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Not the Onion

[ 25 ] August 21, 2014 |

Ouch:

Egypt on Tuesday urged U.S. authorities to exercise restraint in dealing with racially charged demonstrations in Ferguson, Missouri – echoing language Washington used to caution Egypt as it cracked down on Islamist protesters last year.

U.S. foes Iran and Syria also lambasted the United States, but while they are frequent critics of Washington, it is unusual for Egypt to criticise such a major donor. It was not immediately clear why Egypt would issue such a statement.

Ties between Washington and Cairo were strained after Egyptian security forces killed hundreds of Muslim Brotherhood supporters following the army’s ousting of freely elected President Mohamed Mursi in July 2013.

The Egyptian Foreign Ministry’s statement on the unrest in Ferguson read similarly to one issued by U.S. President Barack Obama’s administration in July 2013, when the White House “urged security forces to exercise maximum restraint and caution” in dealing with demonstrations by Mursi supporters.

The ministry added it was “closely following the escalation of protests” in Ferguson, unleashed by the fatal shooting of an unarmed black teenager by a white policeman on Aug. 9.

Jazz Hot

[ 29 ] August 20, 2014 |

In 1939, a promotional film in English was made for Django Reinhardt, Stephane Grappelli and the Hot Club of France. It’s unclear why, probably for a tour of Britain the group was doing that year. The start of this is a bit slow, with a history of jazz for the British uninitiated listeners. And then the Hot Club starts. You ever wanted to see Reinhardt’s fingers move across the guitar with excellent camera work that makes this very clear? Now is your chance. Just amazing footage.

For whatever reason, YouTube doesn’t allow this to be embedded, but you can watch it if you link.

The Seafarers

[ 7 ] August 19, 2014 |

A couple of weeks ago, I referenced Stanley Kubrick’s 1953 film The Seafarers, a promotional film he did for the Seafarers International Union. I couldn’t find an easily accessible copy at the time but have since alleviated that problem. Here it is, although not entirely safe for work given that seamen love pictures of topless women and evidently so does Kubrick.

Now, this is not the greatest film ever, nor does it really showcase Kubrick’s future talents, although the long, languorous shot of the food in the cafeteria is pretty great. Really, it’s more interesting as a window inside the mid-20th century labor movement. If you are looking for your leftist ideal of a labor movement, replete with socialism, cross-movement solidarity, etc., you never were going to find it in the SIU. It was formed as an AFL counter to Harry Bridges’ International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU). What this union is about, as it states repeatedly, is security for workers. For most workers, this is the most important thing a union can offer and it, not radical social change, was at the core of labor’s appeal. This film was intended for use in convincing new members to sign up and it’s pretty effective in that, focusing on the concrete benefits for workers and their families and the internal democracy of the union.

Narrated by Don Hollenbeck of CBS News (imagine the reaction if Brian Williams or Wolf Blitzer narrated a union promotional film today!), this is just a really useful document for understanding American unionism at the peak of its power.

The NFL Shakedown

[ 159 ] August 19, 2014 |

This is impressive, if you are impressed by shakedowns:

Rihanna, Katy Perry, or Coldplay might be doing the Super Bowl halftime show this year—that is, if they’re willing to pay up. According to The Wall Street Journal, the NFL has narrowed down its list of potential performers for the 2015 gig to those three candidates, though it’s also asking “at least some of the acts” if they’d be willing to pay the league for the privilege of playing the halftime show—something that’s absolutely insane, but not 100 percent unreasonable, considering how many people actually watch the performance. Alternately (and this is where it gets wacky), they should “be willing to contribute a portion of their post-Super Bowl tour income to the league.”

Billionaires demanding not only payment from performers to play on their big stage but then shaking them down for millions after the performance. Nice. How long until owners demand a cut of their players’ promotional deals?

Jim Jeffords, RIP

[ 2 ] August 19, 2014 |

Jim Jeffords gave control of the Senate to the Democrats in 2001 when he left the Republican Party. If it didn’t permanently eliminate the Republican control that would allow the Bush Administration to do all sorts of horrible things with congressional approval, it forestalled it and for that we owe him thanks.

Also, it made me laugh at Republicans at a time when there was very little for me to laugh about given that Bush had just stolen the election.

Problems with Renewables

[ 54 ] August 19, 2014 |

When your solar panels burn so hot that the birds flying over them burst into flames, your energy plans have problems.

As I’ve said before, all forms of energy are going to have negative environmental consequences. But while far more birds die from smashing into glass buildings that will ever die from solar panels, the visuals on this are pretty horrible.

What’s Wrong With White People (II)

[ 111 ] August 18, 2014 |

Oh white people.

Current job approval of President Obama by race:

African-American: 85%
Hispanic (a term I dislike but that’s what they use): 52%
White: 32%

In other news, we live in a post-racial society.

It’s Always About Profits

[ 22 ] August 18, 2014 |

Since the murder of Michael Brown by Ferguson, Missouri police officer Darren Wilson, shares of Taser International have risen 25 percent. Given that the company makes tasers and body cameras for police, it’s not totally clear to me which is driving the jump. Both probably. For the capitalists, it doesn’t matter. The company profits on police violence and on regulating police violence. Hard to find a better example of capitalism.

Faux Outrage over the Poor Owning Technology

[ 48 ] August 18, 2014 |

In other words, people who whine that the poor have cell phones instead of their proper role of starving or that those “choosing” to have something like a cell phone rather than health insurance are the undeserving poor are idiots. Because these often aren’t actually choices and even if they are, what the hell is it to you that people make the choices that improve their lives in ways they see fit with their limited resources?

The Deadly Workplaces of Texas

[ 31 ] August 16, 2014 |

Excellent Dallas Morning News expose on dangerous work in the Texas construction industry.

More workers die here than in any other state. On average, a Texas worker is 12 percent more likely to be killed on the job than someone doing the same job elsewhere, according to a Dallas Morning News analysis of federal data.

That translates to about 580 excess workplace deaths over a decade.

Construction has contributed mightily to Texas’ booming economy. And the state’s construction sites are 22 percent deadlier than the national average.

Forty percent of Texas’ excess death toll was among roofers, electricians and others in specialty construction trades. Such workers are sometimes treated as independent contractors, leaving them responsible for their own safety equipment and training. Many are undocumented immigrants.

Government and industry here have invested relatively little in safety equipment, training and inspections, researchers say. And Texas is one of the toughest places to organize unions, which can promote safety.

“There’s a Wild West culture here,” said University of Texas law professor Thomas McGarity, who has written several books about regulation. Texans often think, “We don’t want some nanny state telling workers how to work and, by implication, telling employers how to manage the workplace,” he said.

The Texas construction industry flourishes in the state’s business-friendly climate, Gov. Rick Perry has said.

“Let free enterprise reign, and be wary of overregulation,” he declared in a 2009 speech at the Central Texas Construction Expo. “All that regulation adds to your overhead, and you can’t operate at a profit.”

Which is more important than keeping workers alive.

What causes this higher danger?

A 2013 report by the Workers Defense Project, an Austin-based advocacy group, estimated that 41 percent of construction workers in Texas are improperly treated as independent contractors.

A state law passed in the last legislative session allows a fine of $200 for each misclassified worker found at a publicly funded project. The Texas Workforce Commission says it has issued one fine under the new law.

In Illinois, a similar law also covers construction companies working on private projects. A roofing contractor there was fined $1.6 million for having 10 misclassified workers.

“Now that’s a deterrent,” said Mike Cunningham, executive director of a labor union association called Texas Building Trades.

What would fix the problem?

Texas is a right-to-work state. That means workers aren’t required to join a union if one exists for their shop. Texas has the sixth-lowest rate of union membership in the country.

The News’ analysis found that states with weaker labor unions tended to have a higher fatality rate. Long-term academic research that studied other factors has come to similar conclusions.

Of course.

In conclusion, Texans will continue to die while working construction. That many are undocumented immigrants is a feature of the system.

More Bottled Water Absurdity

[ 79 ] August 16, 2014 |

More on America’s most ridiculous industry: bottled water. Where are the sources of that water?

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Yeah, that’s sustainable.

But that only accounts for 55% of the bottled water. What about the rest?

The other 45 percent comes from the municipal water supply, meaning that companies, including Aquafina and Dasani, simply treat tap water—the same stuff that comes out of your faucet at home—and bottle it up. (Weird, right?)

Not weird at all. It shows that you can create a fake problem (there is something wrong with the tap water!), develop a consumer market around it, and then sell people the same water they would be drinking if they turned on their faucet. Now that’s a capitalist success story! More on that:

Then there’s the aforementioned murkiness of the industry: Companies aren’t required to publicly disclose exactly where their sources are or how much water each facility bottles. Peter Gleick, author of Bottled and Sold: The Story Behind Our Obsession With Bottled Water, says, “I don’t think people have a clue—no one knows” where their bottled water comes from. (Fun facts he’s discovered in his research: Everest water comes from Texas, Glacier Mountain comes from Ohio, and only about a third of Poland Spring water comes from the actual Poland Spring, in Maine.)

Despite the fact that almost all U.S. tap water is better regulated and monitored than bottled, and despite the hefty environmental footprint of the bottled water industry, perhaps the biggest reason that bottling companies are using water in drought zones is simply because we’re still providing a demand for it: In 2012 in the United States alone, the industry produced about 10 billion gallons of bottled water, with sales revenues at $12 billion.

As Gleick wrote, “This industry has very successfully turned a public resource into a private commodity.” And consumers—well, we’re drinking it up.

Yosemite and the Legacy of White Colonialism Upon the Land

[ 37 ] August 16, 2014 |

theodore-roosevelt-yosemite

This is a fascinating essay on the terrible wrath white colonialism has created in the Yosemite Valley. There are a couple of facets. First, in the early 1850s, whites committed genocidal acts against the indigenous peoples living in Yosemite, clearing out the population. Then in the late 19th century, the Yosemite became the nation’s first “protected” space, based in no small part upon the landscape indigenous people had created in the Yosemite Valley through the applied use of fire to clear brush. In the early 20th century, under the guidance of the supposed father of Yosemite and of the modern environmental movement John Muir, fire was banned entirely, drastically changing the region and, ironically, creating the circumstances for much hotter and out of control fires because of denser and smaller vegetation. As the West dries out and heats up today, the costs of controlling these fires gets higher and higher in harder and harder conditions, thanks a century of white American land management practices.

In other words, the history of white colonialism in the Yosemite Valley is not just about a distant massacre of indigenous people 150 years ago. It’s about land management practices with a series of ideologies–aesthetic, economic, racial–behind them that still profoundly shape the area today, and not for the better.

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