Archive for August, 2015

The passing scene – August 20, 2015

August 20, 2015

Struggle and Progress: Eric Foner on the abolitionists, Reconstruction and winning “freedom” from the Right, a conversation with Jacobin magazine writers.

Eric Foner

Eric Foner

Historian Eric Foner pointed out that the abolition of slavery was truly a second American Revolution.  It involved the confiscation without compensation of the most valuable form of property at the time—enslaved African people.

The Civil War is sometimes interpreted as a triumph of industrial capitalism over a backward agrarian economy.  Foner said that, although this is true in a way, the pre-Civil War capitalists got along very well with the slaveowners.

The abolitionists included moderates, radicals, wealthy philanthropists, lawbreakers, politicians, former black slaves and racists who opposed slavery because it was harmful to white people.  Although sometimes working at cross-purposes, Foner said their diverse approaches created a synergy that made the movement stronger.   This has lessons for our own time.

The Last Refuge of the Incompetent by John Michael Greer for The Archdruid Report.

John Michael Greer wrote that a successful revolutionary movement will (1) discredit the existing order through relentless propaganda, (2) seek alliances with all those with grievances against the existing order, (3) create alternative institutions of its own and (4) offer a vision of hope, not despair.

In the USA, this program is being carried out not by what Greer called the “green Left,” but the “populist Right”.

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Does any one group speak for black America?

August 19, 2015

One big mistake that white people, especially white liberals like me, make is to anoint some particular group of African-Americans as representatives of all black people.

In the case of people like me, it is naivety and jumping to conclusions.  In other cases, it can be cynicism, a way to divide and rule.

When representatives of #BlackLivesMatter seize a podium, spectators not only have no way of knowing how many black people they represent, they have no way of knowing how many supporters of #BlackLivesMatter they represent, because #BlackLivesMatter is a movement and a Twitter account, not an organization.

I don’t know how representative the guy in the video is, either.

I presume that many or most black people are up in arms about the many times unarmed black people are killed by police.  I presume that many are concerned about Social Security, minimum wage and other issues.   The fact that one group concentrates on one of these issues doesn’t mean the others are unimportant.  There ought to be room for different groups, different priorities and different approaches.

LINKS

Black Lives Matter and The Failure to Build a New Movement by Douglas Williams for South Lawn.

A Short Follow-Up to the Previous Post on Black Lives Matter by Douglas Williams for South Lawn.

What No One Is Saying About the Killings of Blacks in America by Benjamin A. Dixon.

Dear #BlackLivesMatter: We Don’t Need Black Leadership by R.L. Stephens II for Orchestrated Pulse.

A Future for Workers: A Contribution From Black Labor, executive summary of a report by the Black Labor Collaborative.  (Hat tip to Bill Harvey)

The fruits of Reagan’s attacks on the poor

August 19, 2015

Ronald Reagan’s attacks on the minimum wage, families being helped by welfare, those receiving unemployment insurance when the economy failed, became racialized attacks, and not viewed as attacks on the foundation of worker survival.

So in the 1980s, the real value of minimum wage drifted to unprecedented lows, states rolled back eligibility to, and benefit levels for, unemployment insurance and the foundation was laid to attack women who needed help in raising their children to force them into low-wage work.

Without providing any gains to American workers, Reagan mastered the appearance of worker advancement by succeeding not by having wages rise with productivity, as had been the case, but by having wages rise relative to the poor who could not find jobs, or could only find minimum wage jobs.

The silence of the labor movement in the sinking fortunes of the poor meant there was political space, for the first time since the 1930s, to have the economy improve and expand while the poverty rate increased.

==From A Future for Workers: A Contribution From Black Labor(Hat tip to Bill Harvey)

The passing scene – August 19, 2015

August 19, 2015

On the elementary structure of domination: The Bully’s Pulpit by David Graeber for The Baffler.

Schoolyard bullies typically believe they have a right and duty to punish and humiliate those who manifest vulnerability, fear or deviance, and they retroactively justify their actions by the inappropriate ways in which their victims resist, Graeber wrote; this reflects the structure of domination in the larger society.

Algorithms can be a digital star chamber by Frank Pasquale for Aeon.

An algorithm fed into a computer can determine whether you get a job, get credit or get insurance, or what kind.  Probably you don’t know about it.  Probably you can’t appeal the result because arbitrary assumptions processed through a computer are considered “objective.”

Climate Change Threatens Economic Development, World Bank President Jim Yong Kim Says by Julia Glum for International Business Times.   (Hat tip to Hal Bauer)

We’ll see whether he puts the World Bank’s money where his mouth is.

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#BlackLivesMatter and its critics

August 18, 2015

I’ve always taken to heart the Theodore Roosevelt quote about how the man struggling valiantly in the arena deserves more credit than the critic sitting in the grandstands.

I hesitate to criticize the #BlackLivesMatter movement for the same reason I hesitated to criticize the Occupy Wall Street movement, because, whatever their flaws, they’re struggling valiantly in the arena and I’m the critic in the grandstands.

blacklivesmatterB8NekWhat both groups have in common is that they are protest movements, not political movements.  They exist to call attention to injustice.  They do not seek political power to correct injustice themselves.   I do not criticize them for that.

But that means somebody else will have to do the job of enacting the needed laws and seeing that they are enforced.  BLM will always be on the outside, never exercising power or taking responsibility

I’m a liberal middle-class white man, and I am righteously indignant about the routine indignities and occasional mortal danger suffered by poor black people at the hands of police.   But abusive police behavior is not something I think about all the time.   #BlackLivesMatter keeps me from forgetting.

I’m not saying that all police are bad, or that white people are never mistreated by police.   I’m saying that the threat of being mistreated or killed for no good reason by police is not something I have to consider in my daily life, and it is something that black people can’t afford to forget.

John Dewey once said that you don’t have to have the knowledge of a shoemaker to know that your shoe doesn’t fit.   #BlackLivesMatter, unlike Occupy Wall Street, does have specific demands, but I think the movement’s importance is in never allowing the American public—the white American public—people like me—to forget how, so to speak, the shoe pinches poor black people.

thetalk_363_275The way #BlackLivesMatter does that is through its continuing protest demonstrations, but, more much importantly, its documentation of police misconduct through the social media.

Occupy Wall Street never had a formal organization, just people who wanted to join in, and the same is true of #BlackLivesMatter.    It means that individuals can do whatever they see fit in the name of the movement, and there is no central authority with the power to tell them to stop.

The shutdown of Bernie Sanders’ speeches evidently was the action of a few individuals rather than a decision of the leadership.  But, as a matter of strategy, it does make sense for a protest group to concentrate on those who might respond to their protest rather than those who most certainly won’t.  Bernie Sanders did respond.

The best result #BlackLives Matter can hope for is that the powers that be respond to their protest.  But so long as it is merely a protest movement, other people make the decision as to just what that response will be.   Somebody else will have to take the responsibility for turning #BlackLivesMatter goals into law.

LINKS

Who Really Runs #BlackLivesMatter? by Ben Collins for The Daily Beast.

Black Lives Matter and the Failure to Build a Movement by Douglas Williams for South Lawn.

Right Now #BlackLivesMatter Is Wasting Everybody’s Time by Oliver Willis.

How Ferguson and #BlackLivesMatter taught us not to look away by Nicholas D. Mirzoeff for The Conversation.

Why BLM Protesters Can’t Behave by Doug Muder for The Weekly Sift.

The passing scene – August 18, 2015

August 18, 2015

Peculiarities of Russian National Character by Dmitry Orlov for ClubOrlov.

Expansion of Russia Under the Czars.

Dmitry Orlov provided good insight into Russian history and how Russians deal with enemies and invaders.  But he neglected Russian expansionism.   It wasn’t by successful defense that the Russian Tsars acquired one-sixth of the world’s land surface, the largest empire in history except for the short-lived Mongol Empire.

Orlov mentioned President Putin’s offer to European nations to join his Eurasian Economic Union instead of the proposed Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership.  I’m glad that no important European leaders are interested in Putin’s EEU, but Russia and its partners, as exporters of energy and raw materials, would complement Europe’s manufacturing industry, and I presume that Putin’s proposed agreement doesn’t involve special privileges for multinational corporations.

Permaculture and the Myth of Overpopulation by Lisa DePiano for the Permaculture Research Institute.

Environmental degradation is due more to the behavior of rich people than to the number of poor people, and it is due more to unjust systems than to large families.   Lisa DePiano rightly says that people of good will should focus on self-determination, including reproductive rights, and not talk about human population as if it is a problem in wildlife management.

Why Bill Clinton’s Apology and Barack Obama’s Prison Drive-By Token Clemencies Are Election-Year Posturing by Bruce A. Dixon for the Black Agenda Report.

Bill Clinton and Barack Obama, through their ability to relate to African-Americans on the emotional level, have won their votes even though their policies promoted mass incarceration of black people..

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A good movie’s window into Iranian life

August 17, 2015

The 2011 Iranian movie “A Separation” is one of the best movies I ever saw.   It is good in itself, and a good window into life in Iran.

There are at least two kinds of separation depicted in the movie.  One is between husbands and wives.  Another is between the educated middle class and the uneducated lower class.

It begins with a conflict between a educated woman, who wants to leave Iran, and a husband, who is unwilling to leave his sick father.  The wife separates from the husband, and he hires an uneducated woman to look after his father while he is away at work.

The husband comes home one day and finds his father alone and unattended.  The woman comes back, he flies into a rage, something happens outside camera range and she falls and has a miscarriage.  It then is revealed that the woman got a job without the knowledge of her strict Muslim husband, who disapproves of women working outside the home.

Iran is a right-to-life country and an unborn life has the same value as anyone else’s.  The educated woman’s husband is charged with murder.   Two mysteries then need to be cleared up – what really happened off-camera to cause the miscarriage, and why the educated woman left her place of work.

One of the bonuses of watching the movie was the glimpse I had into everyday life in a country I never expect to visit.

In one scene, the elderly father falls in the bathtub, and his caregiver fears it would be a sin for her to see the naked body of a man not her husband.   She picks up a phone and calls a hot line for advice.  An expert on Muslim law tells her that her duty is to help the old man.

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Freight train service connects China to Europe

August 17, 2015

trainRoutePROJ-2300

Some weeks ago a train carrying 80 containers, about as much as a medium-sized container ship, arrived in the Netherlands from China, via Russia, Belarus and Poland.

It reportedly took 22 days.  A container ship would have taken a month for a one-way trip.   The Chinese hope to make the freight service one month for a round trip.

What this signifies is the increasing economic integration of China, Russia and central Asia, the region of the world that is least vulnerable to American air and sea power.

This development is a good thing for the Russian and Chinese people.  It promises greater prosperity with a lesser energy footprint.

It may or may not be a good thing for Russia’s and China’s mainly Muslim subject peoples—the Tatars, Chechens and other minorities in Russia, the Uighurs in China and the subjects of the Russian-backed dictatorships in central Asia.   Ethnic minorities will always be second-class citizens, or worse, within the framework of Chinese and Russian chauvinism.

LINK

Train Through Russia Will Connect Europe and Asia by the Fritzmorgen blog translated for the Southfront blog.

The passing scene – August 17, 2015

August 17, 2015

Seven Myths about the Greek Debt Crisis by Stergios Skaperdas, a University of California economics professor.  (Hat tip to naked capitalism).

An economist argues that (1) default would not be the worst outcome for Greece, (2) the troika (European Central Bank, International Monetary Fund, European Commission) is not trying to rescue Greece, (3) Greece’s problems are not caused by corruption and bad policy, (4) no Greek government could have carried out the troika’s policies, (5) the troika’s policies would not have benefited Greece, (6) exiting the Eurozone would not be catastrophic for Greece and (7) the Greek government in fact does have bargaining power.

Hillary Clinton Doesn’t Care That Much About Abortion Rights by Ted Rall for Counterpunch.

Instead of trying to persuade judges that abortion is a constitutional right, why don’t Hillary Clinton and other liberal Democrats support legislation to guarantee abortion rights?  Ted Rall thinks Democrats hold back because they cynically want to keep abortion alive as a issue.  But maybe they’re just timid.

Clown Genius by Scott Adams.   (Hat tip to Rod Dreher)

The creator of the Dilbert cartoons thinks most people probably would buy a used car from Donald Trump because his campaign demonstrates mastery of the classic techniques of salesmanship.

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It may be too late to stop or slow global warming

August 16, 2015

Click on Climate Change for a transcript.

Global warming may have attained such momentum that human action will not be able to reverse it or even slow it down by very much.

As glaciers and the Arctic ice cap melt, less sunlight is reflected back into space, and the warmer the planet gets.   As storms and drought devastate the land, forests and plant life are destroyed and less carbon dioxide is absorbed.  Some scientists think catastrophic global warming is irreversible.

Anyhow, the U.S. government’s economic strategy is based on fossil fuels—hydrofracking for natural gas and deep ocean drilling and Arctic drilling for natural gas.  The Russian Federation’s economic strategy is based on oil and gas exports, and China doesn’t appear to be ready to burn less coal.

A reversal of course isn’t politically feasible and, at this point, could come too late to do any good.

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I never was a fan of Jon Stewart’s Daily Show

August 16, 2015

A friend of mine never watched TV network news.  Instead he watched Jon Stewart’s Daily Show on Comedy Central, because Stewart said things that the network commentators wouldn’t.

I give Stewart due credit, but I hardly ever watched his show.   I don’t think I would have watched it much even if I still watched TV regularly.

There was something about his self-satisfied smirk that turned me off.   I can’t abide knowing smiles.

stewart-2Stewart’s accomplishment was pointing out the ridiculousness of so much of American politics and journalism.   The problem with that is that treating everything as a joke is a way of maintaining the status quo.   If you take things seriously, people think you fail to get the job.

Now Stewart might justly reply that he is a comedian, and to criticize a comedian for treating everything as a joke is like criticizing the Pope for treating everything as a matter of faith and morals.  Stewart also might reply that it is not his fault that the mainstream news is so lacking in substance that people turn to comedians.

Stewart’s role was as a court jester, who is allowed to say things that others can’t precisely because people don’t take him seriously.   His basic political position was the defense of moderation against extremism, which at the end of the day is also a defense of the status quo.

His basic harmlessness is shown by the fact that celebrities as disparate as Bruce Springsteen, Hillary Clinton, John McCain, John Kerry and Fox News’ Bill O’Reilly all took part in his farewell program.   He was a member of an elite club whose members have more in common with each other than any of them do with me or anybody I know.

LINKS

The Uncertain Legacy of Jon Stewart by Robin Marie on the U.S. Intellectual History blog.  A response.

The Daily Show in the Age of Irony by Johann Neem for The Hedgehog Review.  (Hat tip to Bill Harvey)

What it means to be truly pro-life

August 16, 2015

In 2010, a woman named Sarah Gray gave birth to identical twin boys.  One of them had birth defects and died after a few days.  She and her husband Ross donated the Thomas’s eyes and liver, along with cord blood from Thomas and his twin brother Callum, for scientific research.

A few years later Sarah and Ross Gray learned what use had been made of their child’s remains.

The Schlepens Eye Research Institute in Boston used Ross’s eyes in a study that one day might contribute to a cure for corneal blindness.

Sarah Gray looks at RNA sample from donated retinas

Sarah Gray looks at RNA sample from donated retinas.  Source: Philadelphia Inquirer

Thomas’s retinas were given to the University of Pennsylvania, where they were used in a study that one day might contribute to a cure for retinoblastoma, the most common form of eye cancer in children.   The retina tissue is so valuable that some of it is being saved for future research.

Researchers at the Duke University Center for Human Genetics found subtle genetic differences in the cord blood that might help explain anencephaly, the genetic defect that killed Thomas.  The liver went to a biotech company named Cytonet, which used it to study the best way to freeze liver tissue.

Sarah Gray, who already had worked in public relations for non-profit organizations, became director of marketing for the American Association of Tissue Banks.

The Grays’ decision to donate their baby’s remains for scientific research shows what it means to be truly pro-life.

LINKS

Thomas Gray lived six days, but his life has lasting impact by Michael Vitez for the Philadelphia Inquirer.

Gray’s Donation, a Radiolab broadcast.

Dolphins enjoy surfing

August 15, 2015

Hat tip to kottke.org.

Jeb Bush blames Obama, Hillary Clinton for ISIS

August 15, 2015

Gov. Jeb Bush blamed President Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton for the rise of the bloodthirsty Islamic State (aka ISIS or ISIL) because they abandoned the policies of his brother, President George W. Bush.

In fact, Obama and Clinton contributed to the rise of ISIS by following the policies of George W. Bush.

jebbush-hillaryclintonThe Islamic State’s predecessor, Al Qaeda, had no presence in Saddam Hussein’s Iraq.  Al Qaeda and later ISIS were able to establish themselves in Iraq because the U.S. invasion destroyed the governmental structure of Iraq, and nobody was able to put it back together again.

But didn’t the withdrawal of American forces open the door to ISIS?  Whether it did or not, the withdrawal was begun under an agreement negotiated by President George W. Bush in his last year in office with Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki.   The reason for the agreement was that the American occupation was highly unpopular in both countries.

Realizing this, President Bush stopped listening to Vice President Dick Cheney and replaced Secretary of State Donald Rumsfeld with Robert Gates.   President Barack Obama retained Gates and implemented the Bush agreement.

President Obama’s most important foreign policy innovation was to make interventionism politically sustainable by finding a substitute for American boots on the ground—flying killer drones, Special Forces assassination teams and subsidies for Arab fighters.

During the 14 years since the 9/11 attacks, radical Islamist terrorists have grown stronger, and they gave grown strongest in those countries in which the U.S. military has been most active.  This includes Libya, which Hillary Clinton reduced to the same state of bloody chaos and ISIS-friendly environment as Iraq.

She and Jeb Bush are both war hawks.  She is the more experienced and knowledgeable war hawk, but there is no reason to think either would change the bad course of American foreign policy.

LINKS

Memo to Jeb Bush: It was W’s surge that created ISIL, not Hillary by Juan Cole for Informed Comment.

Republicans Can’t Face the Truth About Iraq by Eric Margolis via Unz Review.  [Added 8/16/2015]

George Bush didn’t know anything about Maliki, but put him in charge of Iraq anyway by Zack Beauchamp for Vox.

The Planned Destruction of Libya by John Wight for Counterpunch.

Hillary, the Ultimate Hawk by David French for National Review.

The fate of the arts and sciences

August 15, 2015

Everybody knows that the percentage of [college] students majoring in English has plummeted since the 1960s. 

But the percentage majoring in the physical sciences—physics, chemistry, geology, astronomy and so forth—has fallen even more, by some 60 percent.

As of 2013, only 1.5 percent of students graduated with a degree in one of these subjects, and only 1.1 percent in math.

At most colleges, the lion’s share of undergraduates major in vocational fields: business, communications, education, health.

But even at elite institutions, the most popular majors are the practical, or as [David] Brooks might say, the commercial ones: economics, biology, engineering and computer science.

It is not the humanities per se that are under attack.  It is learning: learning for its own sake, curiosity for its own sake, ideas for their own sake.

==The Neoliberal Arts by William Deresiewicz in Harper’s magazine.  Available to subscribers only.

A potential U.S.-Russia clash in the Arctic

August 14, 2015

saker-arctic-860x1024The Russian Federation has literally laid claim to the North Pole.  This is not a joke.

As the Arctic ice cap melts, Arctic oil is becoming available to drillers, and the USA, the Russian Federation, Canada, Norway and Denmark (which owns Greenland) have conflicting claims.

Unlike in the artificial crisis in Ukraine, this is a real national interest of the United States—at least until we American end our dependence on oil and other fossil fuels, which I hope will happen but don’t expect anytime soon.

A pro-Russian blogger called The Saker included this map in a post about Russian military capabilities in the Arctic, which are strong and long-standing.

I don’t think anybody in Moscow or Washington is crazy enough to start a nuclear war over Arctic oil.  But if both countries have nuclear-armed submarines in the Arctic to back up their claims, there is a danger of accidental war.

Canada is second only to Russia in the extent of its Arctic coastline, and the economic strategy of Canada’s Harper administration, like that of the Obama administration, is based on developing oil and gas resources.  I wonder whether Canada will join forces with the USA in a confrontation with Russia.

The way to avoid conflict is by means of negotiation and compromise, but that requires good will and a certain amount of trust among all concerned.

LINK

Russia Moves to Protect Her Arctic Interests by The Saker for the Unz Review.

The Battle for the Arctic by J. Hawk for SouthFront.  The view of another pro-Russian blogger.

The sinking of the Canadian Navy by Scott Gilmore for MacLean’s.  [Added later]  Canada may not have a sufficient naval force to assert its claims in the Arctic without backup from the US.

The passing scene – August 14, 2015

August 14, 2015

Will Trans Pacific trade deal go up in smoke over anti-tobacco proposal? by Adam Beshudi for POLITICO.

The latest word is that Trans-Pacific Partnership negotiators have agreed to exclude the tobacco industry from provisions giving corporations the right to sue governments before private tribunals.  Tobacco companies have successfully sued countries under other trade agreements over restrictions on cigarette sales and advertising.  This is a deal-killer for Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky and others from tobacco-growing states.

Torturing Chelsea Manning in Prison by Stephen Lendman for Counterpunch.

The imprisoned whistle-blower is being repeatedly put in indefinite solitary confinement.  His offenses include using a tube of toothpaste past its expiration date.

The 10 Trump Rules by Barry Lefsetz for The Big Picture.

Donald Trump understands how American politics has changed, and the other candidates don’t.

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Flaws in the student loan repayment plan

August 14, 2015

studentloansvsotherloans6a013

The federal government has an income-based repayment plan to help college graduates with student loan debt keep their repayments within manageable limits.

The problem, according to Jonathan Garber of Business Insider, is that some people who use the plan could wind up worse off than they otherwise would be.

Under the plan, borrowers could limit their payments to 10 to 20 percent of their discretionary income, and then have the whole loan forgiven after 20 to 25 years.

Although this sounds good, Garber pointed out that when the repayment is less than required to service the debt, the total debt will increase.  Will that matter if the debt is forgiven in the end?  Yes, he wrote, because the forgiven debt is taxable income.  He gave a hypothetical but reasonable example in which someone with a moderate income could have $19,000 added to his or her tax bill.

Subsidizing borrowers does not solve the real problem, which is colleges charging tuition based on what the traffic will bear.  Easing the debt burden increases the amount that the traffic will bear.

The solution, in my opinion, is for community colleges and state universities to provide free or affordable education, as they once did.  Private universities would either have to match this or to show they provide extra value.

LINKS

Problem with government offer to forgive student-loan debt by Jonathan Garber for Business Insider.

How heroin came to middle-class white America

August 13, 2015

DREAMLAND: The True Tale of America’s Opiate Epidemic by Sam Quinones is the story of how heroin addiction spread through rural and suburban white America.

Dreamland was the name of a popular swimming pool in Portsmouth, Ohio, a small city on the Ohio river that once was the center of the U.S. shoe manufacturing industry.

The pool closed as the shoe industry declined, but Portsmouth gave birth to a new industry—the mass prescription of  legal but addictive pain medications such as Purdue Pharmaceuticals’ OxyContin.

Regular practitioners were misled into thinking that OxyContin, a biochemical twin of heroin, and related were harmless, but industry really took off with the spread of “pill mills”—medical practices that were limited to the prescription of pills for alleged pain/

DreamlandQuinones51pEBThe business of addictive prescription drugs is one part of the story Quinones told.  The other more startling part is how poor people in the small Mexican town of Xalisco (population about 20,000) created a nationwide distribution franchise system which spread their locally-cooked black tar heroin across the United States.

The Xalisco Boys, as police came to call them, did not carry weapons, did not use drugs themselves, and never sold to black people (whom they thought were violent).   They emphasized product quality, good customer service and competitive prices, with discounts for new customers.

They created an equivalent to a pizza delivery franchise, in which customers could call a certain number and have heroin delivered to a certain spot.   The drivers were inconspicuous, kept out of trouble and drove nondescript vehicles.

They put heroin in balloons, which they kept in their mouths.  When police stopped them, they swallowed the balloons, which they were later able to recover, with the heroin intact.

As they moved out from their original base in the San Fernando Valley, they avoided areas where violent drug gangs operated. Instead they moved into areas where prescription painkillers such as OxyContin were heavily sold, and offered their product as a cheaper and easier-to-obtain substitute.

The Mexican drug cartels and urban criminal gangs are responsible for much of the heroin sold in the United States, Quinones wrote.  They control the heroin trade in Chicago, Atlanta, northern California and many other urban centers, he said; very little heroin comes from Asia any more.   The Xalisco Boys took heroin where the established traffickers never thought to go.

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The environmental scene – August 13, 2015

August 13, 2015

global-warming-planetThe Point of No Return: Climate Change Nightmares Are Already Here by Eric Holthaus for Rolling Stone.

The reality of global warming: We’re all frogs in a pot of slowly boiling water by Roz Pidcock for Reuters.

Risk, Climate Change and Black Swans by John Atcheson for Common Dreams.

California’s Drought Is So Bad That Thousands Are Living Without Running Water by Julia Lurie for Mother Jones.

How the Midwest’s Corn Farms Are Cooking the Planet by Tom Philpott for Rolling Stone.

Dupont and the Chemistry of Deception by Sharon Lerner for The Intercept.

The Earthquake That Will Devastate the Pacific Northwest by Kathryn Schulz for The New Yorker.  (Hat tip to Hal Bauer)  Not a human-made problem, but that doesn’t mean it can be ignored.

I spent a weekend at Google talking with nerds about charity.  I came away worried by Dylan Matthews for Vox.   The irrelevance of some of Silicon Valley’s best minds.

Seeds That Defied Romans, Pirates and Nazis by Robert Krulwich for National Geographic.  The resiliency of life.

 

The Republican scene – August 13, 2015

August 13, 2015

The War Against Change by John Michael Greer for The Archdruid Report.

Greer argues that the Democratic Party is the party of a failed status quo, except maybe for Bernie Sanders, who wants to restore a few of the New Deal programs of the past.  It is the Republican Party that is the party of change—change for the worse.

Inside the GOP Clown Car by Matt Taibbi for Rolling Stone.

RepublicanpartylogoThe Republican candidates in Iowa are trying to out-crazy Donald Trump, and failing.

The 10 Trump Rules by Barry Lefsetz for The Big Picture.  [Added 8/14/2015]

Donald Trump understands how American politics has changed, and the other candidates don’t.

Jeb Bush and Carlos Slim by Steve Sailer for The Unz Review.

The foreign policies of George H.W. Bush, George W. Bush and Jeb Bush are all shaped by the Bush family’s business ties with Mexican business and political dynasties.

Election 2016: Jeb Bush Leveraged Political Connections for Clients and Allies After Leaving Florida Governorship, Emails Show by Andrew Perez, David Sirota and Matthew Cunningham-Cook for International Business Times.  [Added 8/15/2015]

Scott Walker Gets Schooled by His Neighbor by Eleanor Clift for The Daily Beast.  [Added 8/14/2015]

Democratic Minnesota outperforms Republican Wisconsin.

Scott Walker wants to fire academics with whom he disagrees politically by Michael Mann and Randi Weingarten for The Guardian.

Chris Christie vs. Rand Paul by Andrew Napolitano for The Unz Review.

Chris Christie doesn’t care about the Fourth Amendment or the rest of the Bill of Rights.

How Bobby Jindal Broke the Lousiana Economy by Stephanie Grace for Newsweek. [Added 8/14/2015]

Ted Cruz Wants to Subject Supreme Court Justices to Political Elections by A.J. Vicens for Mother Jones.

Rick Perry Is on the Payroll of His Super-PAC’s Biggest Sugar Daddy by Patrick Caldwell for Mother Jones.

Sam Brownback guts Kansas even more: This is life under America’s worst Republican governor by Paul Rosenberg for Salon.  [Added 8/14/2015]

 

The right not to have one’s feelings hurt

August 12, 2015

I read a lot about the new intellectual culture on college campuses, and how it is becoming dangerous to say anything that will hurt the feelings of any member of a well-organized minority group.

I don’t know how seriously to take this.  I have friends who are college teachers, and I never hear them speak about any of this stuff.

But to the extent that such attitudes exist, as Greg Lukianoff and Jonathan Haidt point out in The Atlantic, it does not help students prepare for the rough and tumble of life after graduation.  They note that the federal government has defined freedom from “unwelcome” speech as a civil right.

Federal anti-discrimination statutes regulate on-campus harassment and unequal treatment based on sex, race, religion, and national origin. 

Until recently, the Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights acknowledged that speech must be “objectively offensive” before it could be deemed actionable as sexual harassment—it would have to pass the “reasonable person” test. 

Source: Reason.com

Source: Reason.com

To be prohibited, the office wrote in 2003, allegedly harassing speech would have to go “beyond the mere expression of views, words, symbols or thoughts that some person finds offensive.”

But in 2013, the Departments of Justice and Education greatly broadened the definition of sexual harassment to include verbal conduct that is simply “unwelcome.” 

Out of fear of federal investigations, universities are now applying that standard—defining unwelcome speech as harassment—not just to sex, but to race, religion, and veteran status as well.

Everyone is supposed to rely upon his or her own subjective feelings to decide whether a comment by a professor or a fellow student is unwelcome, and therefore grounds for a harassment claim.  Emotional reasoning is now accepted as evidence.

via The Atlantic.

Without knowing specifics, I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that many of the universities who protect students from “unwelcome” speech also make the same students pay sky-high tuition and have the students taught by underpaid adjuncts.

Source: Sirandal

Source: Sirandal

Nor would I be surprised if certain big corporations decided to protect employees from “unwelcome” speech while at the same time paying substandard wages, fighting all-out against unions and buying supplies from foreign sweatshops that employ child labor.

In fact, speech codes could be an effective weapon against union organizers and other malcontents, especially those who come from rough backgrounds and never learned the new etiquette.  Nearly everyone has said something “welcome,” or can be accused of having said something “unwelcome.”

LINKS

How Trigger Warnings Are Hurting Mental Health on Campus by Greg Lukianoff and Jonathan Haidt for The Atlantic.

Microaggressions & Mind-Forg’d Manacles by Rod Dreher for The American Conservative.

‘Microaggressions’ and ‘Trigger Warnings,’ Meet Real Trauma by Chris Hernandez for The Federalist.

Does the USA need less infrastructure?

August 12, 2015

I’ve posted a good bit about the deteriorating U.S. infrastructure and the need to do something about it. Paul Trombino, the head of the Iowa Department of Transportation, raises a possibility I hadn’t thought about, which is that the U.S. has more infrastructure than is really needed.

Iowaopenroad-1He suggests a planned triage: Determine which roads, bridges and other facilities are necessary and make sure to keep them in good repair. Get rid of the rest.

As someone brought up in the old expanding America, I hate to think of public policy in terms of managed contraction. But maybe this is what we have come to. It is better than allowing the system as a whole to deteriorate.

Republicans in Congress have balked at funding the Federal Highway Trust Fund, which is needed to keep American roads, bridges and public rail systems in good repair.

But I bet that if the Department of Transportation submitted a list of highways, bridges and public transit systems not worth maintaining, they wouldn’t like that, either.

LINKS

Iowa DOT Chief: The system is going to shrink by Charles Marohn for Strong Towns.

Room at the bottom

August 12, 2015

imrs

Large numbers of Americans—especially those of us born into poor, black families—experience poverty at some point in our lives.  It is also true that large numbers—especially those of us born into affluent, white families—experience wealth at some point in our lives.

If somebody starts out in life poor and winds up making a middle-class income or at least a living wage, that is  not a bad thing.  It’s different if somebody starts out in life poor, attains a middle-class income or living wage and then is laid off at age 55 and never again gets a full-time job, no matter how hard they try.  I know people in both categories.

Similarly if people rise or fall in income due to their work ethic and competence, or lack of it, that is not a bad thing.  If they are economically insecure due to trends in the economic or corporate policies beyond their control, that is another thing.  Among the people I know, the latter is much more common than the former.

LINKS

The remarkably high odds you’ll be poor at some point in your life by Emily Badger and Christopher Ingraham for The Washington Post.  (Hat tip to Bill Harvey)

Three in Five Americans Have Experienced Poverty-Level Incomes by Nathan Collins for Pacific Standard.  (Hat tip to Bill Harvey)

Have teenagers lost interest in summer jobs?

August 12, 2015

 d7dfdc782bc4d1a6970a09e3ffc40e73Source: Vox.

ft_15_0618_summerjobs_420px.png.CROP.promovar-mediumlargeSource: Pew Research.

Somewhat fewer teenagers from affluent families are interested in working summer jobs than in the past.  And more teenagers than in the past are attending school during the summer.

But another reason fewer teenagers are working summer jobs is that they can’t compete with the growing numbers of adults who want those same jobs.

LINKS

Why American Teens Aren’t Working Summer Jobs Anymore by Peter Gosselin for Bloomberg News.

The fading of the teen summer job by Drew DeSilver for Pew Research.