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I Believe the Children are the Future

[ 127 ] April 19, 2014 |

On the decline of golf among young people, a sport I dislike not only on aesthetic grounds, but on class, racial, urban planning, and environmental grounds.

Passover in the Confederacy

[ 65 ] April 19, 2014 |

Interesting stuff on Jewish practice in the Confederacy:

For many American Jews today, particularly those descended from immigrants coming through Northeast corridors in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, the idea that Confederate Jews fought on the side of slavery offends their entire worldview, rooted so deeply in social justice. Even the idea of there being so many Jews in the American South, decades before Ellis Island opened its gates, is a strange idea.

But just as Robert E. Lee, an Army officer for 32 years, sided with his home state of Virginia against the federal government, many Jews found a homeland in Dixie over the centuries and decided they could not take up arms against it. To them, after all they’d suffered and fled throughout the ages, the South was their new motherland, the land of milk and honey (and cotton), and it was worth fighting for. “This land has been good to all of us,” one Jewish-German Southerner wrote. “I shall fight to my last breath…”

And on Northern anti-semitism:

While the South, like everywhere else, did exhibit anti-Semitism, many Southern Jews felt the North was more deeply anti-Semitic. Popular Northern newspapers denigrated Jews; Harper’s Weekly said that all Jews were secessionists, copperheads and rebels. Other papers blamed the Jews for destroying the national credit. Union general Ulysses S. Grant exhibited the greatest bigotry of all when he issued General Orders No. 11 in December 1862, “the most sweeping anti-Jewish regulation in all of American history,” according to Rabbi Bertram W. Korn. The orders called for the expulsion of all Jews within 24 hours from Grant’s territory at the time, which included parts of Kentucky, Tennessee and Mississippi.

Grant and his men believed Jews were solely responsible for the common practice of illegal trade with the enemy – a forbidden but economically necessary practice. Some Jews did engage in such illicit commerce, but so did a lot of people on both sides. To add to the offensiveness of the order, Union soldiers forced Jews from their homes, confiscated their possessions, denied them rail transportation even as they were being evicted from their towns, revoked trade licenses and imprisoned them. A few weeks later, when Lincoln found out about the order, he revoked it — “I do not like to hear a class or nationality condemned on account of a few sinners,” he said.

Will the Supreme Court Protect Polluters from Lawsuits

[ 41 ] April 18, 2014 |

The answer is probably yes.

There should be no statute of limitations on health claims. Just because a cancer might not develop for a twenty years doesn’t mean it’s not related to toxic exposure.

Chicken Production and Workplace Dangers

[ 11 ] April 18, 2014 |

I strongly recommend Michele Simon’s article on how Tyson Foods and the USDA have pushed forward drastic increases in chicken production line speeds that would increase the profits of meat companies at the cots of workers’ lives:

But let’s back up a bit. As Mother Jones magazine explained last year, “Currently, each factory-scale slaughterhouse has four USDA inspectors overseeing kill lines churning out up to 140 birds every minute. Under the USDA’s new plan, a single federal inspector would oversee lines killing as many as 175 birds per minute.”

USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack defends the proposal under the guise of modernization (an industry code word for deregulation) and claims the new standard would actually reduce bacterial contamination. However, Food and Water Watch found numerous food safety problems with the USDA’s pilot project owing to company inspectors missing defects such as “feathers, lungs, oil glands, trachea and bile still on the carcass.”

The rule is especially terrible for workers, who already suffer unsafe conditions, resulting in serious injuries and even lifelong disabilities. Last year the Southern Poverty Law Center released a disturbing account of worker injuries and health problems in Alabama poultry slaughterhouses due to what it called “punishing” line speeds. Workers were made to “endure debilitating pain in their hands, gnarled fingers, chemical burns and respiratory problems.” Also, for many immigrant workers, as the law center put it, “Threats of deportation and firing are frequently used to keep them silent,” making the USDA’s attempt to spin the recent NIOSH data particularly disturbing.

Federal agencies appear to be ganging up on the USDA — and rightly so. The Government Accountability Office published a report last year criticizing the USDA’s plan on the basis of inadequate and faulty safety data. Of course, the chicken industry loves the proposal. In fact, the National Chicken Council would prefer not having any limits on line speeds at all.

The Agricultre Department basically operates as the tool of agribusiness at this point and that’s why the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) and DOA are basically at war, with NIOSH’s director directly calling out the Food Safety Inspection Service for lying about its data. The meat we buy from the store not only comes from a system that treats animals awfully, it destroys the lives of workers as well. It’s awful hard for the government to do much when one agency is fighting to make these factories safe for workers and other is fighting to make them unsafe.

Friday Creature Feature

[ 99 ] April 18, 2014 |

Meet Dimetrodon, a meat-eating reptile from the Permian period. A typical Dimetrodon was around 11 feet long and had a big sail on its on back it may have used for temperature regulation and/or display.

I find these guys interesting because I’d always thought evolution followed this simple line that went reptile—->mammal. I didn’t know what came before. (Amphibians, DUH. But that’s another entry.) So I had no idea these “mammal-like reptiles” were around long before the reptilian dinosaurs.

Dimetrodon-dinosaurs-22052354-700-466

I love these pre-pre-historic monsters. 

It should be noted that Dimetrodon are often included in Dino-related toys and apps. Dimetrodon was not a dinosaur and made its mark long before dinosaurs were just a gleam in Mother Nature’s eye. If anybody tries to tell you Dimetrodon is a dinosaur, please respond by beating him or her soundly about the head and shoulders. Or you could just do what my 2-year-old son does and say “You say it WONG. Dimeetrodong is a weptile. Not a dinocore.” (He cannot say “s’s.”)

Also not a Dimetrodon

Greg notes, in the comments:

Also, more time passed between the stegosaurus and the T. rex than between the T. rex and the present.

OK, now tell me that doesn’t blow your mind.

The Success of the First ACA Open Enrollment

[ 105 ] April 18, 2014 |

Fundamentally good news:

President Obama on Thursday announced the final numbers for the Affordable Care Act’s open enrollment period.

Eight million people have signed up for private insurance plans through the new federal and state marketplaces. And within the federal marketplaces, 28 percent of enrollees are ages 18 to 34.

This is good news—very, very good news.

Granted, Real Progressives understand that reducing the number of uninsured is just horse race politics with no policy consequences, but for the rest of us this is a good outcome. And remember that were it not for the Taney Roberts Court and Republican statehouses, the numbers would be substantially higher.

And as Sarah Kilff says, the takeway is straightforward:

There’s a very simple reason that Obamacare hit 8 million sign-ups: Being uninsured is horrible.

But the political conversation over Obamacare was driven almost entirely by people who had, and knew they would be able to keep, their health insurance. It was filled with a lot of assumptions, theories, and speculations about what people who didn’t have good insurance, or any insurance, would do. And after Obamacare’s disastrous launch, the theory took hold that these people wouldn’t find this untested program worth the trouble. It was the permanently insured speculating about the uninsured and the barely insured – and, unsurprisingly, they got it wrong.

And for this reason, people who think it would be better for millions of people to go uninsured than for a rentier to skim a buck off the top are making a grotesquely immoral argument. “Incremental reform” might sound weak, but in this case it will mean alleviating substantial amounts of suffering and anxiety.

Down with ICBMs!

[ 55 ] April 18, 2014 |

Some nukey thoughts at War is Boring:

America’s nuclear weapons are getting old. More to the point, the submarines, rockets and planes that deliver the nukes are rusting away.

Designed during the Cold War, all three legs of the sea-, air-, and land-based nuclear “triad” need replacement fairly soon. The means spending potentially hundreds of billions of dollars on new subs, bombers and ballistic missiles to replace today’s Ohio-class boats, B-2 and B-52 bombers and Minuteman missiles.

That’s hundreds of billions of dollars we can’t afford. A sane reform strategy would consider a seemingly drastic move—entirely eliminating one leg of the triad.

Problem is, the triad holds almost religious significance for nuclear weapons theorists. In the 1950s, analysts worried that a surprise Soviet atomic strike would knock out nearly all of the Air Force’s nuclear-capable bombers.

Anti-Sweatshop Activism at USC

[ 6 ] April 18, 2014 |

In the late 1990s, United Students Against Sweatshops did some really great work around fighting the exploitative system of the apparel industry by placing pressure on colleges and universities to ethically source their school-licensed apparel. Then, with 9/11 and the Iraq War, economic justice question largely fell far down the priority list for the progressive agenda and USAS and other groups working on these issues went into a tough period. Now, they are again on the rise and again demanding ethically-produced clothing from their schools. Right now, this is happening at USC:

For the second day in a row, students on Wednesday protested in front of Tommy Trojan against the university administration and called for USC to cut ties with companies that employ sweatshop labor.

The protesters are members of the Student Coalition Against Labor Exploitation, or SCALE. SCALE members singled out Jansport, the clothing and accessories company, and accused Jansport’s parent company of relying on sweatshop labor in Bangladesh.

The protest comes one day after students descended upon the office of Pres. C.L. Max Nikias — a dramatic move that particpants say prompted university officials to call their parents and threaten to revoke financial aid packages.

Very classy of the university to threaten students for their activism. That’s the kind of inclusive and respectful leadership I know from university administrations in my personal experience. USC claims they do require apparel to not be made in sweatshops. But the students want the university to only work with companies who sign the Accord on Fire and Building Safety in Bangladesh, which is the agreement that European manufacturers have agreed to join to try and ensure no more Rana Plaza factory collapses. American companies of course have refused because it is legally binding and we know that American corporations believe they should be able to do whatever they want to workers with no legal repercussions. Glad to see the USC students taking the fight to their campus.

Oklahoma’s war on science is going exactly according to plan…

[ 75 ] April 18, 2014 |

…unless, of course, you believe students who complete a sophomore biology course are supposed to know less about evolutionary theory after taking Biology I than they did before.

Put the Wage Thieves in Prison

[ 187 ] April 18, 2014 |

Catherine Rampell is speaking smartly in her angry column on the systematic wage theft that goes on in fast food and other low wage industries:

Take Ashley Cathey, 25, a six-year McDonald’s employee who participated in a national one-day strike last December. A couple of months later, she got a 25-cent raise, to $8 an hour from $7.75. But something about her next paycheck looked fishy: Her pay seemed short given her raise and new, longer hours. She usually works overnight, and in recent months her shifts have frequently stretched to 12 or 14 hours because her Memphis restaurant has been short-staffed. (Perhaps because its wages are still too low to retain enough employees.)

She asked a friend who is a manager to print out her time sheet and noticed that someone had clocked her out for breaks she never took. Other co-workers spotted hours shaved from their time sheets, too. When employees brought this to the attention of a more senior boss, they were told the wrongly subtracted hours would appear in their next paychecks. Meanwhile, the helpful manager who had printed out the time sheets was reprimanded for sharing official time records with workers and told that he’d be fired if he did it again, Cathey said. Now Cathey keeps a personal record of the hours she clocks in and out.

“I never paid attention before,” she told me in a phone interview. She suspects that someone has been doctoring her hours for years, but she doesn’t want to endanger her manager friend’s job by asking for help obtaining proof. Even without proof she is convinced: “They’re hiding something, obviously,” she said.

This is not a one-off accusation. In the past few weeks, New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman extracted settlements from dozens of McDonald’s and Domino’s locations around the state for off-the-clock work. Last month, workers in California, Michigan and New York filed class-action lawsuits against McDonald’s alleging multiple charges of wage theft. These suits have upped the ante by implicating the McDonald’s corporation, not just individual franchisees, in bad behavior. The plaintiffs allege that McDonald’s corporate office exerts so much control over franchisees — including by monitoring their hourly labor costs through a corporate computer system — that it had to have known what was going on.”

What to do about this? Put the people making this happen within the McDonald’s infrastructure in prison:

Harsher penalties, including prison time, should be on the table more often when willful wrongdoing is proved. Thieves caught stealing thousands of dollars from someone’s home can go to jail; the same should be true for thieves caught stealing thousands of dollars from someone’s paycheck.

There is no reason that wage theft should not be a criminal charge equal to robbery. It is the definition of robbery. It also reminds me of how the white cotton merchants stole from black sharecroppers by simply lying to them about how much cotton they grew. It’s basically the same thing and given the McDonald’s work force at the executive and employee level, the racial dynamics aren’t too different either.

stepped pyramids in comments: “Concealing timesheets from employees should be considered tantamount to an admission of wage-stealing, and there should be automatic penalties for it, along the lines of having to pay wages for the affected period at 40 hours a week, time-and-a-half.”

Yes.

Rent

[ 68 ] April 18, 2014 |

Now that the plutocrats are creating a new bubble based upon exploiting renters, the price to rent has exploded, with renters spending 19% more of their income to put a roof over their heads than they did between 1985-2000.

Theoretically Progressive Media Company Typically Anti-Union

[ 120 ] April 17, 2014 |

I am so not surprised that self-proclaimed friend of labor Media Matters wants a union-free shop:

Media Matters for America is apparently resisting an effort by Service Employees International Union Local 500 to unionize its staff.

Last week, the union filed a representation petition with the National Labor Relations Board, indicating that the nonprofit media watchdog organization rejected an effort by the union to organize MMFA’s staff through a Card Check election.

But the filing does indicate that MMFA is not automatically accepting Local 500′s attempt to represent it’s staff. The nonprofit media watchdog group has hired the law firm Perkins Coie, which specializes in representing management in labor disputes, to represent it before the board.

This is like theoretically progressive academics opposing graduate student unions. If you don’t support unions when they affect you as an employer or manager, then you don’t support unions. If Media Matters receives any funding from organized labor, I hope those unions put some serious pressure on MMFA to accept the card check.

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