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2 Degrees

[ 225 ] March 6, 2016 |

For the first time, the Northern Hemisphere averaged 2 degrees Celsius above average on March 3, blasting through a long-held limit of what acceptable climate change would look like. But no one really cares. Let’s just talk of nothing but Trump.


This Day in Labor History: March 4, 1933

[ 22 ] March 4, 2016 |

On March 4, 1933, the newly inaugurated president Franklin Delano Roosevelt nominated Frances Perkins as Secretary of Labor. This first female cabinet member in American history (the second wouldn’t come until the Carter Eisenhower administration), Perkins was a remarkable figure who dedicated her life to improving the lives of working Americans.

Born in 1880, Perkins attended college at Mount Holyoke and became a prototypical Progressive reformer, upper-middle class, well-educated, and seeking to do well in a world that often blocked educated women from both marriage and work. Building on the legacies of older pioneering Progressive women like Jane Addams and Florence Kelley, Perkins worked in the settlement house movement after graduating from Mount Holyoke. While there, in 1902, she was involved in founding a chapter of the National Consumers League. They invited NCL founder Florence Kelley to speak and this experience changed Perkins’ life. She graduated from college in 1902 and moved to Chicago to teach at a girls’ school against her family’s wishes. There she volunteered at Hull House and Chicago Commons, gaining experience in fighting for the working class that would mark her life. In 1907, she took a job in Philadelphia with an organization dedicated to stopping newly arrived immigrants to the city from ending up in prostitution, while also studying as a graduate student in the Wharton School. She then moved to New York to complete a master’s degree at Columbia on childhood malnutrition. In 1910, she became the Executive Secretary of the New York City Consumers League, where she lobbied for all sorts of reforms to American working class exploitation.

On March 25, 1911, Perkins happened to be in the vicinity of the Triangle Fire. She ran over to the site of the fire and watched 146 people die to make clothing she may have been wearing. Already committed to improving workers’ lives, she became a national leader in fighting to ensure nothing like this would ever happen again. She became Executive Secretary of the Citizens’ Committee on Safety. There she led an investigation into workplace and fire safety, connecting it to the larger exploitation of workers’ lives. She convinced Al Smith and other leading New York politicians to enter the workplaces themselves, leading to major changes as they were shocked with what they discovered. New York City cleaned up its fire building codes, prohibited smoking in factories, and required new fire suppression techniques and technologies. Al Smith and Robert Wagner took Perkins’ suggestion to create the Factory Investigative Commission that led to the passage of 15 new bills by 1915 to make workplaces safer. This made Perkins a national leader on labor reform. Perkins became a close ally of Al Smith and was his leading labor advisor while governor of New York. When Franklin Delano Roosevelt became governor after Smith, he named Perkins state Industrial Commissioner that oversaw the state’s labor department and the two of them worked together to fight against the deepening Great Depression.


When Roosevelt named Perkins Secretary of Labor it was remarkable for a number of reasons. The most obvious is that she was a woman, an unprecedented step (I don’t believe a woman had even been considered for a Cabinet position before this). She also wasn’t a union member. Most people who had held the job of Secretary of Labor had been unionists, and with the Democratic Party far closer to organized labor than Republicans, this was expected. She had a strong agenda for what she wanted to see the Democrats do while she was in the Cabinet–create a 40-hour workweek, federal unemployment insurance, old-age insurance, the abolition of child labor, federal employment of the unemployed, and national health insurance. She would be centrally involved in getting much of this passed. She brought a young Harry Hopkins from New York to help with the federal employment programs, particularly the Federal Employee Relief Administration, which he headed.

Perkins’ primary role as Secretary of Labor for FDR was helping to write much of his key legislation to benefit the millions of impoverished Americans in the Great Depression. This included the Social Security Act of 1935. She also chaired the President’s Committee on Economic Security, which oversaw all the New Deal’s economic legislation goals. She refused to deport the radical International Longshore and Warehouse Union head Harry Bridges in 1939, angering congressional conservatives, but she faced no real pressure to step down. She famously called General Motors head Alfred Sloan in the middle of the night once, yelling at him for not settling with the United Auto Workers. She said, “You don’t deserve to be counted among decent men. You’ll go to hell when you die.”

Perkins and Interior Secretary Harold Ickes were the only cabinet members to serve all 12 years of Roosevelt’s administration, although Henry Wallace served the administration as Agriculture Secretary, Vice-President, and Commerce Secretary during the entirety of the administration as well. She stepped down in June 1945. She then wrote a biography of FDR that was published in 1946. Truman named her to the United States Civil Service Commission in 1946. She worked in that role until 1953, when she became a lecturer at the new Cornell School of Industrial Relations. She died in 1965 at the age of 85.

This is the 172nd post in this series. Previous posts are archived here.

The End of the Lincoln Brigade

[ 37 ] March 3, 2016 |

The last member of the Lincoln Brigade has died.

Delmer Berg, the last known living veteran of the Abraham Lincoln Brigade, which vainly fought against Fascism’s advance into Spain in the late 1930s, died on Sunday at his home in Columbia, Calif. He was 100.

His death was confirmed by Marina Garde, the executive director of the Abraham Lincoln Brigade Archives in New York, who said Mr. Berg was believed to have been the only survivor left of the nearly 3,000 quixotic young Americans who volunteered for the Spanish Civil War in a bloody prelude to World War II. About 800 of those who volunteered were believed to have been killed.

Mr. Berg, an unreconstructed Communist, was a 21-year-old union-card-carrying hotel dishwasher in 1937 when he spotted a billboard for the brigade and, through the Young Communist League, enlisted. After cobbling together bus fare to New York, he boarded the French luxury liner Champlain for France.

“I was a worker,” Mr. Berg told The Modesto Bee, a California newspaper, in November. “I was a farmer. I was in support of the Spanish working people, and I wanted to go to Spain to help them.”

ISDS Courts

[ 13 ] March 1, 2016 |


Who do the Investor State Dispute Settlement courts, already a big part of the international trade framework and about to grow significantly with the Trans-Pacific Partnership, help? You may not be surprised that they serve the interests of the world’s largest corporations and wealthiest individuals.

Report authors Gus Van Harten and Pavel Malysheuski point out that the “legitimacy” of the ISDS concept “appears to depend in part on an expectation that it benefits smaller businesses, not just large multinationals and the super wealthy.”

But that doesn’t appear to be the case. Virtually all of the financial benefits of the ISDS have gone to the rich and powerful. Nearly 95 percent of all award money went to giant corporations or extremely wealthy individuals.

The ISDS industry scored big too. The authors found that ISDS “lawyers, arbitrators, experts and other actors” had earned an estimated $1.7 billion from these hearings by the spring of 2015.

The statistics in the Osgoode study are startling at times. Those “extra-large” corporations of $10 billion or more in revenue won 70.8 percent of the time, while others were only successful 42.2 percent of the time. They won in the “merits” stage of their hearings 82.9 percent of the time, versus a 57.9 percent success rate for everyone else.

The ISDS process has received relatively little attention in this country, perhaps because the United States has fared better than many other countries in ISDS hearings.

Reading this report, it’s not hard to understand why. Most of the countries that signed deals like NAFTA don’t have as many billion-dollar corporations and highly-wealthy individuals as the United States does. As this report shows, that means their oligarchs and companies are less likely to win big through ISDS.

The Children Producing Your Chocolate

[ 7 ] March 1, 2016 |


An excellent essay and photo gallery of the African children producing your chocolate. The reality is that the chocolate companies won’t operate their own farms and while they have thrown some money at the problem of child labor, they still haven’t done nearly enough to solve the problem. And while the reasons there are children working on those farms are complex and it is not all the fault of the companies that the situation exists, they certainly can be held responsible for their production of their own product. Perhaps a class-action lawsuit will finally prod them to do so.

The conclusions were not what the chocolate industry or the governments of Ivory Coast and Ghana wanted to hear. Tulane found that 2.1 million children had been engaged in inappropriate forms of child labor in Ivory Coast and Ghana combined—a 21% increase over the 1.75 million identified in its survey five years earlier. Of those, 96% were found to be involved in “hazardous activity.” The number of children reported to be performing dangerous tasks fell by 6% in Ghana but jumped by 46% in Ivory Coast.

There was immediate blowback. A batch of headlines proclaimed that child slavery was on the rise. And in September three California consumers, represented by the same law firm, filed class-action lawsuits against Hershey, Mars, and Nestlé, claiming they wouldn’t have bought the products had they known the candy might be tainted by child labor.

Then, this February, the issue returned to the spotlight when the Supreme Court declined to consider whether to overturn a 2005 lawsuit brought against Nestlé, cocoa supplier Cargill, and Archer Daniels Midland (which got out of the cocoa business last year) on behalf of three unnamed boys who claim to have been trafficked to Ivory Coast and held as slaves. That cleared the way for the case to continue its slow progress toward a possible trial.

A Nestlé spokesperson says the company “looks forward to those proceedings in the lower courts and believes very strongly that the law and facts are on our side.”

Remains of Greenland

[ 10 ] March 1, 2016 |


A cool new project to help document and protect the archaeological remains of Greenland as they are exposed and then destroyed as a result of climate change, glacier melt, and sea level rise.

Immediate Impacts

[ 44 ] February 27, 2016 |


Above: Protest, University of Wisconsin, 1967

Has Scalia’s demise led to any real-world impacts yet? Yes.

Dow Chemical Co. said it agreed to pay $835 million to settle an antitrust case pending before the U.S. Supreme Court after Justice Antonin Scalia’s death reduced its chances of overturning a jury award.

Dow, the largest U.S. chemical maker by sales, said Friday the accord will resolve its challenges to a $1.06 billion award to purchasers of compounds for urethanes, chemicals used to make foam upholstery for furniture and plastic walls in refrigerators.

The Midland, Michigan-based company disputed a jury’s finding it had conspired with four other chemical makers to fix urethane prices and asked the Supreme Court to take the class-action case on appeal. Scalia, one of the court’s most conservative members, had voted to scale back the reach of such group suits.

“Growing political uncertainties due to recent events with the Supreme Court and increased likelihood for unfavorable outcomes for business involved in class-action suits have changed Dow’s risk assessment of the situation,” the company said in an e-mailed statement.

In other words, HA! Goodman is right and really we would be better off with a Republican president than Hillary Clinton.

Go Away

[ 67 ] February 27, 2016 |


Tony Blair has the sads over Bernie Sanders and Jeremy Corbyn. In case you care what he has to say about anything.

Trump: The American Version of European White Nationalist Politicians

[ 109 ] February 27, 2016 |


In the thread the other day on race, class, and the Trump voter, some commenters were talking about Europe manages these issues better than we do. Others rightfully disagreed. Take Denmark, which is happy to have a nice liberal welfare state so long as there aren’t too many brown people around.

Yet many Danes I talked to are less concerned about terrorism than about the threat they see Muslims posing to their way of life. Though Muslims make up less than 5 percent of the population, there is growing evidence that many of the new arrivals fail to enter the workforce, are slow to learn Danish, and end up in high-crime immigrant neighborhoods where, while relying on extensive state handouts, they and their children are cut off from Danish society. In 2010, the Danish government introduced a “ghetto list” of such marginalized places with the goal of “reintegrating” them; the list now includes more than thirty neighborhoods.

Popular fears that the refugee crisis could overwhelm the Danish welfare state have sometimes surprised the country’s own leadership. On December 3, in a major defeat for the government, a clear majority of Danes—53 percent—rejected a referendum on closer security cooperation with the European Union. Until now, Denmark has been only a partial EU member—for example, it does not belong to the euro and has not joined EU protocols on citizenship and legal affairs. In view of the growing threat of jihadism, both the government and the opposition Social Democrats hoped to integrate the country fully into European policing and counterterrorism efforts. But the “no” vote, which was supported by the Danish People’s Party, was driven by fears that such a move could also give Brussels influence over Denmark’s refugee and immigration policies.

The outcome of the referendum has ominous implications for the European Union at a time when emergency border controls in numerous countries—including Germany and Sweden as well as Denmark—have put in doubt the Schengen system of open borders inside the EU. In Denmark itself, the referendum has forced both the Liberals and the Social Democrats to continue moving closer to the populist right. In November, Martin Henriksen, the Danish People’s Party spokesman on refugees and immigration, told Politiken, the country’s leading newspaper, “There is a contest on to see who can match the Danish People’s Party on immigration matters, and I hope that more parties will participate.”

All these discussions of “Danish values” and the like are not that different than the fears of multiculturalism, diversity, and racial identity that are motivating many white American voters. The major difference seems to be that the Trump voter is seen as an idiot and yokel is probably missing teeth while the Danish anti-immigrant voter is seen as more class-respectable. But then Denmark seems to have adjusted better to the globalized economy with high rates of capital mobility thanks to that welfare state, and thus the economic desperation also driving white people toward a Trump vote isn’t nearly as profound there. Rather, in Denmark, the unemployed are also the immigrants.

Erik Visits an American Grave, Part 22

[ 48 ] February 26, 2016 |

This is the grave of Frederick Law Olmsted

2016-02-14 15.16.28

Olmsted, the famed designer of Central Park in New York and parks around the nation, is the father of American landscape architecture. He has rightfully been criticized recently for kicking African-Americans and the Irish out of what is today Central Park to build the space. That’s fair, but as these things go, we have to consider whether the social cost was worth the long-term benefit. That’s a slippery slope, higher power of your choice knows. But New York without Central Park would be a worse place, I think we can all agree. He and his agency designed public spaces across the nation, including Jackson Park in Chicago, the Emerald Necklace in Boston, and the grounds of the Biltmore Estate in North Carolina. His earlier career as a journalist writing extensively about slave society in the South in the 1850s is also incredibly valuable. During the Civil War, he helped raise three African-American regiments for the Union army and worked on projects that raised $1 million for the U.S. Sanitary Commission. He also helped preserve the area around Niagara Falls from development and was an important player in the preservation of Yosemite National Park.

You can visit his home and studio outside Boston and it’s pretty cool.

Frederick Law Olmsted is buried in Old North Cemetery, Hartford, Connecticut.

The UAW and Free Trade Agreements

[ 10 ] February 26, 2016 |


In 2010, two major unions, the United Auto Workers and the United Food and Commercial Workers, supported the Obama Administration’s free trade deal with South Korea because they thought it would increase American exports of autos and packaged meat, respectively.

The UAW now regrets this stance, remembering that free trade agreements almost universally hurt unions.

United Auto Workers President Dennis Williams says he’s strongly opposed to the Trans Pacific Partnership trade agreement. The UAW supported the Korea Free Trade agreement, but that was then.

Williams says the UAW regrets having supported the Korea Free Trade deal because it cost jobs.

[Dennis Williams]: “And I can tell you right now – from what we’ve seen if we had it to do over again we would not support the Korean agreement. We’ve lost 75,000 jobs in manufacturing today since we signed that agreement and the deficit continues to rise. That’s not a fair trade agreement. And this is a good example to say enough. We need a real trade agreement that has real teeth to protect working men and women in this country.”

Williams says these trade agreements amplify the concern the union has about automakers building cars in cheap labor market nations for sale here in the U.S. He says that’s a bad deal for U.S. workers and their communities.

[Dennis Williams]: “When you look at what has occurred since NAFTA and the amount of jobs we have lost to NAFTA. And the fact that companies – and not just the big three but Nissan and Toyota and Volkswagen and a lot of other companies – are investing in Mexico. And if you look at the amount of vehicles that are being built in Mexico and then imported into the United States. That’s a good example of how trade agreements are not effective in this country. And that’s unfair to the American taxpayer and that’s unfair to the American people. And it’s unfair to UAW members.”

Unions supporting free trade agreements was a terrible idea in 2010 and it remains so in 2016. At least the UAW has learned. Obama promised then that the agreement took labor’s concerns into account in an unprecedented way. UAW leadership believed that six years ago. Obama is saying the same thing about the TPP. The UAW does not believe that now. Nor should it.

Let’s Hope!

[ 28 ] February 25, 2016 |


If this is true, it’s a huge boon for the Democrats:

About 13.1 million Latinos are expected to vote in November’s general election – a boost from the last presidential race but still less than half of Hispanic eligible voters.

According to a report from the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials, 1.9 million more Latinos are expected to vote this fall, up from 11.2 million in 2012 – an increase of 14.5 percent.

Although Latino turnout has steadily been on the rise in recently election cycles, the projected number still only accounts for 47.9 percent of the 27.3 million Latinos able to cast a ballot this fall.

Yes, this is far short of the turnout it would take to turn Texas purple, but given that Hillary/Bernie is going to get maybe 85% of the Latino vote against Trump, a 14.5% jump in that demographic is solid gold.

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