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NYU: An Institution Whose Leaders Lack Basic Morality

[ 44 ] May 11, 2015 |

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Housing for the workers building the NYU campus at Abu Dhabi

NYU has come under significant criticism for the terrible conditions of the workers building it’s Abu Dhabi campus. Here is an excellent discussion of the connections between a single NYU trustee and the treatment of those workers.

Khaldoon Al-Mubarak sits on the NYU Board of Trustees. He is also the CEO of one of the main construction companies building the school’s forthcoming outpost in the United Arab Emirates.

That company, Mubadala, was named in a recently released 72-page report detailing how a third of the workers at the construction site were systematically exempted from the higher labor standards NYU had promised in its “Statement of Labor Values.” The statement was designed to protect workers from the harsh conditions migrant laborers typically face in the UAE.

The decision to build the campus in Abu Dhabi came on the heels of a $50 million donation to the university from the government of Abu Dhabi, and Al-Mubarak was installed as a trustee after plans for the campus were announced, according to the New York Times.

“He was central to this whole exemption scheme,” said Hugh Baran, a first-year student at NYU School of Law who was one of several people to confront an administrator about the issue last week. “Given that this is his company, he surely had some knowledge [of the labor conditions].”

The damning report outlines an investigation by a firm hired by the government of Abu Dhabi, Nardello & Co., that ostensibly aimed to verify media reports of substandard labor conditions at the site.

The construction companies, including Mubadala, had established an “exemption” that excluded short-term employees from the guarantee of improved working conditions promised by NYU, according to the report. This exemption could also be applied to lower-cost contracts.

The report found that some people affiliated with NYU “said they were aware of a time threshold” that allowed different working conditions for short-term employees.

Oh I’m sure they were aware and totally fine with it. This NYU deal is about nothing but cash for top university administrators and their friends. It is utterly corrupt and the fact that its own professors can not enter Abu Dhabi to report on these labor conditions shows just how debased this deal and the administrators who support it have become.

Is there anything the modern university president won’t do for money?

The Perils of Indonesian Domestic Workers Abroad

[ 13 ] May 11, 2015 |

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Indonesia is a very poor country. So their young women are recruited to work as domestic servants for the wealthy in Hong Kong and especially in the Arab world. The Saudis, UAE, and other wealthy Gulf states treat labor like garbage. The almost entirely foreign workforce has third class status, is often beaten and starved, and has little ability to resist regimes that simply don’t care if they live or die. It’s gotten so bad that Indonesia has now banned its citizens from work as maids in pretty much the entire Middle East and North Africa. Too many deaths. 40 Indonesian maids currently are facing the death penalty in Saudi Arabia, mostly for resisting sexual assault or physical violence.

 

Union Busting in Bangladesh

[ 7 ] May 11, 2015 |

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Please read this Human Rights Watch report on union busting in Bangladesh’s garment industry. Two years after Rana Plaza, conditions have changed slightly for the better because of pressure from western activists, but workers demanding the power to fight for themselves are brutalized. I want to present you two quotes from the report’s summary.

I was beaten with metal curtain rods in February when I was pregnant. I was called to the chairman’s room, and taken to the 3rd floor management room which is used by the management and directors — and there I was beaten by the local goons… There were other women who were called at other times, and they were beaten the same way as well. They wanted to force me to sign on a blank piece of paper, and when I refused, that was when they started beating me. They were threatening me saying ‘You need to stop doing the union activities in the factory, why did you try and form the union. You need to sign this paper.’

This is what happens when workers try to organize to ensure they have a safe place to work. The companies order them beaten. The western contractors like Walmart, Gap, Target, and other exploitative companies can completely wash their hands of this kind of behavior because of the contracting system. Yet they are in fact indirectly responsible. A garment factory owner told Human Rights Watch

Factory owners want to maximize profits, so they will cut corners on safety issues, on ventilation, on sanitation. They will not pay overtime or offer assistance in case of injuries. They push workers hard because they don’t want to miss deadlines and end up paying for air shipment which can destroy the viability of the operations. Workers have no unions, so they can’t dictate their rights…. Some of this can also be blamed on the branded retailers who place bulk orders and say ‘Scale up production lines because it is a big order, and improve your margins.’ Even 2-3 cents can make the difference, but these companies don’t want to factor in [labor rights and safety] compliance into costing.

This is why the Bangladeshi workers’ struggle must be our struggle. We must demand that corporations are held accountable for violence against organizers, terrible working conditions, pollution, and other unacceptable behaviors.

And yet the Bangladeshi workers are scared that they will lose their jobs from all this bad attention on their industry as the apparel companies move production to Cambodia, Indonesia, or some other new country that has not received negative attention in the West. Then they can start this exploitative process all over again. That cannot happen and that’s why we must create international standards for working conditions and union rights if companies want to sell products in the United States. If they are American companies or if American companies are contracting with suppliers, they need to be held legally responsible in American or European courts. And that will only happen if workers have the power to initiate these struggles. Otherwise, companies will move and move again in the global race to the bottom, leaving the world’s poor just as poor as they were before.

In short, we need to adapt the ideas of the Trans Pacific Partnership to create international courts that would protect corporate rights and make them protect the rights of workers and citizens to basic dignity.

In related news, I am speaking tomorrow night at the Workers Unite Film Festival in New York. Come on out if you are around. I will be signing books as well. And remember to preorder Out of Sight if you have not. It comes out for real on June 2.

The New Military Urbanism

[ 90 ] May 10, 2015 |

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Bryan Finoki has a good article on how cities have redesigned spaces in order to declare a low-level war on the homeless, or as Steven Graham call it, “the new military urbanism.” By erecting barriers that prevent the homeless from sleeping, the cities make themselves friendly for corporations and the image of a smooth run enterprise without the messiness that corporate leaders might not like. But this is fact a version of class warfare. Finoki:

Because of the homeless’ permanent existence in the outer public domain, they are particularly prone to architecture as something that has been designed to be specifically hostile to them, yet camouflaged into the normal fabric as permanent barriers. The post-9/11 makeover of the urban environment only served to justify the intensification of this process under a new name. For the homeless populations struggling to survive in the neoliberal city, urban design translates into an infinitely inhospitable surface; a brutal run-away edge that they can neither penetrate nor separate themselves from.

While the conditions of homelessness are the result of many complex and largely misunderstood—and misrepresented—sociocultural underpinnings, they partially thrive within the inhumane trappings of the built environment’s architectural surfaces themselves. For those who are pushed towards the outside, the city is a colossal mega-structure that sustains only their permanent exteriorization. It is a city designed to ensure the near impossibility of their inhabitation. Between the vitriol of those who wish to see the homeless simply disappear and the militancy of advocates devoted to homeless rights and resistance, the policing of homelessness pushes them ever toward the city’s edge. The homeless are essentially being made into anti-monumental ghosts—ghosts of an architectural surface that makes them disappear.

Effectively, he’s describing the city of the New Gilded Age, a space where the poor are driven away, where class is erased by eliminating those who would remind us it exists and where billionaires can be comfortable. In other words, welcome to global Bloombergville.

Condors

[ 7 ] May 10, 2015 |

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This is a good piece on the problems facing the Andean condor, the world’s second largest bird. Basically, even though condors, like other vultures, do the ecosystem a tremendous amount of service by eating carrion, South American farmers see them as enemies and shoot them. Populations are in decline in most of its range. This can change. It takes an active government effort. Among the many effective government actions in U.S. history for instance was the creation of hunting laws, hunting seasons, hunting licenses, and other actions to eliminate the hunting commons that was the entire U.S. up to the late 19th century. This prevented deer, elk, bear, bison, and other large animals from extinction. It’s hard to believe today that deer were extirpated from many states in 1900, but it is true. Bolivia and Peru could do the same thing and protect these animals by vigorously prosecuting their killings. Will they? Unlikely.

I also have an Andean condor story to tell. In 2008, I traveled in Bolivia for 5 weeks, one of the most important experiences of my life. I’ve talked about this before in terms of the impact of mining on the nation and its people. Toward the end of the trip, I was on the eastern slopes of the Andes, a couple hours west of Santa Cruz. We had a day to kill and so the guy we were staying with said he’d take us on a hike. He didn’t really say what we would see except a waterfall. As these things go in much of the world, the trail was straight up the mountain. So after huffing and puffing to this overlook (and seeing a quetzal (either a crested or golden-headed, both of which are pretty cool but I’m not sure which) which I had seen before in Costa Rica but is still a jaw-dropping bird no matter how many times you see them), we just stopped and waited. We were getting bored. After about 45 minutes, all of a sudden all these Andean condors started flying in from all directions to bathe in the waterfall! There were like 15 of them. They were flying the wind currents which were right above us. So here the second largest bird in the world is maybe 15 feet above my head. It was, to say the least, amazing. Perhaps the best wildlife experience of my life. These are some big birds.

Anyway, some of it is personal to me, but I very much hope the Andean condors get saved. I wonder how many of the birds I saw that day were later shot by farmers. Probably most of them. Very sad.

Those Lazy Professors

[ 91 ] May 10, 2015 |

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Another day, another old professor at an elite institution bloviates about how professors just aren’t like they used to be. He decides by talking to Todd Gitlin for some reason that professors are just service providers today, that they don’t challenge their students, and that professors are in part responsible for the change in student culture that sees education as hoop to jump through to make money. The last point is of course just dumb. As for the other points, let’s go to The Tattooed Professor:

It’s easy to tell your colleagues that they’re too engaged in research, and not enough with students, when you teach at an institution that has a 2-2 (maximum) class load and ample support for research. It’s easy for someone at Princeton to tell us we’re doing conferences wrong because they go to so many that all the annoying things that happen there run together after a while. Oh, they wail, if only our academia was like it Used To Be.

This is academic classism, pure and simple. In its shallow portrait of student attitudes and naive calls for professors to be moral authorities and fearsome minds, Bauerlein ignores what is happening outside the walls of his tiny elite cloister, perched amongst the ivy and resting comfortably on scads of tuition dollars and a jumbo-sized endowment. “What’s the point of a professor,” he asks? Let me tell you one answer.

In my Tiny Liberal Arts College With Professional Programs Too, a professor teaches four (sometimes more) classes a semester. These professors also advise anywhere from 10 to 40 students (unlike large, R1 institutions, we do not use professional or departmental advisors). They sponsor and advise student organizations. Our one-person Theatre Department runs four productions a year, our two-person Music Department sponsors a pep band and a choir that travels across the US and over to Europe, guided and mentored (and chaperoned, and checked into their hostels) by their professors. These professors will knock on a dorm room door if one of their students has missed several classes and is in jeopardy of being on academic probation (this may or may not have been someone who looked remarkably like me). These professors are on the hospital floor for 8-hour clinicals with a cohort of 19-year-old Nursing majors. They help find translators for a Bosnian student’s parents (who don’t speak English) to open up a bank account in town. They sit through interminable afternoon meetings and then teach a three-hour Social Work seminar two nights a week. These professors go to their student’s graduation parties, they get thank-you cards from grateful students (and relieved parents*), they go to former students’ weddings, they are invited to law school commencements for former advisees.They take students who don’t think they’ll ever understand Foucault or Hayden White and help them get admitted to a top graduate program a year later. They tell students who have been told they’re less-than all of their lives that they are capable, and that they can do this thing. And then many of those students go on to do that thing. And as Director of our Teaching Center, I can personally attest to the fact that they TEACH THE SHIT OUT OF THEIR FIELDS in the classroom. Oh, and we still write articles and books and speak at conferences.

We. Have. A. Point.

Moreover, our students know it.

It’s not that a professor at Emory knows nothing about how higher education operates for 90 percent of the professors (not to mention the legions of adjuncts and non-tenure track faculty) and 90 percent of the students that bothers me. He’s in his elite bubble. It’s that people like this then decide to pontificate about the state of higher education and that publications like the Times are happy to publish said pontifications. These sorts of articles then reinforce popular narratives about professors being lazy slackers. Who couldn’t see the people behind the North Carolina proposal to make all professors, even at Chapel Hill, teach a 4-4 every semester finding this extremely useful in making their arguments? Meanwhile, the rest of us, and many far more than myself who am in a relatively privileged position, are publishing, teaching, serving on committees, and going above and beyond anything required in our contracts to give our students the best education possible while staying active in the profession, publishing books, and making the campus operate by serving on committees.

But what is this to an Emory professor who doesn’t have to do most of these things and who has such a light teaching schedule that he has time to write op-eds in the New York Times about how lazy his colleagues are?

Huckabee on Life of Brian

[ 67 ] May 10, 2015 |

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In 1979, Mike Huckabee gave a sermon that included a discussion of Life of Brian.

There was a time in this country when a movie like The Life of Brian which, I just read — thank God the theaters in Little Rock decided not to show, but it’s showing all over the Fort Worth–Dallas area, which is a mockery, which is a blasphemy against the very name of Jesus Christ, and I can remember a day even as young as I am when that would not have happened in this country or in the city in the South.

I wonder if there’s anything else the 1979 version of Mike Huckabee can nostalgically remember not happening in the South of his youth?

But friend, it’s happening all over and no one’s blinking an eye, and we can talk about how the devil’s moved in and the devil’s moved in but what’s really happened is God’s people have moved out and made room for it. We’ve put up the for sale sign and we’ve announced a very cheap price for what our lives really are. We’ve sold our character, we’ve sold our convictions, we’ve compromised, we’ve sold out and as a result we’ve moved out the devil’s moved in and he’s set up shop. And friend [he’s] preying on our own craving for pleasure.

I for one crave catchy songs while being nailed to the cross.

McDonald’s

[ 234 ] May 9, 2015 |

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Willard Scott as Ronald McDonald

McDonald’s constant gimmicks to reinvent itself are ridiculous and hilarious. Yes, I’m sure breakfast bowls with kale are totally going to revolutionize the chain, bringing it back to the glories of decades past! And I know, what if we reinvent the Hamburglar! This is a brilliant idea because I just learned about Poochie and thought it was a model for how I could totally leverage remaking one of our characters for a corporate synergy!

Now, I admit I am not a corporate hack with a talent for meaningless mumbo-jumbo so what do I know. But if McDonald’s wants to reinvent itself, why not, oh I don’t know, produce a burger that’s not disgusting? I mean, call me crazy. But if you are getting killed by Five Guys, Chipotle, and many other upstarts, maybe you should realize what Five Guys does better than you, which is to produce a burger that is not disgusting. Keep the fries–they’re great! And then combine them with a burger that is not grey and with toppings that have even modicum of character.

Is this that hard to figure out? With all of McDonald’s other advantages either gone or mitigated by changing times–a lack of competition from higher end fast food changes, the decline of the car culture that fueled its early years combined with every other chain having driving through windows, that it is no longer a destination for children, etc–doesn’t it have to compete with its actual product? I suppose it could pull a rabbit from the hat like it did with chicken nuggets in the 80s or like Taco Bell with its Doritos tacos, but one can hardly count on that. And said miracle product is surely not going to be a kale breakfast bowl. Given the incredibly low standards of the product at McDonald’s (again, outside of the fries), it’s not surprising it is becoming the K-Mart of the food industry.

Japanese Whitewashing of the Past

[ 72 ] May 9, 2015 |

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187 of the world’s most prominent historians of Japan have written an open letter to Japanese prime minister Shinzo Abe, urging that he stop whitewashing the atrocities committed by the Japanese during World War II. You can read the letter here. Of course, Japanese right-wingers refuse to allow this to happen, denying horrors ranging from the sexual slavery of comfort women to the depredations at Nanking. Abe has been pretty awful on these issues:

Earlier this year Japan took the unusual step of requesting the US textbook company McGraw-Hill to change its account of Japan’s wartime practice of rounding up women in occupied nations and providing them as sex partners for its soldiers. Abe himself has been part of an effort to suggest the women behaved in a voluntary manner in nations like Korea, and that local Koreans organized the military brothels, not Japan.

The 187 historians took exception with that revision:

“The ‘comfort women’ system was distinguished by its large scale and systematic management under the military, and by its exploitation of young, poor, and vulnerable women in areas colonized or occupied by Japan,” their letter said.

Incidentally, I just watched this documentary on Nanking earlier this week and I highly recommend it, disturbing as it is.

Livestock and Riparian Ecosystems

[ 7 ] May 9, 2015 |

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Nothing motivates the LGM readership like the relationship between agriculture and riparian ecosystems so let’s start this Saturday morning with me recommending you read this report from the Chesapeake Bay Commission on the need to keep livestock out of waterways. Basically, most livestock are allowed to enter riparian ecosystems where they cause shocking damage. But it’s really not that hard to restore riparian ecosystems to reasonable health if the cattle are left out. You create cleaner water, greater biodiversity, and arguably more profitable farming. But it often doesn’t happen for complex reasons the report lays out for the reader quite effectively that revolve around distrust of government, tradition, and regulatory complexity. Given how an organization like the CBC needs to carefully tread very conservative institutions, it’s a pretty good report with a lot of useful suggestions that environmentalists should prioritize.

I will however say that whoever chose the color scheme in that report needs retraining as that pink screen is truly blinding.

Judicial Genuflection before Capitalists: New Gilded Age Style

[ 52 ] May 8, 2015 |

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One sign of the New Gilded Age is how the courts back up obnoxious aggressive corporate behavior against citizen activism. In the first Gilded Age, this would happen in all sorts of ways, perhaps most prominently in completely disregarding the Sherman Anti-Trust Act when it could be applied to corporations but creating reasons to apply it against unions in order to bust their strikers. While on the federal level the upsurge in Obama-appointed judges after the judicial filibuster was broken is providing some buffer against this, in Republican states, the courts are issuing increasingly ridiculous decisions.

Take this example from, you guessed it, Texas. A fracking operation opened near a house. The residents of that house could then set their tap water on fire. They filmed it and complained. The company responded by filing a defamation suit. Even though this is absurd, there’s no way a regular family can fight this because they don’t have the money. The Texas Supreme Court said the defamation suit can go forward. The family now basically has no choice but take whatever the company offers to settle their complaints without actually solving any of the problems.

Mission Accomplished

[ 56 ] May 8, 2015 |

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Jeb is really starting his campaign on a high point.

The Washington Post reported that Jeb cited his brother as an adviser on Israel, however, four sources confirmed to CNN that the comments were focused on foreign policy more broadly. Three of them said Jeb noted his brother was an adviser on the Middle East.

One of the people in the room jotted down Jeb’s comment as such: “What you need to know is that who I listen to when I need advice on the Middle East is George W. Bush.”

OK.

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