After the overwrought celebrations over “defeating” the Trans-Pacific Partnership in Congress a few months ago that immediately fell apart the next week when Congress passed fast track, we should be extremely skeptical of putting any hopes into defeating the TPP. But it is good news that it is delayed because the ministers of various countries are fighting each other over protecting specific industries. The reason that’s good is news is that any delay, particularly with some talk of not revisiting it until after the upcoming Canadian elections, means that it becomes more unlikely to pass Congress during a U.S. election year and therefore can be part of the debate in 2016. Forcing it into the public debate during an election is the best strategy we have for killing it. It probably won’t work either, especially given that despite whatever distancing Hillary Clinton has done toward the TPP, there’s no good reason to expect she wouldn’t sign it–unless she fears outraging the base that just elected her. Yeah I know, I’m not counting on that either. But still, in a fight like this, you work with the best odds you have.
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1. Republicans really struggle to talk to anyone but their own base of aging white conservatives and plutocrats. Hillary able to call him out directly and totally outclass him, leaving him utterly unable to respond, is something that he will be more prepared for in the future, but also shows just how many terrible things all these clowns running for the Republican nomination have done and the difficulty of walking back that record to appeal to broad electorate.
2. Bernie Sanders is very bad at talking to people who are not white liberals. I thought he was a skilled enough politician to show the needed dexterity to talk to a variety of people in their own spaces that would combine his own particular focus on income inequality with other issues that mattered to his audience. It’s becoming clear that he’s really not that good of a politician.
Given that ETS is a greedy corporation (don’t let the non-profit College Board confuse you, it’s technically a client of ETS but ETS is who runs the test operation) that has a facade of academic professionalism over a core of profit-making, it’s hardly surprising it would cave to conservatives over the new AP U.S. History standards:
Some of the main criticisms of the guidelines, conservatives voiced, were less emphasis on the founding fathers and more emphasis on slavery. The guidelines also included earlier American history that included violence against Native Americans and mentioned the growing influence of social conservatives. There were also complaints that World War II was not emphasized enough, but military victories will be given more attention in the new standards. Mentions of slavery will be “roughly the same” as previous standards, according to Newsweek.
Conservatives also took issue with the framework’s description of the term “manifest destiny.” The definition, according to The Daily Caller:
The idea of Manifest Destiny, which asserted U.S. power in the Western Hemisphere and supported U.S. expansion westward, was based on a belief in white racial superiority and a sense of American cultural superiority, and helped to shape the era’s political debates.
AP American history courses in particular became a political battleground when the College Board released new guidelines in October 2012. According to Talking Points Memo, the public controversy started with Larry Krieger, a retired history teacher. Then The Republican National Committee noticed Krieger’s remarks and campaigned against the new framework. The RNC asked Congress to stop funding the College Board, saying it “emphasizes negative aspects of our nation’s history while omitting or minimizing positive aspects.”
After the issue picked up momentum, more and more state legislators got involved in decrying the new guidelines. An Oklahoma legislative committee voted to ban AP history class and Oklahoma Rep. Dan Fisher (R) introduced legislation “prohibiting the expenditure of funds on the Advanced Placement United States History course.” In Colorado, students protested the new standards and soon after, the Jefferson County school board cancelled a review of the standards.
In September of last year, Ben Carson, a pediatric neurosurgeon who is now running for president, said “most people” who take the course would be “ready to sign up for ISIS.”
With the potential for states to opt out, there was no way these standards would continue. ETS/College Board have pushed for years for the AP test to become something closer to a universal test (often leading to a huge waste of money as students who have no business taking the test are forced to do so; trust me, I graded these exams for 3 years). Even this year, the test responded to initial criticism by being a conservative talking point, with the Document-Based Question being about the rise of conservatism that according to my friends grading the exam encouraged test takers to talk about how government is terrible and does nothing right. Now the standards will revert to right-wing ideas of American exceptionalism. This is a bad thing. It also shows once again how much interpretation of history matters and why issues like the Confederate flag are so important. Historical interpretation is a war between liberals and conservatives. And conservatives usually win the institutional side of that war.
Such was the case when a group of academic achievers from the Lakota tribe were rewarded for their good work with a trip to a minor league hockey match in Rapid City, South Dakota. The third through eighth grade students from the American Horse School were with their middle school teacher Consuelo Means when she overheard adults in the the executive suite above them asking some of the young girls where they were from. The teacher was understandably concerned about seemingly drunk strangers talking to little girls and asked that the men leave the children alone.
The men didn’t listen, instead, they continued to talk to the children. When the team scored the men told the children they should shout later because they were “from the Rez.” The teacher immediately went to look for security to ask for help. When she returned, beer was dripping on her head. The men were dumping it on the children. She told other chaperones what was happening and they attempted to intervene. That’s when the men allegedly shouted to the group to go back to “The Rez.”
The children were silent on the drive back to the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, one young girl crying.
“I didn’t think it was appropriate for [the men] to be talking to my students,” Consuelo Means, the middle school teacher explained to ThinkProgress. “We’ve been there five years and nothing like that’s ever happened.” While she completed an incident report for the stadium security, law enforcement was never contacted.
That event was back in January. One man is being charged for disorderly conduct but didn’t even bother showing up at the first day of the trial. It’s South Dakota in a nutshell. Also, in all the discussion of race in this country it’s remarkable to me how Native Americans are hardly ever talked about, almost an afterthought at best.
The Times has a piece up today on a point I made at last night’s Out of Sight event–the power of video technology to stir outrage is tremendous. Police brutality toward people of color is not a new thing. Police have been oppressing African-Americans pretty much since their arrival in the future United States in 1619. Not only was oppression of black and brown people written into the law, but police violence toward them has often been expected and tolerated and even celebrated by much of the white community. African-Americans, Native Americans (the American Indian Movement was founded in Minneapolis explicitly around the issue of police brutality) and Latinos have long fought this. But now they have a new weapon–video technology. We saw the first incident of this power with the recording of the beating of Rodney King. Today, between everyday citizens recording police brutality with their phones and cameras in police cars and on police officer’s bodies, we (and by this I largely mean white people who simply have no idea what happens in relations between people of color and the police on a daily basis) see over and over again the horrors of the routine treatment of African-Americans by the police. This gives us tremendous power. The videos do not mean that police are going to stop committing police brutality–at least not yet. We can see that on the videos themselves. But it does provide us a tremendous tool to bring this brutality to people’s attention. There probably is not a Black Lives Matter movement without it. We can read about violence and we can forget about it after shaking our heads. Or we can see it and be disgusted and outraged. The visual power of witnessing terrible oppression is so incredibly powerful for social change.
It’s not just police brutality either. Consider the Ray Rice domestic violence incident. We know that domestic violence is a huge problem in our society and that in violent sports like football, boxing, and MMA, it’s an even greater problem. Yet most people ignored these stories in celebration of their favorite athletes until we saw what Ray Rice did. He may well never play again. Yet when there isn’t video, as there usually isn’t, we don’t act against these people, i.e. Floyd Mayweather.
For that matter, look at the Triangle Fire, where I start my book. The power of change there originated not with the number of deaths. There were all sorts of similar or even worse workplace disasters during the era, especially in mining but also in other textile fire factories. In 1910, a fire killed a few dozen apparel workers at a Newark sweatshop. No one of importance saw it so no one did anything. But at Triangle, rich people saw the people making their clothing die and that created a political movement that led to major changes in workplace safety and fire and building safety codes, part of the broader struggle to tame American capitalism during the 20th century.
Video knowledge scares those in power. That’s why agribusiness is pushing so hard in the states to pass ag-gag laws that would criminalize video knowledge. Animal rights activists getting jobs in factory farms are recording the truly horrible treatment overworked and underpaid and poorly trained workers give to animals that includes beatings and sexual abuse, in addition to the standard caging of animals in incredibly inhumane conditions. These videos have done a lot to publicize the terrible conditions of the meat industry. That scares agribusiness. Rich people profit if we can’t know what they do. The ag-gag bills have largely been unsuccessful so far but they are frightful, for if agribusiness can criminalize footage of their factories, why can’t all industries do the same? They want to make sure we consumers have no idea what is happening on factory floors. Moving factories abroad or to isolated parts of the United States accomplishes much of that, but the power of video and the internet severely undermines it, making the need to criminalize knowledge the next logical step for corporations.
Meanwhile, so long as we can have video access of these crimes against people of color, against workers, and against animals, we need to celebrate it. This is a technological advancement with real power to fight the injustices of the world. We can see that by what’s happening on our streets right now.
The title of this post is the title of one of my chapters in Out of Sight. Dissent has published an excerpt from the book to coincide with this evening’s Brooklyn event. I write a lot about food and food production in the book. Here’s a bit of it:
Here’s the thing about food: because it is so important to our lives and our health, it is one set of products where we can effectively resist the concealment of production. Eating is a profound, if everyday, experience that affects our health and our happiness. The explosive growth in farmers’ markets, concerns about genetically modified organisms, and fears of pesticides have challenged the industrial food complex, just not over its treatment of workers. Free-range chickens and cattle have become highly desirable and expensive products, both for taste and for health and safety concerns, but less so because of the workers injured and killed in the meatpacking plants.
We can see the current local food movement as a backlash against corporations’ efforts to hide their operations from us. We cannot control very much about our relationship to the larger economy. But regional food networks, with production ranging from rooftop gardens to large farms on the outskirts of cities, can bring a significant amount of food democracy back into cities while providing enormous environmental benefits compared to the current system. Eschewing monocultures for diversified food crops would cut down on the pesticides and herbicides needed, meaning less fertilizer, less pollution, and healthier rivers, lakes, and oceans as well as small farmers who could afford to live and farm without expensive chemicals.
But food movements also need to be justice movements and connect to bigger issues. If we are serious in thinking about a democratic food system, we have to support good working conditions throughout the food industry. It means we need to support farmworker and meatpacker unions. We have to end the tipped minimum wage and demand greater funding for OSHA and the FDA to inspect our food factories.
Ultimately, our food problems stem from the same lack of democracy that plagues our society. In our food system, animals are abused, workers die, waterways become polluted with animal waste, and wildlife dies. Yet most of us have no idea this is happening. If we can demand ethically produced food that allows consumers insight into food production, we can go far to reshape the world into a more just and sustainable place. Food corporations, from Monsanto to McDonald’s, hope this never happens.
Robert Ross has an excellent article on Bangladeshi labor reforms two years after Rana Plaza. In short, the international outrage has led to some relatively minor but not meaningless changes to building safety and union voices on the job. But very little to none of the money corporations have given to compensate the survivors have made it to the workers, employer resistance is still massive and that includes firing unionists, 10 percent of the Bangladeshi parliament is made up of apparel factory owners, and while the European companies Accord on Fire and Building Safety has helped workers, the American companies’ toothless version has done nothing but protect Walmart and Gap from responsibility for workers’ rights. Ultimately, Ross sees two key points out of this that I discuss in Out of Sight. First, that western governments have the power to make a difference in Bangladesh:
If labor rights and protective government policy (unions, laws, and law enforcement) form the main crucible of decent conditions for workers, alliances with international NGOs and labor unions are the enablers. Policy levers also exist—but Western governments have to be willing to use them. For example, the EU has what is called a Generalized System of Preferences (GSP) written into its trade laws. (The U.S.’s GSP provisions expired in 2013, but are likely to be reauthorized.) These allow duty-free entry of certain goods from low-income nations into the economies of their higher-income trading partners. They are bilateral terms, conditioned, ostensibly, on trade partners observing internationally recognized labor rights.
For example, after the Rana Plaza collapse, the U.S. suspended Bangladesh’s GSP privileges because of its fundamental disrespect for labor rights. But apparel imports are excluded from the GSP. This past year, through April 2015, Bangladesh apparel exports to the U.S. were valued at $4.95 billion. In 2012, Bangladesh imports covered by the GSP provisions were worth $34.7 million. The GSP suspension was symbolic.
However, apparel imports to the multination EU are covered by a single GSP provision. In 2014, they were worth almost $14 billion. At the Second Anniversary Forum sponsored by the ILO at a swank downtown Dhaka hotel, the EU representative to Bangladesh made a clear threat to suspend GSP privileges unless Bangladesh followed through on commitments to protect worker safety and guarantee core labor rights, a duplication in intent of an ILO forum in Brussels two days before. This is a target for European campaigners, particularly the Amsterdam-based Clean Clothes Campaign. Whether they are willing to use the threat—which is dire—remains to be seen.
There are other levers for U.S. allies. The federal government is a large buyer of garments, including the post exchange (PX) retail stores where armed forces families buy goods on military bases around the world. They could be required to buy only from Accord members when they source from Bangladesh. They now report on whether they are using Accord factories, and the Marine Corps requires licensees using their logos to source from Accord firms or from factories that meet its requirements.
Yet for the most part, the American government refuses to do anything. That includes congressional Republicans getting angry at the military for not sourcing their clothing cheaply enough. It has certainly not been a priority for Obama, as the Trans-Pacific Partnership demonstrates. Global labor rights needs to be a political issue in this country for this system to meaningfully change. But this gets to Ross’ other point–that conditions for American workers are also getting worse:
American workers don’t face conditions as grim as those in Bangladesh, but some are not so different. As American workers lose union protection because of hostile laws, courts, and media, so do they lose their ability to defend safe conditions. At Upper Big Branch Mine in West Virginia in 2010, 29 miners died: non-union. In the 1991 Hamlet, North Carolina, poultry plant fire where 25 died and the back doors were locked: non-union. On paper, American workers have all the rights they need to organize and join unions. In practice, they risk getting fired.
In Bangladesh, one of the gaps is a decade-long, as yet unsuccessful, attempt to create a workers’ compensation insurance system. Workers’ comp offers a no-fault system—a grand bargain created a century ago, state by state, in the U.S.: Workers don’t sue; employers pay insurance premiums to cover medical costs and long-term income replacement for disability. Oops: Workers’ comp is under attack in the U.S. in state after state, as caps on payments, limits on payment duration, and other restrictions erode yet another part of the social safety net. We learn about what we need by examining the deficits of others.
Right, and with the destruction of unions and a century of labor law the stated goal of Republicans today, the future of the already heavily eroded standards of American work are very much in doubt. Outsourcing and the global race to the bottom incentivizes American companies to launch attacks on American worker rights while at the same time moving production around the globe to ensure a global Gilded Age of extreme income inequality and severe worker suffering. That can’t get better if workers can’t form their own unions and the companies stick around long enough to deal with those unions. What Ross does not state is the globalized nature of apparel production and the very real fear among Bangladeshi worker activists that the companies could move once again at any time if they feel too much pressure to pay good wages or have safe workplaces in Bangladesh. Only by creating international labor standards enforceable in U.S. courts that follow American companies no matter where they source their items will we begin to create a legal regime that gives workers a fair shake, both at home and abroad.
Speaking of such things, this is as good a place as any to remind our New York readers that I will be speaking with the labor journalist Sarah Jaffe at Local 61 in Brooklyn tonight at 7. There will be copies of Out of Sight available for purchase and I will be happy to sign yours. Also, CSPAN is filming it for BookTV and whenever it actually comes on, I’ll let everyone know.
I’ve talked about this several times before and I discuss it in Out of Sight, but slave labor in the southeast Asian fisheries is endemic and basically no one cares. This is an outstanding report on that slave labor. Almost all of the fish in the southeast Asian seas goes to the United States in Europe–for pet food, for farm animal feed, for fish farming, and sometimes directly onto U.S. plates. It’s totally unsustainable from an environmental angle and the long-term overfishing of these waters makes the future of much of the U.S. meat supply in serious question, but that’s a secondary question to the sheer brutality these laborers face, which you can read about in great and disturbing detail at the link. It simply isn’t a priority of the federal government and certainly not of the American companies buying from these sources to make sure the fish are harvested within a basic framework of human rights for the laborers. And in fact, there are no human rights on these boats.
This is why we need real international frameworks that place the burden of proof on the American companies buying this stuff. How does this end? That’s a complex question, but American companies canceling contracts with the suppliers who buy from these boats is a necessary step. That will only happen if we make those American companies legally liable for these conditions. Simply put, the global supply chain exists in no small part to separate big western companies from any responsibility for global labor conditions. They don’t want to know and mostly they don’t have to know. That’s not acceptable. We can publish all the articles we want about these labor conditions on the boats and we can feel bad for those workers. But when you start looking at what to do, only by demanding that we hold western companies legally accountable for the conditions can we the consumer make a difference. Otherwise, we aren’t doing anything useful at all and that’s not OK either.
In other words, when you feel Fido or Fluffy today, think a little bit about where their pet food comes from and consider how you can ensure that their food isn’t produced on the backs of slaves.
Brent Staples makes good points about what Confederate statuary is really about, especially when we are talking about people like Nathan Bedford Forrest.
Not all monuments warrant that kind of challenge. But those honoring the Confederate general Nathan Bedford Forrest deserve the backlash they have generated. Forrest presided over the 1864 massacre of Union soldiers, many of them black, at Fort Pillow in Tennessee. He was also a prominent slave trader and served as the first grand wizard of the Ku Klux Klan.
Apologists argue that his involvement with the Klan was unimportant because he later adopted more enlightened views. But as the Forrest biographer Jack Hurst writes, by lending his name to the K.K.K. even temporarily, the general accelerated its development. “As the Klan’s first national leader,” Mr. Hurst writes, “he became the Lost Cause’s avenging angel, galvanizing a loose collection of boyish secret social clubs into a reactionary instrument of terror still feared today.”
Protests erupted in Selma, Ala., in 2000 when a bust of Forrest was unveiled on the grounds of a museum. (One critic likened it to erecting a statue of Hitler in a Jewish neighborhood.) The sculpture was subsequently moved to a cemetery.
Wait, Selma unveiled a monument to Forrest in 2000? Wow.
What should we do with such monuments? Some should clearly be taken down. I’m not 100% supportive of erasing the racist history of the past from the public spaces it occupies. It’s possible to interpret it as sites of racism. But really, who is going to do that? Does Memphis have the capability and money for the long-term interpretation of its infamous Forrest statue? Probably not. And we are not bound by our ancestors choices in who to memorialize. Just because a statue was erected in 1895 does not mean need to leave it up in 2015. If the statue was to an open racist, KKK founder, and commander during the Fort Pillow Massacre like Forrest, I don’t see any good reason to keep that statue up. That’s what belongs in a museum, with plenty of interpretation as to why it was seen as desirable to put that statue up and what that said about white supremacy and black rights in the post-Reconstruction South.
Some will claim that these fights over the Civil War are meaningless and don’t solve racism. First, no one claimed they would solve racism, a fight that can be fought but not won. Second, if you don’t think the past matters, talk to Lynne Cheney. Talk to the people fighting the AP US History standards for being too liberal (typically the AP response was to make this year’s DBQ about the rise of conservatism, which according to my grader friends, was all set up to make students write about how government doesn’t work). Ask the Texans seeking to eliminate all discussion of civil rights from the state’s history textbooks. Ask Bree Newsome. Ask the victims of Dylann Roof. The past matters a lot, and especially the Civil War past. These symbols are almost as much about the present as the past and symbols are incredibly important. We are turning a corner in the popular understanding of the Civil War as being about slavery and racism and eliminating statues honoring people like Forrest are an important part of that, especially since that’s where the energy and momentum is right now. And as I’ve said before about many movements, no one can control where the energy is at a given time and it needs to be built upon with concrete gains before it dissipates.
Similarly, we aren’t beholden to what our ancestors decided to name sites in this nation, north or south. Does Minnesota need a Lake Calhoun? I think not. Does Michigan need a Calhoun County? No. Why not rename it? Might I suggest Harrington County, after former Duck and Lions legend Joey Harrington? That’s sure to gain support throughout the Mitten.
Speaking of such things, yesterday I visited one of my favorite spots in this great nation: where the traitorous slaveholder Stonewall Jackson was shot and mortally wounded at the Battle of Chancellorsville.
Terrible battle for the Union, but good times. I wanted to run out to where Longstreet was shot in the neck by his own troops at the Wilderness, but I ran out of time. Next trip to Virginia I guess.
We can learn lessons from the mass murders that are a monthly event in this nation. We learned, as a nation, from Dylann Roof, that the Confederate flag is a symbol of horrible evil that inspires racist violence. It has since come down at the South Carolina statehouse. That’s pretty amazing. There’s plenty of lessons to learn as well from the Hitler-loving, liberal-hating man who shot up a theater in Lafayette, Louisiana this week. He should not have been able to legally buy a gun. Yet the laws are so lax that he easily avoided any restrictions. Even if you love guns, there’s no good reason to support a regime that allows anyone to buy them, no matter their history of hatred, violence, and mental disturbance. Gun restrictions on people like that is just common sense. Unfortunately, thanks in no small part to the scumbag facilitator of mass murder and terrorism named Wayne LaPierre, as well as craven politicians like Bobby Jindal who made sure anyone could buy just about any gun in Louisiana, there’s no way the nation will learn similar lessons here. And thus the mass murders and right-wing terrorism will continue.