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A Drop in the Bucket

[ 22 ] May 25, 2014 |

Like the absurdly low OSHA violation fines that give employers no incentive to fix safety problems on the job, the low fines for corporate polluters are just a drop in the bucket for gigantic companies. That’s especially true in the oil industry:

Citgo was convicted of criminal charges under the Clean Air Act in 2007 for operating two large tanks at its Corpus Christi East Plant without emissions controls from 1994 to 2003. The lack of controls, prosecutors say, exposed nearby residents to the carcinogen benzene and other compounds.

But seven years after the conviction, the case is still a focus of attention in this industrial port city on the Gulf Coast of Texas, where refineries abut largely poor and minority neighborhoods. Victims are continuing to press their case for restitution payments from Citgo for hundreds of people.

Citgo was hit with a $2 million fine when sentencing for the 2007 conviction occurred in February, but more recently a federal judge ruled against providing what the Justice Department and victims say should be far more to address future medical costs and more.

Melissa Jarrell, an associate professor of criminal justice at Texas A&M University (Corpus Christi), said the $2 million fine imposed against Citgo early this year sends the wrong signal.

“There is no deterrent value, really, in our sentencing guidelines for corporations, because we know that $2 million is not a deterrent for a major, multibillion-dollar corporation,” Jarrell, who works with activists here, said in an interview in early May. “I’m certain other corporations saw that.”

The penalty that district court Judge John Rainey imposed is indeed relatively little money for the major refiner, a subsidiary of Venezuela’s state-owned oil company PDVSA.

$2 million is nothing for Citgo. $20 million would probably barely get its attention. There’s no incentive for oil companies to not keep right on violating pollution standards.

Climate Change is Boring

[ 41 ] May 25, 2014 |

I understand that CNN is a business and thus decides to provide Americans a month of wall-to-wall coverage of the Malaysian Air flight. So I suppose I also understand that CNN won’t talk about climate change because viewers find it boring. On the other hand, I’m sure the network will be very into detailing each and

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every climate-change related disaster in this country with 10 reporters because watching California burn or New York be hit with a hurricane is fun. Talking about the impacts of these disasters in Bangladesh or Tuvalu though, boring again.

What 13th Amendment?

[ 50 ] May 25, 2014 |

Outstanding Ian Urbina story on the exploitation of people held in immigrant detention centers. The immigration detention system serves as a nearly unpaid labor force thanks to the privatized prison companies controlling the prisons:

As the federal government cracks down on immigrants in the country illegally and forbids businesses to hire them, it is relying on tens of thousands of those immigrants each year to provide essential labor — usually for $1 a day or less — at the detention centers where they are held when caught by the authorities.

This work program is facing increasing resistance from detainees and criticism from immigrant advocates. In April, a lawsuit accused immigration authorities in Tacoma, Wash., of putting detainees in solitary confinement after they staged a work stoppage and hunger strike. In Houston, guards pressed other immigrants to cover shifts left vacant by detainees who refused to work in the kitchen, according to immigrants interviewed here.

Last year, at least 60,000 immigrants worked in the federal government’s nationwide patchwork of detention centers — more than worked for any other single employer in the country, according to data from United States Immigration and Customs Enforcement, known as ICE. The cheap labor, 13 cents an hour, saves the government and the private companies $40 million or more a year by allowing them to avoid paying outside contractors the $7.25 federal minimum wage. Some immigrants held at county jails work for free, or are paid with sodas or candy bars, while also providing services like meal preparation for other government institutions.

Unlike inmates convicted of crimes, who often participate in prison work programs and forfeit their rights to many wage protections, these immigrants are civil detainees placed in holding centers, most of them awaiting hearings to determine their legal status. Roughly half of the people who appear before immigration courts are ultimately permitted to stay in the United States — often because they were here legally, because they made a compelling humanitarian argument to a judge or because federal authorities decided not to pursue the case.

“I went from making $15 an hour as a chef to $1 a day in the kitchen in lockup,” said Pedro Guzmán, 34, who had worked for restaurants in California, Minnesota and North Carolina before he was picked up and held for about 19 months, mostly at Stewart Detention Center in Lumpkin, Ga. “And I was in the country legally.”

Who is responsible?

Detention centers are low-margin businesses, where every cent counts, said Clayton J. Mosher, a professor of sociology at Washington State University, Vancouver, who specializes in the economics of prisons. Two private prison companies, the Corrections Corporation of America and the GEO Group, control most of the immigrant detention market. Many such companies struggled in the late 1990s amid a glut of private prison construction, with more facilities built than could be filled, but a spike in immigrant detention after Sept. 11 helped revitalize the industry.

The Corrections Corporation of America’s revenue, for example, rose more than 60 percent over the last decade, and its stock price climbed to more than $30 from less than $3. Last year, the company made $301 million in net income and the GEO Group made $115 million, according to earnings reports.

Prison companies are not the only beneficiaries of immigrant labor. About 5 percent of immigrants who work are unpaid, ICE data show. Sheriff Richard K. Jones of Butler County, Ohio, said his county saved at least $200,000 to $300,000 a year by relying on about 40 detainees each month for janitorial work. “All I know is it’s a lot of money saved,” he said.

Ah, nothing like privatization to find new ways of exploiting labor.

Is this even legal?

“This in essence makes the government, which forbids everyone else from hiring people without documents, the single largest employer of undocumented immigrants in the country,” said Carl Takei, a lawyer with the American Civil Liberties Union’s National Prison Project.

Jacqueline Stevens, a professor of political science at Northwestern University, said she believed the program violated the 13th Amendment, which abolished slavery and involuntary servitude except as punishment for crime. “By law, firms contracting with the federal government are supposed to match or increase local wages, not commit wage theft,” she said.

Immigration officials underestimate the number of immigrants involved and the hours they work, Professor Stevens added. Based on extrapolations from ICE contracts she has reviewed, she said, more than 135,000 immigrants a year may be involved, and private prison companies and the government may be avoiding paying more than $200 million in wages that outside employers would collect.

It should not be legal in any case. Everyone deserves the minimum wage and no one should be forced to work for $1 a day, regardless of their immigration status. This is just rank exploitation.

…I haven’t read it but a former colleague of mine strongly suggests this book as a history of prisons undermining the 13th Amendment.

Wal-Mart’s War on Pregnant Workers

[ 34 ] May 24, 2014 |

Given that Wal-Mart’s business model is borrowed heavily from the supply chain management system pioneered by the same textile industry that brought you the Triangle Fire and Rana Plaza collapse, it’s hardly surprising that the company would then import the intimidation of pregnant women so common in Mexican maquiladoras and south Asian apparel factories. Wal-Mart could treat women with respect. But then it only does that with a group of workers it if makes for good PR:

After all, pregnant women are at the final analysis socially valuable and morally distinct as a category of person. They ensure the ongoing life of society, and do so at personal cost: sometimes great, sometimes minor. If Wal-Mart is willing to recognize the moral significance of veterans in those terms, why not pregnant women? The answer in that case would be to simply recognize pregnancy as a discrete category worthy of its own set of special labor protections not because pregnant workers offer any extra utility, but simply because pregnancy is a morally significant vocation.

And it won’t happen. Not because it couldn’t, but because Wal-Mart won’t sacrifice potential profit for the social value or moral import of a person unless it can be turned into a P.R. stunt. There is a reason that when Pope Francis speaks of a culture of death he also often speaks of economies of exclusion; the preference for profit over people and material objects over human life is a symptom of the melding of the two impulses, which are joined by a similar extreme undervaluing of life. Firms and the economy as a whole are here to serve humanity, not to be served by it; to reverse that order is to invite incredible harm, and Wal-Mart is in many senses the very manifestation of that injurious reversal.

And let’s face it, women workers will never offer the PR that a company like Wal-Mart wants because they are not valued highly enough in the broader society. Instead, Wal-Mart continues the exploitation of women workers that has marked low-wage industrial and now post-industrial work for two centuries.

White Privilege

[ 93 ] May 24, 2014 |

White privilege exists even for poor whites. The House plan to fund rural child hunger while eliminating funding for urban child hunger is a great example of this.

Meteors

[ 28 ] May 24, 2014 |

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Anyone have any meteor stories to share from last night?

Friday Night

[ 48 ] May 23, 2014 |

Someone had better be delivering one of these 1947 ice masks to cure a hangover to my front door by the morning.

BoXCYblIAAAxb0s

Also, Monk.

The First Ever Baseball Strike

[ 65 ] May 23, 2014 |

Some of you might be familiar with the first ever baseball strike, but this is the first I’ve ever heard of it, started when Ty Cobb went into the stands to beat a heckler. When Cobb was suspended, the Tigers went on strike.

But as he ducked into the dugout before batting in the fourth, Cobb hurled an insult at the man, according to Cobb’s biographer Charles Alexander. The man, a Tammany Hall page named Claude Lucker (or Lueker, in some accounts), who had lost all but two of his fingers while operating a printing press, continued taunting Cobb.

The Tigers’ Sam Crawford asked Cobb what he intended to do. And with that, Cobb suddenly vaulted into the stands toward Lucker, seated about 12 rows up in the grandstand. Knocking Lucker down, Cobb began kicking and stamping him.

“Cobb,” someone cried, “that man has no hands!”

“I don’t care if he has no feet!” he yelled, continuing the attack with his cleats. Some fans tried to intervene, but several teammates who had followed Cobb into the grandstand held them off with bats. An umpire and a police officer finally pulled Cobb away.

He was ejected from the game, which the Tigers eventually won, 8-4. Johnson, in the midst of touring A.L. parks, witnessed the incident and suspended Cobb indefinitely. Cobb’s teammates rallied to his defense two days later in Philadelphia, sending Johnson a message that they would strike in protest.

“If the players cannot have protection, we must protect ourselves,” the Tigers wrote.

That put Detroit Manager Hughie Jennings in a quandary. The Tigers would incur a $5,000 fine if they forfeited their May 18 game against the Athletics, so the team owner, Frank Navin, ordered Jennings to field a team. With the help of Joe Nolan, a sportswriter for The Philadelphia Bulletin, Jennings quickly cobbled together a roster of semipros and amateurs.

The scab Tigers lost 24-2 and the strike ended the next day. Cobb was suspended 10 games.

The Last Civil War Debt

[ 21 ] May 23, 2014 |

In 1864, Confederate General Jubal Early invaded Maryland. He threatened to burn the city of Frederick to the ground unless they paid him $200,000. Frederick city leaders agreed. They took out loans to make the payment.

Frederick paid off those loans in 1951
.

The End of History Education

[ 237 ] May 23, 2014 |

The Boston public school system is eliminating history and social science departments, merging them with other departments that don’t matter because they aren’t on the standardized tests.

No doubt this is paving the way for the same thing to happen on the university level to the non-STEM departments.

Burrito Thursday

[ 42 ] May 22, 2014 |

I know there is such a thing as Taco Tuesday, but how about we celebrate a late night Burrito Thursday by considering the 10 most important burritos in history.

Happy 100th to Sun Ra

[ 52 ] May 22, 2014 |

The Ra arrived on Earth 100 years ago today. One of the most inventive and amazing people in the history of American music, Sun Ra managed to balance experimental noise with a band that still swung. In a sense he was on his own trajectory, not only in his own mind, with his religious writings and space talk, but in the history of music, as he avoided the rock fusion of post-Bitches Brew Miles Davis while also not following Coltrane and Pharaoh Sanders into their version of noise free jazz. Noise the

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Ra made, but it was always very much his noise.

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