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Illegal Logging

[ 26 ] October 19, 2013 |

Illegal logging is not something the progressive community takes particularly seriously, but it’s actually a very big deal, not only in Brazil (where it does get attention) but in Mexico (where the cartels have expanded their operations) as well as in Peru, as discussed here. This is an area where state attention to an issue can make a big difference, but there isn’t a strong ideological foundation in Latin America for environmental protection. Left-wing and right-wing are pretty addicted to classic developmentalist strategies, as we saw when Lula took power in Brazil. Mostly, it’s just a real depressing problem for me. The U.S. is a huge market for this illegal wood. Like most products, when we buy wood to build we don’t think about where the wood comes from, whether it is harvested sustainably (or even legally).

Ketchup and Culture Wars

[ 209 ] October 19, 2013 |

It’s pretty typical that Drudge would invoke the fear of salsa overtaking ketchup as America’s favorite condiment in his culture wars. Personally, I say Viva Reconquista. If ketchup is the condiment of the Tea Party, it just confirms everything I already think about it. So all you haters out there can go back to dumping Drudge Sauce on your eggs and fries, comfortable in the fact that you are supporting Real America through your condiment choices.

Mapping Civil War Syphilis

[ 21 ] October 18, 2013 |

This 1875 map charting syphilis in the Union during the Civil War is awesome. Not sure what was going on in upstate New York, but it seems like a scary place to have sex in the 1860s.

FDR at a Guatemalan Hooters

[ 20 ] October 18, 2013 |

Another classic, this time from Edge of the American West:

Gives the Good Neighbor policy a new meaning.

Native Americans and the Civil War

[ 36 ] October 18, 2013 |

C. Joseph Genetin-Pilawa’s piece on Seneca tribal member and Union officer Ely Parker is pretty interesting, but the real kicker is at the end. For we completely erase Native Americans from the memory of the Civil War experience.

Native communities and the Civil War share a curious history. Native Americans largely disappear from our recollection of those events, save for the marginal locations where they act as sidebars to the events happening on major battlefields and campaigns. Or, when native people do appear in the geographic center of the war, they are depicted as people thrust into daunting and precarious positions, such as those of Southern Indian nations — the Choctaw especially.

All of these stories are important, but others are, too. Although Parker’s wartime career may have been exceptional, owing in part to antebellum friendships with men who found themselves in positions of power during the war, Native American contributions to the war should be highlighted more often and in the same breath as those of men like Grant, Meade and countless others. Indigenous men from across the United States joined both Union and Confederate armies and participated in ways far more meaningful than most Americans have remembered. During these sesquicentennial years of Civil War commemoration, it is important to remind ourselves that it was more than an “affair between white men.”

America’s Worst Food

[ 384 ] October 18, 2013 |

Anyone is going to quibble with a list ranking state signature foods. And I have my quibbles too. First, lobster rolls are awesome. What a lobster roll means is that New England has such good seafood that it’s no big deal to eat lobster, so we are going to put it on a split roll with some lettuce and mayo and crappy fries on the side and the rest of you wish you could do that too. Also, what’s with ragging on Texas BBQ. Fail. On the other hand, New York pizza is the most overrated food in the country.

But we can all agree on the nation’s worst food:

For the mercifully unacquainted, “Cincinnati chili,” the worst regional foodstuff in America or anywhere else, is a horrifying diarrhea sludge (most commonly encountered in the guise of the “Skyline” brand) that Ohioans slop across plain spaghetti noodles and hot dogs as a way to make the rest of us feel grateful that our own shit-eating is (mostly) figurative. The only thing “chili” about it is the shiver that goes down your spine when you watch Ohio sports fans shoveling it into their maws on television and are forced to reckon with the cold reality that, for as desperately as you might cling to faltering notions of community and universality, ultimately your fellow human beings are as foreign and unknowable to you as the surface of Pluto, and you are alone and always have been and will die alone, a world unto yourself unmarked and unmapped and totally, hopelessly isolated.

But wait! This abominable garbage-gravy isn’t just sensorily and spiritually disgusting—it’s culturally grotesque, too! What began as an ethnic curio born of immigrant make-do—a Greek-owned chili parlor that took its “Skyline” name from its view of the city of Cincinnati—is now a hulking private-equity-owned corporate monolith that gins up interest in its unmistakably abhorrent product by engineering phony groups of “chili fanatics” to camp out in advance of the opening of new chains, in locations whose residents would otherwise see this shit-broth for what it is and take up torches and truncheons to drive it back into the wilderness.

Whatever virtue this bad-tasting Z-grade atrocity once contained derived from its exemplification of a set of certain cherished American fables—immigrant ingenuity, the cultural melting pot, old things combining into new things—and has now been totally swamped and consumed by different and infinitely uglier American realities: the commodification of culture; the transmutation of authentic artifacts of human life into hollow corporate brand divisions; the willingness of Americans to slop any horrible goddamn thing into their fucking mouths if it claims to contain some byproduct of a cow and comes buried beneath a pyramid of shredded, waxy, safety-cone-orange “cheese.”

Cincinnati chili is the worst, saddest, most depressing goddamn thing in the world. If it came out of the end of your digestive system, you would turn the color of chalk and call an ambulance, but at least it’d make some sense. The people of Ohio see nothing wrong with inserting it into their mouths, which perhaps tells you everything you need to know about the Buckeye State. Don’t eat it. Don’t let your loved ones eat it. Turn away from the darkness, and toward the deep-dish pizza.

Not sure what one can add to that. Also not sure how one could disagree.

Haitian Wage Theft

[ 81 ] October 17, 2013 |

I see the garment industry is up to the same tricks it’s been using since before the Triangle Fire, this time stealing wages from Haitian workers. And who could have guessed that it would be psychopathic corporations Gap, Target, and WalMart leading the charge?

The report, prepared by the Worker Rights Consortium, focused on 5 of Haiti’s 24 garment factories and found that “the majority of Haitian garment workers are being denied nearly a third of the wages they are legally due as a result of the factories’ theft of their income.”

The group said that the factories deprive workers of higher wages they are entitled to under law by setting difficult-to-meet production quotas and neglecting to pay overtime.

It said that offenders included the Caracol Industrial Park in northern Haiti, which the United States helped build and has cited as a centerpiece of reconstruction efforts, and factories that make products for prominent retailers like Gap, Target and Walmart.

Scott Nova, the consortium’s executive director, said in an interview: “What goes on here is not some occasional violations where most companies are in compliance and a few are not. You have across-the-board systematic, willful noncompliance with straightforward labor law by a large margin in a way that’s very destructive to workers.”

I have no problem with clothing being made in Haiti. Haitians really need jobs. But there is absolutely no reason that these apparel companies should legally be able to exploit the poorest workers in the world. Once again, the apparel industry tries to recreate Gilded Age America with the workers with the least power to resist. Why should these corporations not be liable in American courts for stealing wages from workers in Haiti? The only way to stop this behavior is to hold them legally and financially accountable. If you want to site factories in Haiti, fine. Even if you actually pay them only the average Haitian wage rate. But then engaging in wholesale wage theft? There has to be legal repercussions for this, and not in ineffective Haitian courts. Rich nations need to regulate this out of their corporations. Without law becoming as mobile as capital, effective labor reform is basically impossible. That means allowing these Haitian workers to sue Wal-Mart in American courts, not only for back wages but also for punitive damages. If Wal-Mart knows there is an actual cost to wage theft, they’ll stop employing contractors who engage in it.

Here’s the full Workers Rights Consortium report (PDF).

Siting Factories

[ 66 ] October 17, 2013 |

Why should a corporation be allowed to move its factories wherever it wants? Take General Electric, who is moving its Ford Edward, New York production to (ironically) Clearwater, Florida.

In response to this threatened closing, UE plans an extensive campaign of action and community outreach. “Solidarity Saturdays” send members out to solicit thousands of signatures from the surrounding communities that will be affected by the job loss. UE representatives have fanned out to meet with unions across the region.

At a picket last Thursday at the plant, every AFL-CIO central labor council was represented, despite the fact that UE is an independent union not affiliated with the AFL-CIO.

Gene Elk, secretary of the UE-GE Conference Board, told the assembled workers and supporters that GE’s response to the union’s request for information was to call it “burdensome.” What the union got, Elk said, was “15 sheets of paper… and we had to sign an agreement pledging that we wouldn’t divulge much of that information to the public.”

Why shouldn’t it be “burdensome” for a powerful, profitable corporation like GE to close a plant? I asked UE Political Director Chris Townsend.

“It shouldn’t be easy to close a plant,” said Townsend, “or it shouldn’t be this easy to close this plant. The General Electric corporation has been shown every imaginable consideration—by the taxpayers, by the state government, by the federal government, by this community, by the environmental regulators, everyone.

“Our members have worked with this company to keep this plant profitable. Now the company decides to walk off, leave hundreds of people stranded with no jobs, no income, and leave this community and this state in possession of the nation’s largest Superfund site.”

I asked a young couple who work in the plant, Kim and Chris, about the local job situation. “Where do you go?” they said.

Upstate New York is littered with abandoned factories. State officials tout the massive GlobalFoundries chip fabrication plant south of Fort Edward, but production jobs there pay about $15 an hour, hardly a family-friendly wage.

UE is United Electric Workers. Townsend has a really good point here. Why should it be easy for corporations to move? You can talk about property rights, but why should the property rights of corporations supercede the property rights of homeowners, shopkeepers, small businesses, and others negatively affected by captial mobility? After turning the area into a Superfund site, GE is outta there, leaving another New York community decimated? Why should governments and people allow corporations to do this? These issues are almost never critically examined. The right of corporate mobility and the race to the bottom is seen as an obvious right. But it shouldn’t be. As I’ve said before, the only way to stop corporate mobility from destroying communities is to create standardized regulations, wages, and working conditions across states and nations. Only then will corporations be unable to play state against state, nation against nation, worker against worker, all in the service of concentrating wealth at the tippy top of society.

Byrd’s Fiddle

[ 67 ] October 17, 2013 |

If Robert Byrd and his awesome fiddling were still in the Senate, it seems we could solve most of our political problems.

Bipartisanship around mountain music is something I think everyone can get around.

Byrd actually was a quite a good fiddler.

Wirt in 32!

[ 77 ] October 16, 2013 |

Proceedings of the First United States Antimasonic Convention.

Looks like the House stenographer is about average in comparison to the insanity of the Republican side of the aisle

As the House finished their vote to reopen the federal government and raise the debt ceiling, the House stenographer decided it was a good time to let everyone know her feelings about God, Congress, and the Freemasons.

“He [God] will not be mocked,” the stenographer, apparently named Molly, yelled into the microphone as she was dragged off by security. “The greatest deception here is that this is not one nation under God. It never was. It would not have been. The Constitution would not have been written by Freemasons. They go against God. You cannot serve two masters. Praise be to God. Praise be to Jesus.”

And yes, I have historical anti-Masonic images ready to go at any time.

For the title reference, see here. William Wirt won an electoral college vote on the Anti-Mason ticket despite the fact that he was a former freemason who had no objections to it. Yes, the Anti-Masonic Party’s coherency left something to be desired.

The Republican Fight Song

[ 16 ] October 16, 2013 |

Woody Guthrie summed up the 2013 Republican Party without knowing it.

You Get Who You Vote For

[ 313 ] October 16, 2013 |

While I sympathize with the South Dakota ranchers who are suffering from widespread cattle die-offs in the wake of this month’s unexpected blizzard, it’d be easier to feel sorry for them if they hadn’t voted in the very people who are the reason why the government can’t help them now. We see this all the time of course–angry white people voting for right-wing Republicans because of government waste, but where’s my paycheck/national park site/whatever part of the government I like.

Similarly, I really don’t care that the Houston Chronicle regrets endorsing Ted Cruz. C’mon. Everyone knew this what Ted Cruz would be like in the Senate. It’s not like he ever hid it. I guess the Chronicle publisher and editors thought he’d be the kind of Republican who talked crazy but in the end did what business wanted. Since he just talks crazy, he’s no good for them. But I’m sure they’ll continue endorsing Republicans who hold 99% of the same policy positions as Cruz.

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