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Dead Horses in American History (IX)

[ 7 ] February 23, 2014 |

Aftermath of the Rochester, Minnesota tornado, August 21, 1883. There’s a whole page at the NOAA site of photos documenting the aftermath of this F5 tornado.

Also, this series has become so popular that people are now helping me with it. Friends of the blog Jacob Remes and Jonathan Dresner created this graph of the use of “beating a dead horse” versus “flogging a dead horse” in the English language. I presume the predominance of “flogging” is a British thing.

The U.S. Military and Apparel Worker Exploitation

[ 7 ] February 23, 2014 |

I’ve talked a bit before about how U.S. government contracting priorities contribute to the exploitation of apparel workers overseas. So I want to highlight this report from the International Labor Rights Forum detailing the role of the U.S. military specifically in this problem. You can download the entire report at the link but here’s an excerpt from the summary:

However, the International Labor Rights Forum(ILRF) has learned that the military exchanges are, in effect, “flying blind,” sourcing their private-label clothing from factories in Bangladesh without taking any independent action to investigate or remedy safety hazards and illegal conditions. Instead, the military exchanges rely on either the factories’ own unverified statements of compliance with labor law or the social audits of companies such as Walmart and Sears—audits that have historically failed to protect workers—to confirm safe and decent working conditions. In some cases they simply cut off relationships with suppliers when presented with evidence of violations, leaving workers behind in potential deathtraps. This recklessness toward working conditions in their supply chains first came to light when Marine Corps licensed apparel was found in the rubble of the Tazreen Fashions factory, where 112 workers were killed in November 2012.

The exchanges’ inaction in the face of dangerous working conditions in their supply chains weakens the Obama administration’s efforts to get U.S. brands and retailers to do more to promote workers’ safety and labor rights in Bangladesh. The appearance of a double standard for the U.S. government’s own retailers diminishes the administration’s credibility and weakens its ability to promote human rights in Bangladesh and elsewhere. The U.S. military exchanges, the Administration, and Congress should work together to eliminate this double standard and ensure that the U.S. government’s own retailers take advantage of their unique position as U.S. government representatives and buyers in the private marketplace to become an example for private-sector retailers to follow.

There are challenges to the U.S. doing something concrete to change policies, particularly budgetary concerns and congressional pressure to cut costs. But this is also an area where an Obama executive order around the military exchange, factory inspections, and ethical sourcing could also do a lot of good in setting the U.S. government as institution contributing to a solution rather than a problem.

Class Identity

[ 108 ] February 23, 2014 |

A very interesting report showing that despite the constant discussion of the middle class in the media and by our politicians, as many Americans openly identify as working class as they do middle class:

Pew doesn’t include working class as an option in its survey, but the long-running General Social Survey (GSS) includes both working class and lower class as options. In the chart below, I use the GSS to track class identification between 1980 and 2012 (the most recent year for which GSS data is available). As it shows, at 44 percent, the share of Americans identifying as working class in 2012 was the same as the share identifying as middle class. Only about 8 percent of Americans identified as lower class, slightly higher than the roughly 5 percent on average who identified as lower class before the Great Recession.

This is important because it shows how the media and political class work to obscure class in this country, naturalizing the middle class as important while denigrating the working class as lazy or irrelevant. It shows at least the potential for some kind of more concrete class politics in this country. Of course, this doesn’t mean that Americans vote according to political class the way many progressives would like them to vote, nor does it mean that they believe their working-class status makes capital an antagonist to their interests. These are complex questions and can’t be reduced to dollars and cents.

The Coordinated Anti-UAW Campaign

[ 94 ] February 23, 2014 |

Great reporting here detailing the coordinated anti-UAW campaign between the right-wing Norquist forces and anti-union workers inside the plant. In part:

While the UAW has focused much of its post-election ire on Corker, anti-union activists say a key player in their effort in Chattanooga was Patterson, a little-known Norquist lieutenant who heads the Center for Worker Freedom.

Patterson began laying the anti-union groundwork in Chattanooga last spring, while still working for the Competitive Enterprise Institute. He began writing a series of opinion pieces for newspapers and helped organize local events.

“I thought if the UAW was going to have a victory in the South, then this was going to be the place where they had the best chance,” Patterson said in an interview.

Patterson was one of the featured speakers at an anti-union town hall last July in Chattanooga. The event was organized by Mark West, head of the Chattanooga Tea Party, and his neighbor Don Jackson, former head of VW’s Chattanooga plant.

Anti-union activists deny coordinating their efforts. But West and Jackson said Patterson shared information, including newspaper articles and opinion pieces, with Mike Burton, 56, a paint shop worker at the VW plant who last summer began organizing anti-UAW workers in Chattanooga and later formed a group called Southern Momentum.

Burton, who became a poster boy for the anti-union movement, raised more than $100,000, mainly from workers and local citizens, according to Maury Nicely, a Chattanooga attorney retained by Southern Momentum.

Some of the money was used to create a website, www.no2uaw.org, develop a YouTube video and print anti-UAW fliers

.

This may help the UAW’s complaint with the NLRB, since this is a lot more detailed information than it was able to provide for its complaint about coordinated anti-union efforts.

Film Blog (VI)

[ 35 ] February 22, 2014 |

I’ve put up another set of short reviews on my tenth-rate film blog. Read if you care. In short:

Leave Her to Heaven (Stahl, 1945)–I know people love this film, but I’ve seen in a couple times and can’t get over the huge plot problems.

Women Without Men (Neshat, 2009)–Beautifully shot film about Iranian women during the 1953 coup, major plot issues.

Climate of Change (Hill, 2010)–Unsuccessful documentary about people doing various things to fight climate change, makes no concerted attempt to speak truth to power. Tilda Swinton narrates in rhyme.

Gloria (Lelio, 2013)–Not going to change your life, but a pleasant enough film that embraces the sexuality of people in their 50s. Worthy.

The Oyster Princess (Lubitsch, 1919)–One of the first really complete and successful feature-length comedies. Lots of people doing the same thing does indeed turn out to be funny.

I Don’t Want to Be a Man (Lubitsch, 1918)–A mind-blowing gender bending comedy. Never let it be said silent films didn’t play with sexuality.

Our Daily Bread (Geyrhalter, 2005)–Kind of interesting film about the industrial food system that is incredibly powerful when showing meat production, less successful otherwise because of no narration or interviews.

Aurora (Puiu, 2010)–Another fast-paced Romanian film! Not enough of a payoff for such a long film. I know Puiu was the first of the modern Romanian directors to strike it big internationally, but I tend to find him less satisfactory than the others.

North Country (Caro, 2005)–I really wish this was better than it is.

The Front Line (Hun, 2011)–Fairly blase Korean film about the pointlessness of the last two years of the Korean War.

The Harder They Come (Henzell, 1972)–Sure the plot is a cliche but the music is great and it was probably the first piece of culture projecting the poverty of Kingston to the world. Fun stuff too.

Anatomy of a Murder (Preminger, 1959)–As awesome as advertised. Can’t believe I went this long without seeing it.

Divorce, Italian Style (Germi, 1961)–Quality satire of Italian gender roles, good thing that’s irrelevant to modern Italy….

The Congressional Science Commitee, Brought to You by Chevron

[ 89 ] February 22, 2014 |

The Congressional Science Committee is at present basically the legislative arm of the Chevron octopus:

For Chevron, the second-largest oil company in the country with $26.2 billion in annual profits, it helps to have friends in high places. With little fanfare, one of Chevron’s top lobbyists, Stephen Sayle, has become a senior staff member of the House Committee on Science, the standing congressional committee charged with “maintaining our scientific and technical leadership in the world.”

Throughout much of 2013, Sayle was the chief executive officer of Dow Lohnes Government Strategies, a lobbying firm retained by Chevron to influence Congress. For fees that total $320,000 a year, Sayle and his team lobbied on a range of energy-related issues, including implementation of EPA rules under the Clean Air Act, regulation of ozone standards, as well as “Congressional and agency oversight related to offshore oil, natural gas development and oil spills.”

Sayle’s ethics disclosure, obtained by Republic Report, shows that he was paid $500,000 by Chevron’s lobbying firm before taking his current gig atop the Science Committee.

In recent months, the House Science Committee has become a cudgel for the oil industry, issuing subpoenas and holding hearings to demonize efforts to improve the environment. Some of the work by the committee reflect the lobbying priorities of Chevron.

Hardly surprising of course since Republicans control the House. This does highlight a couple of key points. First is the importance Democrats need to place on congressional races, which of course the Democratic Party does, but the base does not. Progressives especially emphasize the presidency far too much in comparison to Congress. Not that the presidency isn’t vitally important, of course it is. But we judge Obama for not doing enough on climate because Green Lantern presidency when, well duh, look who controls Congress. And then of course there’s the huge challenge of getting this nation to do anything about climate or a green energy policy when dirty energy controls one political party.

Oil Train Voluntary Safety Standards

[ 17 ] February 22, 2014 |

The oil industry has agreed to voluntary standards to improve safety on oil trains after a spate of recent accidents. Of course it’s voluntary which means that it’s unenforceable. So color me skeptical. The government can still threaten actual regulations so there is some leverage for real improvements. It’s better than nothing.

Pro-Keystone Unions Donating to the Chamber of Commerce

[ 58 ] February 22, 2014 |

Head, meet desk:

Several construction labor unions have decided to lend their support to the Keystone XL. Though critics charge that the pipeline will lead to a drastic increase in carbon emissions, the unions, including Laborers International Union and the International Union of Operating Engineers, have endorsed the project in exchange for several thousand short-term jobs and only 35 permanent jobs.

Trading a few jobs now for environmental destruction might seem like short-sighted strategy, but apparently such thinking runs deep in both unions.

According to a search of Department of Labor records, both the Laborers and the Engineers provided the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the largest anti-union lobbying group in the country, with $50,000 each.

Wow. It’s one thing for LIUNA and the Operating Engineers to support building Keystone. I disagree with this decision very strongly, for many reasons, including the very few permanent union jobs it will create, not to mention the divisions created with labor’s badly needed allies in the environmental movement. But OK, I get it.

Donating to the Chamber of Commerce is a whole other deal. Does LIUNA and the Engineers need reminding that the Chamber of Commerce opposes card check? Supports right to work laws? Opposes a higher minimum wage and the enforcement of labor law? The Chamber of Commerce is opposed to everything the labor movement believes in. Except I guess the building of the Keystone pipeline. Donating union dues to the Chamber is a betrayal of members’ interests regardless of where the union leadership stands on the pipeline. It’s embarrassing and it shows just how poor some internationals are at separating short-term interests from long-term interests.

More here.

The Cow Tunnels of New York City

[ 40 ] February 22, 2014 |

It isn’t dead horse blogging (and don’t worry yourselves, I still have a good number of dead horses to show you), but this essay on the forgotten history of cows in New York City is great. There may be some cow tunnels underneath the city built to move cows around without clogging city streets, a real problem in 19th and early 20th century New York, when there were a good number of slaughterhouses in Manhattan. It’s unclear whether they do actually exist, but this is a fun story, not only because of the cows but because of the research process.

UAW Files NLRB Complaint against Tennessee Republicans for Interference in Chattanooga

[ 101 ] February 21, 2014 |

The UAW has filed a complaint with the National Labor Relations Board over the interference of Tennessee politicians in the union election, claiming intimidation and asking that the results be thrown out and a new election held (PDF). This was an expected step and I’m glad the UAW made it. Because workers did say these threats turned their vote, they do have a legal leg to stand upon. Whether the NLRB will actually toss the results, I don’t know. My gut feeling says it’s a bit of a long-shot. Even if it is overturned, will the workers vote differently the second time around?

But the evidence of Republican interference is all in that complaint and it’s pretty damning. Using the specter of capital mobility through the state not supporting company incentives as a threat against workers is a real dirty tactic and one that worked. One thing about this case is that everyone will be watching to see what the NLRB does.

The Pac-12: Screwing Over the Little Guy

[ 24 ] February 21, 2014 |

Building on the model of professional sports, where immensely profitable owners squeeze the wages, reduce the benefits, and undermine the pensions of everyday workers because they can, the Pac-12, flush with cash from the Pac-12 Networks, refuses to provide health insurance or retirement benefits for its technicians and relies upon unpaid internships for students from the member schools to train for jobs that do not pay standard or living wages.

This of course on top of Pac-12 schools, like the rest of the NCAA, stealing the labor of their athletes. And god forbid those athletes eat too much pasta.

Figure Skating

[ 118 ] February 21, 2014 |

Once again, figure skating is a terrible sport.

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