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The U.S. is Truly a Greater Nation than France

[ 124 ] April 10, 2014 |

We American proles are busily doing whatever our bosses ask us to do whenever they want it, even if we are at home, because we support the noblest thing in the world–creating wealth for the 1%. What are those savage French doing? I’ll bet their workers think they have the right to a life outside of work!

Just in case you weren’t jealous enough of the French already, what with their effortless style, lovely accents and collective will to calorie control, they have now just made it illegal to work after 6pm.

Well, sort of. Après noticing that the ability of bosses to invade their employees’ home lives via smartphone at any heure of the day or night was enabling real work hours to extend further and further beyond the 35-hour week the country famously introduced in 1999, workers’ unions have been fighting back. Now employers’ federations and unions have signed a new, legally binding labour agreement that will require staff to switch off their phones after 6pm.

Under the deal, which affects a million employees in the technology and consultancy sectors (including the French arms of Google, Facebook, Deloitte and PwC), employees will also have to resist the temptation to look at work-related material on their computers or smartphones – or any other kind of malevolent intrusion into the time they have been nationally mandated to spend on whatever the French call la dolce vita. And companies must ensure that their employees come under no pressure to do so. Thus the spirit of the law – and of France – as well as the letter shall be observed.

My god! If that kind of craziness happened here, bosses might actually have to hire enough employees to get work done by 6:00. All those takers would have jobs. That’s simply not acceptable. Can’t we just automate more work to free us from the oppression of employment and food? Certainly that’d be better than the hellscape of France.

Wal-Mart Organics

[ 52 ] April 10, 2014 |

Wal-Mart is introducing a line of organic food at low prices:

Walmart plans to announce on Thursday that it is putting its muscle behind Wild Oats organic products, offering the label at prices that will undercut brand-name organic competitors by at least 25 percent.

The move by Walmart, the nation’s largest retailer and grocer, is likely to send shock waves through the organic market, in which an increasing number of food companies and retailers are seeking a toehold.

“We’re removing the premium associated with organic groceries,” said Jack L. Sinclair, executive vice president of Walmart U.S.’s grocery division. The Wild Oats organic products will be priced the same as similar nonorganic brand-name goods.

So good, right? Well, yes and no. One of the legitimate criticisms of organic food is that it is too pricey, making it something for the nation’s elite. This would help reduce that. But what is the real cost of cheaper organics? Who makes up the difference? It certainly isn’t Wal-Mart. Rather, we can expect Wal-Mart to do what it does on apparel and foreign-made consumer products–put the screws on producers to lower production costs. That means labor, especially in a food production system without the same kind of chemical inputs as conventional food. How will the workers producing this food be treated? The article is silent on this, as are most similar articles that focus on this issue from the perspective of consumers and to a lesser extent from the corporate view. The voices and views of labor are completely erased from the conversation. And if we know one thing from Wal-Mart, it’s that people at work will suffer to produce this food.

As Mark Bittman has argued, food costs need to be higher and wages need to go up in order to allow the poor to eat it. This of course means in part taking the world back from the retail corporate domination of the Wal-Marts, Targets, and Gaps. A tall order, but just offering cheaper organic food under an exploitative labor system is not much of an answer to our ailing food system.

Technology Will Save Us

[ 97 ] April 10, 2014 |

Since a cow isn’t an animal but an industrial product, I’m sure these plans will be totally successful and we will be able to continue on our ecologically destructive diet.

The Obama administration’s launch last month of a plan to curb methane emissions has given fresh relevance to climate-friendly technologies for cattle that range from dietary supplements and DNA gut tests to strap-on gas tanks.

Juan Tricarico, director of the Cow of the Future project at the Innovation Center for US Dairy, an Illinois research institute, said the initiative had boosted his quest to create the “star athlete” of the bovine world.

C-Lock, a South Dakota company, sells a feeding station that gives animals dietary supplements such as basil to cut methane production and measures the content of their breath by pulling it towards trace gas sensors with a vacuum.

Patrick Zimmerman, C-Lock’s founder, says prices start at $45,000 but stresses the economic benefits of improved efficiency. “Of the energy the animals eat, 3 to 15 per cent is lost as methane and that’s a waste,” he says.

At Argentina’s National Institute of Agricultural Technology, scientists have created backpacks that collect gas via tubes plugged into cows’ stomachs. A typical animal emits 250-300 litres of methane a day and researchers say this could be used to power a car or a refrigerator for a day, but Jorge Antonio Hilbert of the institute says the tanks’ use on a large scale is “totally improbable”.

Jonathan Gelbard of the Natural Resources Defense Council, an environmental group, says: “Anyone who can come up with a cost-effective way to harness that methane is going to make a lot of money.”

Ilmi Granoff of the Overseas Development Institute said an alternative to controlling cattle emissions would be to cut the number of cows.

“Forget coal, Forget cars. The fastest way to address climate change would be to dramatically reduce the amount of meat people eat,” he said. “But that involves cultural preferences and they are difficult to touch.”

Where’s the pitchforks and torches! Someone needs to get that traitor Ilmi Granoff for suggesting something so crazy. He must be a food Luddite to suggest that we can’t engineer our way out of these problems!!

Shaving and Masculinity in the Gilded Age

[ 25 ] April 10, 2014 |

Good stuff here on shaving and masculinity in Gilded Age Britain. In an era when shaving could be a real health risk, crazy beards made sense. The situation, both in its gendered and public health facets, is quite similar in the U.S. and in fact the advertisements shown in the linked post were also seen in the United States and in fact are in primary source readers for U.S. history survey courses.

Dead Horses in American History (XI)

[ 22 ] April 9, 2014 |

little-bighorn

Pile of horse and human bones, the aftermath of

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the Battle of Little Bighorn, 1876.

Data is Not Objective

[ 132 ] April 9, 2014 |

This takedown of a FiveThirtyEight article on Venezuela is pretty complete and damning. Once again, data is in no way “objective” and Silver’s belief that it is has lead to some pretty bad articles at the new site.

Jim DeMint on How Slavery Ended

[ 327 ] April 9, 2014 |

Obviously I need to change the way I teach my Civil War course. Since Jim DeMint has the ear of God, we know his view of history is also correct.

DeMint: This progressive, the whole idea of being progressive is to progress away from those ideas that made this country great. What we’re trying to conserve as conservative are those things that work. They work today, they work for young people, they work for minorities and we can change this country and change its course very quickly if we just remember what works.

Newcombe: What if somebody, let’s say you’re talking with a liberal person and they were to turn around and say, ‘that Founding Fathers thing worked out really well, look at that Civil War we had eighty years later.’

DeMint: Well the reason that the slaves were eventually freed was the Constitution, it was like the conscience of the American people. Unfortunately there were some court decisions like Dred Scott and others that defined some people as property, but the Constitution kept calling us back to ‘all men are created equal and we have inalienable rights’ in the minds of God. But a lot of the move to free the slaves came from the people, it did not come from the federal government. It came from a growing movement among the people, particularly people of faith, that this was wrong. People like Wilberforce who persisted for years because of his faith and because of his love for people. So no liberal is going to win a debate that big government freed the slaves. In fact, it was Abraham Lincoln, the very first Republican, who took this on as a cause and a lot of it was based on a love in his heart that comes from God.

This is funny on so many levels but my favorite part of this “interpretation” that the federal government didn’t free the slaves is that in fact not only is this wrong, but doing so led to the largest expansion of the federal government in the nation’s history to that time.

Dumb upon Dumb

[ 84 ] April 9, 2014 |

Sadly today, as you have probably heard, a high school kid went ballistic with a knife in a Pennsylvania high school. Gun nuts are joyous–guns don’t kill people, people kill people!

Oh yeah, except that this kid didn’t actually kill anyone (at time of writing, word is everyone will survive) whereas he might well have killed dozens with a gun.

Of course, only a gun nut would celebrate school stabbings.

$10.10

[ 71 ] April 8, 2014 |

Glad to see Maryland following Connecticut in creating a $10.10 minimum wage. That’s still too low but it’s a nice jump. It also continues to build a real red state-blue state divide in wages and I wonder how big that gap will become.

Equal Pay Day

[ 46 ] April 8, 2014 |

Today is Equal Pay Day. Pay equality has still never been achieved in this country. Some facts, thanks to the National Women’s Law Center:

On average, women are paid only 77 cents for every dollar paid to their male counterparts.For women of color, the gap is even wider: African-American women are paid only 64 cents, and Hispanic women only 54 cents, for every dollar paid to white, non-Hispanic men. The wage gap has only budged by 18 cents since it was signed into law in 1963, when women were typically paid 59 cents for every dollar paid to their male counterparts.

The wage gap among union members is half the size of the wage gap among non-union workers.


Women represent nearly two-thirds of minimum wage workers
.22% percent of minimum wage workers are women of color.More than three-quarters of women earning the minimum wage are 20 or older, and do not have a spouse’s income to rely on.70% of restaurant servers (the largest group of tipped minimum wage worker) are women – and their poverty rate is nearly 3 times higher than the rate for the workforce as a whole.

Women represent 76% of the low-wage workforce, defined as the ten largest low-paying occupations. Women of color are 37% of the low-wage workforce.

4.8 million working mothers would get a raise if the minimum wage was increased. Increasing the minimum wage would boost annual earnings by $5,700 – enough to pull a family of three out of poverty.

Does Ezra Klein Really Not Understand the Point of Politics?

[ 334 ] April 8, 2014 |

So Ezra Klein’s big lead-off article at Vox was, well, strange. Not that I disagree with all of it, although there is way too much both sides do it in here. But see here:

The silver lining is that politics doesn’t just take place in Washington. The point of politics is policy. And most people don’t experience policy as a political argument. They experience it as a tax bill, or a health insurance card, or a deployment. And, ultimately, there’s no spin effective enough to persuade Americans to ignore a cratering economy, or skyrocketing health-care costs, or a failing war. A political movement that fools itself into crafting national policy based on bad evidence is a political movement that will, sooner or later, face a reckoning at the polls.

The point of politics is not policy. The point of politics is power. This is blindingly obvious. I know that there is a subset of Beltway pundit types who really wish that politics was about policy. They want to talk about policy and wonkish details. They don’t want to talk about building social movements. But that is a severe misreading of what politics actually are about. The civil rights movement or the conservative movement did not succeed because of policy debates. They succeeded because they were able to marshal power. The environmental movement faded in part because it did begin to believe that politics was about policy and deemphasized its base expressing power. To a lesser extent, the labor movement did the same thing. The Koch Brothers and Sheldon Adelson laugh at Klein’s formulation.

And the idea that the right evidence is going to save a political party and the wrong evidence is going to destroy one, I don’t think there’s a lot of evidence to this unless you are cherrypicking fairly significantly. I mean, OK, Hoover’s actions during the Depression did doom the Republicans. But while Obama won in 2008, I don’t exactly recall Bush’s many failed policies making him one of the worst presidents in American history permanently dooming the Republican Party. Oh yeah, because Republicans knew how to take power in a number of ways that frustrate the majority of the country today.

Maybe some of this is that I take a longer-term view because I’m a historian. But maybe some of it comes from some pretty significant ideological blinders that Klein wears.

Thanks to friend of the blog Robert Cruickshank for bringing this to my attention.

Wellness Programs as Tools of the Boss

[ 81 ] April 8, 2014 |

Not at all surprising that employee wellness program shifts responsibility for unhealthy workplaces off of the employer and onto the employee:

“Many of the individual behaviors you are focusing on in your health and wellness programs [such as] stop smoking, eat better, exercise more, are in fact the consequences of the environments in which they [employees] are working,” Pfeffer says. “If you work people to death, of course they are going to smoke more, drink more and eat worse.”

Pfeffer outlined his concept of “social sustainability,” where companies invest more in making their human capital sustainable.

“Work organizations ought to be measuring the health of their workforce,” he said in his keynote speech. “Just as many places today measure carbon, renewables and environmental impacts, we ought to measure human sustainability just as much as we measure environmental sustainability.”

When determining well-being and longevity of workforces, Pfeffer said that most company wellness programs – which conventionally promote individual health and wellness, biometric screenings and smoking and drinking cessation programs – do fall short of really instituting change. Indicators such as work-family conflict, lack of job control, perceived fairness at work, as well as layoffs and economic insecurity, all play a huge role in workforce health, he added.

“The higher you are [in the organizational structure of your company] the more control you have; the lower you are, [the] more flows down hill,” Pfeffer said, while noting that low control over one’s work increases a person’s likelihood of having a cardiovascular event.

That this Stanford researcher told this to a conference of employers means I’m surprised he wasn’t howled down on the spot. If companies can charge workers higher premiums if they don’t live up to their standards of health, even more money stolen from workers!

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