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Mother of a Honky Tonk Girl

[ 16 ] May 17, 2013 |

A good rule of thumb about country music is that when the singer starts talking, something weird is about to happen. When it is about morality or politics, you know the song is a winner.

Our Freedom Just Got Smarter

[ 107 ] May 17, 2013 |

If there’s one thing this country needs, it’s “smart” rifles that almost never miss no matter how inexperienced the shooter. I know that the first time some crazy person takes one of these onto a college campus or into an elementary school, our national freedoms will be expressed onto the bodies of students and teachers in an extra bloody and horrifying way.

Cambodian Shoe Factory Roof Collapse

[ 67 ] May 16, 2013 |

This is a story that won’t get lasting attention because of the small number of dead workers, but following the death of 1127 garment workers in Bangladesh, we have another factory collapse in the apparel industry. The roof collapsed in a Cambodian shoe factory, killing 2 workers and injuring at least 9 others. The factory makes shoes for the Japanese company Asics.

Once again, these workplace disasters are a completely acceptable cost of doing business in the apparel industry. Asics could employ these workers directly in its own Cambodian factory. But it is more profitable to shirk the responsibility and instead pretend like it has no fault in the death of these workers. As the linked article notes, Cambodia, like Bangladesh, has workplace safety laws and building standard codes, but they are completely unenforced. The lack of any bite to the regulation is precisely why companies like Asics, Wal-Mart, and Gap outsource factory work there, separating the point of production from the point of consumption by as large a gap as possible. This is why I believe that Asics corporate leads should be held criminally responsible for the deaths under Japanese law, just as if the factory had collapsed in Japan.

Historical Impact of the Obama “Scandals”

[ 42 ] May 16, 2013 |

Ezra Klein sums up what the future will almost certainly say about the Obama Administration and these so-called scandals Republicans are so desperately clinging to like a piece of driftwood in the ocean:

And yet, even if the scandals fade, the underlying problems might remain. The IRS. could give its agents better and clearer guidance on designating 501(c)(4), but Congress needs to decide whether that status and all of its benefits should be open to political groups or not. The Media Shield Act is not likely to go anywhere, and even if it does, it doesn’t get us anywhere close to grappling with the post-9/11 expansion of the surveillance state. And then, of course, there are all the other problems Congress is ignoring, from high unemployment to sequestration to global warming. When future generations look back on the scandals of our age, it’ll be the unchecked rise in global temperatures, not the Benghazi talking points, that infuriate them.


How Industries Fight Safety Standards

[ 62 ] May 16, 2013 |

Myron Levin has just an outstanding report on how the power saw industry fights against implementing already existing technology that would reduce finger injuries from table saws to zero. In short, an Oregon inventor came up with a table saw design that would stop immediately on contact with anything but wood. If you touch a running saw, it leaves you with the equivalent of a paper cut. He figured the saw industry would adopt it immediately. He was wrong. Instead, the saw industry has spent the last decade fighting tooth and nail against it because they fear that if anyone adopts it, their liability will go up and lawsuits will follow.

To reiterate, corporations put profits before people’s hands and lives and there is no hyperbole in that statement at all.

Creating the Permanent Underclass

[ 121 ] May 16, 2013 |

House Republicans are moving forward in their ultimate goal of entrenching poverty, passing a farm bill that slashes food stamps. Steve King talks of food stamps that “expand the dependency class,” words that could have come out of the mouth of any bog standard Gilded Age Republican in opposition to ending the 14 hour day, a minimum wage, or even private charity. But it is the new Gilded Age, so this is to be expected. Other fun things this farm bill does is shift crop insurance to the private sector and reduce conservation programs for farm land.

Let’s hope this gets eviscerated in the Senate.

Pay No Attention to Alice

[ 22 ] May 15, 2013 |

If there was a Hall of Fame for great songs, Tom T. Hall’s “Pay No Attention to Alice” would be an obvious induction.

The Long Arm of the Dawes Act

[ 20 ] May 15, 2013 |

I’ve talked about both the history of the Dawes Act and the private ownership of the Wounded Knee Massacre site by someone who is threatening to develop it. Here’s a good essay expanding on these issues, talking about how an act dispossessing Native peoples of their land in 1887 still has widespread ramifications today.

Some additional context here.

The Latest in Job Safety Hazards: Poop Foam

[ 117 ] May 15, 2013 |

Tom Philpott reports on a new job safety hazard developing in agriculture. The enormous manure piles on today’s gargantuan hog farms are gurgling up explosive foam.

This never really happened before 2009, but it is an increasingly common occurrence on industrial-scale hog farms.

The problem is menacing: As manure breaks down, it emits toxic gases like hydrogen sulfide and flammable ones like methane, and trapping these noxious fumes under a layer of foam can lead to sudden, disastrous releases and even explosions. According to a 2012 report from the University of Minnesota, by September 2011, the foam had “caused about a half-dozen explosions in the upper Midwest…one explosion destroyed a barn on a farm in northern Iowa, killing 1,500 pigs and severely burning the worker involved.”

This is highly understudied and of course nothing will stop the growth of ever larger and more dangerous agricultural concerns. However, it does seem that dumping a bunch of antibiotics into the manure pits may solve the problem. And I’m sure there will be no unintended consequences from that action.

Today in Our Failed Workplace Safety Regulatory System

[ 14 ] May 15, 2013 |

On Monday, a West Virginia gas facility exploded, injuring two workers. Luckily, neither have life-threatening injuries. So this story will fade into oblivion even faster than a fatal coal mine or fertilizer plant explosion. However, it should rivet our attention because it seems that OSHA has never inspected this plant. There are 8 OSHA inspectors in the state of West Virginia. It would take them over 100 years to inspect every worksite in the state. Amazingly, that’s actually better than average.

The Greatest Apparel Company Villain–Gap

[ 39 ] May 14, 2013 |

When we think of terrible labor standards in the 21st century economy, we may very well think of Wal-Mart and for good reason. But the real villain in the international clothing industry is Gap. That company has done more than any other to push back against any meaningful reform, including in the aftermath of the Bangladesh disaster.

Consumer and labor groups have focused more on persuading Gap rather than Walmart to join the Bangladesh factory safety plan. Gap has been the most vocal company in criticizing the plan, expressing concerns that overly litigious American lawyers could seize on the agreement to sue American companies on behalf of aggrieved factory workers in Bangladesh. Gap’s proposed changes would greatly limit any legal liability for any company that violated the plans.

In a statement, Gap said: “We’re pleased that an accord is within reach, and Gap Inc. is ready to sign on today with a modification to a single area — how disputes are resolved in the courts. This proposal is on the table right now with the parties involved. With this single change, this global, historic agreement can move forward with a group of all retailers, not just those based in Europe.”

Under Gap’s proposal, if a retailer is found to have violated the agreement, the only remedy would be public expulsion from the factory safety plan.

“The U.S. is quite litigious,” said Bill Chandler, a Gap spokesman. “We put forward specific proposals that we thought would bring other American retailers into the fold. We thought it would be a step forward and would turn it into a much more global agreement.”

The labor unions and advocacy groups that have negotiated with H&M; Inditex, the Spanish company that owns the Zara chain; and other companies that have signed the plan criticized Gap’s proposal to change the agreement. These groups say Gap’s vigorous push against the version of the plan has helped sway some other American companies not to sign.

“Gap Inc. is ready to sign on today with a modification to a single area — how disputes are resolved,” said Scott Nova, executive director of the Worker Rights Consortium, a group sponsored by 175 colleges and universities. “Gap’s demand is that the agreement be made unenforceable — and therefore meaningless. What Gap wants is the right to renege on its commitments when it wishes.”

This is not the first time Gap has acted to preserve the exploitative nature of the apparel industry. Gap has a long history of using child labor to make its clothing in nations ranging from Jordan to Bangladesh. It has used contractors that dump dyes into Lesotho rivers. It wants absolutely no enforceable standards and is the greatest defender of a system that just killed 900 Bangladeshis.

I think it is high time for an international boycott of Gap until it agrees to enforceable labor standards at its contractors, or at least signs on to the safety plan created by European companies in the wake of the Bangladesh factory collapse.

…..Also, the Bangladesh death toll now stands at 1127.

White People are Poodles and Black People are Beagles

[ 499 ] May 14, 2013 |

Andrew Sullivan defends Jason Richwine, not just because he was fired from the Heritage Foundation for writing a white supremacist dissertation, but on the merits on Richwine’s arguments. Because white people are poodles and black people are beagles:

Of course not. We remain the same species, just as a poodle and a beagle are of the same species. But poodles, in general, are smarter than beagles, and beagles have a much better sense of smell. We bred those traits into them, of course, fast-forwarding evolution. But the idea that natural selection and environmental adaptation stopped among human beings the minute we emerged in the planet 200,000 years ago – and that there are no genetic markers for geographical origin or destination – is bizarre. It would be deeply strange if Homo sapiens were the only species on earth that did not adapt to different climates, diseases, landscapes, and experiences over hundreds of millennia. We see such adaptation happening very quickly in the animal kingdom. Our skin color alone – clearly a genetic adaptation to climate – is, well, right in front of one’s nose.

That’s an argument well at home within the circles of late 19th century Social Darwinism, Lamarckism, and scientific racism. I mean, Mongoloid skulls are this big and Nordic skulls are this big. It’s right in front of one’s nose!

That Sullivan cites Freddie DeBoer favorably in his argument also makes me laugh.

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