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If You Support Alternative Energy, You Support Enormous Tubs of Ocean Lard

[ 30 ] July 23, 2014 |

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Seals have far surpassed Americans in their support for offshore wind energy:

The scientists observed eleven harbor seals outfitted with GPS tracking tags in the North Sea frequenting two active wind farms, Alpha Ventus in Germany and Sheringham Shoal off the southeast coast of the United Kingdom. One seal even visited 13 times, according to a report published this week in the journal Current Biology.

The wind turbines make up a grid. When foraging for food, the seals moved “systematically from one turbine to the next turbine in a grid pattern, following exactly how the turbines are laid out,” says study author Deborah Russell of the University of St. Andrews. “That was surprising to see how much their behavior was affected by the presence of these artificial structures and how they could actually adapt their behaviors to respond to that.”

If the Republicans nominated a seal for president in 2016, it would be an improvement over the current possible candidates.

Apple Treats Labor Like Dirt

[ 89 ] July 23, 2014 |

Given that Steve Jobs was a sociopath and given the labor conditions at overseas factories where Apple products are made, it’s not at all hard to believe that the company would treat their U.S. labor horribly:

A state court in California has granted class certification to nearly 21,000 current and former Apple employees over claims that the company failed to provide timely meal and rest breaks as required by the law, and sometimes denied workers rest breaks altogether.

In a ruling late Monday, Judge Ronald S. Prager of the Superior Court of California for the County of San Diego granted the class certification for a large group of retail employees and workers at corporate headquarters.

Under California law, employers are generally required to provide 30-minute lunch breaks within an employee’s first five hours at work each day and provide a 10-minute rest break every four hours or major fraction thereof. In addition, California law requires employers to provide a second rest break for shifts that run six to 10 hours, and Judge Prager wrote that the evidence showed that Apple had failed to authorized second rest breaks under these circumstances.

Freedom Summer and Union Organizing

[ 1 ] July 23, 2014 |

Freedom Summer was 50 years ago this year and its anniversary has been pretty underreported. Anyway, this is an interesting piece from one of the white organizers about the relationship between organizing civil rights workers and union organizing in Mississippi. Obviously, biracial unionism did not exactly take hold in Mississippi or the rest of the South but still, there are potentially useful lessons here.

Kindly Old Robert E. Lee

[ 203 ] July 23, 2014 |

Robert E. Lee was a kind slavemaster, certainly not the type of man who represents all that was inhumane about the Confederacy:

Lee married into ownership of nearly 200 slaves at Arlington and adjoining properties. Pryor forthrightly confronts this side of Lee’s life; he disliked slavery and found it a burden, but he was no “good” master, communicated badly with his slaves, and considered them naturally indolent and incapable of freedom. He confronted an “epidemic of runaways” (264) in the late 1850s and oversaw one brutal beating of a returned fugitive, including brine sewn into the wounds. Modern day Lee lovers will cringe at some of Pryor’s conclusions, rooted in strong evidence: Lee broke up families and “denied the slaves’ humanity” (275).

H/T Jamelle Bouie

Victory

[ 25 ] July 22, 2014 |

I know I am supposed to be all doom and gloom all the time. But that’s only true 99% of the time. Sometimes there are victories. Such as the concession workers for the San Francisco Giants who just ratified their first contract with 98% of the members voting yes.

Instead, it took place in the stands where 800 seasonal concession workers organized by UNITE HERE Local 2 just ratified by 98% a contract with Centerplate, the subcontracted concessionaire at Giants Park and one of the largest hospitality companies in North America.

The agreement provides the best wages and benefits in the country for their type of work.

The terms included an immediate raise of $1.40 an hour with some back pay, strong job security protections, dental insurance and fully paid family medical coverage without co-pays through the contract’s 2019 expiration date.

The agreement will also fund a big improvement in pension benefits and will tie future health care and wage increases to San Francisco’s big hotels – so when Local 2 hotel workers get wage and benefit increases, Centerplate will match them at Giants stadium.

This convergence of interests is not accidental.

Local 2 members regularly discuss the importance of solidarity. Membership unity across job classifications and work sites strengthens the union and, as results indicate, increases its bargaining leverage considerably.

Tying their salaries with those of the hotel workers in a strong local is a big deal.

Poor Doors: The New Housing Jim Crow

[ 140 ] July 22, 2014 |

In August 2013, word came out about a luxury development on the Upper West Side with a few affordable housing units where the developer wanted to force the occupants of those units to go through a separate “poor door.” New York has now approved the development, with the DeBlasio administration saying there’s nothing they can do since Daddy Warbucks Bloomberg originally approved it and the construction was too far along. This is a new version of Jim Crow and is disgusting. Ariella Cohen makes the connection:

Isn’t it just a door? I mean, is going in a different entrance really that big of a deal?

Again, yes — sort of like drinking from separate water fountains was a big deal and sitting in different seats on the bus was also a pretty damn big deal. Plus, the two-class entrances is part of a larger trend of segregating buildings by rent levels; in a growing number of mixed-income buildings, owners are barring rent-stabilized tenants from using amenities open to their more affluent neighbors.

In one Upper West Side building called Stonehenge Village, tenants weren’t allowed to pay extra to use the gym on the lobby level even after local pols intervened on behalf of tenants and public advocate Letitia James filed a discrimination complaint.

“These rent-stabilized tenants offered to pay for gym memberships, and they were refused,” said West Harlem City Councilman Mark Levine. “It’s about exclusivity. It just so happens that the rent-regulated tenants being blocked from the gym happen to be older and more often people of color than the market-rate tenants, which is the same as the tenants who would be affected by the ‘poor door.’”

In the New Gilded Age though, keeping the poors away from the deserving rich is a must. It’s bad enough that the takers can live in the same building as non-servants. That’s obviously Obama’s fault. Only when true freedom returns to this nation can these people be kicked onto the streets and the rich can rain crumbs of bread down from their windows, laughing as they watch the poor fight for them in the mud.

Obama Opens East Coast to Oil Drilling

[ 86 ] July 22, 2014 |

My dismay toward President Obama’s decisions to open the ocean off the east coast to oil drilling cannot be overstated. This is a terrible decision that is in line with his drilling policies throughout his entire administration. Combined with his restrictions upon coal-fired power plants, my evaluation of Obama’s overall energy policy is that it has been nothing less than incoherent, good in some areas and terrible in other, closely related, areas. Moreover, the technology that allows oil companies to find the deposits has potentially devastating impacts on already overstressed and declining marine wildlife:

The sonic cannons are often fired continually for weeks or months, and multiple mapping projects may operate simultaneously. To get permits, companies will need to have whale-spotting observers onboard and do undersea acoustic tests to avoid nearby species. Certain habitats will be closed during birthing or feeding seasons.

Still, underwater microphones have picked up blasts from these sonic cannons over distances of thousands of miles, and the constant banging — amplified in water by orders of magnitude — will be impossible for many species to avoid.

Whales and dolphins depend on being able to hear their own much less powerful echolocation to feed, communicate and keep in touch with their family groups across hundreds of miles. Even fish and crabs navigate and communicate by sound, said Grant Gilmore, an expert on fish ecology in Vero Beach, Fla.

“We don’t know what the physiological effects are. It could be permanent hearing damage in many of these creatures just by one encounter with a high-energy signal,” Gilmore said.

More than 120,000 comments were sent to the government, which spent years developing these rules. The bureau’s environmental impact study estimates that more than 138,000 sea creatures could be harmed, including nine of the world’s remaining 500 north Atlantic right whales.

These whales give birth and breed off the coast of Florida, Georgia and the Carolinas.

“Once they can’t hear — and that’s the risk that comes with seismic testing — they are pretty much done for,” said Katie Zimmerman, a spokeswoman for the South Carolina Coastal Conservation League based in Charleston, S.C.

“Even if there were oil out there, do we really want that? Do we really want to see these offshore rigs set up?” she asked.

The answer to that question for the Obama Administration is obviously yes.

Pulling Back the Curtain of Production Concealment

[ 23 ] July 22, 2014 |

Concealment.

This is primary benefit of outsourcing work and supplies from the United States. That goods are produced far, far away from the eyes of consumers benefits the corporations tremendously. It means that when the Rana Plaza factory in Savar, Bangladesh collapses, no Americans see the deaths that result from a system that provides them cheap clothing at Wal-Mart, Gap, and other retailers. That’s very different from the Triangle Fire, when New Yorkers were outraged when they personally saw the deaths of the women who made their clothing. They acted and conditions in the textile factories improved. Today, most of us have absolutely no idea what the conditions of work are in the places that make our clothing, that grow our food, that produce our paint and glass and steel and auto parts. That’s exactly how companies want it. When it comes to meat production, you have states like Idaho passing ag-gag bills, making it a crime to document what happens in a meat production factory. Knowledge is indeed power and the meat producers want to make sure that you have none of it so they have all the power.

One of the complexities of modern capitalism though is that American business don’t just want to outsource production. They also want to open up new markets for their products. That’s certainly true for fast food corporations, who have vastly expanded around the world over the past two decades. This means that in at least some places, production and consumption takes place in the same country and thus when the supply chain system inevitably fails as the big corporations want to push down costs and the suppliers respond through cutting corners on safety, outrage results:

The Chinese outlets of McDonald’s and KFC have stopped using meat from a Shanghai company after a local television news program accused the supplier of using chicken and beef past their expiration dates, setting off an investigation by food-safety officials.

The program, broadcast Sunday evening on Dragon TV, showed hidden-camera footage of workers at a meat-processing plant operated by Shanghai Husi Food using out-of-date chicken and beef to make burger patties and chicken products for McDonald’s and KFC. In some cases, workers were shown scooping up meat that had fallen onto the assembly line floor and throwing it back into a processing machine.

In response, the Chinese units of McDonald’s and KFC said in news releases posted from their official Sina Weibo social-media accounts that they had halted use of all products from Shanghai Husi, which is owned by the OSI Group, based in Aurora, Ill. Starbucks also said it had pulled sandwiches with chicken from Shanghai Husi from the shelves of its stores in China. Starbucks said a supplier for the sandwiches had used the meat.

When people see footage of horrors they act. That is what has happened in China. It’s what happened at Triangle and when the Cuyahoga River burned and during the Santa Barbara oil spill in 1969. Thus, the corporate strategy becomes making sure you see nothing. In this case, the curtain was pulled back, but just in one factory. McDonald’s and KFC have no intention of running a tighter ship with their meat suppliers and they certainly don’t want to run their own meat production sites, although this is an entirely reasonable solution for them. Rather, they want the problem to go away. Such disgusting conditions could be taking place in 100 Chinese meat production factories, just as they could be (and are) in the United States meat industry. It is precisely this kind of information getting out that leads to ag-gag bills here and I’d be shocking if the fast food companies aren’t having behind the scenes talks with Chinese authorities to clamp down on such information becoming public there. That this production facility is owned by an company based in the United States should remind you that there’s no reason to think what you eat is safer, not in a system dominated by exploitative New Gilded Age era capitalism without proper regulatory frameworks and vastly underfunded inspection agencies.

Bad Business Fee

[ 50 ] July 22, 2014 |

Should businesses who pay atrocious wages, just offloading the responsibility to keep people fed and clothed onto the state, be taxed to make up for it?

Can you name the worst job you’ve ever had? For Cliff Martin, that’s not an easy question. All three of his current jobs—delivering newspapers, delivering magazines and working as a janitor—are strong contenders. Taken together, they pay so poorly that the 20-year-old Northfield, Minnesota, native relies on MNsure, the state Medicaid plan, for healthcare and lives at home with his father to save money. But what if Martin’s bosses had to fork over a fee to the state for paying him so badly? That money, in turn, could be used to help support Martin and his fellow low-wage workers in a variety of ways, from direct subsidies for food and housing to social programs such as Medicaid or public transportation.

TakeAction Minnesota, a network that promotes economic and racial justice in the state, wants to make that fee a reality. It’s developing the framework for a bill that it hopes will be introduced in 2015 by state legislators who have worked with the network in the past. As conceived, the “bad business fee” legislation would require companies to disclose how many of their employees are receiving public assistance from the state or federal government. Companies would then pay a fine based on the de facto subsidies they receive by externalizing labor costs onto taxpayers.

TakeAction Minnesota’s plan is one prong of a larger national effort. As progressive organizations grapple with how to turn years of public outrage over income inequality into policies for structural change, a network of labor and community organizing groups has seized upon the bad business fee as a solution that might take off.

It’s certainly an interesting idea. Moreover, if one state promoted this, even if it didn’t pass, I do believe you’d see a pretty quick turnaround in workers’ wages, at least locally. A real threat to punish corporations for their antisocial behavior would likely cause change. We’ve seen that many times in the last century and the repeal and erasure of that century of gains in recent years reflects the defeat of the forces who forced those changes, especially but not solely labor unions, a strategy corporations affected through capital mobility and outsourcing work abroad.

Nancy Reagan on Pants

[ 28 ] July 21, 2014 |

In 1968, Nancy Reagan spoke out on one of the important issues of the day: opposing women wearing pants.

“Back in the day, Fats Waller, and tons of other artists were robbed of their publishing. This is the new version of it, but on a much more wider scale.”

[ 30 ] July 21, 2014 |

I certainly don’t care about the fate of most record labels, but streaming services increasingly make it difficult for musicians in less popular genres like jazz or classical to survive. Really, if you listen to music, you do owe it to the artists to buy some of their music. If it’s U2, who cares. Stream away. If it is Wussy, the album sales make a difference. That’s especially true if the labels start taking cuts of artists’ other income to make up for record sale declines. Streaming is fine to check out new artists and hear new albums, but at some point, music fans need to support the artists through purchasing their products in some way or another.

The Return of Contra Violence

[ 99 ] July 21, 2014 |

The 35th anniversary of Nicaragua’s Sandinista Revolution has just passed. The Sandinistas, although a very different organization than in 1979, are today in power, with Daniel Ortega winning free and fair elections. Of course, the Nicaraguan right always hated the Sandinistas and thanks to illegal funding from Ronald Regan, fought a brutal war to defeat the Sandinistas. After the Sandinistas agreed to elections in 1990 and lost, they peacefully stepped down. The violence that plagued Nicaragua faded and today the country, while still very poor, is one of the most peaceful in Central America. Alas, the 35th anniversary celebrations brought out some of the old hate from the Sandinistas’ enemies:

A deadly midnight ambush targeting pro-government supporters in northern Nicaragua has stirred the sleeping dogs of war and raised new fears of a pending military campaign against rearmed guerrillas hiding in the mountains.

Five people were killed and 19 injured early Sunday morning in what appears to be a coordinated series of attacks against Sandinista party members traveling by bus through the mountainous coffee-growing region of Matagalpa, one of the main battlegrounds of Nicaragua’s civil war in the 1980s.

The buses, filled with pro-government supporters returning from Managua after a day of celebrating the thirty-fifth anniversary of the Sandinista Revolution, were fired on indiscriminately from the darkened shoulder of the road by unidentified men armed with AK-47s. The first bus was ambushed near KM75 of the Pan-American highway, while the second bus was attacked at the some time in the nearby town of San Ramon. Four unidentified suspects have been detained for questioning, according to police.

A group claiming to be the successor to the Contras has claimed responsibility but it is difficult to ascertain the truth of that claim at this point. But it’s pretty clearly a right-wing political attack. Bad stuff.

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