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Non-Denial Denial of the Day

[ 92 ] November 16, 2014 |

Shorter Bill Cosby’s legal representatives: “This is just a he said/she said/she said/she said/she said/she said/she said/she said/she said/she said/she said/she said/she said/she said case. We will create the impression that we are denying the charges without actually doing so.”

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[ 5 ] November 16, 2014 |

My latest at the Diplomat looks at the limited export potential of China’s J-31 stealth fighter:

Some have billed the J-31 as China’s answer to the F-35, as if that represented some sort of compliment. It’s hardly a stretch to suggest Pakistan would be a major customer, and perhaps Egypt as well.  Beyond that?  The United States can offer the F-35 to a wide range of European and Asian countries, all of which have strong economies, big defense budgets, an appetite for high tech, and an interest in cementing the long-term technological and political relationship with the United States.

Beijing doesn’t have the kind of friends that would do it the favor of buying something like the F-35. If the sanctions on Iran ease up in the wake of a successful nuclear deal, Tehran will be looking to buy advanced fighters.  If the Assad government ever manages to win its civil war, it too will need new fighters, but probably won’t be able to afford anything like the J-31.  The Gulf monarchies buy weapons in order to create political ties, and are unlikely to shift their attention from Washington to Beijing unless the international system changes in immense and unforeseen ways.

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Thank You John Roberts! Arkansas Edition

[ 58 ] November 16, 2014 |

Those would prefer that hundreds of thousands go uninsured rather than any rentier skim some profits are about to get their wish. My guess is that the people upon whom the contradictions are about to be heightened will be less thrilled with this outcome:

The issue, or one of the big ones, was Obamacare. Outgoing Democratic Governor Mike Beebe compromised with the state’s Republicans on the controversial health care law when it passed and devised a unique plan, called the “private option,” one that many had hoped to replicate in other reluctant red states. Instead of expanding Medicaid, the federal program that insures the poor, the state would foot the bill for its low-income residents to enter the private insurance market.

It has so far insured more than 200,000 people who had never been insured before, but it has to be renewed next year. Hutchinson, the incoming governor, has said he needs time to decide what his position is on the plan. Perhaps more significant is that Republicans won all four races for the state senate, increasing their lead in that chamber by two, and they’ve all come out against renewal. And unlike the rest of the country, turnout there was actually up this midterm election, to 47.6 percent, which means the newly elected officials can more safely claim a mandate than states where the turnout was much lower. A nay vote on the private option in the state legislature could force the new governor’s hand even if he does decide he backs the existing program.


What does it mean for the people of the state? Arkansas has continually ranked as one of the least healthy states in the country, and has had one of the worst health care systems. Arkansans can expect to die at a younger age than their counterparts in wealthy, healthy states like Connecticut and Massachusetts.

Yet, Arkansas had been marginally healthier than the states surrounding it. All of the poor states in the mid-South show up at the bottom of all the good lists and the top of all the bad ones, but my little state had always done at least a little bit better than Mississippi, Alabama, and sometimes Louisiana.

Why? Because it had a government that cared about its people. Now I’m afraid that’s going by the wayside. Which means the state has now pulled what I like to call a Full Huckabee. Once, Arkansans believed compassion and good citizenship had roles in government. Now, their state politics, like Huckabee’s career, have been taken over by concerns over money, power, and special interests. And as usual, it’s at the expense of its neediest citizens.

Not a dime’s worth of difference!

Anyway, I’m sure that now that they’re about to lose this particular subsidy the private health insurance industry in Arkansas will spontaneously combust and they’ll have single payer in no time.

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Deporting Parents

[ 47 ] November 16, 2014 |

What happens when our unjust immigration system deports parents of children who are under 18? It’s usually pretty grim. Orange is the New Black actress Diane Guerrero’s story is about as good as it is going to get:

And then one day, my fears were realized. I came home from school to an empty house. Lights were on and dinner had been started, but my family wasn’t there. Neighbors broke the news that my parents had been taken away by immigration officers, and just like that, my stable family life was over.

Not a single person at any level of government took any note of me. No one checked to see if I had a place to live or food to eat, and at 14, I found myself basically on my own.

While awaiting deportation proceedings, my parents remained in detention near Boston, so I could visit them. They would have liked to fight deportation, but without a lawyer and an immigration system that rarely gives judges the discretion to allow families to stay together, they never had a chance. Finally, they agreed for me to continue my education at Boston Arts Academy, a performing arts high school, and the parents of friends graciously took me in.

Being 14, having friends with generous parents, a great high school, this is not the norm. Even here, her family was deported and she was left behind, separated from her parents during many of the most important moments of her life. This is a horrible thing that does no one any good. Completely unjustified and it’s about time that President Obama take more concrete steps to deal with this unjust system, even without Congressional approval.

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Labor Notes

[ 15 ] November 16, 2014 |

There are a lot of labor stories in my blogging queue right now. Let’s just deal with them all at once.

1. Do we need a new legal framework for food workers? Jacob Gersen and Benjamin Sachs say we do and they are correct:

Take farm workers who witness the processing of infected (or “downer”) cows — an illegal but, unfortunately, not uncommon practice that risks spreading a host of diseases to humans. Or workers in poultry-processing facilities, where safety and hygiene regulations are flouted, thus increasing the risk of salmonella, which every year results in more than one million illnesses, more than 350 deaths and over $3 billion in health care and lost productivity costs. Unless we offer specific legal protection for all food workers who come forward to expose such practices — something the law does not do now — we all are at risk.

We should also adjust many of our standard workplace rules to take account of the special nature of food production. To avoid the transmission of bovine spongiform encephalopathy, which causes mad cow disease, workers involved in the processing of beef must fully and carefully remove the dorsal root ganglion, a part of the spinal nerve, from all cattle that are 30 months old or older. That’s because these dorsal root ganglia can contain the infective agent behind B.S.E.

Not sure what the Obama Administration can do on this in the face of certain Republican opposition but it should be a priority within American labor regulation.

2. San Francisco is considering an ordinance to force companies to provide a “predictable schedule” for part-time workers. This is absolutely a workplace justice issue that needs to be taken care of. Among the many problems with people stringing together multiple part-time jobs to keep a roof over their heads is the inability to know when they will need to work week-to-week at each job. Keeping workers’ lives unstable of course helps the company and so they will probably fight such a common-sense idea.

3. In the world of labor on our college campuses, administrators at Pensacola State College are telling faculty members they are violating state law by talking to student reporters about their stalled contract negotiations. The administration is trying to use a section of the state legal code already shot down by both state and federal courts. Absurd, but all too typical for one of the biggest union-busting industries in the U.S. right now–institutions of higher education.

4. I always like to highlight stories of student labor activism when I see them, so here is one on anti-sweatshop activism at Oregon State University.

5. Meanwhile, a Chicago alderman whose father worked in a sweatshop in India is pushing the City Council to pass an anti-sweatshop ordinance. Wonder what ol’Rahm thinks about that.

6. Finally, the chemical industry strikes again, with 4 dead workers at a DuPont plant in LaPorte, Texas after a chemical leaked. I’d be real curious to see when the last time this plant was inspected by OSHA.

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Tallahassee’s Double Standard

[ 6 ] November 16, 2014 |

You will be shocked to know that football players continue to be exempt from significant punishment for crimes ordinary people get charged for.

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The Climate Conundrum

[ 155 ] November 16, 2014 |

I haven’t read Naomi Klein’s new climate change book but I want to. I did read Elizabeth Kolbert’s review of it. The basic problem we face in dealing with climate change is that both Klein and Kolbert are correct. First, Kolbert’s summary of Klein:

Klein traces our inaction to a much deeper, structural problem. Our economy has been built on the promise of endless growth. But endless growth is incompatible with radically reduced emissions; it’s only at times when the global economy has gone into free fall that emissions have declined by more than marginal amounts. What’s needed, Klein argues, is “managed degrowth.” Individuals are going to have to consume less, corporate profits are going to have to be reduced (in some cases down to zero), and governments are going to have to engage in the kind of long-term planning that’s anathema to free marketeers.

The fact that major environmental groups continue to argue that systemic change isn’t needed makes them, by Klein’s account, just as dishonest as the global warming deniers they vilify. Indeed, perhaps more so, since one of the deniers’ favorite arguments is that reducing emissions by the amount environmentalists say is necessary would spell the doom of capitalism. “Here’s my inconvenient truth,” she writes.

“I think these hard-core ideologues understand the real significance of climate change better than most of the “warmists” in the political center, the ones who are still insisting that the response can be gradual and painless and that we don’t need to go to war with anybody.”

Klein goes so far as to argue that the environmental movement has itself become little more than an arm (or perhaps one should say a column) of the fossil fuel industry. Her proof here is that several major environmental groups have received sizable donations from fossil fuel companies or their affiliated foundations, and some, like the Nature Conservancy, have executives (or former executives) of utility companies on their boards. “A painful reality behind the environmental movement’s catastrophic failure to effectively battle the economic interests behind our soaring emissions,” she writes, is that “large parts of the movement aren’t actually fighting those interests—they have merged with them.”

Absolutely–the system of capitalism created climate change and we cannot effectively fight climate change by tweaking around the edges. The only answer is, frankly, economic shrinkage which means the rejection of capitalism. There just isn’t any way around this.

And Kolbert:

The need to reduce carbon emissions is, ostensibly, what This Changes Everything is all about. Yet apart from applauding the solar installations of the Northern Cheyenne, Klein avoids looking at all closely at what this would entail. She vaguely tells us that we’ll have to consume less, but not how much less, or what we’ll have to give up. At various points, she calls for a carbon tax. This is certainly a good idea, and one that’s advocated by many economists, but it hardly seems to challenge the basic logic of capitalism. Near the start of the book, Klein floats the “managed degrowth” concept, which might also be called economic contraction, but once again, how this might play out she leaves unexplored. Even more confoundingly, by end of the book she seems to have rejected the idea. “Shrinking humanity’s impact or ‘footprint,’” she writes, is “simply not an option today.”

In place of “degrowth” she offers “regeneration,” a concept so cheerfully fuzzy I won’t even attempt to explain it. Regeneration, Klein writes, “is active: we become full participants in the process of maximizing life’s creativity.”

To draw on Klein paraphrasing Al Gore, here’s my inconvenient truth: when you tell people what it would actually take to radically reduce carbon emissions, they turn away. They don’t want to give up air travel or air conditioning or HDTV or trips to the mall or the family car or the myriad other things that go along with consuming 5,000 or 8,000 or 12,000 watts. All the major environmental groups know this, which is why they maintain, contrary to the requirements of a 2,000-watt society, that climate change can be tackled with minimal disruption to “the American way of life.” And Klein, you have to assume, knows it too. The irony of her book is that she ends up exactly where the “warmists” do, telling a fable she hopes will do some good.

Couple of things here. First, again, both are correct. The changes we need to make to forestall climate change are huge, no question about it. But the changes we need to make to forestall climate change will be completely rejected by people. So what do you do? Nothing is the worst possible answer but by far the most likely. Second, the biggest weakness of The Shock Doctrine was her refusal to do much to think through solutions to the problems she so perceptively diagnosed. When I wrote Out of Sight, I very much kept this critique in mind and in the last chapter, I work very hard to suggest ways forward. People might think the ideas are crazy or unworkable or unrealistic, but I want to envision the society I see. It doesn’t look like Klein does too much of that here either, other than highlighting a few examples of people doing good things. In the end, if we are criticizing capitalism, we have to articulate some kind of alternative to the system we disdain. That’s especially true when we are fighting climate change, the greatest threat to human society in centuries. But, in dealing with climate change, there is no hope of adapting a consumerist lifestyle to the problem, which means people will largely reject the solutions out of hand.

Good times.

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Book Review: Andrew Graybill, The Red and the White: A Family Saga of the American West

[ 8 ] November 16, 2014 |

The borderlands historian Andrew Graybill’s latest book is an extremely readable saga into the great complexities of what it has meant to be mixed-race in the American West. The Red and the White is a set of family biographies from one Montana family that originated with the marriage of a fur trader and a Piegan woman. Spanning the early 19th through mid 20th century, Graybill demonstrates the complexity of race in the American West, where mixed white-Native American families faced both opportunity and discrimination, choosing between two different and competing worlds (and often having choices made for them).

At the center of the story is the Marias Massacre. Many of the major massacres of Native Americans by Americans are well-known to us–Wounded Knee, Sand Creek, Washita. The campaigns to eliminate the Lakota and Nez Perce, the forced marches of the Cherokee and Navajo–these have become part of our national memory. Some are spots of national mourning and remembrance. The National Park Service has played a leading role in this, negotiating the tremendously tricky and contentious politics around Sand Creek, renaming Custer Battlefield as the Little Big Horn, etc. Native Americans themselves have played a leading role in creating these newer ways of understanding the expansion of Europeans across the North American continent. Visiting Wounded Knee is a powerful and disturbing experience because of the poverty and palpable anger of the people who live at Pine Ridge. Another example is how the Pequot Museum forces visitors to hear about the genocide against their people by the Puritans in 1637.

Yet the Marias Massacre–and many other events–remain almost completely unknown to everyone who is not a historian of the American West. In 1870, the Second U.S. Calvary attacked a Piegan (which are part of the larger tribe called the Blackfeet) encampment and massacred all they could see. Around 200 people were killed that day, even though this encampment probably had nothing to do with the violence that led to it. Central to this event was the murder of a fur trader named Malcolm Clarke.


Site of the Marias Massacre

Graybill tells five stories over three generations around the Clarke family. He begins with Coth-co-co-na, a Piegan woman who would marry trader Malcolm Clarke in 1844. We can’t know all that much about the details of her life, especially the early years, so Graybill uses this as an introduction to how rapidly the world is changing for the Blackfeet in the early 19th century. Horses, guns, fur traders, disease, and white American expansions had completely turned the lives of northern Plains people upside down and the worst was yet to come.

The second biography is of Clarke himself. A hot-tempered man kicked out of West Point, he roamed around a bit before moving to the upper reaches of the Missouri River, where he became one of the most successful fur traders in the region. His marriage to Coth-co-co-na was far from unusual during this period, as white traders had many reasons to take indigenous wives–sometimes for love, sometimes for trading advantage, often for both. Those relationships were often fluid, as was not uncommon for many native peoples and which gave white traders the advantage of avoiding the stigma of interracial sex if they reentered white society. But Clarke and Coth-co-co-na were together until the day he died, in 1870, after growing violence between whites and the Blackfeet led to his murder in a planned attack by members of his wife’s family.

When Clarke was murdered, the American military response became the Marias Massacre. This story is told through Clarke and Co-co-co-na’s son, Horace Clarke. As a mixed-race child in a transforming world that did not have much of a place for people like him, Horace had to make a decision when his father was murdered: would he side with this father’s people or his mother’s? He chose the former and was there during the Marias Massacre. Yet he chose to live most of his life among the Piegans despite his role in the violence. He married a Piegan woman and established a homestead near what is today East Glacier Park, Montana, serving as a mediator between the government and the Piegans.

One literature this book really contributes to is the effect of the Civil War on the West. By 1870, with William Tecumseh Sherman and Philip Sheridan in command of the postwar Army, the military had taken the lessons they learned in defeating the Confederates and applied them to Native Americans. In 1868, the Army massacred a group of Cheyenne at the Washita Massacre in what is today western Oklahoma. The death of so many innocents there caused widespread criticism in the east and stung the military. Sheridan wanted to avoid a repeat of this in putting down the Blackfeet but when he was unable to do so, and such a truly horrific massacre of people who had done nothing wrong took place, Sheridan defended himself. He wrote to Sherman, “Did we cease to throw shells into Vicksburg or Atlanta because women and children were there?” What these generals failed to see was the moral complexity of the world in which they lived and that different opponents might need different strategies. In fact, William Lloyd Garrison, Lydia Maria Child, and other ex-abolitionists still fighting for social justice actually rallied enough opposition to strip the military of quite a bit of authority over Indian affairs in the aftermath of the Marias Massacre.

Malcolm and Coth-co-co-na’s daughter Helen had an even more fascinating tale. She went to Minnesota to live with her father’s family after his death, moved to New York and then Europe where she became an actress for a short time, although with seemingly very positive feedback for her height (she was 5’10″ in a time of short people), her look, and her acting ability. She then returned to Montana, probably because she ran out of money, where she became the first woman (along with another at the same time) to win election to public office in Montana. Then in 1890, she moved to Indian Territory (now Oklahoma) in the wake of the insidious Dawes Act to work for the federal government as an allotment agent, convincing the Ponca and Otoe peoples to give up most of their land. Despite all of this, she lived in poverty for most of her life, had her own land allotted when she moved back to the Blackfeet reservation, and eventually lived with her brother at the end of their lives.

Finally, Horace’s son John lost his hearing as a baby, yet became one of the West’s most renowned artists. Working primarily as an animal sculptor in wood, he sold pieces around the nation and received major commissions later in his life. He married a white woman yet identified very strongly as a Piegan, posing with headdresses on and creating art based around traditional Piegan ways of life.

Detailing how each of these five complex people negotiated the fraught racial terrain of western and American history is fascinating because unlike so many of these stories, such as that of the Bent family of Colorado, this does not end in disaster for most family members. Rather these are stories of great complexity, adding significantly to our understanding of race and the West. Strongly recommended for LGM readers.

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Comfort Women

[ 106 ] November 15, 2014 |

The level of denial in Japan over forced prostitution, rape, and colonized Korean “comfort women” in World War II is remarkable. Instead, the Japanese government’s narrative is that Japan is the victim in this story. Yeah, right. Between Germany and Japan, I know which one I’d put my money on as potentially being a threat to their neighbors again. Although I’d put my money on neither.

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Larson RIP

[ 30 ] November 15, 2014 |

Loomis and I first met in 1992, when we were both assigned to work at the Instructional Media Center at the University of Oregon. Home to famously indifferent student employees, the IMC was helmed by man of legendary drinking habits and even more legendary perversities. Most of our days were wasted listening to his old “war” stories, trying (mostly successfully) to avoid work, and watching Magnum PI.

Rest in peace, Glen A. Larson.

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BREAKING! Person Good At Running Econometric Models Says Silly Things About Politics!

[ 83 ] November 15, 2014 |

Before dealing with the latest reported comments of President, Speaker of the House, Senate Majority Leader, Secretary of State, Chief Justice of the United States, Prime Minister, and Grand Poobah Jonathan Gruber a reminder about his actual role in crafting the ACA:

Mr. Gruber was not, as many claim, the architect of the health-care law. He is an MIT economist who, as a consultant to the Department of Health and Human Services, modeled the impact of various subsidy levels and rules. He did not make policy, nor did he work for the White House, HHS, or any congressional committee. Earlier, he advised the Massachusetts legislature when it created the health-care reforms that were a model for the ACA.

He did some informal consultation with the White House when putting together exactly the kind of proposal anyone following the Democratic primaries knew he would, and had grad students run some models to test various outcomes.  Again, this is not a trivial role, but assertions that he was the “architect” of the ACA or “wrote” it are demonstrably false.  In addition, in this context it apparently has to be emphasized that he was being paid for his expertise as a health care economist; he wasn’t being paid to tell Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid how to pass legislation.

At any rate, Gruber’s attempts to portray himself as some kind of Machiavellian super-genius are getting ever more annoying:

In a 2011 conversation about the Affordable Care Act, MIT economist Jonathan Gruber, one of the architects of the law more commonly known as Obamacare, talked about how the bill would get rid of all tax credits for employer-based health insurance through “mislabeling” what the tax is and who it would hit.


“It turns out politically it’s really hard to get rid of,” Gruber said. “And the only way we could get rid of it was first by mislabeling it, calling it a tax on insurance plans rather than a tax on people when we all know it’s a tax on people who hold those insurance plans.”

Ah, more proof that economist’s disease — where expertise in one subject area convinces someone that they are experts in everything — isn’t confined to the right.  First of all, how on earth is it “mislabeling” to call a tax on insurance plans a “tax on insurance plans?” It’s like saying that it’s lying to call a tax on imported goods a “tariff” because consumers bear some of the cost. Gruber seems to think that it’s dishonest to use merely accurate ways of describing your policy proposals, as if it’s the job of people proposing something to portray the proposals in the worst light possible.  I don’t know if Gruber noticed, but plenty of people on the other side of the aisle were busy making things up about the ACA to attack it; I don’t think that Democrats were obliged to do the same.

And, second, as with his previous own-goals the argument is not merely wrong but self-refuting even if you grant the false premise. Precisely because the public is ill-informed on policy details it doesn’t matter to mass public opinion what you call the tax on insurance plans.  Informed stakeholders, meanwhile, knew exactly what the tax did and didn’t like it. Gruber’s comments could not be more wrong on every level.  As a political analyst, he’s a hell of a health care economist.

Part of me feels bad for piling on; I don’t doubt that he was well-intentioned and it can’t be pleasant to be the right-wing villain du jour.  But Gruber has, at the very least, not discouraged the exaggerations of his role in creating the ACA, and he’s made a truckload of money from his reputation.  When you take on this kind of role, you really do have be responsible in your public comments, and Gruber has failed spectacularly in his self-appointed role again and again, saying things that are politically damaging (potentially OK) and wrong (very much not OK.)

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The Neo-Confederate Roots of Off-Year Governor Elections

[ 33 ] November 15, 2014 |

Why are so many governor elections in non-presidential years? The answer depends on state, like so much else in American life. But in Florida at least, the election was moved off the presidential year in order to preserve white supremacist power:

Or maybe just like 1961.

That’s the year Florida Democrats changed the rules.

And to increase turnout and win, Florida Democrats should change the rules back in 2016.

According to legendary journalist Martin Dyckman, in 1961, Democrats were scared of presidential election cycles screwing up their dominance of state government, specifically Nixon vs. Kennedy.

So, instead of allowing JFK to be a drag on the (conservative) Democratic ticket, the Florida Legislature amended the Constitution, requiring the Governor and the Florida Cabinet to be elected in midterm, non-presidential election cycles.

This resulted in racist segregationist Democrat Haydon Burns serving an abbreviated two-year term. In 1968, the new rules were further cemented in the Florida Constitution.

Today, because of this change, about 2.5 million presidential cycle voters entirely ignore the Governor and the Florida Cabinet.

In short, knowing that poorer and younger voters don’t come out for midterm elections, the Florida white supremacist power structure changed the state constitution to ensure voting at a time that would more likely protect their interest. I’d like to know more about this and explore why states have selected their gubernatorial elections on a particular date.

I will also suggest that the staggering of elections is pretty unhealthy for our democracy because the proliferation of political ads turns more people off than on and seeing them 2 or 3 times every 4 years instead of once probably reduces public interest. That’s strictly my speculation though.

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