obama’s Republican health care reform, they don’t favor any health care reform! Had Republicans been in charge of Congress in 1995, though, I bet they would have passed something.

Elsewhere in health care path dependence news, Bevin backing off plans to completely dismantle Kentucky’s Medicaid expansion is indeed a big deal. I wouldn’t get complacent about this — who knows what a Republican Congress and President Cruz would be willing to do — but it’s a positive sign, and good news for poor people in Kentucky (even granting that they are likely to be worse off under Bevin’s modified plan.) Bevin’s actions have also given us a perfect illustration of the eternal fact that nobody actually cares about federalism:

In Kentucky, newly elected governor Matt Bevin ran promising to destroy the hated law, which is working well in his state and demonstrably improving the health of its citizenry. Faced with a conflict between his ideology and reality, Bevin has chosen a bizarre compromise. He is turning the operations of Kynect, the popular, state-run insurance exchange, over to the federal government. And he is promising to put his state’s government in charge of the law’s Medicaid expansion. The background here is that Obamacare is designed to cover the poorest uninsured citizens by expanding Medicaid, a federal program, while offering coverage to more affluent people through state-run exchanges. Bevin is simply inverting that design out of sheer spite. Obamacare wants a federal program for the poor and a state program for the middle class? Well, then, he’ll insist on putting his state in charge of the program for the poor and making the federal government run the program for the middle class!

There is no ideological reason why a Republican would prefer to federalize one of those programs but not the other. It is simply a demonstration of spite, allowing Bevin to posture against the law without having to live with the costs of actually forgoing its benefits. Kentucky is a vision of Obamacare repeal-and-replace in action — a body lurching forward and thrashing about after its head has been cut off.

Such principled constitutionalism. Next, you’ll tell me that the radical shift that took place in Antonin Scalia’s interpretation of the necessary and proper clause between 2005 and 2012 was motivated rather by his substantive views of the federal government’s policy!

Mixed up sex talk, Clinton edition

[ 275 ] January 8, 2016 |


Karen Tumulty and Frances Sellers in the Washington Post:

Last month, a woman in the audience at a Clinton campaign event in New Hampshire asked her: “You say that all rape victims should be believed. But would you say that about Juanita Broaddrick, Kathleen Willey and/or Paula Jones?”

Clinton responded: “Well, I would say that everyone should be believed at first until they are disbelieved based on evidence.”

It was not a spontaneous question. The woman read from a card and mispronounced the first two names she mentioned.

But to anyone who followed the sagas of the Clinton presidency, they were familiar ones:

●Broaddrick had accused Bill Clinton of raping her in 1978, when she was working on his Arkansas gubernatorial campaign.

●Willey, a former White House volunteer, said he had attempted to kiss and grope her in a private hallway leading to the Oval Office.

●Jones, a onetime Arkansas state employee, sued Clinton in 1994 for sexual harassment, saying he had three years earlier exposed his erect penis to her and asked her to kiss it.

And, of course, the biggest of all was the scandal over Clinton’s extramarital affair with Monica Lewinsky, who was a White House intern at the time. [Emphasis added]

Tumulty and Sellers are “just reporting,” but it would be nice if while doing so they might give some indication somewhere in their story that one of these things is not like the others (they don’t).

In regard to Juanita Broaddrick, Michelle Goldberg and Dylan Matthews both have good rundowns on why her allegations are a potential problem for HRC, given that in November Clinton tweeted that “every survivor of sexual assault deserves to be heard, believed, and supported.”

In 1999, Broaddrick publicly claimed that Bill Clinton had raped her in a hotel room 21 years earlier. She reportedly told a few people about the alleged assault at the time, and right-wing operatives shopped the story during Clinton’s first presidential campaign. Broaddrick refused to talk, however, and she later denied the rape in an affidavit in the Paula Jones case. It was only when she was interviewed by the FBI in the course of Kenneth Starr’s investigation that she changed her story and said the rape had in fact happened. (In the New York Times, she explained the about-face by saying she hadn’t wanted to go public but felt she couldn’t lie to federal investigators.) Shortly afterward, frustrated with rumors that had begun to circulate about her, she gave several high-profile interviews.

We will probably never know the truth of what happened between Broaddrick and Clinton. But today, few feminists would find her shifting story disqualifying. Consider, also, another piece of evidence that was marshaled against Broaddrick in the 1990s: Three weeks after the alleged assault, she attended a fundraiser for Clinton. Speaking to Klein, she says she was traumatized and blamed herself for what happened. “I felt responsible. I don’t know if you know the mentality of women and men at that time. But me letting him come to my room? I accepted full blame.” In any other context, most feminists today would find this credible. After all, many were outraged when rape skeptics tried to discredit Columbia student Emma Sulkowicz because she’d sent friendly Facebook messages to her alleged rapist after the alleged rape.

Of course the proposition that every survivor of sexual assault deserves to be believed is, when taken literally, a tautology. But statement’s like Clinton’s are often not taken literally: instead they are understood to mean that people who claim to have been sexually assaulted deserve to be believed. This, as Jeannie Suk points out, is a problem:

What could possibly be the logic on which criticism of “The Hunting Ground” could be said to contribute to a hostile environment, or to cause a student to feel unsafe? The film features the first-person narratives of individuals who describe their sexual assaults and then go on to describe the insensitivity of campus officials or police who did not vindicate their claims. At the Sundance festival première, which I attended, when an audience member asked what people could do to join the fight against campus sexual assault, one of the survivors featured in the film responded, simply, “Believe us.” It is a near-religious teaching among many people today that if you are against sexual assault, then you must always believe individuals who say they have been assaulted. Questioning in a particular instance whether a sexual assault occurred violates that principle. Examining evidence and concluding that a particular accuser is not indeed a survivor, or a particular accused is not an assailant, is a sin that reveals that one is a rape denier, or biased in favor of perpetrators.

This is the set of axioms on which one might build a suggestion that challenging the accuracy of “The Hunting Ground” contributes to a hostile environment on campus. If I am a student at a school where professors seem to disbelieve one accuser’s account, then it is possible that they could disbelieve me if I am assaulted. That possibility makes me feel both that I am unsafe and that my school is a sexually hostile environment. Under this logic, individuals would not feel safe on campus unless they could know that professors are closed off to the possibility that a particular person accused of sexual misconduct may be innocent or wrongly accused. But, then, what would be the purpose of a process in which evidence on multiple sides is evaluated? Fair process for investigating sexual-misconduct cases, for which I, along with many of my colleagues, have fought, in effect violates the tenet that you must always believe the accuser. Fair process must be open to the possibility that either side might turn out to be correct. If the process is not at least open to both possibilities, we might as well put sexual-misconduct cases through no process at all.

The ironclad principle that you must always believe the accuser comes as a corrective to hundreds of years in which rape victims were systematically disbelieved and painted as liars, sluts, or crazies. This history, along with the facts that sexual assault is notoriously underreported and that the crime suffers no more false reports than other crimes—and the related idea that only those actually assaulted would take on the burden of coming forward—leads many advocates today to the “always believe” orthodoxy. We have seen recent high-profile instances in which that article of faith has led to damaging errors, as in Rolling Stone’s reporting of a rape at the University of Virginia, or the prosecution of the Duke lacrosse case. The extent of the damage comes out of the fact that “always believe” unwittingly renders the stakes of each individual case impossibly high, by linking the veracity of any one claim to the veracity of all claims. When the core belief is that accusers never lie, if any one accuser has lied, it brings into question the stability of the entire thought system, rendering uncertain all allegations of sexual assault. But this is neither sensible nor necessary: that a few claims turn out to be false does not mean that all, most, or even many claims are wrongful. The imperative to act as though every accusation must be true—when we all know some number will not be—harms the over-all credibility of sexual assault claims.

(Emily Yoffe describes the disturbing story behind The Hunting Ground here).

Goldberg notes that “the people who hope to use Broaddrick against Hillary [don’t] care about victim blaming. And it would be a profound sexist irony if these accusations, having failed to derail Bill Clinton’s political career, came back to haunt his wife.” (Over at The Corner, David French inadvertently provides a fine specimen of the paranoid style in action, when he admits that he came to Vox’s story “expecting a whitewash.” Because if there’s one principle that the “liberal media” has stuck to over the years is that it will cover up accusations of sexual misconduct against Bill Clinton).

But, as she also notes, “particularly when it comes to Broaddrick, it’s not easy to square the arguments against believing her with the dominant progressive consensus on trusting victims. This is a tension that people on the right are eager to exploit.” And exploit it they will.

Thoughts and Media on Labour’s Longest Reshuffle in History

[ 145 ] January 8, 2016 |


Don’t piss me off.

As LGM’s Senior British Correspondent, I discuss how the opposition Labour Party has just completed a reshuffle of its front bench team. Because nothing screams “clickbait!” like a good reshuffle.

Reshuffles are common in parliamentary systems for a variety of reasons. The most recently executed Labour reshuffle did have some legitimate motivations; of the three shadow ministers sacked or moved, two (with excruciatingly minimal profiles) had been explicitly criticising the very leadership of which they were participants, and one (Maria Eagle) held a policy position in direct opposition to the Leader of the Opposition, Jeremy Corbyn.

That’s all well and good. Michael Dugher, former shadow minister for culture, had written at least one column in the New Statesman directly critical of the leadership (to the point where immediately following the sacking, Dugher edited his Twitter bio to read, in part “MP for Barnsley East. Sacked by Jeremy Corbyn for too much straight talking, honest politics.” which is sort of funny). The sideways shift of Eagle from defence to culture is more problematic; she’s in favor of the renewal of Trident, which is Labour Party policy, but Corbyn is stridently opposed to Trident and wanted a defence spokesperson consistent with his views.

It’s critical that the leadership of either party speaks with a common voice and presents a coherent face and message to the nation, the overwhelming majority of whom are not paying any attention to politics at the present time. Furthermore, this is consistent with the very concept of collective responsibility. While the rank and file in the back benches are free to publicly criticise the party leadership (though it is preferable that they do not) to have the leadership team sniping amongst itself is highly problematic. However, when you’re conducting a reshuffle a mere three and a half months into the leadership, you quite clearly got it wrong in the first instance. Furthermore, this was a laughably amateur reshuffle:

“On what planet is it even slightly a good idea to take four days to reshuffle what turns out to be a derisory number of posts?”

While it took four days, this does not take into account the briefings to the media that kicked off in mid-December.

This speaks to two more profound problems afflicting Labour at the moment.  First, the leadership under Jeremy Corbyn (whom I voted for) has not accomplished what it needs to: to craft a clear, succinct, shared narrative offering a credible alternative to the policies of the Conservative Government. Second, to varying degrees the narrative that the media are running with is that the Labour Party is at war with itself, not only within the Parliamentary Labour Party:

Of course the media are partly to blame, though I scarcely see the point complaining about it. If the British press wasn’t overwhelmingly hostile to a Labour leader who opposed the status quo, then it wouldn’t be the British press. If the British press really could just brainwash the public into thinking what media moguls wanted them to believe, we might as well give up. The dysfunctional relationship between the Labour leadership and the broader parliamentary Labour party (PLP) – inevitably exploited by the media – is something that can be addressed. All Labour leaders reshuffle their top team: but media-savvy Labour opponents of Jeremy Corbyn, such as Michael Dugher, have capably framed any changes as a “revenge reshuffle”

But beyond, as well:

What we have seen in the past days is a collective attack on Corbyn by the right-wing press, the right-wing Tory party, and many of the right-wing members of the PLP who are so very wrongly dubbed as ‘moderates’ within Labour. An attack that is being used by all the groups named above as a way of deepening the rifts within the Labour party, in an attempt to discredit the leader.

Yet when people look in on the Labour party and see the great chasm that the party has become, the Bitterites blame it all on the leadership and use it for their personal, ideological advancement. The Bitterites claim to want to oppose the Tories, yet they are stopping their party from being one of effective opposition, and are creating great divides within the party.

The reason I include that as “beyond” is that piece represents a broader battle being fought even at the local level.  Bitterites? Placing all the blame on the Blairite wing of the party?  Come on, improve or you’ll convince nobody of your position.  I have two good friends, both activists in different parts of the country who represent two different wings of the party (one clearly Corbynista, the other a centrist within the context of the party itself) who have grown somewhat disillusioned because of the interminable in-fighting within the Party itself.

This has to stop.

An awkward bit of my role here is that I’m often called upon by the media to comment on stuff. When the topic is Donald Trump, I’m in a very safe space, free to (perhaps overly enthusiastically) speak my mind. However, when it’s about British politics in general and the Labour Party (of which I am a member and activist) more specifically, I walk a fine line; I speak as an academic, not a member of the party.  Twice this week BBC Radio Devon called on me to offer commentary on the reshuffle:

Wednesday 6 January (about 38 minutes in, following a quite inspiring Phil Collins track)

Tuesday 5 January (about 1:30 in, following an equally inspiring piece on naming teddy bears).

Note, the above will expire a week after the interview.  Thankfully.

Saying the stupid parts out loud

[ 34 ] January 8, 2016 |

The topic of this post is so annoying you need a picture of  J. Scalzi & his new overlords as a prophylactic.

Ladies and Gentlemen, Mesdames et Messieurs, introducing the new King of Logical Fallacies, Anderson Cooper:

BARACK OBAMA: This notion of a conspiracy out there, it gets wrapped up in concerns about the federal government. Now, there’s a long history of that. That’s in our DNA. The United States was born suspicious of some distant authority —

ANDERSON COOPER: Let me jump in. Is it fair to call it a conspiracy? A lot of people really believe this deeply, they just don’t trust you.

OBAMA: I’m sorry, Cooper? Yes. It is fair to call it a conspiracy. What are you saying?

Well landsakes, Mr. President. Why can’t you understand that when a lot of white people believe a thing about a black person, their belief assumes legitimacy?

Now, about that birth certificate…


Saying the Quiet Parts With a Bullhorn

[ 96 ] January 7, 2016 |


Paul LePage, the man for people who feel that Donald Trump’s race-baiting is too subtle and dignified:

Drug dealers with stereotypically black names are importing heroin to Maine and leaving pregnant white women behind when they leave the state again, Gov. Paul LePage (R) told a town hall meeting on Wednesday.

In a response to a woman named Cathy’s question about what he’s doing to combat drug abuse in Maine, LePage touted a bill he’s proposed to institute stiffer criminal penalties on out-of-state drug traffickers.

“Now the traffickers, these aren’t people that take drugs. These are guys by the name D-Money, Smoothie, Shifty,” LePage said, drawing chuckles from the crowd in Bridgton, ME. “These type of guys that come from CT and NY, they come up here, they sell their heroin, then they go back home.”

“Incidentally, half the time they impregnate a young white girl before they leave,” LePage added. “Which is a real sad thing because then we have another issue that we’ve gotta deal with down the road. We’re gonna make ‘em very severe penalties.”

But he’s really heightening those contradictions!

“Well it’d certainly make chartered accountancy a much more interesting job.”

[ 35 ] January 7, 2016 |

Courtesy of the Kansas City Star, from House Bill No. 2059:

“For purposes of subdivision (2) of this subsection, the term ‘gift’ shall include sexual relations between a registered lobbyist and a member of the general assembly or his or her staff. Relations between married persons or between persons who entered into a relationship prior to the registration of the lobbyist, the election of the member to the general assembly, or the employment of the staff person shall not be reportable under this subdivision. The reporting of sexual relations for purposes of this subdivision shall not require a dollar valuation.”

Because I am mature adult type human being who frowns upon innuendo and smutty talk, I have nothing to add to this.
(Except check out the reporter’s name. Hur hur hur!)

This Just in: Allen West Still a Complete Psycho

[ 95 ] January 7, 2016 |

Allen West is making threats. Courtesy of Roy Edroso.


[ 75 ] January 7, 2016 |

#DaddySworeAnOath, indeed…

Look at this douchenozzle. Just look at him.

Read more…

Should Tariffs Be Part of Our Economic Conversation?

[ 63 ] January 7, 2016 |


Even among progressives today, the idea of tariffs are usually shunned and made fun of like an old racist uncle you have to tolerate at Thanksgiving. Tariffs are what steel workers in out of fashion mustaches support and we are oh so much more urbane than that. In Out of Sight, I also didn’t support the idea of tariffs as a solution to global economic and environmental exploitation. There were a couple of good reasons for that. First, I don’t think they build the international labor solidarity necessary to combat global capitalism. Second, I don’t think they are a political possibility today. They are backwards looking in an age of globalization that mostly we support, even if we don’t think we do. And I stand by both of those points and would not consider myself a supporter of tariffs as a major part of our economic policy, although I do recognize that nations have a very strong interest in keeping its citizens employed.

But should we take tariffs seriously? Should they at least be part of our conversation? We all know what happens when someone suggests them. Annie Lowrey and Dylan Matthews and Matt Yglesias call them moral monsters while these elites blithely ignore the plight of the American working class, calling for minor adjustments to the American welfare state rather than articulating any reasonable job policy for working-class people. This attitude is at least as much social signification as economic policy. But maybe we should rethink them. At least Matthew Cunningham-Cook thinks we should. Now, I don’t think all his arguments are fully fleshed out here. But let’s at least take them seriously.

The decision by progressives to focus exclusively on income and corporate taxation and not tariffs and export taxes is a mistake. Here’s why:

1) Tariffs and export taxes slow down the speed of capital.

As I wrote in November, what Wall Street has always desired is capital that can move at the speed of light. Critical to Wall Street’s success in the last 25 years is its ability to externalize–moving capital that prior was reinvested in Europe and the United States to tax shelters and to (partially) industrialize places like Mexico and Vietnam.

That’s exactly why Wall Street hates tariffs and export taxes. Because they limit the ability to move capital and goods around at will to maximize profitability.

In a way, tariffs perform a similar function to a financial transactions (Tobin) tax: it places sand on the gears of international capital, limiting the ability of banks and hedge funds to manipulate international commodity and capital markets.

There is no question that we have completely failed to slow capital mobility. As I argue in great detail in Out of Sight, this is an enormous problem that we simply have to solve if we want to create stable working and middle classes not only in the United States but around the world. This is also something that apostles of globalization refuse to deal with in their analyses. They wave their hands at the social problems of unrestricted capital mobility. But this is also part (and only part but a real part) of the Trump voter. If you have large numbers of working class people without jobs because their jobs have been shipped abroad, this leads to very real social and political consequences in the nation where you live. It is in everyone’s interest to stop these problems.

So maybe tariffs are useful here. On the other hand, a financial transaction tax and other forms of restricting capital mobility may also work instead.

2) Tariffs and export taxes promote industrialization.

Let’s list some great industrial powers–the UK, the US, Japan, and China. How did such industrialization come about? Very, very high tariffs. By isolating the domestic economy from countries with a higher level of industrialization, it allows for the internal means of production to develop without the specter of commodity-dumping from more advanced nations.

There’s a reason why Britain engineered the infamous War of the Triple Alliance against Paraguay in the mid-nineteenth century–Paraguay’s decision to move towards autarky (basically no foreign trade whatsoever) would inevitably lead to it becoming an industrial powerhouse with the capability to challenge–at the time–Britain’s unquestioning dominance of South America.

I need this argument about the War of the Triple Alliance fleshed out more here. I know a bit about this and given the Opium Wars, it’s hardly unknown for the British to start wars in the poorer parts of the world to promote its own trade. However, the War of the Triple Alliance was not with Britain and somehow, I’m not buying this idea of Paraguay as an industrial powerhouse, even if it doesn’t suffer one of the greatest national disasters in human history as a result of this war. It is true that isolating the domestic economy does help build industrialization, as China shows. But all those industrial products also need to be exported somewhere if domestic consumption can’t handle it so it’s not as if everyone can engage in a protectionist economy if this will work.

This feels like the weakest of the five arguments to me. I could perhaps be convinced otherwise with more evidence.

3) Tariffs and export taxes promote food stability and local supply chains.

It’s the great, barely-told story of the 1990s–the massive migration of Mexican farmers displaced by the dumping of heavily subsidized American grain on the Mexican market. NAFTA’s mandate that Mexico abandon tariffs on grain forced millions of Mexicans off of the land they had tilled for generations.

In another example, as a condition of allowing Jean-Bertrand Aristide to return to power in Haiti, the US mandated that Haiti lower its rice tariff to 5%–completely displacing Haitian rice farmers who could not compete with the grain-dumping from the United States.

For all the talk about local economies, few–if any–advocates have actually argued for the types of policies that allow localized economies to flourish: barriers to entry and exit. Local economies cannot compete with exogenous pricing structures, so the only way to make them sustainable is to separate them via tariffs and export taxes.

This is a pretty good point. The impact of free trade agreements on farming communities is utterly disastrous, unless you have the money for major capital investments, which of course small farmers in Mexico and Haiti and Vietnam do not. Agreements like NAFTA and the Trans-Pacific Partnership are great for American agribusiness. But they are terrible for poor farmers. They lead to people fleeing from their land and a lifestyle they often want to continue living, forcing them into urban poverty and migration, creating the labor force for maquiladoras and sweatshops that American capital takes advantage of. The argument in favor of this is that this cheap food creates lower prices for urban dwellers in Mexico City and Hanoi and Port-au-Prince. It can do this, but it also places those markets squarely within the vagaries of commodity capitalism. And when it becomes of interest for the growers of agricultural commodities to shift their product elsewhere, as it did in for American corn growers during the ethanol craze of the mid-2000s, it can have serious impacts on food prices in those developing countries. Thus you had the rapid rise of tortilla prices in Mexico in 2007, creating a national crisis, as well as rising food prices around the world at that time. American consumers could largely handle this. Mexican and Haitian and Vietnamese consumers could not.

It may well be in the interests of social stability for Mexico, Haiti, and Vietnam to protect its agricultural markets. And as the next argument will suggest, there are real downsides to American agriculture’s massive overproduction of crops that means there’s an environmental argument to be made here as well.

4) Tariffs and export taxes are ecologically sound.

Let’s be clear: the international commodity distribution system is the driver of the climate crisis. Transporting massive amounts of goods around the world constantly requires a huge amount of energy and creates an absurd amount of toxic waste. And then there’s artificial deflation of the actual cost of products because they are produced in countries with little environmental regulation–the radio example that Annie Leonard discusses in the must-watch Story of Stuff.

Were the United States–the world’s largest consumer–to drastically decrease the amount of imports, the result would be an ecological boon. A huge amount of US imports are socially unnecessary, involving a colossal degree of waste that is not internalized into the price.

A similar story exists with exports from the US–a massive reduction could only be a good thing for homo sapiens, a species beset with multiple and converging ecological crises. The top ten list of US exports has oil clocking in at No.3, aircraft and spacecraft at No.5, and plastics at No.8. All three industries need to be significantly reduced in size for humanity to have any chance of surviving the climate crisis.

So this argument has its upside and downside. The U.S. sends its enormous production of corn around the world, producing so much of it that agribusiness has to find new uses for it like High Fructose Corn Syrup or corn-based packing pellets. This comes at a very real ecological cost, as we can see in the dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico and the climate change that results from petroleum-based fertilizers. Reducing our corn production is actually good for the land and probably good for small farmers, if we used some tariffs to reduce import-based agriculture that created new markets for products grown in the U.S. Of course there are limitations to this argument. We aren’t going to grow enough limes and avocados to fulfill the U.S. market. Neither will Mexico grow a lot of crops eaten there today, like apples. So you do have to have something of a global trade in agricultural products unless you are asking people to eat a smaller variety of food. And while you could ask that of them, they aren’t going to like it very much.

Also, the global export market absolutely does market in products that are drastically changing the climate. And those who promote the unfettered globalized economy have absolutely no answer to that problem. But again, if the answer is telling people in developing countries to not live like Americans, which is sort of what Cunningham-Cook is doing here, that’s a hard argument to make effectively, because there is a justice component here that he must account for. And if the protection of national economies through tariffs is just going to stimulate Argentina and India to create their own plastic production, as is his argument about tariffs stimulating national industrialization, I don’t see how this actually then deals with climate change at all.

5) Tariffs stabilize employment and communities.

You can tell that there’s really no intellectual justification for finance capitalism when the best they can come up with is that it engages in “creative destruction.” Who in their right mind would want their system for resource allocation to be based off of “destruction”? Alfred Nobel and other associated war profiteers, but really nobody else.

Drive through the Rust Belt–or take a stroll through the South Bronx–and you’ll see what “creative destruction” looks like.

But because tariffs limit the ability for Wall Street to offshore capital and manipulate the commodities market, high tariff environments mean that unionized plants stay open and people continue to have stable, living wage jobs and community.

This is pretty much true all the way down the line. The arguments for finance capitalism are totally bankrupt when it comes to dealing with local communities. If it’s not policy made from 30,000 feet, the prophets of globalizations lack any sort of answer with what to do with Flint or Buffalo or the Mississippi towns Paul Theroux expressed sympathy for, of course making him the greatest moral monster since Stalin if you are part of the Vox crew.

Say what you will about tariffs, but they do help create stable American communities. And we need stable American communities. If you support unfettered capital mobility and the global economy as it stands, it is your moral and perhaps even patriotic duty to come up with concrete answers that you are willing to tell an unemployed American worker as to what they should do and what you are going to do for them. Similarly, those who do support tariffs need to come up with concrete answers for Bangladeshi workers and Honduran workers too. In a global economy like we have now, we can’t just throw a bunch of workers overseas out of a job too. Or we can, but it’s hardly less problematic than the current situation.

The one difference of course between American workers and Honduran workers is that I and most of you have to live in the United States. Millions of unemployed and underemployed and employed but in three jobs to make ends meet is a recipe for social instability. There are concrete political and social reasons to emphasize putting Americans to work in good-paying jobs where they can have a union if they want one. That has to be a real priority for us, as we are seeing in a period of rising fascism. It can happen here.

Are tariffs part of the answer? They probably can be. I don’t think Cunningham-Cook makes the strongest possible case here, although he is hurt by the lack of space to really lay out his points. At the very least, I think he makes a pretty good case that tariffs should be on the table. And I think those who promote the current economic system have to make a much stronger case as to how this is good for Americans than they ever have to this day.

Page 31 of 2,209« First...1020...2930313233...405060...Last »