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Austerity Can Only Be Failed

[ 70 ] December 30, 2014 |

The Greeks should quit whining about their German-imposed austerity program. What’s 1.3 million jobs, a tax regime shifted to collect from the poor for the actions of bankers and politicians and a lack of hope compared to the puritanical glory of austerity. If it isn’t working, the only answer is more austerity. After all, austerity can never fail. It can only be failed by those who don’t worship at its altar with enough fervor.

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[ 8 ] December 30, 2014 |

My latest at the National Interest takes a look at the development of hyper-sonic weapons:

The United States is building hypersonics for two reasons. First, we want to kill people fast, without the messy danger of a global thermonuclear war. Second, we want to be able to punch through the defensive systems of peer competitors.

Unfortunately, these two justifications contradict one another. Given that China, Russia and even India appear on their way to similar systems, we should take care before letting the technology outpace the politics.

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The Declining Working Class

[ 51 ] December 30, 2014 |

Young people today are more likely to be poor today than in 1980. With free trade agreements like NAFTA sending decent paying jobs young blue-collar people could go into after high school abroad, it’s hardly surprising. The Trans-Pacific Partnership will just make this worse.

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The Year In Civil Liberties

[ 3 ] December 30, 2014 |

Not a good one.

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4’33” in Autotune

[ 9 ] December 29, 2014 |

Someone decided to run John Cage’s 4’33” through Autotune. Here are the results:

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Today in Republican Minority Outreach

[ 101 ] December 29, 2014 |

Republicans might as well just embrace it at this point:

Rep. Steve Scalise (R-La.), the House majority whip, acknowledged Monday that he spoke at a gathering hosted by white nationalist leaders while serving as a state representative in 2002, thrusting a racial controversy into House Republican ranks days before the party assumes control of both congressional chambers.

The 48-year-old Scalise, who ascended to the House GOP’s third-ranking post earlier this year, confirmed through an adviser that he once appeared at a convention of the European-American Unity and Rights Organization.

That organization, founded by former Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke, has been called a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center.

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Non-Pedestrian Concerns

[ 114 ] December 29, 2014 |

This is an odd little explainer:

We’ve all heard the idea: In winter, your car needs a little time to warm up before you can drive it. And that’s why across the United States, people who live in cold and snowy places — and especially those whose cars have remote starters — often fire up their engines long before they start driving. Heck, they might even start the car from the kitchen in the morning, and only then start the coffee brewing.

But it turns out that this idea of idling your car during the winter is just wrong. And so are the many, many Americans who believe it — one 2009 study found that on average, Americans thought they should idle for over 5 minutes before driving when temperatures were below 32 degrees…

Idling in winter thus has no benefit to your (presumably modern) car. Auto experts today say that you should warm up the car no more than 30 seconds before you start driving in winter. “The engine will warm up faster being driven,” the EPA and DOE explain. Indeed, it is better to turn your engine off and start it again than to leave it idling.

I’ll confess; I start the car a good five minutes early, while I’m still in the process of convincing the twins to put on their damn shoes. Like every single person under the age of seventy, however, my decision to idle the car has nothing to do with prepping the carburetor. It turns out that cars, when left in a cold garage overnight, are fucking cold; starting them early makes their insides less cold. If you’re not fortunate enough to have a garage, starting them early gets you a good headstart on defrosting the windows, and I’ve been told that driving while sheets of ice still cover the windshield is both dangerous and irresponsible.

Now, I’ll grant that running the engine for five minutes to solve these two problems can be wasteful, selfish, etc.  Nevertheless, an article of this sort should probably concentrate on the reasons that people actually idle their cars, rather than presume that the problem lies in ignorance of the engineering of the modern automobile. Indeed, I’d guess that the historical interest in idling a car on a cold morning has far less to do with engine health than it does with the aforementioned two factors.


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The Trans-Pacific Partnership Could Be the Worst Thing Obama Ever Does

[ 79 ] December 29, 2014 |

Most discussions of politics in the next two years focus on gridlock, with no appointees being confirmed, no bills being signed, effective rule by temporary executive order. But there is one significant area where Obama and the Republicans agree and that is on the Trans-Pacific Partnership. The TPP is a free trade deal that would straddle the Pacific Rim, including Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, the U.S., and Vietnam. It would create the world’s largest free trade zone. If you liked NAFTA sending millions of jobs out of the United States with no labor or environmental protections for the nations receiving these jobs, you will love the TPP.

So far the TPP has gone nowhere because of Harry Reid and Democrats in the Senate. This law is anathema to senators like Elizabeth Warren and Sherrod Brown and should be for any of us who value American jobs and the dignity of the working class. The Obama Administration last year sought fast-track authority for the TPP from the Senate. Democrats refused. Republicans won’t, even with the fireeating caucus who wouldn’t vote to declare war on Japan on December 7, 1941 if a Democrat was president. Obama has said that the TPP will actually improve labor conditions but this is simply not true. Whatever limited agreements are in the agreement that would technically require higher labor standards would not come with any punishment for American corporations using Vietnamese factories and without those legal restrictions, you are looking at the expansion of the post-NAFTA world where Mexico became a home for companies seeking to avoid environmental regulations and labor standards. The limited and non-binding parts of NAFTA to guarantee labor and environmental standards have been almost entirely ignored while Mexican laborers get exploited and the American working class goes into a deep decline.

These trade deals are constantly touted by their promoters as something that will ultimately help the working and middle class in the U.S., if we are willing to sacrifice a bit up front. These are lies. Harold Meyerson on the impact:

By now, even the most ossified right-wing economists concede that globalization has played a major role in the loss of American manufacturing jobs and, more broadly, the stagnation of U.S. wages and incomes. Former Federal Reserve vice chairman Alan Blinder has calculated that 22 percent to 29 percent of all U.S. jobs could potentially be offshored. That’s a lot of jobs: 25 percent would translate to 36 million workers whose wages are in competition with those in largely lower-income nations. Of the 11 nations with which the United States is negotiating the TPP, nine have wage levels significantly lower than ours.

Meanwhile, the promoters of the TPP just blithely ignore where NAFTA has failed, focusing instead on what they see as its good points (i.e., making a lot of money for corporate leaders and shareholders). Meyerson again:

But perhaps the most devastating argument against the kind of trade accords the United States has entered into over the past quarter-century has been that inadvertently made by those defenders of such agreements who have used the 20th anniversary of the North American Free Trade Agreement — it went into effect on Jan. 1, 1994 — to celebrate its achievements. I’ve read many commemorative editorials, columns and speeches in praise of NAFTA, and not one of them has so much as mentioned the agreement’s effect on U.S. employment, wages or trade balance. In October, former World Bank president Robert Zoellick, who was one of NAFTA’s architects in the administration of George H.W. Bush, delivered a lengthy, glowing assessment of NAFTA’s achievements that managed to avoid any of those topics. The champion of avoidance seems to be Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker. At a San Diego conference in October, a public radio reporter asked her, “And where has NAFTA not lived up to some of the hopes and promises?” Pritzker replied: “I don’t think about where NAFTA hasn’t lived up.”

And really, why should the Obama Administration think about how NAFTA hasn’t lived up to its promises. It’s only trying to recreate it over the entire Pacific Rim after all.

The International Brotherhood of Boilermakers has said of the TPP, “Let’s not exacerbate the pollution problems of the world and perpetuate human exploitation by including nations like Malaysia and Vietnam in a free trade pact, as the TPP would do.” Now, you can say the IBB has its own interests in mind–which it should. But regardless of how you feel about unions, free trade without legal restrictions on the behavior of international corporations has led to the widespread exploitation of both people and the planet without any ability for the citizens of those nations to win protections for themselves on the job or so their water and air don’t become cesspools of filth. Vietnam has a minimum wage of 28 cents an hour, assuming it is even enforced.

The TPP also includes provisions that would make it far harder for the U.S. to raise global standards on environmental and labor issues:

Based on those drafts, we also know that the draft agreement includes a provision for what’s called “investor-state dispute settlement.”

This little-known mechanism was initially created to protect corporate investments in countries where the rule of law is immature or at risk. In reality, it often empowers corporations to sue sovereign nations over any policies that conflict with their supposed right to the profits of free trade – including health and environmental policies designed to serve the democratically determined public interest.

If that sounds far-fetched, one need look no further than the Lone Pine Resources Inc v The Government of Canada lawsuit, filed in 2013, which arose out of Quebec’s moratorium on hydraulic fracking. Lone Pine claims that the moratorium is “in violation of Canada’s obligations under Chapter 11 of the Nafta”. The case is under arbitration.

Or consider Phillip Morris’s multibillion-dollar lawsuit against the Australian government over cigarette-packaging regulation, which uses an investor-state-dispute-settlement clause established in a 1993 free-trade agreement between Australia and Hong Kong.

These corporate-friendly provisions in trade agreements can and have been used on far-ranging issues, from minimum wage laws in Egypt to environmental remediation in developing countries. The troubling, explosive growth of such cases point to a litigious future where corporate interests increasingly appear to trump national sovereignty with billions of dollars at stake.

Is giving American companies even more incentive to move American jobs abroad what we want from a Democratic president? No. Is giving corporations the ability to defeat national attempts to hold them accountable what we want from a Democratic president? No. Is outsourcing pollution to the world’s poor what we want from a Democratic president? No. Fighting the TPP needs to be central to the political agenda of progressives over the next two years.

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Cops Who Get It

[ 47 ] December 29, 2014 |

Nashville police chief Steve Anderson, with an epic response to right-wing citizen of the city who wanted the cops to crack the heads of anti-police violence protestors.

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The Rise of Sotomayor

[ 12 ] December 29, 2014 |

I have a piece up at The Week about Sonia Sotomayor’s apparent emergence as the Court’s leading voice for civil liberties.

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Tweet of the Day

[ 40 ] December 28, 2014 |


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Violence and Nonviolence

[ 274 ] December 28, 2014 |

I do not “believe in nonviolence” as a principle. Violence in resisting oppression is often justified. However, violence is almost always a terrible tactic for a social movement that significantly contributes to disaster. Sometimes it is central to a social movement. There’s little question that the Black Panthers and Black Power movement more broadly were morally justified in defending themselves against police violence. But what did that violence get the Black Panthers? It got them COINTELPRO and the assassination of many of their leaders. The IWW talked about violence in their rhetoric. Even though they rarely followed through on that violence, the rhetoric gave government and corporate forces the justification they needed to crush that movement during World War I.

Sometimes this is committed by some deranged individual outside the structure of an organized movement. This is what we saw in 1892 when the anarchist Alexander Berkman took it upon himself to assassinate steel magnate Henry Clay Frick after he brought in Pinkertons to crush the Homestead Strike. Berkman’s failed assassination attempt moved public opinion significantly away from the strikers, even though he had no connection to them. Similarly, the murder of the two New York City police officers has gone far to undermine what was an increasingly powerful movement against police violence toward people of color in this country. Even though the murderer was evidently totally unconnected to any of the protests, it has already deactivated the anti-violence movement while giving the cops an open field to attack anyone they perceive as their enemies, such as Bill DeBlasio. Of course police violence isn’t going to go away, but how many people have to die and how much time has to pass before the movement reorganizes? That the dead officers are Latino and Asian only shows how stupid random acts of political violence can be.

It’s just hard to see what violence is going to accomplish within the American context. Even if violent resistance can be morally defended, tactically it can’t be defended.

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