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The Impact of the Obama Immigration Action

[ 79 ] November 21, 2014 |

Obama’s executive order on deporting immigrants, while unfortunately temporary, makes the lives of people better. People such as Clara Cortes:

I came here illegally because there were few, if any, economic opportunities in my native Mexico. I was a lawyer and a single parent who could not afford to pay for my daughter’s schooling and cover the medicines for a sick brother with the $150 a week I earned.

I have been in the United States since 1999, and for nearly 15 years I have worked cleaning houses. It takes me 21/2 hours to get to work in Brooklyn from my home in Babylon Town. The commute is physically draining, but I don’t have a choice. I can’t work legally in the United States despite my education and legal skills.

My two daughters, my husband and I awaken every day with the fear that I will be deported. My husband and youngest daughter are U.S. citizens — which is why I should be eligible for legalized status under the president’s order. My oldest daughter benefited from the 2012 Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, which offered a temporary reprieve from deportations.

But I remain illegal in this country and, as my 7-year-old daughter’s principal caretaker, I’ve agonized about what would happen to her if I were sent back to Mexico. The fear immigrants like me live under is suffocating, and politicians who have vilified families like mine fail to understand our plight.

When I started working, my wages were often stolen by employers and I was sexually harassed. But I never reported any of it because I dreaded my immigration status would be used against me. I had no sense of security. I have seen immigration officials working on Long Island, and I felt helpless knowing that I could be detained and deported at any time.

Now Cortes can feel a little more secure, at least until a Republican is elected president. Hopefully, Obama’s ruling, despite the racism of the responses to it by many leading Republicans, lays the groundwork for more permanent action. I feel that recriminalizing these people is going to be harder than decriminalizing them. At least I hope so. My only criticism of Obama here is that he didn’t do this years ago. Certainly waiting until after the 2014 midterms in hopes that it wouldn’t contribute to the losses of Mark Pryor, Mary Landrieu, and Kay Hagan proved futile.

Native Americans on Route 66

[ 79 ] November 21, 2014 |

I admit I’ve always found the fascination with Route 66 a bit perplexing, since it’s really just another road that, outside of New Mexico, does not really go through our most fascinating landscape. Even in New Mexico, that’s a less than compelling road as far as touring goes than many other highways. But whatever, people like it. And so I am glad to see the many Native American tribes who live along the highway teaming up with the National Park Service to create a guidebook for travelers highlighting Native American life and tourism possibilities along the route. Route 66 comes out of a whitened version of America represented by John Steinbeck, post-war popular music, and television, all of which largely erased the indigenous, as well as Mexican-American, presence out of a mythical West the road represented. This is a welcome correction.

Race War!

[ 163 ] November 20, 2014 |

For a sizable faction of Republicans with significant electoral support, Obama’s immigration executive order is tantamount to race war. And they are ready take up the fight to protect the white race. We talked about Tom Coburn earlier today. There’s also Alabama congressman Mo Brooks. And then, of course, Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach:

“The long term strategy of, first of all, replacing American voters with illegal aliens, recently legalized, who then become U.S. citizens,” Kobach said. “There is still a decided bias in favor of bigger government not smaller government. So maybe this strategy of replacing American voters with newly legalized aliens, if you look at it through an ethnic lens, … you’ve got a locked in vote for socialism.”

Koback also responded to a caller who was concerned about ethnic cleansing, which the caller claimed was a threat from immigrant and Hispanic rights groups.

“What happens, if you know your history, when one culture or one race or one religion overwhelms another culture or race?” the caller asked. “When one race or culture overwhelms another culture, they run them out or they kill them.”

Kobach then responded with his take.

“What protects us in America from any kind of ethnic cleansing is the rule of law, of course,” Kobach said. “And the rule of law used to be unassailable, used to be taken for granted in America. And now, of course, we have a President who disregards the law when it suits his interests. And, so, you know, while I normally would answer that by saying, ‘Steve, of course we have the rule of law, that could never happen in America,’ I wonder what could happen. I still don’t think it’s going to happen in America, but I have to admit, that things are, things are strange and they’re happening.”

For these people, the reconquista is a real thing and it must be fought, possibly with violence. That the rest of the United States thinks these people are loons doesn’t really matter, especially if the followers of these high ranking politicians start acting on this incendiary rhetoric.

Commonsense Bipartisan Legislation

[ 68 ] November 20, 2014 |

Since we all know that a divided government is the answer to the problems of this nation, I present you the kind of commonsense bipartisan leadership that Americans are demanding. Rep. Steve Stockman:

Work on Thanksgiving or Lose Your Job

[ 90 ] November 20, 2014 |

K-Mart is forcing its employees to work on Thanksgiving or be fired:

Jillian Fisher, who started a petition on Coworker.org asking Kmart to give her mother and other employees the flexibility to take the holiday off, surveyed 56 self-identified employees from more than 13 states. Of those, just three said they had the option to ask to take the holiday off. In a press release from the petition organizer, one employee said human resources has told them, “if you do not come to work on Thanksgiving, you will automatically be fired… I made the request to work a split shift on Thanksgiving and was denied.” Another said, “Our manager stated at a staff meeting: ‘Everyone must work Thanksgiving and Black Friday. No time off.’” At one location, an employee says signs have been posted in the break room saying workers can’t request time off on Thanksgiving or Black Friday and that everyone has to put in at least some time on both, while at another signs have been posted saying no one can request time off between November 15 and January 1.

“I am a lead at a Kmart and it is mandatory for me to work on Thanksgiving,” another employee said. “If I were to call out I would be terminated, and requesting off is not allowed.”

I’ll leave the fact that people who go shopping at a department store on Thanksgiving have some priority issues that need addressing and just state it is flat out immoral to force non-emergency employees to labor on Thanksgiving. And K-Mart and other department stores do not have emergency employees. But these stores do not treat workers with respect to begin with. This is the kind of story where public pressure can really make a difference. Last year there was a lot of negative attention paid to this issue. This year, many department stores have announced they are giving everyone the day off and closing. K-Mart is not one of those but embarrassing it might force a change.

Republicans Threaten Violence

[ 41 ] November 20, 2014 |

I guess I’m not sure the last time senators openly threatened violent revolution against a presidential policy. Maybe during the civil rights movement. Certainly upon the election of Lincoln. And they are doing it again. Or at least the ever classy Tom Coburn:

“The country’s going to go nuts, because they’re going to see it as a move outside the authority of the president, and it’s going to be a very serious situation,” Coburn said in an interview with USA Today. “You’re going to see —hopefully not— but you could see instances of anarchy…. You could see violence.”

Nice. I wonder if this is the kind of bipartisanship the Denver Post foresaw if the Republicans took control of the Senate.

And certainly extremists rhetoric taking place before the Civil War, during the civil rights movement, and over immigration have nothing in common. Nothing at all.

Firestone in Liberia

[ 37 ] November 20, 2014 |

If you haven’t read the Pro Publica report on Firestone funded Charles Taylor’s extraordinarily violent takeover of Liberia in 1992, do so.

Firestone served as a source of food, fuel, trucks and cash used by Taylor’s ragtag rebel army, according to interviews, internal corporate documents and declassified diplomatic cables.

The company signed a deal in 1992 to pay taxes to Taylor’s rebel government. Over the next year, the company doled out more than $2.3 million in cash, checks and food to Taylor, according to an accounting in court files. Between 1990 and 1993, the company invested $35.3 million in the plantation.

In return, Taylor’s forces provided security to the plantation that allowed Firestone to produce rubber and safeguard its assets. Taylor’s rebel government offered lower export taxes that gave the company a financial break on rubber shipments.

For Taylor, the relationship with Firestone was about more than money. It helped provide him with the political capital and recognition he needed as he sought to establish his credentials as Liberia’s future leader.

“We needed Firestone to give us international legitimacy,” said John Toussaint “J.T.” Richardson, a U.S.-trained architect who became one of Taylor’s top advisers. “We needed them for credibility.”

While Firestone used the plantation for the business of rubber, Taylor used it for the business of war. Taylor turned storage centers and factories on Firestone’s sprawling rubber farm into depots for weapons and ammunition. He housed himself and his top ministers in Firestone homes. He also used communications equipment on the plantation to broadcast messages to his supporters, propaganda to the masses and instructions to his troops.

Secret U.S. diplomatic cables from the time captured Taylor’s gratitude to Firestone. Firestone’s plantation “had been the lifeblood” of the territory in Liberia that he controlled, Taylor told one Firestone executive, according to a State Department cable. Taylor later said in sworn testimony that Firestone’s resources had been the “most significant” source of foreign exchange in the early years of his revolt.

Firestone is claiming it had no choice, etc.

Today, Firestone maintains that at the time it struck its deal with Taylor, the guerrilla leader had “no well-established record” of human right violations. It said that many other companies and world leaders had treated Taylor as a legitimate political figure. Other companies operating in Liberia at the time chose to leave. But some stayed on through the violence.

“Does Firestone believe it did the right thing? Yes,” Firestone said of its decisions in Liberia. “Do we, along with former U.S. presidents, the U.S. State Department, the United Nations and many leaders around the world who worked with Charles Taylor regret the war criminal he became? Yes.”

No “well-established record.” Gotcha. And I’m not downplaying the cost of doing business in an unstable country and the compromises that companies make. But the rubber industry has long contributed to that instability through low wages, bad working conditions, and paying off dictators and strongmen to control the workforce and ensure its investments. Firestone has significantly exploited Liberia going back to the 1920s. So while there probably wasn’t much American employees of Firestone on the ground in Liberia could do to stop the killing, the corporation itself holds plenty of blame.

This very long story is remarkable, but not so much an aberration as one might think. Yes, Charles Taylor was extraordinarily awful, even for the region. Yes, it’s rare to get actual documents so clearly showing how a single U.S. company openly backed a psychopath with such force and resources. But on a lesser level, this is just the cost of doing business for many companies. Look at the apparel industry in Vietnam or Bangladesh or Cambodia. These companies back leaders like Hun Sen in Cambodia that kill labor organizers all the time. Chinese repression of dissent is part of the appeal. So this report is far more useful is we look at it as a tremendously well-documented example of a systemic problem rather than an isolated incident of one company and one ruler working together.

Impressment Riot

[ 6 ] November 19, 2014 |

I trust you spent the week celebrating the 267th anniversary of the Boston Impressment Riot appropriately.

Is Climate Change the Next Gay Marriage?

[ 39 ] November 19, 2014 |

This piece argues that climate change could be the next gay marriage in terms of young Republicans supporting meaningful action on it while old Republicans hate the idea of even considered it. Well, maybe. But I think there are some problems here. Primarily, I’m not sure how this manifests itself in policy. Gay marriage has a simple solution: making gay marriage legal. But climate change is far more complicated with no clear situation. Polling showing young people would pay $20 extra a month in home heating have some value but let’s be clear, that ain’t solving climate change. So what happens then? And the mechanism for change is much murkier. Ballot measures mean people can vote to legalize gay marriage. Lawsuits can force states to do the same. There isn’t really a similar mechanism for climate change. Weaning us off coal is great, but it doesn’t solve the problem either. So I’m glad to see young Republicans reasonable on this issue, but it’s not gay marriage.

Overtime

[ 83 ] November 19, 2014 |

They are an endangered species, but there are a few capitalists who see the income inequality of the New Gilded Age as a threat to capitalism, as they should. One is Nick Hanauer, who was an early investor in Amazon. He writes a lengthy essay in Politico about how awful it is that overtime for workers has gone away and what President Obama can do about it:

So what’s changed since the 1960s and ’70s? Overtime pay, in part. Your parents got a lot of it, and you don’t. And it turns out that fair overtime standards are to the middle class what the minimum wage is to low-income workers: not everything, but an indispensable labor protection that is absolutely essential to creating a broad and thriving middle class. In 1975, more than 65 percent of salaried American workers earned time-and-a-half pay for every hour worked over 40 hours a week. Not because capitalists back then were more generous, but because it was the law. It still is the law, except that the value of the threshold for overtime pay—the salary level at which employers are required to pay overtime—has been allowed to erode to less than the poverty line for a family of four today. Only workers earning an annual income of under $23,660 qualify for mandatory overtime. You know many people like that? Probably not. By 2013, just 11 percent of salaried workers qualified for overtime pay, according to a report published by the Economic Policy Institute. And so business owners like me have been able to make the other 89 percent of you work unlimited overtime hours for no additional pay at all.

In my defense, I’m only playing by the rules—rules written by and for wealthy capitalists like me. But the main point is this: These are rules that President Barack Obama has the power to change with the stroke of a pen, and with no prior congressional approval. The president could, on his own, restore federal overtime standards to where they were at their 1975 peak, covering the same 65 percent of salaried workers who were covered 40 years ago. If he did that, about 10.4 million Americans would suddenly be earning a lot more than they are now. Last March, Obama asked the Labor Department to update “outdated” regulations that mean, as the president put it in his memo, “millions of Americans lack the protections of overtime and even the right to the minimum wage.” But Obama was not specific about the changes he wanted to see.

So let me be specific. To get the country back to the same equitable standards we had in 1975, the Department of Labor would simply have to raise the overtime threshold to $69,000. In other words, if you earn $69,000 or less, the law would require that you be paid overtime when you worked more than 40 hours a week. That’s 10.4 million middle-class Americans with more money in their pockets or more time to spend with friends and family. And if corporate America didn’t want to pay you time and a half, it would need to hire hundreds of thousands of additional workers to pick up the slack—slashing the unemployment rate and forcing up wages.

The Obama administration could, on its own, go even further. Many millions of Americans are currently exempt from the overtime rules—teachers, federal employees, doctors, computer professionals, etc.—and corporate leaders are lobbying hard to expand “computer professional” to mean just about anybody who uses a computer. Which is almost everybody. But were the Labor Department instead to narrow these exemptions, millions more Americans would receive the overtime pay they deserve. Why, you might ask, are so many workers exempted from overtime? That’s a fair question. To be truthful, I have no earthly idea why. What I can tell you is that these exemptions work out very well for your employers.

I’m not a labor lawyer, so I will leave the legal specifics to others. But according to Hanauer, Obama can unilaterally change the overtime regulations. And the president has acted a bit on this issue. There is no good reason for Obama not to make a really significant change to the overtime rules except that he, like most Democrats in Washington, actually believe that corporate leaders are correct when they talk about “burdensome regulations” and themselves as “job creators.” Hanauer says these are outright lies, later going into what the capitalists actually spend their money on (note: it may make you angry). But that ideology is so incredibly powerful among the American political elite, an ideology backed up by the need for massive campaign contributions in a post-Citizens United world, that the reality matters less than pleasing the plutocrats. And that’s the Democrats. As for the Republicans, impoverishing the American working class is an outright goal.

The Prison Labor Complex

[ 57 ] November 19, 2014 |

The California Attorney General’s office opposed the release of inmates because the state wanted to use them as cheap firefighter labor.

Last week, the Los Angeles Times reported that attorneys in Harris’ office had unsuccessfully argued in court that the state could not release the prisoners it had agreed to release because “if forced to release these inmates early, prisons would lose an important labor pool.” Those prisoners, the Times reported, earn wages that range from “8 cents to 37 cents per hour.”

In a Sept. 30 filing in the case, signed by Deputy Attorney General Patrick McKinney but under Harris’ name, the state argued, “Extending 2-for-1 credits to all minimum custody inmates at this time would severely impact fire camp participation — a dangerous outcome while California is in the middle of a difficult fire season and severe drought.”

Approximately 4,400 California prisoners help the state battle wildfires, at wages of about $2 a day. There is an exception in the agreement that allows the state to retain firefighters — but only firefighters — who are otherwise eligible for release.

Like incarcerated firefighters, inmates who perform “assignments necessary for the continued operation of the institution and essential to local communities” draw from the same pool of inmates who pose a limited threat to public safety, the state argued in a September filing. Therefore, reducing that population would require the prisons to draw more incarcerated workers away from its firefighting crews.

This is the reality of the labor force today–states actively rely on incarcerated labor for work. I don’t think I need to list the many problems with this.

Prosecute the Apparel Companies

[ 13 ] November 19, 2014 |

Sweatshop factories in California are making a non-zero amount of your clothes:

Workers in the California garment industry are enduring poor working conditions and insufficient pay, the US Department of Labour has found. More than 1,500 Southern California garment workers are owed over $3 million in unpaid wages, the government department found following a year-long survey – which also concluded that American companies Nasty Gal, Macy’s, Nordstrom and JC Penney, among others, were producing garments in the factories concerned.

You want to stop this? Charge huge fines to Nasty Gal, Macy’s, Nordstrom, and JC Penney for doing business with people who make clothes in this manner. That’s how you stop it. We make decent working conditions part of the cost of doing business. This so often gets portrayed as an issue of “ethical sourcing.” That’s not incorrect, but it misstates the problem. The problem isn’t sourcing production with the right contractors. It’s the entire system of apparel contracting. It’s that the apparel industry gets away from washing its hands of responsibility through it’s don’t ask don’t tell position about its contractors. Only by holding these companies fiscally and legally responsible will clothing be produced ethically

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