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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 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

[ 6 ] 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

[ 188 ] 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

[ 68 ] 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.

Theoretically Progressive Media Company Typically Anti-Union

[ 120 ] April 17, 2014 |

I am so not surprised that self-proclaimed friend of labor Media Matters wants a union-free shop:

Media Matters for America is apparently resisting an effort by Service Employees International Union Local 500 to unionize its staff.

Last week, the union filed a representation petition with the National Labor Relations Board, indicating that the nonprofit media watchdog organization rejected an effort by the union to organize MMFA’s staff through a Card Check election.

But the filing does indicate that MMFA is not automatically accepting Local 500′s attempt to represent it’s staff. The nonprofit media watchdog group has hired the law firm Perkins Coie, which specializes in representing management in labor disputes, to represent it before the board.

This is like theoretically progressive academics opposing graduate student unions. If you don’t support unions when they affect you as an employer or manager, then you don’t support unions. If Media Matters receives any funding from organized labor, I hope those unions put some serious pressure on MMFA to accept the card check.

Carter and Keystone

[ 85 ] April 17, 2014 |

Jimmy Carter, Desmond Tutu, and other Nobel Peace Prize winners are right about Keystone.

Former president Jimmy Carter has joined a group of Nobel laureates who oppose construction of the Keystone XL pipeline, warning President Obama and Secretary of State John F. Kerry, “You stand on the brink of making a choice that will define your legacy on one of the greatest challenges humanity has ever faced – climate change.”

Of course, Carter has about as much policy influence as Bill Moyers these days. But the Nobel winners are correct. Regardless of the actual climate impact of this particular pipeline, Keystone is the defining event on climate for President Obama. It tells the world whether the U.S. is a real leader on this issue or not. Rejecting it would say that the president is putting the world’s climate ahead of economic relations with a close ally. Approving it would say that the U.S. is never going to take world leadership on the issue.

Shoe Strike

[ 26 ] April 17, 2014 |

Chinese workers making shoes for American manufacturers are on strike:

More than 30,000 staff at the Yue Yuen Industrial (Holdings) factory in Dongguan city have been striking for several days in protest at unpaid social insurance payments, said US-based China Labour Watch, adding that police had beaten and detained several protesters.

China is facing labour unrest as its economic growth slows and as factories in its southern manufacturing heartland report a shortage of workers, prompting rising demands from staff.

Yue Yuen says on its website that it produces shoes for foreign brands including Nike, Adidas, Puma and New Balance.

Once again, there is no good reason why international corporations should not have liability for injustice committed against workers making their products. Every cent of money not paid to the Chinese workers is profit for the corporations. Given the harsh downward pressure apparel companies place on their contractors to keep prices low, they incentivize ripping off the workers. This system exists to absolve western companies of any responsibility for what happens in the factories, even though they choose where to contract the work, what prices they will pay for the product, and how much they will sell it for. This is an unjust and morally bankrupt system that can be fought by western citizens and governments demanding accountability, including the application of a broad set of international laws that companies must follow regardless of where they site their work or who they contract it out to. Without this, the race to the bottom around the globe will continue.

“There is No Southern Baptist Position on Abortion”

[ 113 ] April 17, 2014 |

So said a Southern Baptist Convention newspaper on January 31, 1973, soon after Roe v. Wade was decided.

Question: What is the Southern Baptist position on abortion?

Answer: There is no official Southern Baptist position on abortion, or any other such question. Among 12 million Southern Baptists, there are probably 12 million different opinions.

Question: Does the Supreme Court decision on abortion intrude on the religious life of the people?

Answer: No. Religious bodies and religious persons can continue to teach their own particular views to their constituents with all the vigor they desire. People whose conscience forbids abortion are not compelled by law to have abortions. They are free to practice their religion according to the tenets of their personal or corporate faith.

The reverse is also now true since the Supreme Court decision. Those whose conscience or religious convictions are not violated by abortion may not now be forbidden by a religious law to obtain an abortion it they so choose.

In short, if the state laws are now made to conform to the Supreme Court ruling, the decision to obtain an abortion or to bring pregnancy to full term can now be a matter of conscience and deliberate choice rather than one compelled by law.

Religious liberty, human equality and justice are advanced by the Supreme Court abortion decision.

It would take time for the Southern Baptist Convention to become a tool of the conservative movement. As Seth Dowland detailed in a 2009 article in Church History, it was not until the late 70s that evangelicals spoke out strongly against women’s rights, abortion, or gay rights. Carter won with significant evangelical support and even fervor in 1976. In 1980, he lost those voters. What happened? A core of conservatives connected with evangelicals over the decline of the family and helped people make connections between these core values we see as inherently evangelical today and other problems they felt in the 70s. Jerry Falwell himself made no statement at all about abortion until 1975. In fact, the Catholic response against the Roe decision made many anti-Catholic evangelicals see Catholic anger as a reason to support the decision. The journal Christianity Today strongly supported feminism in a 1974 editorial and most evangelicals openly supported the Equal Rights Amendment in its early years. The success of people arguing that both of these things were attacks on women and the family turned people fairly rapidly, it is true. The anti-gay campaign led by Anita Bryant was far more about fear mongering about its effect on children than any biblical basis that was only stressed later. But this earlier history can’t be erased, no matter how much evangelicals would like to try.

Dowland argues that was the threat of these three issues to the gendered order evangelicals held dear that turned them to political conservatism, but also suggests a top-down manipulation by Falwell, Phyllis Schlafly, Tim LaHaye, Anita Bryant, Francis Schaeffer, and a relatively few other major figures.

In other words, all of this is way more complicated than the pat media narratives suggest.

Documentaries

[ 195 ] April 16, 2014 |

What are the best documentaries of all time? Sight and Sound is about to release a poll around this issue. Richard Brody has his choices, of which I’ve seen 2: Night and Fog, which belongs, and The Emperor’s Naked Army Marches On, which is one of the most remarkable films I’ve ever seen although I’m not sure one of the best.

I don’t know that I’m quite qualified to answer this question. There are a lot of bloody documentaries out there and I’ve seen a lot of them, but then a lot of really important ones I haven’t seen. I think it’s more interesting perhaps to think about what makes a good documentary. Brody’s take:

What these selections have in common is the idea of history, the construction of history cinematically, and the manifest personal involvement of the filmmakers in that construction. The ultimate subject of all great documentaries is the presence of the filmmaker at the events on view or under consideration—and when, as in Wiseman’s work, the filmmaker is subtracted, it’s a conspicuous subtraction, as if by way of an onscreen equation. The implication of the past in the present, the ongoing effect of the past in the present, is another crucial documentary idea—the contextualization of reported events by means of visual archeology and intellectual analysis, the unfurling of the filmmakers’ own thought process by way of that analysis. That’s the source of these ten movies’ vital, dynamic, and ongoing inspirations for other filmmakers, as well as for these filmmakers’ own later works. The past in the present, the future in the present—the essence of the great documentary is in the cinematic conception of time, the disjunction between the real time of filming and the times that it implies. Rule of thumb: the greater and more wondrous that disproportion, the greater the film.

I’m not as smart as Brody, so I’ll be a bit less lyrical. I like documentaries that throw you off kilter. That certainly can consist of the interplay between past and present as Brody says, but it doesn’t have to be. What I dislike about documentaries–and what annoys me about how people talk about interesting documentaries–is the idea that the tell the truth. So often, when I watch something like Jennifer Baichwal’s Act of God, which is about people struck by lightning and closes with the experimental guitarist Fred Frith telling his story of his strike with a 5 minute guitar improvisation, the commenters are angry because they just wanted to know SOME FACTS ABOUT LIGHTNING!!!! There’s the strong sense that documentaries serve as either how-to manuals of understanding the world or as crusading films exposing evil. I’m more sympathetic to the latter, but most of them aren’t very good films. I don’t necessarily want to know more about a topic when I come out of a documentary. I want to have my way of thinking about the world transformed. And sometimes this happens. Here’s 11 I think very highly of as I’m sitting here. Not definitive, even for me.

Night and Fog (Resnais, 1955). Maybe the best documentary ever. Even among Holocaust films there’s a lot of competition there, but that’s a very powerful film.

Manufactured Landscapes (Baichwal, 2006). What is nature? Following the photographer Edward Burtynsky as he photographs Asian pollution, both artists involved challenge the viewer. It’s 2 stories, with Baichwal as important as Burtynsky. Wonderful for the intelligent Environmental Studies student interested in social justice. Plus anytime we can start a film with a 8 minute shot of row after row after row of Chinese factory workers doing the exact same thing, we are on the right path.

Grin Without a Cat (Marker, 1977). The best film about what the 60s represented and how they declined. No one played with the complexity of truth and memory more than Marker.

Louisiana Story (Flaherty, 1948). Probably my favorite of the older style of documentary that provides a lot of narration and a main character that may or may not have any real relation to how these people actually lived. But again, who cares about some arbitrary line of accuracy.

Grizzly Man (Herzog, 2005). Speaking of the complexity of truth, I’ve had multiple people who did not know each other question whether Herzog was really telling anything resembling the truth here. Which is great. Timothy Treadwell is an anti-social weirdo with major problems. So is Werner Herzog. And it’s not like Herzog is even all that sympathetic. So there are two stories from two dislikable people going on at the same time. Entertaining and seriously makes the viewer question the relationship between people and the wild.

Cave of Forgotten Dreams (Herzog, 2010). I usually try to limit films to one per director on these lists, but Herzog tells an incredibly compelling story about life and art 10,000 years ago. The past and present merge in this beautiful film. I was completely compelled from start to end.

Louie Bluie (Zwigoff, 1985). Documentaries about musicians are usually somewhat entertaining but don’t often get to the point of being really compelling. Louie Bluie is an exception, about a very cranky and hilarious old man and his amazing musical and visual art (including his “found art” (a term I hate) pornographic alphabet book.) Astounding.

The Times of Harvey Milk (Epstein, 1984). An exception to the political documentary problem of earnestness, as Epstein tells a story of movement just beginning to rise in American culture at a point where it is just beginning to go through its biggest crisis.

When the Levees Broke (Lee, 2006). Spike Lee’s finest film. Some complain that he gave credence to people who thought the government had blown up the levee to force black people to suffer the brunt of the disaster. Sure, that didn’t happen. However, it actually did happen in 1927. And given how horribly the government has treated African-Americans in New Orleans basically forever, those people had good reason to think that was possible. Again, documentaries aren’t about telling a single truth, whatever that even means in a case like the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.

The Beaches of Agnes (Varda, 2008). The best autobiographical documentary I’ve seen. A great filmmaker making a film about a great filmmaker.

The Battle of San Pietro (Huston, 1945). Almost forgot about my favorite World War II film, where Huston spares the viewer nothing of the horrors of a minor battle in a necessary war. Made the military so uncomfortable that Mark Clark added an intro on the vital importance of this battle so the public wouldn’t get so upset by it.

Pretty recent set of films, but then we are living in the golden age of documentaries.

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