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Legally Binding Safety Regulations

[ 8 ] May 23, 2013 |

Stephen Greenhouse on how American retailers like Wal-Mart and Gap are opposing proposed regulatory plans for factory conditions that produce clothing precisely because they might be legally binding and thus mean something. Now they probably aren’t actually legally binding, thanks to our lovely Supreme Court, which in Kiobel v. Royal Dutch Petroleum decided that the Alien Tort Statute does not apply outside the United States (I wonder how reasonable conservative Sam Alito voted on that!).

John C. Coffee Jr., a professor of corporate law at Columbia University, said American companies generally faced a higher risk of litigation than overseas competitors, largely because the court systems differ significantly. Unlike the system in the United States, courts in Europe generally prohibit class-action lawsuits, do not allow contingency fees for lawyers who win cases and require losing parties to pay legal fees for both sides. Those policies often discourage lawyers and plaintiffs from filing lawsuits.

But Professor Coffee also cited a Supreme Court decision last month that could greatly reduce the ability of overseas factory workers and their families to file lawsuits in United States courts.

“It may be that those retailers who worry about legal liability are pointing to an outdated sense of what liability is for actions taken abroad,” Professor Coffee said. He added that if an accident occurred abroad — for instance, at a factory in Bangladesh — “there is an increasing doubt that the American retailer could be sued in the United States,” because the Supreme Court ruling, Kiobel v. Royal Dutch Petroleum, went far to curb such lawsuits under the Alien Tort Claims Act.

So a Court attempting to recreate the Gilded Age is a huge problem for those who want to create regulations that would transcend national boundaries. Yet for the apparel companies this isn’t good enough. Given that they profit off a system of maximum exploitation, they want nothing more than to say they care without actually caring one iota. That’s why without meaningful penalties for violations, any agreement is worthless. There is of course another alternative–corporations could sacrifice a tiny bit of profit so that 12 year old girls can go to school and workers toil in factories that don’t collapse on top of them. But what kind of a fantasy world am I living in to even dream of such a future!

“This whole fear of lawsuits is a straw man,” said Philip J. Jennings, general secretary of Uni Global Union, a worldwide federation of 20 million retail and service workers, who has negotiated with various retailers to develop the plan and persuaded them to join it. “If these American retailers get 20 lawyers in a room, they start hyperventilating about lawsuits and they’ll have a communal anxiety attack.”

Matthew Shay, president of the National Retail Federation, gave another reason for opposing the Bangladesh plan, saying it “seeks to advance a narrow agenda driven by special interests,” a reference to the labor unions that helped shape the plan and then pressed retailers to sign on.

This as opposed to the narrow agenda driven by another group of special interests to keep Bangladeshi workers dying on the job.

Still, at least we are talking about this now and exposing the barriers to humane treatment of Asian workers by American corporations.

The Kind of Atheist Spokesperson We Need

[ 325 ] May 23, 2013 |

Atheists need more Oklahoma tornado survivor Rebecca Vitsmun, less sexist jerks like Richard Dawkins.

The Worldwide Leader in Unnecessary Profit Taking

[ 32 ] May 22, 2013 |

ESPN is a great corporation. It is ungodly profitable. It creates a mere 43% of Disney’s total operating income. Think about that. All of Disney, including Disneyland and everything else it owns. 43%. But you see, ESPN has recently acquired some lucrative properties, like more SEC football games. In order to show us more Vanderbilt-Kentucky football and build a crazy expensive new set, ESPN has decided to lay off 300-400 employees. This a mere 2 weeks after Disney’s stock reached an all-time high.

Scabs of the New Gilded Age

[ 61 ] May 22, 2013 |

As I talked about yesterday, there’s a 1-day strike today of non-unionized government contract workers who make low wages and who SEIU ultimately wants to organize. In ye olden days of the Gilded Age, the government would use federal troops to bust strikes. The Department of Homeland Security’s response to the strike? Serve as a scab force.

The Phosphorous Crisis

[ 21 ] May 22, 2013 |

I’m glad to know that our addiction to oil from politically difficult places will soon be matched by relying on Western Sahara, an area with a long-standing independence movement against Morocco which nominally controls the area, for the fertilizer for our industrial food system. Hard to see how that could go wrong.

Federal Contracts and Labor Law Violations

[ 30 ] May 21, 2013 |

Today, a one day strike is taking place among non-union, low-paid government workers, some of the nearly 2 million government workers making less than $12 an hour, which I think is an absurdly low wage for a federal employee or someone employed by a government contractor. They are demanding that President Obama do something to improve their plight. I also thought this paragraph about the federal government’s use of contractors who violate labor law interesting:

In September 2010, the Government Accountability Office issued a report concluding that the government had paid $6 billion in fiscal year 2009 federal contracts to contractors who had been cited for violations of federal labor laws. Seven months earlier, the New York Times reported that the Obama Administration was planning to issue a “High Road Procurement Policy” that could “disqualify more companies with labor, environmental or other violations and give an edge to companies that offer better levels of pay, health coverage, pensions and other benefits” in securing federal contracts. But such a move never came to pass; the following year, Obama OMB appointee Heather Higginbottom said in her confirmation hearing that it was not currently under consideration (an administration official told Government Executive afterwards that OMB was “considering the views of Congress, the private sector, and others with respect to possible initiatives and no decision has been made”). Labor and LGBT activists have also called for the Administration to use executive action to bar federal contractors from discriminating against LGBT workers; Obama so far has not done so.

These are the kinds of things where a president can make a difference outside the congressional approval process. It would be nice to see the president take these claims seriously and improve the labor standards of federal contractors. Given how little President Obama has given organized labor for all it has done for him, this would be a worthy repayment as well.

The Greatest Generation

[ 154 ] May 20, 2013 |

The greatest generation indeed:

The soldiers who landed in Normandy on D-Day were greeted as liberators, but by the time American G.I.’s were headed back home in late 1945, many French citizens viewed them in a very different light.

In the port city of Le Havre, the mayor was bombarded with letters from angry residents complaining about drunkenness, jeep accidents, sexual assault — “a regime of terror,” as one put it, “imposed by bandits in uniform.”

This isn’t the “greatest generation” as it has come to be depicted in popular histories. But in “What Soldiers Do: Sex and the American G.I. in World War II France,” the historian Mary Louise Roberts draws on French archives, American military records, wartime propaganda and other sources to advance a provocative argument: The liberation of France was “sold” to soldiers not as a battle for freedom but as an erotic adventure among oversexed Frenchwomen, stirring up a “tsunami of male lust” that a battered and mistrustful population often saw as a second assault on its sovereignty and dignity.

On the ground, however, the grateful kisses captured by photojournalists gave way to something less picturesque. In the National Archives in College Park, Md., Ms. Roberts found evidence — including one blurry, curling snapshot — supporting long-circulating colorful anecdotes about the Blue and Gray Corral, a brothel set up near the village of St. Renan in September 1944 by Maj. Gen. Charles H. Gerhardt, commander of the infantry division that landed at Omaha Beach, partly to counter a wave of rape accusations against G.I.’s. (It was shut down after a mere five hours.)

In France, Ms. Roberts also found a desperate letter from the mayor of Le Havre in August 1945 urging American commanders to set up brothels outside the city, to halt the “scenes contrary to decency” that overran the streets, day and night. They refused, partly, Ms. Roberts argues, out of concern that condoning prostitution would look bad to “American mothers and sweethearts,” as one soldier put it.

Keeping G.I. sex hidden from the home front, she writes, ensured that it would be on full public view in France: a “two-sided attitude,” she said, that is reflected in the current military sexual abuse crisis.

I Recall a Gypsy Woman

[ 22 ] May 20, 2013 |

I maintain that Waylon has the very best version of “I Recall a Gypsy Woman” and I’d be remiss in not mentioning that Don Williams had a big hit with it, but Hank Thompson’s rendition ain’t bad.

Corporate Tax Cheats of the Day

[ 85 ] May 20, 2013 |


I don’t think it’d be unreasonable to seize Apple’s assets until it came to a reasonable agreement on its tax bill.

Crack Babies

[ 97 ] May 20, 2013 |

Hardly surprising that the crack babies “epidemic” in the 1980s was based on poorly designed scientific studies and really was just another tool in white backlash tool box to blame black people for their own poverty and justify the war on some classes of people who use some drugs.

Elvin Jones: Gunslinger

[ 37 ] May 18, 2013 |

In 1971, the film Zachariah was released. I had never heard of it until last night, but it seems to be a weirdo western starring Don Johnson, Dick Van Patten, Country Joe and the Fish, Joe Walsh, Patricia Quinn, Doug Kershaw, and the great drummer Elvin Jones. In this scene, Elvin Jones wears a groovy vest, kills a man in a gunfight, and then plays a long drum solo.

After seeing this, I went straight to my Netflix queue. Good? No it certainly doesn’t seem so. 1971 weirdness? Oh yes.

A World Less Evil

[ 21 ] May 18, 2013 |

Jorge Rafael Videla, former dictator of Argentina, is dead, much to the benefit of the world.

Lillie Langtry with more.

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