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MLK Day

[ 71 ] January 20, 2014 |

On a day where we are celebrating MLK Day with a bunch of old white men complaining about the behavior of a young, brash black man in a football game last night, it’s worth reading the eminent historian Tom Sugrue on how King’s words are distorted today. Sugrue identifies 4 Kings in modern memory, each a distortion: Commemorative King, Therapeutic King, Conservative King, and Commodified King. Most of our readers are probably most interested in the Conservative King. But as someone who worked for awhile at the MLK national park in Atlanta, I’m most interested in the Commodified King because ever since 1968, King’s family has cashed in on his memory:

Finally, in perhaps the most American of twists, we have the commodified King — efforts in the last decade, largely spearheaded by the King family itself — to market the words and image of the Reverend King. In classic American fashion, Martin Luther King, Jr. has become a consumer good. King’s family has engaged in an aggressive effort to market the image of the Reverend King, including a multi-million dollar deal with Time Warner for the rights to King’s speeches, writings, and recordings. The King family sued to prevent companies from using King’s image on refrigerator magnets, switchblades, and on “I have a Dream” ice cream cones. But they quickly turned to their own business in King kitsch. In the mid-90s, the Reverend King’s son Dexter King, who administered the King estate, took a pilgrimage to visit the shrine of another King, “THE KING,” Elvis at Graceland in Memphis, Tennessee to pick up some marketing lessons. Since the mid-1990s, King’s estate has authorized, among other things, commemorative pins for the Atlanta Summer Olympics with the likeness of Martin Luther King Jr., porcelain statuettes of King, and, my favorite, checkbooks bearing King’s likeness.

American indeed.

The Republican Path to 270

[ 110 ] January 20, 2014 |

Yeah, yeah, it’s way too early. But with the Chris Christie implosion (primary or general, every anti-Christie spot is going to show a traffic jam. And really, if you want to make the average voter dislike you, tell them you made them sit in traffic for hours out of spite for a small town mayor) and the trend of the country, the path to 270 electoral votes for the Republicans in 2016 is a pretty tough one. Even with the open embrace of Jim Crow-esque voting restrictions in North Carolina, Texas, and other states, it’s going to be tough sledding. Sad, I know.

Why You Are Rooting for the Seahawks

[ 174 ] January 19, 2014 |

Sure, some of you might want to root for Denver. But then realize that you would be on the same side as John Podhoretz, who just tweeted this about Richard Sherman:

Classy as always!

I think this is an appropriate rebuttal:

Yeah, that’ll do.

I’m just going to assume that all Broncos fans are also fans of John Podhoretz, including my brother, who is the most obnoxious Broncos fan ever. This is going to be the greatest most epic Super Bowl of all time, with bragging rights that will last until we die.

[SL] My personal favorite:

Similar sentiments to JPod’s collected here.

The True Meaning of Freedom

[ 145 ] January 18, 2014 |

The true meaning of freedom is Freedom Industries declaring bankruptcy immediately after its chemical spill made water unsafe for 300,000 West Virginia residents.

Freedom owes $3.6 million to its top 20 unsecured creditors, according to bankruptcy documents. The company also owes more than $2.4 million in unpaid taxes to the Internal Revenue Service, and the IRS has placed at least three liens on Freedom’s property, demanding payment.

The unpaid taxes date back to at least 2000, according to a lien filed in 2010.

Under the bankruptcy code, Chapter 11 permits a company to reorganize and continue operating.

The filing also puts a hold on all of the lawsuits filed against Freedom Industries. Since the leak last week, about a mile and a half upriver from West Virginia Water American’s plant in Charleston, about 25 lawsuits have been filed against Freedom in Kanawha Circuit Court. The company also faces a federal lawsuit.

That’s a neat trick, filing bankruptcy at the same time that locals are filing suit against you because of your actions. Just a coincidence, I’m sure. But then doing the same is so easy for everyday people, filing bankruptcy to get out of devastating student loan debt for instance, that it’s really only fair that we extend the same right to corporations….. But then the coal industry has always expressed nothing but respect for the people of West Virginia.

Capital Mobility and Transnational Exploitation

[ 60 ] January 18, 2014 |

David Bacon’s The Right to Stay Home is high on my reading list. Demonstrating the profound impact of NAFTA on both the United States and Mexico, it shows how NAFTA allowed American corporations to go into Mexico, buy up land and evict farmers, create a new pool of cheap labor for American companies in both the US and Mexico that forced Mexican farmers to migrate against their wills, and use immigration authorities as its own union-busting force when that labor begins to unionize.

To illustrate how NAFTA worked in practice, Bacon explains how a Smithfield Foods subsidiary used NAFTA’s land reform laws. The company scooped up land in Veracruz to open a massive mechanized hog-raising facility, driving small local pork producers out of business. Those displaced small farmers then filled the recruiting buses to go work at Smithfield’s packinghouse in Tar Heel, North Carolina.

Undocumented immigrants were shipped in partly to break a union campaign. When they said “enough is enough” and joined the union drive, Smithfield colluded with ICE to terrorize the workforce. Ultimately, the union drive won, but at tremendous cost: firings, fear, deportations, resentment among the different communities.

The union organizing in Tar Heel mirrored a community effort in Veracruz to limit the growth of the Smithfield subsidiary—in particular because of its toxic waste that destroyed the water table, causing kidney infections and forcing communities to depend on bottled water. The community won an agreement that the company would not expand further.

In another example, further south in Oaxaca, mining corporations gobbled up farmers’ land—also using NAFTA provisions—and poisoned the environment with toxic wastes. They provided a few jobs at above-average wages, but dried up many more.

These are the processes I am talking about in my own forthcoming book on the effects of capital mobility. Capitalism unbound by national borders and with the support of corrupt elite classes around the world undermines both labor and environmental rights and regulations everywhere with no consequences for their actions. These are the complex forces we have to fight against. Even when you have meaningful and difficult to achieve transnational progressive alliances, the forces of capital combined with the forces of capitalists’ client states make real wins few and far between. Probably nothing suggests the power of capital mobility than food and food policy, where free trade agreements create not only new markets for rich world corporations but by forcing people off the land through either direct eviction or more commonly undermining their economic stability, they then create a labor force for their own operations around the world. It’s win-win for corporations and lose-lose for most of the world’s workers.

Biomass is a Terrible Idea as a Major Energy Source

[ 185 ] January 17, 2014 |

You might think corn-based ethanol is the worst possible “green energy” alternative. And I’d like to think you are right. After all, turning the entire Midwest into a giant corn monoculture and destroying the remnants of a once fertile ecosystem in order to force an inefficient and dirty way to create ethanol on a nation all because of an already powerful industry with a huge lobbying arm is a pretty bloody awful idea.

But then there’s biomass. And sure, efficient use of plant resources makes sense. After all, the timber industry realized by the 1940s that rather than wasting all that sawdust and stumpage, turning it into wood alcohol or other products was a smart economic strategy that ultimately meant needing to cut less trees for the same amount of product. But biomass as a core alternative energy source? Only if you like massive deforestation.

In 2007, the European Union set an ambitious goal to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases to 20 percent below their 1990 levels by 2020. That, in effect, required power plants across the continent to quickly find new ways to make energy. Some turned to wind and solar. But for coal-fired power plants it was much cheaper to convert their facilities to burn wood. The conundrum for those companies is that much of western Europe doesn’t have sufficiently large forests left to meet the demand, and the remaining woodland is heavily regulated. So corporations turned to the Southeastern U.S., where wood is plentiful, and regulations about what can be done on private land are lax.

Wood pellet manufacturing in the U.S. is now booming.

Drax, Britain’s largest coal plant, is in the process of converting most of its operations to biomass fuel, and other power plants across the continent are following suit.

In 2008 Europe imported about 2.5 million tons of wood pellets. By 2012 it imported 9 million. And by 2020 it’s projected to import upwards of 20 million tons, largely from the United States and Canada, according to John Bingham of Hawkins Wright, a British forest products consultancy.

….

Quaranda said his group has documented several cases of forests clear-cut for biomass fuel. A Wall Street Journal report also found clear-cutting in North Carolina.

Seth Ginther, a lawyer with the U.S. Industrial Pellet Association, insists the pellet industry is not responsible for environmental damage. But he acknowledged that private landowners are free to do what they wish, including cut down whole trees on their land.

And in the South, where nearly 90 percent of land is privately owned, there is no law on the books requiring landowners to grow those trees back.

Dozens of biomass facilities have been built in the South. There are currently two in Louisiana, with eight more planned, according to Quaranda.

With a permit to build roads for logging in a protected area of the Atchafalaya pending approval from the Army Corps of Engineers, Dean Wilson worries he’s just seen the beginning of a decades-long battle to protect the woods he’s been looking after since the 1980s.

Now Wilson is trying to employ the same tactic he used when he found out retailers were selling cypress mulch taken from the Atchafalaya.

Biomass as a major industry basically means the elimination of the United States’ private forests. It would provide a lot of short term profit for companies and land-owners and unbelievably enormous long-term problems, including the destruction of ecosystems, huge losses of carbon-using greenery, erosion, degraded water quality, and widespread deforestation. And if anyone believes the idea that trees are a crop and thus will be replanted for future use, especially on private land, please contact me about the oceanfront property I have to offer you in western Nebraska. The regulatory regime on reforestation, especially in the South is basically zero.

Industrialized biomass is a terrible idea and while we need a multifaceted energy production future and while all energy production has a cost, this cost is completely unacceptable.

Climate Coverage

[ 98 ] January 17, 2014 |

It’s no wonder that we are doing nothing on climate change given that it gets almost no coverage in the national media. And it’s not like climate change is the most important problem faced by humans or anything.

Climate change got more coverage on broadcast news in 2013 than in the previous few years, but the issue still didn’t get nearly as much attention as it did in 2009, Media Matters found in a new analysis.

ABC, CBS, NBC and Fox together featured more coverage in 2013 than they did in 2012. The amount of airtime granted to climate change on both the Sunday shows and the nightly news was up, too — to a total of 27 minutes, and an hour and 42 minutes, respectively, for the entire year. The progressive media watchdog group Media Matters totaled the time broadcasters devoted to climate change for a new report released Thursday.

Up to 27 minutes on the Sunday shows! Well then! Surely John McCain must have something to say about this. And interviewing 2 climate scientists on the major networks over the last 5 years seems like 2 too many. James Inhofe really should have enough to say without them, plus his beliefs support America.

America’s Distribution of Wealth

[ 178 ] January 16, 2014 |

If you are like me, you think Lawyers, Guns, and Money has really gone downhill since Erik Loomis began posting here, what with the unionism and socialism and all the other isms that have sought to bring down America. Not to mention thinking climate change is real and questioning our technological utopian fetishism. As a counter to these pernicious foreign ideologies, it’s time to turn to Dr. Clifton Ganus of the National Education Program. He will set us straight on the moral uprightness and godly ways of the American capitalist system. The sheer number of noncontextualized statistics will show the truth of his points. And if they don’t, the English socialist and Russian communist who are totally not Americans doing incredibly lame imitations of the English and Russians will make the glories of American free market crystal clear. Good evening and God bless this great land.

Incredibly, the good Dr. Ganus is either still alive or lived long enough to have his own twitter account, while he chancellor of the right-wing evangelical Harding University in Arkansas, which I think is the descendant of the school he is actually teaching at in this video.

Wisconsin Taking Another Step to the New Gilded Age

[ 67 ] January 16, 2014 |

Conservatives’ vision of the future of American work

Scott Walker’s Wisconsin really is vanguard of the New Gilded Age. Republicans have introduced a new bill, almost certain to become law, that will get rid of a state law requiring employers to give workers 24 hours in a row off at least once every 7 days. I know, quite the imposition upon the freedom of workers to work whenever they are compelled upon risk of termination want! But hey, workers have the option to opt out, by which conservatives mean the same as Gilded Age conservatives did in 1895 that workers had real options–do what we say or find another job. But no one is compelling them!

Conservatives say that workers will only have to forego their rest days if they volunteer, but the law’s opponents argue that businesses could create environments that are hostile to workers who insist on their rights. Workers who take their mandated rest days could be skipped over for promotion, denied privileges allowed to workers who work a 7-day week or could see sharp reductions in their schedules until they no longer have enough hours to make ends meet, financially.

Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce said that it conceived of the law when it noted that the federal government does not have a rule mandating that workers receive a certain number of hours off per work cycle.

Lawmakers Grothman and Born told reporters from the Journal that they had heard from a diverse array of businesses that support the 7-day work week, but when asked to provide examples, they were only able to provide the names of groups belonging to the Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce network.

“Here’s an opportunity for folks to work together to get things done in a positive way for the employer and the employee,” Born said. “It just seems like a win all the way around.”

All the way around. Indeed. All the way around to the conditions of 1895.

Wal-Mart Doesn’t Have Much Respect for the Intelligence of Its Employees

[ 16 ] January 16, 2014 |

This purloined presentation of Wal-Mart anti-union propaganda is pretty unprofessional. You’d at least think the world’s largest retailer would argue something a bit more complicated than a labor organization would cost employees a whole $5 a month. The second presentation, for managers, is more standard anti-union hack work. But at least it looks like they spent more than 5 minutes putting it together.

Meanwhile, the NLRB is filing a complaint against Wal-Mart for violation labor law in 14 states while cracking down on striking workers.

Oil Pipelines

[ 38 ] January 16, 2014 |

It’s possible that oil pipleines are a better way to transport the stuff than trains. But the wages of oil pipelines are severe. Ask the people of Mayflower, Arkansas, which suffered a pipeline rupture in town last year.

For her entire life, 28-year old Genieve Long has called Mayflower home. But ever since an Exxon pipeline ruptured in late March 2013, dumping thousands of barrels worth of toxic crude oil onto the Arkansas town, Mayflower has come to feel more like a prison.

“I live next door to the house that I was raised in,” Long told msnbc. “This was a place I wanted to raise my kids in. And I’m afraid to raise them in it now, because of their health, because of what can happen to them.”

Like many Mayflower residents, Long and her four children continue to suffer from chronic respiratory issues, even nine months after Exxon officially wound down its emergency response. The symptoms show no signs of letting up, and many of Long’s former neighbors have abandoned the town. Nobody can say for sure whether Mayflower will ever fully recover.

“It’s going to be very difficult to clean up the soil and the area so that it is completely safe to reoccupy,” said Dave Lincoln, an environmental consultant and board member for the Arkansas Sierra Club. “How long that bitumen will stay in the soil, we don’t really have any examples of that getting cleaned up entirely.”

Mayflower is now coming to grips with the real legacy of ecological disasters: long after the initial state of emergency ends and the national media stops paying attention, the blight remains. The same fate could well await much of West Virginia, where a major chemical spill left 300,000 residents without usable running water last week. That particular spill released an indeterminate amount of the chemical MCHM into the state’s Elk River, and experts are unsure of the long-term consequences for public health. In Mayflower, the consequences of consistent exposure to crude shale oil are still developing.

“They start with chronic lung problems, nausea and headaches, and they just don’t get better,” said Lincoln. “In the case of Exxon Valdez, they call it ‘the Crud.’ It’s like the flu, except it doesn’t go away.”

Seems pretty clear to me the only responsible answer is piping the Canadian oil sands to the Gulf Coast through the Keystone XL pipeline. What’s a few chronic lung problems? If those people deserved to not get sick, they wouldn’t live near an oil infrastructure they may or may not have known was even there.

Also, the picture above? That ain’t water. It’s black gold.

Rider on an Orphan Train

[ 31 ] January 15, 2014 |

For your Wednesday night, how about one of the saddest songs ever, about the orphan trains, which is a real black mark on our national past, even if the alternatives weren’t always great. Not to mention that a lot of the “orphans” actually had parents who made the mistake of being poor and unemployed and Irish. Terrible, terrible times.

Tom Russell does a good version of this on his epic album about the American immigrant experience, The Man From God Knows Where.

David Massengill, who wrote this song, seems to perform it pretty frequently. Which I think would be a very difficult thing to do if it was me. I rarely shy away from the dark side of the American past, but this one is pretty tough.

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