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Death to America

[ 18 ] November 28, 2014 |

I wonder if Iran is accepting American entries to its Death to America festival:

As part of the campaign, Ouj also launched the “Death to America Grand Award” festival, sponsored by themselves and other similar organizations. The festival took place for the first time last year and gave away considerable cash prizes to its contestants. Now that the Vienna nuclear talks have ended inconclusively, the second festival is in the pipeline and billboards have gone up across the city to promote it.

According to reports, its sponsors also include Hezbollah Cyber, Saraj Cyberspace Organization, Tasnim news agency, Fars news agency and Nasr TV Network—all of which are affiliated to the Revolutionary Guards.

Winning contestants at the festival last year were awarded their prizes by the likes of Major General Mohammad Ali Jafari, a commander in the Revolutionary Guards, and Hossein Shariatmadari, the managing editor of the hardliner daily Kayhan, the day before the anniversary of the Islamic Revolution.

According to Mohammad Hasani, the festival secretary, the event will start on December 7 and people taking part must incorporate themes such as, “Why death to America?” “America and Human rights” “America and Islamophobia” “America in the Embrace of World Zionism” “America and Nurturing Terrorism” and many more, into their artwork.

According to festival organizers, the “Death to America” Grand Prize will have a main competition for pictures, posters and cartoons and a side competition for documentaries, video clips, songs, articles, blogs, software and mobile apps. The winning prize in the main competition is $3,700, with a runner-up prize of $1,800 and a third prize of $750. While in the smaller competition, the first prize is $1,100, the second prize is $550 and the third prize is $260.

The festival’s finale will take place on February 11, 2015 on the anniversary of the Islamic Revolution.

Wouldn’t pictures of Black Friday be enough to win?

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How Often Do “Disruptive” Business Practices Actually Mean “Illegal” Business Practices?

[ 104 ] November 28, 2014 |

Uber, once again proving the “sharing” economy capitalists are as bad as any traditional economy capitalists you could create:

Security researcher GironSec has pulled Uber’s Android app apart and discovered that it’s sending a huge amount of personal data back to base – including your call logs, what apps you’ve got installed, whether your phone is vulnerable to certain malware, whether your phone is rooted, and your SMS and MMS logs, which it explicitly doesn’t have permission to do. It’s the latest in a series of big-time missteps for a company whose core business model is, frankly, illegal in most of its markets as well.

Taxi-busting ride share app Uber might have an operating model that suits customers better than traditional, regulated taxi services – but the company’s aggressively disruptive (and frequently illegal) business practices don’t seem to stop at harming the taxi industry.

Its vicious attacks on competitors have included ordering and cancelling more than five and a half thousand rides through its chief competitor Lyft. Its senior Vice President of Business, Emil Michael, casually mentioned at a dinner that maybe Uber could start digging up personal dirt on journalists critical of the company.

Black Friday Strikes

[ 5 ] November 28, 2014 |

While you are engaging in America’s most consumerist day of the year, a real feat given the competition, remember the workers struggling to make ends meet that serve you. Especially remember the Wal-Mart workers. Some are engaging in Black Friday strikes, the 3rd consecutive year of these protests:

Kicking off the third consecutive year of protests, Walmart workers in six states have formally submitted strike notices to their bosses ahead of the Black Friday shopping frenzy, calling for higher wages and better hours, according to OUR Walmart, the group representing the workers.

OUR Walmart did not provide an estimate on how many workers planned to take part in the strikes this year. It did, however, say that workers in Wisconsin, Louisiana, Florida, California, Maryland, Virginia and Washington, D.C., have already delivered notices, and it anticipates workers in Illinois, Minnesota, Texas and Pennsylvania will do so as well.

Charles Brown, an OUR Walmart member who unloads trucks at a Walmart in Newport News, Virginia, said he plans to miss three shifts this week to take part in the demonstrations. Brown said he joined the group in September to demand a greater say in scheduling as well as “more respect” from management.

“Some [other workers] may want to do a strike as well but are hesitant,” said Brown, 27. “They need to know they don’t have anything to be afraid of. If we don’t stand up, no one else is going to stand up for us.”

Black Friday has become an annual rallying cry for the anti-Walmart crowd, with labor activists and other progressives pillorying the world’s largest retailer over its wages and scheduling practices for store employees. It also marks the most contentious week of the year between the Arkansas-based retail giant and OUR Walmart, which is backed by the United Food and Commercial Workers, a union that’s been working to organize Walmart employees for years.

The $15 minimum wage and full-time work are among the major demands, although it depends on the worker and the store.

I Love The Smell of Georgia Burning in the Morning

[ 21 ] November 27, 2014 |

Here’s something not to be thankful for in American history: treason in defense of slavery. Rebecca Onion has a review of what looks to be a very interesting new book on the sensory impact of the Civil War, exploring how the sights, sounds, smells, and tastes of the war were experienced by people.

Hancock, intent upon serving as a nurse in the aftermath of the battle, brought that average nose to Gettysburg, where she was too late to smell the flowering peach blossoms and the saltpeter of expended gunpowder, but in plenty of time to smell the dead. She wrote home:

“A sickening, overpowering, awful stench announced the presence of the unburied dead upon which the July sun was mercilessly shining and at every step the air grew heavier and fouler until it seemed to possess a palpable horrible density that could be seen and felt and cut with a knife …”

Hancock, Smith writes, was so overcome by the smell that she viewed it as an oppressive, malignant force, capable of killing the wounded men who were forced to lie amid the corpses until the medical corps could reach them. Hancock’s account, vivid in its horror, proves the limitations of the visual record of war. No photograph of the aftermath of the battle, writes Smith, could “capture the sounds, the groans or the rustle of twitching bodies”—and no image could ever capture that smell.

And the meanings of these sensory experiences was complex:

The senses also had social meaning to mid-19th-century Americans, marking differences between types of people. A 19th-century woman like Cornelia Hancock might process the smell of Gettysburg differently than we do because of the contemporary belief that cultivated people had sensitive noses and should guard themselves from unpleasant odors. The besieged citizens of Vicksburg weren’t merely turned off by the poor provisions during the long siege by Grant’s army; they were horrified at the idea of eating the same kinds of foods as the enslaved people around them. In the South, a sophisticated sense of taste was a marker of social status. Black people’s mouths and palates, by contrast, were considered by Southerners to be “physically unrefined and aesthetically immature,” Smith writes, a stereotype “justifying the allocation of plain, functional, and flavorless food to slaves on plantations.” White residents eating a monotonous cornbread and bacon diet inside the crowded city or in their cave shelters felt their social boundaries collapsing, even as they grew hungrier and hungrier.

I love the smell of Georgia burning in the morning.

Happy Thanksgiving!

[ 173 ] November 27, 2014 |

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Let’s learn a bit the lovely people we are remembering today:

On May 26, 1637, a Puritan force fortified by Native allies massacred a Pequot fort in Connecticut, killing as many as 500 men, women and children and burning the village to the ground.

McBride called the Pequot a “complex society” and the Pequot War one of the most controversial and significant events in Colonial history. The attack at Mystic Fort, which was the first of three massacres that occurred during the war, changed the way Native forces looked at warfare.

The massacre, led by English Captain John Mason, was the first documented use of “total war” against American Indians, meaning the English force slaughtered all Pequot they came in contact with, making no distinction between armed warriors or helpless women and children.

“By any standards, it was a massacre,” McBride said. “The English did intend to kill everyone there, but they did not do it to steal land or to control trade. They did it out of fear that the Pequot and their Native allies would perpetuate a region-wide attack on the English.”

Justifying his conduct, Captain Mason declared the attack was an act of God, he wrote in his Brief History of the Pequot War, published posthumously in 1736.

God “laughed his Enemies and the Enemies of his People to scorn making [the Pequot] as a fiery Oven… Thus did the Lord judge among the Heathen, filling [Mystic] with dead Bodies.”

Native peoples in North America understood war. They didn’t understand genocide, at least not until the Puritans brought it to them in 1637.

Happy Thanksgiving.

Milk, Brought to You by Coke

[ 111 ] November 26, 2014 |

Coca-Cola is dealing with lagging soda sales by investing in moo juice:

With soda sales sagging, Coca-Cola is moving into the dairy business. It plans to offer milk with some big differences to the stuff now on supermarket shelves: For starters, it will cost twice as much.

A Coke exec told a conference last week that the company’s Fairlife will be “a milk that’s premiumized and tastes better and we’ll charge twice as much for it as the milk we’re used to buying,” the Guardian reports. Chief Customer Officer Sandy Douglas said the milk, which is being produced in venture involving 92 family-owned farms and will launch next month, will contain 50% more protein and 30% less sugar than regular milk.

A filtering process will also make it lactose-free.

Why, yes, I would love to pay twice as much for my milk! And I know that if there’s one company I trust to produce milk that is lower in sugar and higher in good things for you, it’s Coca-Cola.

I’m not lactose-intolerant so I can’t speak to this, but is there a real appeal to a lactose-free milk that would convince people to pay twice as much as regular milk? I know dairy-free faux dairy products, such as the unfortunate “cheese,” are not great, but there are lots of other ways to cook as well. Just curious here.

Worker Power on Thanksgiving

[ 36 ] November 26, 2014 |

Last year, Whole Foods was one of many companies to force employees to work on Thanksgiving. The employees were very angry about this and seven went on strike at a store in Chicago. In response to the negative publicity, Whole Foods stores in the Midwest are now allowing workers to sign up if they want to work on Thanksgiving and will pay them double wages to do so. That’s a victory. A bigger victory would be for Whole Foods to just close on Thanksgiving and allow its workers to have the holiday with family or friends. But it’s something.

The Last Time Mississippi Will Subsidize Health Care

[ 13 ] November 26, 2014 |

Researching the labor history post on the Black Codes, I ran across this tidbit from historian David Oshinsky:

Nugent was among the lucky ones: he came back alive. More than a third of Mississippi’s 78,000 soldiers were killed in battle or died from disease. And more than half of the survivors brought home a lasting disability of war. Visitors to the state were astonished by the broken bodies they saw at every gathering, in every town square. Mississippi resembled a giant hospital ward, a land of missing arms and legs. In 1866, one-fifth of the state budget went for the purchase of artificial limbs.

20 percent of a state’s budget, just for artificial limbs. I suppose the lesson is don’t commit treason to defend slavery, but while the percentages were must lower in the North, the impact of the returning amputees was just as drastic.

Life on the Road

[ 106 ] November 25, 2014 |

A good tale of a successful band that tours well, sells out shows, and comes up $11,000 in the hole for the tour. The whole “we don’t need to buy our albums because the artists will make the money on tour” is nothing more than justification for not buying albums. The artists aren’t making money on the tour.

Bangladesh: No Corporate Responsibility

[ 5 ] November 25, 2014 |

In 2012, the Tarzeen Fire in Bangladesh killed 112 workers. It’s been slightly forgotten in the aftermath of the 2013 Rana Plaza collapse that killed over 1100, but was certainly horrible in its own right–remember, Triangle killed 146 so Tarzeen was nearly as deadly. Of course, it’s hardly coincidental that all three of these incidents were in the apparel industry, which has long thrived on an extremely exploitative model that sought to protect department stores from responsibility for production. Such was the case at Triangle and such is the case at Tarzeen. Of the 16 clothing firms linked to production at Tarzeen at the time, only 2 have paid any compensation to the survivors or the families of the dead. Neither are American firms. The American firms contracting to have apparel made at Tarzeen: Dickey’s, Wal-Mart, Disney, and Sears. None of these companies have paid a cent. They continue to profit off the long-established system of apparel worker exploitation and dead workers are an acceptable cost for those profits. Only with mandatory compensation and legal recompense for the affected will these companies be held to account. And that is what we need to be fighting for, as I argue in Out of Sight.

This Day in Labor History: November 25, 1865

[ 36 ] November 25, 2014 |

On November 25, 1865, Mississippi created the first of the Black Codes. Designed to recreate slavery in all but name, this signified the white South’s massive resistance to the freeing of their labor force and the lengths to which it would go to tie workers to a place under white control.

The impact of slavery’s end is hard to overestimate. But the Emancipation Proclamation did not free any slaves immediately and the ratification of the 13th Amendment did not take place until well after the war’s end. The federal government was woefully unprepared, both in manpower and ideas, for ensuring that the rights of ex-slaves were respected after the war. Sure, slavery might be effectively dead as of April 14, 1865, when Robert E. Lee surrendered to Ulysses S. Grant at Appomattox Court House, but was the U.S. military there to enforce freedom on the plantations? Largely, no. The immediate months after the war were filled with violence as whites killed newly freed people in the countryside, especially as they began to flee for cities like Memphis and New Orleans. For cotton planters, this black flight was a real threat. They prospered on owning black labor. If they couldn’t own that labor, planters at least needed to keep it on the land to pick the cotton that might allow them to rebuild their economic base.

The Black Codes thus intended to trap black labor in place. The plantation elite’s top goal immediately upon emancipation was to corral black labor, whose core goal was to avoid the plantation labor system, preferably replacing it with small farms they owned. The Black Codes intended to prevent this. Building upon the slave codes regulating black behavior, and especially black movement, before the war, the Black Codes was the South’s statement to the North that the end of the war did not mean the end of white supremacy. Blacks would have to show a written contract of employment at the start of each year, ensuring they were laboring for a white employer. At the core of the Mississippi code and copied around the South was the vagrancy provision. “Vagrancy” was a term long used in the United States to crack down on workers not doing what employers or the police wanted them to do. In this case, it meant not working for a white person.

Mississippi did not allow blacks to rent land for themselves. Rather, all blacks in rural areas must labor for a white under 1-year contracts. They did not have the option to quit working for that white person. If a black person in the countryside was found not working for a white person, the state would contract that worker out to a private landowner and receive a portion of their wages. If a black person could not pay high taxes levied on them by the state, they would be charged the vagrancy and the same process would result. As during slavery, any white person could legally arrest any black person. A Fugitive Slave Act-like provision was included that made it illegal to assist a black person from leaving their landowner with real punishments for whites who did so. That provision also stated that blacks caught running away would lose their wages for the year. Children whose parents could not take care of them, as defined by the whites of Mississippi, would be bonded to their former owners. Other forms of black behavior were also criminalized, such as preaching without a license or “insulting” language toward whites. Interracial marriage, it goes without saying, was banned as well.

In other words, Mississippi reinstituted slavery.

Other southern states quickly built on Mississippi’s black codes. South Carolina barred blacks from any occupation other than farmer or servant unless they played a very steep annual tax that sought to pauperize the large free black community in Charleston. Virginia included in its vagrancy law anyone who refused to work for the “usual and common wages given to other laborers” in order to eliminate whites competing for black labor. Florida’s Black Code allowed whites to whip those who broke their labor contract and then be sold for a year. Texas and Louisiana mandated that women and children who could work be working in the fields.

The response in the North to these laws was largely one of outrage. After all, what had they just fought this war over? While at the beginning of the war, northern whites could legitimately argue the war was about restoring the union and not slavery, no one could make that argument by the end of the war, for so it was so clearly about both. When word of this got out, the North, unclear what path toward Reconstruction it would take and still reeling from the death of Abraham Lincoln six months earlier and the ascendance of his successor, Andrew Johnson, was finally moved to take more decisive action against increasingly recalcitrant ex-Confederates.

Quickly after its passage, General O.O. Howard, head of the Freedman’s Bureau, declared the Black Code invalid. Congress met just a few weeks later for the first time since the end of the war. At this Congress, the South also sent ex-Confederate leaders such as former vice-president Alexander Stephens to represent them. Taken together, this led to the rise of Congressional Reconstruction and the war between Congress and Johnson. As the Southern elite did during the 15 years before the Civil War, its aggressive overreach created northern white backlash that then led to a significant commitment to black rights. That might not have lasted very long, but it did ensure that as unfair as postwar labor relations would become, they would look nothing like slavery. Congressional Reconstruction would void the black codes and put off the violent suppression of southern black labor for several years, opening at least the possibility of a future that provided the freed slaves dignity, although it was not to be.

In the end, it was sharecropping that would define the postwar southern agricultural labor force, not bonded black labor. There are a number of reasons for these complex arrangements that would still strongly exploit African-American labor, but it still provided ex-slaves more control over their lives than desired by the white plantation elite, who would largely be unable to recreate their economic dominance after the war.

As with all things Reconstruction, the work of Eric Foner is a great place to start, and some of this post is borrowed from his books.

This is the 125th post in this series. Previous posts are archived here.

No Indictment

[ 190 ] November 24, 2014 |

The grand jury does not indict Darren Wilson in the shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson.

Least surprising development ever.

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