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Nic Kristof Buying Somaly Mam’s Lies Makes More Sense Now

[ 189 ] June 3, 2014 |

Evidently, the New York Times thought it worthwhile to pay Maureen Dowd to fly to Denver, get stoned in her hotel room, and then write about how it was a bad experience and therefore marijuana is scary.

Ali Gharib responds appropriately:

An Official LGM Hero

[ 107 ] June 3, 2014 |

LGM has some principles shared across writers. For one, we like booze. For two, although I guess this is not fully confirmed among everyone, most of us at least think Cubs fans are subhuman. No offense to any Cubs fans who are readers, but really, you might want to reexamine your life. Still, sometimes the first point outweighs the second. Especially when the Cubs are not yet involved. Mr. Harry Caray, ladies and gentlemen, who decided to keep a diary of his alcohol purchases in 1972 so he could expense them:

Saturday, Jan. 1, lists four bars: the Back Room, still on Rush Street, plus three long-ago joints: 20 E. Delaware, Sully’s and Peppy’s, with expenses for each $10.30, $9.97, $10, and $8.95. This in a year when a six-pack of Old Style set you back $1.29.

You needed to cite who you entertained to get the write-off, so on New Year’s Day he lists Dave Condon, the Tribune sports columnist; Billy Sullivan, who owned Sully’s; and Joe Pepitone, the former Yankees first baseman who had been traded to the Cubs.

And so it begins. A chain of old-time Chicago bars — Riccardo’s, Boul Mich, Mr. Kelly’s. A posse of early 1970s sports figures — Wilt Chamberlain, Don Drysdale, Gale Sayers. Plus a few unexpected blasts from the past: boxer Jack Dempsey, comedian Jack Benny.

“These guys did nothing but go out and have a few cocktails,” said Jimmy Rittenberg, who owned Faces, which Caray visited 14 times in 1972. “I don’t know how they did it. They were 20, 30 years older than me and I couldn’t keep up with them.”

Jan. 16 something unusual happens. Caray is in Miami, yet there are no expenses, just one enigmatic word, “Super.”

After that break, if indeed it was, comes 288 consecutive days in bars, not only in Chicago, but New York City, and of course on the road with the Sox, beginning with spring training in Sarasota.

288 days in a row. 288. This is great too,

Toward the end of the diary, on Dec. 24, comes the kicker. After spending at least 354 of the previous 357 days in bars (DePorter counted 61 different tap houses) Caray writes, in a bold hand, “Vacation in Acapulco. Then “Vacation” every day until the year runs out.

Which makes me wonder how he knew he was on vacation. I guess if nobody was playing baseball in front of him and when he looked over the rim of his drink he saw Mexico, then he knew he was on vacation.

But give Caray credit. As old-fashioned, and perhaps even pathological, as the bar-crawling seems today, there is another truth worth mentioning: Harry Caray could have taken his drinks at home. He went out because it was his job.

This is when work meant something in this nation.

I mean, really, when you put George Jones to shame, you have reached impressive heights. Harry has no concern about aging 20 years in 5. He destroyed his body as a young man and just never stopped.

Despite working for the Cubs, I think Harry Caray deserves a place in the LGM Hall of Fame.

Shorter Plutocracy: “Piketty’s Right. So Suck It.”

[ 21 ] June 3, 2014 |

There’s really no reason for the plutocracy to pretend it’s not the New Gilded Age. What are you going to do about it if you don’t like it? Nothing. Go read your Horatio Alger novel and pretend you could be me you worthless taker.

Tax the Hedge Funds

[ 27 ] June 3, 2014 |

I’m not an expert on tax policy, but if taxing hedge funds at 20% could be changed to 39% at Obama’s orders, obviously this should be done yesterday.

Greatest Troll in LGM History

[ 91 ] June 2, 2014 |

Since we are navel-gazing these days, let’s remember how RICK VENEMA, COLONIAL HEIGHTS, VIRGINIA was not only the greatest troll in LGM history, but really in all of history.

The first post linked above is great for many reasons, not only for RICK VENEMA’s craziness posted from the BIG ASS ARBY’s in COLONIAL HEIGHTS, VIRGINIA, and not only for the awesome commenter responses, but because Manju clearly feels threatened in his role here and works VERY HARD to compensate.

Great times. My greatest failure writing here came in January, when I drove through Richmond and did not realize that COLONIAL HEIGHTS was a suburb until later. Man, I would have loved to post a picture here of the Arby’s. Which is evidently indeed quite large. I wouldn’t have actually eaten there though. Because really, who eats at Arby’s?

“The Democrat Party”

[ 105 ] June 2, 2014 |

One of the stupidest little games Republicans like to play is to refer to the Democrats as the “Democrat Party” rather than the “Democratic Party.” Seems like especially around 2009-11, this was pretty common and a lot of Democrats got angry over it. I mostly ignored it because whatever. It is worth noting however that Joseph McCarthy was doing the same thing at least as early as 1954. See this broadcast of Face the Nation from November 1954. He does this at about the 2:00 mark. Don’t know if he is doing this explicitly as a pejorative or not.

He uses it in this speech as well, which is obviously no later than 1952. Plus “Commiecrat Party!”

Race to the Bottom, Small Scale

[ 104 ] June 2, 2014 |

I talked a bit about the emissions problems at the Sriracha factory last fall. In short, residents living near a chile sauce factory that is indifferent to emissions violations do not have a good life. The conflict has come to a conclusion and how that went down says so much about the problems with the economy and, really, a lot of modern American life.

As a condition of Irwindale dismissing the suit, Huy Fong Foods has promised to make improvements to its factory’s rooftop ventilation system—but, as Mark Berman points out in the Washington Post, there won’t be any way to tell whether the improvements make a difference until August, when the plant begins production again. The likelier cause of the dropped suit is the public flirtation between Huy Fong Foods and officials from other cities that would be happy to subject their citizens to acrid capsaicin-smog in exchange for sweet moolah—but, whatever!

Perfect. You have a voluntary system of corporate reform with no enforcement, which Irwindale agreed to because Sriracha was looking to move the factory to a city even more desperate for jobs. The scourge of capital mobility in a nutshell. Company after company, move after move, citizen concession after citizen concession, this aggregates into the destruction of the entire set of economic, social, and environmental victories American citizens enacted to tame corporate pathology in the 20th century. This is how the New Gilded Age is created.

The Power of American Governments to Improve Labor Conditions Around the World

[ 9 ] June 2, 2014 |

If it wants to, American governments can play an enormous role in improving labor conditions overseas. The federal government could do all sorts of things to regulate the conditions of what comes into this country. At the very least, it could demand the products it purchases itself (mostly for the military) are ethically sourced. Unfortunately it does not.

Even on the local level, government can make a difference. Take Madison:

Last month, to commemorate the anniversary of the deadly Rana Plaza factory collapse in Bangladesh, the city of Madison, Wisconsin, launched a contracting policy that commits the city’s vendors to promote fair labor standards. The city’s new “sweatfree” contract guidelines aim to eradicate labor abuse from its international supply chains for the production of government uniforms, including the apparel worn by firefighters and other agency personnel. The guidelines build on the city’s existing sweat-free procurement policies, with disclosure and monitoring mechanisms that aim to “[raise] the bar for human rights due diligence in government contracting” by providing a nationwide model, according to the advocacy network Sweatfree Purchasing Consortium (SPC). Similar to living-wage policies for workers on government contracts—which help raise pay scales for low-income workers across the community—the sweat-free contract model for government purchasing can promote standards for more ethical manufacturing across the global apparel market. Madison’s effort builds on model policies developed by advocates and governments of various cities and states through the SPC, which includes Austin, Berkeley and Maine.

The Madison contract rules cover basic labor protections that reflect International Labour Organization standards. Vendors will be required to disclose detailed information on the entire supply chain, allowing city authorities to oversee factories’ compliance with national rules on wages and benefits, child labor, employment discrimination and maternity leave, fire and building safety codes, and overtime and maternity leave rules. Vendors will be monitored by a Contract Review Panel that includes representatives of the city and international labor experts. And if contractors do not have full disclosure for all their suppliers initially, they must increase disclosure levels annually over the duration of the contract.

Suppliers will also be screened on whether they provide “worker education” and “a grievance process” to help them advocate for their rights at work. There is a special focus on “prevention measures to address health and safety conditions in high-risk areas such as Bangladesh and Pakistan”—two countries associated with “deathtrap” factories that have claimed the lives of hundreds of workers in recent years. The language mirrors provisions of the Bangladesh Accord, an industry-based program for factory health and safety that now has now enrolled about about 170 brands and retailers worldwide.

Moreover, the firms themselves have to pay for the system. This is a very good thing and a good precedent for those fighting for international labor rights.

Fracking Test Case

[ 54 ] June 1, 2014 |

Rural New Mexico is a very interesting place. It’s basically the only rural area of the United States that is militantly pro-Democratic. When I lived in Albuquerque and Santa Fe from 2000-07, I’d be driving up there and see “Bush is a Murderer” graffiti and other similar things on pipes, buildings, and the such. This is a majority Latino place where people are VERY VERY ANGRY that white people stole their land after 1848, flushing the provisions of the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo down the toilet and eliminating their land grants.

So I am not surprised at all that Mora County would take the lead in anti-fracking cases, basically ignoring a federal law the country frankly doesn’t have much respect for and banning energy companies from fracking public lands in the county. But this is more interesting than just some people sticking it in the eye of the energy companies. Mora County knows it will lose but are trying to clarify the law so have more concrete standing for other actions going forward.

More than 150 townships and municipalities in the US have passed laws similar to Mora’s—and in a way, being taken to federal court is a sign of progress. “If we never even take the first baby step to [go to] court, we [will] always [be] behind the eight ball,” says Kathleen Dudley, a Mora resident and organizer with the Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund (CELDF), whose lawyers offer pro bono legal council to the communities in drafting and defending their laws. “We will never ever make it to a place of changing law.”

County Chairman John Olivas agrees. “If they don’t crush us and tell us that we need to go away then we could set the precedent for a lot of communities across the country,” he told me. The opposition knows this too: “This is the first test of this issue in the country, it’s very important,” says William Pendley, president of Mountain States Legal Foundation, the law firm representing Vermillion.

“We’re actually working…across the country, from state to state, to change constitutional law,” explains Dudley of CELDF. The “Constitution is a political reflection of the time,” she adds. “It is not sacrilegious to change it. That’s why we have twenty-seven amendments.” Mari Margil, CELDF’s associate director, draws a comparison to the LGBTQ movement’s use of lawmaking at the local and then state levels. “Now they’re driving into the courts,” Margil says. “That’s how real change gets made, especially to secure and expand rights, and that’s what this is about.”

This is a very interesting legal strategy and deserves following going forward.

“Savage Capitalism”

[ 220 ] June 1, 2014 |

David Graeber has an interesting essay basically getting after Thomas Piketty from the left, saying that the now famous economist’s essential acceptance of capitalism is a problem because it ignores what actually tamed the income inequality that he bemoans: fear of revolution:

Back in the 90s, I used to get into arguments with Russian friends about capitalism. This was a time when most young eastern European intellectuals were avidly embracing everything associated with that particular economic system, even as the proletarian masses of their countries remained deeply suspicious. Whenever I’d remark on some criminal excess of the oligarchs and crooked politicians who were privatising their countries into their own pockets, they would simply shrug.

“If you look at America, there were all sorts of scams like that back in the 19th century with railroads and the like,” I remember one cheerful, bespectacled Russian twentysomething explaining to me. “We are still in the savage stage. It always takes a generation or two for capitalism to civilise itself.”

“And you actually think capitalism will do that all by itself?”

“Look at history! In America you had your robber barons, then – 50 years later – the New Deal. In Europe, you had the social welfare state … ”

“But, Sergei,” I protested (I forget his actual name), “that didn’t happen because capitalists just decided to be nice. That happened because they were all afraid of you.”

He seemed touched by my naivety.

At that time, there was a series of assumptions everybody had to accept in order even to be allowed to enter serious public debate. They were presented like a series of self-evident equations. “The market” was equivalent to capitalism. Capitalism meant exorbitant wealth at the top, but it also meant rapid technological progress and economic growth. Growth meant increased prosperity and the rise of a middle class. The rise of a prosperous middle class, in turn, would always ultimately equal stable democratic governance. A generation later, we have learned that not one of these assumptions can any longer be assumed to be correct.

Couple of thoughts here. First, Graeber is certainly right about the rhetorical and theoretical bankruptcy of the 90s, where if you didn’t accept the neoliberal agenda, you were effectively an overweight Ohioan factory worker with an out-of-fashion mustache who just couldn’t be one of the cool kids. Of course, all the promises capitalists told us about the future were complete lies as they sought to create a New Gilded Age without challenge from any kind of leftist movement. We are just awakening to this reality today. I increasingly see Occupy as a sort of unfocused wake up call where no one is quite sure what has gone wrong, but people realize, wait something is wrong! It reminds me of the 1870s and 1880, where you had a generation of workers who had believed the economic promises of business leaders and were shocked to find out that what had really happened was class warfare enacted from above upon the poor. It took 20 years and the importation of radical ideas with immigrants to bring a more focused challenge to the unrestrained capitalism of the Gilded Age to the U.S.

I will say that I’m not totally comfortable with Graeber’s construction of a kinder, gentler capitalism. There was fear of a leftist uprising, but it wasn’t from the corporations, who were happy to just murder organizers. It was from politicians and the middle class, who voted in the changes. And that happened not because of any real possibility of leftist revolt in the U.S., because that never really existed in a legitimate way like in Europe. It happened because workers organized to demand changes in the system that reduced income inequality. In some ways, they wanted the same things as Thomas Piketty–a fairer system rather than revolution.

UAW Effort in Alabama Collapsing

[ 66 ] June 1, 2014 |

This is a depressing story.

Pro-union forces in the Mercedes-Benz plant in Alabama are asking the United Auto Workers to stop organizing there because the UAW won’t bring the election up to a vote.

Garner and Jim Spitzley, another longtime employee, have been key spokesmen for pro-union employees, and they have worked closely with the UAW on the campaign.

But they have grown increasingly frustrated with the UAW’s failure to file for an election.

At one point, the men say, the campaign had enough union authorization cards to legally file for an election, as more than 30 percent of the plant’s hourly production and maintenance workers had signed one.

But the UAW was pushing for a much higher percentage, 65 percent, because it wanted a sure win, they said.

“It’s all about the image with the UAW, and it’s not about the workers,” Spitzley said.

But before you say that the UAW is wrong here, understand that it is not wrong. The UAW knows it can’t bring this before an election because it will go down to a resounding defeat. 65 percent is a pretty standard number in modern elections because a lot of those votes will be peeled away in the intimidation campaign to come from the company.

Yet the Alabama unionists distancing themselves from the UAW is a sign of just how low the prestige of the union has become since the Chattanooga loss. I have no idea what the Alabama workers are going to do to replace the UAW. Some want the Machinists to come in but that would violate AFL-CIO jurisdiction rules, which may not be the best thing in the world sometimes, but you really don’t want unions raiding each other either. So probably nothing, maybe some kind of independent union, but the problem is that they aren’t going to win a vote either way. Maybe the best thing is to start an employees’ group that acts like a union, recruit members over the next few years, and build up that way. But right now, this is just ugly for anyone who cares about American unionization.

Miss American Vampire, 1970

[ 46 ] May 31, 2014 |

After a vigorous day of book submission and navel-gazing, I think we could all use a serious topic for this Saturday night. Like this:


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