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Will Friedrichs Free Union Activities?

[ 20 ] January 28, 2016 |

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No, of course not. But that’s not going to stop some labor reporters from trying to make the case, as they usually do with anti-labor legislation or decisions. In this case, Shaun Richman claims it could help unions escape speech restrictions that limit their activities.

Public sector unions, whose ability to function is immediately at stake in the Friedrichs case, are not covered by the federal labor act. Instead, many states passed laws that are modeled on the NLRA. But with a crucial difference: when bosses get to pass laws that apply to their employees (which, if you think about it, is exactly what public sector labor law represents), they’re guaranteed to make it even more unfavorable than private sector rules.

Unsurprisingly, many states make strikes by public sector employees like the CUNY faculty and staff totally illegal, or else severely restrict them. Many states also make many union demands illegal, either by statute or by judicial decisions. The Friedrichs case, by inserting public employees’ 1st Amendment rights into collective bargaining could give unions a very useful tool for reversing many anti-union measures that are on the books.

So, in order to overturn this long-settled precedent the parties behind Friedrichs—egged on by Justice Alito—are lodging a wildly expansive argument that every interaction that a union has with its government employer is inherently political. Bargaining demands, grievances, labor-management committees, job actions: all of it, goes the Friedrichs argument, is political, thereby making the collection of agency fees compelled political speech.

Let’s think about some of the implications of this argument. For starters, the Taylor law that tells CUNY faculty and staff that they will be fined and their leaders imprisoned if they strike seems clearly to be a coercive restriction on their chosen method of political speech. If the Professional Staff Congress is hit with any penalties for either planning or going through with a job action, one hopes they can time their appeals to reach higher level courts after the Friedrichs decision comes down in June.

Perhaps most deliciously, the right-wing Friedrichs effort is in direct opposition to Gov. Scott Walker’s offensive agenda in Wisconsin. Walker’s anti-union Act 10 did a lot of nasty things to public employees, some of which will continue to stand. It took away payroll deduction and forced unions to annually recertify as the collective bargaining agents for their members.

But what mostly caused union membership to plummet in the state was that certified unions were prohibited from bargaining over anything of substance; not just raises that exceed inflation, but duties, hours and work schedules and every other everyday issue that workers want to have a voice at work about.

If Justice Alito gets his way, then Scott Walker is suddenly massively violating the free speech rights of Wisconsin public employees. I humbly suggest that every union still certified demand to bargain the day after the decision. They could throw their old contracts on the table and sue every school board and state agency that refuses to discuss those items. I’d also suggest that they begin drawing up some new picket signs.

The problem with this is political. It’s entirely likely that the partisan New Gilded Age SCOTUS hacks who would make Stephen Field and David Brewer proud will simply issue a ruling on these issues contradictory to Friedrichs to fit their own political positions. Maybe there’s an interesting precedent here, but these precedents have to be recognized by courts first. I sure don’t see Alito and Roberts doing so. Friedrichs itself is already going to be counter to the Court’s own rulings on corporate free speech. Look at Kennedy’s reasoning in oral arguments:

There is another important distinction between the teachers who brought the new case and investors in companies. The First Amendment is a limit on government power, and it does not directly affect private agreements, whether between companies and shareholders or between private employers and their workers.

But at last week’s argument, Justice Kennedy mused about whether that should be so, at least in the context of labor unions.

“I think that’s correct as a basic distinction,” he said of the difference between the government and private employers. But he told the teachers’ lawyer that laws requiring workers at private firms to pay fees to their unions could also raise a First Amendment problem.

“That is state participation in the very kind of coerced membership and coerced speech that you’re objecting to,” Justice Kennedy said of such laws.

Also, I think Richman misstates what caused union membership in Wisconsin to collapse, for which I think there are a cluster of reasons, including that a whole lot of union members were also Walker supporters and were not active in their union to begin with, along with the unions not being prepared for this and thus being caught unawares.

Richman is certainly right that unions had better have a Plan B. And they do, although how fast its implementation will be remains unknown. But it’s not like they don’t all think they know what is about to happen to them. No one is sitting back and assuming Scalia won’t go along with his Republican colleagues.

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Challenger

[ 302 ] January 28, 2016 |

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Thirty years ago today, I, like millions of other children around the United States, was in front of a TV at school watching the first teacher fly into space. What I saw instead was the Challenger explode. I believe this is the news moment of my generation–what the Kennedy assassination was for older people and what 9/11 was for a generation younger. It’s one event where almost everyone remembers where they were when it happened. Partly that’s because the answer was watching it live. Moreover, 1986 was the end of the golden age of the space program. The moon landings, Mars explorations, Skylab, the space shuttles–through all of this the era of people in space seemed possible. Sending a teacher into space was a brilliant move by NASA to inspire a new generation. What it did though was kill the generation’s interest in space programs. The only thing to inspire people in the last 30 years is Hubble and that’s very different from manned space stations. The idea of exploring space as the final frontier is no more, just a realm of science fiction. I strongly believe the Challenger explosion is the primary reason. NASA has contracted out with private companies to develop trips into space. We’ll see.

Cobalt Workers and the Global Supply Chain

[ 34 ] January 28, 2016 |

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Once again, investigators are exposing the horrors of the global supply chain that corporations rely on for their raw materials and much of their production. This time it is the cobalt used in the tech and automotive industries. Bad stuff here:

Cobalt mined by child laborers in the Democratic Republic of the Congo may be entering the supply chains of major tech companies like Apple, Samsung, and Microsoft, as well as auto manufacturers like Volkswagen and Daimler AG, according to an investigation from Amnesty International and Afrewatch, a DRC-based non-government organization.

The report, released today, lays out how cobalt mined by children as young as seven is sold to a DRC-based subsidiary of Huayou Cobalt, a Chinese company. The subsidiary, Congo Dongfang Mining International (CDM), processes cobalt ore and sells it to companies in China and South Korea, where it is used to manufacture lithium-ion batteries for use in smartphones and electric cars. Amnesty contacted 16 multinational companies listed as customers of the battery makers, based on investor documents and public records. Most said they were unaware of any links to the companies cited in the report, while others, like Apple and Microsoft, said they were evaluating their supply chains. Amnesty says that none of the companies provided enough information to independently verify the origin of their cobalt supply.

The investigation is based on interviews with 87 people who work or have worked in informal, artisanal cobalt mines in the DRC, including 17 children between the ages of 9 and 17. Amnesty and Afrewatch obtained photographic and video evidence of the hazardous conditions in which many of the miners work, often without basic protective gear or safety guidelines. The children interviewed for the report said they work up to 12 hours a day to earn between $1 and $2, and typically work above ground, gathering and washing rocks from defunct industrial sites or nearby lakes and rivers.

They carry heavy loads, face physical abuse, and are regularly exposed to dangerous chemicals and dust, the report says, risking long-term lung disease and in some cases, death. Prolonged exposure to cobalt dust has been linked to “hard metal lung disease,” which is potentially fatal, and many artisanal mines are poorly constructed and ventilated. At least 80 artisanal miners died in the DRC between September 2014 and December 2015, according to information gathered from a UN-operated radio station, though the report notes that the true figure is likely much higher since many accidents are not reported.

The parameters for a solution here is actually fairly simple–Apple and Samsung and Daimler and the other corporations need to be held legally accountable to international labor standards over child labor, workplace safety, wages, and treatment of workers on the job. The corporations say it would be too hard to monitor these workplaces, but this is of course ridiculous. They just don’t want to do it. It would not cost a lot of money to have one or two people on site that inspected the mines, made sure there were no children there, and told recalcitrant employers that they would no longer accept their cobalt if they didn’t fix the problems. They just don’t want to bother. Yes, to make this effective, we have to have enforcement mechanisms and that isn’t happening overnight. But these problems and the other problems I lay out in Out of Sight are political problems. It takes no great imagination to work out a regulatory regime once the political problem is solved. That’s where we need to be imaginative and put our political pressure. That’s how we stop kids from dying while mining cobalt. I would hope all of us would consider this a political priority. Alas, I do not believe most progressives even care about this at all outside of just a vague “yeah, that’s pretty bad” sentiment. We did have one victory on this when the Dodd-Frank Act required publicly traded companies to at least disclose whether they use conflict materials. That’s information we can use to ratchet up the political pressure.

A Story of Justice and Victory

[ 6 ] January 28, 2016 |

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There’s a lot of bad news in the world. Employers treat employees horribly around the world and it is mostly getting worse thanks to the global sourcing of production. Domestic employees are often even more exploited. But sometimes it does get better. Such as in Colombia, where this is a story worth celebrating:

Since Ms. Roa quit her last job as a maid in 2005, she has had remarkable success in getting the Colombian government and ordinary citizens to wrestle with that question and reconsider how domestic workers ought to be treated, as a matter of principle and under the law.

Ms. Roa didn’t set out to become an activist or a labor leader. During her first months of unemployment, she heard plenty of harrowing tales from other maids. When a labor organization interviewed her as part of a research study, she wondered whether it might be possible to form a union.

“We are invisible; it’s as though we don’t exist,” Ms. Roa recalls telling other domestic workers. “If we show the state what we go through, they’re going to realize it’s an enormous problem.”

There were plenty of skeptics, but Ms. Roa got leaders at a coalition of labor unions in Medellín to champion her cause. Their efforts, which included a social media campaign called “Let’s Talk About Domestic Workers,” began getting press coverage and the attention of policy makers.

In 2012, Colombian lawmakers agreed to adhere to an International Labour Organization treaty that set international standards for domestic workers. The following year, the Labor Ministry issued rules that require employers to provide health insurance and other standard benefits to domestic workers. The union Ms. Roa leads serves as an advocacy group, but it does not have formal bargaining authority.

This is a fight that is hardly over. It’s also a huge victory for domestic workers and an important precedent that hopefully can be applied around the world. In all the stories we discuss on the problems of the world, we also need to celebrate the victories, however rare. Those are important.

The Public Lands

[ 62 ] January 27, 2016 |

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So the Bundys are in jail, the dude who relied on free labor from foster children on his ranch is dead, and the FBI is pressuring the remaining occupants of the Malheur to leave peacefully. While the death is obviously unfortunate, outside of that, it certainly seems to me that the FBI may have taken too long to act but when they did, they did it in the most appropriate way–off the reserve, away from the offices where everyone was held up. Given that these people believed they could travel freely wherever they wanted and advertised themselves doing it, it wasn’t too hard to find them. Hopefully this stops this “movement” from spreading, as ranchers start getting convinced to tear up their grazing contracts and just let their cows raise hell all over the landscape.

For the rest of us, maybe this is an opportunity to understand what actually happens at a National Wildlife Refuge. What good it is other than a place for birders to go? We know from the recent stories that a lot of these places are multi-use, with cattle grazing on them at very low prices. That this happens at all is unfortunate, but if the ranchers follow the rules, it’s an acceptable compromise. These refuges also undertake all sorts of conservation projects, especially given they are often pretty underfunded by Congress. One major project at the Malheur is ridding public waters of invasive Asian carp, a major problem. Experimenting with what works out here could help this problem nationally. Of course, if the occupiers don’t get out of there and people can’t get back to work, the project could be set back years.

Over the years, the refuge has doused the lake with Rotenone, an aquatic poison, five times. None of the treatments have worked for more than a few years. By the time Beck arrived in Burns in 2009 — she’d moved there from Montana with her husband, who’d returned to work on his father’s ranch — the problem had come to seem intractable. Beck, a longtime federal fisheries biologist who’d researched aquatic invasive species like New Zealand mud snails and whirling disease, had quit her job to relocate to Oregon. Soon after, she turned up at the refuge to volunteer. Two days later, she was hired. Now the carp were her problem.

In the years since, Beck and her colleagues have developed an ambitious carp control playbook. They have installed a bevy of screens and traps to prevent the creatures from moving between water bodies, tracked down their spawning aggregations using telemetry, and experimented with grids that blast eggs and larvae with deadly electrical currents. In 2013, Beck drained 717-acre Boca Lake, creating a smorgasbord of dying carp for pelicans and coyotes, then screened off the lake to prevent future infiltrations. Aquatic vegetation immediately rebounded, followed by bugs, birds and native fish.

Even Malheur Lake, where carp run so thick that their backs create wind-like ripples across the glassy surface, is not beyond hope. A few years back, Beck and other biologists proposed an elegant solution: opening up the lake to commercial fishermen. Hired netters would haul out the carp, which have little market value as human food, and turn them over to Silver Sage Fisheries, a subsidiary separate sister company of Tualatin-based Pacific Foods. The fish would be trucked to Burns, processed into fertilizer, and spread across fields owned by Chuck Eggert, Pacific Foods’ founder. The dead fish would nourish organic hayfields, feed for dairy cows.

“From our perspective, it’s a win-win,” Tim Greseth, executive director of the Oregon Wildlife Heritage Foundation, the nonprofit that helped broker the deal, told me. “We’re restoring the ecology of the lake, putting people to work, and benefiting private enterprise.”

We need way more creative thinking like this that brings together different stakeholders to create a better managed environment. Congress should double the budget for the public lands, precisely so that these programs can be expanded.

Meanwhile, away from the Malheur, the hard work toward unifying public opinion on protecting public lands continues. Here’s a good story on Utah, where environmentalists, local residents, land managers, and politicians are slowly, block by block, moving toward a compromise on protecting some land as wilderness while allowing various forms on access on other lands. I can’t stress enough how hard this is to do, with greens wanting to lock most of this down as wilderness, oil and gas and mining companies wanting it all open to drilling and exploration, and local residents really distrusting those big city liberals who visit their backyards. This is a story from last year, but gets at the point:

Yet for a while, it looked like the Grand Bargain might fall victim to Western politics as usual. Deadlines came and went, and counties remained locked in the same tired battles. Wayne County dropped out of negotiations. A sparsely-populated corner of northeastern Utah called Daggett County was briefly touted as a “model for the nation,” after it became the first to submit an agreement, but then the commissioners who drafted the plan were voted out of office and their replacements reneged. Things were not looking good.

But Bishop remained patient. Now, more than two years after sending the letter, his efforts are paying off. San Juan and Duchesne counties have jumped on-board and are working on proposals. Emery, Summit and Uintah counties have either submitted or are close to submitting proposals. And on April 10, the Grand Bargain got a big boost when Grand County, Utah, submitted its proposal.

Grand County surrounds Arches National Park and the Moab area, spanning 3,694 square miles of mountain-biking, climbing, backpacking, ATVing, desert rat paradise. It’s also one of the most hotly contested parts of the state: Though its economy over the last 30 years has largely shifted from resource extraction to recreation, the county currently has almost no designated wilderness and some 800,000 acres of land open to oil and gas leasing. If a deal can be struck here, where old-school, conservative Utah butts up against more liberal newcomers, then perhaps a Grand Bargain for the rest of the state — and even elsewhere in the West — is also possible.

So what’s in store for Grand County’s famed red rock landscapes? The final package calls for the creation of up to 514,000 acres of wilderness, mostly in the Book Cliffs area, which county council member Chris Baird calls “one of the best examples of what Utah looked like before it was settled by Europeans.” (The final amount of wilderness depends on land swaps with the state. Areas near the Book Cliffs, in Uintah County, could be opened to limited drilling in exchange for wilderness protection in Desolation Canyon.)

None of this is easy. Idiots calling for the end of public control over these lands do not make it easier. Right now, with fireeating Republicans controlling Congress, neofascism dominating the Republican primary, and Republican governors ruling over the majority of states, all of our environmental law and regulatory agencies are under real threat, as Pierce notes here on issues on the EPA and water regulation. Trying to patch together coalitions has to be part of the solution to fight for our environment in all its facets.

Sanders and Trump Would be a Media Elite Dream of a Reasonable Man on a Horse Saving Us Come True

[ 163 ] January 27, 2016 |

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Scott is probably right in dismissing Michael Bloomberg’s daily narcissism as nothing more than attempting to scare the left into voting for Hillary Clinton. At the same time, if the candidates are indeed Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump, there’s a good chance the weirdest presidential election in American history would get even whackier. As Robert Kuttner writes, there really is a good chance of a third party centrist run in this election. Now, I think he’s largely wrong about how these scenarios work out. I am skeptical of a third-party Republican run if Trump wins and runs against Hillary. And I am skeptical of a third-party Democratic run if Sanders wins and runs against Rubio or whoever isn’t Trump or Cruz. There’s enough space there for disgruntled voters to live with the oppositional candidate. And I’m skeptical of some four-way campaign if it Sanders and Trump. Not gonna happen.

But I do absolutely think a 3rd party centrist media darling candidacy may well happen if it is Sanders vs. Trump. Such a person, Bloomberg or otherwise, would have no chance of winning of course or even of winning any states. But that person might well win enough votes to throw a state one way or another. My personal fear is that if a Bloomberg-type ran, he (of course) would maybe receive 10% of the vote, tops. But there would be money behind it and a lot of media coverage. Yet there’s certainly no groundswell of Republican voter outrage that the party will nominate Trump. Republican elites may dominate Meet the Press appearances and New York Times articles, but they sure don’t dominate the poll numbers. And while there’s probably wouldn’t be a big demand among Democrats for a 3rd party candidate either if Sanders won, I do worry that there’s enough Hillary-lovers out there to vote for a moderate Wall Street candidate. The only way any of this matters though is through the states. If we assume, as I do, that were such a candidate to appear they probably would draw more from Democratic voters than Republicans, then it becomes more deadly for Democrats because there are so many states Democrats win by 1-5 points and other than maybe North Carolina, zero states that Republicans win by such a narrow margin. It really wouldn’t take much to bump Ohio or Florida or Virginia to Trump in this scenario.

I may well be just writing scared here. But it’s something I worry about.

And to be clear, I in no way mean this to be a reason not to vote for Sanders. Were he the nominee, my animus would go toward those voting for this theoretical centrist candidate.

London Recruits

[ 19 ] January 27, 2016 |

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This is a really fascinating story of the global struggle against apartheid, with British activists sneaking into South Africa to spread anti-apartheid propaganda and able to do so because the South African government simply assumed that all whites supported white supremacy so why would anyone do this?

Ronald “Ronnie” Kasrils was a white man born in Johannesburg, South Africa, the grandson of Jewish immigrants, who became a leader in the anti-apartheid struggle. In the early 1960s he joined Umkhonto we Sizwe (Spear of the Nation in the isiZulu language), an offshoot of the African National Congress (ANC), and soon became the MK Commander in Natal province. By 1964, the movement inside the country had been crushed; to escape, Kasrils went into exile.

In 1965, Oliver Tambo, the President of the ANC who was then based in Zambia, had just begun to build a global solidarity movement. Their aim was to pressure the white minority government in South Africa to abandon apartheid. Their only recourse: take the struggle outside of South Africa to overthrow apartheid inside of it.

Tambo dispatched Kasrils to London, a city with long and deep connections to South Africa due to centuries of imperialism and migration. Along with a few other exiles, Kasril’s task was to recruit white men and women to join the movement. He found some at the left-leaning London School of Economics, but most came from the Young Communist League, which agreed to select suitable members (mostly workers) to pass on to him.

After modest training, from 1967 through 1971, teams of two flew to South Africa with fake-bottomed suitcases containing anti-apartheid propaganda and explosives. Tambo was correct that foreign whites easily could travel to South Africa: white South Africans presumed all Europeans supported white supremacy.

Posing as tourists, honeymooners or businessmen, they exploded leaflet bombs, unfurled anti-apartheid banners and promoted the struggle in other clever ways. They simultaneously coordinated their actions in important South African cities. One such leaflet declared: “The ANC says to Vorster [South Africa’s prime minister at the time] and his gang: Your days are coming to an end” and “We will take back our country!”

No one ever was hurt during these actions, though two were captured in 1972 and spent most of the 1970s in brutal South African prisons. By the early-mid 1970s, the movement inside South Africa had revived as the exile movement grew in numbers and strength.

So many interesting complexities in the history of the global anti-colonial struggle.

What is Cultural Appropriation?

[ 330 ] January 27, 2016 |

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I found the comments to yesterday’s post on cultural appropriation bizarre. That’s because many commenters do not seem to have a functional definition of cultural appropriation. There were multiple versions of comments like, “I eat Mexican food so are you accusing me of culturally appropriating Mexican food?” Um, no.

This all reminded of the housing and schooling posts where I state that moving to the suburbs for the schools is a racist act in that people took this as a direct attack upon their own privilege. With the housing posts, that is an intentional provocation on my part. This sort of thing was by no means intended in yesterday’s post. But white liberals can be very, very defensive about their own privilege because they see themselves as trying to do the right thing.

So what actually is cultural appropriation, at least when it comes to food. Thanks to UncleEbenzeer for tracking this down and placing it in the thread.

Only a dominant culture can “appropriate” another culture, and only a systematically oppressed culture can “be appropriated.” Because what’s bad about it only stems from that specific power relationship. You can’t understand cultural appropriation without understanding the role that power dynamic plays in producing the effects that people are finding problematic. You also, of course, can’t understand cultural appropriation if you don’t actually listen to what people are saying is problematic about it.

Kuo linked to an authority at Hipster Appropriations on the cultural appropriation of foods, which I can tell Coyne did not read (white man can’t be bothered, his ignorant rage too important for research). Yet it lays it all out very clearly:

So let’s begin with what I don’t think constitutes cultural appropriation of food, to get some of the angsty stuff out of the way. I don’t believe it is cultural appropriation to:

eat food from another culture
to learn how to cook food from another culture
to modify recipes from another culture for your own enjoyment
to eat at restaurants, authentic or otherwise, that serve food from another culture
to enjoy learning about another culture thru the traditional and/or modern foods of that culture

Instead, cultural appropriation does any or all of these things (at a minimum):

Despoliation (intentional or not)
Fetishization (stereotyping, othering, etc.)
Theft (claiming a thing as your own, erasing the inventors)

Despoliation can be direct, as in actually entering a country and walking off with its statues and historical heritage. Or it can be indirect. For example, due to the enormous wealth differential created by the power imbalance between a dominant and a dominated culture, a component of a culture can start to become inaccessible even to its originators. As the Hipster Appropriations article says, cultural appropriation includes “making it difficult for those of the culture from which it stems to gain access to” a part of their own culture. Quinoa, for example. Which I already dealt with above. But they illustrate what this would be like by reversing the POV and having the same thing happen to apples in America. Incidentally, reversing POV like that (what I have called “forced perspective” reasoning) is a crucial skill for critical thinking, essential to understanding all discourse about social justice whatever (I discussed this before in the context of feminism). Coyne, Dawkins, Boghossian: They really need to learn this skill. Badly. (Although I think Boghossian might be a lost cause.)

Fetishization can manifest in all manner of unempathetic or historically ignorant insensitivity. Kuo’s points provide many examples. In recent news is the practice of white folk dressing up like Native Americans or wearing blackface, both of which are extremely insensitive, displaying an ignorance of the horrific history these practices mock, an ignorance that is itself a manifestation of white privilege: Native Americans and African Americans don’t have the privilege of forgetting the genocidal brutalization we subjected their ancestors to, and the long history of racism embodied in such mimicry of what “they” “look” like. This does not mean we can’t ever dress as historical persons in those groups. It simply must be done sensitively and seriously, and not ignorantly or frivolously. To understand the distinctions and why it matters, see my comment analyzing the difference between appropriating a culture, and honoring a culture by representing one of its heroes to the public.

Theft means in the intellectual property sense, not in the physical object sense. Cultural appropriation as stealing means borrowing some idea from an oppressed culture, and then pretending or thinking the dominant culture created it, or simply erasing the role of the originators. In other words, not giving credit where credit is due. Stealing the credit. Or simply eliminating the credit. The history of Rock & Roll, for example, famously exhibits components of this. I’m sorry white people, but Elvis was not really the King. Racism resulted in white people being credited with inventing everything, and the black artists who actually did, gradually came to be sidelined and eventually forgotten. That’s sad. And we should not be proud of it. Nor should we want to repeat the behavior.

This does not mean all accusations of cultural appropriation are equal, or even correct. Some I’m sure are silly or frivolous or even indefensible. But there being stupid claims of a thing does not mean there are not sound claims of that thing. As I’m constantly pointing out in my study of the historicity of Jesus: that all kinds of stupid, unsourced nonsense gets said about Mithras and Horus, does not mean there aren’t genuine predecessors of the dying-and-rising savior god mytheme that Jesus was modeled on (such as Osiris, Zalmoxis, Romulus, and Inanna). Learn how to distinguish the wheat from the chaff. But doing that requires understanding what we are talking about and why it is a problem.

Now, one can argue whether or not Whole Foods engages in cultural appropriation or not. I would argue that it frequently does and by “introducing” collard greens to its wealthy white clientele without some discussion of their history and place within American culture that it was doing so here, albeit it in a minor and relatively innocuous way. Others may disagree. But let’s at least come to this argument with a functional definition of cultural appropriation. The definition above suffices quite well.

And no, just because you are white and like Thai food does not mean you are appropriating culture.

Food, Authenticity, Cultural Appropriation

[ 308 ] January 26, 2016 |

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I know we need another discussion of the relationship between food and authenticity like we need another post about Hillary or Bernie, Which One Will Save America and Which One is Horrible? But I could not help being typically annoyed by Conor Friedersdorf’s post on collard greens and Twitter. Basically, Whole Foods tweeted out a recipe on collard greens that included cooking them in peanuts. A number of African-Americans called Whole Foods out on this, saying that the grocery store was cooking collards in an inauthnetic manner and was engaging in cultural appropriation. Friedersdorf found it necessary to devote an entire column to defending the corporation and tsk-tsking reporters for not doing research on this very important matter.

Pretty dumb all around. Yet perhaps worth a bit of commentary.

First, given that Whole Foods barely serves people of color at all and certainly avoids poor communities like the plague, the company deserves to take some shots. Usually, the only non-white people in Whole Foods is those happy looking Salvadoran coffee farmers in pictures hanging from the ceiling. This is a corporation dedicating to providing good food to rich people who can actually afford it, all while making sure employees don’t have a union. Whole Foods is happy to package traditional foods to white people (and often ripping them off for that food) without even mentioning where these food traditions come from. That is indeed cultural appropriation and given that whites have been appropriating black culture since slavery without giving credit, it’s hardly outrageous that some African-Americans would lob this accusation. It’s justified. If Whole Foods actually cared about serving communities of color, maybe it would have a defense. As is, the company sees the traditions of communities of color around the world as little more than a place to generate ideas that can be sold to rich whites.

That said, people can cook collard greens any dang way they want. While a well-brewed pot of collard greens is pretty fantastic (and allow to highly recommend the collards at Gladys Kitchen in Americus, Georgia, as well as the amazing fried chicken and desserts, where I ate last week), let’s face it, greens boiled to nothing is not usually the greatest way to prepare them. If they are good with peanuts, even if black people don’t eat them that way, I guess that’s OK.

As for shaming journalists and their research, I’d probably be more sympathetic to this if it wasn’t coming from someone with an ego the size of Friedersdorf. That a white male libertarian finds it necessary to defend a corporation hardly impressed me either. But really, a journalist who pretty much made his name on the internet complaining about internet journalism is eye-rolling.

In any case, traditional foods can always be changed and improved upon. There’s not a single “authentic” way to cook anything. There are better and worse ways to cook them. There are traditional ways that are not per se good or bad. This doesn’t mean we can’t reject and mock bad ideas, say, tomato ketchup or, god forbid, the tacos I saw but very much did not eat in a western Pennsylvania bar last week that consisted of ground beef, sauerkraut, and 1000 Island dressing. But obviously there’s nothing wrong with figuring out what would be really awesome in tacos that one would never see in Mexico (Korean tacos!). Or figuring out what would taste way better than canned mushrooms and canned olives on pizza.* It’s the same with cooking greens. However, it would also be nice if Whole Foods didn’t act like this beneficent wonderful corporation providing the secret to good food for people when African-Americans (and some whites of course!) in fact have known about these greens for hundreds of years. There’s plenty of reason for grousing all around. Probably not enough for an Atlantic column though. For a LGM post, well, it’s not like we have standards.

*I confess to deviating from the official LGM line that pineapple is a bad pizza topping. I like it.

Marijuana and Labor

[ 8 ] January 26, 2016 |

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Most people don’t care about labor law. Most people don’t care about union politics or strategies either. That includes most progressives. But there are occasions where the intricate details of labor strategy do see the light of publications because of the industry. The best example of this is in the professional sports unions, because people are fans of the Pittsburgh Steelers far more than they are fans of U.S. Steel. It provides an opening for a more nuanced and detailed discussion than usual. Among certain circles, this is also true of the newly legalized marijuana industry in the four relevant states of Colorado, Washington, Oregon, and Alaska. So how could marijuana workers unionize? Raymond Hogler:

One union strategy is to ignore federal law and engage employers through a cooperative strategy modeled on the employee representation plans popular in the U.S. in the early 1900s. The ERPs, as they were known, featured elected employee delegates who dealt with the employer on workers’ behalf. The landmark example is the plan created by John Rockefeller Jr. and MacKenzie King following the Ludlow Massacre of 1914. Rockefeller’s ideal of industrial democracy created a national template for employment relations until the New Deal and led to a vast expansion of company unions.

Sen. Robert Wagner (D-N.Y.), the author of the NLRA, viewed ERPs as incompatible with the macroeconomic function of collective bargaining and outlawed them in Section 8(2) of the NLRA. In Wagner’s view, those entities could not effectively raise wages for workers and overcome the effects of the Great Depression. The ban is still in place, and it explains the highly publicized union drive at Volkswagen in Chattanooga, Tenn. The auto manufacturer agreed to union participation in its works council, but it insisted that the United Auto Workers win recognition as a representative under NLRB procedures. Volkswagen eventually accepted the union based on authorization cards and established a formal relationship. The UAW soon thereafter released a statement describing its “new vision for the future of unionization” through the works council.

Given the ambiguity of our labor law, cannabis workers and the UFCW might approach employers with a similar scheme for representation. The strategy would not require certification at the state or federal level, and it could be formalized through a memorandum of understanding setting forth the basic rights of the parties. The agreement could contain provisions for arbitration to resolve any disputes about its terms. The cigar manufacturing firm of Straiton & Storm developed such a program in the 1880s, and company president George Storm a few years later testified before a congressional committee about the virtues of the system for both labor and management. ERPs could easily be used the same way in the cannabis industry.

A second innovative approach is to bring the sale of cannabis under direct state control and treat workers as public-sector employees with collective bargaining rights conferred by the state. Don Stevens, the mayor of North Bonneville, Wash., created a public development authority under state municipal law to fund a retail marijuana outlet. Stevens believes that his town drug store is unique in the country, if not the world (his business cards are titled the “The Marijuana Mayor”). The operation has repaid its initial financing and will soon be making a profit that can be dedicated to improving parks, roads, schools and other municipal functions. As government employees, the store’s workers are eligible to unionize under state law if they want. Stevens says they have the same wages and benefits as other municipal employees and, as a result, are more than satisfied with their jobs.

In other words, these are options available to a wide number of workers, but it’s useful to think about them in terms of this newly legalized sector. The idea of making weed workers state workers is also enough to make any conservative head explode.

Hillary and the Dunning School

[ 258 ] January 26, 2016 |

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Um, Hillary?

Hillary Clinton turned in a skillful performance at CNN’s Democratic Town Hall in Iowa on Monday night, deftly answering questions on topics ranging from Benghazi to her personal trustworthiness. But the presidential hopeful sparked accusations of historical revisionism with an answer near the end of the evening, when Clinton seemed to bemoan the process of Reconstruction.

The answer: Identifying Abraham Lincoln — not her husband Bill Clinton nor former rival and boss Barack Obama — as the president who most inspired her, Clinton lauded the 16th chief executive as a figure who “was willing to reconcile and forgive.”

“And I don’t know what our country might have been like had he not been murdered, but I bet that it might have been a little less rancor, a little more forgiving and tolerant than might possibly have brought people back together more quickly,” Clinton continued. “But instead, you know, we had Reconstruction, we had the reigns of segregation and Jim Crow. We had people in the South feeling totally discouraged and defiant. So, I really do believe he could have very well put us on a different path.”

Wow. I am going to be charitable here and say that Hillary hasn’t really thought about Reconstruction in any meaningful way since she took college level history in the 1960s, when the Dunning School was still in vogue for some historians. But this is pretty awful to say in 2016. I’ve been as concerned as anyone about Bernie Sanders’ tone deafness on race, but this is worse than anything he has said or not said about Black Lives Matter. Reconstruction is pretty much the ultimate version of Black Lives Matter and Hillary’s response is that if only southern whites had been mollified after the Civil War, everything would be OK? Yikes.

I will also say that after 8 years of Barack Obama, it is rather depressing to have the two major Democratic candidates both fundamentally not understand why race matters so much in this country. Barack Obama gets it because he has to get it. It’d be nice to see Sanders and Clinton at least try to get it. Given the poor response of both to America’s racial problems, I guess it made more sense for Jim Webb to run as a Democrat in 2016 than I thought!

You May Not Be Surprised That…..

[ 16 ] January 26, 2016 |

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Media coverage of women’s reproductive issues relies heavily on male voices:

“When it comes to stories about abortion and contraception, women’s voices are systematically stifled – as writers and as sources,” said Julie Burton, president of the Women’s Media Center. Burton noted, “In articles about elections and reproductive issues, men’s voices prevail, especially in coverage of presidential campaigns, with male reporters telling 67 percent of all presidential election stories related to abortion and contraception.”

The gender of the reporter appears to affect whom they choose to quote and how they cover the story. WMC’s research shows that female journalists quote women more often than their male counterparts, while quotes from male sources predominate in articles written by men. Gloria Steinem, co-founder of the Women’s Media Center noted, “Since women play a greater role in reproduction, it would make sense for women to be the majority of the sources and authorities in its coverage.”

WMC research shows male voices dominate reproductive issues coverage as journalists and as sources. Female journalists wrote just 37 percent of articles about reproductive issues while their male counterparts penned 52 percent. Another 11 percent did not have bylines. Quotes from men account for 41 percent of all quotes in articles about reproductive issues while quotes from women account for just 33 percent.

Why, it’s almost as if sexism hasn’t been conquered in this nation! But then again, why listen to a woman talk about her own body when a man should be doing it for her….

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