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Can We Just Have the UN Institute a One-World Government and Be Over With It?

[ 174 ] November 1, 2013 |

Dumb upon dumb:

The Alamo will not fall under United Nations control if it is named a UNESCO World Heritage site, the Texas Land commission assured Texans on Wednesday, according to the San Antonio Express-News.

In a statement Wednesday Jerry Patterson, the Texas land commissioner, called rumors that the U.N. might manage the Alamo and other Spanish missions in Texas “horse hockey.”

“The people of Texas own the Alamo now and in the future. Nothing is going to change that,” Patterson said at a gun rights rally at the Alamo on Oct. 19.

George Rodriguez, former president of the San Antonio Tea Party, stirred up rumors in a piece titled ‘The New Battle of the Alamo.’

Rodriguez said Wednesday that he never stated that the U.N. would take control, but that he merely provided a “cautionary tale.”

“I’m just constantly saying ‘may’ or ‘might,'” he explained. “I’m never once saying that this is going to happen. We need to be aware.”

The two times I visited the Alamo went as follows.

1. I was driving to Houston. Stopped in San Antonio to check it out. Was after closing so I didn’t do the tour. But didn’t much care about that. I go up to the Alamo doors itself and there are all these irritated white people milling around. Some Latino guys totally decked out in Spurs gear head to foot are getting their pictures taken in front of the Alamo and the white people are wondering what they are doing and why they are taking so long. Turns out that someone’s mom and girlfriend or something was taking pictures of them flashing their gang signs in front of the Alamo and they wanted lots of pictures of doing this. Reconquista indeed. Of course none of the white people could figure out what they were doing. Then I turn around and walk toward the shops across the street. A bus comes past from a visiting Texas high school. The name emblazoned on the bus: “Hereford Whitefaces.” The nickname of the high school was indeed the Whitefaces. I understand this is partially related to the look of that particular brand of cattle. But in Texas, it’s not just that. Oh no. I walked away thinking this is the weirdest place I’ve ever been.

2. A few years later I was living in Texas. Was taking a historian friend around to various sites of public memory in central Texas. Went to the LBJ ranch, the monument commemorating all the Germans the Texas slaughtered for trying to flee to Mexico during the Civil War because they opposed slavery. Then went to the Alamo. There was some bizarre ceremony going on with some fraternal organization inducting new members or something. They had stands and everything. They introduced the six flags that have flown over the Alamo. No one cheered for the French flag (I’m unclear what right the French ever had over the region but whatever). There were a few claps for the Spanish. None for the Mexican flag. And then a whole lot for the Confederate flag. Only time I’ve ever seen the Confederate flag cheered for. Then we turn around to walk away and there’s a whole group of African-American Revolutionary War reenactors walking toward us. Huh? What the heck?

In any case, I don’t mind if the UN comes and conquers Texas or internationalizes the Alamo or whatever, so long as it remains the weirdest place in the United States.

Black Lung Blues

[ 47 ] October 31, 2013 |

The Center for Public Integrity is running a really great series about how coal miners get black lung from decades in the mines and then face a wall of denial of their claims far harder than any coal seam. The second part of the 3-part series came out yesterday, detailing how doctors at Johns Hopkins deny all black lung claims. This is just awful.

Doctors have come and gone from the unit over the years, but the leader and most productive reader for decades has been Dr. Paul Wheeler, 78, a slight man with a full head of gray hair and strong opinions.

In the federal black lung system, cases often boil down to dueling medical experts, and judges rely heavily on doctors’ credentials to resolve disputes.

When it comes to interpreting the chest films that are vital in most cases, Wheeler is the coal companies’ trump card. He has undergraduate and medical degrees from Harvard University, a long history of leadership at Johns Hopkins and an array of presentations and publications to his credit. In many cases, judges have noted Johns Hopkins’ prestige and described Wheeler’s qualifications as “most impressive,” “outstanding” and “superior.” Time and again, judges have deemed him the “best qualified radiologist,” and they have reached conclusions such as, “I defer to Dr. Wheeler’s interpretation because of his superior credentials.”

Yet there is strong evidence that this deference has contributed to unjust denials of miners’ claims, the Center found as part of a yearlong investigation, “Breathless and Burdened.” The Center created a database of doctors’ opinions — none previously existed — scouring thousands of judicial opinions kept by the Labor Department dating to 2000 and logging every available X-ray reading by Wheeler. The Center recorded key information about these cases, analyzed Wheeler’s reports and testimony, consulted medical literature and interviewed leading doctors. The findings are stark:

In the more than 1,500 cases decided since 2000 in which Wheeler read at least one X-ray, he never once found the severe form of the disease, complicated coal workers’ pneumoconiosis. Other doctors looking at the same X-rays found this advanced stage of the disease in 390 of these cases.
Since 2000, miners have lost more than 800 cases after doctors saw black lung on an X-ray but Wheeler read the film as negative. This includes 160 cases in which doctors found the complicated form of the disease. When Wheeler weighed in, miners lost nearly 70 percent of the time before administrative law judges. The Labor Department does not have statistics on miners’ win percentage in all cases at this stage for comparison purposes.
Where other doctors saw black lung, Wheeler often saw evidence of another disease, most commonly tuberculosis or histoplasmosis — an illness caused by a fungus in bird and bat droppings. This was particularly true in cases involving the most serious form of the disease. In two-thirds of cases in which other doctors found complicated black lung, Wheeler attributed the masses in miners’ lungs to TB, the fungal infection or a similar disease.
The criteria Wheeler applies when reading X-rays are at odds with positions taken by government research agencies, textbooks, peer-reviewed scientific literature and the opinions of many doctors who specialize in detecting the disease, including the chair of the American College of Radiology’s task force on black lung.
Biopsies or autopsies repeatedly have proven Wheeler wrong. Though Wheeler suggests miners undergo biopsies — surgical procedures to remove a piece of the lung for examination — to prove their cases, such evidence is not required by law, is not considered necessary in most cases and can be medically risky. Still, in more than 100 cases decided since 2000 in which Wheeler offered negative readings, biopsies or autopsies provided undisputed evidence of black lung.

It’s not clear why this one doctor has dedicated himself to denying black lung claims, but this is a person who has committed a great evil in the world. Despite his self-serving rhetoric about his ethics, he has done nothing but deny relatively small amounts of money to very sick people. Workers have no recourse once the experts at Johns Hopkins led by Wheeler deny their claims. They work for decades. They die in misery. Wheeler is a big reason why.

Seriously, read the whole thing. This is how the system defeats working class people’s attempts at a dignified life. Very powerful stuff.

Walls

[ 13 ] October 31, 2013 |

No doubt the solution to drug smuggling tunnels between the U.S. and Mexico is higher border walls. And the drones America’s favorite racist Sheriff Joe Arapio wants to deploy to catch the brown people.

Happy Halloween

[ 47 ] October 31, 2013 |

Happy Hail Satan Day Halloween! Pay your respect to the dark lord by indulging in some candy corn that is horrible to actually eat but is so charming in this 1950s ad

Goblin approved indeed.

Meanwhile, let Roky provide the appropriate tunes for the day.

I will be spending my day at the Rhode Island DMV, a hellish experience that no one can replicate in a Halloween costume. There’s not really a human experience that quite matches the Rhode Island DMV. But to give you a sense of it, I have to get a Rhode Island driver’s license so I can get my new union-made vehicle. Yeah sure it’s been 2 years that I’ve lived here and I haven’t done but my Texas license was still valid and we all know how awesome it is to represent the Lone Star State. Anyway, to get a driver’s license in Rhode Island you have to go to 1 specific DMV. That serves the entire state. The last time I was there I waited in line for 2 1/2 hours. Which is why I still have a Texas driver’s license. Luckily, I have a big stack of papers to grade, which the DMV makes look pretty appealing.

Blackface: A Primer

[ 138 ] October 30, 2013 |

Since blackface seems to be all the rage this Halloween season (post-racial society indeed!), here’s Blair L.M. Kelley with a primer on its history and why it is so awful. Not that you all didn’t already know this, but it’s a good piece.

[SL]: A handy guide for anyone considering doing blackface for a Halloween costume:

[via gmack]

How Intimidating Workers Works

[ 8 ] October 30, 2013 |

Gawker has acquired a 20-minute tape of a Georgia trucking company trying to convince workers not to join a union. This is a window into the day-to-day employer intimidation of workers’ organizing. Sometimes it can be hard power, sometimes soft. These managers were not threatening workers (at least not in the part I listened to). But they did have a captive audience to talk about the evils of unions. When Republicans complain about Obama naming NLRB members who are biased toward unions, it’s a joke precisely because they are totally fine with this kind of thing. Do unions get captive audiences inside the plant? No. This is how union campaigns are defeated. An important story and many kudos to Gawker for running it. Here’s an excerpt from the write-up:

Truck drivers at the Duluth, GA facility of the multinational storage company Iron Mountain are considering unionizing. This is a recording of a recent meeting in which two Iron Mountain managers “educate” the employees about the downside of a union. (The link was sent out last night to an email list of labor journalists.) Its content is not especially outrageous—its value lies in the fact that it offers a full look at one of the many little stumbling blocks that go along with any workplace’s attempt to organize.

“This is the South. This is not something where unions are [prevalent],” says one manager. “If the union comes in, it will make it much more difficult to get things done.” When the other manager addresses the employees, he says of their union campaign, “I can’t help but take it personally… it does hurt. It does sting.”

This Day in Labor History: October 30, 1837

[ 19 ] October 30, 2013 |

On October 30, 1837, Nicholas Farwell, a train engineer toiling for the Boston and Worcester Rail Road Corporation fell off a train while at work and had his hand crushed by the train. Farwell sued the company for damages. The 1842 decision by the Massachusetts Supreme Court set into place the doctrine of worker risk. This decision set a vitally important precedent in American labor history that the worker voluntarily took on risk when he or she agreed to be employed on the job. Over the next century, tens thousands of Americans died on the job with employers doing nothing.

Farwell had done nothing wrong. While he was working, a switchman messed up and the train derailed, which is how Farwell was thrown. Rather than accept his fate, which was not good as a disabled individual in a world without a social safety net, Farwell sued the company for $10,000. In his decision in Farwell v. Boston and Worcester Rail Road Corporation, Massachusetts Chief Justice Lemuel Shaw disagreed. Shaw claimed that Farwell was personally responsible for the risk of work. Risk was what someone took on by taking a job as well as the opportunity of bettering oneself in the new industrial system. Because Farwell was paid more than other railroad workers, he was already being compensated for the higher risk of his work. Shaw called the $2 a day Farwell made, a “premium for the risk which he thus assumes.” Shaw might sue his “fellow servant” who made the mistake that led to his fall but the company was immune to lawsuits of this kind.

These ideas come back to the idea that American people were fundamentally independent operators, free labor who made economic choices as such. He could have farmed, he could have apprenticed, he could have been a millionaire, but he chose to work on the railroad and was thus responsible for the choice. The upside of higher wages and the downside of higher risk was something Farwell had to judge for himself, as did any worker.

The Farwell case was part of a larger transformation in the American legal code to facilitate corporate growth at the expense of those it affected. It’s not just labor law either. Citizens sued textile mills for damming rivers that ended eon-old fish runs people upstream relied upon. The courts consistently found in favor of the new corporations, broadly using ideas of progress to justify their decision. This led to corporations having the right to pollute at will, timber companies to destroy the stream banks and land of farmers with nominal riparian rights, and dominate anyone who got in the way of their growth.

The Farwell decision directly led to tens of thousands of dead workers and hundreds of thousands (if not millions of workers) who suffered from occupational disease, tuberculosis, lead poisoning, electrocution, hands caught in unsafe saws, hair pulled from their heads after it was caught in machinery, suffocation in coal mines, and endless other workplace hazards in world where corporations had no responsibility for their workers’ safety and health.

This terrible scenario finally began to change after 1900, when courts began ruling in favor of suing plaintiffs or their surviving families. While many corporations were outraged at the sheer idea of responsibility for workers (the Progressive workplace reformer Alice Hamilton famously told a story about a paint manufacturer’s sheer incredulity when he realized she was telling him he should be responsible for his workers getting lead poisoning. He just couldn’t imagine such a world), others saw the writing on the wall and created the system of worker compensation that took the issue out of courts and gave corporations a consistent way out of large settlements, a system that would provide workers some protection, however minimal and however lower the compensation was than their previous wages, but also meant they could not sue their employers.

Increased laws regulating corporate responsibility for workplace health eventually helped many companies decide to move their production facilities outside the United States where they could reproduce the days where they didn’t have to care about dead or sick workers. Today, workers toil for American companies or subcontractors with American companies in Bangladesh, Mexico, Honduras, Sri Lanka, Vietnam, and other countries across the world and face many of the same problems of workplace safety and long-term health that Americans did 150 years ago. This is not an accident. It’s an intentional choice by corporations who seek to recreate the Farwell doctrine.

You can read the Farwell decision here.

There’s a good bit of literature on this case. I primarily used the first chapter of Jonathan Levy’s 2012 book, Freaks of Fortune: The Emerging World of Capitalism and Risk in America, which is an excellent book in the rapidly expanding literature broadly described as “histories of capitalism,” a literature with which labor historians have a lot of problems, but that’s for a different discussion.

This is the 81st post in this series. Other posts are archived here.

Lou Reed: Unionist

[ 9 ] October 29, 2013 |

Knew I liked that guy for some reason.

Sriracha Emissions

[ 155 ] October 29, 2013 |

Among the many products we probably don’t actively think of as having a major pollution impact in Sriracha.

But in Irwindale, where the hot sauce’s production facilities are, residents are complaining of burning eyes, irritated throats and headaches caused by a powerful, painful odor that the city says appears to be emanating from the factory during production. The smell is so aggressive that one family was forced to move a birthday party indoors after the spicy odor descended on the festivities, said Irwindale City Atty. Fred Galante.

The city of Irwindale filed suit in Los Angeles County Superior Court on Monday, claiming that the odor was a public nuisance and asking a judge to stop production until the smell can be reduced.

“Given how long it’s going on, we had no choice but to institute this action,” Galante said.

Irwindale officals repeatedly met with representatives from Huy Fong Foods to discuss methods of reducing the odors, according to the suit. Huy Fong representatives cooperated at first but later denied there was an odor problem, saying their employees worked in similar olfactory settings without complaint, Galante said.

There’s obviously pretty serious emissions violations going on here. For that matter, the smell of fresh bread wafting outside of an industrial bakery also largely consists of emissions violations, but when it is chiles and fish sauce and such, that’s not good. This is why we need a vigorous regulation and inspection program. Sriracha is tasty, but we also need to make sure the people of Irwindale are protected from its byproducts.

Who Will Be Lucky Number 10,000

[ 77 ] October 29, 2013 |

Since the Newtown killings last December, at least 9900 Americans have died from guns. The total mass political movement from this has been the recall of two Colorado legislators who voted for gun-control legislation.

Update [PC]: The 9,900 figure is, as Slate notes, a massive underestimate, since for among other reasons the reporting method ends up excluding almost all gun deaths from suicides (suicides outnumber homicides by about two to one). Using CDC estimates, the actual number of gun deaths in the US since the Newtown killings is around 28,700.

Weak Anti-Faculty Union Arguments

[ 49 ] October 29, 2013 |

University of Illinois professor Nicholas Burbules’ anti-faculty union arguments are laughable. They are laughable precisely because he ignores the reality of 21st century administration-faculty relationships and what administrations are trying to do to faculty. Burbules thinks that shared governance is a real and serious thing today:

By contrast, shared governance begins with a presumption of shared commitment to the constitutional principles and to the best interests of the institution. Faculty and administrators view themselves as partners in a common project; this is what the “shared” in shared governance means. This certainly doesn’t mean that the parties always agree—but even where there are disagreements, they are usually respectful and collegial.

Under shared governance, administrators assume that the feedback and advice of the faculty will help them make better decisions, and that those decisions will be better understood and supported by professors when they grow out of consultation and openness. They respect the faculty’s fundamental rights and control over academic matters, and involve them in a broad range of other decisions as well—even when they may not be strictly required to do so.

Faculty members, for their part, respect that administrators have an accountable responsibility for making certain decisions and sometimes have information and considerations that cannot be widely shared. They recognize that senior administrators are faculty members, share the values of the faculty, and understand the concerns of the faculty. The governance roles of administration and professors are viewed as complementary, having legitimate spheres of authority that need to respect each other.

Right…. Senior administrators totally share the values of the faculty, such as eliminating the German, French, and Philosophy departments, replacing tenure-track faculty with adjuncts, reducing budgets, and generally squeezing the faculty while padding administration with more positions and six-figure salaries. And the administration oh so much cares about faculty feedback to their bad ideas. I mean, in my 7 years as a faculty member, I’ve seen nothing but respect and positive responses to feedback from faculty. In my fantasy world, I’ve seen administrators realize their ideas were bad, restore funding for departments, take the humanities and social sciences seriously, reinforce the values of a liberal arts education, support professor free speech, and respect the traditional role of a higher education in shaping a new generation and exposing them to new ideas. It’s a fantasy world because the real world of academia is mostly terrible. Which is why we need unions.

If it wasn’t for my AAUP union, I would not have a job anymore. Burbules claims that faculty are professionals, not workers, but not only is that an arbitrary distinction, but it also doesn’t represent the reality of the 21st century university. There’s a reason why more and more faculty members are unionizing, including a major recent victory at the University of Oregon. I’m sure Burbules however is on his way to a nice administration sinecure through this essay and what is no doubt his other anti-union activities at his home campus at the University of Illinois.

Hitler the Pig

[ 29 ] October 28, 2013 |

Evidently, a pig in 1942 was extra, well, piggish and ate too much. So its owner named it Hitler. And painted the name on it.

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