I am sure am glad Obama opened up offshore oil drilling off the Atlantic Coast. What could possibly go wrong?
On the other hand, it's about time Americans saw the cost of their obsession with oil. Unfortunately, like with the Exxon Valdez in Alaska, it will affect one of the nation's most important wildlife habitats, the extremely fragile wetlands of Louisiana. If this happened in Nigeria or Venezuela or Saudi Arabia, no one in America would know. And most wouldn't care if they did.
Friday, April 30, 2010
I am sure am glad Obama opened up offshore oil drilling off the Atlantic Coast. What could possibly go wrong?
Thursday, April 29, 2010
I'm in Ireland for the next 10 days or so. I am here for a conference. After the conference, I am going to see a bit of Dublin and then somewhere else. A few stray notes:
1. We are all pretty familiar with the fact that American stars do weird commercials overseas. However, I was somewhat unprepared to see a giant billboard for an ice cream company starring Benicio Del Toro as a suave sexy thief who apparently uses his criminal mind to steal creamsicles.
2. Wow, the district in Dublin catering to 21 year old tourists who come to Ireland looking for an "authentic" Irish experience is gross. Even compared to the worst tourist districts I've seen in other places, the Temple Bar district in Dublin is really lame. Anyone who goes there should rethink their priorities. Sadly, you kind of have to walk through it to get from one part of the city to another, but maybe that's a good thing. We can all see it and be thankful that we aren't the stupid kind of tourists. Unless we are. And then we should feel shame and self-loathing.
3. While the atmosphere of the Dublin pub is rightfully legendary, the beer selection is horrible. Perhaps I'm biased because I don't think Guinness is a particularly great beer. But it's standardization, standardization, standardization. Each bar seems to have the following: several taps for Guiness, one for Smithwick's, and then 1 or 2 for Carlsberg, Heineken, Beck's, Coors' Light, and Budweiser.
This is not good. Everyone thinks Guinness is a great beer. And although I am not a huge fan, who am I to argue? However, the Guinness' hegemony is a disaster for Irish beer. Its success must have shut down hundreds of breweries throughout Ireland. Is it good that an entire nation's beer tradition be centered around a single brew? I can't imagine that it is. The crushing of independence and innovation only stagnates culture. The equivalent is every American drinking Budweiser.
Almost equally disturbing is the spread of mediocre lagers like Carlsberg and Heineken. While I have nothing particularly against either of those brews, they are also quite unremarkable. Why can't the Irish brew beers just as good?
On the other hand, given the number of people paying 5 Euros for a bottle of Budweiser, that Carlsberg is looking pretty good....
Also, I haven't seen anyone serving Harp yet. Is it a beer created solely for the American market?
4. I kind of like that the first meal I ate in Ireland was a Malaysian soup. Oh globalization, what can't you solve?
This TPM piece got me thinking. They ask, what in the world happened to Arizona? In 2008, it seemed on the verge of swinging to the Democrats and perhaps would of had the Republican nominee not come from the state. Today, not only has it passed a racist and unconstitutional immigration bill, but a whole series of other insane right-wing bills.
But did anything happen to Arizona in the last 18 months that would so drastically change Arizona politics? No, not really. And I will get to that in a minute. But what I found most interesting about the piece is how big national news organizations, including progressive blogs, are so tone-deaf to local issues. I'm not really blaming them for this; I understand their interests and their audience. But the intense focus on national issues and national legislation gets in the way of subtlety and context. TPM thinks Arizona was becoming a more progressive state because they almost voted for Obama. But is a vote for Obama and a vote for racist anti-immigrant statues really that much of a discontinuity?
Progressive sites (and the media more broadly) love repeating Tip O'Neill's mantra that all politics are local. O'Neill was right about that. But the national news media doesn't really understand what that means. More broadly, I don't think today's Democratic party really understands much about what that means.
Arizona has been one of our most secretly right-wing white supremacist states for a long time. There's a reason a guy like Barry Goldwater came out of Arizona. Although the state actually created a very progressive state constitution in 1912, soon after statehood, conservative elements took over. These people essentially thought of Mexicans like white people in the South thought of blacks--cheap exploitable labor with no right to civil liberties or human rights. They rounded up Mexican-Americans, including American citizens, and kicked them out of the country during the Great Depression. They lobbied to ensure that New Deal labor legislation would not cover farm labor. When they needed Mexican labor again after World War II, they pushed for the Bracero Program, which allowed for guestworkers from Mexico. But they treated those Mexican farmworkers like slaves, often not paying them, allowing them to die of heat stroke, putting them in substandard housing, etc.
On top of this, after World War II, Arizona began attracting crowds of old retirees, centering in new Phoenix suburbs like Sun City. These people from other parts of the nation had no experience with Mexicans, but they clearly saw race in terms of white supremacy and had little problem entering into Arizona's established race relations.
But just because these people are racists doesn't mean they approve of the war in Iraq or weren't disturbed by the financial collapse. And it doesn't mean they don't believe in New Deal economic policy. It's quite simple to vote for Obama but also vote for a Republican state legislator who stirs up local fears about immigration, gun rights, or abortion. It might not make sense to a partisan like myself, but millions of people do this.
But what seems self-evident to me does not to those who focus obsessively on national political trends. Arizona has suffered from economic crisis more profoundly than most states. But most of those legislators in Arizona weren't elected as a response to that crisis. Most have been there for a long time, passing these crazy bills. But before 2009, they were vetoed by Governor Janet Napolitano. But when Obama picked Napolitano to be Secretary of Homeland Security, right-wing Attorney General Jan Brewer took over, giving the crazies power where it really counts.
I think modern Democrats do a particularly poor job understanding the importance of local politics. Republicans get this. They understood how to build a conservative movement beginning in the 1950s--take over the school boards and local offices and work up from there. They still do a better job of mobilizing people for local elections than Democrats. Some of this certainly has to do with an easier to reach demographic. But a lot of it is institutional. Look at the Democratic Party before Howard Dean's 50 state strategy. The Democrats were just punting half the nation, not only on a national but a local level. When I lived in Knoxville, Tennessee, the local Democrats never bothered running candidates for many offices. They thought--why bother, it will just hurt our influence with the Republican officials.
Moreover, Democrats, including the big progressive blog sites, look at local trends through national eyes. This leads to the kind of misunderstanding we are seeing in analysis of Arizona. When Tom Daschle lost his senate seat to John Thune, it wasn't South Dakota voters rejecting Daschle's policies. It was that they were pissed because they felt Daschle had abandoned his home state, in fact claiming Maryland (I think) as his home state on some tax form or some such thing. When Scott Brown defeated Martha Coakley to replace Ted Kennedy, some of that had to do with right-wing organizing, but a lot of it had to do with the fact that Martha Coakley ran the worst campaign in modern memory. These things are local. Looking at them through the lenses of national politics can help us find interesting trends, but they provide little understanding for what's going on in a particular place. When you get to the level of state legislatures and ballot initiatives, the national lenses provide almost no understanding at all.
A site like TPM can find people who do understand the local scene. There are many excellent sites dedicated to local politics. Each state has several. Some are great, such as Texas' Burnt Orange Report. I will say though that these sites often get caught up in the hothouse atmosphere of politics and don't provide a lot of room for analysis and understanding.
But there are scholars removed from the political atmosphere who do understand the history and culture of places. I am no expert on Arizona, but there are several states I do know pretty well where I could provide useful analysis. And there are a lot of people like me out there who could do a great job. Rather than asking out loud what has happened to Arizona, why not go find someone who can tell you?
Wednesday, April 28, 2010
Tuesday, April 27, 2010
Monday, April 26, 2010
-Many are aware that Colombia has been in a civil war for 40+ years, but the ongoing process of electoral processes sometimes obscures just how violent Colombia still is. In the last 8 years (2002-2010), 20,915 people in Colombia have died as a direct result of its ongoing war. Stop and think about that: 20,915 people. That's nearly 18,000 more than those the Pinochet regime killed in 17 years; that's 10,000 more than the number of people killed in Brazil's favelas in twelve years. That's a depressing but important reminder that the war in Colombia is ongoing, it is real, and is still extremely violent.
-In Uruguay, former foreign minister Juan Carlos Blanco (who served during Uruguay's dictatorship in the 1970s and 1980s) was sentenced to twenty years in prison for his role in the disappearance of a Venezuelan teacher in 1976, marking yet another victory against dictatorship-era officials in Uruguay.
Sunday, April 25, 2010
Rodger has an excellent piece on the horrible damage of toilet paper on the environment. Read the whole thing, but here's one statistic that should alarm all of us:
The Natural Resources Defense Council estimates that toilet paper accounts for about 15% of deforestation worldwide.
Maybe along with fighting to save the Amazon and restricting the growth of palm oil plantations in Malaysia, we should reform our own bathroom behavior. Use less, use recycled.
Remember, environmental destruction often happens because of consumer demand. Don't drive an SUV and complain about climate change. Don't fight to save forests and then go through a roll of toilet paper every two days. Every time you wipe yourself, you are destroying the world's ability to turn carbon dioxide into oxygen, reducing species habitat, and making the world a worse place. We can call using toilet paper a necessity, and I'd certainly agree with that, but we can certainly reduce and recycle. Big time.
Floyd Dominy has died at the age of 100.
Shockingly, major newspapers haven't picked this up. I imagine they will in the next couple of days. No single person did more to reshape the American West in the second half of the twentieth century than Floyd Dominy. As the head of the Bureau of Reclamation from 1959 to 1969, Dominy made it his personal mission to dam every river in the West. He even wanted to dam the Grand Canyon. Famously, writer John McPhee took Dominy and Sierra Club head David Brower on a raft trip through the Grand Canyon, let them argue about the dam, and then wrote about it in Encounters with the Archdruid. Until his dying day, Dominy had no apologies for his attitude of putting rivers to work. He saw no inherent value in an untamed river. Because of Dominy and a handful of others, virtually no rivers in the West run undammed.
Dominy is largely responsible for one of the greatest environmental catastrophes in American history: the Glen Canyon Dam. Despite the unnecessary damage and destruction of some of the nation's most beautiful places, Dominy said, “Glen Canyon Dam and the creation of the most wonderful lake in the world, Lake Powell, is my crowning jewel."
He lost his job in 1969 only because the Nixon Administration got sick of dealing with him. By all accounts, Dominy bullied everyone to get his way, including his own employees. He also had a habit of trying to sleep with every woman around him, which was not overly endearing to the people he met. Still, we cannot overstate Dominy's importance in our history.
In addition, Dominy's death means that 3 people on my 2010 death list have passed.
Saturday, April 24, 2010
So Lindsay Graham says he is pulling out of negoitations over a climate bill because President Obama has decided to push for immigration reform. Supposedly this dooms a climate bill.
Does anyone really believe that a climate bill was going to pass anyway? Each and every Republican has no intention on allowing any part of Obama's agenda to pass. Maybe, just maybe, Lindsay Graham was committed to climate change legislation (not committed enough to overcome disdain for brown people of course). But first, he was the only Republican who might theoretically ever vote for a climate bill. Second, in order to do this, he would have watered it down into nothing. Third, Joe Lieberman or Blanche Lincoln would have blown it up anyway. So Graham can complain all he wants to but until Republicans show even a basic willingness to negotiate with Democrats in good faith, he's not worth listening to.
Moreover, immigration reform is precisely what Obama should start pushing for. While the issue scares many conservative Democrats from white states, the issue makes perfect political and moral sense. With states like Arizona openly embracing white supremacy, Obama needs to show that America stands for fairness and at least a semblance of justice. With Latinos the fastest growing demographic in this country, he has the opportunity to lock in much of that vote for a generation, turning states like Arizona and Nevada to the Democrats, as possibly even Texas in another decade.
Besides, whatever lame climate legislation that might have received Lindsay Graham's vote would have been a drop in the bucket in actually stopping this insidious process. I'd rather Democrats fight for something that's actually going to matter.
Friday, April 23, 2010
The Times has a fantastic demonstrating the difference in safety conditions between Massey Energy coal mines, such as the one that recently killed 29 West Virginia miners, and mines owned by companies that actually care about safety. They profile TECO Coal Corporation, also non-union, but a company that is almost accident free. Meanwhile, Massey president Don Blankenship specifically undermines safety precautions.
And the attention to safety — or the lack of it — has had measurable results: Compared with the industry average, TECO’s workers spent much less time away from work because of injury last year; Upper Big Branch workers spent significantly more.
TECO’s mine has had far fewer safety violations over the last five years than Massey’s, and the company has been less inclined than Massey to fight with regulators. Massey has contested 69 percent of the proposed $1.9 million in civil penalties proposed by the mine safety agency since the beginning of 2005, federal records show.
Now, in the wake of a catastrophe that has all of West Virginia in mourning, the trail of federal violations issued to Upper Big Branch, many of them in the weeks leading up to the explosion, seems infused with foreboding.
“The methane and dust control plan is not being followed.”
“The lifeline in the primary escape way” is not being maintained.
“In case of an emergency the men on this section would not have fresh air in the primary escapeway.”
“Management engaged in aggravated conduct constituting more than ordinary negligence, in that production was deemed more important than conducting parameter checks.”
Massey miners knew their lives were in danger.
Well before this month’s fatal explosion at Upper Big Branch, the country’s worst mine disaster in 40 years, the lack of proper ventilation had been a continuing concern among its miners. The fear of methane building while oxygen dropped preyed on their minds.
“I have had guys come to me and cry,” said the veteran foreman. “Grown men cried — because they are scared.”
But workers in the mine said they did not dare question the company’s safety practices, even when asked to perform a dubious task
Did Don Blankenship care? Hell no.
“It was all about production,” said Andrew Tyler, 22, an electrician who two years ago worked as a subcontractor on the wiring for the coal conveyer belt and other equipment at Upper Big Branch. “If you worked for them, you didn’t ask questions about whether some step like running a cable around the breaker was a smart idea. You just did it.”
The miner belonged to a crew working in Massey’s Aracoma Alma mine. In a memorandum issued three months before this fire and widely disseminated in 2006, Mr. Blankenship, the company’s chief executive, ordered subordinates to run coal and ignore everything else. A week later he sent a follow-up memo saying that, of course, safety comes first — and that he would “question the membership” of any employee who thought he meant anything other than that.
Now, on the evening of Jan. 19, 2006, just hours after Aracoma officials received yet another handwritten note from Mr. Blankenship — “Stay on coal,” it said in part — a fire had broken out, again, on a misaligned conveyor belt, there was no water, and smoke was thickening.
This first-rate investigative piece tells me that Don Blankenship and the corporate leaders of Massey Energy absolutely do not care about the lives of their workers. Such criminal negligence suggests that Blankenship should be tried on a murder charge, or at least manslaughter. Corporate leaders who directly cause the deaths of their workers need to be accountable. If the Supreme Court has decided that corporations deserve full personhood, those corporations should also have the responsibilities of full personhood. If I do something that leads to the death of 29 people, I would go to prison. So should Don Blankenship.
Thursday, April 22, 2010
10:13--EL--A few thoughts about the last third of the round.
1. The Cowboys are incredibly stupid. While I think Dez Bryant could be an excellent receiver, how many resources is Jerry Jones going to spend on WRs? Endlessly evidently. If he thinks the Cowboys are a WR away, he's crazy. Plus, with Miles Austin's emergence last year, this makes no sense.
2. Agreed with Lyrad about the Lions trading up for Jahvid Best. Very strong pick. Team is making the right moves, though they really need a left tackle.
3. I can't believe Jimmy Clausen is still on the board. This makes no sense. Expect Cleveland or Buffalo to trade up for the 1st pick of the 2nd round to grab him. The Rams should be happy to trade that pick given that they just drafted a 1st, there are lots of good players on the board, and they should get good return on the pick.
4. Also, I again want to congratulate Lyrad for the Broncos awesome draft. Tim Tebow, Denver Broncos Quarterback. Maybe Elway will allow him to wear #7!
10:08--LS--Well, that was fun until pick 22. Back tomorrow for 2nd Round action....
9:51--LS--It's kind of funny. I've spent the last thirty minutes in a strange haze of confusion and nausea, but came out just in time to see the Lions make a really strong move. Great trade up, great pick. They're far from complete, but they have quality players all over the field now. They're a far cry from where they were this time two years ago.
9;23--LS--I don't get it at all; we'll see what happens, but I don't see how that's smart at all. Tebow sounds like a doofus and he looks like an idiot, but at least they preemptive strike on Jesus eye-black. If McDaniels has some idea of a Chip Kelly-style Taser position and he's out there doing anything but throwing for half the snaps, I'm fine. Otherwise, why pay this moron to sit on the bench to plat tic-tac-toe with Brady Quinn (news flash: Quinn wins 100% of the time) and pray? I'm holding out judgment, but I have a hard fucking time with this one.
9:11--EL--I just want to say that Tim Tebow going to the Broncos is the greatest moment in draft history. Lyrad has been a Broncos fan for his entire life. He also hates Tim Tebow. I am going to get a laugh out of this for many years. This is awesome. The Broncos are going to suck, they have the greatest douchebag in recent NFL history, and Josh McDaniels never drafts what he needs--front 7 guys. This is awesome. Absolutely freaking awesome. Hahahahahahahahahahahahaha!!!!!!!!!
9:00--LS--What a typical pick for the Cowboys. Watch your necks, Dallas, it's Dez's barber chair now.
8:52--LS--It's late in the 1st, so at least he didn't go top ten, but Bulaga is another Robert Gallery; move him to guard now.
8:48--LS--Thomas is a good player, and huge, but we'll see about this. Receiver is a huge need for Denver, obviously, so that fills the hole. Still don't know what they gave up to move back into the first, but it seems like a strong pick.
8:40--LS--What the fuck?! The Tebows all wear aqua and sport matching faux-hawks; what a bunch of losers.
8:26--LS--It's pretty high to draft Iupatu at 17, but he'll be a good player. On another note, ESPN has to reconsider the five-man commentary booth. They're stepping all over each other like crazy.
8:17--LS--I'm down with JPP, and this was a really strong pick, as long as he's better than Matthias Kiwanuka, the last DE they drafted.
8:07--EL--If I were choosing for Seattle, I probably would have gone with Morgan. But Earl Thomas is a very good player in a real position of need. It's impossible to complain about Thomas. Seattle's secondary was horrible last year; they literally have almost nothing at safety. Were this a team with less needs, I'd be very happy. Given that Seattle is so bad, I probably would have emphasized a pass rusher.
8:06--LS--Thomas should be a really good safety for Seattle. He'd better be; he's going to be on the field for 45 minutes a game.
8:01--EL--In response to Lyrad's comment before about Al Davis buying the Jaguars--that was a terrible pick by Jacksonville. Why do you take maybe the 35th best player in the draft at 10? Even if you are convinced this is your guy, why don't you trade down? You know no one is going to take him at 15. For a franchise already on the ropes, that was a horrible selection.
7:58--EL--Obviously one of the appeals of the draft is the trade tension. What will happen? But some of these trades make no sense. Why did the 49ers trade up from 13 to 11 to get OT Anthony Davis. They know Denver isn't going to make that pick at 13. Miami isn't going to at 12--they need help on defense. Hell, Seattle isn't going to take him at 14--why not trade down? I know they only gave up a 4th, but a 4th round pick is a useful chip.
7:57--EL--This draft is working out great for the Seahawks. They desperately need help at defensive end and safety. Derrick Morgan, Jason Pierre-Paul, and Earl Thomas are all available. They can either trade down or have their choice. They could also take Dez Bryant at WR. Very nice. Don't screw it up Carroll!!!!
7:52--LS--Love it, love it, love it...Josh McDaniels is doing a really good job. The Broncos will be taking center Pouncey at 25. Great stuff.
7:41--LS--I love the trade down, though I wish I knew what the Broncos got for him. The 49ers are clearly going to pick Clausen, but now I wonder if Denver trades back down from 13.
7:39--LS--In other news, Al Davis just bought the Jaguars.
7:33--LS--Yeah, the Raiders can suck it; he's failure with them. CJ Spiller to the Bills is a really stupid pick unless they have a trade in hand for Marshawn Lynch. This pick costs them a ton of money and it makes them no better. What do I expect from Buffalo?
7:30--EL--While I like the Raiders picking McClain because it pissed Daryl off so much, if you are the Raiders, do you really need a linebacker with this pick?
7:25--LS--I sure wish Denver still had that 14 pick. But we have Antonio Smith, so that's pretty good. Nothing very shocking so far; I sure do wish Carroll had done something stupid, but I'll have to wait. You can have Bryant at 14; I just hope that Rolando McLain is there at 11. Raiders are up, so expect somebody you've never heard of...goddamn it. I hate the stupid fucking Raiders. Ok, I still don't want stupid Dez Bryant, now we can definitely trade down into the 20s...fuck....
7:17--EL--Very happy about Okung. The Seahawks need so very much. But they need an OT the most. I feel the #14 pick is also key. The Seahawks have drafted horribly for years. They can hopefully get Jason Pierre-Paul, Dez Bryant, or CJ Spiller at 14, all in areas of need.
7:08--LS--Well, it must be destiny for you Erik. Carroll will probably shock us with a USC player, though.
7:07--EL--I like that Eric Berry pick for the Chiefs. Not only does their secondary suck, but it now gives the Seahawks the choice of offensive tackles. This could be good. Though Carroll will probably blow it.
7:05--LS--If a conference has to have the first five picks for the first time, at least it isn't the SEC. But yes, Stoops is a fucking jerk.
7:00--EL--It's also kind of hard to believe that Oklahoma didn't win a title with that much talent. 3 of the top 4 picks? Crazy. I guess that's what happens when you lose your QB. Also, Bob Stoops is a jerk.
6:59--EL--I like that Trent Williams pick for the Redskins largely because it might open Okung up for the Seahawks. I believe Walter Jones was also the 6th pick in the draft. It's destiny.
6:55--LS--I thought it was like watching your mom.
6:54--EL--I do like that McCoy pick. Tampa has young talent elsewhere. But their run defense was atrocious last year. It was like watching the Broncos.
6:50--LS--Who wants to bet on the first draft pick to be charged with sexual assault? Dibs on Jimmy Clausen!
6:49--LS--I'm mixed on the pick, but I think he'll be a solid player. McCoy going to the Bucs will be the better pick because of the system they already have in place. I'm not sold on Okung, personally.
6:45--EL--While Suh was awesome in college, the number of defensive tackles to bust is very very high. Also, the Lions really need an offensive tackle. Matt Stafford was destroyed last year. If he keeps getting crushed by defenders, how long will he last? The Lions should have taken Russell Okung.
6:41--LS--For the first time in years, I see a highly touted QB as a can't-miss pick. With my skill at projection, that probably means his arm will fall off in training camp.
6:39--Lyrad Simool--Ahem...I'd just like to begin by saying that Big Rape neither represents the number seven nor those who wear the number...those like John Elway.
EL--6:39--So the Rams take Sam Bradford. Could work out, who can tell. However, I want to express what Lyrad told me earlier--it's quite disappointing that Bradford, probably the most prominent Native American football player since Jim Thorpe, didn't go to the Redskins. It would have been an interesting situation.
The NFL draft is now 3 days. Lyrad and I are going to live blog it again. At least the first 2 days I guess. We'll have to see about the 3rd. Anyway, feel free to join us for this most enjoyable waste of time. Will the Steelers draft a QB to potentially replace Ol'Rapey, i.e. Ben Roethlisberger? Who will waste a pick on the loathsome Tim Tebow? How will Pete Carroll destroy my Seahawks for the next decade? How many times will Lyrad reference John Elway?
Join us in comments if you like!
So today is Earth Day. Around the nation, people are recycling and picking up trash.
While that's fine and all, I am disappointed at what Earth Day's become 40 years after it began. In 1970, environmentalism seemed poised to be the next focus of American radicalism. A New York Times article projected that the environment would soon overtake Vietnam as the most important issue leading to protest in the nation.
Didn't happen that way. Why not? I think there are several possible reasons. First was that the environmental movement always relied on federal legislation over mass action as the path to change. That proved amazingly successful during the Johnson and Nixon years, but disastrous under Reagan and the Bushes. Trapped into a legislative strategy, the movement had great difficulty moving to mass action when necessary.
Second, those significant successes in the 60s and 70s took radical energy out of environmentalism. The legislative strategy worked so well, making real and visible changes in people's lives, that for many it didn't seem necessary to take to the streets in support of radical environmentalism. On top of this, by the early 70s, Americans were tiring of radicalism; after Vietnam and the turmoil of 1968, there wasn't a lot of energy left to move on to new foci of radicalism.
Third, corporations quickly realized that they could make good with communities by sponsoring Earth Day activities. This became an early version of the greenwashing we see so frequently today. By giving money, corporations both created good public relations for themselves and ensured the activities would remain nice and polite.
Fourth, and this might be the most important, there were a lot of radical environmentalists in the 1970s of course. But they often rejected mainstream society and went to live in communes, isolated farms, or other remote locations. The separatism of environmentalits and the turn of the movement away from people and toward wilderness made mass-movement radicalism very difficult to engender. How do you get 20,000 people together to fight for clean environments when they are all living on communes in rural Oregon or Tennessee?
All of this helped to suck the potential of Earth Day to start long-term change in America. Particularly as those formerly radical environmentalists aged, left their communes, and went into law or business or whatever, environmentalism became a strongly consumerist movement. Environmentalism became about buying organic vegetables or the right kind of light bulbs or owning a Prius. Meanwhile, Earth Day celebrations became little more than tame gatherings of people picking up trash, showing off the latest organic farm goods, and congratulating each other on how green they were.
Mainstream environmentalism drifted far away from creating radical change in our relationship to nature. I remember coming to realize the corruption of Earth Day when I lived in Knoxville, Tennessee in the late 1990s. I went to the Earth Day celebration--which was held in a park on the far western edge of town, 10-15 miles from the center of town where I lived. No one could go there without driving. It wasn't designed where people gather to make political change, i.e. downtown. It was in a suburban park, filled with SUVs festooned with meaningless liberal slogans.
Things have changed slightly for the better since then. The spectre of climate change combined with a new generation of moderate activists to rejuvenate the environmental movement to some extent. But there's still little radicalism of note. Maybe that's OK. Young people certainly seem solution-oriented, which has its advantages, even if it doesn't really question the root causes of environmental catastrophe.
At the very least, it would be nice if environmentalists could actually influence the president. While Obama talked a big game on environmental issues during the campaign, he hasn't actually done much of anything except open up the Atlantic Coast to oil exploration and support nuclear energy. His choice of Interior Secretary, Ken Salazar, has been mediocre to say the least. His ability to force Republicans to talk seriously about climate change is obviously nonexistent.
Maybe a good start would be to use the Supreme Court nomination to lift another William O. Douglas to the Court. Douglas was the greatest judicial environmentalist in history, an early supporter of Rachel Carson's research, and a reliable liberal. J.P. Green at The Democratic Strategist has a nice piece on Douglas:
Justice Douglas's commitment to the environment would be impossible to match for any nominee. As the longest-serving justice in the history of the High Court, Justice Douglas ruled in favor of the environment at every opportunity. Nominated by FDR, he was also the youngest justice ever to be sworn in -- at the age of forty. He reportedly hiked the entire Appalachian Trail, from Georgia to Maine. In his dissenting opinion in the landmark environmental law case, Sierra Club v. Morton, 405 U.S. 727 (1972), he argued that "inanimate objects," including trees have legal standing in lawsuits. An excerpt:
Inanimate objects are sometimes parties in litigation. A ship has a legal personality, a fiction found useful for maritime purposes. The corporation sole — a creature of ecclesiastical law — is an acceptable adversary and large fortunes ride on its cases.... So it should be as respects valleys, alpine meadows, rivers, lakes, estuaries, beaches, ridges, groves of trees, swampland, or even air that feels the destructive pressures of modern technology and modern life. The river, for example, is the living symbol of all the life it sustains or nourishes — fish, aquatic insects, water ouzels, otter, fisher, deer, elk, bear, and all other animals, including man, who are dependent on it or who enjoy it for its sight, its sound, or its life. The river as plaintiff speaks for the ecological unit of life that is part of it.
It was the leadership of Justice Douglas that saved the Buffalo River in Arkansas and the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal. He also swayed the High Court to preserve the Red River Gorge in eastern Kentucky, which is Holy Ground to folks from that part of the country. A trail in the Gorge is named in his honor, as is The William O. Douglas Wilderness, adjoining Mount Rainier National Park in Washington state, along with Douglas Falls in the Appalachian Mountains of North Carolina. There is a lot more that can be said about the visionary leadership of Douglas on behalf of the environment, but environmentalists would be happy with a justice with half his phenomenal commitment to mother earth.
No one is talking about environmental regulations as central to this nomination, but I think it should be. A reliable liberal with a strong environmental record should not be hard to find. As Obama has stated, he knows Republicans are going to oppose whoever he nominates, so he's going to nominate whoever he wants. Hopefully, he'll be inspired to actually follow through on his words. More likely, he'll pick a moderate. And Earth Day will continue on its generally pointless course.
Via Burnt Orange Report, Newsweek asks readers to describe Texas Governor Rick Perry in 6 words.
My contribution is the title of this post.
Here's a few others:
Massey Energy Company, the owners of the collapsed West Virginia mine that killed 29 people, sure has felt remorse for their actions:
Massey Energy, the Virginia-based coal giant that runs the Upper Big Branch Mine, has denied time off for miners to attend their friends’ funerals; has rejected makeshift memorials outside the mine site; and, in at least one case, required a worker to go on shift even though the fate of a relative — one of the victims of the April 5 disaster — remained unknown at the time, according to some family members and other sources familiar with those episodes. In short, the company might be taking heat for putting profits and efficiency above its workers, but it doesn’t appear to have changed its tune in the wake of the worst mining tragedy in 40 years.
Of course, Massey holds all the cards. We've already forgotten about the West Virginia tragedy. The disaster hasn't led us to rethink coal, to demand more regulations for coal, or anything else. There will be a brief uptick in safety inspections and then everything will be back to normal. Massey will continue to not value its workers lives or dignity. They will continue resisting unionization. They will continue lobbying to undermine safety regulations. And we will still flip on our lights and air conditioners. We have blood on our hands too, but we don't care.
Wednesday, April 21, 2010
Today marks the fiftieth birthday of Brasilia, the high-modernist capital of Brazil that was built out of nothing in the plains of Brazil across 41 months in the late-1950s before its inauguration on April 21, 1960.
The last leader of Argentina's military dictatorship, Reynaldo Benito Bignone, has been sentenced to 25 years in prison for his role in the kidnapping, murder, and disappearances of Argentines between 1976 and 1978, while he was an officer in the military. Bignone was president of Argentina from Argentina's loss in the Malvinas/Falklands War in 1982 to the end of the dictatorship in 1983, during which time he oversaw the destruction of thousands of documents and the amnesty of war criminals in Argentina. The conviction means that Bignone, who is 82, will die a disgraced man, rightly punished for what he did. In this, he joins Jorge Videla, the first (and longest-lasting) of the Argentine military dictators of the Dirty War period. The third major dictator of the dictatorship, Leopoldo Galtieri (1981-1982), died in 2003, but even he died a disgraced man, after a civil suit had resulted in his house arrest.
Friday, April 16, 2010
Wednesday, April 14, 2010
The growing presence of alien spirits in the Brazilian caipirinha has led enthusiasts to attempt to "rescue" their national drink. The Save the Caipirinha campaign was launched last month with an online petition that has attracted 10,000 signatures from cachaca fans, chefs, and celebrities."We formally declare that we no longer wish to see our caipirinha being made with vodka or sake instead of cachaca," reads the campaign manifesto, the brainchild of the Cachaca Leblon brand. "We do not accept that this drink, which is famous and respected around the world, be disrespected in Brazil."
Tuesday, April 13, 2010
This is very likely the dumbest thing I've seen in months. For a mere forty clams, you can get some crappy vodka that has a goddamn screen on it. You can program it to say whatever you want. Amuse your friends! Ask your sweetheart to marry you with the gift of booze. I might get a bottle and never touch it (swear), but program it to read when it is picked up, "This was a test. Your intention to drink from this bottle proves you're an asshole. Get out of my house."
This probably isn't the dumbest gimmick given to a vodka bottle, but it still nears the level of dumb that I call the "Steve Miller's Lyrics Level."
Eric at Edge of the West points us to this piece of primordial idiocy. James Hornberger argues that America's golden year was 1880 (!)
I don’t think so. I believe that it is impossible to overstate the significance of what our American ancestors accomplished in terms of a free society.
Let’s consider, say, the year 1880. Here was a society in which people were free to keep everything they earned, because there was no income tax. They were also free to decide what to do with their own money—spend it, save it, invest it, donate it, or whatever. People were generally free to engage in occupations and professions without a license or permit. There were few federal economic regulations and regulatory agencies. No Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, welfare, bailouts, or so-called stimulus plans. No IRS. No Departments of Education, Energy, Agriculture, Commerce, and Labor. No EPA and OSHA. No Federal Reserve. No drug laws. Few systems of public schooling. No immigration controls. No federal minimum-wage laws or price controls. A monetary system based on gold and silver coins rather than paper money. No slavery. No CIA. No FBI. No torture or cruel or unusual punishments. No renditions. No overseas military empire. No military-industrial complex.
As a libertarian, as far as I’m concerned, that’s a society that is pretty darned golden.
Fantastic. I mean, when I think of 1880, I'm thinking of things like children dying from malnutrition, anti-Chinese riots, the rise of Jim Crow and the violent suppression of black rights, widespread anti-Semitism, a suffrage restricted (by law or by custom) to white males, the inability of women to own their own property, .....
Oh hell, why bother. And what do I know? I'm only a late 19th century U.S. historian after all.
I always tell my students that anyone who thinks the past was better than the present has no idea what they are talking about. 1880 was a terrible place. You know what the best and most accurate representation of this period we have in American popular culture--Deadwood. The TV show. It's not drop dead accurate and certainly the language was different. But the filth, the violence, the drug use, the callous disregard for human life, the treatment of Native Americans, African-Americans, the Chinese, and other ethnic groups, rampant prostitution, etc.
1880 as a paradise. The closest we can get to that now is Somalia. And I wish Hornberger would move there.
SEIU President Andy Stern is evidently resigning from his post.
This is big news in the labor world. Much to my surprise, a fair number of progressive writers are covering the issue.
Stern has been the most public and vocal labor leader over the past decade. He helped make SEIU the nation's largest union through his intensive organizing efforts. He took SEIU out of the AFL-CIO when frustrated by the lack of organizing focus by the mainline union. I don't necessarily agree that creating Change to Win was a very useful idea, but I respect the ideas behind it. Moreover, he led a massive union effort to get health care reform passed.
I am curious as to what this means for labor. Can Change to Win survive without Stern? I assume the next SEIU president will continue Stern's organizing emphasis. But will that president have the same leadership role within the labor movement. Tim Fernholz suggests that Anna Burger will take over and that Stern's stepping aside might be a good thing. Stern created a lot of animosity between himself and other labor leaders, which helped lead to Change to Win in the first place. If Burger takes SEIU back into the AFL-CIO, one has to ask what the point of Change to Win was to begin with. I would have to see this as a black mark on Stern's legacy. Nonetheless, no one can question his leadership, both within the union movement and within American politics, his commitment to rejuvenating the American labor movement and his passion for helping working-class people live better and healthier lives.
John Cornyn, when asked if he would vote for a gay nominee to the Supreme Court, answered, “I’d have to think about that,” he said. “As long as it doesn’t interfere with their job, it’s not a particular issue.”
I'm just wondering how being gay would interfere with the job of the judge.
Of course, given that Cornyn's opinion that a Supreme Court judge should agree with all of his own policy agenda, clearly being gay would get in the way for such a judge. Since Cornyn wants a constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage, I guess it would be OK for a judge to be gay if the judge was both in the closet and self-hating. Just the kind of gay person John Cornyn likes.
A jury in the Brazilian city of Belém has sentenced a rancher to 30 years in prison for the murder of an American-born nun, news agencies reported.
Monday, April 12, 2010
Nicholas Sparks is lining himself up as the frontrunner in the "arrogant bastard of the year" award, after comparing himself "to Aeschylus, Sophocles, Euripides, Shakespeare, Jane Austin, and Ernest Hemingway in one breath." That's just all kinds of stupid - it's like Justin Bieber comparing himself to Hildegard of Bingen, Beethoven, Schoenberg, Chuck Berry, and Run-DMC in one sentence.
I resent the sacrilege Nicholas Sparks commits by even mentioning himself in the same sentence as Cormac McCarthy. I would not even allow him to say "Hello, bookstore? This is Nicholas Sparks. Could you send over the new Cormac McCarthy novel?" He should show respect by ordering anonymously.
A lot of people have linked to David Brooks' prime piece of wankery, talking about how he rooted for Duke in last week's NCAA Championship game because as rich people, they deserve to win.
Unlike 90 percent of America, I was rooting for Duke last night. This was widely cast as a class conflict — the upper crust Dukies against the humble Midwestern farm boys. If this had been a movie, Butler’s last second heave would have gone in instead of clanging off the rim, and the country would still be weeping with joy.
But this is why life is not a movie. The rich are not always spoiled. Their success does not always derive from privilege. The Duke players — to the extent that they are paragons of privilege, which I dispute — won through hard work on defense.
Yes. I was going to say that for the first time in human history, rich people work longer hours than middle class or poor people. How do you construct a rich versus poor narrative when the rich are more industrious?
Oh, where to start...
It's hardly surprising that Brooks is a Duke fan and alum (though he seems to have only taught there). Every thing about the man screams Dukie--wealthy, white, privileged, self-centered, condescending to the rest of the world, elitist, etc.
Only a man like this could claim and in fact believe that the rich work harder than the poor. Brooks might as well be working for the New York Times in 1890 rather than 1910 with his gospel of wealth mentality.
Only a man who has never worked in a sewer, as a logger, as a vegetable picker, as a janitor, or as a maid could claim that the rich work harder. Yes, some rich people put in long hours at the office. But that's irrelevant for making a claim over whether the rich or poor work harder--they do so because they want to and because they can. Meanwhile, the poor, who work very hard when they can find a job, work long hours because they have to feed their families and because they will be fired if they don't. And unlike David Brooks, who if he did so little work for the Times that they would fire him, they can't go get another job teaching at Duke University.
Sunday, April 11, 2010
Senate candidate and Tea Party wingnut Rand Paul of Kentucky has taken to quoting the band Rush in his campaign speeches:
He quotes Thomas Paine as well as the rock band Rush: “Glittering prizes and endless compromises shatter the illusion of integrity.”
Does he also use tree metaphors?
Really, I'm kind of rooting for Paul to win the Republican primary because a) Trey Grayson could be scary on a national stage and b) the Democrats would have a good chance to take the seat against Paul. But this is making me rethink my wishes.
When I go to the CNN homepage and I see plastered on the front page a picture of Confederate soldiers with a headline reading, "Were Confederate Soldiers Terrorists?", I am a happy man. Not only is Roland Martin launching a crusade against romanticizing the Confederacy, CNN is giving him prime space to do so. The overwhelming response against Bob McDonnell's trivializing of slavery has put neo-Confederates on the defensive. The old romantic view of the Confederacy is increasingly being pushed to the edges of acceptable discourse. Not only that, but the last week has arguably seen the most serious discussion of the Civil War's impact since the Civil Rights Movement.
While directly defending the Confederacy has become harder in the past few decades, low-level Confederate romanticization has exploded. We can particularly see this with the rise of Civil War reenactors. As Tony Horwitz points out in his excellent book, Confederates in the Attic, most of these reenactors want to "fight" for the Confederates. Many of those men directly connect the Confederacy with the anti-government and veiled racist rhetoric of the conservative movement and the present-day Republican Party. Bob McDonnell responded to that with his pro-Confederate declaration. But a lot of Americans will no longer put up with these ideas as part of respectable political discourse, including Roland Martin and myself.
Martin refers to Confederate soldiers as terrorists. He particularly attacks those who responded negatively to an earlier article attacking McDonnell, comparing their rhetoric to apologists for Islamic terrorism:
Well, maybe. I actually don't overly care for this line of argument. Were Confederate soldiers terrorists? Not really. There were terrorist raids and such, but in general, I don't think Confederates qualify under a realistic definition of terrorism. That's hardly placing me on the side of those committed treason to defend slavery. But I like careful definition of words--and Martin is using terrorism very loosely.
If you take all of these comments, don't they sound eerily similar to what we hear today from Muslim extremists who have pledged their lives to defend the honor of Allah and to defeat the infidels in the West?
When you make the argument that the South was angry with the North for "invading" its "homeland," Osama bin Laden has said the same about U.S. soldiers being on Arab soil. He has objected to our bases in Saudi Arabia, and that's one of the reasons he has launched his jihad against us. Is there really that much of a difference between him and the Confederates? Same language; same cause; same effect.
If a Confederate soldier was merely doing his job in defending his homeland, honor and heritage, what are we to say about young Muslim radicals who say the exact same thing as their rationale for strapping bombs on their bodies and blowing up cafes and buildings?
If the Sons of Confederate Veterans use as a talking point the vicious manner in which people in the South were treated by the North, doesn't that sound exactly like the Taliban saying they want to kill Americans for the slaughter of innocent people in Afghanistan?
Defenders of the Confederacy say that innocent people were killed in the Civil War; hasn't the same argument been presented by Muslim radicals in Iraq, Afghanistan and other places where the U.S. has tangled with terrorists?
Now, did slaveholders commit terrorism against their slaves? Absolutely. And did they continue these actions for a century after the war ended? Yes indeed. I'd just prefer Martin make this distinction.
Williams is right about the beauty of the coast. I spent several months in Costa Rica and traveled throughout the country, and when others tell me they're going, I most strongly recommend seeing the Caribbean Coast. It has amazing beaches (including black-sand), there are reefs where you can snorkel, the forest is beautiful, and the food (more Caribbean than Spanish) is amazing - indeed, it was the best food I ate in Costa Rica. Williams talks about this beauty, but to her, it's not something that the locals have done a great job in protecting and keeping alive; it's a static environment "For soul-searching world travelers...to plant roots and stay," and an extremely expensive one at that. One of the hotels she mentions has rates that "start at $200 a night, and includes breakfast." Wow - breakfast included? For only $200? I'm sorry - if you're spending that much money on hotel anywhere in Costa Rica, you are either A) out of your fucking mind, or B) so racist and frightened of locals anywhere that you're willing to shell out that much money by jerks who know they can prey on your xenophobic fear by offering you "security" and "luxury." Williams also talks to some of the people who own these hotels, quoting: a French ex-pat and luxury hotel owner; two American ex-pats who own a fancy restaurant; two more American ex-pats from Minnesota; and one local who was a tour guide.
What - couldn't interview more of the locals? I'd say that's to be expected of American travel writers writing about most countries, but there is no excuse on the Costa Rican Caribbean - nearly everybody speaks Spanish and English. I traveled there when I lived in Costa Rica; you can't avoid English if you try. Indeed, Afro-Caribbeans and race in Costa Rica are inextricably linked; the coast is (not coincidentally) the poorest part of the country. I'd frequently talk to Ticos in San Jose who simultaneously insisted that there was no racism in Costa Rica, and then would talk horribly about the "Caribbean coast" and how "caribenos" (i.e., black people) were causing all of the problems in the rest of the country. And in the time I spent there (I stayed in Cahuita, just north of Cahuita national park; Williams stayed in the more-expensive and "touristy" Puerto Viejo de Talamanca, south of the park), I only saw locals, and had some great conversations with them about the area, reggae, the food, just anything and everything. And I realize that that may sound patronizing on my part (trust that it may have been naive, but was not patronizing), but these conversations were almost always accidental, and begun by locals who were pleased to see a new face in the village; in short, they were more than willing to share their knowledge, culture, stories, and opinions - suffice to say, their take on racism in Costa Rica was much different from those in the valley who denied there was racism in Costa Rica. And you didn't even have to work too hard to learn these things. Indeed, it was those kinds of encounters that made my time in Cahuita one of the best times I had in Costa Rica.
And yet, Williams decides not to include any of the locals (to whom she could have easily spoken, as the language barrier would be nearly non-existent) or mention anybody other than the man whose profession revolves around entertaining gringos like her. Even she's aware of this. It would be one (still typically offensive) thing if Williams hadn't encountered this, but she herself comments on the number of "English-speaking Afro-Caribbeans" living there. She's knows they're around; she just isn't interested in including their views, opinions, and voices in her narrative of the Caribbean coast in Costa Rica, which is pretty absurd when you stop and realize that the majority of the Caribbean coast's residents are Afro-Caribbean. There was absolutely no excuse for the writer to not talk to/cite some of the actual locals, rather than French and American ex-pats. But this is travel writing at its finest - places are only exciting for their "exotic" qualities, and the locals are just another part of the scenery, without their own voices, providing services just for tourists.
Saturday, April 10, 2010
Remind me why Henry Kissinger is respected today?
As secretary of state, Henry Kissinger canceled a U.S. warning against carrying out international political assassinations that was to have gone to Chile and two neighboring nations just days before a former ambassador was killed by Chilean agents on Washington's Embassy Row in 1976, a newly released State Department cable shows.
Whether Kissinger played a role in blocking the delivery of the warning against assassination to the governments of Chile, Argentina and Uruguay has long been a topic of controversy.
Discovered in recent weeks by the National Security Archive, a non-profit research organization, the Sept. 16, 1976 cable is among tens of thousands of declassified State Department documents recently made available to the public.
'You can instruct'' the U.S. ambassadors ''to take no further action'' on the subject of Operation Condor, said the Sept. 20 cable by Harry Shlaudeman, assistant secretary of state for Inter-American affairs, to Shlaudeman's deputy.
The next day, on Sept. 21, 1976, agents of Chilean Gen. Augusto Pinochet planted a car bomb and exploded it on a Washington, D.C., street, killing both former Ambassador Orlando Letelier, and an American colleague, Ronni Karpen Moffitt. Letelier was one of the most outspoken critics of the Pinochet government.
It is nice having hard evidence implicating Kissinger. It'd be nicer if he stood trial for the murders and died behind bars.
Friday, April 09, 2010
It's been a long time since we've heard about the anti-sweatshop movement. Student groups of the late 90s were all over labor conditions. Sadly, most student-activists today don't think too much about working-class issues. Their commitment to the environment should be lauded, but they don't seem to have much consciousness about the people making the products they buy. Another way of putting this is that I like having organic peanut butter in the school cafeteria too, but it doesn't mean much if the people on the peanut farms live in shacks.
However, there are exceptions. I was surprised to read today that the University of Wisconsin has terminated its contract with Nike because Honduran factories that make Nike shoes refuse to pay workers severance pay after the factories closed. That's a real victory that will cost Nike millions.
Of course, Wisconsin now has to find a shoe company with better factories. I'm not sure they exist. However, the only thing that's going to make companies treat workers in better (except for government regulations, which ain't going to happen in Honduras) is consumer pressure. And a double kudos to the students who remain committed to improving the lives of working-class people.
Nike continues to claim blamelessness, saying that they subcontract their shoes and clothing out and thus have no responsibility for working conditions. This is a morally baseless argument. Obviously, the subcontractors would do more for their workers if Nike forced them to. Nike's major reason for not directly employing the manufactures is to avoid responsibility for them and to create ever greater profits on the backs of poorly paid, overworked, and exploited workers in the developing world.
While not quite the technological revolution that many predicted it would be (yet), the Twitter event is clearly more than ephemeral - hell, even retrograde luddites like me are on it. I realize that Twitter has been an increasingly useful mechanism for relating news, ranging from reports in Iran during protests last year to people spreading the word on political stories via Twitter. That said, I'm pretty sure the best function of Twitter is posts like this:
So glad to be awake and out of my dream where I was in an arranged marriage with Frank Zappa, where my only joy was playing saxophone.Critics have accused Twitter of being narcissistic, an overload of private information, and trivial. Perhaps it is, but when triviality can offer images as awesome as the one above, I'm all for it.
By now, you may have heard of the devastation in Rio de Janeiro and Niteroi (across the bay from Rio de Janeiro). On Tuesday,the city received 288 millimeters (11.3 inches) of rain in a 24-hour period. Stop and think about that - nearly a foot of rain in 24 hours. The results were devastating. Well over 100 were dead before Wednesday, and that was before more mudslides in the mountainous areas buried hundreds more alive, leaving Niteroi to declare a state of emergency while Rio declared three days of mourning and dealt with destruction in the storm's wake as well. Overall, news sites and blogs alike have done a good job covering the story, and I have little to add to them in terms of the basic facts of the immediate story.
However, the deaths point directly to the social inequalities of Brazil and remind us once again how class, race, and environment are inherently tied together in this type of disaster. In Rio, the poor and marginalized were most directly impacted. This is because of the simple arrangement of urban space in Rio de Janeiro. And this isn't a recent project - state-led efforts to displace the poor from the best land in the city date back to the late-1800s. While the government has tried to improve infrastructure in the favelas (notably during Leonel Brizola's terms as governor from 1983-1987 and 1991-1994), that hasn't prevented the elites over the 20th century from buying up and developing the best land, flat and near the beach, within the city, forcing the poor to the outskirts of the city or to build the favelas along the side of the region's mountains. And when rains like this happen, what would have been a landslide that perhaps affected few suddenly turns into a catastrophe that leaves hundreds dead.
And it's really hard to blame the favelados for this. Certainly, where they build had and has very real environmental consequences, but to place the blame for this on their shoulders is to ignore the broader socio-economic realities and history of Rio for well over 100 years. Due to the enormous gap in wealth (which only increased in Brazil in the last 30 years of the 20th century), as well as increasing urbanization throughout the 20th century (the country went from 70% rural/30% urban in the early-20th century to 70% urban/30% rural by the 1980s, even as the population grew), Rio's poor have constantly found them forced to live and get by in the geographically and environmentally worst places available (the landslide in Niteroi that buried 200 was built on top of an old landfill, not exactly prime real-estate). Indeed, it's quite common to see luxurious apartment buildings in places like Sao Conrado, Tijuca, Ipanema, Botafogo, and elsewhere within direct eyeshot of a favela, making the tragedy only that much more painful for the poor. Those with the least in Rio were stripped of everything they had, within eyesight of apartment buildings housing Rio's middle- and upper-classes, resting safely on flat, solid ground.
Certainly, the rains in Rio and the loss of life are horrible and sad, no matter how you cut it. But this isn't an isolated incident, or a once-in-a-lifetime kind of disaster; it's a direct result of issues revolving around poverty and urban space. Virtually none of the dead from these rains are middle- or upper-class. They were safe in land and buildings that have been their province for generations, even while the poor were excluded, isolated, and forced to make do with the options available to them, which by and large happened to be mountainsides that could erode in heavy rainfall. Obviously, favelas do lead to environmental degradation that can result in loss of hundreds of lives; at same time, city has adopted policies since late-1800s that have forced poor to the "marginal" parts of Rio, either on outskirts and/or forcing poor to build fragile housing along moutains; thus, when there is plenty of rain, favelas suffer disproportionately while middle-class and upper-class housing is safe. And while certainly the nearly-foot of rain has led to a very high death count, these kinds of landslides are not infrequent on a smaller scale when Rio sees even moderate rainfall (which happens annually), affecting both people's lives and basic infrastructure in the city. And thanks to climate change, some climatologists predict Rio (and Brazil) can expect with much greater frequency the kind of rainfall they saw Tuesday, which will undoubtedly lead to the deaths of more of Rio's poor, all while the wealthy and well-off can look out their windows, click their tongues at the tragedy, and never think about the broader social processes that have led to such a loss of life.