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Work and Food Writing

[ 24 ] September 20, 2014 |

So this is kind of an interesting story about a big hop farm in Idaho. I read it because I like beer. But I also read it to see how work is discussed. And of course, it is discussed only in the most passing way. See here:

At the height of the picking season, which starts in September, hundreds of workers tend to the hops. During this year’s harvest, the picking combines and the massive kilns used for drying will operate 24 hours a day. These are boom times and Elk Mountain is thriving.

The farm’s business hasn’t always been so good. Just a couple of years ago, Elk Mountain was in trouble. In the 2000s, a global hop surplus led to brewers such as Anheuser-Busch, which started the farm in 1987, stockpiling excess hop pellets. They simply didn’t need any more hops. In the spring of 2010, Elk Mountain’s farmers had to rip out all but 70 acres of their hops rather than maintain a crop that wouldn’t be used. For people who had spent their whole adult lives growing hops, times were hard. No one had seen this coming.

Hundreds of workers. Who are these workers? Are they hop workers full-time? What are the conditions of labor on this farm? None of this is known. We can assume, and almost certainly correctly, that these are migrant workers, probably undocumented.

Does it matter for a post about a hop farm? Yes and no. The point of the piece is to talk about a giant hop farm. Yet I think it rather unfortunate to talk about workers in food as strictly background characters, effectively machines that we don’t have to think about in the process of creating our beer. But we know almost nothing of the labor that goes into our beer, whether it be Miller or our favorite local microbrew. What that labor looks like, who gets paid what, what the working conditions are in those hop farms and breweries–these are really important questions that need to matter–especially to self-described foodies who hope for some level of sustainable production. For no food system is sustainable that does not treat workers with respect.

Jeter

[ 112 ] September 19, 2014 |

In the wake of the Gatorade ad, this is more my kind of Derek Jeter story.

….From a comment of mine below that explains this:

The point in linking to this was quite simple–an antidote to Jeter-love. Is it crude? Of course. Does it matter in any meaningful way? Of course not. Is it bullshit? Yeah, sure. Is it beneath me? Nothing is beneath me. That should be perfectly clear in September 2014.

On the other hand, it is also part of a larger project I think is important–which is to crush the idea of heroism, something that has never served a society well. Now, Derek Jeter, a marginal to slightly above average HOF shortstop is hardly the worst case of this. It’s hardly his fault after all. But the absurdity of Jeter-love this year, personified in that ridiculous Gatorade ad but infecting the entire season, is something that has tried to place him as almost super-human, a personification of what generations have wanted baseball players to be. So to bring that down to earth a bit, well, that’s what I am doing here.

Organized Labor and Police Militarization

[ 76 ] September 18, 2014 |

The AFL-CIO has come out pretty strongly against police militarization. Most of the unions seem fine with this. There is of course one major exception: The International Union of Police Associations. The IUPA is bickering a bit with AFL-CIO leadership over it.

And you know what? That’s fine. It’s the job of the IUPA to defend the interests of its members. In this case, that’s probably to have ridiculous armor and weapons. But it is the interest of the AFL-CIO to defend the American working class. Many of its unions are made up of the African-Americans and Latinos victimized by police violence. But the IUPA is doing its job here. We can choose to ignore it or oppose their position. I certainly am. But it’s OK that it holds that position. It is representing its members.

Cerro Rico

[ 29 ] September 18, 2014 |

The Cerro Rico silver mine in Potosí, Bolivia was the source of much Spanish wealth after the brutal colonization of the Americas. Although the Incas engaged in some small-scale mining there, the Spanish opened the modern mine in 1545, using it as one of their prime sources of money to kill Protestants in Europe. The Spanish enslaved indigenous labor to work the mine, as it did throughout its colonies. The mine was incredibly rich, making Potosi one of the largest cities in the world by the late 16th century. It was also mined under brutal conditions, with workers dying like flies. Once the silver was mined, it had to be separated from the rock. This was done through the use of mercury. That took a whole other mine, the Huancavélica mine in Peru. The Spanish enslaved indigenous people for that one too. Conditions in that mine were so bad, with people dying of mercury poisoning all the time, that parents would disable their kids to keep them out of mines. People would ingest so much mercury that upon their death, the Spanish would cut open their feet and drain the mercury out of them.

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Eventually, the good silver deposits were mined out and the mine went into decline. But it is still mined today by the indigenous people of Bolivia, taking out the last dregs of silver. Young boys go into the mines around the age of 15 and continue working as long as they can before the sicknesses of mine work force them out, often in their late 30s or early 40s. After the silver corporations pulled out in the 1980s, cooperatives took over and there’s no regulation of the mine, meaning conditions are not much better than they were 400 years ago.

How do I know all of this? Well, you can simply go into Cerro Gordo. I was in Bolivia in 2008. And I went into the mine. The miners are happy to show you around. But it is hardcore. This is no tour for most tourists. You want in the mine, you’d better be prepared to drag yourself up the logs the miners use to get in and out of the mine. You had better enjoy breathing in the disease inducing dust that kills these people from silicosis. In this photo of mine, you can see the killer dust in the air.

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I was coughing up dust for a day after just 90 minutes underground. Safety precautions for the gueros? Uh, no. The price of admission is cheap–a few bucks and buying some coca leaves and dynamite for the miners.

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This was an amazing and horrifying experience. You walk through the tunnel leading into the mine–the same tunnel the Spanish drove the Inca into beginning in 1545 (at least they provide the tourists helmets, otherwise I would be dead from the 4000 times I whacked my head trying to get into it). And you enter into the hellish underworld of an actual working mine where the workers aren’t even trying to hide their poverty and short life spans. But what else do they have? Bolivia is a very poor country. There aren’t other jobs in the region. Potosí is in the desert at 13,000 feet. Other options are basically nonexistent. I have seen sulfur miners at work in Indonesia and that was a bit horrifying to watch, but this was as close to truly brutal work–the kind of work you just don’t really see much in the U.S. these days, although very much the kind of work foreign workers do to serve the needs of American consumers–as I’ve ever been. You can see the processing of the silver as well, which includes open vats of mercury. I could have stuck my hand right down in it had I wanted, as you can see from my photo above. At the end of the whole experience, they take you outside to blow up some dynamite. Which, well, why not.

Today, the mine is actually collapsing at the top from nearly five hundred years of tunnels and explosions
. These people, proud of the work even as they know it kills them, don’t want it to close. But if it doesn’t, potentially hundreds of people will die. It’s a terrible situation. But these people need work and it’s hard to blame them for resisting, even though it may cost their lives. It’s just horrible all the way around–a legacy of colonialism, a challenge of fighting poverty in the present.

On Creeks

[ 53 ] September 17, 2014 |

We drive over little creeks all the time. They don’t register in our consciousness except maybe that the bridge is a bit narrower than the rest of the road. But those creeks and the plants along them, even in urban areas where you have high rates of pollution and too little protection for riparian zones, are actually incredibly ecologically important and very rich in wildlife. Yeah, you aren’t going to see a bear or elk along them so they might not get your attention, but snails, small fish, dragonflies, and songbirds are critical for ecosystem health.

Creeks are really important and we should take them more seriously!

Today in the Horrors of Child Abuse

[ 223 ] September 17, 2014 |

Detroit Lions running back Reggie Bush talks about “harshly disciplining” his 1 year old daughter.

And no, this is not just an NFL thing
.

…Bush now claims (per update at above link) that this he does not hit his daughter. But the original language leaves me very skeptical of that claim that could easily be made for PR purposes. When one says, “I definitely will try to obviously not leave bruises or anything like that on her, but I definitely will discipline her, harshly, depending on what the situation is” there is no other real way to interpret that statement.

Meanwhile, Calvin Johnson
:

Lions wide receiver Calvin Johnson called Peterson’s situation “unfortunate” but that he will still discipline his kids.

“Knowing when, how to discipline your kids. This whole situation, you know, it’s very unfortunate,” Johnson said. “Then you have pictures come out which made it even worse. I’m going to discipline my kids, you know, and can’t nobody tell me how to discipline my kids.

“Like I said, that’s not my situation right now. My situation would be private. It’s not a public matter when you discipline your family but unfortunately for him, it had become that. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with disciplining your child. It teaches them discipline at the same time.”

Johnson did not indicate how he disciplines any current or future children, but said he felt child discipline should be private. He felt differently about domestic abuse.

“There are some things that just shouldn’t be done,” Johnson said. ” You shouldn’t put your hands on a woman, simple as that. Talking about Adrian and going from that to the domestic cases that we have are two totally different things to me.”

Yeah, no. The two things might have some differences, but they are both physical abuse.

….Cardinals running back Jonathan Dwyer arrested for domestic violence this afternoon. Of course, unlike the 49ers and Ray McDonald, Dwyer isn’t good enough for the team to ignore this, so they will probably cut him.

The ISIS Conundrum

[ 102 ] September 17, 2014 |

Lance Mannion has a very thoughtful essay on the difficulties of being a liberal trying to figure out what to do about ISIS. Read it. I agree with it. I have no idea what to do either. Nothing is probably a terrible idea. So is something. Whatever that something is.

Huge Labor Victory in the South

[ 9 ] September 16, 2014 |

This is a major win for labor:

9,000 American Airlines passenger service agents, after a 19-year struggle, joined together today in a vote with the members of the US Airways CWA-IBT Association to form a new bargaining unit of 14,500 agents at American Airlines. It is the largest labor organizing victory in the South in decades.

Three-quarters of the agents work in Texas, North Carolina, Florida and Arizona and 2,300 are home-based reservations agents.

By an 86 percent vote, airport and reservations agents overwhelmingly chose representation by the Communications Workers of America-Teamsters Association in the National Mediation Board election; results of the vote were announced this afternoon. US Airways and American Airlines merged to form the New American Airlines in 2013.

The vote clearly shows that workers who can make a fair choice about union representation want bargaining rights. New American agents are concentrated in southern states, and work at diverse locations, including large and smaller airports, call centers and at home. Across every group, they voted for bargaining rights and union representation.

That the addition of 9000 members would be the largest labor advance in the South in decades is depressing, but such is the reality of modern America. This is a big victory and hopefully can lead to more.

Fake Canadians

[ 31 ] September 16, 2014 |

Normally I would oppose Americans pretending to be Canadian citizens, as the existence of the northern menace is a threat to us all. But I will make an exception for ex-slaves claiming Canadian citizenship while enlisting for the Union in the Civil War so that if they were captured, they would not be returned to slavery.

Tribal Casinos and Labor Law

[ 79 ] September 16, 2014 |

Native American tribes are trying to use their sovereign status to avoid U.S. labor law in their casinos:

After the Saginaw Chippewa fired a housekeeper at the Soaring Eagle casino in 2010, the Michigan tribe found itself at the center of a national legal battle over the reach of U.S. labor law and the sovereign rights of Native American tribes.

The housekeeper, Susan Lewis, was fired for soliciting union support among workers at the casino in central Michigan. She challenged her dismissal before the U.S. National Labor Relations Board, which ordered the casino to reinstate Lewis.

The Saginaw Chippewa refused, saying the NLRB, which oversees union elections and referees private-sector labor relations disputes, had no right to meddle in tribal business.

Four years later the tribe is fighting the NLRB in one of three nearly identical court cases whose outcomes could be felt throughout the $28 billion tribal casino industry.

At issue are two long-held legal principles. One is the right of private-sector workers to band together and pursue union representation, as embodied in the 1930s National Labor Relations Act (NLRA), which the NLRB oversees.

The other is tribal sovereignty, which has been affirmed by Supreme Court decisions going back to the 1820s.

Tribal law is tremendously complicated and I am no expert. What I do understand suggests that with federal labor law, the tribes might have to comply due to their “domestic dependent nations” status as proclaimed by John Marshall. Were it state law, then they would have a much better case because state sovereignty over indigenous land is less clear. Plus, there is a long history of U.S. labor law already applying to workers on reservations, including OSHA.

But this is just the same kind of capitalist avoidance of basic rights for workers that Vegas casinos or apparel manufacturers or anyone else engages in. And the arguments are equally absurd:

But if the NLRB gets its way and unions move in, potentially raising the Soaring Eagle’s operating costs and eroding its profits, “the impact on the tribe and its governmental services would be, in a word, devastating,” said the tribe in a brief filed with the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Cincinnati.

The casino is “critical to the political integrity of the tribe,” the brief said. The tribe, which does not tax its members, receives 90 percent of its income from the casino.

Ha ha ha ha, what a funny joke. Or it would be if it wasn’t trying to seriously make this argument. This is the same overheated anti-union rhetoric we’ve heard from Henry Clay Frick, Walmart, and countless others. In many ways, this case is not all that dissimilar on principle from Israel/Palestine. Native Americans’ historical oppression does not give them the right to oppress others.

The NFL’s Principles Strike Again

[ 182 ] September 15, 2014 |

The Minnesota Vikings received some praise for deactivating Adrian Peterson on Sunday for betting the hell out of his son.

Then the Vikings discovered that they have no rushing attack without him. The Patriots easily disposed of Minnesota.

So even though if anything Peterson’s actions look worse now than they did late last week, the Vikings have reinstated him for this Sunday’s game. The justification for this is, uh, weak.

It has nothing to do with him as a football player. It has to do purely with the facts that we have, that have been presented to us.

The first sentence is bunk. The second sentence is correct because the facts that have been presented to the Vikings is that they are bad without their best player.

….Also, Jim Harbaugh is a giant hypocrite.

The Cultural Turn

[ 86 ] September 15, 2014 |

Interesting article on how Democrats are now using cultural issues to hammer Republicans in much the same way Republicans did effectively until very recently against Democrats.

In Virginia, North Carolina and Colorado, important swing states, Democratic senators contending with a sour climate for their party have used debates to hammer their Republican opponents on issues related to contraception and women’s rights. Those efforts may carry them only so far in a year when Republicans have more paths to winning control of the Senate than Democrats have to keeping it.

Republicans’ attempts to parry attacks also reveal how the ground has shifted. Their challengers in the three states have fought back with proposals to sell birth control pills over the counter, a pivot that not long ago might have enraged religious conservatives who were concerned about enabling promiscuity. But there is little indication of that now, nor any broader sign that the right is being motivated by Democrats’ push on social issues.

“We cannot assume that we still live in Mayberry,” said Russell D. Moore, the president of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention. “Clearly American culture has changed a great deal.”

Just as striking is what is barely being discussed: same-sex marriage. Gov. Rick Scott of Florida, a Republican, simply changed the subject to the economy when he was pressed about a federal judge’s decision striking down his state’s ban on same-sex unions.

Now Senator Mark Udall, Democrat of Colorado, who succeeded Mr. Allard in 2009, is running a campaign courting female voters by emphasizing the culture wars. Along with an array of outside liberal groups, Mr. Udall has pounded his Republican challenger, Representative Cory Gardner, on abortion, contraception and same-sex marriage.

When he had the opportunity to ask a question at the first Senate debate last weekend, there was little doubt about what Mr. Udall would raise.

“When it comes to a woman’s reproductive rights and women’s health, how can women and families trust you?” the senator asked.

Mr. Gardner countered by airing a commercial featuring him speaking to a group of women in which he vowed “cheaper and easier” access to birth control pills.

Mr. Udall narrowly leads Mr. Gardner in polls, and Colorado Republicans say that if Mr. Udall’s cultural assault is successful, it will represent an ominous sign about their party’s ability to win statewide.

“If he can’t win this in this environment and against this incumbent, I shudder to think when we are going to be able to win one,” said Dick Wadhams, a former Colorado Republican chairman. “This election, in many ways, is going to determine whether Colorado has really shifted blue.”

Turns out that taking crazy extremist positions may not be sustainable for long-term political viability. Who knew. And really, if Republicans start losing Colorado consistently, which is quite likely, their political base has really eroded. The only states we can argue are maybe becoming more Republican at this point are the Great Lakes states, but the prediction of them turning to the Republicans permanently is going on 35 years old now. This is why Republicans are so desperate to stop minorities and college students from voting. The only way they can win is to reduce the electorate.

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