Archive | September 2012

Barack Obama: Factory Job Killer? Not.

Manufacturing Employees per Capita

I keep reading that Obama has killed manufacturing jobs. The only gains in manufacturing jobs (per capita) since Bush was elected have occurred during Obama’s term. Granted, many of these gains have been the result of factories coming back online after the crash of 07/08, but still, the claims are entirely disingenuous.

Bush never existed. I have to remind myself of this every once in a while.

Manufacturing jobs have been declining for decades, however. There is no evidence that a Romney presidency will change this trend.

It’s also interesting that there were no dramatic gains during Reagan, who is credited with loosening regulations and cutting taxes. Both Bush and Reagan saw steady drops in manufacturing. The only time there has been any stability in the manufacturing sector was during Clinton.

It is even more interesting, that Bush’s manufacturing decline after the collapse of the tech bubble saw neither gains nor a flattening of job numbers, but rather an uninterrupted drop.

I feel as this wasn’t an issue in the election of 2004. It’s debatable as to how much power a President has to determine the state of the economy but the idea that there haven’t been gains in jobs under Barack Obama is just outright fantasy.

The Permanent Seminar on Histories of Film Theories

Today, I’m sitting in on the Permanent Seminar on Histories of Film Theories symposium, a research dissemination event bringing film scholars working in the field of East Asian cinema.

While I don’t speak the same academic language as many of the presenters, it’s enjoyable to be here and see so many people working diligently on a subject as obscure as East Asian cinematic history. It is fascinating to sit and listen to discussions of Japanese colonial cinema, the philosophy of Maeda Ai, and Chinese literary giant Lu Xun’s “amateur” analysis of an obscure Japanese writer’s 1941 work on Democracy and cinema. Wow.

As always, I am struck as the paucity of discussions of modern cinematic and artistic history. I remember when I was an undergrad, studying German literature and cinema, being frustrated by the seeming reluctance of academics to work with current literatures and cinemas. While it is certainly safe to work in spaces where philosophies and criticisms are recorded, accepted and preciously interpreted, academic thought cannot progress by resting forever on the laurels of Foucault, Derrida and what academic libraries are willing to provide shelf space for. Admittedly, this impression is entirely based on the limited number of presentations I have seen to this point and likely not fair to those whose work I am not so familiar with, but this impression is what sticks.

Orignally, I had intended to go to graduate school in the humanities, specifically in Japanese film studies. Life, of course, got in the way and things turned out differently. I am most satisfied with the ways things turned out, but I am happy to have a background in the humanities. I often question to utility of segregating academics into the disciplines, the borders between which are often artificial and created for reasons other than academics. I find that we have much to offer one another, though little opportunity to interact. For someone as intellectually schizophrenic (if that can be considered a positive) as myself, I think that’s a shame.

Tonight, Ozu’s Tokyo no Yado, a Japanese silent, will be shown to live musical accompaniment and dialogue performed by a practicing benshi. Before talkies, silent films in Japan were narrated live. Often the narrators (benshi) were more popular than the movies themselves. Kataoka Ichirou is one of 15 practicing benshi in Japan and is visiting Ann Arbor for the next six months. I had the opportunity to speak with him briefly last night. Hopefully I will be able to interview him before he leaves.

I was Interviewed by Mark Maynard on the Problem of Food Prices

And I’m still reeling. Tonight, I’ll be giving a haphazard lecture on the problem of rising food prices and the issue of agricultural commodity financialization for NWAEG (New World Agriculture and Ecology Group) here at the University of Michigan.

Mark was kind enough to interview me for the event, vastly overstating its relevance (my talk, the issue is very relevant).

Unfortunately, though, Mark is going to forego to the event to watch comedian and former Republican hopeful, Herman Cain.

You can find the interview here.

My Life as a Welfare Parasite

How the right views the poor (from a right wing blog).

Mitt Romney has finally spoken for the American right and the news is that they hate me. So that we can get it all out on the table, I thought I’d make a list of all the assistance I’ve received from the United States government.

I’ve gotten aid from government programs for most of the years I’ve been on this planet. Here an abridged version of my “dependency” story. I have estimated my total cost to tax payers in a table following.

First, My father died in an accident in 1974 while a graduate student at and in the employ of the University of Michigan. My mother and I qualified for payments under Workman’s Compensation. This benefit would last until I turned 18. We also qualified to receive Social Security benefits until I turned 18.

In a moment of insanity (sorry mom), my mother quickly married a drug addicted sociopath. I seem to recall that he had a job at some point, though the facts are probably as hazy as the Darvocets left him. Given that he liked to spend the household money on drugs, we never had much food. The Social Security payments and Workman’s Comp (and my mother’s later paychecks) were the only things that kept us even minimally fed. Even as an young child, I was conscious of this lifeline. One can certainly blame my mother, if one felt so inclined, but the fact is, at 5, I had nothing to do with it.

Second, in the Fall of 1989, my girlfriend and I discovered that she was pregnant. Abortion wasn’t an option, though we had no clue as to how to go about birthing, let alone caring for, a child.

My child’s mother was under 21 so we qualified for full medical care under Medicaid. The federal government and the State of Michigan paid 100% of medical costs at the University of Michigan Hospital. Naturally, we qualified for food assistance under WIC and Food Stamps.

Lastly, job prospects for near drop outs of Mississippi public schools (GPA: 1.5, priceless) were nil, even in 1990. Being literate and looking at a life of washing dishes, my only option was to return to school, which required the assistance of the federal and state governments. I worked my way up through publicly funded community college, and then the University of Michigan.

So here it is, as far as I was able to estimate:

Total Estimated Government Aid

This is, of course, incomplete. The government has also picked up the tab for the interest on my student loans, part of my graduate education was supported by a federally funded program, my wife receives financial aid as well, etc. etc. In total, my family and I have probably taken advantage of more than a quarter of a million dollars in government support. Neither I nor my parents ever made any significant financial contribution to offset this money (unlike programs like Medicare) prior to receiving it.

My point here, though, is that this money was not wasted (I hope). Without that support, my world (as trailer trash) and my education would have been impossible. Some of the reasons I’ve taken this road of serving the public good include the generous support I received from publicly funded programs. Knowing how people live at the bottom doesn’t hurt, either.

It’s easy to be cynical about the failures of government and difficult to recognize the successes of publicly funded programs. Efforts to improve the lives of the public through publicly funded programs can, and do, work every day. I also know that I’m not alone, having been surrounded by formerly impoverished individuals who now have gone on to productive careers.

In contrast to fostering “dependence,” public assistance has instead made me, and other low income students, wholly independent. Having an education behind me, I will never, ever need food assistance again. If I’m lucky, I will be able to partially forego income and medical assistance in old age. If I’m lucky, I will be able to leave a chunk of money in a small private fund to help out others like myself. At least that’s my hope.

So, I very much thank you, tax payers. I promise that your sacrifice will not have been in vain.

Tuesday Night Jams: A.P.E.S. (Adam Autrey,Pete Larson, Erik Talley, Scott Nydegger)

I was making dinner tonight and put my MP3 player on random. On comes a tune, and I’m thinking to myself, “Wow, this guitar player sounds great!” 10 minutes later, I realize that the person playing guitar is myself.

Erik Talley is a violinist and luthier from North Carolina. If you listen to the tunes, you will hear how good he is.

Adam Autry is one of the craziest drummers alive and used to play in the legendary Olneyville Sound System. Both Adam and Erik live in Providence, RI. Both are far better musicians than me.

Rounding out the group was Scot Nydegger of Sikhara/Radon Records fame. For some odd reason, we had him playing bass (he normally plays percussion).

We recorded this in either late 1999 or early 2000 at my warehouse space in Providence, “the Bulb Clubhouse” where we used to host live bands and spontaneous recording session. I probably hadn’t listened to this since the day we recorded it, but it still sounds great. The guitar player is less impressive to me, after realizing that he’s me, but it still makes some great cooking music. Enjoy.

You can download it here:
Single zip file of all mp3s and artwork

or just listen to it here:

Late Night Break In
Stolen Window
Nigerian Church
A Jeweler’s Nightmare

Rising Food Prices Might Be Causing Unrest in the Middle East and North Africa

Rising food prices and food riots

Last week, I put together a small post hypothesizing that rising food prices are associated with protests in South Africa. I showed how the pattern of newspaper reports on protests follows the current pattern on rising food prices, as measured through the FAO worldwide Food Price Index.

Turns out, researchers at the New England Complex Systems Institute had the same idea, but they applied it to food riots in the Middle East and North Africa. The results of their research are presented to the left.

The pattern is the same. Riots tend to be clustered during rapid price increases, and sparse (non-existent) when prices drop.

I have already written on the influence of Wall Street on price rise and volatility. This frightening pattern is no accident. If this result and mine are any indication, unrest will continue. Food prices will likely continue rising, with some intermittent drops.

My feeling is that the recent explosion of protest in Islamic countries is less related to a childish video, and more about individuals unable to properly feed their families. Given the United States financial sectors complicity in creating these conditions, they are right to be angry. Until the Americans become proactive toward regulating food commodity speculation, this situation will only worsen.

It is my opinion that this will be the most important issue of our time, and could very lead to massive instability and violence.

Anti-Japanese Sloganeering in China Turns Revolutionary

Chinese vendor bites back


I have been following the recent row between China and Japan over a small set of islands north of Taiwan. While most of the rhetoric publicly available from the Chinese side is pretty standard nationalistic nonsense (“Kill all Japanese!”), the following was an intriguing twist.

The sign reads:


No medical insurance, no social security, yet the Diaoyu Islands must be in your heart.

Even if the government does not take care of the elderly, we should recover the Diaoyu Islands.

No property rights, no human rights, but [our nation] contends for the sovereign rights of the Diaoyu Islands.

[We] can’t buy a home, can’t build a tomb, but we contest every inch of ground with the Japanese.

It made me think of similar nonsense at home, but clearly their situation is much worse. Senseless violence over territory and blind ideology is pretty useless if a country can’t even take care of its own people.

Confused by Your Ethnic Identity? Scott Brown Will Clear it up for You!

Do these people look Native to you, Mr. Brown?

“I think character is important. … Professor Warren claimed she was a Native American, a person of color. And as you can see, she’s not.”

Senator Scott Brown to Candidate Elizabeth Warren

It took me a while to process this. As a sitting Senator, Scott Brown should know better. The statement, however, should be taken as a desperate attempt to hang on to a contested seat. If Brown were a shoe in for reelection, he wouldn’t need to sink so low. Certainly, he scored points with right wingers all over America.

Determining an individual’s ethnic and genetic heritage should be up to Scott Brown or any other goverment official. Unfortunately, for the past several hundred years, Native Americans have had their identity shaped and constrained by men just like Scott Brown.

Big government at work, indeed.

There are currently 565 federally recognized tribal entities in the United States, each one of them legally recognized through criteria set by the United States Federal Government itself. While many people of Native American descent are able to claim some level of tribal identity through community membership and specific rules set by the tribes themselves, most rely on written records going back to the 19th century.

Many, if not most, people of Native descent lack these official records. Native Americans were largely displace and marginalized. Thus, many people lack official records proving that their long dead ancestors were indeed Native Americans. Moreover, many Native folks assimilated and mixed in, just as many Americans have. The result, even among those that hold tribal affiliation, is that many Native Americans look very different from how Mr. Brown might picture one to look.

I don’t think that Senator Brown really gets how deep his words cut. As someone of unverifiable native descent myself (outside of DNA testing, or a visual inspection of my teeth), I found his slight comment incredibly offensive. No one would ever argue against his Anglo-ness, yet to claim native ancestry without a government issued document is met with suspicion. This is a sad state of affairs. America once used to kill Native Americans, now, as Mr. Brown pointed out, we work to rub them out by denying that they exist.

Are Rising Food Prices Causing Social Unrest?

I have written several posts on the major problem of rising global food prices. Recently, a friend brought up the threat of domestic food riots. I quickly brought up the problem of rising food costs, and theorized that a declining ability for people to feed their families is at least partially to blame for the increasingly bloody labor protests in South Africa.

South Africa is considered the world’s protest capitol. To be sure, the South Africans, used to generations of violent oppression have made a science of political protest. They are certainly within their rights to complain, dealing with massive inequality, political marginalization and a historically violent state.

Using the University of Michigan’s article database, I counted the number of newspaper articles containing the words “South Africa” and “protest” yearly from 1990 to 2012. Only articles written in English were considered. I combined this small database with the FAO’s yearly food price index to discover if there were some correlation between the two. The results of my search are in the graphic to the left.

Assuming that the number of articles on South African protests is correlated with the true number of protests, I found that there is a correlation between the two and that correlation is striking. I think it would be safe to conclude that the unprecedented increase in world food prices is contributing to massive social instability in South Africa.

I find this result frightening.

As a resource exporter dependent on international mineral traders and global pricing, domestic policy and corruption in South Africa are influenced and encouraged by the international community. This failure of policy to provide for the poor and protect the interests of workers (who merely demand fair pay) are likely contributing to violent unrest.

Right Wing Internet Memes: Please, sir, don’t confuse me with the facts

20120920-094911.jpg Last night, I received the graphic to the left from a conservative friend of mine. It took me while to decide whether it was worth blogging about. After waking up this morning and finding that I was STILL thinking about, I caved.

Right wingers seem to spread these graphics around like mad. In my experience, left wingers send out simplified graphics, too, but the subject matter is somewhat more diverse (Monsanto is a common theme, however).

Originally, I had written a point by point criticism of this one graphic, but the post got so long as to be unreadable. That’s the problem with trying to respond to these type of messages: your day quickly disappears. It’s like trying to stop flooding in New Orleans by throwing handfuls of sand at the levy.

Political discourse in the United States has reached a tipping point of reductionism. Nowhere is this more apparent than in the current set of Republican political campaigns. Strategies center on simplifying issues, and where reductionism and simplification don’t work, candidates will just make up their own reality. Voters have shown time and again that facts do not matter. Vilification of perceived enemies, in this case college students, teachers, academics and liberals is, sadly, de rigueur.

Sadly, America no longer embraces that which it should be the most proud of, namely, our Universities. It is our very best offering to the world, unmatched in scale by any country on the entire planet. Yes, excellent universities exist outside the US, but there is no country which can match the sheer number of excellent schools that the United States has.

At one time, going to college was a badge of honor, particularly for the working class and the poor. I fear that this current trend of anti-intellectualism will continue, and what was once a pathway for the otherwise marginalized to become engaged citizens (of any political bent), will become a badge of suspicion.

If we are to be derided as “Marxists” let it be. I’ve read Marx. I doubt that the creator of this graphic, nor the individuals spreading it have taken the time.

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