Overtime Regulations and Health Care: GOP Demonstrates the Measure of Human Existence

 

Image result for industrial revolution workers conditions

Pictured: GOP Nostalgia

 

In the daily brief of the New York Times, there’s a link-filled sentence that gives away the entire universe.

Party leaders worked into the night on Wednesday to secure the support of rank-and-file members, who our writer says face a dilemma: Vote for a bill that could harm their constituents, or undermine President Trump’s agenda.

While admitting that the Morning Brief writer may have put their thumb on the scale a little bit, it’s also impossible to deny that this is their real choice: go against Trump and mainstream GOP wishes, or hurt their constituents by throwing them into poverty and turmoil in order to pass a massive tax cut. That is to say, more bluntly: President Trump’s agenda will hurt their constituents (and, of course, his constituents, but the entire career of Donald Trump has been to leave other people holding the bag, so who is really surprised?).

And, meanwhile, while the Gorsuch hearings and Comey testimony have understandably taken up much of the oxygen, the hearing for new Labor Secretary Alexander Acosta has been kicking off. Elizabeth Warren, as is her habit, got things off by saying the exact right thing.

“I’ll be honest, I’m glad it’s not his first choice, Andrew Puzder, who is sitting here today. That said, the test for secretary of Labor is not, ‘Are you better than Andrew Puzder?’ The test is, ‘Will you stand up for American workers?’ ” she added.

The thing is, that’s not really what the GOP believes should be the role of labor secretary, since they don’t at all respect labor, except as a way to garner votes. They truly believe that unions should be destroyed (something Judge Gorsuch seems to agree with), and while Donald Trump makes protectionist noise, it is clear he is against minimum wages and encourages states to compete with each other in a race to the bottom. While that might, in a way, be pro-make-stuff-in-America, it is very far from being pro-worker.

Indeed, the driving philosophy is that workers exist to make money for the bosses. That’s always been the main philosophy behind capitalism, and it has only been tempered by the progressive movement (which inarguably saved capitalism from itself). We saw this again when Barack Obama moved to change overtime rules, saying that people who make a certain percentage above the poverty line should be compensated for working overtime.

Think about that. The rule is literally saying that you should be paid for the hours you work. For years, businesses, especially low-wage ones that hire younger people, minorities, and other vulnerable populations, have skirted overtime rules by “promoting” low-wage workers to “management” positions, which are often exempt from overtime. Because, you know, if you have this high-paying responsibility, you should be willing to work the extra hours.

Of course, the management positions didn’t come with any actual extra money. They only came with the overtime exemption. That’s because, as per current guidelines, the overtime rules only protect workers making less than $23,660 per year. Think about that. If you make $24,000 a year, and I’m guessing most of my readers make considerably more, you are considered too well off to make money for working overtime.

The Obama update moved that to a far more reasonable $47,476, and that set of screams from the right, that they are killing small businesses, overregulating, sticking the bearish claw of big government into the sweet honeycombs of mom and pop businesses like Arby’s, etc. Because, as always, the priority for the right is to maximize profit by grinding down workers. By converting them into capital while paying the absolute least and investing the bare minimum into the community.

Anyway, Acosta, to his credit, seemed to realize that pegging the overtime rules to 2004 standards was absurd, and sugessted that it could be raised along with inflation, which would put it around $33,000. That’s better, but still seems pretty low. But still, even that modest hedge is greatly qualified by his appeal to a worker-hating down-the-line Republican.

In addition to the overtime increase, unions scored major victories when the Obama administration issued one rule limiting workplace exposure to silica, a cancer-causing substance, and a second rule requiring investment advisers to act in the best interests of their clients.

The Labor nominee indicated he would follow Trump’s direction on the three rules, which means the agency could go through the rulemaking process again to repeal them.

Which means: none of these are going to go through. The Trump administration, fulfilling Heritage Foundation fantasies, has been working hand-in-glove with Congress to destroy worker safety regulations on federal and state levels. What makes you think they are going to protect overtime rules?

The fiduciary rule, where investment advisors have to work in the best interests of their clients, and not themselves, is another obvious tell. (Imagine if, say, medicine had the same lack of standards. “It’s his right to just practice an appendectomy if he wants!”) Profit for the very few isn’t the main goal: it’s the only belief.

I’m going to finish this with another little story I think is telling, which I came across doing research for another article for my day job.

Tim Cook, was asked at the annual shareholder meeting by the NCPPR, the conservative finance group, to disclose the costs of Apple’s energy sustainability programs, and make a commitment to doing only those things that were profitable.

Mr. Cook replied –with an uncharacteristic display of emotion–that a return on investment (ROI) was not the primary consideration on such issues. “When we work on making our devices accessible by the blind,” he said, “I don’t consider the bloody ROI.”

Now, obviously, I’m not praising Apple in an article talking about worker rights and such. But think of the mentality of the NCPPR: they literally are offended by the idea that a company could do anything that wouldn’t immediately increase “shareholder profit”, which includes such squish nonsense as protecting the environment.

The whole goal, the whole mentality, is that of a shareholder/boss dominion. Workers, and indeed the entire earth, is means toward profit. They are mere tools. That’s all they are, and that’s all they ever should be. That’s why I think the health care plan still has a chance at passing. If they can make it cruel enough, and it looks like they’re trying to do so, they can get the Freedom Caucus, for whom other people’s life and liberty are the cheap prices to be paid for the pursuit of profit.

 

Trump’s Great Lakes Policies Are Terrible For His Rust Belt Voters

 

Republic Steel - Now known as Riverbend (BEFORE)

The people who this hurts aren’t latte-sipping coastal elites

 

There’s been no doubt that all of Donald Trump’s plans (at least the ones that aren’t designed to hurt Muslims and Mexicans) stick it especially hard to his voting base. Gutting the ACA will throw millions more into uncertainty and poverty. He’s destroying programs that reduce misery in Appalachia (while obviously not doing anything to “restore coal”, because that’s impossible).  He’s gutting Meals on Wheels, which I don’t remember being the province of smug liberals.

He’s doing this because he’s a Republican, of course, and a tremendous liar, both of which facts somehow eluded people that voted for him. But regardless.

One area where this is especially true is in the Great Lakes, home of the Rust Belt, and the symbolic heart of Trump’s victory. On the surface, it is easy to see why. For decades, after the labor/environmental split, which was more a product of a few mistakes and deliberate divide-and-conquer strategies of management rather than an inevitable corporate outcome, “green” policies have been perceived as harmful, and even antithetical, to the white working class.

It’s a buncha eggheads at the EPA and college professors and long-hairs who are stopping us from working, with their regulations. The culture wars mixed with the regulatory battles (and are really part of the same phenomenon), to the point where anything that smacked of environmentalism was seen as un-American. That’s why Trump (like every other Republican) gets applause when he talks about destroying the EPA: he’s attacking BIG GOVERNMENT and he’s ANNOYING LIBERALS.

But the funny thing is that people who are opposed to all this green stuff in the main tend to like it when it is by their homes. That’s why Trump’s Great Lakes policies, in which he is going to gut the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative, have proven to be so controversial.

The GLRI is a $3 billion dollar fund started in 2010 by the noted hater of the working man, Barack Obama, to improve water quality, clean up and manage pollution, fight invasive species, and promote responsible waterfront development in the Great Lakes, especially the heavily industrialized areas.

These are Rust Belt areas in which the land was poisoned and the water destroyed. These are areas like Buffalo, Erie, Cleveland, Detroit, and others. But they aren’t just big blue cities: they are the innumerable small towns that have their own shuttered factories whose legacies are pollution and waste. And, even in those “blue” cities, there are the fabled white working class, whose lives are destroyed, are whose lakes are algal disasters.

The GLRI has been working not just to undo that legacy, but to bring the lakefronts back to life. One of the most remarkable things about Chicago is that, as ruthlessly and dirtily capitalistic as this city was, we never built to the lake, keeping it public and beautiful. As such, the waterfront is the heart of the city, and helps bring in millions of tourists.

Other cities can get in on that. The GLRI has not just been great for the Lakes environmentally, but it has had the effect of letting cities use their waterfronts for recreation, commercial fishing, and gatherings. Look at this image from the Niagara River (which is part of the Great Lakes system).

 

I mean, yeah, you can see the rot around it. But that’s the same area from the top  picture! Now it’s an area where people hang out and can have jobs. It’s a tax base. It’s a place where life can be better.

For another great example of this, look at Erie, PA. It’s a town that was dying (and in parts, still is). But the GLRI helped clean the waterfront, bringing it back to life, a process Ohio had started but couldn’t afford on its own. Now there are big hotels, and a happening downtown with good restaurants and bars and stores. That’s economic progress. That’s turnaround.

And now that’s going to be thrown away. How nuts is this? It’s so nuts that even Scott Pruitt promised to keep funding the GLRI. Trump’s budget, the dream of Republicans, is so cruel and insane that even people who truly hate environmentalism are being wrong-footed by it. It’s pure nightmarish ideology.

What’s interesting (and predictable in a cheering, if also cynical way), is that Great Lakes Republican are angry. Scott Walker, Rick Snyder, Rob Portman and others, who always talk about federal waste, think the GLRI should stay. (And remember, Scott Walker is generally fine selling off most of his state to the highest bidder.) And they’re right!

What we see here, of course, is that wasteful overreach is only wasteful overreach when it doesn’t impact you. These GOP governors and Senators know that they need the Lakes, both for drinking water and for their state’s economies. They’d be fine cutting the EPA budget for other areas. But not for the Lakes.

This, finally, is the ultimate in GOP cynicism, and I think paves a way forward for liberal environmentalism to reconnect with labor. After all, the Trump budget was made from his priorities and from those of Washington think tanks who have been wanting to destroy the EPA for decades. They’ve managed to make that seem like a good thing for the working class, but now that they have total power, the truth is known.

They think the working class should live with dead rivers and unusable lakes. They think the ground should be ruined and salted with chemicals. They think that the government has no need to help make up for the wastes of industrialization, in which the white working class gave their lives, only to be left with poverty and poison. Someone else made money off of it. Now you have to live there.

Remember, the people making these decisions don’t live in Detroit. They don’t live in Erie. They sure as shit don’t live in Buffalo. They’re rich people in think tanks who think that the poor and economically anxious should stay that way, and if cancer is the price, well, it’s your choice if you can’t afford health care. Trump, and the people making his budget, aren’t just cruel. They’re snobs. 

 

Reminder: Call Your Senator And Tell Them To Vote No On Justice Gorsuch

 

Image result for old fashioned phone switchboard

Seriously, get on the horn

 

One way or the other, Neil Gorsuch will be the next Supreme Court justice. If the Democrats try to filibuster, Mitch McConnell will, with “deep sadness at this unprecedented assault on Presidential prerogative”, get rid of the filibuster. Or, knowing this, and knowing that Gorsuch is generally popular, will keep their powder dry, and maybe have some protest votes against him, but will largely let him pass through.

But they shouldn’t. The answer to Gorsuch should be the what Michael Corleone offered to Senator Geary: nothing. Gorsuch should not get one single Democratic vote.

This is partly a matter of politics (we have to fight everything about Trumpism to make sure that none of this is normalized and to get out the vote in midterms and local elections), but also, mostly, principle. It’s not just that this seat belongs to Merrick Garland. It’s that, in denying President Obama his right to nominate a Supreme Court justice, the Republican overturned the 2012 election.

There’s no other word for it: they nullified the election, trampled on the will of voters in the biggest display of contempt for the union since Wallace, or possibly the Civil War. In 2012, by a wide margin, voters elected Barack Obama to a four-year term. Everyone votes knowing that there is always the chance of a Supreme Court seat opening up. Mitch McConnell saw that he had a chance to overthrow the election and literally reduce Obama’s term to three years, and he took it. This wasn’t legally treason, but it was a moral assault on our democracy.

And they won, thanks to the slave-state empowerment of the Electoral College. And now they get to put on an extremely, overwhelmingly conservative justice, against the will of the majority of voters in two straight elections. And they will do so, and the nation will suffer.

Over at Slate, the incomparable Dahlia Lithwick talks about teeth-breaking GOP hypocrisy during the hearings, insulted as they are that anyone would even question Gorsuch. (“GOP Sen. Orrin Hatch lectured the Judiciary Committee about the fact that the Senate ‘owes the president deference over his judicial nominees.’ Hearing this, Democratic Sen. Patrick Leahy of Vermont about fell out of his chair.”)

We have to expect their cynicism. We have to be willing to stand up to their calculated outrage (which probably isn’t “phony”, per se; cognitive dissonance rules all). We have to let our Senators know that they aren’t in a hearing for Gorsuch, as we normally understand it. They are in a hearing for Merrick Garland’s seat, which was stolen through a subversion of democracy.

So call your Senator. Tell them you support them voting NO on Gorsuch, and not because of any reprehensible position of the other. That’s important, but in a way incidental, because a right-wing Scalia-y Justice is the outcome of the crime, not the crime itself. Give our Senators the strength and backing to protest this outrage against our very democracy.

A hard right court can destroy environmental pushback, end labor, and annihilate civil rights. Our country will be changed in ways it is hard to imagine. But it already has: the idea of a Presidential term was suddenly subject to a political gamble. That’s at the basis of our country. Tell your Senator to fight back against it. We might not win, but it’s how the fight can start.

Trey Gowdy’s Comey Strategy: All Tomorrow’s Conspiracies

 

“Did reverse vampires have access to redacted names?” 

 

Trey Gowdy first came to the national spotlight when he began his relentless investigation into Benghazi, which, to hear the GOP tell it, was the first time something bad had happened to Americans in the Middle East, which is the only reason they spent years and millions of dollars investigating. Gowdy was determined to find out exactly what happened, because that was his solemn duty as an American, and there were no alternative motives.

It was probably just a happy coincidence that, although the main takeaways were 1) sometimes tragic things happen in unstable countries and a nation determined to have a global military and diplomatic presence will bear the brunt of that; and 2) maybe the GOP shouldn’t have cut embassy and consulate security spending, the investigations also helped to hurt Hillary Clinton.

Really, obviously, that was the entire point. The GOP knows the way to work the modern media climate. Keep putting things in the news. Keep hyping up scandals even if they can be disproven easily. People will hear words and phrases bandied about and assume something bad has to be going on. The media will duly report on it, and the initiates in the media and the right-wing noise machine will amplify it. Facts don’t matter; what matters are certain words that enter the ether, sulfurous and redolent of crime. That’s why there were innumerable hearings on Benghazi. It kept the name alive.

And that was their strategy yesterday during the Comey hearing as well. The entire plan, revolving largely around the boss’s unhinged ego-preservation strategy, is that the real crime issue here is leaks. One might point out that Gowdy’s own Benghazi panels leaked like a reefstruck dinghy, in a way that just so happened to consistently hurt Hillary Clinton. One might even argue that was the entire point of the hearings. But no matter: right now, the Republicans are united in fury at the very thought of leaks! This is the most serious issue our country is facing.

As we talked about yesterday, this is part distraction, and part fervent belief that the Obama “Deep State” is hurting Trump. They are unable to believe otherwise. And Gowdy, who pretends to be a serious prosecutor but is really just a skilled manipulator of the media, both normal and alternative, knew his job.

During his interlude with Comey, he commiserated about the seriousness of the crime of leaking (which is a crime in many cases). He then put forth a laundry list of names of people who could, in theory, have access to redacted names that made it to the press. (Times summary, then WaPo transcript)

In an outraged tone, Mr. Gowdy noted Washington Post and New York Times articles citing anonymous sources to report that in conversations intercepted by American intelligence, Mr. Flynn had discussed sanctions against Russia with Moscow’s ambassador to the United States, Sergey I. Kislyak. Such interceptions are highly classified intelligence, Mr. Comey confirmed.

“I thought it was against the law to disseminate classified information. Is it?” Mr. Gowdy asked.

“Yes, sir,” Mr. Comey replied. “It’s a serious crime.”

GOWDY: Do you know whether Director Clapper knew the name of the U.S. citizen that appeared in the New York Times and Washington Post?

COMEY: I can’t say in this forum because again, I don’t wanna confirm that there was classified information in the newspaper.

GOWDY: Would he have access to an unmasked name?

COMEY: In — in some circumstances, sure, he was the director of national intelligence. But I’m not talking about the particular.

GOWDY: Would Director Brennan have access to an unmasked U.S. citizen’s name?

COMEY: In some circumstances, yes.

GOWDY: Would National Security Adviser Susan Rice have access to an unmasked U.S. citizen’s name?

COMEY: I think any — yes, in general, and any other national security adviser would, I think, as a matter of their ordinary course of their business.

GOWDY: Would former White House Advisor Ben Rhodes have access to an unmasked U.S. citizen’s name?

COMEY: I don’t know the answer to that.

GOWDY: Would former Attorney General Loretta Lynch have access to an unmasked U.S. citizen’s name? COMEY: In general, yes, as would any attorney general.

GOWDY: So that would also include Acting AG Sally Yates?

COMEY: Same answer.

GOWDY: Did you brief President Obama on — well, I’ll just ask you. Did you brief President Obama on any calls involving Michael Flynn?

COMEY: I’m not gonna get into either that particular case that matter, or any conversations I had with the president. So I can’t answer that.

This is perfect. He’s just throwing names out there, just in theory, just trying to see who may have had the ability to disseminate this information. Just because the names he threw out there happen to be a rogue’s gallery for the right wing doesn’t mean anything. He’s just doing his damn job.

What he’s doing is giving red meat to the base while trying to force the actual media to look at the “theoretical possibility” that many people in the previous Administration, up to and including President Obama, had access to these names, and could have leaked them. The right wing Twitter armies and talk radio goons will go nuts poring over every name, and tying that to their broad conspiracy that the reason Trump is failing is because a perfidious and traitorous elite, aided by a Bolshy bureaucracy, is undermining him (undermining America).

Dragooning Sally Yates into this is key. She, of course, said that she couldn’t defend the travel ban, and was duly (and rightfully) fired. That was the beginning of the “Obama is still ruling Washington!” campaign, a distraction from the gross illegality and immorality of the ban. And now, Gowdy is continuining to push that, hoping that it’ll work once again.

My guess is no, it won’t. I mean, it’ll be great for Breitbart and Alex Jones and their satellites, and someone will uncover evidence that Ben Rhodes was offered a discount on a Washington Post subscription when he signed up for Amazon Prime, so there is your goddamn quid pro quo, but they are beginning to realize things are different when it is your party in power. You can’t point to the bogeyman. It’s you.

The Republican’s Comey Strategy: The Bubble and the Damage Done

Nope

The story, to any rational person, is that FBI Director and de facto Trump Campaign Chaperone James Comey confirmed that the FBI “is investigating Russia’s meddling in the presidential election, including possible links between the Trump campaign and Moscow.” He also shot down, in no uncertain terms, Trump’s insane wiretap claims, British involvement and quotation marks and all.

As a lot of people are saying, this might be just the beginning. Comey made it clear that all he will say is that there is an ongoing investigation, and he can’t comment on that. While that might seem like hypocrisy, it fits his very narrow definition that he established with Hillary Clinton.

There is something here, and while it is true that Russia didn’t literally hack the election, there is clearly enough to warrant an investigation. So the GOP strategy, led by Trump? Ask just who is doing the leaking that top security advisors are having secret meetings with Russians while also getting paid by Turkey.

Republicans on the committee focused their questions on getting to the bottom of who leaked to the news media the fact that former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn had pre-inauguration conversations with Russia’s ambassador.

Sure, part of this is distraction. They don’t want to talk about the real issue here, and are hoping that people will be more offended by the leak. But that’s because, I think, a lot of them actually sort of believe that. Once all this started, the idea of “leaks” being part of the Obama shadow campaign has become axiomatic on the Right. It’s an article of faith. It’s how they explain the disaster everything has been.

This is part Trump, part the broader GOP, and entirely at the intersection between the two (and there is very little difference, really). The GOP has no idea how to govern, and no desire to. They’ve based their entire identity on being not-liberals, and more to the point, not-Obama. So being faced with the reality of government, of course they turn to what it comfortable.

For many, it isn’t much of a turn. These are talk radio kids and internet idiots. They live in the bubble, and what they hear is that people are worried about the shadow government. I think they actually believe it, and that they actually also think it is good politics.

That’s also the world, of course, in which Trump lives. He honestly thinks the only important thing here is the leaks, because that’s the “deep state”, and it’s the only reason he isn’t already being placed on Mt. Rushmore (or a bigger, better mountain, somewhere in Manhattan). His own personal pathologies and vanities make it impossible for him to understand that he’s a know-nothing idiot with no idea how to be President. So of course, the only thing that matters is the leaks.

By temperament, in paranoia and accusatory frenzy, in believing that what 10,000 idiots on Twitter are convinced of, Trump and the GOP are perfect for each other. And so they believe it’s not what we know that matters, but that we know it at all.

And that it’s the black guy’s fault. I mean, that goes without saying, right?

GOP’s Healthcare Blues Show Foot-Shooting Danger of Right Wing Propaganda

 

There might be symbolism here, but I’m not sure…

 

Even since Donald Trump won the electoral college, partly on the basis of the “white working class” and their economic anxieties, there have been a few types of articles written. The first was the most prevalent: centrist reporters asking why the media has forgotten the white working class, and how no one talks about them. There were approximately 58 million stories about these hidden folks.

Then, since the inauguration, those stories were overtaken by articles about how a lot of Trump voters are recognizing that they might have been sold a bill of goods, and that their health care is being taken away, and that everything they were promised about their lives getting better is a lie.

The third are thinkpieces where we on the left ask whether we should react to this with scorn, anger, pity, sympathy, or some combination.

The Times yesterday had a classic example of the 2nd type, talking about the “GOP Health Care Tightrope in the Midwest”.

DEFIANCE, Ohio — James Waltimire, a police officer on unpaid medical leave, has been going to the hospital in this small city twice a week for physical therapy after leg surgery, all of it paid for by Medicaid.

Mr. Waltimire, 54, was able to sign up for the government health insurance program last year because Ohio expanded it to cover more than 700,000 low-income adults under the Affordable Care Act. He voted for President Trump — in part because of Mr. Trump’s support for law enforcement — but is now worried about the Republican plan to effectively end the Medicaid expansion through legislation to repeal the health care law.

“Originally the president said he wasn’t going to do nothing to Medicaid,” Mr. Waltimire said the other day after a rehab session. “Now they say he wants to take $880 billion out of Medicaid. That’s going to affect a lot of people who can’t afford to get insurance.”

You read this, and your first instinct is to say, well…yeah. What the hell did you think? After all, Donald Trump is a Republican, and Republicans want to gut Medicaid. They want to take away your health insurance. That’s how it always is. How the hell did you not know this?

Then, of course, you are taken again with how breathtaking a liar Donald Trump is. He did say, over and over, that no one was gonna touch Medicaid, ok, and everyone would have health care and no one would pay for it. It was amazing, his sheer and unrelenting dishonesty, and you might feel bad for how a low-information voter might hear that and think it is possible. Because, after all, we’ve never had a politician lie like this before. There was not even an attempt to pay observance to the truth.

But then, on the other hand, you remember that it was Donald Trump. He’s been a public sleazebag for 40 years. If you’re a 54-yr-old and it somehow escaped your attention that he’s a crooked liar, that’s on you.

And then, of course, you see the heart of it: he was sucked into the lie because of “Mr. Trump’s support for law enforcement”, a piece of culture war bullshit that is barely coded racism. Because this wasn’t a race between Donald Trump and, I don’t know, Leonard Peltier or something. It’s not like Hillary didn’t support law enforcement. But she also believed that Black Lives Mattered.

That’s what his “support” came down to. The right wing decided that BLM, or really anyone who wanted to hold police accountable for murder or other violent abuses of power, were the enemy of society. This was very wrapped up in race, and in the idea that cops should be able to do whatever they wanted to the “right” people, you know the ones who deserve it. Trump made it very clear where he stood in this.

His outlandish and wildly unrealistic fairy tale lies were believed because people thought he was on their side. It’s not because he talked about jobs. Hillary talked way more about jobs, in a way more detailed manner. Part of the problem was the press clearly wasn’t interested in policy, just emails, so none of that got through. But another problem is that what Trump as saying got through loud and clear, because he got in the door speaking the right language.

Race and economics are incredibly interlinked in this country. It does a disservice to the truth to pretend they aren’t for fear of liberal condescension. Trump’s dishonest messages, the ones that will hurt the people who voted for him, got through because of the ones he, and the modern GOP, are deadly honest about.

Monday Quick Hits: Berry and Breslin, Exxon, the NCAAs, and More

Image result for chuck berry

Some quick hits and good reads to get us into a shining new American week…

-When I got the alert yesterday that Jimmy Breslin had died, hard on the heels of Chuck Berry, I had a vague notion of writing a piece about how the two men both created an American langauge. They took old traditions, grabbing along the way snatches of different and older languages, different sounds jumbled through the tumult of our history, bouncing around in the vastness of the land, from concrete wisdom to country passions, and in their own way, forged new and more democratic modes of expression. But then I thought: hm, I don’t know if I am really capable of exploring that, and anyway, it seems like something Charlie Pierce will do 10000 times better. He does not disappoint.

Did anyone do more to change American pop culture than Chuck Berry? This isn’t incidental; pop culture is culture. It’s an expression of our desires. Coming up with other names yields a short list, with maybe James Brown at the top of it. The list of musicians who were more awesome than Chuck Berry might be even shorter.

-So there was this commercial, in which a Jessica Chastain look-alike tells us that Exxon Mobil is really nothing more than a big ol’ jobs creator, and all the people they show are model attractive, that ran approximately 360000 times during the games this weekend. It wasn’t advertising anything, per se, other than the idea that Exxon is basically your neighborhood store, giving kids their first job so that Johhny can take Mary Sue to the movies this weekend. It’s basically a way for them to make us vaguely remember that “oil = good”. It’s essentially political, which is very smart.

Anyway, the repetition of that commercial is maybe why I had a dream this morning in which the real Jessica Chastain was giving a lecture where she said “There is maybe no more clear example of the importance of elections than fracking. Think about it: it’s an issue dominated by hydrologists, geologists, engineers, and increasingly, seismologists, yet is determined almost entirely by the people we elect. That makes it up to us. Do we elect the thoughtful, or the cheerfully venal?”

Seriously, those are my dreams with Jessica Chastain. Thanks, brain!

-Speaking of Exxon, that commercial was considerably more accessible than Exxon’s former CEO, who is settling into a quiet job outside the public eye, Secretary of State. On a weekend in which he moved us closer, rhetorically, to conflict with North Korea (a state to which North Korea themselves are also rushing), he also give some limited statements about why he’s not accessible to the press (and why he didn’t bring them along for his Asian trip, save for one friendly reporter).

“I’m not a big media press access person. I personally don’t need it. … When we’re ready to talk about what we’re trying to do, I will be available to talk to people. But doing daily availability, I don’t have this appetite or hunger to be that.”

He added: “When I have something important and useful to say, I know where everybody is and I know how to go out there and say it.”

He added that there’s plenty of media in the cities where he’s heading, lowering the need for a traveling press. And he disregarded the tradition of the secretary of State spending time with reporters on flights, saying “that’s not the way I tend to work.”

Well…shucks, Rex. It is admirable that you’re not one of those big media persons, always needing to be on the twitter for the kids, like one of those Kardashians or Kissingers. Here’s the thing, though: you’re not a CEO anymore. You don’t get to work in the shadows. You’re on the public dime, and you’re talking about issues of literal life and death, all the time. You don’t actually get to decide when we know what’s going on and when we don’t.

It’s fine that you don’t want to be a celeb SecState, and just want to do your job. But saying “I’ll only talk to the press when I feel like it” isn’t admirably modest or a burst of down-home sensibility. It is, at best, incredibly patronizing and undemocratic, and at worst, sinister. If you don’t want people to think that you’re colluding with foreign powers to help the energy industry, maybe don’t be so secretive.

-Speaking of the NCAAs, while I didn’t watch every game, I had at least most of them on at one point or the other. Yesterday was clearly the best day, though Nigel Hayes’s winner against Nova was bucket of the tournament, for sure. Witchita/Kentucky, which should clearly have not been a Round of 32 game, had that breathtaking sequence at the end, which might have been the most exciting part of the weekend. UCLA showing off their powerhouse offense in a 5-minute blitz against Cincinnati demonstrated everything that’s fun about hoops. And Duke losing in the first weekend makes every tournament worth it.

But, to me anyway, the most impressive game of the tournament was Kansas vs. Michigan State. It was a close one throughout, with a feisty Michigan St trading blows with the Jayhawks, until with about eight minutes left, Kansas methodically and brutally pulled away, winning by 20. In a weekend in which a 3-seed lost by about 900 to an 11-seed, in which Gonzaga nearly collapsed against Northwestern, in which UNC struggled against Arkansas, and in which the defending champ and #1 overall seed lost, to see a team remember they’re great, and play like it, was a sight to behold.

(Although, sneakily, and I might be biased, the best overall weekend went to Butler, which took on a very good Winthrop team and an extremely dangerous Middle Tennessee team, and never trailed in either game. Now their half of the bracket is UNC, UCLA/Kentucky, and most likely Kansas. Let’s take on some blue bloods, Butler.)

-Finally, my favorite read of the week was this in the most recent London Review of Books, in which Benjamin Kunkel talks about the “captialocene.” It’s a take on the Anthropocene, the idea that human activity has so changed the planet, in ways that were before only the result of gradual climatic and geologic shifts or sudden space-borne disasters, that it’s a whole new Epoch. This isn’t just a catchphrase, either: by the end of this year, the Anthropocene might be officially established alongside the Pleistocene, Holocene, Miocene, and others.

But the idea of the “captialocene” is slightly different. It argues that the great changes weren’t really the results of all humans, but came about as a result of capitalism, in which the land and the people were converted into capital for the benefit of the very few. That is, we as a species didn’t make a choice to do something, but a select group got rich destroying the planet.

There’s a damn good argument there (and nowhere is it I think more true than in North America, in which literally everything was alchemized into money). There is a counterargument that communism wasn’t exactly good for the environment (see, while you can, the remainder of the Aral Sea), but that was a reaction to capitalism, and still in the essential capitalist framework. The nature of the project is to wring profit out of everything, and if that means using up the world the way it uses up workers, so be it.

The other counterargument is that the process started long before capitalism. Hell, the people that came over to North America set out to immediately wipe out all large mammals save for buffalo, changing the ecosystem almost irreversibly. So maybe capitalism is just the ultimate expression of our nature?

The idea is that the capitalocene can actually transform into the Anthropocene, in which humans more broadly have a say in the environment, and our systems are revised to redistribute both economic and environmental justice. That is: the decisions about the earth aren’t just made by the few, for the few, but finally, for once, by the species as a whole. That does seem to be the only way to solve this mess. All it takes is a complete reordering of all our priorities. I’m guessing another asteroid will hit first.