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Lawrence Lessig at The New York Review of Books, Why the US Is a Failed Democratic State:

Because the Supreme Court has declared that partisan gerrymandering is beyond the ken of our Constitution, states have radically manipulated legislative districts.


The Nationalist’s Delusion

Adam Serwer, in a slam-dunk piece in The Atlantic:

Among the most popular explanations for Trump’s victory and the Trump phenomenon writ large is the Calamity Thesis: the belief that Trump’s election was the direct result of some great, unacknowledged social catastrophe—the opioid crisis, free trade, a decline in white Americans’ life expectancy—heretofore ignored by cloistered elites in their coastal bubbles. The irony is that the Calamity Thesis is by far the preferred white-elite explanation for Trumpism, and is frequently invoked in arguments among elites as a way of accusing other elites of being out of touch.



Why Bernie Sanders’ single-payer push is great policy and even better politics:

The United States, by contrast, is very rich, and already dedicates way more than enough resources to set up the world’s most generous health-care system, and a lot more besides. We spend $3.2 trillion per year — literally twice as much as the OECD average as a share of the economy. We pay enough in health-care taxes alone — that is, the government revenue that goes to Medicare, Medicaid, the VA, and a few other things — to cover a Canada-style Medicare-for-all system for the whole U.S., and then that much again in private money. In other words, if we could simply copy-paste Canada’s universal health-care system into America, taxes would actually go down.

All that means is that America doesn’t have to worry much about costs; it has to worry about allocating existing spending properly. We already have a gigantic pool of resources dedicated to health care — about half private and half public. We just have to adjust that spending so it can support a single-payer system.


Can Not Learn

Sometimes I don’t write because so many others do it better. For example, Umair Haque, in his essay What Do You Call a World That Can’t Learn From Itself?:



This tweet replays in my brain regularly. Dan Hodges, on Twitter:

In retrospect Sandy Hook marked the end of the US gun control debate. Once America decided killing children was bearable, it was over.


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DACA Is Japanese Internment 2.0

Reproducing this here in its entirety because when I want to read it ten years hence, twitter will probably be gone… or at least the URL linking to this will be broken. So:

In light of what’s going on with #Dreamers, it’s time to talk about Japanese internment. Because the #DACA showdown is Japanese internment 2.0.

Japanese immigrants in the 19th & early 20th centuries came to the US in large part for manual farm labor in California. Sound familiar?

Japan had much more advanced horticulture than the US at that time, so these immigrants weren’t just bringing brute labor. They were bringing a lot of basic how-to’s of commercial farming that built the foundation for California’s success as an agricultural powerhouse today. Japanese immigrant farm laborers American Dream’d so hard, many families were able to save money to buy their own land and start farming for themselves. “The California Farm Bureau was quoted by The News, saying that Japanese farmers were responsible for 40 percent of all vegetables grown in the state, including nearly 100 percent of all tomatoes, celery, strawberries and peppers.” (San Francisco Museum)

The Central Valley used to be peppered with Japanese family farms. Not anymore. What happened to them?

WW2’s Japanese internment. Japanese internment was a land grab by white farmers. Full stop.

The initial call for Japanese internment came mere hours after the Pearl Harbor bombing, from the Salinas Valley Vegetable Grower-Shipper Association.

AKA, Japanese internment was initiated by the California farm lobby: “The average value/acre of all West Coast farms in 1940 was $37.94, whereas that of Japanese farms was $279.96… 3/4 acres of Japanese farm lands were devoted to actual crop production, whereas only 1/4 acres of all farm land in the areas was planted in crops.”

Check out those numbers. Japan’s farm traditions were based on maximizing use of space, so they made more $ per acre. That tends to drive up land prices. And rising land prices tend to make people whose farming skills can’t keep up feel very nervous. So. Japanese farmers’ success came from having tight management skills, and that threatened their white neighbors.

White farmers had a choice: level up their game, or play dirty.

Let me reiterate: given a choice between being good at their job and lobbying the gov’t to make their problems go away, US farmers chose the second option. This is a classic move that those in the farm industry will still recognize.

“We’re charged with wanting to get rid of the Japs for selfish reasons. We might as well be honest. We do.”
-Austin E. Anson, Salinas Vegetable Grower-Shipper Association

They weren’t even trying to hide it. Japanese internment was about white good ol’ boys being jealous of successful immigrants. There was a downside though. Remember how Japanese American farmers were growing nearly half the country’s produce? And the US war strategy was “an army marches on its stomach, so we need super solid supply chains for food”? It turns out putting most of the country’s skilled farmers in jail … didn’t help with making food. Once internment started, food shortages quickly followed.

How did the US handle that misstep? Victory gardens! “Victory Gardens were the propagandistic answer to the chaos created by FDR’s roundup and imprisonment of 120,000 Japanese-Americans in early 1942. (Cindy McNatt at the Orange County Register)” So yeah, victory gardens were less “plucky nation pitches in with the war effort” and more “oh wow we systematic racism-ed so hard that we punched a hole in the economy. Do we admit we the mistake and fix it? Nahhhh, let’s foist the consequences off on civilians.”

Like Japanese families in the early 20th century, a lot of US immigrant population today is families that came to work on farms. And they’ve been here just long enough to actually get established and really start building a life. The US was kind of ok with immigration as long as it was get in, work for really cheap, get out. But we’re at a demographic turning point where a critical mass of farm immigrant families have reached some upward mobility and established themselves en masse.

And here’s the part that most people don’t know, unless they work in some really specific parts of the farm economy: Most of the US thinks of “immigrant farm workers” as grunt labor. And yes, most of the brute force work on farms is done by Latinx immigrants. But 1st and 2nd generation Latinx immigrants are also the knowledge base in modern US agriculture.

I’m gonna tell you guys a secret. A lot US farmers don’t actually know that much about farming. They know a lot about writing checks to Latinx contractors, who know how to farm.

The US farm industry isn’t just dependent on Latinx immigrants for labor. They’re dependent on Latinx immigrants for knowing HOW to farm. How to manage a harvest, how to run a packinghouse, how to keep a fleet of farm vehicles running. And I bet you money that scares the hell out of a lot of white people. Not the farmers, funnily enough. The actual farmers tend to be a lot more at peace with it than the rest of the rural/suburban white population. (Don’t get me wrong, they still mostly voted for Trump. Even though they knew his immigration policies are deadly for farms. They vote for conservatives and just expect things to magically turn out immigration-friendly anyway.)

The thing is, farmers aren’t the influential voting bloc they used to be. The new wrinkle entering the immigration debate right now, IMO, is private prisons. Prison labor’s been used in the US for manufacturing for quite some time. But it’s making significant new inroads into farm labor. Especially now that it’s becoming harder for immigrants to work in the US, farms are turning to inmate contracts. Prisoners working on a farm is a little different from manufacturing. In manufacturing, folks are locked down in a building. It’s pretty easy to control your workers. But farming is outdoors and, nowadays, super mechanized. That means to get anything done, you have to be able to give someone tools or a tractor and have a reasonable expectation that they’ll use them for work. Instead of, say, murdering the foreman and running off. You also need people with farm work experience. Farm work is an art. You just don’t get productive labor out of stoners. I say this as someone who’s personally supervised convict farm crews made of people in for minor drug charges. It’s… just a mess all around.

So say you’re a private prisoner contractor who’s looking at farm labor deals. To keep those clients happy, you need a steady stream of nonviolent criminals who are also have farm work experience. Talkin out the side of my mouth here, but if I were them, I’d see crackdowns on migrant laborers as a fantastic business move. I might even press my congressmen to write & sponsor bills like this one. Immigrants don’t even have to commit crimes to become part of my workforce, I mean go to jail. Just be poor. Or not have their green card in their pocket during a traffic stop.

Anyway, that’s my best guess as to why the GOP can’t get itself together to support a bill that most Americans want. There are a lot of primary voters, and a lot of donors, who have a vested interest in criminalizing immigrants.

To connect this back to Japanese internment. Internment was pushed through by a small farm lobby that wanted the land under Japanese American family farms, sure. But they couldn’t have pulled it off w/o the rest of the country’s xenophobia. Today we have private prisons whose business models look like they just kinda might depend on everyone being ok with jailing immigrants for being immigrants.
And there’s enough butthurt white people with “economic anxiety” to make that happen. Maybe. It’s really encouraging how many people support #DACA. We still have the same ugly dynamics that brought Japanese internment to life. But we also have a lot of people today who know better.

Keep those calls to your reps coming, folks.



The year is 1943. The Supreme Court upholds the right to not say the pledge of allegiance in a classroom:

The case is made difficult not because the principles of its decision are obscure but because the flag involved is our own. Nevertheless, we apply the limitations of the Constitution with no fear that freedom to be intellectually and spiritually diverse or even contrary will disintegrate the social organization. To believe that patriotism will not flourish if patriotic ceremonies are voluntary and spontaneous instead of a compulsory routine is to make an unflattering estimate of the appeal of our institutions to free minds. We can have intellectual individualism and the rich cultural diversities that we owe to exceptional minds only at the price of occasional eccentricity and abnormal attitudes. When they are so harmless to others or to the State as those we deal with here, the price is not too great. But freedom to differ is not limited to things that do not matter much. That would be a mere shadow of freedom. The test of its substance is the right to differ as to things that touch the heart of the existing order.

If there is any fixed star in our constitutional constellation, it is that no official, high or petty, can prescribe what shall be orthodox in politics, nationalism, religion, or other matters of opinion or force citizens to confess by word or act their faith therein. If there are any circumstances which permit an exception, they do not now occur to us.



Jill Lepore wrote “Battleground America” for an April issue of The New Yorker:

When carrying a concealed weapon for self-defense is understood not as a failure of civil society, to be mourned, but as an act of citizenship, to be vaunted, there is little civilian life left.


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Maira Kalman’s Illustrated Blog

Maira Kalman started a blog about “American democracy” in January at the New York Times. Intriguingly, it is an illustrated blog. Mykala and I both enjoyed her August entry: ‘I Lift My Lamp Beside the Golden Door’. A quote:



Right now, roughly 1 in 5 Americans don’t have full time jobs:

A truer picture of the employment crisis emerges when you combine the number of people who are officially counted as jobless with those who are working part time because they can’t find full-time work and those in the so-called labor market reserve — people who are not actively looking for work (because they have become discouraged, for example) but would take a job if one became available.

The tally from those three categories is a mind-boggling 30 million Americans — 19 percent of the overall work force.


Monopolies Suck

A short piece in which I continually widen the scope of the issues addressed.

The fact that I have precisely one choice for high speed internet in the capital city of Minnesota irks me to no end. For someone who will return to higher education and is currently freelancing doing webdesign, high speed internet is a need, not a want. So, I must pay what Comcast asks, and I have no other choice. As I said in the title, this sucks. Could it get any worse? I’m stuck as a customer of a coercive monopoly so… of course it could get worse. Read on.


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Election 2008: Super Tuesday

The more I have learned and grown as a world citizen and the more the seeds of a liberal arts education have germinated within my brain, the more I have realized the incredible gift of a democratic government that we have here in the United States. That’s not to say my ignorance of the election system isn’t shocking — in fact, today I read through the Wikipedia article about Super Tuesday to understand what, exactly, happens on this day:


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