Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Song of the Day: St. Vincent, "Actor Out Of Work"

Historical Image of the Day

Sign protesting Oregon Governor Tom McCall's executive order curtailing the use of neon lights, Portland, 1973

Joe Klein on the State of the Republican Field

Joe Klein is pretty awful in general. But ouch.

This is my 10th presidential campaign, Lord help me. I have never before seen such a bunch of vile, desperate-to-please, shameless, embarrassing losers coagulated under a single party's banner. They are the most compelling argument I've seen against American exceptionalism. Even Tim Pawlenty, a decent governor, can't let a day go by without some bilious nonsense escaping his lizard brain. And, as Greg Sargent makes clear, Mitt Romney has wandered a long way from courage. There are those who say, cynically, if this is the dim-witted freak show the Republicans want to present in 2012, so be it. I disagree. One of them could get elected. You never know. Mick Huckabee, the front-runner if you can believe it, might have to negotiate a trade agreement, or a defense treaty, with the Indonesian President some day. Newt might have to discuss very delicate matters of national security with the President of Pakistan. And so I plead, as an unflinching American patriot--please Mitch Daniels, please Jeb Bush, please run. I may not agree with you on most things, but I respect you. And you seem to respect yourselves enough not to behave like public clowns.

Now, the idea that somehow Daniels or Jeb would be above this kind of pandering is the Beltway mindset in action--there's always a good, strong Republican out there to lead us!--but outside of that, this is a dead-on summary of the Republican field.

I want to especially agree that having one of these jokers actually get the nomination is a disaster, even for Democrats. Because if Gingrich and Palin and Huckabee are the new mainstream of the Republican Party, they pull that party ever farther rightward. With Klein himself, among many other Beltway people, fetishizing a glorious but never stable center, this also moves American politics to the right. And that is not a good thing. Even if there's a 90% chance Obama wins, that 10% chance is a 10% chance for the American apocalypse.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Mad Men Delays

With the contract up, is it possible for Matthew Weiner to just take Mad Men to another channel? Because this is ridiculous. AMC is demanding 2 additional minutes of advertising in each episode, a cut in the cast budget, and additional product placement. For one of the top 10 greatest shows of all time and a show that essentially created the new AMC, this is outrageous.

Song of the Day: Joe Ely, "Gallo del Cielo"

A cover of the great Tom Russell song.

Historical Image of the Day

Teaching children to meditate from the book Teaching Children to Meditate: The Art of Concentration and Centering, 1975

Monday, March 28, 2011

Why the NFL May Crush the Players in a Long Strike

While the NFLPA has good leadership, I worry that membership will cave, needing money to continue leading the overly-lavish lifestyles to which many have becoming accustomed. Take Dallas WR Dez Bryant:

Dallas Cowboys wide receiver Dez Bryant is being sued for non-payment of $246,000 worth of jewelry by a New York-based company in a civil suit filed Friday in Dallas.

Bryant purchased $267,000 worth of jewelry from A+A Diamonds LTD d/b/a Rafaello & Company, which makes high-end jewelry for celebrities and athletes.

This guy has a contract worth millions. He's dropping at least a quarter million with one jewelry company. How much money does he actually have in the bank? That's a real question.

This same analysis may go even more for the NBA, which does not have such strong leadership in their players' union and which is dependent upon a few superstars for everything.

Song of the Day:

Sonic Youth, "Superstar"

Historical Image of the Day

Back to the historical images. This week will take a broad look at the 1970s.

The Electric Company, the classic PBS 1970s kids show.

Ralph Mooney, RIP

Our country legends are really beginning to die off now, with seemingly one going a month, if not more often.

Now it is Ralph Mooney, the steel guitar master who was one of the great sidemen of country music. You can hear his great work on Merle Haggard's "The Bottle Let Me Down"

And on Buck Owens' "Under Your Spell Again"

Teacher Status

This Times discussion of teacher status is kind of ridiculous, since it asks how to raise the status of teachers in this country, aside from a pay increase.

Oh, in this status-conscious, class-based society, we'll just sweep that gigantic elephant in the room under a very tiny rug.

So the conversation is kind of a non-starter given that the way to attract top talent is to pay them accordingly and no one wants to pay the necessary taxes to compensate teachers in a way that would make the field competitive with the corporate world.

Even outside of this absurdity, the conversation kind of spins its wheels. I think teacher Vern Williams says it best:

I really doubt that it is possible to raise the status of teachers and teaching in the U.S. considering the major stake holders currently involved in K through 12 education. I understand why students in the top third academically refuse to become teachers, while in Finland, Singapore and South Korea, teaching candidates are selected only from the top third.

Absolutely. And when the response of the Republican Party is to attack the one institution making teachers lives less than hell--their unions--and when they and other education "reformers" want to tie pay to teaching scores, meaning that no one in their right mind or with any interest in a long-term career will teach low-income, high-risk students because they'll probably get fired in 2 years, it's pretty hard to imagine that this situation is going to change anytime soon.

Moreover, I am far from convinced that our schools are broken, or at least any more broken than they were 10 or 30 years ago. I think this is a meme that has infused our discourse, but I strongly dispute that our students are less prepared for their lives than I was in 1992 or my parents were in the 1960s. The poor are not given equal opportunity--nor were they in the past. We don't necessarily excel in math and science--which was a huge issue in the 1950s as well. If anything, the responses to this supposed crisis like Don't Ask, Don't Tell, have created a real crisis out of what was merely systemic problems in American society reflected but not caused by the education system.

The Most Evil Corporation

There are of course so many competitors for the title of Most Evil Corporation. A few in recent years have, of course, been ExxonMobil, BP, any number of coal companies, Enron, etc., etc.

But we should never forget the New York Yankees of evil corporations, General Electric. In the 60s and 70s, they probably had a Yankee-like dynasty over the title given their dumping of toxic chemicals into the Hudson River and so many other things (though DuPoint, makers of napalm, had to have been the Red Sox of the time). And in an A-Rod-signing like move, GE has sprung back into the picture. Not only do they not pay any taxes at all and claim billions in refunds from the federal government, but now they are doubling down by looking to bust their unions and force workers to pay back millions in benefit concessions.

Again, I know that you all can come up with other competitors for the title, but never forget about G.E.

A Victory

While the long-term effects of what's happening in Wisconsin are still up the air (and the lack of a strike in protest is absolutely shocking and deflating), Democrats in Indiana managed to completely defeat Republican efforts to not only further decimate unions but also gut education. Indiana hasn't gotten much press, but Democrats there did a hell of a good job of holding the line and forcing Republicans to capitulate. We don't see enough of that these days.

The Killing

This looks like a very promising television show.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

The Overlooked Utility of Everyday Items

Super-glue is one of those things that has so many remedies and is so readily available, it's easy to take advantage of it. Indeed, for people lacking any sense of household-repairs abilities, super-glue has become a lifesaver on numerous occasions, and it's one of those things that's so common we don't think about its origins.

That said, super-glue's inventor, Harry Coover, died today at 94. While I (and thousands of klutzes like me) may have never known his name while he lived, I express my eternal gratitude to Mr. Coover for the numerous times he's helped me repair broken items of all shapes and sizes. May he rest in piece.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Obama, Brazil, and the Arab World

Between the involvement of European and American air forces in Libya and the ongoing news coming out of Japan this weekend, Obama's trip to Brazil was a distant third in news coverage this weekend. Yet the trip is important for a number of reasons, not least of which is that Brazil seems to be heading in the opposite direction of the U.S. in terms of international political and economic prestige. Additionally, two years into his administration, this is Obama's first trip to Brazil, and it comes on the heels of the January inauguration of Dilma Rousseff, whose election may give Lula's Workers Party (PT) the legs to remain powerful in a post-Lula context.

Although the world events made Obama's trip tertiary in the news cycle this weekend, the president wasn't in a tropical bubble in Rio de Janeiro. In a speech yesterday, he used the recent unrest in Egypt, Libya, Tunisia, Bahrain, Yemen, and elsewhere to suggest that Brazil is a model for democracy to the Middle East and the rest of the world. In the speech (transcript here), he praised Brazil's successful transition from a military dictatorship in the 1960s-80s to a thriving democracy today. In tying Brazil to the events in the Middle East, he specifically highlighted the role protestors and street movements had played in bringing down the Brazilian dictatorship. And he was right - to a degree. As Obama himself commented:
Decades ago, it was directly outside of this theater, in Cinelandia Square, where the call for change was heard in Brazil. Students and artists and political leaders of all stripes would gather with banners that said, “Down with the dictatorship. The people in power.” Their democratic aspirations would not be fulfilled until years later, but one of the young Brazilians in that generation’s movement would go on to forever change the history of this country.
It's understandable what Obama is doing here. With the wave of popular protests against autocratic and dictatorial governments in the Arab world and Iran, Obama used the trip to Brazil to highlight how important popular movements can be in effecting political change, and in the case of Brazil, he's generally right.
When he refers to students and artists and political leaders gathering in Cinelandia square, he's referring to one of two moments: 1968, or 1984. I believe it's the first, when over 100,000 people in Rio marched against the dictatorship. The student movement was at the forefront of the rally, but artists like Chico Buarque, Caetano Veloso, Gilberto Gil joined students, parents, white-collar professionals, and others to protest the increasing brutality of the military government of the 1960s. Rio's "March of 100,000" was but one of many rallies throughout the country that year, yet it did not mark the beginning of a new era of democracy. The other reason I suspect he's referring to 1968 over 1984 is the fact that he then comments that the return to democracy was "not fulfilled until years later." Brazil's military officially stepped down in 1985. More importantly, the 1984 rallies (which reached one million people in both Rio and Sao Paulo) focused on direct elections for president in 1985, rather than an end to the dictatorship itself.
But, as cheerful and encouraging a model as Brazil may be for the Middle East, it may not be the right model. The reason is simple: there is a lot going on in that "not fulfilled until years later." While the marches in Rio and elsewhere in 1968 were unprecedented in Brazilian history (until the marches of 1984, at least), by the end of 1968, the military regime ushered in its most repressive phase, witnessing increased use of torture, political assassinations, and "disappearances." Though nowhere on the level of Chile or Argentina in terms of murders, hundreds died at the hands of the state, and the military tortured thousands more. Many of the student leaders and those who opposed the regime went into underground guerrilla movements; many more went into exile. Throughout the 1970s, students had to find new ways to challenge military politics in the face of increasing repression and the military governments' efforts to deny students any political voice or activity. While students (and, by the late 1970s and early 1980s, workers, white-collar professionals, and opposition politicians) increasingly mobilized against the military dictatorship, the military played no small role in its own departure. After the "hard-liner" rule of presidents Artur Costa e Silva (1967-1969) and Emiliio Garrastazu Medici (1969-1974), "moderate" Ernesto Geisel began the process of "reopening." He was determined that the military would step out of power, but it would do so on its own schedule and through its own processes. In this way, the top-down control of the return to democracy was important in ways that do not apply to the Arab World. Hosni Mubarak had not determined that he would leave once he thought ideological differences had been overcome; Gaddafi isn't planning on staying in power until Libya's economy is corrected; Bahrain's King al Khalifa isn't going to step down when he decides that politics is ruining the military institutions. This is not to say popular voices in Brazil were not important to the transition to democracy; they were vital. But the role they played in 1984 was much different than the moment Obama referred to in 1968. By 1984, millions gathered to make clear they wanted direct elections for president, rather than an electoral college that did not answer to popular vote. Ultimately, the movement was both a failure and a success. While Brazilians did not vote directly in the 1985 election (direct elections for president were only held in 1989). Yet their support in these rallies for opposition candidate Tancredo Neves made clear to Brazilian senators who were popularly elected that they had better select Neves in the electoral college instead of pro-dictatorship party candidate Paulo Maluf, a civilian who represented the economic and social policies of the military regime. But in the case of Brazil, military leaders, particularly Geisel and Figueiredo, played a not-insignificant role in the transition to democracy.
It's not that Obama got his history wrong; indeed, the entire speech shows a familiarity with history and culture of another country that is remarkable, and even if it was a crash course, Obama displayed a breadth of familiarity with another country's past and present rarely seen in recent presidents. The people of Brazil did play a major role in the transition to democracy throughout the military regime, and clearly, democracy after 1985 could not have flourished without popular participation and involvement. It's simply that that "years later" part carries a lot of lessons that do not necessarily apply to the Middle East. Brazil's success has been remarkable, especially in the last 10 years, and that's due in no small part to the way democracy has functioned in Brazil. But I think that's where there are lessons to be learned from Brazil. Brazil isn't necessarily a model because of its transition to democracy itself, which does not resemble conditions in the Arab world. Rather, I think Brazil could be a model (and a very general one at that) of how societies can function and succeed in a post-dictatorial democratic system where people have a greater role in determining their country's path.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Douthat Has No Soul

Ross Douthat's column slamming American intervention in Libya is laughable, not because I think we should necessarily be in Libya, but because he says, talking about so-called "liberal wars," 

And because their connection to the national interest is often tangential at best, they’re often fought with one hand behind our back and an eye on the exits, rather than with the full commitment that victory can require. 

Oh, is that so. I mean, that's a very different situation than Iraq, which has a clear and completely truthful connection to the national interest! And really, what went wrong?!

Saturday, March 19, 2011

News and Notes

I'm in Seattle for what has been a very intense research trip. I am kind of slacker today because it is beautiful outside and I tired. Nonetheless, I have been spending an exciting afternoon looking at back to the land articles from 1914......

While I slowly go through this stuff, a few news, notes, and ephemera that is on my mind.

1. Former Denver Bronco Mark Schlereth has a pilot in development? Why? Is there any low network TV won't sink to?

2. Of course this nation is going back to debtor prisons. Since we are determined to roll back 2 centuries of increased economic, environmental, and social progress, why the hell not. With the Republican Party reading Charles Dickens novels as a guide to creating an ideal society, is this at all surprising?

3. Could someone please explain the 1970s to me?

4. I recognize that Wisconsin public sector unions are taking the new anti-union laws to court and hope to fight the battle there. But I am shocked and dismayed that they haven't accompanied this with a strike. Shut down the state.

5. I could not be more torn on this Libya operation.

6. Warren Christopher, RIP. A middling Secretary of State in the annals of the office, but certainly not a terrible one. Interestingly, he was our last white male Secretary of State. We have had 4 non-whites or non-males in a row. Trivial but fascinating. Which reminds me, I wonder if we'll ever see a non-white male Secretary of the Treasury?

7. Love this Disunion piece on divorce in the mid-19th century. I've seen these debates in the territorial records for Washington. Sometimes they granted the divorces, sometimes they didn't.

8. And linked within that piece, Abe Lincoln, working blue!

9. Owsley. Which very much reminds me of Frank Zappa's "Who Needs the Peace Corps?"

10. If the Phillies sign Luis Castillo and he turns out to be a useful replacement while Chase Utley is hurt, I'm going to laugh at Mets fans. I hope he gets a game winning hit against the Mets.

11. I'm wearing the first wool shirt I've ever owned. I wonder how much grassland in Mongolia I turned into desert in order to get this garment. I also realize I have no idea how to wash a wool shirt.

12. I've been reviewing wilderness publications for discussions of loggers. All the great photos make me sad that I haven't done more wilderness explorations in my time. It's a weakness of mine; I love these places but I'm terrible with my hands and too lazy to really take the initiative to get better with things like setting up tents and such. Essentially, I need someone to push me into it. And I haven't been friends with a lot of wilderness-y type people. But when I have been pushed into more hands-on situations, I've really loved it. I think I became a backyard type hiker (by which I mean I explore a lot of places close by to where I live rather than drive hundreds of miles to more established wilderness areas) in part because I really enjoy taking day hikes in part because I can remain in my comfort zone. And I've set up a whole ideology around these actions.

13. If you were ever wanting a sequel to Belle de Jour, and I know you were, I watched Manoel de Oliviera's Belle Toujours last night. It was OK, except that Michel Piccoli's character was drinking at Nicholas Cage Leaving Las Vegas levels, except at 80 years old and with no behavior change. I had a problem with that. Not a moral problem, I just thought it was a weakness of the film.

Well, this pretty much sums up my random thoughts for the last hour. If only all my hours weren't filled with random and mostly depressing thoughts like this.

Friday, March 18, 2011

The Next Diet Fad

Well, I know I'm freaking thrilled to know that yet another pointless fad diet that I am going to have to hear about for the next 2 years is on the way.

Ferlin Husky, RIP

This makes me very sad.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

The Decline and Fall of Lucinda Williams

Usually Pitchfork irritates me to no end. But I could not possibly agree more with the summary of her post-Car Wheels work in a review for her not exciting sounding new album:

The 2000s were Lucinda Williams' most prolific decade, as well as her most conflicted. She released four studio albums and one double live, more than matching her output for the previous two decades combined. Drifting away from country music (which had little use for her as a songwriter or as a performer) and toward a gritty strain of roots rock, Williams grew more confessional in her lyrics, which have grown blatantly autobiographical and have coalesced into a larger story built around her romantic ups and downs. Rather than refining her craft, this development has actually had a deleterious effect on her music. In contrast to her first two country-blues albums and her three truly country albums, her four records from the previous decade have been alternately alienating and ingratiating, self-indulgent and self-denying-- eager both to please an audience and disdain them. Her once effortless lyricism has become rigid and workmanlike, with clich├ęd phrases standing in for complex evocations and words seemingly chosen less for their intrinsic meaning and more for their adherence to her AABB rhyme schemes.

In a sense, I don't have a problem with her not being good anymore. How many songwriters have one album as good as Sweet Old World? Almost none. It happens--artists have only so much great stuff to give to the world. My bigger problem is that people still think these new albums are good--tickets to see her perform are very expensive and her bad albums sell far better than her old great records. 

I blame fame. When Car Wheels on a Gravel Road came out in 1998, it was hailed everywhere. And for good reason; it's a tremendous album. But like a lot of artists, fame changed her work for the worse. Lucinda reminds me a bit of The Band--both toiled in obscurity for a very long time producing amazing music and both struggled to adjust artistically when fame transformed their lives. To a lesser extent, Alejandro Escovedo is in the same boat--he's finally selling albums, opening for the Rolling Stones, and having real success, but it's off the least satisfying albums of his long and wonderful career.

It's gotten to the point where if I hear someone extol the virtues of post-1998 Lucinda, I simply question the taste of the individual. Because it's likely that they heard Lucinda was great from so many people that they are parroting that line. Surely actually listening to her body of work wouldn't lead to the conclusion that albums like West and Little Honey have much value.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Note to the World

Because we seem to have forgotten this, a note: 

Nuclear power is a really, really, really, really, really bad idea.

No matter when technological safeguards we put in place, and Japan is ahead of the game on this, nuclear power can never, ever be made safe.

And to be clear--the earthquake is a natural disaster. Any radiation poisoning caused by the nuclear meltdown is not a natural disaster. That is human caused, 100%.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Nelson Lichtenstein on Wisconsin

Ezra Klein interviews eminent labor historian Nelson Lichtenstein, author of such books as State of the Union: A Century of American Labor and Walther Reuther: The Most Dangerous Man in Detroit, on the crisis in Wisconsin. When Lichtenstein speaks, it's worthwhile to pay attention.

2 Kinds of States

There are two kinds of states in this country--states where Republicans have proposed bills to strip rights from workers and states where Republicans are planning bills to strip rights from workers. See if your state has moved into the first category and what kind of horrors could be in store for you and your ability to feed your family.

Strike Now!!!!

I put together an article for Global Comment calling for Wisconsin workers to call a general strike, regardless of potential legal obstacles. In part:

So sympathy strikes might be illegal. But at this point, what do workers have to lose? The nation is rapidly heading toward the outlawing of labor unions. This is the last stand for American labor. Workers need to lay everything on the line here or their union is next. Plus, given Walker’s blatant illegality in passing this legislation, what good reasons do workers have to follow the law, so long they remain peaceful and respectful of law enforcement officers?

I also call for massive nonviolent resistance. Labor must deploy every move in their playbook. It is time to occupy Republican offices around the state and the nation. Sit-down strikes. Blocking streets. Business in Wisconsin must end until this law is repealed.

If this seems too radical, I ask, what would you suggest? Unions have lost almost every battle they’ve fought for over sixty years. Today, the rights of working and middle-class people have eroded to levels not seen since before World War II. The Republican Party seeks to return this nation to the hell of the late nineteenth century. If this is not the time for radical action, when would be more appropriate?

Tuesday, March 08, 2011

Jean Harlow Month on TCM

Hot-a-palooza. Yowza!

Carnival in Rio (II) - The Second Night's Festivities in the Sambadrome

Porto da Pedra, Grande Rio, Mocidade, Salgueiro, Beija-Flor, and Uniao da Ilha, which overcame the fire from last month to win the Gold Standard prize for its theme "The Mystery of Life," about Charles Darwin and evolution. The images are spectacular as usual, and the songs this year were pretty strong as well (each school has its own song that it writes and performs during their 90-minute parades). For those interested in the music, here are the links for each school's samba, composed just for this year's Carnival (just scroll down a bit and click the little "play" icon in the center of the screen):

Monday, March 07, 2011

Carnival in Rio (I) - The First Night's Festivities in the Sambadrome

Last night was the first of the major two-night spectacle of Carnival in Rio (although people have been marching in blocos, or informal parades, all weekend), and as usual, here's a great collection of photos for each of the schools that marched last night. The first round included the samba schools of Sao Clemente, Imperatriz Leopoldinense, Portela, Unidos da Tijuca, Vila Isabel, and Mangueira. Portela was one of the schools most affected last month by the fire in the warehouse storing Carnival floats and costumes, and it showed in their parade. That said, they did an excellent job recovering enough to march, and it's good that they can't face punishment in the "rebaixamento," or dropping to the second level, this year.

Thursday, March 03, 2011

The Historian as Sociologist

Tenured Radical has a great post on how hard it is for a historian to listen in to people's conversations about history, how that's especially true at sites of right-wing shrines like the Reagan Library (where she is writing from), and how bad things turn out when the historian actually intervenes in these conversations.

More on Environment and Immigration

So Wilderness Watch responded to my critique of their connection between immigration and environmental problems, detailed here.

This was their reply:

While some may take offense, the reality is that overpopulation, which in the United States is driven largely by immigration, is a major global environmental problem, one we agree knows no borders. It is important for every country, including and maybe especially the United States, to stabilize its population. That can’t be done in this country without limiting immigration. It’s the indisputable numerical demographic that drives population growth in the U.S. Howie never implied that immigrants are any more of a problem than anyone else.

Overpopulation is the root cause and driver of all of humanity’s other problems (in the U.S. and around the globe)—including climate change, water shortages, overcrowding, etc. Quite simply, the earth cannot indefinitely sustain an ever-expanding human population without major die-offs of other species. We think it’s pretty darn important to recognize this issue, especially when no one seems willing to tackle it.

We agree that overconsumption is also a major problem, and it’s well-known that industrialized nations use much more than their fair share of resources. That’s an issue we’ll try to address in another post.

There are many great organizations dedicated to important humanitarian and social/environmental justice work, but Wilderness Watch is the only national group working to ensure that America’s great National Wilderness Preservation System stays wild.

–Wilderness Watch staff
My response in return:

Why on earth would it be especially important for the United States to stabilize its population? I don’t understand why this would be so over other countries.

Also, you might think about writing about consumption in another post, but it’s precisely the type of behavior that allows wealthy white people to be wilderness consumers that goes toward creating climate change, not immigrants. By far, the greenest place in the United States is Manhattan. If you are really worried about these problems, isn’t it far better to move into a 500 square foot apartment in an urban center and not drive a car (and of course I don’t have any idea of your lifestyle) and never burn fossil fuels to visit wilderness areas?
Immigration is essentially a non-issue to US environmental problems, particularly when compared to transportation infrastructure, housing policy, and personal consumption patterns. If you truly believe in these the sanctity of these wilderness areas, the best thing you can do is never visit them unless you walk or ride a bike. And if you do visit them and say that the peoples of the world should not be allowed to come to America (as your ancestors were allowed to do) is to say that only the wealthy (and mostly) white can benefit from visiting the wilderness.

And that’s really screwed up.

One of the biggest threats to wilderness areas are the people who purport to love them and visit them all the time–because their burning of fossil fuels creates climate change and because of the desire of people to live in the “wilderburbs” of the West which breaks up wildlife habitat, forces people to buy gas guzzling 4×4 vehicles, and drive 50 miles into work and back.

Compared to this, the threat immigrants pose to wilderness is a drop in the bucket.

I think it would be very interesting to take a poll of the Wilderness Watch staff to see where they live, what kind of vehicles they drive, and gauge what their carbon footprint is.

Then we can compare that carbon footprint to the average person in Bangladesh, Zambia, or Indonesia. And we’ll see if overpopulation is really the issue here.

I print all of this to give you a sense of the battles within the environmental movement between people who want to shift the blame for environmental problems off of themselves and their consumerist lifestyle and toward others who cannot fight back. Again, I find this all very offensive, antisocial, and poorly argued. Moreover it's a politically losing strategy toward building a successful environmental movement.

Shorter Texas Republicans: "Illegal Immigration is OK So Long as I Can Exploit Them To Clean My House. Everyone Else Who Hires Wetbacks Should Be Thrown in Prison"

Texas is really outdoing itself on this one:

Texas has long been a hotbed of controversy on immigration issues. And a proposed immigration bill in the Texas state House is sure to raise more than a few eyebrows. The bill would make hiring an "unauthorized alien" a crime punishable by up to two years in prison and a $10,000 fine, unless that is, they are hired to do household chores.

Yes, under the House Bill 2012 introduced by a tea party favorite state Rep. Debbie Riddle -- who's been saying for some time that she'd like to see Texas institute an Arizona-style immigration law -- hiring an undocumented maid, caretaker, lawnworker or any type of houseworker would be allowed. Why? As Texas state Rep. Aaron Pena, also a Republican, told CNN, without the exemption, "a large segment of the Texas population" would wind up in prison if the bill became law.

"When it comes to household employees or yard workers it is extremely common for Texans to hire people who are likely undocumented workers," Pena told the news giant. "It is so common it is overlooked."

Jon English, Rep. Riddle's chief of staff explained that the exemption was an attempt to avoid "stifling the economic engine" in Texas, which today is, somewhat ironically, celebrating its declaring independence from Mexico in 1836.

I never think I can be amazed by the myopia of rich right-wing Texans. And then they consistently blow my mind. 

TSA on the Streets

Several months ago, I heard about the company behind the TSA body scanners lobbying to push their products into America's trains, buses, stadiums, and other public places. And it looks like the TSA took these efforts seriously, producing studies pushing for this very thing, even to the point of mobile scanners being able to examine people walking down a sidewalk.

This is offensive on every conceivable level, but my jaw also drops at the sheer pointlessness of it all. Are we really that scared of terrorism that we need to give up our entire notion of a right to privacy? I know I am not. And I don't think most other people are either. But I do feel that the combination of a powerful and wealthy company combining with a new federal agency looking to increase their power and budget is a really tough alliance to beat down.

Overpopulation, Wilderness, and the Assumptions of Too Many Environmentalists

I am pretty outraged by this Howie Wolke blog post at Wilderness Watch connecting overpopulation to the destruction of wilderness. In part:

Many on the political left view jobs and social issues as more important than the environment; they miss the numerous connections to overpopulation. And they oppose the tough immigration policies that could halt continued growth (in the U.S. today, population growth is mostly a function of immigration) in the United States. Meanwhile, the political right worships at big industry’s altar of growth at all cost. In addition, religious fundamentalists of nearly every ilk believe that it is their duty to overwhelm all others with their progeny.
And the environmental movement, at least here in the U.S., remains oddly silent on overpopulation.

The solutions to overpopulation are no secret. Economic policies based upon stability, not perpetual growth, are essential. Better health care and education plus political and economic empowerment of women – especially in poorer countries – are equally important. Family planning services must be integral, safe, and available to all, everywhere. Also, men must assume greater responsibility for their obvious role in population growth. In the United States, immigration must be brought under control. We also need to create tax and other economic incentives for smaller families. But none of this will happen if overpopulation continues to elude the discussion.

Until overpopulation is recognized, the United States and many other nations will continue to fail to develop and implement population policies, and humans will continue to obliterate not just wilderness, but most remaining natural ecosystems on Earth. Oh well, it’s obvious that humans can endure in horribly over-crowded, polluted, denuded and impoverished squalor. That’s proven each day in many corners of the world. The flip side of that problem is that so many other forms of life cannot.

I'm just going to reproduce my comment to the original post (which has not yet made it through moderation):

This article is wrong-headed for many reasons. And the idea that immigration is a major environmental problem is offensive.

1. This idea that immigration is a threat to our environment assumes that somehow environmental issues stop at international borders and if we keep people out of our nation, our environment will be protected. Meanwhile, climate change imperils our wilderness areas whether people remain in Guatemala or try to improve their lives in the United States.

2. Even if the above assumption is strictly true when it comes to technical boundaries of wilderness, it assumes that environmental issues in the U.S. are somehow more important than environmental issues in other countries.

3. The entire argument that overpopulation is the major threat to the environment shifts the blame for environmental problems from rich people who consume a vast majority of the world’s resources and onto poor people. Immigrants, because they are poor, are going to have a much smaller environmental footprint than a person with a house in the Sandia Mountains of New Mexico who commutes into Albuquerque for instance. Who is really to blame for climate change in that scenario–the person with the 3000 square foot mansion in the Sandias or 100 immigrants with their combined environmental footprint?

4. The focus on wilderness and the potential threats to it is emblematic of the white elitist form of environmentalism that has dominated the movement since the late 1970s. Rather than focus on the environmental problems of people and the ecosystems around them, Wolke worries about lands that most Americans will never visit. And while those lands have great value, this kind of argument does zilch to build the kind of bipartisan and electorally popular environmental movement of the 1960s that focused as much as the environment of the backyard as that of the alpine wilderness.

This isn’t to say that overpopulation is a non-issue. But it certainly isn’t the most important problem we have to face as environmentalists. And to reinforce the environmental movement as white and privileged, of which this article is guilty, does absolutely nothing to further a sustainable world.
This pretty much sums up my view on the matter, but I will say this is precisely the kind of environmental thought that is most damaging and unsupportable. It was this kind of person who tried to take over the Sierra Club several years ago on a nativist platform. And it's this kind of environmentalism that I will never, ever support. 

The Low-Hanging Fruit

At first, anyone reading Dana Milbank's editorial on this disastrous meeting of the House defense appropriations subcommittee is going to be outraged. Here Secretary of Defense Gates is asking for better protection for soldiers in Afghanistan and there's Republican Bill Young holding it up because the funding would come from Humvees made in his district. The affected company is one of his biggest campaign contributors. And over there are a variety of congressman using the event as a soapbox for their own personal causes.

Won't somebody think about the soldiers!!!

And while this is emblematic of the dysfunction of our government, the article is the kind of lazy punditry that plagues op-ed pages around the nation. It's not that Milbank is wrong in criticizing this problem, but he completely ignores root causes--the lack of public campaign financing and the way corporations control our political system. Milbank could have written this same column and then ripped into the problems that create this scenario.

Instead, it's just another sleepy Congress is bad/Military is good dichotomy.


Historical Image of the Day

The Duke Ellington Orchestra, 1945

Tuesday, March 01, 2011

Deepwater Drilling in the Gulf Resumes

With regulations on deep water drilling facing a marginal change at best, deepwater drilling in the Gulf of Mexico is about to resume. We've already forgotten about the dead birds and decimated ecosystems.  But hey, gas is up 20 cents a gallon (despite the fact that there has been zero decline in oil supplies), so kill all the birds!!!

Dr. Colin Snider

Congratulations to Colin, who defended his dissertation yesterday. He is now Dr. Colin Snider, though Dr. Mr. Trend would have been better.

Now I have to figure out a clear way to show that I am better than Colin. Before, I had the Dr. in front of my name and he didn't. Now it might be fuzzier to a general audience. Suggestions?


I've heard a few progressives complain about the potential of recalling Wisconsin state legislators over Scott Walker's draconian union-busting legislation. They don't like the recall because it doesn't play by Washington rules I guess. And they remember the ousting of Gray Davis in California. While I'll admit the recall is a tricky thing and can be used nefariously, was there ever a better scenario to deploy it than in Wisconsin right now? And so I'm glad to see labor and its allies begin to threaten these jerks with their jobs. We'll see how many of them support union-busting if it is going to cost them their seat.

Historical Image of the Day

Bill Monroe and His Bluegrass Boys, sometime between 1939 and 1942.