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J.J. Cale, RIP

[ 8 ] July 28, 2013 |

J.J. Cale has died. Can’t say I’m a huge fan of a style this laid-back, which can become outright sleepy. But Cale could write some excellent songs.

The Michigan Copper Strike of 1913-14

[ 13 ] July 27, 2013 |

This week marked the 100th anniversary of the beginning of the Michigan copper strike of 1913-14, made famous by the Calumet Massacre, where a company thug’s call of “Fire!” during a Christmas Eve party led to a stampeded against a door held shut from the outside, killing around 75 people, 60 of whom were children. Aaron Goings and Gary Kaunenon have an excellent history of the strike at Labor Online. Well worth your time.

The True Cost of Food

[ 24 ] July 27, 2013 |

An excellent Mark Bittman op-ed about the true cost of food upon those who produce it. Bittman talks about the fast-food strikes of the last few weeks and how only 1 worker has lost their job, which is interesting. Next week there are going to be more strikes. Listen to Bittman here:

Six elements are affected by the way food is produced: taste, nutrition and price; and the impact on the environment, animals and labor. We can argue about taste, but it’s clear that our production system — especially in the fast-food world — is flunking all the others. And if you think food is “cheap,” talk to the people working in the fields, factories and stores who can’t afford it. Remember: no food is produced without labor.

Well-intentioned people often ask me what they can do to help improve our food system. Here’s an easy one: When you see that picket line next week, don’t cross it. In fact, join it.

That’s right. No food is produced without labor. When you see incredibly cheap food at a Wal-Mart, know that the food is that cheap because the world’s largest corporation makes sure its suppliers supply at very low expenses. Sometimes, that creates conditions similar to slave labor. The food system is not at all different from the apparel system that kills 1100 workers in Bangladesh and poisons rivers around the world.

When workers do take the risk to stand up for themselves, we owe it to them to respect that picket line.

ACLU Using Corporate Management Tactics on Its Own Workers

[ 132 ] July 27, 2013 |

I was a union organizer for awhile. Most of this was volunteer work, but I was pretty good at it and there were professionals who encouraged me to go into it full time. I was committed to going on to the Ph.D. though. But right before I did so, an SEIU local took me on as a staffer for the summer, figuring they could get something good out of me.

It was the worst job I ever had. Not only was there nothing for me to do, but the atmosphere among the staff was poisonous. The boss was a good organizer but an absolutely awful manager of people and he created terrible working conditions. Everyone was expected to work 12-14 hour days, even when there was no reason to do so. The pay was bad (as are most union organizing jobs. No one goes into it for the money) and the organizers were under constant pressure that made them miserable people. They technically had a union. But the weakest union in the whole AFL-CIO is the organizers union because no one takes it seriously and if you staged a real labor action against the union you worked for, you’d be blackballed. The experience nearly killed the labor movement for me, and I only had to put up with it for 2 miserable months.

So I was not amused to see this story about the ACLU using management tactics against its own workers. The ACLU is usually great on union rights and the rights of all workers to speak out. But you have to treat your own people well and the ACLU isn’t doing that. Top managers are getting huge raises while regular workers are not only seeing wages stagnate, but they are attacking the basic provisions of unionism:

The ACLU, long known as a champion of fair labor standards, stands accused of violating its own workers’ rights. Last March, the ACLU, a nonprofit, began negotiating a new contract for its unionized staff, one void of major benefits employees had enjoyed since the 1970s. The requested concessions from union staff include smaller wage increases, health care costs, and other corporate money-saving measures. But one of the most contentious points, according to union members, is the ACLU’s demand that workers give up the basic “just cause” provision in their contract, which protects workers against wrongful termination by their employers.

Such a provision is one the ACLU has fought for around the nation and essentially protects workers from being fired without just cause. That it would strike it from some employee’s contracts, according to union members, could set a troubling precedent. The ACLU is generally considered the nation’s preeminent defender of the Bill of Rights.

This is completely unacceptable. The ACLU might go through funding crises and need to limit wages. And it might ask workers to start paying into health care. That sucks, but maybe there’s no real way around it. But giving up just cause? There is no good reason for this except that management has decided it wants to run the organization like a corporation.

Shorter Pat McCrory: “If Art Pope Says It’s OK, I Don’t Care What’s In The Bill”

[ 19 ] July 27, 2013 |

North Carolina Governor Pat McCrory is quite an intelligent man and a principled politician:

In a lengthy and, at times, awkward and disjointed press conference, Gov. Pat McCrory said today that he would sign House Bill 589 — the controversial bill to alter state voting and elections laws. The bill, which was originally about imposing new voter ID requirements but morphed this week into an omnibus 57 page proposal to restrict voting in numerous ways, was passed by the House late last night and will be presented to the Governor on Monday.

What was perhaps the saddest and most illuminating moment of the press conference, however, came when a reporter asked the Governor about some of the less-thoroughly-publicized portions of the bill. After testily dismissing a question about a provision on lobbyist “bundling” of campaign contributions because the reporter noted that it had been spurred by allegations against the Governor’s former law firm and erroneously saying that North Carolinians can register to vote ”online,” McCrory addressed a question about the bill’s language to do away with the current successful program to pre-register 16 and 17 year olds. Here’s what the Guv said:

“I don’t know enough…I’m sorry, I haven’t seen that part of the bill.”

After all, if McCrory was to care what was in the bill, he and his fellow North Carolina Republicans might not get invited back to all these big lobbyist beer parties they’ve become accustomed to.

The Greatest Townes Van Zandt Songs

[ 42 ] July 26, 2013 |

Here’s a Stereogum list of the 10 best Townes Van Zandt songs. I’ll offer my own 10 best, which look pretty different. Between about 1997 and 2002 or so I was in a huge Van Zandt stage, which soon morphed into following Guy Clark, Joe Ely, Steve Earle, and so many others of that generation and genre. Today, I don’t listen to Townes all that much, maybe an album every 3-4 weeks. That said, I think I’ve heard them all about 4000 times. So here we go. These are not really in any meaningful order, because that order would probably change tomorrow. Sure he couldn’t really sing and he really couldn’t play the guitar. The amazing amount of substances he put into his body during his all too short life helped none of these things. But he’s one of the top 5 songwriters of the last 50 years. I’m terrible at discussing individual songs. I find it almost impossible to write about without slipping into cliche. But these are 10 pretty awesome ones.

1. “Tecumseh Valley”

2. “Lungs”

3. “Don’t Take It Too Bad”

4. “Poncho and Lefty”

5. “Marie”

6. “Rake”

7. “Dollar Bill Blues”

8. “Why She’s Acting That Way”

9. “Snowin on Raton”

10. “Two Girls”

If I could have expanded this to 15, would have included “Tower Song,” “Waitin’ Round to Die,” “Sixteen Summers, Fifteen Falls,” “Pueblo Waltz,” and maybe “If I Needed You.”

If you are looking to buy particular albums, I’d go with Our Mother the Mountain, the self-titled album, and Live at the Old Quarter, probably in that order.

Indonesia

[ 7 ] July 26, 2013 |

This is from a couple of weeks ago and some of you might have seen it already, but this is an excellent roundup of the wages of global capitalism on the people and ecosystems of Indonesia. Apparel and manufacturing corporations are increasingly looking to Indonesia as the next low-wage production frontier, especially in the wake of the Bangladesh factory collapse. What they will find is a lot of social unrest over how western corporations have ravaged the nation’s rich natural resources, break the limited labor laws that already exist, and keep people in deep poverty. Mining corporations are probably the worst here, convincing the Indonesian government to grant them wide ranging control over huge tracts of unspoiled forests, probably dooming rhinos and other species to extinction in the next couple of decades.

The Worst Right-Handed Hitting Team of All Time

[ 122 ] July 26, 2013 |

The Yankees’ acquisition of Alfonso Soriano is another sign that the team’s ownership really has had trouble adjusting to the new reality that you have to develop from within in order to compete. Half-heartedly trying to get below the luxury tax, the Yankees decided to pass on resigning players like Nick Swisher in the offseason, instead choosing to rely on a bunch of ancient and oft-injured players. That’s gone as well as expected, meaning that the Yankees arguably have the worst right-handed hitting team of all time, according to Ben Lindbergh at Baseball Prospectus (sub required to read the whole thing):

As a team, the Yankees have hit .221/.283/.311 from the right side of the plate. That’s 30 points of OPS worse than the Marlins, who rank 29th in that category (and who play in a pitcher’s park and don’t have a DH). The Yankees haven’t hit a right-handed homer in over a month (Jayson Nix, June 25th), and they went three weeks without one before that (Mark Teixeira, June 4th). It’s like the whole team has turned into Pete Kozma.

This is historic offensive futility, and the fact that the Yankees had the highest payroll in baseball before trading for Soriano adds insult to impotence. The Yankees’ .594 OPS from the right side is the 17th-lowest ever (or since 1916, which is as far back as Baseball-Reference goes when searching for that split). None of the entries on the list below them is from the last 30 seasons; most are from low-offense eras and pitcher’s parks. In fact, considering the context, the 2013 Yankees have a real claim to the title of worst right-handed-hitting team of all time.

Let’s just say that again. The Yankees do not have a right-handed home run since June 25. Today is July 26. Among the teams worse than the Yankees in that list referred to above are the mighty 81 Blue Jays and the legendary 02 and 03 Tigers. Actually every team since 1950 is better than the Yankees at right-handed hitting.

Acquiring Soriano in itself is probably fine if you need an ancient slugger having a surprisingly good season but who is a major liability on the basepaths and in the field. That doesn’t help the Yankees much; the reality is that there isn’t anything out there short of the Marlins trading Giancarlo Stanton for a bag of balls that is going to help them much. They need to be sellers, not buyers. It’s amazing that the Yankees’ record is as good as it is since they have vastly outperformed what their statistics suggest their record should be. In other words, the Yankees are by far the luckiest team in baseball this year and that’s unlikely to continue in the last 2 months. But they are the Yankees and they only buy.

Given that the Yankees are utterly bereft of decent hitting prospects in the upper echelons of the system and the increased age and long-term contracts of their players, it’s likely the Yankees will be a lot worse next year.

Victim

[ 27 ] July 26, 2013 |

The true victims of police violence against protestors are always the cops.

The former police officer who pepper-sprayed students during an Occupy protest at the University of California, Davis is appealing for worker’s compensation, claiming he suffered psychiatric injury from the 2011 confrontation.

John Pike has a settlement conference set for Aug. 13 in Sacramento, according to the state Department of Industrial Relations’ website.

Pike was fired in July 2012, eight months after a task force investigation found that his action was unwarranted.

Online videos of him and another officer casually dousing demonstrators with pepper spray went viral, sparking outrage at UC Davis leaders. The images became a rallying symbol for the Occupy Wall Street movement.

Hackers posted Pike’s information online. He received scores of threats that led an Alameda County Court judge to rule against releasing the names of other officers at the scene.

Poorly Designed Crime

[ 41 ] July 25, 2013 |

For reasons out of my control, half of my life is now traveling around seeing statues of virgins, which is especially exciting since I’m not a believer. Thus, I’ve seen this virgin where an outrageously poorly designed crime was executed:

A Bolivian judge has ordered a 34-year-old priest jailed in the theft of the sumptuous collection of gem-encrusted gold jewelry that bedecked a statue of the country’s patron saint, the Virgin of Copacabana.

Also under arrest in the case is the female owner of a hostel where the Rev. Jesus Cortes was lodged when the jewels disappeared April 22 from the basilica in the town on Lake Titicaca’s shore.

The jewels removed from the statue, which was carved in 1580, are worth an estimated $1 million.

Cortes was arraigned Wednesday. He lives in the eastern city of Santa Cruz and was helping out while the church’s pastor was abroad.

Authorities say Cortes was the only member of the church staff who was not mysteriously tranquilized the night of the theft.

Am I the only who thinks this guy deserved a long sentence for being stupid? Hello! You have a partner in the hostel owner. Make a copy of the keys and then tranquilize yourself and have her come and steal the jewels. Gee, I wonder what people will think when I’m a priest from a different part of the country and I drug everyone and walk off with the jewels from the most important virgin statue in Bolivia?

Deep Thoughts

[ 150 ] July 25, 2013 |

In 2016, progressives will no doubt be immersed once again in the lovely debate over whether to vote for Hillary/Biden/Gillibrand/whoever* because of drones/Gitmo/something or whether they should instead vote for a Green Party that I’m guessing has done absolutely nothing since November 2012 to build into a legitimate alternative to the Democrats. I know I can’t wait for a summer and fall as fun for me as 2012….

When we are having this debate, can we please all point to North Carolina as what will happen the next time Republicans control the House, Senate, and presidency? Because it is absolutely what will happen.

*Note–this will be really hard if the nominee is Cuomo. But you have to do what you have to do.

Unpaid Interns Fighting Back

[ 12 ] July 23, 2013 |

It’s good to see the legions of unpaid interns at profit-generating companies organizing and fighting back against the theft of their labor.