Business

More trade disasters ahead

In our last discussion of the dangers posed by the current round of free trade deals under consideration in the US, Europe and Asia a while back, we noted (as have others) the potential of these deals to undermine domestic legislation if that legislation negatively affects the potential profitability of a company. Both NAFTA and the World Trade Organization (WTO) have this sort of mechanism, wherein a company affected by domestic legislation can appeal to the WTO to be compensated for the potential financial impact, or ask for fines against the country found guilty of trade agreement violations. This mechanism of trade agreements is clearly financial blackmail, designed by multinational corporations (mostly American, but a fair number of European and Asian companies as well) to prevent domestic legislation covering stuff like pesky environmental regulations, or recurring European attempts to ban beef hormones. This sounds very bizarre, of course—who in their right mind would tolerate this? But the US does, as do all signatories to the agreements that created the WTO and NAFTA. As we have just been reminded. Continue reading

atlanta march bernie

Do the right thing: Hillary’s “southern firewall” is about to vanish

atlanta march bernie

photo courtesy of demotix.com

Dear Ta-Nehisi Coates: Senator Bernie Sanders is an honest man.

If you ask him a direct question, he will answer. If he doesn’t know, he will admit that he doesn’t know. He will tell you he wants to raise taxes. He will tell you he does not want to fight a war in the middle east. These are things other politicians will never admit, even if they are true, because in modern American political culture, the prevailing wisdom is that it is better to lie to the voters and win under false pretenses than to speak an unpopular truth and lose. Continue reading

Energy

Where there’s political smoke, there’s the oil and gas lobby

CATEGORY: CongressWell, isn’t that special: Congress passed a $1.1 trillion spending bill before heading off for a three-week holiday vacation. (You get that much time off?) Brinkmanship is avoided; threats to shut down the government over (this time) Syrian refugees or the Puerto Rican debt crisis are avoided (or, more likely, postponed).

But it’s a bad bill for any president serving in the next few decades. Those presidents, irrespective of party, will have to deal with the physical consequences of human-induced climate disruption as well as the political repercussions of not meeting the Paris accords.

That’s because provisions buried in the spending resolution hamper the ability of future presidents to cope with a warming climate. And that’s because your representatives caved (as usual) to the oil and gas industry lobby.

As Bill Moyers and Michael Winship report, each $1 the oil and gas lobby spent in 2013 and 2014 returned $103 in subsidies. The industry spent $326 million to lobby Congress. In return it received $33.7 billion in government favors.
Continue reading

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For 2016, re-elect Andrew Shepherd: Fiction trumps the Republican reality

the_american_president_28movie_poster29In my favorite bad movie, The American President, Michael Douglas as the fictional President Andrew Shepherd confronts his Republican challenger’s claims about Shepherd’s character.

We have serious problems to solve, and we need serious people to solve them. And whatever your particular problem is, I promise you, Bob Rumson is not the least bit interested in solving it. He is interested in two things, and two things only: Making you afraid of it, and telling you who’s to blame for it. That, ladies and gentlemen, is how you win elections.

You gather a group of middle-aged, middle-class, middle-income voters who remember with longing an easier time, and you talk to them about family and American values and character. … You scream about patriotism and tell them [who’s] to blame for their lot in life … [emphasis added]

Now remove Bob Rumson’s name and insert the name of any of the recent CNN main stage GOP presidential candidates (or even Wolf Blitzer, as he goaded them into ISIS hysteria). Continue reading

refugees

Refugees: an American fail

refugees

image courtesy of LobeLog.com

We have accepted more than 100,000 Somali refugees since 1991. In the last 25 years, 50 of them have become terrorists. That’s 0.05%, which is good, but not good enough for us. We want zero terrorists, including those who go back to Africa to kill people. We don’t want African people to die either. That is our strength, no quarter, no shadowy corner where the darkness can hide from the light. Continue reading

aging-infrastructure

Clinton’s infrastructure spending plan too little to tackle multi-trillion-dollar crisis

News item:

Hillary Clinton on Sunday announced her plan for infrastructure spending—a “down payment on our future,” she said—and it comes with a hefty price tag: $275 billion.

At a campaign event in Boston, the frontrunner for the Democratic presidential nomination called for an increase in federal infrastructure spending over five years and the establishment of an infrastructure bank—two proposals that she says will create jobs and repair the U.S.’s crumbling highways and bridges.

aging-infrastructureJust $275 billion? That’s only $55 billion annually. That’s not enough to address the ailments of the nation’s roads and bridges — let alone everything else. The Federal Highway Administration argues $170 billion is needed each year to address safety issues and performance. Federal, state, and local investment, the American Society of Civil Engineers says, amounts to only $91 billion each year. Meanwhile, bad roads cost Americans more than $100 billion annually in wasted time and fuel.

Continue reading

A belated lesson for Ted Cruz on speaking for the people

It helps when more people are behind you. How’s the view from under the bus?

ICYMI: Politico 9/28 – Cruz sternly rebuked by GOP

On Monday night, Cruz’s colleagues ignored his attempt to disrupt Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s efforts to fund the government without attacking Planned Parenthood. In an unusual rebuke, even fellow Republicans denied him a “sufficient second” that would have allowed him a roll call vote.

Then, his Republican colleagues loudly bellowed “no” when Cruz sought a voice vote, a second repudiation that showed how little support Cruz has: Just one other GOP senator — Utah’s Mike Lee — joined with Cruz as he was overruled by McConnell and his deputies.

Life must be truly surreal for him these days. I mean: Continue reading

gazprom

Chill, baby, chill: Arctic oil exploration and climate security

gazprom

image courtesy of gazprom.com

My wife’s engagement ring contains a marquis cut diamond appraised at $2000. I bought it at a pawn shop for $600. The pawn broker was ready to shoot me dead if I tried to steal it. When I paid him the $600 he was asking, he got teary eyed, ransacked his back room for a jewelry box, admitted he would have taken $550 because he could tell I am a good man, and promised that she would have no choice but to marry me in the face of that sparkling gem. It is a thing of beauty, no doubt.

Diamonds are plentiful and relatively indestructible. The second hand market is glutted with diamonds that no one wants because, without the sentimental value, they are comparatively cheap. Oil is not like that. Once it is consumed it exists only as a cloud of excrement. Our collective cloud of excrement has become a life-threatening problem as a result of economic forces set in motion by the General Motors streetcar conspiracy, in which five companies were convicted of conspiring to destroy electric-powered mass transit in favor of oil-powered transportation. Continue reading

Monticello_Reflection

Land of the free, be brave.

Monticello_Reflection

photo credit commons.wikimedia.org

I am a proud Democrat. I think the Democratic Party started with a Virginia planter and Renaissance man named Thomas Jefferson. I am not proud of TJ for owning slaves. Slavery is an abomination, the antithesis of everything for which the Democratic Party stands. Jefferson himself was an abolitionist, describing slavery as holding “a wolf by the ear, and we can neither hold him, nor safely let him go.” He also believed that emancipation would result in a large scale race war which would destroy America, his beloved experiment in liberty.

I believe otherwise. I believe that if one allows a man to stop being a wolf and become a fellow Renaissance man, he will do exactly that. I believe this has been proven time and again during the intervening centuries. I am not, nor have I ever been, a member of the Communist Party. I have read Max Weber. I understand that every moment is valuable, not only in the present, but also for the fruits it may bear, properly invested, in the future. Continue reading

The fearless that Pope Francis displayed in his papal encyclical letter on global warming flies in the face of cynicism that many experience about institutions. (Photo: Wikipedia)

Pope Francis blesses environment, McKibben gives Pope his blessing

Laudato Si’, the papal encyclical letter written by Pope Francis, is helping to move global warming to the forefront of the world’s consciousness.

The fearless that Pope Francis displayed in his papal encyclical letter on global warming flies in the face of cynicism that many experience about institutions. (Photo: Wikipedia)

The fearlessness that Pope Francis displayed in his papal encyclical letter on global warming flies in the face of cynicism that many experience about institutions. (Photo: Wikipedia)

Recent years have exposed the emptiness of the free market ideology — arguably a theology — and U.S. intervention. In turn American voters have staged some dramatic about-faces: from George W. Bush to Barack Obama (or our idealized version of him before he proceeded to continue and even double-down on — surveillance — some of Bush’s policies); from Scott Brown to Elizabeth Warren; and Mike Bloomberg to Bill de Blasio. But none of these can compare with the series of popes culminating in the ossified Benedict XVI to Francis, who didn’t take long to reveal himself as a champion of the dispossessed (and I’m speaking as a former Catholic to whom no love was lost on the church). Continue reading

Wage_stagnation

American Exceptionalism: It’s the economy, stupid

Wage_stagnation

Image courtesy of Pew Research

My grandfather was a union-buster at Hanes Dye and Finishing Company in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. He got his degree on the GI bill after World War Two and worked his way up through the company, all the way to executive vice-president. He was one promotion away from the presidency. He could have made Hanes Dye the best chemical company in the world. Instead they made him the straw boss. Continue reading

Rail_map_of_China

Iran Deal: open letter to Congress

Rail_map_of_China

image courtesy of wikipedia.org

Dear Sir or Madam,

Thank you for your service to our country. As you know, President Obama’s historic peace accord with Iran is in jeopardy. Granted, we could smash Iran into little pieces without very much effort at all. However, to do so would precipitate a catastrophic descent into world war, destabilizing our military hegemony and costing millions or billions of lives. It would also place America firmly in the historical category of hubristic villain states, and could very well bring about our downfall, if not our complete destruction. A vote against the Iran deal is a vote for that second option. Continue reading

greece-flag

Greece votes “No,” leaving us where?

When Yanis Varoufakis left academia to take up his position as Greece’s finance minister after the far-left electoral victory which brought Syriza to power, he said words to the effect that – if things didn’t work out – he could always go back to university.

“I mean, I really don’t want to be in this office … I will go back to my book about Europe, which is half-finished. It’s very difficult to find an ending when I am still in this job.”

I took away from that soundbite that he, akin with many of his ivory-tower colleagues, is unsuited for the real world and would abandon the consequences of his actions as soon as he got bored.

Today, he did just that, saying, “I wear the creditors’ loathing with pride.” Continue reading

ArtSunday

Erskine Caldwell’s Tobacco Road: maybe Southerners aren’t merely caricatures…

Reading Caldwell’s Tobacco Road is reminiscent of watching an episode of Dukes of Hazzard and reading Flannery O’Connor at the same time… 

First, an anecdote:

Tobacco Road by Erskine Caldwell (image courtesy Goodreads)

Sometime back in my graduate school days I ran into an article in which the scholar spent a number of pages complaining that Charles Dickens didn’t create characters – rather, he created caricatures, exaggerated depictions of humanity. While I saw the guy’s point, it didn’t make me love Dickens any less. It seems to me Dickens’ caricatures (whether an Ebeneezer Scrooge or a Samuel Pickwick) vibrate with more of this thing we call life than most “realistic” literary characters (I’m looking at you, Emma Bovary).

Another anecdote:

I was a voracious reader as a child. Growing up as I did in the South, where for too many folks “reading” consisted of a) checking on how the Tarheels or Gamecocks or Cavaliers did, or b) reading (and usually badly misinterpreting) the Bible, my interests in books and learning made me both an anomaly and an object of suspicion, especially among my peers.

It also allowed me access to secret, forbidden worlds. Like the world of Erskine Caldwell. Continue reading

bernie

War and economics: where is Bernie Sanders’ 12th step?

There’s much to like about Bernie Sanders, but can he really help us kick the war habit?

Occupy Democrats and US Uncut have a handy macro going around that highlights Bernie’s 11 point economic agenda. It’s big. It’s important. It’s to be lauded. And if we’re not to have Bernie, it’s to be emulated. But we’ve also seen the devastating effect war has had on our economy, to say nothing of the lives lost to our wayward military adventurism. Below you’ll find my own reasons for supporting this 11-point economic plan as well as some serious consideration of his missing 12th point. Continue reading

Congress

Alcee Hastings can kiss my working class lily-white ass

Don’t understand me too quickly. It’s because of the way he disparages black Americans

Rep. Alcee Hastings (D-FL), thinks that Congress and its staffers deserve a raise. First, to be sure, entry-level staffers make less than $30,000/year, but they hardly represent all staffers, many of whom do very well for themselves. Congresstitutes, on the other hand, make $174,000/year plus some rather enviable benefits.

For that matter, on a list of the ten poorest Congresstocrats, good ol’ Alcee comes in 8th poorest with a net worth of $2.23 million, to say nothing of that teeny weeny salary of his. Poor Steve Scalise, hobnobber with Duke-inspired hatemongers that he is, at least has the decency to get by as the poorest of the poor with a net worth of only $671,000.

Can we all please cry these folks a river or three? Continue reading

Journalism

You, too, can be a journalist (or a corporate message control specialist)

I asked my students as the semester ended: “How many of you do not want to be journalists?”

Most raised a hand, albeit timidly. (I am, after all, a professor of journalism.)

“How many of you wish to work in PR or advertising?”

Several raised their hands. I smiled – in the evil way they say I do when I’m setting them up for the kill.

“If you plan to work in PR and advertising, then I’ll bet you’re going to be working as a journalist,” I said.

Confused looks ensued.

Suppose they take jobs with a mattress company, thinking they’ll be pushing sleep products — writing ads, doing media buys, all the sorts of things PR and advertising flacks do.

But at Casper, a start-up company, they’ll likely be working as journalists. Continue reading