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Beer and Energy Corporations

[ 22 ] July 29, 2013 |

Like the role Ommegang has played in fighting fracking in New York, I am glad to see Bell’s Brewery take on the tar sands company Enbridge after an oil spill near the brewery dumped hundreds of thousands of gallons of oil into the Kalamazoo River three years ago. The more attention that is brought to the great environmental damage caused by tar sands and oil pipelines, the better. The linked article also makes the point that while proponents of Keystone are talking jobs, jobs, jobs, the reality is that environmental degradation can often cost regions jobs when the reasons why people wanted to move there disappear. Bell’s creates jobs too. If its water supply is ruined from oil spills (not the case with the Kalamazoo spill, so don’t worry about your delicious Two-Hearted Ale becoming undrinkable), it and other companies will have to close or move.

The Bangaldeshi Garment Capitalists

[ 64 ] July 28, 2013 |

The New York Times continues its run of articles on the garment trade in Bangladesh but once again I am frustrated with them. Saturday’s article focused on the Bangladeshi garment capitalists, essentially the middlemen between the apparel companies and the workers. These are not good actors. They are corrupt millionaires who dominate the nation’s politics and finance, create laws against unions, have union activists murdered, etc. But what this series of articles continues to do is naturalize American corporate behavior. In this and other articles, American companies aren’t the problem, it’s Bangladeshi corruption. But this situation exists precisely because it generates high profits for apparel companies. If Wal-Mart and Gap wanted to create better conditions in the factories, they could do so almost overnight. They could cut ties with subcontractors who use bad labor practices. They could work with international labor activists to ensure meaningful regulatory enforcement. And, amazing as this sounds, they could also open their own factories in Bangladesh that directly employ garment workers. Just because the apparel industry has subcontracted work for over a century doesn’t mean it has to be that way. Recreating the Triangle Fire over and over again is the upshot of capital mobility and garment industry labor practices. This can change. Bangladeshi factory owners suck but they are not the entirety of the problem, or even the majority of it.

The Energy Industry’s Crocodile Tears

[ 56 ] July 28, 2013 |

Governments subsidize energy. That is a way of life in the United States that is not going to change, because powerful interests make sure those subsidizes become naturalized and we don’t think of them as welfare. That’s probably a good thing. It’s in the government’s interest to make sure its citizens have access to affordable energy. The question is which types of energy should we subsidize. Now that the tiny subsidies for solar are just barely beginning to cut into the profit margins of the long subsidized home energy industry that relies upon hydroelectric, gas, and oil, they are crying huge crocodile tears after their future profit margins.

Alarmed by what they say has become an existential threat to their business, utility companies are moving to roll back government incentives aimed at promoting solar energy and other renewable sources of power. At stake, the companies say, is nothing less than the future of the American electricity industry.

According to the Energy Information Administration, rooftop solar electricity — the economics of which often depend on government incentives and mandates — accounts for less than a quarter of 1 percent of the nation’s power generation.

And yet, to hear executives tell it, such power sources could ultimately threaten traditional utilities’ ability to maintain the nation’s grid.

“We did not get in front of this disruption,” Clark Gellings, a fellow at the Electric Power Research Institute, a nonprofit arm of the industry, said during a panel discussion at the annual utility convention last month. “It may be too late.”

I am sympathetic to the idea that one form of energy shouldn’t necessarily have to pay for the upkeep of a system that other energy users aren’t paying for. That’s an easy fix–a slight tax on credit for system maintenance. Otherwise, I see no reason at all why the government should take an interest in the profit margins of energy corporations. Again, the government needs to ensure affordable energy. But it also needs to ensure clean and sustainable energy. Home solar is a great way to do that. Like any energy system, it’s almost impossible for an everyday homeowner to install on their own. Government subsidies are necessary. The government already massively subsidizes one type of home energy system. There’s no reason at all that it should pull back from doing so with solar.

Moreover, both of these are good things:

“If the costs to maintain the grid are not being borne by some customers, then other customers have to bear a bigger and bigger portion,” said Steve Malnight, a vice president at Pacific Gas and Electric. “As those costs get shifted, that leads to higher and higher rates for customers who don’t take advantage of solar.”

Utility executives call this a “death spiral.” As utilities put a heavier burden on fewer customers, it increases the appeal for them to turn their roofs over to solar panels.

A handful of utilities have taken a different approach and are instead getting into the business of developing rooftop systems themselves. Dominion, for example, is running a pilot program in Virginia in which it leases roof space from commercial customers and installs its own panels to study the benefits of a decentralized generation.

Last month, Clean Power Finance, a San Francisco-based start-up that provides financial services and software to the rooftop solar industry, announced that it had backing from Duke Energy and other utilities, including Edison International. And in May, NextEra Energy Resources bought Smart Energy Capital, a commercial solar developer.

The government should be subsidizing solar and if there’s more reason to move to clean, renewable energy, then yay! Second, like with wind energy, I think it’s crazy that established energy companies don’t get involved and monopolize that as well. The opposition of oil to wind and home energy to solar makes no sense. If you want to stay ahead of the curve and continue to profit, adjust and dominate the new energy. You have the capital to do it. So I’m glad to see a few big energy companies do this. But most will resist because solar is hippie energy and hippies suck.

Cannibal Lobsters

[ 24 ] July 28, 2013 |

Let’s take massive overfishing and combine it with rapidly worsening climate change. What you end up with is a nightmare of cannibalistic lobsters, not to mention a Maine fishing economy desperately holding on for survival.

Here’s a great infographic explaining what the larger article explores in more detail.

J.J. Cale, RIP

[ 8 ] July 28, 2013 |

J.J. Cale has died. Can’t say I’m a huge fan of a style this laid-back, which can become outright sleepy. But Cale could write some excellent songs.

The Michigan Copper Strike of 1913-14

[ 13 ] July 27, 2013 |

This week marked the 100th anniversary of the beginning of the Michigan copper strike of 1913-14, made famous by the Calumet Massacre, where a company thug’s call of “Fire!” during a Christmas Eve party led to a stampeded against a door held shut from the outside, killing around 75 people, 60 of whom were children. Aaron Goings and Gary Kaunenon have an excellent history of the strike at Labor Online. Well worth your time.

The True Cost of Food

[ 24 ] July 27, 2013 |

An excellent Mark Bittman op-ed about the true cost of food upon those who produce it. Bittman talks about the fast-food strikes of the last few weeks and how only 1 worker has lost their job, which is interesting. Next week there are going to be more strikes. Listen to Bittman here:

Six elements are affected by the way food is produced: taste, nutrition and price; and the impact on the environment, animals and labor. We can argue about taste, but it’s clear that our production system — especially in the fast-food world — is flunking all the others. And if you think food is “cheap,” talk to the people working in the fields, factories and stores who can’t afford it. Remember: no food is produced without labor.

Well-intentioned people often ask me what they can do to help improve our food system. Here’s an easy one: When you see that picket line next week, don’t cross it. In fact, join it.

That’s right. No food is produced without labor. When you see incredibly cheap food at a Wal-Mart, know that the food is that cheap because the world’s largest corporation makes sure its suppliers supply at very low expenses. Sometimes, that creates conditions similar to slave labor. The food system is not at all different from the apparel system that kills 1100 workers in Bangladesh and poisons rivers around the world.

When workers do take the risk to stand up for themselves, we owe it to them to respect that picket line.

ACLU Using Corporate Management Tactics on Its Own Workers

[ 132 ] July 27, 2013 |

I was a union organizer for awhile. Most of this was volunteer work, but I was pretty good at it and there were professionals who encouraged me to go into it full time. I was committed to going on to the Ph.D. though. But right before I did so, an SEIU local took me on as a staffer for the summer, figuring they could get something good out of me.

It was the worst job I ever had. Not only was there nothing for me to do, but the atmosphere among the staff was poisonous. The boss was a good organizer but an absolutely awful manager of people and he created terrible working conditions. Everyone was expected to work 12-14 hour days, even when there was no reason to do so. The pay was bad (as are most union organizing jobs. No one goes into it for the money) and the organizers were under constant pressure that made them miserable people. They technically had a union. But the weakest union in the whole AFL-CIO is the organizers union because no one takes it seriously and if you staged a real labor action against the union you worked for, you’d be blackballed. The experience nearly killed the labor movement for me, and I only had to put up with it for 2 miserable months.

So I was not amused to see this story about the ACLU using management tactics against its own workers. The ACLU is usually great on union rights and the rights of all workers to speak out. But you have to treat your own people well and the ACLU isn’t doing that. Top managers are getting huge raises while regular workers are not only seeing wages stagnate, but they are attacking the basic provisions of unionism:

The ACLU, long known as a champion of fair labor standards, stands accused of violating its own workers’ rights. Last March, the ACLU, a nonprofit, began negotiating a new contract for its unionized staff, one void of major benefits employees had enjoyed since the 1970s. The requested concessions from union staff include smaller wage increases, health care costs, and other corporate money-saving measures. But one of the most contentious points, according to union members, is the ACLU’s demand that workers give up the basic “just cause” provision in their contract, which protects workers against wrongful termination by their employers.

Such a provision is one the ACLU has fought for around the nation and essentially protects workers from being fired without just cause. That it would strike it from some employee’s contracts, according to union members, could set a troubling precedent. The ACLU is generally considered the nation’s preeminent defender of the Bill of Rights.

This is completely unacceptable. The ACLU might go through funding crises and need to limit wages. And it might ask workers to start paying into health care. That sucks, but maybe there’s no real way around it. But giving up just cause? There is no good reason for this except that management has decided it wants to run the organization like a corporation.

Shorter Pat McCrory: “If Art Pope Says It’s OK, I Don’t Care What’s In The Bill”

[ 19 ] July 27, 2013 |

North Carolina Governor Pat McCrory is quite an intelligent man and a principled politician:

In a lengthy and, at times, awkward and disjointed press conference, Gov. Pat McCrory said today that he would sign House Bill 589 — the controversial bill to alter state voting and elections laws. The bill, which was originally about imposing new voter ID requirements but morphed this week into an omnibus 57 page proposal to restrict voting in numerous ways, was passed by the House late last night and will be presented to the Governor on Monday.

What was perhaps the saddest and most illuminating moment of the press conference, however, came when a reporter asked the Governor about some of the less-thoroughly-publicized portions of the bill. After testily dismissing a question about a provision on lobbyist “bundling” of campaign contributions because the reporter noted that it had been spurred by allegations against the Governor’s former law firm and erroneously saying that North Carolinians can register to vote ”online,” McCrory addressed a question about the bill’s language to do away with the current successful program to pre-register 16 and 17 year olds. Here’s what the Guv said:

“I don’t know enough…I’m sorry, I haven’t seen that part of the bill.”

After all, if McCrory was to care what was in the bill, he and his fellow North Carolina Republicans might not get invited back to all these big lobbyist beer parties they’ve become accustomed to.

The Greatest Townes Van Zandt Songs

[ 42 ] July 26, 2013 |

Here’s a Stereogum list of the 10 best Townes Van Zandt songs. I’ll offer my own 10 best, which look pretty different. Between about 1997 and 2002 or so I was in a huge Van Zandt stage, which soon morphed into following Guy Clark, Joe Ely, Steve Earle, and so many others of that generation and genre. Today, I don’t listen to Townes all that much, maybe an album every 3-4 weeks. That said, I think I’ve heard them all about 4000 times. So here we go. These are not really in any meaningful order, because that order would probably change tomorrow. Sure he couldn’t really sing and he really couldn’t play the guitar. The amazing amount of substances he put into his body during his all too short life helped none of these things. But he’s one of the top 5 songwriters of the last 50 years. I’m terrible at discussing individual songs. I find it almost impossible to write about without slipping into cliche. But these are 10 pretty awesome ones.

1. “Tecumseh Valley”

2. “Lungs”

3. “Don’t Take It Too Bad”

4. “Poncho and Lefty”

5. “Marie”

6. “Rake”

7. “Dollar Bill Blues”

8. “Why She’s Acting That Way”

9. “Snowin on Raton”

10. “Two Girls”

If I could have expanded this to 15, would have included “Tower Song,” “Waitin’ Round to Die,” “Sixteen Summers, Fifteen Falls,” “Pueblo Waltz,” and maybe “If I Needed You.”

If you are looking to buy particular albums, I’d go with Our Mother the Mountain, the self-titled album, and Live at the Old Quarter, probably in that order.

Indonesia

[ 7 ] July 26, 2013 |

This is from a couple of weeks ago and some of you might have seen it already, but this is an excellent roundup of the wages of global capitalism on the people and ecosystems of Indonesia. Apparel and manufacturing corporations are increasingly looking to Indonesia as the next low-wage production frontier, especially in the wake of the Bangladesh factory collapse. What they will find is a lot of social unrest over how western corporations have ravaged the nation’s rich natural resources, break the limited labor laws that already exist, and keep people in deep poverty. Mining corporations are probably the worst here, convincing the Indonesian government to grant them wide ranging control over huge tracts of unspoiled forests, probably dooming rhinos and other species to extinction in the next couple of decades.

The Worst Right-Handed Hitting Team of All Time

[ 122 ] July 26, 2013 |

The Yankees’ acquisition of Alfonso Soriano is another sign that the team’s ownership really has had trouble adjusting to the new reality that you have to develop from within in order to compete. Half-heartedly trying to get below the luxury tax, the Yankees decided to pass on resigning players like Nick Swisher in the offseason, instead choosing to rely on a bunch of ancient and oft-injured players. That’s gone as well as expected, meaning that the Yankees arguably have the worst right-handed hitting team of all time, according to Ben Lindbergh at Baseball Prospectus (sub required to read the whole thing):

As a team, the Yankees have hit .221/.283/.311 from the right side of the plate. That’s 30 points of OPS worse than the Marlins, who rank 29th in that category (and who play in a pitcher’s park and don’t have a DH). The Yankees haven’t hit a right-handed homer in over a month (Jayson Nix, June 25th), and they went three weeks without one before that (Mark Teixeira, June 4th). It’s like the whole team has turned into Pete Kozma.

This is historic offensive futility, and the fact that the Yankees had the highest payroll in baseball before trading for Soriano adds insult to impotence. The Yankees’ .594 OPS from the right side is the 17th-lowest ever (or since 1916, which is as far back as Baseball-Reference goes when searching for that split). None of the entries on the list below them is from the last 30 seasons; most are from low-offense eras and pitcher’s parks. In fact, considering the context, the 2013 Yankees have a real claim to the title of worst right-handed-hitting team of all time.

Let’s just say that again. The Yankees do not have a right-handed home run since June 25. Today is July 26. Among the teams worse than the Yankees in that list referred to above are the mighty 81 Blue Jays and the legendary 02 and 03 Tigers. Actually every team since 1950 is better than the Yankees at right-handed hitting.

Acquiring Soriano in itself is probably fine if you need an ancient slugger having a surprisingly good season but who is a major liability on the basepaths and in the field. That doesn’t help the Yankees much; the reality is that there isn’t anything out there short of the Marlins trading Giancarlo Stanton for a bag of balls that is going to help them much. They need to be sellers, not buyers. It’s amazing that the Yankees’ record is as good as it is since they have vastly outperformed what their statistics suggest their record should be. In other words, the Yankees are by far the luckiest team in baseball this year and that’s unlikely to continue in the last 2 months. But they are the Yankees and they only buy.

Given that the Yankees are utterly bereft of decent hitting prospects in the upper echelons of the system and the increased age and long-term contracts of their players, it’s likely the Yankees will be a lot worse next year.