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New York Slave Market

[ 53 ] April 16, 2015 |

The first slave auction in New Amsterdam in 1655, painted by Howard Pyle, 1917

Glad to see New York City finally acknowledging its long history as a slave market.

The city’s slave market stood at the corner of Wall and Pearl Streets and operated from 1711 to 1762. Today, the spot lies several blocks inland. But it was once on the East River waterfront, where oceangoing ships unloaded their goods. The market was a wooden structure with a roof and open sides, although walls may have been added over the years. Renderings show that it could hold perhaps 50 men.

Over the course of those 51 years it was operated, the market trafficked in thousands of slaves: men and women, shiploads of children, even captured Indians.

“It’s not a feel-good story,” said Thomas J. Davis, a professor at Arizona State University who writes about slavery in the north. “It’s not a story that people have wanted to hear.” Davis and other historians say Americans in the north tend to think of slavery as a fever that gripped the south, a fever which was cured by the Civil War.

But New York and other northern cities accrued vast wealth from slave labor and profited for centuries from dealings in the slave trade. Africans who passed through the Wall Street slave market contributed to the prosperity of some very famous companies, some of which are still around: Aetna, New York Life and JPMorgan Chase, to name a few. Various units of these and other financial companies bankrolled southern plantations, insured slaves as property, and used slaves as collateral for loans.

New York was the center of northern slavery, both in the Dutch patroon estates of the Hudson Valley and in the city itself. In 1703, 42 percent of New York City households owned slaves, the 2nd highest slave concentration of any colonial city, only behind Charleston. Around 20 percent of the city’s population during the late colonial period were African slaves.


Richmond Has Fallen!

[ 34 ] April 16, 2015 |

In comments yesterday, heckblazer alerted me to this brilliance of 1865 advertising.


That is now one of my favorite advertisements of all time. Can’t wait to use it in a class.

Better Conditions = Happier Workers = Higher Profits

[ 30 ] April 15, 2015 |

MI Touring Nike's Factories

It’s long been known that better working conditions and higher pay lead to happier and more productive workers. Yet short-sighted greed and corporate resentment over treating workers like human beings has contributed to a global production system that strips workers of basic dignity. But even in Vietnamese sweatshops producing clothing for western markets, the evidence suggests that better conditions create happier workers which creates higher profits.

The Land of the Free

[ 52 ] April 15, 2015 |


The wages of the U.S. immigration system:

Six months after he was deported back to Mexico from the United States, Constantino Morales was shot and killed Sunday night. Morales, an undocumented immigrant who fought for immigration reform in Iowa, was twice denied asylum in the United States before he was found dead in the Mexican state of Guerrero.

“If I am sent back, I will face more violence and I could lose my life,” Morales said at a meeting with Rep. Tom Latham (R-IA) in August 2013, according to an Iowa-based, immigration advocacy group Citizens for Community Improvement’s (CCI) Facebook page. “We are in severe need of fair immigration reform and a pathway to citizenship. We don’t want any excuses; we know you can make this happen.”

CCI explained in a public Facebook message that Morales was “a former police officer in Mexico who publicly stood up against drug trafficking. After many attempts on his life, he came to the US in search of asylum and an opportunity to continue to work to support his family. He was a kind man. He never let his legal status limit his advocacy for immigrant rights.”

Morales fled to Des Moines, Iowa in 2010. Natalie Snyders, a CCI organizer, told ThinkProgress that since his arrival in the United States, Morales has worked at a local restaurant. He came to her organization’s attention because he was a victim of wage theft and “became quite involved in the organization as a leader speaking out about immigration reform and other issues related to the Latino community. … He was never afraid to speak out for the community, for the immigration system. A lot of people are afraid to speak out when they’re undocumented, but he wasn’t.”

Maria [last name withheld], a close family friend, mournfully told ThinkProgress that Morales came to the attention of immigration officials after the police pulled him over for a traffic violation and found out that he didn’t have a driver’s license. According to his asylum application, Morales was pulled over and let go twice, but Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) later showed up at his workplace “saying I had to go with them.”

We are truly living up to the noble rhetoric of our nation’s mythologies here.

The Civil War’s Aftermath in Graphic Novel Form

[ 13 ] April 15, 2015 |


Above: Lincoln’s funeral

Ari Kelman and Jonathan Fetter-Vorm excerpt their new graphic novel on the Civil War. You should read it.

Percy Sledge, RIP

[ 3 ] April 14, 2015 |

Dead at the age of 74.

All The Hillaries

[ 151 ] April 14, 2015 |


Is Hillary Clinton the horrible monster Doug Henwood describes who is terrible on many, many issues the left should care about?

Is Hillary Clinton a corporate hack who will avoid economic populism like Zaid Jilani claims?

Is Hillary Clinton a brilliant politician whose seemingly inevitably is a sign of her political skill and not a media ploy, as Seth Masket explores?

Will Hillary Clinton be an unabashed liberal on domestic policy, as Peter Beinart argues?

Will Hillary Clinton rule to the right on Barack Obama on foreign policy, as Zack Beauchamp states?

I think the answers to all of these question is to some extent, yes. They aren’t mutually exclusive. Granting that Henwood’s obsession with the Clinton is a bit unhealthy and is pretty much the left version of those who think she killed Vince Foster, she does indeed suck on many issues. And she’ll be OK on some issues. In other words, she’s a complicated, corporate-friendly Democrat who will be quite liberal on social issues (regardless of her participation in the welfare battles of the 90s), irritating on foreign policy but hardly a Republican, and generally a mixed bag.

The real lesson to take from Hillary Clinton for progressives is that no one should see a president as the person who will solve their problems. If we wanted somewhere better than Hillary to run, we should have organized to move the party to the left. We haven’t, and if Hillary hadn’t run, the likely frontrunner would be one Andrew Cuomo, a politician far worse than Hillary. If progressives push her to the left through consistent organization, she’ll swing left. If she feels more pressure from Republicans, she’ll swing right. This shouldn’t be all that hard to figure out, yet it constantly surprises us how politics actually work in this nation.

Trout Fishing in America

[ 43 ] April 14, 2015 |


The bull trout, an endangered trout species of the Pacific Northwest and southwest Canada, in part because of introduced brook trout.

The cost of trout fishing upon our river ecosystems is high. That’s because we’ve industrialized the trout, like we’ve industrialized so many animals.

Twenty-eight million Americans will buy freshwater fishing licenses this year. Eight million of them will be trout and salmon anglers. Native wild trout have mostly disappeared in the face of this immense fishing pressure. They have been replaced by nonnative hatchery fish and their river-born “wild” trout offspring. Nationwide, state and federal fisheries agencies dump some 130 million trout in lakes, rivers and streams each year. Although this stocking lures people outside, the hatcheries that produce these trout create environmental problems.

Trout aquaculture is heavily reliant on pellet feed. The federal and state hatchery production of some 28 million pounds of trout per year requires roughly 34 million pounds of feed. These pellets are derived from herring, menhaden and anchovies harvested from oceans in quantities that the United States Department of Agriculture and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration say are unsustainable. We are devastating populations of marine species simply to support a freshwater hobby.

If that’s not bad enough, hatcheries are major polluters. Each year, much of the roughly six million pounds of fish excrement, uneaten food and dead and decaying fish that I estimate are produced by these hatcheries leach nutrients into wastewater that is often then dumped untreated into the closest stream or river. This wastewater can also contain medicines and antibiotics used to limit diseases in crowded pens, and disinfectants that sterilize holding tanks. Ultimately, these hatcheries may be contributing to the proliferation of “dead zones” — biological wastelands created by excess nutrients — that are choking estuaries and coastal ecosystems downstream.

Although stocking trout is harmful, eating them is far better than eating native wild trout. When these native fish die, their genetic uniqueness dies, too. (Brook and lake trout are the only trout native to the entire Northeast, for instance; nonnatives like brown, rainbow and golden trout are also released into Northeast streams.) Unfortunately, many states set uniformly high catch limits that draw no distinction between native versus nonnative trout. Therefore, anglers need to hold themselves to a higher standard than the rules that govern their actions.

It’s tough. Maybe we shouldn’t worry about it too much. After all, fishing is a major recreational activity for millions of Americans and just because it has screwed wild fish stocks, does that mean it should end? Should we just accept that we have industrialized this activity and go for it? Do wild fish stocks matter? I’d argue yes for the last question and say that managing this resource also means ensuring as much of a healthy ecological system as possible.

Hang ‘Em High

[ 175 ] April 14, 2015 |


On this, the anniversary of Lincoln’s assassination, it’s worth considering which Confederates should have been hanged. Understanding that the Union couldn’t really execute all the high ranking Confederates, Gary Brecher makes the very strong case that at the very least, Nathan Bedford Forrest and Wade Hampton, two extraordinarily loathsome people, should gotten the rope.

Forrest was a slaver and a killer long before the war, but he distinguished himself among the bloody Southern officer corps by his fondness for “No Quarter” orders. “No Quarter” was much more common in the Southwestern theatre of the war than most people realize. The James brothers, Quantrill, Anderson—those guys didn’t come out of nowhere. They were typical of the Southern irregular cavalry, and Forrest was the best, most ruthless leader they had. Forrest didn’t like taking prisoners; he preferred killing them on the spot. And it worked for him, once his rep got around. Many weak commanders surrendered to him rather than face the prospect of being slaughtered if he won.

When he attacked Fort Pillow in April 1864, Forrest encountered a garrison that wouldn’t surrender, and was half African-American. The black troops were from two artillery units, backed up by raw infantry. Forrest’s raiders outnumbered them, 1,500 to 600, and Forrest expected to win easily. He issued one of his standard threats after initial skirmishing, telling the Union commander he and his men had fought well enough to be “entitled” to be treated as POWs if they surrendered, but if Forrest was “forced” to attack, he couldn’t guarantee their safety.

It worked, many times, but it didn’t work on the second-in-command at Fort Pillow, who replied, “I will not surrender.” Forrest’s men overran the fort and killed every black soldier they could find. One of the Confederates who took part in the massacre reported it like this:

“Words cannot describe the scene. The poor deluded negroes would run up to our men fall upon their knees and with uplifted hands scream for mercy but they were ordered to their feet and then shot down. The whitte [sic] men fared but little better. Their fort turned out to be a great slaughter pen.”

After a half hour of slaughter, Forrest resumed command, and sent a proud dispatch boasting that the “river was dyed red” with the blood of the African-American soldiers. Forrest was a master of terror in war, and saw the massacre as a good way to neutralize the growing number of African-American soldiers the Union was recruiting. He wrote, using the modest passive mode, “It is hoped that these facts will demonstrate to the Northern people that negro soldiers cannot cope with Southerners.”

And then there’s Hampton.

By the time the Civil War started, Wade Hampton III was 42 years old, with no military experience. But he was a mean bastard, he knew how to ride and kill, he was willing to use his own money to raise his own “legion,” and he rose fast. In fact, one of the best ways to identify candidates for hanging is to look at fast risers.

In the whole Confederate army, only two men who started with no previous military experience rose to the rank of Lt. General: Wade Hampton III and Nathan Bedford Forrest. That’s a good noose-fitting device right there.

And if you’re looking for good legal cause to hang ol’ Wade, you won’t have much work to find it. Hampton talked his head off to Sherman’s officers, late in the war, as they arranged the surrender of Johnston’s forces, and his main theme, as recorded in multiple Union officers’ memoirs, is shooting deserters and “recruiting” new troops at gunpoint. Military life, for Hampton and many another Confederate officer in the last year of the war, consisted of rounding up deserters, shooting every one who didn’t seem useful, and re-enlisting the rest by holding a pistol at their head until they sang “Dixie” in the proper key. There’s no knowing how many Union men Hampton killed, but he boasted about killing dozens of reluctant Confederates.

Nice guy.

This doesn’t even get into what these horrible people did after the war, what with Forrest starting the Ku Klux Klan and Hampton heading the Red Shirts.


[ 58 ] April 14, 2015 |

It sucks to be a department chair and have to hire adjuncts in a situation you know and they know is exploitative.

As a department chair at Columbia University, I am compelled to hire many people on a part-time basis, although they want and deserve full-time jobs. These adjuncts are among the finest, longest-serving instructors in many universities, and it’s well known that their lasting contributions can transform the lives of their students.

It’s also no secret that they are getting a raw deal. Overworked and underpaid, they often struggle to get by and, when taken to an extreme, the consequences can be tragic.

With each passing year, it becomes clearer that cheap labor has become the hidden foundation of American higher education. According to the American Association of University Professors, more than 50 percent of all faculty hold part-time appointments. A vast workforce of mostly non-unionized adjunct instructors—the so-called “contingent faculty”—now comprises the core of the teaching faculty. They often teach as many courses as full-time instructors, but because they are considered part-time, they have no voting power in departments or universities, no benefits, no job security and no office in which to meet with their students.

The short-term benefits to a university’s bottom line are obvious. It is fiscally advantageous for institutions to hire adjuncts instead of creating more full-time positions with benefits, and the seemingly unlimited availability of part-time instructors makes it relatively easy to offer a large number of courses. And, as noted in the 2010 report of the Coalition on the Academic Workforce, while adjunct instructors are long-time (albeit part-time) faculty and shoulder a substantial portion of the curriculum, institutional policies often treat them as if they are short-term workers with minimum involvement in academic life. More than once, adjuncts have been called “the fast-food workers of the academic world.”

One could argue that the chair should just say no, I’m not hiring those people. I’m not sure what would happen. Quite possibly the chair would simply be replaced and the dean’s office would hire the adjuncts. Maybe it would do some good.

Holding Corporations Accountable

[ 5 ] April 14, 2015 |


I have a piece up at In These Times that discusses some of the ideas I develop in Out of Sight in how to hold corporations accountable for the ecological and labor exploitation of the world no matter where they move.

The only way workers like the 11-year-old boy in Ghatkopar will see their lives improve is if we demand global standards on production with real legal consequences for companies who violate them. The contracting system that creates layers of separation between multinational corporations and workers serves to increase exploitation and profits. It also makes it much harder for consumers in the U.S. and other countries to demand products are produced ethically, for two principle reasons.

First, unlike the Triangle Fire, where reforms of working conditions happened because Americans saw workers die making their clothes, we cannot see the lives of Bangladeshis and Sri Lankans who die making ours. Second, because these corporations lack legal liability for their production, they can claim they know nothing about the working conditions of their suppliers. If Walmart, Target or Gap buy these zippers, do they even know it? When these companies have been busted for using sweatshop labor, they frequently claim that they had no production contracts there. Given the byzantine mazes of contracting these companies do, they may be telling the truth. But a lack of public accounting means we cannot know.

Whether at Bhopal or a zipper sweatshop, multinational corporations need to be held accountable for what happens where they site factories or contract their production. Keeping clear records that show where their clothes are actually produced should be their responsibility.

Specifically, we need to create legal accountability for corporations. Voluntary agreements are basically meaningless—enforcement with consequences is necessary. We need international labor standards that companies must comply with if they want to sell their products in the United States. Workers should have the right to sue in American courts when American companies violate basic standards of labor rights.

If Walmart or Gap wants to contract production to Bangladesh or India, that’s fine. But if their factory collapses or if workers are subjected to slave labor, the American companies using those zippers need to be held legally accountable. Subcontracting cannot be a tool to exploit the world’s poor. We must articulate new ways of holding corporations accountable if we are ever to stop this exploitation.

We are very far from such a system being implemented today. Vicious corporate attacks on organized labor in the United States mean that we are desperately trying to hold on to what labor rights we have left in this country. But those rights have collapsed in part because of the export of union jobs offshore, undermining the best tool American workers have for maintaining a dignified life.

If you want more news like this, follow the Out of Sight Facebook page. Get a book sticker.

Out of Sight: The Facebook Page

[ 31 ] April 13, 2015 |


I’m ramping up promotion for Out of Sight. I created a Facebook page for the book. If any of you use it and want more information about both my media appearances and a daily update or two on news stories around outsourcing, unfair trade, and the environmental and labor exploitation of the world by corporations in their global race to the bottom, you should follow the page.

You should also preorder the book.

….Because this book is all cool and the like, The New Press made stickers rather than postcards to promote it. It is willing to send a sticker to the first 50 people who like the Facebook page and are willing to send a private message to the page (administered only by me) with an address. An irresistible offer!

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