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O’Connor on Rand

[ 293 ] June 19, 2014 |

Not that it’s surprising that any writer or reader with even reasonable taste would reject Ayn Rand as horrible writing, but still, Flannery O’Connor in 1960:

I hope you don’t have friends who recommend Ayn Rand to you. The fiction of Ayn Rand is as low as you can get re fiction. I hope you picked it up off the floor of the subway and threw it in the nearest garbage pail. She makes Mickey Spillane look like Dostoevsky.

On the other hand, Rand actually liked Spillane so, well, whatever.

Horace Silver, RIP

[ 13 ] June 18, 2014 |

The great jazz pianist has died at the age of 85.

Prison Labor Can Do All The Work

[ 138 ] June 18, 2014 |

In yesterday’s post on prison labor and cheese making, Happy Jack left this amazing powerpoint presentation by Colorado Correctional Industries, the private prison mafia. Entitled, “Motivating Prisoners to Become Business Partners,” you can see all the great work you can get prison labor to do for 60 cents a day. You can have them make furniture for the governor’s office (really John Hickenlooper? Really?). You can have them make bear proof trash cans. You can

And there are outstanding benefits for the prisoners. They get job training for work that is now done by prisoners, so that’s pretty helpful when they get out. The pool for bonuses in the Panel Shop is .007314% of the monthly revenue. That seven-thousandth of a percent is pretty generous.

In all seriousness, when I read this, I think of how so many of these industries were once union jobs. Or if they weren’t union, they probably at least paid OK. Now they are undercut by prison labor. I see some of the historically most exploitative industries like apparel and agriculture taking full advantage of this situation. I almost laugh at CCI marketing prisoners to farmers as a replacement for all too rare migrant laborers from Latin America. I think of the cost argument made by CCI to the taxpayers, when of course the real cost argument is not leading the developed world in imprisoning people, mostly for nonviolent crime. I think of the future of a nation increasingly committed to labor at near-slave conditions.

And of course there’s the fire fighting. If the workers die, it’s even less money the taxpayers to fork over. But if they live, CCI gets more profit. It’s such a dilemma! As for training wild horses, that just seems bloody dangerous for anyone. So why not make prisoners do it?

There is nothing about a document like this that should surprise you except that it’s readily available on the internet. This sort of exploitation is at the core of the 21st century economy and it contributes to lack of good, dignified labor in the United States.

Union Environmentalism

[ 10 ] June 18, 2014 |

Let me recommend Trish Kahle’s Jacobin piece on the Miners for Democracy (1970s reformist United Mine Workers members) and the potential of energy workers embracing environmentalism. Brief excerpt:

Ultimately, the group of miners arguing for an energy workers union federation — or even a new union to represent all energy workers — were unsuccessful in transforming their union in that vision. This failure helped lead to the decline of the MFD, and along with it, the radical environmentalist vision they put forward.

The political space that had been opened up by the incredible levels of self-organization among rank and file miners allowed broad debate and agitation on issues like the environment. But as it became harder for workers to go on the offensive and the energy conglomerates continued to consolidate their power, miners found themselves fighting an increasingly uphill battle that left less and less room to fight for anything except survival.

Although they were some of the last workers to do so, the United Mine Workers did eventually face decline accompanied by the growth of conservatism. Today, rather than being seen as the vanguard of a movement to protect the land, miners are portrayed by many environmentalists as backwards, reactionary, and part of the problem.

I think this is pretty much correct for the UMWA, but in other industries, it wasn’t so much consolidation as it was capital mobility that undermined union environmentalism. The labor-green alliance she describes was not unique to the UMWA at the time. The Oil, Chemical and Atomic Workers were the pioneers here, but the International Woodworkers of America, International Association of Machinists, and United Steel Workers of America had pretty strong environmental records as well. She concludes by talking about union democracy as central to a labor environmentalism, but my own research on the IWA really doesn’t suggest this is necessary. For the IWA, it was the union leadership pushing the green message and the locals embraced it or didn’t depending on the issue. When there was rank and file resistance, it was against environmentalism, not for it. So in the case of the UMWA, the connection between union democracy and environmentalism was profound because it was so connected to the leadership’s indifference to workers dying of black lung and in accidents. But that’s very much not a universal thing.

Despite this quibble, this is an excellent article on the potential of energy workers embracing a green future, even if, understandably enough, how to get from Point A to Point B remains pretty hazy.

Soviet Anti-Religious Propaganda

[ 36 ] June 18, 2014 |

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Enjoy.

Post-Nuclear Wealth

[ 50 ] June 17, 2014 |

Don’t have a date on this, but if I was a Cold War American, I would feel pretty good about a nuclear attack eliminating all those takers.

….In comments, Herman notes the source is this 1965 report on a post-nuclear Houston. I’d make a Houston joke here, but it’s too easy.

Prison Labor and Artisanal Food

[ 69 ] June 17, 2014 |

The prison-industrial complex finds new ways to generate profit. So it’s hardly surprising that probably the industry most exploitative of labor in American history–agriculture–is more than happy to take advantage. What may surprise some people is that it’s the high end artisanal food companies that cater to Whole Foods and other such stores who are involved. This story focuses on Haystack Mountain, a Colorado goat cheese company that is buying its milk from a prison company farm.

Says John Scaggs, Haystack’s marketing and sales director, referring to CCI: “They have land. They have human capital, the equipment. If you can think it up, they can do it, and do it fast.”

That diverse and nimble operation has attracted visits by officials from 22 prisons as well as steady interest from companies that want to tap CCI’s workforce. “I get one to two calls a week from companies,” says CCI director Steve Smith, adding that he declines those that simply want cheap labor.

The practice has long been controversial. Prisoners earn meager wages and have no recourse if they’re mistreated, LeBaron argues. Plus, they can take jobs from law-abiding citizens. “It’s hugely concerning in the face of economic instability and unemployment,” she says.

Counters Smith: “These are coveted jobs.” Base pay starts at 60¢ a day, but most prisoners earn $300 to $400 a month with incentives, he says. To be hired, inmates must get a GED and maintain good behavior for six months.

60 cents a day. In 2014. Now that’s the kind of labor exploitation I know from the history of American agriculture.

There was also this Twitter exchange between labor and justice writers Sarah Jaffe and Alexis Goldstein with some PR flack from Haystack Mountain who is not very good at his job because he reveals way too much. According to the PR person, Haystack Mountain isn’t even saving money on the milk compared to what they would pay on the open market, meaning all that money is going to the prison capitalists. Everyone wins but workers. And the idea that all these prisoners are earning skills they will take into the workforce of goat farming is so ridiculous as to be laughable.

Our Broken Trucking Regulatory System

[ 77 ] June 16, 2014 |

When the Wal-Mart truck driver crashed into Tracy Morgan’s limousine last week after falling asleep, I wanted to write a short piece on how the trucking companies endanger workers and drivers through their horrible labor practices. But I didn’t have time to do the research (pro tip: don’t write 2 books at once). Luckily, David Dayen did write this up and it’s typically excellent. The whole system is a nightmare of labor exploitation, corporate purchase of politicians, and casual indifference toward you and I when we are on the road. An excerpt:

But the fact is it’s difficult for truck drivers to make a decent living by playing by the rules, and employers, including Walmart, effectively create a hazardous workplace by constraining pay to make cheating attractive, and ordering faster shipments with deadlines that can only be achieved through cutting corners. Roper had been awake for over 24 hours when he crashed his truck, according to the criminal complaint. A January accident in Illinois featured a driver on the job for 36 straight hours.

The average trucker makes around $37,000 a year. While trucker pay varies from one company to the next, in general terms they get paid by the mile, but not for each mile driven. If a driver goes from Seattle to Minneapolis, they get an “as the crow flies” rate, meaning that any detours or miles spent lost on the road are unpaid. Most drivers aren’t covered by Fair Labor Standards Act requirements on overtime pay beyond 40 hours. Truckers are also often not paid when the haul gets loaded or unloaded, so they could spend hours at a facility working without being on the clock, adding to fatigue. Some industries, like oil and gas, have exemptions from hours-of-service rules that make driving even more dangerous.

Drivers also face tight deadlines to deliver loads on time. Employers restrict speed because it impacts fuel costs, so the only way to get goods to their destination faster is through more driving hours.

5 quick points. All drivers should be covered by the Fair Labor Standards Act. Second, trucking companies simply need to be held criminally liable each and every time one of their truckers gets in a crash from overwork and exhaustion with vastly increased financial punishments. Third, drivers need to be paid for established route miles, not as the crow flies. This should be set by the federal government. Fourth, OSHA needs authority over the truckers even when they are on the road (the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration has jurisdiction on the road). Fifth, as Dayen suggests, electronic logbooks need to be kept for every truck. The nation can spy on its citizens but can’t prevent truckers from working 100 hour weeks. Right.

And all those life-threatening hours and stress for $37,000 a year. That’s a terrible hourly rate.

Bulletproof Backpacks

[ 20 ] June 16, 2014 |

We won’t protect our children from being shot at school through restricting gun ownership. That would make too much sense. But what a business opportunity for the innovative capitalist! Thus we have a company marketing bulletproof backpacks for children.

No Real Progress in Bangladesh

[ 50 ] June 16, 2014 |

Colin Long’s Jacobin essay on visiting the Tarzeen and Rana Plaza factory disaster sites is all worth reading, but the important part of the article is his discussion of the aftermath. For very little has changed. The international accords are all about western brands protecting their own image at home–which is fine–but for workers, these accords have no meaning, even if they have heard of them, which most have not. The apparel companies still do not care one bit about the conditions of work, how the workers are treated or whether workers live a dignified life. The increase in the Bangladeshi minimum wage also brought on a much harder workday for the workers as the employers just drove them harder and fired their assistants to maintain their profits. Neither of these advances–and ultimately they are both still advances despite the problems–get at the main thing that would improve working conditions in Bangladesh, which is giving workers power to improve their own lives. Instead, Bangladeshi unionists are still intimidated and even murdered, acts to which the apparel companies are complicit.

But there is basically no way for Bangladeshi workers to grab that power to create a dignified life, not when the apparel companies can and will just move to another country to exploit. Without taming capital mobility, the slow and painful but real progress of workers’ rights gets cut off at the knees. And there’s no way the apparel companies are giving up that trump card.

Walker

[ 198 ] June 16, 2014 |

I know next to nothing about Wisconsin politics, so I found this Alec MacGillis article on Scott Walker quite enlightening. If it is accurate, we are basically looking at a highly cocooned politician used to fawning angry Milwaukee suburbanites and with no national experience pretty unprepared to deal with the big time, which includes surrounding himself with people who think racism is Hi-Larious. Not to mention that has not the slightest ability to appeal to anyone who did not already vote for Romney. Plus, this:

Walker’s only overt enthusiasms appear to be his Harley Davidson motorcycle and Ronald Reagan. He and Tonette married on Reagan’s birthday, and every year they celebrate their wedding anniversary / Reagan’s birthday by serving the Gipper’s favorite dishes, such as macaroni-and-cheese casserole and red, white, and blue jelly beans. Walker’s mother attributes his even keel to his faith. “He prayed and read the Bible every day, and when things got rough, [supporters would] tell him they were praying for him,” she says.

I’d like to think this is some sort of stupid public story that Republicans like to tell each other while actually eating endangered species murdered just for this anniversary (25th anniversary means a tasty dinner of black rhino!) but I’m sure it is true and is a sign of the pathetic overwhelming hero-worshiping of Grandpa Caligula by a section of American whites.

Go Away

[ 84 ] June 15, 2014 |

There is not a single person I want to hear less from on Iraq than Tony Blair.