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Are Your Distressed Jeans Worth a Dead Chinese Worker?

[ 20 ] July 23, 2013 |

The apparel industry’s terrible toll upon working-class Asians becomes more apparent everyday:

“Distressed” jeans are designed to make that wear-and-tear look seem oh-so-effortless, but it can be the result of someone’s body taking a real beating.

According to a recent investigation by the advocacy groups Clean Clothes Campaign, War on Want, and Hong Kong-based Students and Scholars Against Corporate Misbehaviour (SACOM), several manufacturers in Guangdong, China—which supply global brands such as Levi Strauss, Lee and Wrangler—have used patently unsafe sandblasting techniques on their denim.

Sandblasting usually involves spraying chemicals and mineral dust against textiles to create a weathered look. It is commonly done by hand, using an air gun, though some manufacturers use mechanical sandblasting performed inside special cabinets. Without adequate ventilation and other protections, either technique can expose workers to damaging particles that increase the risk of silicosis, pulmonary fibrosis and other lung and respiratory problems.

In the case of the denim workers in Guangdong, SACOM is demanding that the global brands using the sandblasting factories take responsibility. SACOM advocate Pui Kwan Liang tells Working In These Times via email:

The brands are not required by the law to make compensation but since the workers are suppressed by the suppliers in China and the brands are making huge profit every day with the workers’ sacrifices, it is no doubt that the brands are ethically responsible to such issue.

Under pressure from international advocates for garment workers, several apparel brands, including Levi Strauss and H&M, have in recent years announced plans to phase out sandblasting, which has previously been used in factories in Bangladesh and Turkey. But SACOM’s investigations show that in the apparel industry’s twisted supply chains, “regardless of whether a brand has ‘banned’ sandblasting or not, the practice continues—to the point that some factories have taken to hiding sandblasting machinery in sealed rooms to avoid detection, while others have simply subcontracted the procedure.”

Meanwhile, the real distress of global capitalism is surfacing all over Guangdong, as workers continue shredding their lungs so Western consumers can wear perfectly abused denim.

But wait, there’s more! Because the capital mobility of the apparel industry, scouring the planet for people and ecosystems to exploit, has also created terrible pollution in Mexico, similar to the purple water of Bangladesh I pointed out yesterday.

That picture is from Tehuacán, in the Mexican state of Puebla. Yep, the distressed jeans industry dumps a tremendous amount of chemicals into local water supplies, poisoning humans and other animals. And then of course there’s Bangladesh. Turkey banned the manufacturing of distressed jeans in that country in 2009, after at least 6 workers died from lung diseases so that apparel corporations could market a cool new look that made them boatloads of money, but the apparel manufactures don’t care if a country bans the practice. They just move to Malaysia, Sri Lanka, India, wherever they can exploit people and nature with the greatest intensity.

Once again, we need to create environmental and labor law that transcend international borders so that companies, especially in the apparel industry, cannot circle the earth to find the most easily exploitable people. We need a set of labor and environmental law that empowers workers at the point of production to take on the corporations without the threat that their factory will close and move to Cambodia or Vietnam or Indonesia. Without this, industrial democracy and sustainable living on this planet will not take place.

Of Monarchs and Hereditary Succession

[ 275 ] July 23, 2013 |

Based upon yesterday’s events, let me turn it over to Special LGM Monarchy Correspondent Thomas Paine:

But it is not so much the absurdity as the evil of hereditary succession which concerns mankind. Did it ensure a race of good and wise men it would have the seal of divine authority, but as it opens a door to the FOOLISH, the WICKED, and the IMPROPER, it hath in it the nature of oppression. Men who look upon themselves born to reign, and others to obey, soon grow insolent. Selected from the rest of mankind, their minds are early poisoned by importance; and the world they act in differs so materially from the world at large, that they have but little opportunity of knowing its true interests, and when they succeed in the government are frequently the most ignorant and unfit of any throughout the dominions.

Another evil which attends hereditary succession is, that the throne is subject to be possessed by a minor at any age; all which time the regency acting under the cover of a king have every opportunity and inducement to betray their trust. The same national misfortune happens when a king worn out with age and infirmity enters the last stage of human weakness. In both these cases the public becomes a prey to every miscreant who can tamper successfully with the follies either of age or infancy.

The most plausible plea which hath ever been offered in favor of hereditary succession is, that it preserves a nation from civil wars; and were this true, it would be weighty; whereas it is the most bare-faced falsity ever imposed upon mankind. The whole history of England disowns the fact. Thirty kings and two minors have reigned in that distracted kingdom since the conquest, in which time there has been (including the revolution) no less than eight civil wars and nineteen Rebellions. Wherefore instead of making for peace, it makes against it, and destroys the very foundation it seems to stand upon.

The contest for monarchy and succession, between the houses of York and Lancaster, laid England in a scene of blood for many years. Twelve pitched battles besides skirmishes and sieges were fought between Henry and Edward. Twice was Henry prisoner to Edward, who in his turn was prisoner to Henry. And so uncertain is the fate of war and the temper of a nation, when nothing but personal matters are the ground of a quarrel, that Henry was taken in triumph from a prison to a palace, and Edward obliged to fly from a palace to a foreign land; yet, as sudden transitions of temper are seldom lasting, Henry in his turn was driven from the throne, and Edward re-called to succeed him. The parliament always following the strongest side.

This contest began in the reign of Henry the Sixth, and was not entirely extinguished till Henry the Seventh, in whom the families were united. Including a period of 67 years, viz. from 1422 to 1489.

In short, monarchy and succession have laid (not this or that kingdom only) but the world in blood and ashes. ‘Tis a form of government which the word of God bears testimony against, and blood will attend it.

If we enquire into the business of a King, we shall find that in some countries they may have none; and after sauntering away their lives without pleasure to themselves or advantage to the nation, withdraw from the scene, and leave their successors to tread the same idle round. In absolute monarchies the whole weight of business civil and military lies on the King; the children of Israel in their request for a king urged this plea, “that he may judge us, and go out before us and fight our battles.” But in countries where he is neither a Judge nor a General, as in England, a man would be puzzled to know what IS his business.

The nearer any government approaches to a Republic, the less business there is for a King. It is somewhat difficult to find a proper name for the government of England. Sir William Meredith calls it a Republic; but in its present state it is unworthy of the name, because the corrupt influence of the Crown, by having all the places in its disposal, hath so effectually swallowed up the power, and eaten out the virtue of the House of Commons (the Republican part in the constitution) that the government of England is nearly as monarchical as that of France or Spain. Men fall out with names without understanding them. For ’tis the Republican and not the Monarchical part of the Constitution of England which Englishmen glory in, viz. the liberty of choosing an House of Commons from out of their own body — and it is easy to see that when Republican virtues fail, slavery ensues. Why is the constitution of England sickly, but because monarchy hath poisoned the Republic; the Crown hath engrossed the Commons.

In England a King hath little more to do than to make war and give away places; which, in plain terms, is to empoverish the nation and set it together by the ears. A pretty business indeed for a man to be allowed eight hundred thousand sterling a year for, and worshipped into the bargain! Of more worth is one honest man to society, and in the sight of God, than all the crowned ruffians that ever lived.

Americans who care about the birth of the latest worthless heir to the British throne are rejecting all that was good about the American Revolution. As for people in the Commonwealth who care, well, you should have had a revolution too. As for the British, sorry you are saddled with a worthless monarch.

The Environmental and Human Health Effects of Outsourcing Garment Production to Bangladesh

[ 19 ] July 22, 2013 |

Why do capitalists move their operations?

They do so to maximize profit. But that term is an euphemism that obscures the decisions behind those choices. Profits are great, right! For decades, corporations have shifted operations around the globe, sometimes within the United States but usually between nations, in order to take advantage of lax labor and environmental regulations. We know about the apparel industry’s exploitation of Bangladeshi labor. But that’s not the only reason to choose Bangladesh. Here is another:

That water is indeed purple. The large building near the water: a school. This is near the site of the factory collapse in April that killed over 1100 workers. Here is the mayor of the town of Savar, where this picture was taken:

The inspections were part of a highly publicized antipollution enforcement campaign led by Munir Chowdhury, a senior official in the environment ministry. Mr. Chowdhury raided factories, often at night, finding that many were saving money by dumping waste without treating it. He imposed repeated fines until he was transferred this year to run the state dairy operation.

Mr. Kader, the acting mayor of Savar, said there was only so much a single official could do. “You should understand the reality in Bangladesh,” he said. “These people who are setting up industries and factories here are much more powerful than me. When a government minister calls me and tells me to give permission to someone to set up a factory in Savar, I can’t refuse.”

For global brands that buy clothing from Bangladeshi factories, pollution rarely gets the same attention as workplace conditions or fire safety. H &M has sponsored some environmental programs, but Bangladeshi environmentalists say global buyers have done far too little.

“The buyers totally understand the conditions of Bangladesh and they take advantage of it,” said Ms. Hasan, the environmental lawyer.

After the United States and western Europe passed meaningful environmental regulations, corporations moved to the developing world precisely to recreate a situation where they could dump chemicals and dyes into water, without regard for how it would affect local ecosystems or human health.

In other words, the textile industry still operates by the laws of 1835. And they intend to keep it that way through capital mobility.

This is why environmental and working-class issues are so intertwined in my mind. Bangladeshis need jobs. There’s no reason why the textile industry needs to dump its dyes into the rivers. But if the Bangladeshi people organize to create meaningful environmental legislation and begin coming after the polluters, they will just move to another country. This is why we need international labor and environmental laws. There are meaningful and enforced laws prohibiting the importation of goods to the United States that are made by prison labor or slave labor. There is no good reason why we can’t expand those laws to include nations that allow union organizers to be killed with impunity or products that are produced in an environmentally unsustainable manner. Whether in Bangladesh or the United States, Vietnam or Honduras, worker rights and environmental rights are human rights. The United States should crack down on its corporations whose factories violate basic conceptions of these rights or who subcontract work out to employers who do the same thing. Workers need to be able to bring suit in western courts against companies who pollute their water, give them industrial disease, or kill their husbands and daughters on the job.

This is how a worldwide industrial democracy must work. Without empowering workers to improve their lives and limiting corporate mobility to evade basic labor and environmental regulations, environmental problems and working-class life will not improve.

Dennis Farina, RIP

[ 52 ] July 22, 2013 |

Well that sucks.

Rahm’s School Strategy

[ 46 ] July 22, 2013 |

While I don’t doubt that Chicago has a real budget crisis coming from unfunded pension requirements, this is pretty telling of how Rahm Emanuel plans to use Teach for America as a way to undercut the teachers’ union. Last week, Emanuel laid off 1036 teachers, including CTU activist Xian Barrett, profiled here. This was buried but quite telling:

Some of the teachers could be replaced by Teach For America recruits, as the district has committed to more than doubling its investment in the TFA program that trains college graduates for five weeks then sends them into schools for two years at a time. The Board of Education voted to increase its payment to TFA from $600,000 to nearly $1.6 million, and to add up to 325 new TFA recruits to CPS classrooms, in addition to 270 second year “teacher interns”.

TFA spokeswoman Becky O’Neill said about 200 of the new recruits are destined for charters, the rest to interview for openings in neighborhood schools.

“We’re looking forward to getting more information and better understanding how all of this impacts the schools and principals with whom we partner,” she said.

Sharkey denounced CPS’ TFA placements “at the same time it’s laying off veterans. This is an organization who started out saying their mission was to serve underserved children with a teachers shortage. There’s no longer a teacher shortage.”

Rather than decrease TFA funding and save teachers jobs, TFA funding skyrocketed. Teach for America is basically a union-busting organization. Seeing teachers’ unions as a problem is central to its ideology and it is happy to take jobs away from experienced teachers and give them to underprepared recent college graduates.


[ 32 ] July 21, 2013 |

Because we all need to see Connie Stevens chase William Smith through the streets of Seattle in 1976 for 6 minutes on a dune buggy.

Helen Thomas, RIP

[ 52 ] July 20, 2013 |

Despite some unfortunate late life expressions, Helen Thomas was a pretty amazing woman.

Demythologizing Hookup Culture

[ 59 ] July 20, 2013 |

While the New York Times, Tom Wolfe, and lots of other people fret about our young college women having too much sex that doesn’t lead to procreation, Lisa Wade gets into the research on hookup culture to ground it in reality. A few points:

1. It’s massively overrated, including by students themselves:

First, 91 percent of college students agree that their lives are dominated by the hookup culture. Second, the median number of hookups for a graduating senior is seven. That’s fewer than two hookups a year. Only about 40 percent of those hookups include sexual intercourse so, technically, the typical student acquires only two new sexual partners during college.

2. Hookup culture is dominated by wealthy white people. African-Americans and working-class students engage far less:

African-American students are less likely to hook up than white students. Sociological studies suggest that lingering racism plays a part: Black people have been traditionally stereotyped as hypersexual (trigger warning: see the “jezebel” and “mandingo” stereotypes). So, for black men and women, embracing sexual freedom can bring individual rewards, but also risks affirming harmful beliefs about African-Americans. In response, some black people feel the need to perform a politics of respectability. Rashawn Ray and Jason Rosow, for example, in a comparison of black and white fraternities, found that black men’s resistance to negative racial stereotypes sometimes involved being “good” and following mainstream social norms of appearance and behavior.


In contrast, poor and working-class students, who are often the first ones in their families to attend college, tend to take it much more seriously and don’t take for granted that they’ll finish, so they party less. They also bring their values with them, so they imagine starting a family earlier. Investing in a serious boyfriend or girlfriend is more in line with these goals. As one working-class student said, in a separate study by Hamilton, about her wealthier peers:

“Some of these girls don’t even go to class. It’s like they just live here. They stay up until 4:00 in the morning. [I want to ask,] ‘Do you guys go to class? Like what’s your deal? … You’re paying a lot of money for this … If you want to be here, then why aren’t you trying harder?’

In conclusion:

So what we are seeing on college campuses is the same dynamic we see outside of colleges. People with privilege—based on race, class, ability, attractiveness, sexual orientation, and, yes, gender—get to set the terms for everyone else. Their ideologies dominate our discourses, their particular set of values gets to appear universal, and everyone is subject to their behavioral norms. Students feel that a hookup culture dominates their colleges not because it is actually widely embraced, but because the people with the most power to shape campus culture like it that way.

Thus I guess we’ll see a ton more stories in the Times since these are the people who will later be featured in the paper’s wedding announcement section.

Thai Bin Two

[ 8 ] July 20, 2013 |

The US Export-Import Bank has decided not to fund the Thai Binh Two coal-fired power plant in Vietnam. This is a marginally good sign that the Obama Administration’s rejection of coal that he set out in his climate change speech will have real life benefits. However, it’s also a decision that comes at almost no political cost except irritating the Vietnamese government. What happens with the Keystone XL Pipeline and especially the exporting of Powder River Basin coal to Asia will be far more telling.

That Bright Shiny MOOC Future

[ 72 ] July 20, 2013 |

MOOCs totally provide an educational experience equal to or better than traditional college classrooms:

In January, San Jose State University made a big announcement: It had reached a deal with the startup Udacity to offer college classes for credit online, for a modest fee, not only to its own students but to anyone who wanted to take them. The move was touted as a major step in online learning’s Clay Christensen-approved march toward the ultimate disruption of higher education.

It seems, however, that there are a few more kinks to work out before we all toss out the books and the buildings for good. Inside Higher Ed reported on Thursday that San Jose State is suspending the Udacity partnership just six months after it launched. The problem: More than half the students in the first batch of online courses failed their final exams.

Udacity founder Sebastian Thrun, a machine-learning legend at Stanford and Google, told the AP that the failure rates in the five classes ranged from 56 to 76 percent. Nor was the course material exactly rocket science—the five classes were in elementary statistics, college algebra, entry-level math, introduction to programming, and introduction to psychology.

Thrun did note that 83 percent of students had completed the classes, a far higher rate than is typical for the free, open courses that have come to be known as MOOCs. Why so many failed is not fully clear, though the AP cites “officials” saying that a lot of the students who signed up had little college experience or were working full-time while taking the classes.

On the bright side, Thrun said Udacity had gained some valuable data from the experience. “We are experimenting and learning,” he said. “That to me is a positive.”

It’s always important to experiment and learn when students’ grades are at stake.

One of the arguments we frequently see in these MOOC discussions is that people hated their big survey courses so this would be better. Well, maybe you could screw around on Facebook during while your MOOC for Psychology 101 so it’s less boring, but 56-76% of students aren’t failing those courses when they see faculty in person. My History 141 failure rate is around 5-8%. This is a class of 125 students and the failures consist entirely of students who either stop coming to class or don’t turn in papers.

This is a pretty powerful piece of evidence suggesting the vast inferiority of MOOCs for students.

Student Debt Deal

[ 40 ] July 20, 2013 |

As you may have heard, 8 Senators have come to an agreement on student loan rates that is blessed by the White House. On July 1, thanks to our dysfunctional (nonfunctional?) political system, the interest rates for student borrowers jumped to an absurd 6.8%. The White House immediately pressed for a system that would tie student loan interest rates to what the government pays to borrow money. As with much of his education agenda, this was a terrible idea from the Obama Administration and basically ceded ground to the Republicans. Senate Democrats were angry and initially rejected such an idea, but what could they really do in the end? The typical college undergraduate borrowing $27,000 (which is an insane amount of money right there) will pay an extra $300 in interest under this system.

Some Democrats such as Diana Carew at the Progressive Policy Institute are calling this a “reasonable compromise.”
I don’t really see it that way. Carew is right that relatively small changes in interest rates is not the biggest driver of student debt. Yet the interest rate on student loans should be 0.0%. That should be the progressive policy position. Republicans and some Democrats have talked of the extra revenue raised by the rise in student loan rates. The government should receive absolutely no profit from the student loan system.

This is one of those small victories for Republicans that add up to make our lives worse and worse, one day at a time.


[ 46 ] July 19, 2013 |


Nate Silver, the statistician who attained national fame for his accurate projections about the 2008 and 2012 presidential elections, is parting ways with The New York Times and moving his FiveThirtyEight franchise to ESPN, the sports empire controlled by the Walt Disney Company, according to ESPN employees with direct knowledge of his plans.

At ESPN, Mr. Silver is expected to have a wide-ranging portfolio. Along with his writing and number-crunching, he will most likely be a regular contributor to “Olbermann,” the late-night ESPN2 talk show hosted by Keith Olbermann that will have its debut at the end of August. In political years, he will also have a role at ABC News, which is owned by Disney.

I suppose there are plenty of statistically minded people now to take Silver’s place at the Times if they want someone. I’m more curious as to the extent that he will still write about politics versus sports.

Also, will Politico now boycott ESPN for hiring its nemesis?

….Someone on a listserv I’m on expressed a desire to see Silver join Skip Bayless on First Take. I think we all want to see what would happen.