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Irrational Basis

[ 31 ] April 14, 2015 |

I’m hoping this argument will work its way into the Scalia dissent:

There are a lot of terrible arguments against same-sex marriage, but this may be the worst: The Supreme Court must not protect gay couples’ marriages, because doing so would demean marriages between gay men and their wives.

That, in a nutshell, is the argument put forth in an amicus brief recently filed by a group who call themselves “same-sex attracted men and their wives.” These men don’t claim to have become straight through conversion therapy—though a group of self-proclaimed ex-gays did file their own deeply sad and strange brief. Nor do they claim to be bisexual. Rather, these men admit that they’re “same-sex attracted,” but insist that “a Constitutional right to same-sex marriage can only come at the cost of marginalizing and demeaning the marriages and families” of gay men married to straight women. And that risk, they say, is reason enough for the court to rule against marriage equality.

In fairness, I’m not sure it’s really worse than any of the others.

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Hillary Clinton — Good Enough to Win

[ 72 ] April 14, 2015 |

Your annual it’s-the-fundamentals-that-matter-most reminder from Jonathan Bernstein:

There are strong candidates for a presidential nomination, and Clinton is about the strongest in modern times. There can be weak general-election candidates, too. Those perceived as ideological outliers (Barry Goldwater in 1964, George McGovern in 1972, and possibly Ronald Reagan in 1980) can cost their party a few percentage points beyond what a generic Democrat or Republican would have received. It’s also possible to imagine a candidate so inept that he or she forfeits votes a generic candidate might have won — McGovern, with a mismanaged convention and a botched running-mate selection, might qualify.

But candidates who are so wonderful, whose appeal to swing voters is so strong, that they override the basic conditions of the election — the economy, war and peace, the popularity of the president, how long the incumbent party has held the White House? In the entire survey research era, the only presidential candidate who can plausibly make that claim is Dwight Eisenhower, and he just may have benefited from too many consecutive Democratic terms in office.

If the economy holds up, Clinton will probably win, and if it doesn’t any Democratic nominee would be in serious trouble.

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Our Struggle to Build a Better World Will Endure Setbacks

[ 2 ] April 14, 2015 |

“Endoftrailx” by Veever – Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

With great power comes great responsibility. Consequently, it is with great sadness that I report that the LGM Tournament Challenge was, in fact, won by some asshole who picked Duke.

1 250 220 240 240 160 320 Duke 0 1430 98.7
2 220 220 200 240 160 320 Duke 0 1360 97.5
3* 260 200 160 240 160 320 Duke 0 1340 97.1
3* 240 180 200 240 160 320 Duke 0 1340 97.1
3* 240 180 200 240 160 320 Duke 0 1340 97.1
6 240 180 200 160 160 320 Duke 0 1260 94.5
7 270 180 200 240 320 0 Wisconsin 0 1210 92.5
8* 230 260 280 240 160 0 Kentucky 0 1170 90.8
8* 250 240 280 240 160 0 Kentucky 0 1170 90.8
10* 250 180 160 240 320 0 Wisconsin 0 1150 89.9
10* 210 180 120 160 160 320 Duke 0 1150 89.9


TNDevilFin13, a name which leaves open the grim possibility that “David” might not only be a Duke fan, but also hail from Tennessee, should feel free to contact me (e-mail address on the far right sidebar) with regard to prize information.

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[ 58 ] April 14, 2015 |

It sucks to be a department chair and have to hire adjuncts in a situation you know and they know is exploitative.

As a department chair at Columbia University, I am compelled to hire many people on a part-time basis, although they want and deserve full-time jobs. These adjuncts are among the finest, longest-serving instructors in many universities, and it’s well known that their lasting contributions can transform the lives of their students.

It’s also no secret that they are getting a raw deal. Overworked and underpaid, they often struggle to get by and, when taken to an extreme, the consequences can be tragic.

With each passing year, it becomes clearer that cheap labor has become the hidden foundation of American higher education. According to the American Association of University Professors, more than 50 percent of all faculty hold part-time appointments. A vast workforce of mostly non-unionized adjunct instructors—the so-called “contingent faculty”—now comprises the core of the teaching faculty. They often teach as many courses as full-time instructors, but because they are considered part-time, they have no voting power in departments or universities, no benefits, no job security and no office in which to meet with their students.

The short-term benefits to a university’s bottom line are obvious. It is fiscally advantageous for institutions to hire adjuncts instead of creating more full-time positions with benefits, and the seemingly unlimited availability of part-time instructors makes it relatively easy to offer a large number of courses. And, as noted in the 2010 report of the Coalition on the Academic Workforce, while adjunct instructors are long-time (albeit part-time) faculty and shoulder a substantial portion of the curriculum, institutional policies often treat them as if they are short-term workers with minimum involvement in academic life. More than once, adjuncts have been called “the fast-food workers of the academic world.”

One could argue that the chair should just say no, I’m not hiring those people. I’m not sure what would happen. Quite possibly the chair would simply be replaced and the dean’s office would hire the adjuncts. Maybe it would do some good.

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Holding Corporations Accountable

[ 5 ] April 14, 2015 |


I have a piece up at In These Times that discusses some of the ideas I develop in Out of Sight in how to hold corporations accountable for the ecological and labor exploitation of the world no matter where they move.

The only way workers like the 11-year-old boy in Ghatkopar will see their lives improve is if we demand global standards on production with real legal consequences for companies who violate them. The contracting system that creates layers of separation between multinational corporations and workers serves to increase exploitation and profits. It also makes it much harder for consumers in the U.S. and other countries to demand products are produced ethically, for two principle reasons.

First, unlike the Triangle Fire, where reforms of working conditions happened because Americans saw workers die making their clothes, we cannot see the lives of Bangladeshis and Sri Lankans who die making ours. Second, because these corporations lack legal liability for their production, they can claim they know nothing about the working conditions of their suppliers. If Walmart, Target or Gap buy these zippers, do they even know it? When these companies have been busted for using sweatshop labor, they frequently claim that they had no production contracts there. Given the byzantine mazes of contracting these companies do, they may be telling the truth. But a lack of public accounting means we cannot know.

Whether at Bhopal or a zipper sweatshop, multinational corporations need to be held accountable for what happens where they site factories or contract their production. Keeping clear records that show where their clothes are actually produced should be their responsibility.

Specifically, we need to create legal accountability for corporations. Voluntary agreements are basically meaningless—enforcement with consequences is necessary. We need international labor standards that companies must comply with if they want to sell their products in the United States. Workers should have the right to sue in American courts when American companies violate basic standards of labor rights.

If Walmart or Gap wants to contract production to Bangladesh or India, that’s fine. But if their factory collapses or if workers are subjected to slave labor, the American companies using those zippers need to be held legally accountable. Subcontracting cannot be a tool to exploit the world’s poor. We must articulate new ways of holding corporations accountable if we are ever to stop this exploitation.

We are very far from such a system being implemented today. Vicious corporate attacks on organized labor in the United States mean that we are desperately trying to hold on to what labor rights we have left in this country. But those rights have collapsed in part because of the export of union jobs offshore, undermining the best tool American workers have for maintaining a dignified life.

If you want more news like this, follow the Out of Sight Facebook page. Get a book sticker.

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Why is NYU Law School giving Robert Kennedy Jr. a high-profile platform for his anti-vaxx nonsense?

[ 29 ] April 13, 2015 |

anti vaxx

I don’t know, but it’s NYU so I have a guess . . .

Yes, Robert Kennedy Jr. has made headlines again for, as the New Jersey Star Ledger put it in a hard-hitting editorial, “his crazy-talk about a vast government conspiracy to hide the truth that a vaccine ingredient called thimerosal causes childhood autism.” The Star-ledger goes on to correctly note:

He is wrong. Every major scientific and medical organization in the country agrees that he is wrong. Here’s all you need to know about thimerosal: There is no link between it and any brain disorders, including autism. To assuage fears, the government removed it from pediatric vaccines nearly 15 years ago, with the exception of a specific flu vaccine, and childhood autism rates have actually gone up since


But Kennedy is as disingenuous as he hyperbolic. Several weeks ago, I attended an event held at NYU’s law school, where Kennedy was appearing on a panel about thimerosal and vaccines. The event was combined with a screening of a documentary called, Trace Amounts, which Kennedy has been promoting. (The movie does not have a distributor, so it is being privately screened at various venues.)

Before the film was shown, Kennedy was introduced by an independent scholar affiliated with NYU’s law school. I took notes. Here’s how he started off: “I am fiercely pro-vaccine. I had all my children vaccinated. I believe that vaccines have saved millions of lives. But it is essential we have a safe vaccine supply.”

Notice the double talk and the inference–that our vaccine supply is unsafe.

Keith Kloor points out that when an elite academic institution gives someone like Kennedy a platform, it puts responsible journalists in a difficult bind:

Let me stop here for a second to point out the danger of media amplification of this tiny fringe element. It is for this reason that I held off on writing about Kennedy’s latest campaign–until now. It is a real quandary for journalists who are obligated to report newsworthy events, but who also don’t want to give undue attention to a tiny minority.

But the more headlines I saw Kennedy generating on his anti-vaccine tour, the more I felt obligated to weigh in on his latest shenanigans.


[A]nti-vaxxers turn out in droves. They are few in number—representing less than single-digit percentage points of most states’ populations—but extremely passionate. Their tendency to cluster means they remain a significant risk for supporting outbreaks of disease. They are organized by well-funded groups financed by family foundations. They still gather at rallies and fundraisers featuring disgraced doctor Andrew Wakefield, whose claim that vaccines cause autism was later found to be a complete fraud. Their voices are amplified by notorious anti-vax celebrity cranks such as Robert F. Kennedy Jr.

As a result of this disparity in activism, anti-vaxxers have been successful in defeating pro­–public health legislation that would eliminate some exemptions in a number of states, including Oregon, Washington, Vermont, and most recently, North Carolina. Bills in Texas, New Jersey, and California are still being hotly contested. Well-organized vaccination opponents flood legislators with a near-constant stream of materials of dubious scientific or legal validity. And, of course, Kennedy participates, traveling around to states in contention, promoting a conspiracy-theory documentary called Trace Amounts. This documentary focuses on the manufactured controversy surrounding thimerosal, an ethylmercury-based preservative that was removed from the vast majority of childhood vaccines in 2001. (Autism rates did not decline.)

Shame on NYU Law School for aiding these people.

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Out of Sight: The Facebook Page

[ 31 ] April 13, 2015 |


I’m ramping up promotion for Out of Sight. I created a Facebook page for the book. If any of you use it and want more information about both my media appearances and a daily update or two on news stories around outsourcing, unfair trade, and the environmental and labor exploitation of the world by corporations in their global race to the bottom, you should follow the page.

You should also preorder the book.

….Because this book is all cool and the like, The New Press made stickers rather than postcards to promote it. It is willing to send a sticker to the first 50 people who like the Facebook page and are willing to send a private message to the page (administered only by me) with an address. An irresistible offer!

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Game of Thrones podcast: Season 5, Episode 1 — “The Wars to Come”

[ 73 ] April 13, 2015 |


Game of Thrones is back, and so are we! In this episode, we discuss the show’s first-ever flashback, CGI harpys, and so much more.

To read Steven Attewell’s piece on Daenerys and the question of Iraq vs. Reconstruction as historical metaphor, see here.

PS: SEK edited out all the episode 2 spoilers he accidentally let loose because he’s an asshole, but just in case he missed one, he’s sorry — and an asshole.


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Monday Links

[ 20 ] April 13, 2015 |

For your reading pleasure…

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Hopefully the Supreme Court Will Solve This Problem

[ 15 ] April 13, 2015 |

Despite the best efforts of Republican statehouses and judges, more people have health insurance:

The uninsured rate among U.S. adults declined to 11.9% for the first quarter of 2015 — down one percentage point from the previous quarter and 5.2 points since the end of 2013, just before the Affordable Care Act went into effect. The uninsured rate is the lowest since Gallup and Healthways began tracking it in 2008.

Does this have anything to do with the Affordable Care Act? Who can say, really.

…see also.

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Vote the Party, Not the Person

[ 198 ] April 13, 2015 |

I can’t believe they let this man have an op-ed column to correctly observe that most of what well-compensated pundits spend their time discussing is of no value:

So Hillary Clinton is officially running, to nobody’s surprise. And you know what’s coming: endless attempts to psychoanalyze the candidate, endless attempts to read significance into what she says or doesn’t say about President Obama, endless thumb-sucking about her “positioning” on this or that issue.

Please pay no attention. Personality-based political analysis is always a dubious venture — in my experience, pundits are terrible judges of character. Those old enough to remember the 2000 election may also remember how we were assured that George W. Bush was a nice, affable fellow who would pursue moderate, bipartisan policies.

In any case, there has never been a time in American history when the alleged personal traits of candidates mattered less. As we head into 2016, each party is quite unified on major policy issues — and these unified positions are very far from each other. The huge, substantive gulf between the parties will be reflected in the policy positions of whomever they nominate, and will almost surely be reflected in the actual policies adopted by whoever wins.

To be fair and balanced, here’s what a Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist chosen entirely at random was writing about the week of the election that would give us the Iraq War, two rounds of massive upper-class tax cuts, and Sam Alito:

I feel stunning

And entrancing,

Feel like running and dancing for joy . . .

O.K., enough gloating. Behave, Albert. Just look in the mirror now and put on your serious I only-care-about-the-issues face.

If I rub in a tad more of this mahogany-colored industrial mousse, the Spot will disappear under my Reagan pompadour.

Whew! Now that W. has slipped on a mud pie at the finish line, I can admit I was scared, just like all the other Democrats. Things were stickier than a barrel of goo-goo clusters.

It would be awful to blow it just because no one can stand the sight of me. Or to win the Electoral College but not the popular vote. Ouch!

You have to admit seeing the 2000 election as a made-for-TV teen comedy about a rivalry between an inauthentic nerd and an affable jock holds up as well as ever! I’m not sure why Krugman can’t see that.

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NFL Cheerleader Bill of Rights

[ 45 ] April 13, 2015 |


It’s about time.

A bill by Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez to give employee rights and benefits to professional sports cheerleaders passed its first committee in Sacramento this week.

Gonzalez, a former high school and college cheerleader, said her bill “simply demands that any professional sports team — or their chosen contractor — treat the women on the field with the same dignity and respect that we treat the guy selling beer.”

Assembly Bill 202, approved by the Assembly Committee on Labor and Employment Wednesday, was drafted by the San Diego Democrat in the wake of lawsuits brought by cheerleaders for the Oakland Raiders, Buffalo Bills and Cincinnati Bengals for what they claim are illegal workplace actions by the NFL teams.

Some teams classify cheerleaders as volunteers and give them minimal compensation, according to critics.

The Charger Girls, who are contracted by a third party and perform at all San Diego Chargers home games, have been paid $75 per game in recent years.

The lawsuits contend that “in addition to sub-minimum wage pay, cheerleaders of professional teams have been forced to spend thousands of dollars in (un)reimbursed costs on travel and personal appearance as well as work unpaid overtime — practices that would be illegal under the law but were found to be commonplace pressures on teams’ cheerleaders despite the tremendous profits being gained by the teams they cheered for,” according to a Gonzalez news release.

There’s been a lot of coverage of the exploitation of cheerleaders in the last year. The NFL is basically the prototypical organization of the New Gilded Age with an exclusive club of billionaires holding cities hostage for publicly funded stadiums while treating their low-level or even high-level employees as disposable garbage that should be glad to have a job with them.

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