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Kill the Poor

[ 112 ] January 25, 2015 |

If I wrote an op-ed that said my ideology created policy preferences that might lead to the execution of the rich but, hey, we have to make trade-offs, I would not only not get that op-ed published, but I’d probably be reported to the FBI.

If I wrote an op-ed that said my ideology created policy preferences that might lead to the death of the poor, but, hey, we have to make trade-offs, I’d be Fred Hiatt’s new best friend. Such as Michael Strain of the American Enterprise Institute:

Say conservatives have their way with Obamacare, and the Supreme Court deals it a death blow or a Republican president repeals it in 2017. Some people who got health insurance as a result of the Affordable Care Act may lose it. In which case, liberals like to say, some of Obamacare’s beneficiaries may die.

During the health-care debates of 2009, Rep. Alan Grayson (D-Fla.) brought a poster on the House floor: “The Republican Health Care Plan: Die Quickly.” In the summer of 2012, when Obamacare was threatened by a presidential election, writer Jonathan Alter argued that “repeal equals death. People will die in the United States if Obamacare is repealed.” Columnist Jonathan Chait wrote recently that those who may die are victims of ideology — “collateral damage” incurred in conservatives’ pursuit “of a larger goal.” If these are the stakes, many liberals argue, then ending Obamacare is immoral.

Except, it’s not.

In a world of scarce resources, a slightly higher mortality rate is an acceptable price to pay for certain goals — including more cash for other programs, such as those that help the poor; less government coercion and more individual liberty; more health-care choice for consumers, allowing them to find plans that better fit their needs; more money for taxpayers to spend themselves; and less federal health-care spending. This opinion is not immoral. Such choices are inevitable. They are made all the time.

Saying of the ending of Obamacare, even if it leads to the deaths of thousands of poor, “it clearly would not be immoral,” Strain goes on into absurd comparison country, throwing out the type of arguments by brother did when he was 10. It swings from “we let people drive cars and sometimes people die in them so why bother with a good healthcare system” to “oh yeah libs, well what would you say to spending 3/4 of our GDP on health care,” i.e., arguments no one is making except in American Enterprise Institute drinking parties.

I mean, I guess I shouldn’t be surprised that “kill the poor” is now something you can say in the op-ed section of the Washington Post. I look forward to this argument becoming a central tenet of the 2016 Republican primaries.

[SL] Shorter:

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Syriza Wins Big in Greece

[ 88 ] January 25, 2015 |

So Greece had an election today, and the results are pretty impressive:

A giant screen shows an exit poll in Athens suggesting the far left Syriza party is on course to form the next government in Greece.

Most exit polls are looking like Syriza will have an absolute majority, which is pretty damn rare in Greek politics. Going to be very interesting to see what comes out of this…

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Takes on the Trans-Pacific Partnership

[ 11 ] January 25, 2015 |

With the Trans-Pacific Partnership likely headed our way in the next few months, journalists and pundits are already weighing in. There are some smart takes. Not surprisingly, one of those comes from Lydia DePillis. Examining an Ohio fire truck company that sells to China, she notes that there is room for high-value exports from the United States that trade deals might help, but that despite how much politicians like to talk about companies like this, they are few and far between. Plus most leading exports, like agriculture, employ very few people while other industries have rushed to replace people with robots in order to compete globally. So expanding on this free trade regimen really is not going to help most Americans because good manufacturing jobs will continue to disappear.

There are also some dumb takes. Also not surprisingly, one of those comes from Joe Nocera, who is shocked to discover that opponents of the TPP are using NAFTA as an euphemism for an entire series of trade deals and export policies. I know, I have never heard anything more outrageous. Writing the most condescending article I’ve read in some time, Nocera takes such defenders of working Americans in Congress as Louise Slaughter and Rosa DeLauro to task for saying NAFTA was bad, basically saying they don’t understand the glories of globalization. He uses Kodak, a company whose closure decimated Slaughter’s upstate New York district, as an example, saying Kodak closed because the company didn’t adjust to the end of film products. There may be some truth to that, but of course even if everyone used film every day, Kodak would have still closed that plant and moved it to Mexico or China. Nocera knows this of course. Nocera also actually believes that meaningful labor and environmental provisions will be in the TPP, which is laughable. But Nocera is a true believer in trade agreements and outsourcing, so there you go.

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Where Fighting Police Violence = “Flawed Liberalism”

[ 74 ] January 25, 2015 |

Unlike Noam Scheiber, I don’t have a problem with Bill DeBlasio emphasizing police violence against people of color. Scheiber would rather see DeBlasio become an economic populist and unite the poor of all races. Well, I’d like to see that too, but that doesn’t mean DeBlasio was wrong in emphasizing police violence. What Scheiber seems to struggle with is that the only question is not the politically smart move. It’s also what is right. This is an issue of justice and racism and it deserves attention even if the mayor’s popularity ratings decline. I can’t believe he doesn’t see this.

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The Second Time bspencer Talks about Thai Basil

[ 28 ] January 25, 2015 |

It’s not always easy to get fresh basil if you don’t live in the right area, but oddly enough you can order it from Amazon. There are two problems with a that 1.) it’s Thai basil (which is lovely but has a distinctly anise flavor) 2.) it comes by the pound. Neither those factors may sound like problems, but because Thai and regular basil can’t be used interchangeably, it really is one. So the issue becomes: What the hell do I do with two pounds of Thai basil?

Well, I used a hefty handful in some Thai-inspired coconut-based soup…and I made some Asian-style pesto. A few nights ago I served some of the pesto over grilled chicken breasts–that was great. Last night I rubbed some under the skin of a roasted chicken–that was divine. I’d link to to a recipe for Asian-style pesto, but it’s easy enough to google yourself, plus you’ll probably want to synthesize all the variations to make one that sounds right for you. (I added a touch of brown sugar to mine, to mellow out the lime juice.)

I’ve done a bit research on the subject of different basils. The consensus seems to be that Thai basil is probably not ideal for Italian cooking. That I agree with. However, I did find WRONG! people on the internet saying that regular basil should not be used in Asian-inspired dishes. I strongly disagree. I’ve used regular basil in goodness knows how many Asian dishes and they turned out just fine. The one piece of advice offered on this subject I agree with is this: mint makes a terrific substitute for Thai basil if you can’t find the latter.

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This Day in Labor History: January 25, 1984

[ 7 ] January 25, 2015 |

This is a guest post by Paul Adler, lecturer at the Harvard History and Literature program. He received his PhD in history from Georgetown University in 2014. Paul’s dissertation, Planetary Citizens: U.S. NGOs and the Politics of International Development in the Late Twentieth Century examines efforts by U.S. groups like INFACT and the Sierra Club to influence international institutions like Nestle and the World Bank during the 1970s and 1980s. Previous to graduate school, Paul worked for several years on global justice issues at Public Citizen’s Global Trade Watch.

On January 25, 1984, William Thompson, a leader with the International Nestle Boycott Committee (INBC) met with Nestlé executive Carl Angst in New York City. There, the two men announced a surprise: after seven years of a global boycott of Nestlé, U.S. organizers were suspending this effort in light of new Nestlé initiatives intended to address activists’ critiques. Ending ten months later, the Nestlé boycott set important precedents for liberal and left-wing activists in challenging multinational corporate power. However, the memory of the campaign as a great success does not stand well against close scrutiny.

The controversy that prompted the campaign concerned the marketing practices employed by multinational companies selling breast milk substitutes throughout the Global South. Given living conditions often characterized by lack of access to clean water, the use of products such as infant formula heightened the possibility of newborns contracting any number of dire, even deadly diseases.

Multinational companies advertised breast milk substitutes as embodying a “modern” lifestyle. To spread this message, they used an array of aggressive marketing practices. Among other techniques, companies produced booklets on infant feeding that accentuated the difficulties of breastfeeding and hired nurses to serve as salespeople in newborn wards.

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Example of Nestlé advertising, Malaysia, 1978

During the 1960s and early 1970s public health experts labored to publicize the dangers associated with breast milk substitutes. They met with little success however, causing one doctor to muse in 1974 that some “group may have to take a more aggressive, Nader-like stance.” Fortunately for him, that same year, activists in the United Kingdom released a pamphlet on the crisis called The Baby Killer followed soon after by activists in Switzerland becoming embroiled in a lengthy lawsuit with Nestlé.

In the United States, the key figure who transformed the breast feeding controversy into an activist campaign was Leah Margulies. The daughter of a staffer at the International Ladies Garment Workers Union (her parents met through the Young People’s Socialist League), Margulies was, by the early 1970s, a veteran of the civil rights and radical feminist movements. In 1974, working as an organizer for the Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility, Margulies began devising ways to make the breast milk substitutes scandal into a campaign.

To Margulies, this controversy appeared a perfect issue to use in energizing activists to engage with questions of economic inequality and multinational corporate power. As she explained to Mother Jones in 1977, “it is very difficult to make graphic that the world is starving, not because of drought or floods, but because of economic dependency.” From 1974 to 1977, Margulies worked with church groups to spread awareness, launch several shareholder resolutions, and mount a lawsuit against Bristol-Myers. However, these efforts produced few tangible results. Looking to escalate her efforts, Margulies reached out to fellow anti-poverty activists with the intention of starting a boycott of Nestlé. The Swiss multinational offered a promising target: not only was it the world’s largest purveyor of breast milk substitutes, but it also sold household products (such as coffee) around which a consumer boycott could easily be organized.

Teaming with activists in Minneapolis, in early 1977 Margulies helped to found the Infant Formula Action Coalition (INFACT). On July 4, 1977, INFACT commenced a nationwide boycott of Nestlé. Organizing through a broad array of organizations (from public health associations to churches to left-wing solidarity groups), INFACT rapidly assembled local boycotts in towns and cities across the country.

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A Nestlé Boycott Picket Line

One constituency the boycott’s organizers sought out was organized labor. Activists tried to enlist labor in part by portraying the boycott as an experiment in corporate campaigning. Writing to a number of union presidents in 1982, Americans for Democratic Action president Robert Drinan illuminated this point, describing the boycott as “an act of international solidarity with working people in the Third World” and arguing that “organized labor has long recognized the need to develop an international capability to deal with the problems presented by multinational corporations. The leaders of the infant formula campaign have shown that it is not only necessary, but possible.”

Even as they built the boycott coalition, the leaders at INFACT searched for other avenues to influence. After months of organizing focused on the U.S. Senate, on May 23, 1978 activists descended on Washington, D.C. to participate in a hearing chaired by Ted Kennedy. While activists effectively presented their case, the representative sent from Nestlé delivered a calamitous performance. He accused church groups of being part of a “world-wide church organization” conspiring to “undermin[e] the free enterprise system,” while also arguing that Nestlé bore no responsibility for ensuring that consumers safely used its products.

Excerpt from the Kennedy hearing

Feeling humiliated after the hearing, Nestlé and the other multinationals searched for a way to end the boycott. Negotiating among the activists and the companies, Kennedy helped to steer both sides towards finding a solution under the auspices of the World Health Organization (WHO). In October 1979, a meeting cosponsored by the WHO and UNICEF in Geneva ended with the WHO agreeing to draft a global code of conduct for the marketing and promotion of breast milk substitutes. For the next year and a half, lobbyists from activist groups and multinationals each tried to influence the code’s language, while activists also intensified and internationalized the boycott.

In the end, companies (backed by the U.S. government) succeeded in ensuring that the code would take form as a voluntary “recommendation,” as opposed to a legally-binding regulation. However, the code’s strictures significantly constricted corporate advertising, causing the companies to condemn the code (while activists offered critical support). When the code was voted on at the WHO in May 1981, the only nation to oppose it was the United States, acting at the behest of the Reagan administration. Following the May 1981 vote at the WHO to create the code, activists and Nestlé spent the next two and a half years battling over the company’s implementation of the code, leading to the January suspension and then the October announcement by Nestlé that it would fully abide by the WHO code.

The Nestlé boycott was an early example of a coordinated, international effort targeting a multinational industry. During the early 1980s INFACT coordinated closely with boycott efforts in Western Europe, as well as in Australia. Even more significantly, NGO activists from the Global North and Global South came together to work under the auspices of a single organization, International Baby Food Action Network. The connections forged in this era continued through the 1990s anti-WTO fights and remain significant to the present. While the boycott did terminate with a seemingly monumental victory in October 1984, subsequent events have been more dispiriting. Four years after this triumph, activists relaunched the Nestlé boycott, accusing the company of not abiding by its commitments to the code. The boycott, while mostly dormant in the U.S., is active abroad to this day, in part reflecting the difficulty of monitoring the code (given the ease with which improper advertising can occur) and in part the vast power of multinationals like Nestlé.

This is the 130th post in this series. Previous posts are archived here.

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Children of Eve

[ 10 ] January 24, 2015 |

Like most of you, I spend my Saturday nights watching silent films. Title cards like this one from Children of Eve are one reason.

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It’s almost as if directors from 100 years ago are speaking to me from the grave.

…This title card is followed by a reenactment of the Triangle Fire and subsequent heartbreak.

…If we are strictly comparing the awesomeness of title cards however, this one from The Inside of the White Slave Traffic, from 1913, is hard to beat.

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Sweatshop Reality Show

[ 32 ] January 24, 2015 |

I’m a little torn on this:

In an attempt to keep a dialogue going surrounding the sweatshop conditions in which so many mass-produced articles of clothing are made, Norwegian publication Aftenposten has released a harrowing web documentary series that sends three fashion bloggers into the heart of a Cambodian sweatshop. The series puts the conditions that its employees face on a day-to-day basis in an unfiltered and heartbreaking way.

The series has already sparked debate over not just the obviously horrific conditions in the sweatshops that Norwegian bloggers Frida, Ludvig and Anniken visit, but over the ethics of the series itself, which could be seen as bordering on third-world exploitation. It’s easy for Westerners to turn a blind eye, however, and if bringing the Western gaze onto the situation takes putting actual Westerners in the situation, then the work the documentary is doing is important.

In an interview with Pulse, the series’ director Joakim Kleven spoke a little bit about the conditions that he witnessed: “It was extremely difficult to come at all in any factory inside. The only factory that has let in us, was one of the best in Cambodia, but that was not okay. It was very hot in there, there was no toilet paper in the toilets and the chairs on which the seamstresses had to sit were extremely uncomfortable. Some workers have told us that soldiers stood during her shift already behind them and they would have beaten for sewing, so much so that some of them were unconscious.”

This probably is exploitation–after all, it’s a series that allows white people to parachute in on the lives of Cambodians and features the voices of those white people as the sympathetic storytellers. However, in this case, it is probably worth it. As I argue in Out of Sight, the fact that so much industrial production is done overseas means that when Bangladesh has its version of the Triangle Fire, there will be no Frances Perkins there to witness it and then mobilize consumers and politicians to mandate changes to the apparel industry. This separation of production and consumption is intentional and happens in part to protect companies from having to improve conditions. So a show that actually gives westerners the opportunity to see the conditions in which their clothes are made has real potential to put that production back in sight. And that’s incredibly important for creating change.

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Could Christmas Be Coming Early This Year?

[ 78 ] January 24, 2015 |

Oh please oh please oh please oh please let this be true:

U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara’s warning to “stay tuned” for more corruption arrests after he bagged Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver has sent a big chill through the state Capitol.

“I think everyone is waiting for the next shoe to drop,” said one legislative official.

Added former Assemblyman Richard Brodsky, a Westchester Democrat: “When a prosecutor says stay tuned, I think he means it.”

The big fish reportedly being looked at is Gov. Cuomo.

Bharara has been probing whether the governor and his top aides improperly interfered with the Moreland anti-corruption commission Cuomo established.

He is also probing the circumstances behind Cuomo’s decision to abruptly end the commission after the Legislature agreed to some ethics reforms.

Other than perhaps Rahm Emanuel, this couldn’t happen to a more deserving well-known elected Democrat in this nation.

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Abdullah ibn-Abdulaziz al-Saud, Rest In Hell

[ 129 ] January 24, 2015 |

Pretty much what Murtaza Hussain says here:

It’s not often that the unelected leader of a country which publicly flogs dissidents and beheads people for sorcery wins such glowing praise from American officials. Even more perplexing, perhaps, have been the fawning obituaries in the mainstream press which have faithfully echoed this characterization of Abdullah as a benign and well-intentioned man of peace.

Tiptoeing around his brutal dictatorship, The Washington Post characterized Abdullah as a “wily king” while The New York Times inexplicably referred to him as “a force of moderation”, while also suggesting that evidence of his moderation included having had: “hundreds of militants arrested and some beheaded” (emphasis added).

While granting that Abdullah might be considered a relative moderate within the brazenly anachronistic House of Saud, the fact remains that he presided for two decades over a regime which engaged in wanton human rights abuses, instrumentalized religious chauvinism, and played a hugely counterrevolutionary role in regional politics.

Above all, he was not a leader who shied away from both calling for and engineering more conflict in the Middle East.

Like Atrios, I’ve never really understood the realpolitik defense for the extent of the American alliance with the Saudis. But, yes, international affairs often involves alliances with bad actors, and as we’ve learned vividly in the region declaring the House of Saud our Hitlers of the month and actively trying to depose them would probably make things worse rather than better. I’m inclined to think that nothing can justify the extent of Kerry’s praise of this brutal dictator, but perhaps there’s some reason why a more subtle message wouldn’t have served the American national interest that I’m missing.

But the way much of the media has dealt with the death of someone presiding over one of the very worst regimes in the world…there’s no possible defense for that.

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Fracking Bans

[ 24 ] January 24, 2015 |

Mora County, New Mexico, right in the middle of the land grant thefts that led to the rise of Reies Lopez Tijerina and the long-term animosity to outside corporate control over the land, passed a county-wide ban against fracking in 2013. Of course, the courts overturned it.

A county’s ban on hydraulic fracturing and drilling conflicts with both state and U.S. law, a federal court in New Mexico found this week.

The U.S. District Court for the District of New Mexico on Monday struck down a ban on fracking and drilling in Mora County, a rural area about 100 miles northeast of Santa Fe. County voters passed the ban in 2013, and Royal Dutch Shell PLC subsidiary SWEPI LP filed suit last year.

The decision is a win for industry and a major setback for environmentalists, who have had mixed results in championing a “local control” approach to oil and gas regulation around the country.

In Monday’s decision, Judge James Browning found that Mora County’s ordinance violated the U.S. Constitution’s Supremacy Clause by attempting to discard corporate rights protected by federal case law. The county’s measure explicitly noted that oil and gas companies “shall not have the rights of ‘persons’ afforded by the United States and New Mexico Constitutions,” including First Amendment rights and due process.

Of course, it’s not at all surprising that corporations wouldn’t respect this, but it’s also worth remembering that the love corporations and their political lackeys for local control over regulations and resources goes only to the precise point where that local control helps companies. Otherwise, they love big government.

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As China Pushes Forward…

[ 6 ] January 24, 2015 |

My latest at the National Interest takes a look at five areas the Chinese military may want to improve:

What weapons should China be developing and building right now?   There’s an inherent tension between defense procurement and innovation.  On the one hand, the Chinese military needs platforms now in order to fulfill the increasing scope of its responsibilities.  On the other hand, funds committed to production and operations don’t go into innovation, or to the integration of new weapon systems.

With this trade-off in mind, this article takes a look at five kinds of weapon that China can develop in the short, medium, and long terms.  China needs systems to secure its borders, ensure the defense of its trade routes, and potentially challenge the United States in the Western Pacific. The list concentrates on systems that enable these missions, with a focus on weapons that other countries either already have or are developing.

 

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