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All the Winning

[ 35 ] April 20, 2017 |


There is so much winning going on in our foreign policy that I for one am getting sick of it.

Compounding their anger over the Carl Vinson episode, many South Koreans were also riled at Mr. Trump for his assertion in a Wall Street Journal interview last week that the Korean Peninsula “used to be a part of China.” Although Korea was often invaded by China and forced to pay tributes to its giant neighbor, many Koreans say the notion that they were once Chinese subjects is egregiously insulting.

“The 50 million South Koreans, as well as many common-sensical people around the world, cannot help but feel embarrassed and shocked,” said Youn Kwan-suk, spokesman of the main opposition Democratic Party, which is leading in voter surveys before the May 9 presidential election.

American aircraft carriers regularly visit areas near the Korean Peninsula as part of annual military exercises with South Korea and Japan. But when the United States Pacific Command said on April 9 that the Carl Vinson had been ordered to leave Singapore and return to the Western Pacific, the decision was considered highly unusual, as the carrier had been in exercises off the Korean Peninsula just last month.

“We’re sending an armada,” President Trump said at the time.

You have to go pretty far to alienate South Korea. I mean, what do our allies in east Asia have to offer us anyway?


The Care and Feeding of Aircraft Carriers

[ 78 ] April 20, 2017 |
USS Gerald R. Ford (CVN-78) on the James River on 11 June 2016.JPG

USS Gerald R. Ford (CVN-78) on the James River. By U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Cathrine Mae O. Campbell – This Image was released by the United States Navy with the ID 160611-N-ZE240-145. Public Domain.

I get extremely irritable when folks, sometimes in the comment sections of lefty blogs*, make unfounded assertions about the vulnerability of aircraft carriers.  Fortunately, Foxtrot Alpha gave me the opportunity to write about the topic at some length:

The modern aircraft carrier is a global symbol of American dominance, hegemony, peace, even empire. But at over 1,000 feet long, and displacing more than 100,000 tons, is it a sitting duck? Is the massive emblem of American greatness just an obsolete, vulnerable hunk of steel?

 There’s a lot of consternation about whether or not the United States should even have massive supercarriers anymore. Obviously, the answer here is “depends on how much explosives you’ve got.” But while sinking an aircraft carrier is difficult, it’s not impossible. The key is what it’s used for, and who it’s used against. But if you wanted to sink one, here’s what you’d have to do, and what you’d be up against.

As a favor to me, only opine after you’ve read the article…

*But, um, never this blog.  And I was probably thinking about some other commenter, not you.

Retail vs Coal

[ 118 ] April 20, 2017 |


There’s been a number of comments and posts around the internet such as what Bouie offers here and they is worth a brief discussion.

The retail industry’s recent decline may have reached a “tipping point.” That was the conclusion of a recent report from the New York Times with potentially far-reaching consequences. Once-bustling shopping malls and department stores are now empty as millions of Americans do their shopping online through businesses that have warehouses but don’t operate storefronts. “This transformation is hollowing out suburban shopping malls, bankrupting longtime brands and leading to staggering job losses,” the Times reports. “More workers in general merchandise stores have been laid off since October, about 89,000 Americans. That is more than all the people employed in the coal industry.”

Retail jobs aren’t good jobs, per se; on average, they pay little, provide few benefits, and are notoriously unstable. But roughly 1 in every 10 Americans works in retail, which means millions rely on the industry for their livelihoods. As the Times notes, “The job losses in retail could have unexpected social and political consequences, as huge numbers of low-wage retail employees become economically unhinged, just as manufacturing workers did in recent decades.”

Despite this ongoing challenge and threat to millions of ordinary Americans, Washington is silent. What makes this even more striking is it comes at a time when politicians—and a multitude of voices in national media—are preoccupied with the prospects of blue-collar whites and the future of the Rust Belt. That contrast exists for several reasons, not the least of which is a simple one: Who does retail work in this country versus who does manufacturing work.

There is of course a lot of truth to this. Retail workers tend to be younger, women, people of color. Manufacturing work tends to be whiter, male, older. And yes, this absolutely frames the discussion of these issues. People don’t freak out about retail losses and you don’t see a million New York Times articles about these workers and you also don’t voices from the self-proclaimed left hold these workers up as why the Democratic Party has sold out the working class. Sexism and racism absolutely frames all of this.

It is however worth noting that the decline of manufacturing jobs is also the decline of generations of work that was once horrible, deadly, and destructive turned into well-paid, union jobs. And that is part of the story here too. Retail jobs are not worse than manufacturing jobs except for the fact that retail jobs have always been low paid and fights to turn manufacturing jobs into “good jobs” were successful. Of course, that process was racialized and gendered too because society valued the jobs of white males more than those of people of color and women. But part of the story is the decline of good paying jobs for the working class.

There’s also the issues that entire regional identities have been developed around these hard industrial jobs. That’s not just in West Virginia. Go to Butte and talk to people about copper or go to Michigan and talk about auto or go to Johnstown and Youngstown to talk about steel. The decline of these industries is the decline of a regional identity that retail never has created. And that regional identity is held by more than just the white men who the media are slobbering over to get their perspectives on Trump. It’s held by the white women working in those retail jobs and it’s held by the African-Americans who are very much not responding to this by voting for a white supremacists, but nonetheless experience the economic dislocation the loss of those steel jobs causes.

So, yes, absolutely the focus on industrial over retail is about race and gender. But it’s about more than that too, not in terms of issues that can somehow be separated from racism and sexism, but rather about how long histories of work that are infused with racism and sexism shape regional identity and thus affect voting patterns.

The Greatest Neoliberal in All Neoliberalland

[ 159 ] April 20, 2017 |


That Tom Perez, he sure is a neoliberal sellout!

The move is one of many small shifts that Perez has undertaken to steer the Democrats slightly more to the left. Already, Perez is sounding more like the president of the AFL-CIO than DNC chairs of past years.

“I mean, there is an unmitigated assault on the labor movement. It’s an assault that just got a big weapon in the form of the confirmation of Judge Gorsuch to the Supreme Court. Now there are five votes on that court to make it very, very hard for public-sector labor unions to collect dues,” Perez tells me as we sit in the lobby of the Louisville Hilton.

It’s an attack that has Perez deeply worried.

“And they aren’t gonna stop at public-sector unions,” says Perez. “The way to take down the progressive movement is to attack those community pillars, whether it’s Planned Parenthood or the labor movement. This is not coincidence—who is getting attacked.”

Critics on the left continue to criticize Perez for being a tool of the Democratic Party’s corporate wing, following a contentious DNC election in which he beat progressive stalwart and Bernie-backed Rep. Keith Ellison (D-MN). Now, Perez has attempted to distance himself from that label by getting involved in labor struggles.

It’s almost as if Tom Perez was never in fact a tool of Democratic Party’s corporate wing, what with being arguably the most best Secretary of Labor since Frances Perkins.

In Perez’s first week at the DNC, he declared his solidarity with the historic 5,000-person “March on Mississippi” against Nissan, an event organized by the United Auto Workers in Canton, Miss.

Perez says that he was inspired to get involved in the struggle by a meeting he had with a Nissan temporary worker, who he later invited to an event at The White House.

“Robert was his name, but I don’t recall his last name,” says Perez. “He’s what they call a ‘permatemp.’ That’s an oxymoron—it should be an oxymoron. How can you be a permanent temporary employee? He is a second-class citizen in the Nissan plant.”

Perez’s pace of speech begins to pick up rapidly as he’s agitated by the issue.

“He has had the indignity of training permanent employees, who make much more than him,” says Perez. “He has to work something like 55 hours to make what someone doing identical work makes in 40 hours. That’s not right, that’s not who we are. Nissan is making a tremendous amount of money and they don’t need to make money on the backs of their workers.”

Yep, pretty clear that Tom Perez only serves the Al Froms and Rahm Emanuels of the world!

Whittier’s law school is shutting down

[ 65 ] April 20, 2017 |

Whittier College, a small liberal arts school in Orange County   somewhere in the Los Angeles-area megapolis (edit: apparently only the law school is in Orange County; the original college is in LA County; thanks to commenter rea for the correction] most famous for once upon a time enhancing Richard Nixon’s pre-existing human capital, announced yesterday that it wasn’t going to enroll a new law school class this fall.  This in effect means the school is closing once its current students graduate.

Whittier is the first unambiguous ABA law school closure since the law school crisis started to really get rolling about five years ago. (Indiana Tech announced a few months ago that it was closing its fledgling operation, but the school came into existence in 2013, so that doesn’t exactly count.  Also, Hamline University unloaded its law school onto the free-standing William Mitchell Law School in a “merger” that was a de facto closure — Mitchell/Hamline as its now known is no larger than Mitchell used to be by itself).

What’s interesting about this development is that, financially speaking, Whittier doesn’t seem to be in significantly worse shape than the average ABA law school.  I just finished a study that estimates the average non-elite (non-top 10ish) law school saw an approximately 35% decline in total tuition revenue between 2011 and 2015.  The number for Whittier? 38.9%.   Whittier cut its effective tuition per student by 6.85% during this time frame, which is half the rate at which the average non-elite law school slashed actual per student tuition.  (Almost all law schools outside of the elites depend on tuition for the vast majority of their self-generated operating revenues).

So why is Whittier closing? The answer seems straightforward: its parent institution decided it wasn’t going to subsidize it any longer.  Whittier College is a small school: law students make up more than 20% of the total campus enrollment of around 2,200.  It has a modest but actually sort of decent endowment for a small liberal arts college — $90 million, i.e., the same as Sarah Lawrence.  But obviously it isn’t some sprawling operation that can afford to subsidize a money-losing law school more or less indefinitely.

Leaving aside the financial nitty gritty, Whittier really shouldn’t have continued operating anyway.  Its graduates who were first time takers of the California bar last July racked up a 22% passage rate.  A total of 30 of 141 2015 graduates of the school had full-time long-term employment requiring bar passage (aka an actual legal job, broadly defined) ten months after graduation, and five of those people were employed by the school itself.  The 89% of 2016 graduates with law school debt took out an average of $179,056 in federal loans while in law school, which means that with accrued interest and origination fees they had well over $200,000 in law school debt alone at graduation.

The school reduced its full time faculty from 41 to 31 over the past five years, but per its tax filings it had several law faculty making more than $200,000 per year, which is frankly absurd for a school in its financial situation.  Indeed the only people among the dozen highest paid employees on campus who weren’t central administrators were six law professors  (To be fair, this particular sort of absurdity remains rampant among low-ranked law schools with terrible employment and bar passage numbers).

Anyway, as imitation is the sincerest form of academic administration, it will be interesting to see how many other central administrations now feel emboldened to make similar decisions.

Media and the MOAB Strike Aftermath, Updated

[ 16 ] April 20, 2017 |


A few days ago I wrote about the conspicuous absence of any news reports of the aftermath of the MOAB strike in Afghanistan. The point of my post was not to declare there had or hadn’t been civilian casualties or civilian collateral damage in the area that was bombed, but simply to say that news organizations and non-governmental organizations likely could not get that information for logistical reasons. That logistical difficulty may very well have been why that particular target was chosen. Screen Shot 2017-04-20 at 11.44.46 AM

Someone at The Guardian must have known what I was writing up because that same day a piece on the devastation left by the MOAB was finally published. But let’s note that it took journalists four days to get access to and release the story, which in this day and age is quite a long time.

The first paragraph describes an Afghan commando capturing the moment of the blast with his cell phone. Whatever he caught, we cannot see. Somebody somewhere has likely decided it would be a “security issue” if such images were allowed to be published.

While there is no mention of civilian casualties, we can see that the Nangarhar province already bore many scars of war. Whatever the US strike accomplished in removing the threat that ISIL posed to the local villagers (and let’s remember that it was the Afghans of the area who were primarily threatened by ISIL and not “American interests”) war is still there. Perhaps any assessment of the damage done by MOAB would be difficult to differentiate from the wounds already inflicted.

And yet, the images that are most likely to remain with the American public are those of the unexploded bomb and the ambiguous black and white aerial footage of its impact. They were the first images and the most palatable. Whatever victory was scored against ISIL in the strike, the scenes from Nangarhar wouldn’t inspire much celebration.

If you catch any other images being circulated on television or on digital sources like the Huffington Post, let me know.


Reproductive Rights are a Core Democratic Value

[ 367 ] April 20, 2017 |

sanders teaser 2

I don’t believe in “dealbreakers.” In the general election, you vote for the best candidate available, and pressure them as best you can. I think Democrats should support Jon Ossoff and Heath Mello. But this is a different story:

Sanders was less interested in the Ossoff race. “He’s not a progressive,” he said. He was endorsing Democrats based on their economic populism; they could differ from progressives on social issues but not on the threat of the mega-rich to American politics. Soon, he said, the 5-to-4 majority on the Supreme Court was likely to make it legal for the wealthy to give unlimited sums to candidates, and the only way to fight back was grass-roots politicking and small donations.

“If you are running in rural Mississippi, do you hold the same criteria as if you’re running in San Francisco?” he said. “I think you’d be a fool to think that’s all the same.”

Sanders had said this before, and each time, he had sparked anger from a center-left ready to accuse him of abandoning women or nonwhite voters. On Thursday, he was set to campaign in Omaha for Heath Mello, a Democrat running for mayor who had previously backed a bill requiring ultrasounds for women considering abortions.

Sanders is right in the second graf. But of course it’s completely contradicted by his dismissal of Ossoff:

Any attempt to classify people as “progressive” that does not include reproductive freedom as a criterion is bullshit. That doesn’t mean that the issue is a “dealbreaker” in a general election where someone with bad views on the subject is the best you can do, but of course the same goes for candidates whose economic rhetoric Sanders finds insufficiently populist in tone.

Assistant Professor of Centrist Democrat Studies at Rahm Emanuel University

[ 136 ] April 19, 2017 |

WASHINGTON - AUGUST 10:  White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel reacts after reading  "Duck for President," by Doreen Cronin and  Betsy Lewin, to students from Raymond and C.W. Harris Elementary schools during a Reading to the Top event at the Department of Education August 10, 2009 in Washington, DC. The department's Reading to the Top program, which runs through Sept. 11, features various children's books read by the Secretary Duncan, other Cabinet members and top Administration officials.  (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

Guys, Freddie is a little upset, claiming I am “obsessed” with him in a long rambling post that includes a long defense of his commitment to assessment (i.e., worthless paperwork that takes professors away from doing useful things like teaching classes), and various other bizarre musings and that also references me by name at least 7 times. Projection, you say?

Then there’s this:

None of this, of course, will matter to Loomis. I could have gotten a job that perfectly matched with his politics – say, Assistant Professor of Centrist Democrat Studies at Rahm Emanuel University – and he would have been mad.

You might want to console our poor boy. Or back away slowly. Or laugh at him. Whatever works for you this Wednesday evening.

Ladies: Work Will Set You Free

[ 57 ] April 19, 2017 |


Above: The most feminist factory collapse of all time

Why didn’t anyone tell me it is “Women Will Be Freed by Labor Exploitation Day?”

Example A on ‘the feminist side of sweatshops” (!!!)

Fears of exploitation now often center on South and Southeast Asia. Human Rights Watch recently published a piece condemning Cambodia’s garment factories. True, factory work is difficult and sometimes deadly—just as it was in the Industrial Revolution.

“But ask the woman,” economist Deirdre McCloskey suggests, “if she would rather that the shoe company not make her the offer … Look at the length of queue that forms when Nike opens a new plant in Indonesia. And ask her if she’d rather not have any market opportunities at all, and be left home instead entirely to her father or husband.”

Factory work, though arduous, often represents an improvement for women. Research from Yale University suggests the rise of the garment industry, dominated by female factor workers, helps explain the falling rate of child marriage and rapid increase in girls’ educational attainment in Bangladesh.

Regrettably, well-intentioned calls for export restrictions and boycotts can harm the very women they seek to help, many of whom fear the loss of factory work and a return to rural penury and stricter gender roles. Already, automation threatens the jobs of nine million, mostly young and female, garment factory workers. Boycotts worsen this situation.

Harriet’s arguments still apply today. As long as work is “voluntarily assumed” and laborers maintain the “liberty to withdraw” from it, we should not reject a potential force for women’s empowerment in developing countries in an attempt to protect them. Women everywhere have too much independence for that.

Would you be shocked to note that the author of this piece is a CATO hack? No, no you wouldn’t. This isn’t of course to say that wage labor can’t lead to greater freedom in women’s lives. But the feminist position to take is that these workers shouldn’t die when their sweatshops collapse around them. The feminist position is that these women shouldn’t have their union organizers beaten and killed when they try to organize. The feminist position is that these women shouldn’t be subjected to forced pregnancy tests, rampant sexual harassment, and rape as part of their job. In fact, there may be some difference between actual feminism and a plutocratic ideology that just so happens to serve the interests of sweatshop owners and CATO ideologues!

And then there’s Example B. What is holding back American women? The Fair Labor Standards Act!

This blog will be the first in a three part series taking a fresh look at the FLSA, with a particular focus on its negative impact on working women, and how real change could be a real boon for women. This “Part 1” will examine the history of working women, address why women are leaving the workplace, and what women want from their employers to attract them to stay.

Part 2 will discuss relevant business needs and trends in general in today’s world marketplace.

Finally, Part 3 will bring everything together and explore how the FLSA works against women in achieving their professional goals as well as better work-life balance. It will also consider alternatives to the current structure of the FLSA and the positive impact real change could have on U.S. businesses and women alike.

Given that the rest of Part 1 examines nothing about the history of working women, I know I can’t wait for Part 3! Nothing is bringing women down–and I mean NOTHING–like the minimum wage, overtime pay, and a ban on child labor!!!

Lena Dunham, Secret Conservative

[ 79 ] April 19, 2017 |

Oh, hai. “Girls” wrapped up its series finale and a bunch of conservatives are apparently planning on renting a time machine so they can go back in time and erase previous freakouts about Lena Dunham.

Ross Douthat, of course, has the biggest platform, and boy howdy he doesn’t waste it, using 20,000 paragraphs to say “Be careful, girls, if you get rid of Patriarchy, you’ll be sorry.”

In large ways and small the show deconstructed those assumptions. The characters’ sex lives were not remotely “safe”; they were porn-haunted and self-destructive, a mess of S.T.D. fears and dubiously consensual incidents and sudden marriages and stupid infidelities. (Abortion was sort-of normalized but also linked to narcissism: The only character to actually have an abortion was extraordinarily blasé about it, and then over subsequent episodes revealed as a monster of self-involvement.) Meanwhile the professional world was mostly a series of dead ends and failed experiments, and the idea that sisterhood would conquer all even if relationships with men didn’t work out dissolved as the show continued and its core foursome gradually came apart.

I tell ya what, I read stuff like this and sometimes I get the idea that comedy is often mined from tragedy and that imperfect– even obnoxious– people are sometimes funny. CAN YOU IMAGINE?

Of course the real-life civilization they are part of just elected Donald Trump as president, making all those prestige-drama portraits of toxic patriarchy seem quite relevant to our circumstances again, and the travails of life under social liberalism a little less immediately pressing.

But the wheel will turn again, and the relevance of “Girls” will wax as it does. There are many ways to capture our society’s complicated reality; the urban white liberal Brooklynite milieu is indeed, as the show’s haters always stood ready to remind us, a pretty narrow slice of American and Western life.

But then again so is the New Jersey mafia or Madison Avenue in its heyday or the Albuquerque drug trade. If those slices, in their different ways, embody the allure and pathologies of old-school male power, the slice that “Girls” portrayed (with, yes, caricature as well as realism) embodies a stronghold of the egalitarian alternative that cultural liberalism aspires to spread to everyone.

And the genius, and resonance, and staying power of Lena Dunham’s show rests not only on its artistic quality but on its message to its mostly liberal viewers: You do not have this alternative figured out.

Well, that much is true. Feminists cannot predict the future, though in the near-future I do predict several more pants-shitting, poo-flinging, hysterical, Gamergate-infected collective spasms from white boys. But, after that–who knows? It could be ok and complicated, life could become a series of complex trade-offs (in other words, exactly like it’s always been) or the streets will run red with the blood of men killed in The Great Extinguishing of the Patriarchy and the world will stop spinning in protest. Could go either way.

Will Moore RIP

[ 175 ] April 19, 2017 |

I didn’t really know Will Moore, but this is making its way around the political science blogosphere:

Assuming I did not botch the task, by the time this posts I will have been dead via suicide for several hours. Nope, that’s not a setup to a joke.

Why would someone who is healthy, employed, has every outside appearance of success, and so on, take their own life? In my case the answer is simple enough: I was done, but my body wasn’t. But that answer isn’t satisfying, so, for those who are aggrieved, upset, saddened, etc., let me do my best to try to explain.

Much to digest. Deepest condolences to his friends and his family.

Comments closed.

Death without parole

[ 180 ] April 19, 2017 |

The suicide of former NFL star and convicted murderer Aaron Hernandez is an occasion for thinking about the policy of sentencing people to sentences of life without parole.  One of the less noted perversities of capital punishment is that it deflects attention from this subject.  Indeed, an innocent person on death row almost certainly has a far better chance of eventual exoneration than someone serving life sentence, because of the far greater per capita resources expended on death penalty cases.

There are currently about 2,900 people on death row, and more than a third of them are in jurisdictions that now almost never execute anyone, most notably California.  Meanwhile as of five years ago around 159,000 people in the US were serving life sentences, and nearly a third of those sentences did not include the possibility of parole.  Several thousand of the latter sentences were imposed on juveniles, in some cases for crimes committed when the offender was as young as 13.  (The US is the only country in the world that sentences juveniles to life without parole).

Life without parole is a barbaric sentence, that no civilized legal system should tolerate.  While there are certainly people who should never be released from prison before they die, that judgment should be made on a truly individualized basis, not by sentencing whole classes of offenders to the certainty of lifetime imprisonment.  The fact that life without parole exists in large part as a wedge against death penalty advocates is just another example of the social damage that the continued existence of capital punishment does — as is the fact that so few resources, comparatively speaking, are dedicated to the legal claims of the tens of thousands of people in America serving legally irrevocable life sentences.

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