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Start Over

[ 56 ] April 22, 2014 |

I basically wrote this column last month, but to reiterate the point, Alex Pareene is right and he writes a better column than I do. Fire everyone on the New York Times editorial page except Krugman and start over.

Logging in Idaho–U.S.A. (1926)

[ 35 ] April 21, 2014 |

Too busy to blog today (in fact, with a book due in 6 weeks, that may be a not infrequent occurrence for a bit). But not too busy to put up another British Pathe film, this time on another topic close to my heart: logging. Watching this footage, especially of the guys working on the log drive in the river, should remind us all what a horrifyingly dangerous profession logging was during these years.

Basketball in New York

[ 36 ] April 20, 2014 |

Tonight’s British Pathé film features footage of

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your 1939 NCAA Basketball National Champion Oregon Ducks. Of course.

Rubin Carter, RIP

[ 44 ] April 20, 2014 |

Rubin Carter, the boxer wrongly convicted on murder charges thanks to racist police, a racist jury, and the testimony of two thieves who later recanted, leading him to serving 20 years in prison, has died.

On Giving Up

[ 138 ] April 20, 2014 |

English environmentalist Paul Kingsnorth is infuriating. He’s fought for environmental causes for 20 years and now he is totally giving up and saying that fighting against climate change is pointless so let’s just accept the earth’s impending destruction. To me, this is a prime example of the problem with an environmentalism that isn’t fundamentally about protecting people and integrating everyday people into your concerns. It’s not that Kingsnorth is wrong about the way we are going as a planet. But thinking of climate change as a tipping point is less useful than a sliding scale. What he does not seem to care much about (at least from this article) is environmental justice. Let’s take one issue. The hotter things get, the more cockroaches will develop in substandard urban housing and the higher asthma rates for the people of color who are forced to live in such places. Part of environmentalism should also be seeking justice for these people, pushing for policies that might not be enacted in time to save most frog species but that might save human lives (and possibly some frog species too). Things can get better or they can just continue getting worse and even if the Earth loses half of its species in the next century, it could lose 90% of species if people quit fighting and just go into mourning instead of seeking to work toward change.

Giving up is just self-centered nihilism.

Harding Greets Indian Chiefs

[ 31 ] April 19, 2014 |

The great British newsreel company Pathé has placed a mere 85,000 of their films on YouTube. I am going to highlight some over the next

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week. Such as Warren Harding greeting various tribal chiefs in 1921.

I Believe the Children are the Future

[ 286 ] April 19, 2014 |

On the decline of golf among young people, a sport I dislike not only on aesthetic grounds, but on class, racial, urban planning, and environmental grounds.

Will the Supreme Court Protect Polluters from Lawsuits

[ 55 ] April 18, 2014 |

The answer is probably yes.

There should be no statute of limitations on health claims. Just because a cancer might not develop for a twenty years doesn’t mean it’s not related to toxic exposure.

Chicken Production and Workplace Dangers

[ 14 ] April 18, 2014 |

I strongly recommend Michele Simon’s article on how Tyson Foods and the USDA have pushed forward drastic increases in chicken production line speeds that would increase the profits of meat companies at the cots of workers’ lives:

But let’s back up a bit. As Mother Jones magazine explained last year, “Currently, each factory-scale slaughterhouse has four USDA inspectors overseeing kill lines churning out up to 140 birds every minute. Under the USDA’s new plan, a single federal inspector would oversee lines killing as many as 175 birds per minute.”

USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack defends the proposal under the guise of modernization (an industry code word for deregulation) and claims the new standard would actually reduce bacterial contamination. However, Food and Water Watch found numerous food safety problems with the USDA’s pilot project owing to company inspectors missing defects such as “feathers, lungs, oil glands, trachea and bile still on the carcass.”

The rule is especially terrible for workers, who already suffer unsafe conditions, resulting in serious injuries and even lifelong disabilities. Last year the Southern Poverty Law Center released a disturbing account of worker injuries and health problems in Alabama poultry slaughterhouses due to what it called “punishing” line speeds. Workers were made to “endure debilitating pain in their hands, gnarled fingers, chemical burns and respiratory problems.” Also, for many immigrant workers, as the law center put it, “Threats of deportation and firing are frequently used to keep them silent,” making the USDA’s attempt to spin the recent NIOSH data particularly disturbing.

Federal agencies appear to be ganging up on the USDA — and rightly so. The Government Accountability Office published a report last year criticizing the USDA’s plan on the basis of inadequate and faulty safety data. Of course, the chicken industry loves the proposal. In fact, the National Chicken Council would prefer not having any limits on line speeds at all.

The Agricultre Department basically operates as the tool of agribusiness at this point and that’s why the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) and DOA are basically at war, with NIOSH’s director directly calling out the Food Safety Inspection Service for lying about its data. The meat we buy from the store not only comes from a system that treats animals awfully, it destroys the lives of workers as well. It’s awful hard for the government to do much when one agency is fighting to make these factories safe for workers and other is fighting to make them unsafe.

Anti-Sweatshop Activism at USC

[ 7 ] April 18, 2014 |

In the late 1990s, United Students Against Sweatshops did some really great work around fighting the exploitative system of the apparel industry by placing pressure on colleges and universities to ethically source their school-licensed apparel. Then, with 9/11 and the Iraq War, economic justice question largely fell far down the priority list for the progressive agenda and USAS and other groups working on these issues went into a tough period. Now, they are again on the rise and again demanding ethically-produced clothing from their schools. Right now, this is happening at USC:

For the second day in a row, students on Wednesday protested in front of Tommy Trojan against the university administration and called for USC to cut ties with companies that employ sweatshop labor.

The protesters are members of the Student Coalition Against Labor Exploitation, or SCALE. SCALE members singled out Jansport, the clothing and accessories company, and accused Jansport’s parent company of relying on sweatshop labor in Bangladesh.

The protest comes one day after students descended upon the office of Pres. C.L. Max Nikias — a dramatic move that particpants say prompted university officials to call their parents and threaten to revoke financial aid packages.

Very classy of the university to threaten students for their activism. That’s the kind of inclusive and respectful leadership I know from university administrations in my personal experience. USC claims they do require apparel to not be made in sweatshops. But the students want the university to only work with companies who sign the Accord on Fire and Building Safety in Bangladesh, which is the agreement that European manufacturers have agreed to join to try and ensure no more Rana Plaza factory collapses. American companies of course have refused because it is legally binding and we know that American corporations believe they should be able to do whatever they want to workers with no legal repercussions. Glad to see the USC students taking the fight to their campus.

Put the Wage Thieves in Prison

[ 191 ] April 18, 2014 |

Catherine Rampell is speaking smartly in her angry column on the systematic wage theft that goes on in fast food and other low wage industries:

Take Ashley Cathey, 25, a six-year McDonald’s employee who participated in a national one-day strike last December. A couple of months later, she got a 25-cent raise, to $8 an hour from $7.75. But something about her next paycheck looked fishy: Her pay seemed short given her raise and new, longer hours. She usually works overnight, and in recent months her shifts have frequently stretched to 12 or 14 hours because her Memphis restaurant has been short-staffed. (Perhaps because its wages are still too low to retain enough employees.)

She asked a friend who is a manager to print out her time sheet and noticed that someone had clocked her out for breaks she never took. Other co-workers spotted hours shaved from their time sheets, too. When employees brought this to the attention of a more senior boss, they were told the wrongly subtracted hours would appear in their next paychecks. Meanwhile, the helpful manager who had printed out the time sheets was reprimanded for sharing official time records with workers and told that he’d be fired if he did it again, Cathey said. Now Cathey keeps a personal record of the hours she clocks in and out.

“I never paid attention before,” she told me in a phone interview. She suspects that someone has been doctoring her hours for years, but she doesn’t want to endanger her manager friend’s job by asking for help obtaining proof. Even without proof she is convinced: “They’re hiding something, obviously,” she said.

This is not a one-off accusation. In the past few weeks, New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman extracted settlements from dozens of McDonald’s and Domino’s locations around the state for off-the-clock work. Last month, workers in California, Michigan and New York filed class-action lawsuits against McDonald’s alleging multiple charges of wage theft. These suits have upped the ante by implicating the McDonald’s corporation, not just individual franchisees, in bad behavior. The plaintiffs allege that McDonald’s corporate office exerts so much control over franchisees — including by monitoring their hourly labor costs through a corporate computer system — that it had to have known what was going on.”

What to do about this? Put the people making this happen within the McDonald’s infrastructure in prison:

Harsher penalties, including prison time, should be on the table more often when willful wrongdoing is proved. Thieves caught stealing thousands of dollars from someone’s home can go to jail; the same should be true for thieves caught stealing thousands of dollars from someone’s paycheck.

There is no reason that wage theft should not be a criminal charge equal to robbery. It is the definition of robbery. It also reminds me of how the white cotton merchants stole from black sharecroppers by simply lying to them about how much cotton they grew. It’s basically the same thing and given the McDonald’s work force at the executive and employee level, the racial dynamics aren’t too different either.

stepped pyramids in comments: “Concealing timesheets from employees should be considered tantamount to an admission of wage-stealing, and there should be automatic penalties for it, along the lines of having to pay wages for the affected period at 40 hours a week, time-and-a-half.”

Yes.

Rent

[ 69 ] April 18, 2014 |

Now that the plutocrats are creating a new bubble based upon exploiting renters, the price to rent has exploded, with renters spending 19% more of their income to put a roof over their heads than they did between 1985-2000.

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