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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.

“Strike raises crop of stubble, cuts, safety-razors.”

[ 13 ] May 18, 2013 |

Cool article on the 1913 barbers’ strike in New York, which led to the reduction of barbers’ workweeks from 92(!!!) hours to a mere 62 with Sunday off.

I may have to explore this in more detail in the labor history series.

Capital Mobility and Corporate Whitewashing

[ 35 ] May 18, 2013 |

This is an interesting piece about apparel corporations looking to get out of Bangladesh because of the bad publicity the building collapse has given the companies. They want to move to Cambodia, Vietnam, and the new frontier of Indonesia. What’s telling about it is that the corporations have zero interest in actually improving conditions for Bangladeshis. For all the talk (including by liberals) about how we need to keep outsourcing the jobs to countries with dangerous working conditions because the companies are providing them work, there is no commitment at all to keeping those people employed. While it might be a good thing that companies want to avoid multi-story factories with the potential to kill over 1100 workers like in Bangladesh, rather than work with Bangladesh to improve conditions or take some responsibility, instead they just want to bail on the country entirely because it might make them look bad to western customers.

Under normal circumstances, 2 workers dying in a Cambodian roof collapse wouldn’t make the news at all, which makes accidents in single-story buildings acceptable to corporations. Right now, if the linked article is accurate, there are some positive things in Indonesia, with contractors having to offer health insurance to attract scarce workers, but I am skeptical of the long-term continuance of such practices if Indonesia becomes a fully mobilized apparel economy with the plethora of workers that has allowed for low wages in other nations.

This issue also gets at the comments in the Cambodia workplace death thread, which were not unusual in their ultimate acquiescence in a spatially mobile capitalism. The only way capital has ever granted safer working conditions is to damage the bottom line. Workers’ compensation laws in the United States happened after workers began winning lawsuits for damages, forcing companies to create a rational system of low compensation to avoid expensive payouts. Corporations stopped dumping chemicals when OSHA and EPA created civil and criminal penalties for violators, minimal as they may have been. Capital mobility across the globe is not “natural.” Rather it is a process encouraged by the governments of the corporations’ home nations. Capital moved to pay lower wages, to reinstitute unsafe workplaces, to dump poisons into rivers and air, all of which increased profits. It is true that calling for international standards where workers around the world could sue corporations in the country of corporate origin for unsafe conditions and environmental degradation would lessen capital mobility, but I hardly see this as a bad thing.

We might ask, “What about the Bangladeshi worker!” if we lessened the incentives for race to the bottom capital mobility, but a) as the flight from Bangladesh shows, capital doesn’t care about that worker anyway, b) a job is a job no matter where it is–there is a great need for work in the United States, Cambodia, Bangladesh, wherever, c) we could create a system with some differentiation in conditions but that still protected basic worker safety and stopped grotesque pollution, both of which are very inexpensive to implement, and d) companies are more than welcome to stay in Bangladesh or Honduras or Vietnam and commit to long-term investments there that will help bring workers out of poverty. We rightfully say that these nations have laws on the books but because of corruption or indifference or violence they aren’t enforced. Allowing foreign workers access to international courts is one way to help solve these problems. The idea that enforcing safety in Cambodia is “impossible” is no different than saying that enforcing safety in Gilded Age American factories was impossible. It’s a process and there are issues of corruption, but of course it is possible, especially if the corporations in charge of the whole process want it enforced. If you want to see conditions in these factories improve fast, a couple of successful lawsuits against Gap or Asics is a pretty likely way to make that happen.

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