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TPP

[ 21 ] March 27, 2015 |

Greg Sargent has what I think is a pretty solid run-down of where progressive Democrats are with the Trans-Pacific Partnership. In short, it’s not a strong hand. In this era where many congressional Democrats basically ignore labor and neoliberalism rules the day, we are stuck relying on a combination of Democrats who care more about the American working class than U.S. foreign policy advantages and Republicans who won’t vote for anything Obama supports. And I think most of the latter will fall by the wayside. The AFL-CIO is working the best angle, which is trying to create conditions for its passage rather than full rejection. First and foremost is the ability for Congress to come back after the deal is finalized and vote it up or down. This just makes sense. Given how much of the TPP has been negotiated in total secret, it’s ridiculous to give any president the ability to fast track without Congress having say later. If Obama says that it could torpedo the whole deal down the road, well good. Make the deal palatable to organized labor.

As for the arguments Obama and TPP supporters make, I have a very hard time buying any of them. Obama says it will have strong labor and environmental protections. Without labor and environmentalists’ input in this process, will said provisions be strong? Almost certainly not. If Clinton didn’t need labor and environmentalists’ support to pass NAFTA, Obama certainly doesn’t need it for the TPP and I suspect the agreement’s final language will reflect that. If it actually has enforceable provisions that put power in the hands of the world’s workers, then that’s great. I’m not holding my breath. As for the position that we need to support the TPP so that China doesn’t impose its own trade agreement, I just don’t think Cold War-esque fears of a communist rival are reason to pass an agreement that will send even more American jobs out of the country. It’s not like we are forming NATO here and that Vietnam can’t also sign a trade agreement with China. But this kind of foreign policy argument will always appeal to moderate Democrats who aren’t too close to unions anyway.

As you may have heard, Wikileaks was able to leak some of the TPP proposed language. And it’s as much a document about international corporate rackets as you fear.

According to an analysis of the leaked chapter by Public Citizen’s Global Trade Watch, tens of thousands of foreign and US owned companies would be able to access ISDS courts under the TPP to challenge signatories’ rules and regulations.

The tribunals, which fall under the jurisdiction of the World Bank and the United Nations, would operate without transparency, and be staffed by private sector attorneys who would rotate between advocate and judge.

Although the purpose of ISDS courts is to provide safeguards for companies against improper property seizure and to guarantee that they aren’t discriminated against by host countries, they’ve increasingly been used to challenge public interest laws.

In 2012 alone, there were sixty cases brought to ISDS by private companies against sovereign governments—the majority came from US businesses looking to skirt regulations in developing countries.

Under previous trade agreements, corporations have used these international courts to attack environmental, public health, and financial regulations and laws. Companies have been awarded more than $440 million from taxpayers under previous investor-state settlements associated with US free trade agreements.

They appear designed to have a chilling effect on regulation—particularly in countries that can ill-afford to lose expensive court battles.

In other words, corporations are creating the type of international legal framework to oppress workers and support their own interests against national regulatory structures that I want for workers to force corporations to abide by international labor and environmental laws. The TPP is going to be a great deal for multinational corporations. Whether it’s anything less than a horrible deal for the world’s workers, well, I guess we are going to find out.

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Superfly

[ 35 ] March 26, 2015 |

This week in my film class, I made the students watch Birth of a Nation out of class and Superfly in class to get at depictions of African-Americans in film over the 20th century. The great Gordon Parks directed the latter and while it is a cheaply made blaxploitation flick, it also has some truly great scenes. Like the cocaine montage, which we should all watch tonight.

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Mike Pence Makes Idiotic Argument to Defend Horrible Law

[ 62 ] March 26, 2015 |

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It should go without saying that Indiana’s Restoration of Bigotry Act is an abomination. I can’t resist, however, noting this particularly asinine defense of the statute from the governor:

“This bill is not about discrimination, and if I thought it legalized discrimination in any way in Indiana, I would have vetoed it,” Pence said in his statement Thursday. “For more than 20 years, the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act has never undermined our nation’s anti-discrimination laws, and it will not in Indiana.”

Uh, can someone show me where the federal RFRA permits burdens on religious liberty to be invoked in suits between private parties? Because it seems to be missing from my copy of the statute. Which seems relevant, since such a provision is in Indiana’s statute and is what will undermine the state’s anti-discrimination laws. I concede Pence’s point: if the law he signed was different it would have different effects. The one he did sign, however, is a disgrace.

…relevant!

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Why Doesn’t the Republican Party Fight Climate Change?

[ 63 ] March 26, 2015 |

Film Title: An Inconvenient Truth.

Above: History’s greatest monster oppressing Republicans by talking about climate change

Al Gore of course, at least according to VERY SERIOUS presidential candidate Lindsey Graham.

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Slave Labor and Fishing

[ 32 ] March 26, 2015 |

Kay Chernush, Slave Labor,2_0 ©_0

Above: the slaves who catch and process your dinner

One of the issues I talk about in Out of Sight is getting more publicity.

The Burmese slaves sat on the floor and stared through the rusty bars of their locked cage, hidden on a tiny tropical island thousands of miles from home.

Just a few yards away, other workers loaded cargo ships with slave-caught seafood that clouds the supply networks of major supermarkets, restaurants and even pet stores in the United States.

Here, in the Indonesian island village of Benjina and the surrounding waters, hundreds of trapped men represent one of the most desperate links criss-crossing between companies and countries in the seafood industry. This intricate web of connections separates the fish we eat from the men who catch it, and obscures a brutal truth: Your seafood may come from slaves.

The men the Associated Press spoke to on Benjina were mostly from Myanmar, also known as Burma, one of the poorest countries in the world. They were brought to Indonesia through Thailand and forced to fish. Their catch was shipped back to Thailand, and then entered the global commerce stream.

Tainted fish can wind up in the supply chains of some of America’s major grocery stores, such as Kroger, Albertsons and Safeway; the nation’s largest retailer, Wal-Mart; and the biggest food distributor, Sysco. It can find its way into the supply chains of some of the most popular brands of canned pet food, including Fancy Feast, Meow Mix and Iams. It can turn up as calamari at fine dining restaurants, as imitation crab in a California sushi roll or as packages of frozen snapper relabeled with store brands that land on our dinner tables.

Basically, if you are eating commercial seafood, you are probably inadvertently supporting extremely exploitative labor if not outright slavery. Whether it is Walmart contracting with Louisiana fish suppliers who bring guestworkers in from other countries and then lock them into the factory or big American and European companies buying southeast Asian seafood off the open market, horrific labor is what propels cheap seafood.

This is why in order to fight these conditions, we must be able to hold contracting corporations legally responsible for the actions of their suppliers. It is Walmart, Kroger, etc. that are demanding the fish at a very low price. Just like with apparel, this puts downward pressure on wages, to the point of using slave labor wherever possible. Right now, there is no way to hold these corporations accountable. At best, one local operation gets busted but then it just gets replaced by something else almost or just as bad. That’s not acceptable.

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On Foodie Elitism

[ 296 ] March 26, 2015 |

broccoli

Don’t live on the west coast? None of this until summer for you!

 

The mockery of Mark Bittman’s “turns out the Bay Area is a nice place to live with many available foodstuffs” column has been swift and inevitable. But there are also some substantive issues at stake here, and Phoebe Maltz Bovy’s response is devastating:

The true villain for the food movement isn’t someone who buys fast food when they should be eating lentils. It’s someone who, despite having the resources to do so, hasn’t researched where his or her food comes from. Grocery shoppers’ desire to purchase fruits and vegetables—a seemingly admirable, or at least innocuous, one—is recast as consumer demand for out-of-season produce—the height of decadence. In 2011, Bittman had some harsh words for these consumers:

[…]

Bittman lamented the fact that “we have ceased to rely upon staples: long-keeping foods like grains, beans, and root vegetables, foods that provide nutrition when summer greens, fruits, and vegetables aren’t readily available.”

Is Bittman relying on root vegetables in Berkeley? When he’s in Rome learning the craft of pasta sauce? Or when he was on a food tour of Spain with Gwyneth Paltrow and Mario Batali? Along similar lines, I became somewhat less impressed with David Tanis’s remarks about how he for one is going to stick with “end-of-winter vegetables” until the “local and seasonal” green ones sprout, when I noticed he’ll be giving a cooking workshop in Sicily this April. I point these things out not (just) out of culinary envy of New York Times food writers, but because it genuinely does mean something different to be a strict locavore if you travel around all the time, or live in grocery-endowed part of California, or both.

In addition to the problem that being a “locavore” isn’t much of sacrifice if you live on the California coast or can afford to travel wherever you want, there are the additional problems that 1)relying solely on local produce requires, you know, plenty of money and 2)in the vast majority of places it would be completely unsustainable if more than a minority did it anyway.

Look, I like farmer’s markets and the local co-op; I try to buy as much localish produce as availability and budget permit. But I also appreciate well-stocked supermarkets with decent produce to go along with other staples. And as to the idea that I shouldn’t have access to most vegetables for 9 or 10 months a year unless I can move to Berkeley, go to hell.

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Supreme Court Side With Rights of Women Against Employers. (You read that correctly.)

[ 23 ] March 26, 2015 |

ups_truck_-804051-wiki

No longer stands for “Unlimited Pregnant woman Sacking”

You do this long enough, and you’ll see everything:

Based on this test, the majority rejected the Fourth Circuit’s summary dismissal of Young’s claim. Young was able to present at least some evidence that she was treated differently than other non-pregnant employees with similar limitations related to heavy lifting, and hence her case was dismissed prematurely. Justice Alito — not exactly a bleeding heart on employment discrimination cases — found that it “is not at all clear that respondent had any neutral business ground for treating pregnant drivers less favorably than at least some of its nonpregnant drivers who were reassigned to other jobs that they were physically capable of performing.”

If there isn’t a settlement, it will remain up to the lower courts to determine if she can prove her discrimination claim. But at least she will be allowed to make her case.

So while Young did not get the court to embrace the broadest interpretation of the statute, the decision must be considered a victory. “The court made clear that employers may not refuse to accommodate pregnant workers based on considerations of cost or convenience when they accommodate other workers,” Samuel Bagenstos, the Michigan Law School professor who represented Young before the Supreme Court, told me. “It’s a big step forward towards enforcing the principle that a woman shouldn’t have to choose between her pregnancy and her job.”

We still don’t know if Peggy Young’s strong case will ultimately prevail. But when the Roberts Court issues a ruling that sides with the workers and gives greater protection to women, it’s a reason for both surprise and celebration.

A few additional notes:

  • This case was apparently written from an alternate universe in which Stuart Taylor knows what he’s talking about. For the first time in an important case, Roberts and Alito but not Kennedy joined the Democratic nominees.  When I read the Alito concurrence I keep looking for the angle but it’s reasonable enough that I certainly would have signed for it after oral argument. Let’s just say I’m happy that I didn’t have the opportunity to bet on the vote alignment in this case.  I’m not saying that Bagenstos is the greatest Supreme Court advocate since Daniel Webster, but I’m not not saying either.
  •  As Irin Carmon observed on Twitter, Kennedy’s dissent is another one of his “I had to rule against your rights, ladies — I’m not prepared to go as far as a Trotskyist like Sam Alito — but I’m a nice guy, honest” specials.
  • The Scalia is dissent is pretty much all spittle and no gin, but it must be acknowledged that it almost certainly sets the record for uses of the word “poof” in a Supreme Court opinion.
  • More commentary from Lithwick and Leber.
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Details Pending

[ 72 ] March 26, 2015 |

Ted-Cruz-for-Dummies-300x232

For a guy who is supposed to be just oh so much smarter than everyone else, you’d think Ted Cruz would actually have a real idea someday. But no.

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Voting!

[ 10 ] March 26, 2015 |
Castro Battle of Actium.jpg

“Castro Battle of Actium” by Laureys a Castro (f 1664-1700) – http://collections.rmg.co.uk/collections/objects/11743.html. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons.

I’ve made it to the second round of Twitter Fight Club 2015: I would deeply appreciate your continued support!

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Forbes

[ 73 ] March 26, 2015 |

Steve_Forbes_at_FreedomFest,_Las_Vagas,_Navada,_USA-12July2013

Who could have guessed in 1996 that the most influential Republican politician of the 1990s 20 years later would be the unblinking one himself, Steve Forbes?

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Arizona Summit, Charlotte and Florida Coastal downsize their full-time faculties by 39%

[ 16 ] March 26, 2015 |

oliver twist

Earlier this week I was told that in January the Charlotte School of Law had bought out the contracts of a dozen faculty and 15 staff members, and that last month Arizona Summit had bought out an unspecified number of faculty. I was also told students at Charlotte were upset about the sudden faculty departures.

I contacted Jay Conison and Shirley Mays, the deans at Charlotte and Arizona Summit, and they responded as follows: Read more…

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The Complexities of Revitalizing Neighborhoods

[ 88 ] March 26, 2015 |

Ohio_City_West25th

I know Cleveland fairly well, though I haven’t spent much time there in the last few years. Much of the city is obviously a mess. I love the place more than pretty much any other city east of the Mississippi and there is so much potential for cool things to happen there. One of the highlights of the city is the neighborhood Ohio City, which has a bunch of cool bars and breweries and restaurants and markets. It’s growing and this is positive. The problem is, as these things tend to be, is that the people who are spurring it are enormously egotistical yuppie neoliberals who make me want to puke. I guess this shouldn’t matter. But as this profile of some of the movers and shakers in Ohio City suggests, when they start thinking of themselves as Congressional material, it moves beyond the personally repulsive into the really problematic.

There are signs Veysey is serious about the “doing good” part: After the Obama campaign, Veysey tried his hand at being a candidate. In 2012 he ran for Congress against Rep. Marcy Kaptur and Dennis Kucinich. Veysey’s politics during that campaign were those of a generation growing up in the age of neoliberalism: He was left to the two more established candidates on social issues like gay marriage and abortion, and more to the right on economic ones. Veysey is okay with things like NAFTA, a liberal bogeyman; he thinks America’s debt is one of the country’s biggest issues; he thinks underperforming schools should be starved of money.

Veysey only captured 4 percent of the vote, but the run nonetheless whetted his appetite for more do-goodery.

“I thought that I could have brought value when I ran for office,” Veysey said. “But you don’t have to be in office to bring value to a community.”

Still, there are major differences between being the King of Hingetown and a congressman. Political leaders are, at least in theory, meant to represent everyone, not just the well-off. And Hingetown is definitely not meant for everyone.

This guy is gross enough without running for Congress as a neoliberal who thinks Marcy Kaptur and Dennis Kuchinch are too far to the left on economics. I mean, if there’s one thing that Cleveland needs, it’s a pro-NAFTA congressman who wants to see more Ohio jobs shipped overseas and more poor schools closed and replaced with capitalist schools! And if his goal is to make Ohio City a haven for the rich, which seems likely regardless of the positive things happening there now, that’s also a bad thing.

On the other hand, doing something with the many struggling neighborhoods of Cleveland is really important. So I’m torn.

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