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Remind Me Why We Shouldn’t Hold CEOs Criminally Responsible for Their Supply Chains

[ 56 ] October 26, 2015 |


This story on Indian children digging mica for western cosmetics companies is distressing but also reminds us why we cannot allow corporations to escape legal responsibility for conditions in their supply chains.

Her face caked in dirt and hair matted with sweat, eight-year-old Lalita Kumari hacks away at pieces of rock containing an elusive mineral that adds a dash of sparkle to lipstick and nail polish. While taking a breather in the hollow of a shimmery sand hill, Lalita says she has not known any other way of life after toiling in the mines of India’s eastern Jharkhand state since she was aged four. “I want to go to school but there is never enough at home for us to eat. So I have to come here and work,” said the pony-tailed youngster, her blistered hands hid behind her back after laying down her pickaxe.

Lalita is among hundreds of children who help their families make ends meet by spending their day collecting mica, their stomachs often hungry while the sun beats down on their heads. Two decades ago the Jharkhand government shut down the mines over environmental concerns but tonnes of scrap left behind continue to lure impoverished villagers. The mica adds glitter to powders, mascara and lipsticks of top global brands although a complex supply chain makes pinning down the exact origin almost impossible, say activists.

The families of the children who collect the mica often sell it to small traders who in turn sell it to big suppliers. In 2009, German pharma giant Merck was accused of using mica mined by children and supplying it to brands such as L’Oreal and Revlon. Merck has since implemented several measures to make sure that “all mica used for the manufacture of our pigments comes from child labour free sources,” the company said in a statement to AFP.

Companies like Revlon might deny they have responsibility and Merck might say they aren’t buying that mica, but of course someone is buying it. Like supply chain management practices around the world, corporations use them to deflect responsibility, obscure sourcing, and in general keep the conditions of labor and procurement as far away from consumers’ sight as possible. Creating an opaque system of supplying serves corporate interests as we might well be outraged by child labor but have no idea who to hold responsible when these companies deny culpability. This is why we need a tremendous amount more transparency throughout the supply chain system, with corporate reports to governments explicitly stating who they are gathering materials from and guaranteeing decent conditions in those places because of financial or criminal implications if they do not. They will complain about all the paperwork. Companies filing paperwork should not get in the way of creating global systems of dignity that give all workers opportunities to live decent lives. This must be central to our demands of corporations now and in the future.

And if you support this current system of supply chains that obscure corporate accountability, this is what you tacitly also support:

Thirteen-year-old Seema Kumari says she can now fulfill her dream of becoming a teacher. But she is one of the lucky ones and other youngsters see no end in sight to their labours. “We know mica is used in powder and lipstick,” said Pushpa Kumari, whose weathered features belie her 13 years. “It makes women look prettier,” she said, balancing a tray full of mica on her head. “But look what it does to us.”

There may be nothing we can do if Kumari is working for Indian companies. But if that mica is going into western makeup, those looking the other way need to be held responsible.


New Directions in Rheeism

[ 30 ] October 26, 2015 |


Campbell Brown, who has become the nation’s leading spokesperson for destroying teacher unions and privatizing public schools since she left CNN, is now inviting Democratic candidates to events she’s hosting about how teachers’ unions are the most evil organizations in human history and when they obviously turn her “offer” down, her and her allies compare the American Federation of Teachers and other unions to the National Rifle Association with maximum media attention from her friends in the media.

Good times.

Legislation of the New Gilded Age

[ 35 ] October 26, 2015 |


When investigators convict your friends and supporters of crimes, the best way to solve the problem is to ban their investigations. Just ask Scott Walker.

Gov. Scott Walker of Wisconsin, who gave up his quest for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination last month, signed into law on Friday a measure that limits a longstanding tool against political corruption that has been used in investigations of Mr. Walker and his allies.

The John Doe law, as it is called in Wisconsin, has given prosecutors the power to obtain search warrants and order people to testify and turn over documents in investigations that typically take place in secret.

Under the measure, which easily passed both Republican-controlled chambers of the State Legislature, prosecutors will no longer be allowed to use the John Doe law to investigate crimes that include bribery and misconduct in office. The legislation will also limit proceedings to six months and lift an order that barred subjects of an investigation from discussing it publicly.

Prosecutors can still use the John Doe law to investigate violent crimes and drug-related felonies.

Six of Mr. Walker’s aides or allies were convicted as a result of a John Doe investigation. Mr. Walker’s former government office and, later, his campaign were the focus of John Doe investigations of campaign activities and fund-raising, but he was never charged.

Kelly M. Rindfleisch, deputy chief of staff to Mr. Walker during his time as Milwaukee county executive, pleaded guilty in 2012 to felony misconduct in public office after facing charges that she had used county time to perform campaign work.

I guess the next move is to make bribery legal. Or at the very least, to repeal the 17th Amendment so that state legislators can be handed bags of cash to name rich people to the Senate.

Out of Sight in The Boston Review

[ 36 ] October 23, 2015 |

Marshall Steinbaum reviewed Out of Sight, along with Gabriel Zucman’s The Hidden Wealth of Nations in The Boston Review and it was largely positive. An excerpt:

Rather than escaping over-burdensome regulation, Loomis’s book points to a different understanding of what motivates a political project to enable capital mobility. In a strategic context, in which the owners of capital and of labor are engaged in competition for shares of productive output, the party with more and more valuable outside options to cooperation with the counterparty gains the upper hand, as in any negotiation. In a world of high tariffs and limits to international capital flows, strong labor unions, and state regulation of labor contracts themselves and workplace and environmental safety, labor has the upper hand and is able to secure a robust share of the economic pie. But in a world in which capital can move overseas at any time, where unions are weak and replacement workers hired here or in Bangladesh at little cost, and where labor contracts are not collectively bargained, the returns to capital are much higher.

When the Rana Plaza factory collapsed in 2013, Loomis engaged in a memorable online dispute with Matthew Yglesias, who published a piece on the disaster headlined “Different Places Have Different Safety Rules and That’s Okay,” essentially repeating the argument that once led Larry Summers to call southern Africa “under-polluted” since the people who lived there are less economically valuable than those in developed countries. The Yglesias corollary is that poor workers benefit more than rich ones from a job at a dangerous factory. Both arguments sustain a commitment to the idea that operating dangerous and environmentally damaging production in poor locales is an economic win-win, and anyone who fails to recognize the truth of this schematization lacks understanding of the way the economy truly works, or is in hock to an outdated leftism that clings to state socialism and can’t make sense of inexorable globalization. Loomis’s reply to Yglesias at the time is, in essence, the genesis of Out of Sight.

The Summers/Yglesias view descends from David Ricardo’s Theory of Comparative Advantage: Bangladesh specializes in cheap clothing produced in dangerous conditions, while the United States specializes in higher-value production, and the world is made better off, including workers in both places, the freer is American commerce with Bangladesh. Recently, the debate with Loomis flared up again, following Paul Theroux’s October 2nd Op/Ed in the New York Times juxtaposing a tour of economic dislocation in the American South with his travels in Sub-Saharan Africa.

Loomis’s and Zucman’s calls for re-erecting national boundaries and re-empowering democratically accountable regulators are implications of a much more successful model for explaining why inequality has risen so much within developed and developing countries than in Yglesias’ just-so story: capital has gained the upper hand over labor by creating and accessing outside options while eliminating those of its opponents. Both books are the product of careful reconsideration and critique of received wisdom in the fields each covers, and more casual commentators would be wise to take heed of their implications instead of peddling discredited objections to any check on international capital mobility.

Steinbaum is right to put this in the context of the Theroux piece and the Voxxers reaction to it because the indifference to the American working class among those people and the moral certitude of American capitalism gifting better lives to the global poor are both really problematic because they ignore the real costs of relative poverty to American society and because they don’t actually get on the ground to ask what workers want in Bangladesh, Vietnam, etc. Instead, when 1100 workers die, it’s just part of a process. Meanwhile, workers themselves are trying to form unions and fight against unsafe workplaces, sexual harassment from employers, low wages, etc. But that doesn’t concern the Yglesias/Lowrey/Matthews types who rather see a globalized Gilded Age capitalism as the greatest gift the world has ever seen, ignoring both what unregulated merchant capitalism did to the United States a century ago, what it is doing to developing countries and their workers today, and what it is in fact doing to the United States today as well. That doesn’t mean we don’t have global trade and it doesn’t mean that Bangladeshis don’t need jobs, as I point out in Out of Sight. It means that we need to ensure those jobs don’t exploit workers and kill them and pollute their communities. That can be done, if we actually take the voices of real life workers around the world seriously.

Safety Before Profits

[ 18 ] October 23, 2015 |


Michell McIntyre makes a strong case around one of my most important issues–the need to punish employers far more harshly for workers who die at their worksites.

During one of his early morning shifts, Jose Melena stepped into a 35-foot-long oven and began loading pallets of canned tuna at a Bumble Bee Foods plant. Not realizing Melena was inside, fellow employees shut the machine door behind him and turned on the oven. With temperatures reaching about 270 degrees, he was cooked to death.

In what is being called the largest known settlement in California criminal prosecution history for felony workplace safety violations involving a single victim, Bumble Bee Foods was ordered to pay $6 million for “willfully violating worker safety rules.” In addition to charging the company, prosecutors filed felony charges against the former Bumble Bee Foods safety manager and company director of plant operations for willfully violating the U.S. Department of Labor’s (DOL) Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s (OSHA) worker health and safety protocols governing employees and hazardous machinery.

“You don’t have warm blood running in your veins if you’re not affected by the way this guy died. It’s horrific,” said Hoon Chun, Assistant Head Deputy District Attorney for the Los Angeles County office’s Consumer Protection Division, who helped prosecute the case. “I cannot imagine a worse result of violating safety rules than something like this.”

If an employer knowingly puts their workers in harm’s way they should be held fully accountable by law. It is clear that civil penalties are simply a drop in the bucket and insufficient while no one is held accountable. The fines simply become the cost of doing business with little or no regard for the life of the employee and their devastated family. Even in cases where workers were killed on the job, the typical penalty was just above $5,000.

California district attorneys should be considered trailblazers for pursuing criminal charges for willful worker health and safety violations that result in death or serious injury.

On his second week on the job, Raul Zapata was buried alive in a trench. Three days before Zapata’s death, a city building inspector issued a stop-work order due to concerns that the unfortified dirt wall was prone to collapse. However, the owner of the construction company that employed Zapata and the project manager decided to defy the order and move forward with the work. California’s Santa Clara County District Attorney’s Office brought criminal negligence charges against the owner and project manager, last week both were found guilty of involuntary manslaughter and sentenced to two years in prison.

In fact what needs to happen is a lot more prosecutions of high-ranking employers like what is happening to Don Blankenship, making them personally liable for the terrible conditions of work they create. That outsourcing, franchising, and temp workers creating technical multiple employers on the same site makes doing so more difficult is in fact much of the point of those systems of evasive labor.

Earthquakes and Energy

[ 47 ] October 22, 2015 |


Gee, maybe Oklahoma should take the geological impacts of fracking seriously…

A sharp earthquake in central Oklahoma last weekend has raised fresh concern about the security of a vast crude oil storage complex, close to the quake’s center, that sits at the crossroads of the nation’s oil pipeline network.

The magnitude 4.5 quake struck Saturday afternoon about three miles northwest of Cushing, roughly midway between Oklahoma City and Tulsa. The town of about 8,000 people is home to the so-called Cushing Hub, a sprawling tank farm that is among the largest oil storage facilities in the world.

Scientists reported in a paper published online last month that a large earthquake near the storage hub “could seriously damage storage tanks and pipelines.” Saturday’s quake continues a worrisome pattern of moderate quakes, suggesting that a large earthquake is more than a passing concern, the lead author of that study, Daniel McNamara, said in an interview.

“When we see these fault systems producing multiple magnitude 4s, we start to get concerned that it could knock into higher magnitudes,” he said. “Given the number of magnitude 4s here, it’s a high concern.”

The federal government has designated the hub, run by energy industry companies, a critical national infrastructure. Major tank ruptures could cause serious environmental damage, raise the risk of fire and other disasters and disrupt the flow of oil to refineries nationwide, said Dr. McNamara, a research geophysicist at the National Earthquake Information Center in Colorado.

Nah, keep on fracking. Nothing to see here.

Palm Oil and Deforestation

[ 19 ] October 22, 2015 |


The palm oil crisis continues in southeast Asia, as the widespread transformation of ecologically complex jungles into palm oil monocultures for cooking oil continues, without any repercussions for the western corporations committing widescale extinction for their role in this.

The Indonesian government had zoned the area for agricultural use even though it lies within the Leuser Ecosystem, an area of exceptionally high conservation value due to its resident populations of endangered orangutans, tigers, rhinos, and elephants.

RAN didn’t specify what companies might source from Tualang Raya, but it noted that the three biggest buyers of palm oil from the Leuser Ecosystem region—Musim Mas Group, Wilmar International and Golden Agri-Resources—”have adopted policies that commit to halting forest destruction in their supply chains.”

“We need these buyers to take urgent action to intervene and secure the permanent protection of the priceless Leuser Ecosystem,” the group said.

This gets at the problem with voluntary supply chain management standards. They don’t work. Without government restrictions, fines, and punishments for violators, probably at the U.S. or European level since this is not going to happen at the Indonesian level in any meaningful way, the widespread ecological destruction of the rainforests will continue. It’s yet another example of how the world’s citizens need enforcement mechanisms against the wealthy and corporations up and down the supply chain to hold them operating in extra-legal ways (which includes corrupt national governments granting exemptions to their own laws) outside of national laws accountable. This is necessary for a sustainable future anywhere on the planet.

….See also, palm oil plantations and horrific wildfires.

Capitalism: Everyone’s Best Friend

[ 126 ] October 22, 2015 |
Bangalore, India was once known for its interconnected lake systems which provided a reliable source of water. As the city grew these lakes were encroached and the water became polluted day by day. The largest Bellandur Lake in Bangalore now carries huge volume of snowy froth which blocks the adjacent canals. This froth which would otherwise been a sight to behold stinks and on contact with skin causes irritation. Following a heavy rain the froth from the canal rises up and lands on the roads causing inconvenience to those travelling on two wheelers. This is a major concern with many such lakes in Bangalore which are getting polluted with harmful chemicals like nitrates, potassium, sulphates, etc. Although the residents have raised their concern by informing the local media for cleaning the lake, till date the Government has not taken adequate measures. The lake now emits intoxicating smell and blew froth all around whenever there is wind. Despite all such issues new residential complexes are still coming up. The affected area would be around 200 meters and if it too windy the froth flies even further entering the neighbouring houses. The people residing nearby the lake are suffering from several health issues.

Bangalore, India was once known for its interconnected lake systems which provided a reliable source of water. As the city grew these lakes were encroached and the water became polluted day by day. The largest Bellandur Lake in Bangalore now carries huge volume of snowy froth which blocks the adjacent canals. This froth which would otherwise been a sight to behold stinks and on contact with skin causes irritation. Following a heavy rain the froth from the canal rises up and lands on the roads causing inconvenience to those travelling on two wheelers. This is a major concern with many such lakes in Bangalore which are getting polluted with harmful chemicals like nitrates, potassium, sulphates, etc. Although the residents have raised their concern by informing the local media for cleaning the lake, till date the Government has not taken adequate measures. The lake now emits intoxicating smell and blew froth all around whenever there is wind. Despite all such issues new residential complexes are still coming up.
The affected area would be around 200 meters and if it too windy the froth flies even further entering the neighbouring houses. The people residing nearby the lake are suffering from several health issues.

How dare people in India be outraged at their foamy rivers. Annie Lowrey and Dylan Matthews would personally love to live in these conditions because people in Zimbabwe are poorer than those in India.

Strange, puffy, dense clouds are descending on the streets of Bangalore, India’s technology capital. While whimsical-looking, they are actually puffs of a toxic foam inundating the city.

Documentary photographer Debasish Ghosh has captured images of the clouds floating around the city and overrunning the roads. The foam comes from Bellandur, a 1.4-square-mile lake that for years has been polluted by chemical and sewage waste. Every time it rains, the lake rises and wind lifts the froth up and carries it into the city.

The toxic foam gets in the way of pedestrians and cars, creating awful traffic jams. It carries a stench so strong that it burns the nose. And if it comes into contact with your skin, you’ll get an itchy rash.

“It causes a nuisance,” Ghosh says.

Making matters worse, the froth is flammable. In May and June, the entire lake caught fire, leaving a 56-year-old man who was standing on a bridge above the lake with a ruptured cornea.

The froth has come every summer for more more than a decade now, but Ghosh says that this year is particularly bad. He’s been documenting the pollution since May, making sure to immediately clean his arms, hands, and face any time he gets too close.

I’m sure some numbers show that people in India make more money than they did 20 years ago. So clearly massive environmental trauma is irrelevant and Cass Sunstein continues to be correct about the unalloyed gifts that American corporations offer to the people of the developing world.

The TPP and GIFs

[ 5 ] October 22, 2015 |


Do you like animated GIFs? I don’t care much about them but many do, especially in the sports world. Among the many horrible things about the Trans Pacific Partnership is that it seriously threatens GIFs because this pro-corporate agreement tightens copyright protections for corporations. Given how the NFL just cracked down on Gawker and SB Nation, this is a real thing, just like the Investor State Dispute Settlement courts that undermine national sovereignty and protect American corporate rights around the world at the cost of people’s basic enjoyment of images.

Economics and Mythology

[ 396 ] October 22, 2015 |


My most recent post on History’s Greatest Monster Paul Theroux for Caring About American Workers has led to a lot of comments that say a great deal about both ideology of the New Gilded Age and about what I believe. I think it’s time to address a few. So let me refer directly to comments, if you don’t mind.

From yet_another_lawyer

So, when do we begin the social programs for the only moderately rich who live in NYC? They’re well aware that there’s local people who make even more than they do, as are the only somewhat well-off residents of Beverly Hills.

“There are people even more poor!” is frequently disingenuous, because it’s uttered by people who do nothing to combat global poverty. But if you do actually care about poverty, benefiting the already-globally-wealthy poor Americans at the expense of the actually poor is morally dubious. Is nationalism really what’s going on here? Never met an American who would support policies that benefit poor Canadians at the expense of poor Africans, but if you change it to Americans suddenly the equation changes.

(And I put my charity money where my mouth is. My charity dollars go almost exclusively to globally poor nations.)

Well that’s fine and good although your “charity” just makes you feel good about yourself as a rich white person. But the NYC comparison is completely irrelevant as if you make $100,000 in New York there are likely opportunities for you across the country while if you are actually homeless in New York, there are not. To me, this argument is indicative of someone who is not around American poverty and does not know poor people personally. This is policy created by rich people, central to the problems of modern America. Plus this, as well other comments made here, avoid the political aspect to this. Do you live in the United States? Yes, I assume. Do you want voters in this nation to care about what you care about and not support proto-fascists? Presumably. Then you might want to find these people jobs so they don’t revert to pure racial ideology. This gets back to the zero-sum game ideology of Lowrey, Matthews, etc., who revert to free market economics ideology without recognizing that the domestic issues they dislike are deeply connected to the lack of jobs for working people today who vote their resentments rather than their economic interests. Yet, their own ideological blinders, as constrictive as those of fundamentalist Christianity or Islam, do not allow them to see this.

Ransom Stoddard says:

It’s interesting how lefties have an anti-intellectual bias when it comes to economics, when usually they (correctly) mock conservatives for denying the validity of research that conflicts with their prior beliefs. “Basic economic facts” become “Econ 101 blather”, “distinguished economists” become “sell out corporate shills”, “The lifting of hundreds of millions of people out of absolute poverty in a single generation” becomes “the creation of a small middle class”, etc. I wonder what the typical “globuhlization sux u neoliberal tool!!” commenter would make of learning that Paul Krugman got his start in public writing in the 90s informing hippies that sweatshops are good, free trade makes everyone better off, and so on.

I’m also curious as to why the Vox crowd’s use of data to explain why they’re correct “obsession with data” on the issue of trade is wrong and worthy of scorn, while using data to explain why high taxes don’t slow economic growth, why Keynesian fiscal stimulus is good, why minimum wage increases don’t reduce employment and so on is generally approved of. Imagine if a supply side hack said “Okay, so you’ve used ‘data’ to show that high income taxes don’t reduce growth. But do you even understand the social context of being an entrepreneur in a country that punishes you for success? I Just Know, without data, that your view is wrong.”

This is wrong on so many levels. First, there’s the idea that economics is some sort of field above ideology when it is so clearly not. Second, there’s the idea that all economists agree on the impacts of global trade, clearly incorrect. I read economists like Mike Konczal and Marshall Steinbaum all the time who reject these ideas. There’s the idea here that “data is this objective thing” as opposed to serving ideological constructions. This is a place where economists could learn a lot from Science Studies and other disciplines who have shown just how much “data” has served pre-conceived ideological notions, but criticisms of that presentation get presented as idiot Luddites who dare question our true objectivity. Data is nothing more than socially constructed numbers choosing to serve our own ideological notions and the sooner economists understand that they are not a science and that instead most, albeit not all, are lapdogs of capitalism, the better off we will all be. A data set is not wrong, but it can’t mean much without the context of the ideological presumptions of the people making it. I will also say that the entire idea that a field of pure pro-capitalist ideology like Economics deserves a Nobel Prize and that somehow gives the field some sort of credibility is utterly laughable, especially when looking at the utter hacks that have won the award for their support of crushing democracy and dooming the poor to greater poverty. And no, I don’t care at all that Krugman won the award, given that the award should not exist in the first place. Better off creating a Nobel Prize for film, for at least that field advances human dignity.

Sapient contends:

Eric certainly contends that protectionism is a path to autarky. That’s his main thing.

I’ll forgive the serial misspelling of my name to state that I have never once stated that traditional protectionism is the path of the future. And I challenge anyone to say otherwise.

In the end, as I argued in Out of Sight, we have a deeply unfair trade regime. We can make it more fair. Doing so means rejecting the idea that free market economics are anything more than an anti-social capitalist plot to concentrate wealth in the 1 percent. But it also means rejecting the idea that local poverty is irrelevant. The idea that the poor in Alabama or New Mexico are irrelevant is a politics as stupid as supporting Lawrence Lessig for president. Rejecting the need to find people in our own nation jobs as “nationalism,” as free market fundamentalists (again, a group that makes ISIS look rational) tend to do, is totally insane because it assumes that they themselves are stateless. That of course isn’t true. They live in a nation where the poor, or at least the white versions of them, can vote. They often vote for policies that said free market fundamentalists don’t like. And then these fundies don’t understand why. Well, maybe if they had jobs, they’d reconsider. This seems utterly self-evident, yet the arrogance of capitalists gets in the way of this obvious point.

Again, I don’t think traditional protectionism is a way we can move forward. But I do think that policy making from 30,000 feet based on free-market ideology is a total disaster. In fact, capitalist ideology is the last of the 20th century ideologies that led to the century’s mass deaths, as utterly evil in its pure form that is so popular in 2015 as fascism or communism. Instead, we have to find ways to improve the quality of lives of workers in the U.S. and overseas at the same time. I suggest several ways we can do that in Out of Sight and I urge skeptics to read it to get how we can move forward here. Because the arrogant idea of wealthy white Americans that they are moving justice forward through free-market capitalism while contemptuously avoiding the real-world context of these decisions in the United States leads to meaningful consequences of their ideological arrogance.

History’s Greatest Monster for Caring About American Workers and the Concept of Relative Poverty

[ 200 ] October 21, 2015 |


Above: Lee County, Arkansas

I have to go back to the terrible Vox community response to Paul Theroux’s op-ed on deindustrialization and American workers one more time. That’s because David Dayen reached out Theroux to have a conversation about the response. Theroux went into the issue of relative poverty in that conversation.

Theroux provided a more impressionistic version of Bruenig’s argument, informed by his experience living among the poor all over the world, a project that goes back to his work in Malawi in the Peace Corps in the early 1960s.

“People aren’t aware of how desperate life is on a cold day in Mississippi with no heat,” Theroux said, arguing that the experience of being poor, beyond gross domestic product, is relative. Here he drew on the work of Angus Deaton, winner of the Nobel Prize in economics just this week, who pioneered studies into comparing poverty across different economies.

“Angus Deaton said you cannot determine poverty by income,” Theroux said. “You can visit a village in Africa made of mud huts and think how desperate it all is. But in that community, in that climate, a mud hut may be preferable. A thatched roof may be preferable to a tin roof. Just because they’re earning a dollar a day, they’re not unrelated to someone in Mississippi.”

Right. I think this gets at a major problem with the Vox crew’s ideological obsession around data. Yes, the raw numbers show that workers in Zimbabwe are poorer than they are in Mississippi. And that’s true. So that allows Annie Lowrey to tell off a poor woman in Mississippi in grotesquely brusque ways. But it by no means tells the whole story. Relative poverty matters a ton too because when poor people see wealthier people around them, it leads to all sorts of social problems on top of just poverty. Angela Garcia’s excellent book on how this plays out in northern New Mexico is really valuable on this. In that area, you have long-time indigenous and Hispano populations who have been displaced by whites since the late 19th century. Every time they look at the mountains, they literally see the land that once sustained their ancestors and now they have no rights to use in traditional ways. Moreover, the growing wealth of whites in Santa Fe and in Los Alamos makes their relative poverty all the more clear. This leads to some of the highest rates of heroin use, suicide, crime, and other terrible social indicators in the country. What is frustrating is that Annie Lowrey, Dylan Matthews, Matt Yglesias, etc., fully recognize that those are terrible social outcomes but they fail to see that they are caused by some of the precise policies that they support around economic dislocation of American workers through globalization. Those workers in Mississippi feel terrible about their lives because they know what it used to be and they know how other Americans live. That kind of relative poverty has to be taken seriously. And it usually is not, at least not by the new generation of Broder-esque media in Washington.

I was also curious about this claim about literacy rates in Lee County, Arkansas:

Theroux described large regions of the south as the equivalent of deserts, without access to hospitals, decent schools, economic opportunities, or even basic financial services and nutrition. The illiteracy rate in Lee County, Arkansas, he said, was 25 percent, an astonishing number for the developed world. And these poor southerners have not cultivated subsistence skills, he said, to the extent of those in African villages, who through the centuries have managed to make their lives more viable. Lots of the people Theroux profiled in Deep South “talked about how they used to eat squirrel stew, or smother-fried squirrel. But they’re not doing it anymore.”

And I don’t know if it is actually 25 percent, but it is very, very bad.Those people need help too. That includes jobs.

Another Example of Poor Workplace Safety

[ 14 ] October 21, 2015 |


The conditions workers face at New York’s B&H Photo Video face are just far too common for low-wage workers in the United States.

In the main B&H warehouse located in Brooklyn’s Navy Yard, the walls and ceilings are insulated with fiberglass that fills the air and flecks off onto the worker’s skin, causing rashes, respiration problems and daily nosebleeds, employees say. Inside a second warehouse, on Evergreen Avenue in Brooklyn, employees say they have worked amid asbestos-insulated tubing. “They would tell us to clean the tubes,” recalled maintenance worker Miguel Angel Muñoz Meneses, “but nobody wanted to touch them.”

The men, many of whom are undocumented, testify of suffering from kidney stones, dizziness and fainting after being denied access to water or bathroom breaks. They say there is often a lack of basic safety equipment. “If we ask for gloves, they answer that they do not have gloves, because gloves are too expensive,” said Isaias Rojas, a B&H employee.

One man reported he was badly cut while lifting boxes, and the managers refused to call an ambulance, instead advising him to simply wait until the bleeding stopped. Another said a manager threw hot water on him and slapped his face. Others report those who complain are fired or threatened with deportation.

“They treat us as if we were animals,” Florencio Salgado said. “We are involved in this because we are tired of being abused.”

For many of the men, the most egregious offense occurred on Sept. 5, 2014, when two tractor trailers parked adjacent to the Navy Yard warehouse burst into flames, sending clouds of black smoke into the shipping and receiving section as the workers were inside.

Silverio Cano Alberto, who has worked for B&H for seven years, said he was on the second floor as the flames licked the outside of the warehouse.

“There was smoke and yelling and no one, including the manager, paid any attention,” he said. “Finally, they told us we could leave, but we each had to pass through the metal detectors, which took about a half hour. When I got outside, the parking lot was filled with firemen and police. Imagine — if the fire had spread, we would never have all made it out.”

Pretty terrible. But with so few options for workers today, it’s hardly surprising. The only way this story came out was because one of the workers’ brothers knew about a worker center nearby, reiterating why these non-union efforts by organized labor and community organizers to reach out to low-wage labor are so important. How often do conditions like this happen for years or decades because there is no union or worker centers to contact? Luckily, these workers are on the way to unionization with the United Steelworkers. How many don’t have that chance?

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