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Post-Nuclear Wealth

[ 50 ] June 17, 2014 |

Don’t have a date on this, but if I was a Cold War American, I would feel pretty good about a nuclear attack eliminating all those takers.

….In comments, Herman notes the source is this 1965 report on a post-nuclear Houston. I’d make a Houston joke here, but it’s too easy.

Prison Labor and Artisanal Food

[ 69 ] June 17, 2014 |

The prison-industrial complex finds new ways to generate profit. So it’s hardly surprising that probably the industry most exploitative of labor in American history–agriculture–is more than happy to take advantage. What may surprise some people is that it’s the high end artisanal food companies that cater to Whole Foods and other such stores who are involved. This story focuses on Haystack Mountain, a Colorado goat cheese company that is buying its milk from a prison company farm.

Says John Scaggs, Haystack’s marketing and sales director, referring to CCI: “They have land. They have human capital, the equipment. If you can think it up, they can do it, and do it fast.”

That diverse and nimble operation has attracted visits by officials from 22 prisons as well as steady interest from companies that want to tap CCI’s workforce. “I get one to two calls a week from companies,” says CCI director Steve Smith, adding that he declines those that simply want cheap labor.

The practice has long been controversial. Prisoners earn meager wages and have no recourse if they’re mistreated, LeBaron argues. Plus, they can take jobs from law-abiding citizens. “It’s hugely concerning in the face of economic instability and unemployment,” she says.

Counters Smith: “These are coveted jobs.” Base pay starts at 60¢ a day, but most prisoners earn $300 to $400 a month with incentives, he says. To be hired, inmates must get a GED and maintain good behavior for six months.

60 cents a day. In 2014. Now that’s the kind of labor exploitation I know from the history of American agriculture.

There was also this Twitter exchange between labor and justice writers Sarah Jaffe and Alexis Goldstein with some PR flack from Haystack Mountain who is not very good at his job because he reveals way too much. According to the PR person, Haystack Mountain isn’t even saving money on the milk compared to what they would pay on the open market, meaning all that money is going to the prison capitalists. Everyone wins but workers. And the idea that all these prisoners are earning skills they will take into the workforce of goat farming is so ridiculous as to be laughable.

Our Broken Trucking Regulatory System

[ 77 ] June 16, 2014 |

When the Wal-Mart truck driver crashed into Tracy Morgan’s limousine last week after falling asleep, I wanted to write a short piece on how the trucking companies endanger workers and drivers through their horrible labor practices. But I didn’t have time to do the research (pro tip: don’t write 2 books at once). Luckily, David Dayen did write this up and it’s typically excellent. The whole system is a nightmare of labor exploitation, corporate purchase of politicians, and casual indifference toward you and I when we are on the road. An excerpt:

But the fact is it’s difficult for truck drivers to make a decent living by playing by the rules, and employers, including Walmart, effectively create a hazardous workplace by constraining pay to make cheating attractive, and ordering faster shipments with deadlines that can only be achieved through cutting corners. Roper had been awake for over 24 hours when he crashed his truck, according to the criminal complaint. A January accident in Illinois featured a driver on the job for 36 straight hours.

The average trucker makes around $37,000 a year. While trucker pay varies from one company to the next, in general terms they get paid by the mile, but not for each mile driven. If a driver goes from Seattle to Minneapolis, they get an “as the crow flies” rate, meaning that any detours or miles spent lost on the road are unpaid. Most drivers aren’t covered by Fair Labor Standards Act requirements on overtime pay beyond 40 hours. Truckers are also often not paid when the haul gets loaded or unloaded, so they could spend hours at a facility working without being on the clock, adding to fatigue. Some industries, like oil and gas, have exemptions from hours-of-service rules that make driving even more dangerous.

Drivers also face tight deadlines to deliver loads on time. Employers restrict speed because it impacts fuel costs, so the only way to get goods to their destination faster is through more driving hours.

5 quick points. All drivers should be covered by the Fair Labor Standards Act. Second, trucking companies simply need to be held criminally liable each and every time one of their truckers gets in a crash from overwork and exhaustion with vastly increased financial punishments. Third, drivers need to be paid for established route miles, not as the crow flies. This should be set by the federal government. Fourth, OSHA needs authority over the truckers even when they are on the road (the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration has jurisdiction on the road). Fifth, as Dayen suggests, electronic logbooks need to be kept for every truck. The nation can spy on its citizens but can’t prevent truckers from working 100 hour weeks. Right.

And all those life-threatening hours and stress for $37,000 a year. That’s a terrible hourly rate.

Bulletproof Backpacks

[ 20 ] June 16, 2014 |

We won’t protect our children from being shot at school through restricting gun ownership. That would make too much sense. But what a business opportunity for the innovative capitalist! Thus we have a company marketing bulletproof backpacks for children.

No Real Progress in Bangladesh

[ 50 ] June 16, 2014 |

Colin Long’s Jacobin essay on visiting the Tarzeen and Rana Plaza factory disaster sites is all worth reading, but the important part of the article is his discussion of the aftermath. For very little has changed. The international accords are all about western brands protecting their own image at home–which is fine–but for workers, these accords have no meaning, even if they have heard of them, which most have not. The apparel companies still do not care one bit about the conditions of work, how the workers are treated or whether workers live a dignified life. The increase in the Bangladeshi minimum wage also brought on a much harder workday for the workers as the employers just drove them harder and fired their assistants to maintain their profits. Neither of these advances–and ultimately they are both still advances despite the problems–get at the main thing that would improve working conditions in Bangladesh, which is giving workers power to improve their own lives. Instead, Bangladeshi unionists are still intimidated and even murdered, acts to which the apparel companies are complicit.

But there is basically no way for Bangladeshi workers to grab that power to create a dignified life, not when the apparel companies can and will just move to another country to exploit. Without taming capital mobility, the slow and painful but real progress of workers’ rights gets cut off at the knees. And there’s no way the apparel companies are giving up that trump card.


[ 198 ] June 16, 2014 |

I know next to nothing about Wisconsin politics, so I found this Alec MacGillis article on Scott Walker quite enlightening. If it is accurate, we are basically looking at a highly cocooned politician used to fawning angry Milwaukee suburbanites and with no national experience pretty unprepared to deal with the big time, which includes surrounding himself with people who think racism is Hi-Larious. Not to mention that has not the slightest ability to appeal to anyone who did not already vote for Romney. Plus, this:

Walker’s only overt enthusiasms appear to be his Harley Davidson motorcycle and Ronald Reagan. He and Tonette married on Reagan’s birthday, and every year they celebrate their wedding anniversary / Reagan’s birthday by serving the Gipper’s favorite dishes, such as macaroni-and-cheese casserole and red, white, and blue jelly beans. Walker’s mother attributes his even keel to his faith. “He prayed and read the Bible every day, and when things got rough, [supporters would] tell him they were praying for him,” she says.

I’d like to think this is some sort of stupid public story that Republicans like to tell each other while actually eating endangered species murdered just for this anniversary (25th anniversary means a tasty dinner of black rhino!) but I’m sure it is true and is a sign of the pathetic overwhelming hero-worshiping of Grandpa Caligula by a section of American whites.

Go Away

[ 84 ] June 15, 2014 |

There is not a single person I want to hear less from on Iraq than Tony Blair.

High Brow to Low Brow, 1949

[ 132 ] June 15, 2014 |

Where do your tastes fall on this 1949 chart from Life magazine?

Beer may be low-brow but of course it is awesome. Bourbon and ginger ale? Why waste the bourbon on that. No lower-middle brow for me. Extra dry martini? Well, for 1949 I guess that’s as good as it’s going to get. So maybe I am upper middle-brow. But no, the combo of beer, westerns, and the jukebox make me distinctly low-brow. I’ll even stick with the coleslaw I guess.


More readable version here:

And really, how could charts from 1940s magazines steer us wrong?

El Salvador Torturers, Trained by the U.S., Protected by the U.S.

[ 109 ] June 15, 2014 |

In the 1980s, under the presidency of the cartoonishly evil Ronald Reagan, the U.S. not only trained and openly supported an El Salvador military that tortured and killed people with impunity, but then gave these psychopaths a free passage to the U.S. when their murderous ways were finally defeated by the Salvadoran people. It is only in the last couple of years that these military leaders have had to undergo deportation proceedings. But they remain in the U.S. and probably will never be deported. Unfortunately, even if they are kicked out, nothing will happen to them in El Salvador.

The U.S. has never come clean about its horrible history in Central America and probably never will.


[ 133 ] June 14, 2014 |

This is an interesting article on rewilding declining agricultural spaces in rural Europe. As much of the farmland of Spain, Romania, Portugal, and other nations suffer severe population declines (as they have in part of the U.S.), some environmentalists are attempting to “rewild” them by bringing back rare species, usually large mammals. Some go so far as to want these spaces for wildlife not native to these areas, like elephants. Rewilding is a curious concept, although one I am basically fine with exploring. The first question is always “rewilding to what?” As these efforts are often led by rich landowners, it tends to be whatever animals they and their enormous egos like. In the U.S., Ted Turner has led the path here. Because Turner likes bison, there are now bison on his ranches in southwestern New Mexico, even though that is not native bison territory. These efforts tend to leave out the smaller creatures and plants that don’t excite rich people.

But whatever. The planet is so inexorably transformed by humans at this point that it’s hard for me to get too bent out of shape by the inconsistencies involved in these efforts. Respecting ecosystems is important, but those ecosystems are undergoing radical transformation because of climate change anyway. Maybe the more valuable principle is open space and preserving biodiversity, however we define it. I don’t think I can really get behind importing disappearing African megafauna to western Kansas, and the experience of the oryx on the White Sands Missile Range does suggest the kind of grassland degradation introduced big species can cause, but if there were a few elephants running around out there, I guess it wouldn’t be the end of the world. It’s probably a bad idea for the ecosystem, but so is everything else humans do.

Climate Change and World War II Graves

[ 59 ] June 14, 2014 |

Of course, climate change is washing lots of dead people from their graves, but World War II veterans will be the lever that gets some attention:

Rising sea levels have washed the remains of at least 26 Japanese World War Two soldiers from their graves on a low-lying Pacific archipelago, the foreign minister of the Marshall Islands said on Friday.

“There are coffins and dead people being washed away from graves. It’s that serious,” Tony de Brum told reporters on the sidelines of U.N. climate change talks in Germany.

Putting the blame on climate change, which threatens the existence of the islands that are only 2 meters (6 ft) above sea level at their highest, de Brum said: “Even the dead are affected.”

Twenty-six skeletons have been found on Santo Island after high tides battered the archipelago from February to April, he said, adding that more may be found.

I’m going to assume no one is shallow enough to say it doesn’t matter because they are Japanese. But I’m sure the trolls will be.

Also, Happy Flag Day. I’m remembering the flags of all the nations the U.S. has unjustly invaded or used the CIA to overthrow leaders over the years. Cuba. Guatemala. Honduras. Nicaragua. Dominican Republic. Haiti. Panama. Grenada. Chile. Iran. Vietnam. Laos. Cambodia. Iraq. Those flags.


[ 63 ] June 14, 2014 |

P.S. I am not a crank.

Has anyone ever published a book of cranky complaints about football where people get upset about its name or any change to the game? If not, it should end with Nick Saban and Bret Bielema whining that Oregon runs too many plays and therefore there should be mandated slowdowns.

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