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Bomb Bomb Bomb, Bomb Bomb Iran!

[ 41 ] March 27, 2015 |

Rear view of jet aircraft in-flight at dawn/dusk above mountains. Its engines are in full afterburner, evident through the presence of shock diamonds.

“F-22F119″ by U.S. Air Force photo – http://www.af.mil/shared/media/photodb/photos/990430-F-0000B-002.jpg. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons.

My response to the Roose John Bolton and Joshua Muravchik’s warmongering op-eds came out earlier this week. My piece actually came out before the former, but as there’s so little that’s even faintly novel about Bolton’s argument, that doesn’t present much of a problem.

We are a few days away from the latest deadline in the Iran-U.S. nuclear talks. Much of the case on whether we need a deal depends on this question: what does the Middle East look like if Tehran and Washington don’t come to an accord? Is war between the United States and Iran inevitable? If U.S. hawks succeed in scuttling a nuclear deal, then those same hawks will shift, in short order, to insisting on war as the only remedy.

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Black Power Revisionism

[ 70 ] March 27, 2015 |

Black-Power-Gossip

Randall Kennedy has an interesting long book review of new biographies of Malcolm X, Stokely Carmichael, and Huey Newton. I haven’t read any of them, not even Manning Marable’s acclaimed Malcolm book, but there are a couple of points worth discussing here anyway. First, Kennedy accuses each author of engaging in hagiography over proper historical analysis. I can’t judge the claim, but that does seem to be the case with the Newton book, which just seems bad from multiple reviews. As for the other two, both Marable and Peniel Joseph (who is speaking at URI next week so come out if you are around) are both outstanding historians, but it is often a problem with biography that authors start apologizing for their subject. And as Kennedy points out, there is plenty that is distasteful about both. I find that more convincing with Carmichael, whose leadership of SNCC was disastrous and who seemed somewhat less serious about what he was doing after he achieved fame (although he did largely avoid the spotlight after he went to Africa). But with Malcolm, Kennedy’s problem is the Nation of Islam. I don’t think too many people are really going to defend NOI at this point. Its murders of its own members and the rank hypocrisy of Elijah Muhammad are well known now. But while Kennedy admits that Malcolm shows significant room for personal growth, he also wants to make sure that he is held accountable for his actions before his expulsion from the organization in 1964.

Well, OK, but this gets to my second point, which is about context and the passage of time. In other words, it is very easy to write in 2015 about how the Nation of Islam was horrible, how the Black Panthers were violent and cruel, and how Carmichael ran SNCC into the ground. It’s not that Kennedy forgets the context in which these people were working, but it’s also worth reiterating it. Malcolm and Newton were operating in urban centers where African-Americans had moved for the promise of a better life, but that promise had been a lie. In 1960s Oakland, Los Angeles, Newark, Chicago, Detroit, etc., police brutality was a way of life. There were no jobs. Most people could not afford a car. Public transportation was almost nonexistent. The only economic outlet for many was drugs. The Civil Rights Movement could win concrete victories in the South because it battled legal segregation, but the de facto segregation of northern and western cities made victories much, much harder to win, as Martin Luther King and the SCLC found out in the failed Chicago housing campaign of 1966. It’s hardly surprising that black pride and black power organizations, whether Marcus Garvey’s United Negro Improvement Association, the Nation of Islam, or the Black Panthers, would rise out of this. It’s equally unsurprising that those organizations would be problematic and violent, as violence ruled the communities from which they arose and organized.

As for Carmichael, while his leadership of SNCC didn’t work out, the overall move away from racial inclusion to black power within the student led side of the Civil Rights Movement also makes sense in context, even if it was a bad idea strategically and organizationally. Let’s not underestimate the bitterness that led SNCC to design Freedom Summer because its organizers knew that only when white kids were killed would the media pay attention to anything happening in rural Mississippi. This analysis was of course exactly right when the three SNCC workers, two white, were murdered by the KKK. Ten years of struggle, suffering, and death in the face of overwhelming violence is a bravery I can barely imagine. If people burn out and snap or turn to black power and racial exclusion, it’s not surprising at all. It says much for John Lewis’ character that he never went down this road, but it is an understandable response to the horrifying experiences of these people’s lives.

Finally, I thought this was unfair to Malcolm X:

While Malcolm X and other followers of Elijah Muhammed put on cathartic performances in safe surroundings, however, King, Carmichael, Medgar Evers, John Lewis, Fannie Lou Hamer, James Farmer, Julian Bond, Bob Moses, Diane Nash, James Lawson, and others risked their lives repeatedly in face-to-face confrontations with heavily armed, trigger-happy white supremacists. While Malcolm X was taunting King and company for rejecting violence, the tribunes of the Civil Rights movement were successfully pressuring the federal government to bring its immense weight to bear against the segregationists through the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965. While Malcolm X talked tough—“if someone puts his hand on you, send him to the cemetery”—he and the NOI refrained seeking revenge when racist police brutalized Black Muslims. While Malcolm X spoke with apparent knowingness about racial uplift, at no point did he communicate a cogent, realistic strategy for elevating black America.

But Marable is not denigrating any of those other civil rights activists. No one is saying those people did not do amazing things or put their lives at risk. They were also, outside of Hamer, college-educated. This movement Kennedy lauds in comparison to Malcolm was a decidedly middle-class movement. They came out of a different African-American tradition than Malcolm. Second, one could basically say the same thing about the relationship between W.E.B. DuBois and Booker T. Washington, with the former safely ensconced in Cambridge and the latter risking his life in rural Alabama. Yet in this case, even most historians today sympathize with DuBois instead of Washington (in part because the Civil Rights Movement proved DuBois’ “talented tenth” idea correct and Washington’s rejection of political gains wrong). But mostly I don’t think this is a useful comparison to make at either time. There were many paths to African-American freedom. Some were more effective and some more problematic, but I don’t think basically calling Malcolm a poseur compared to SNCC activists is useful.

It’s an interesting and challenging review, but I think if anything Kennedy is moving toward hagiography toward the mainstream CRM (after all, he might well call Malcolm sexist and socially conservative, but MLK could certainly be accused of the same) and therefore overcompensates in his analysis of these people. He occasionally makes pretty easy judgements about which group was right or wrong in 1965 when in reality everyone working for black freedom in the 1960s faced overwhelming white violence and police brutality. That certainly doesn’t mean that we should take Huey Newton at his word or not question the self-mythologizing all three of these men could engage in, but, as always, everything should be contextualized and our own positions questioned.

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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 |

mike_pence_0

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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