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Corporations and Climate Change

[ 19 ] January 24, 2014 |

It’s entirely likely that if the United States government ever does anything about climate change, it’s going to be spurred by corporations worried about how it will affect their future profits. That doesn’t mean I’m optimistic. For every company that sees threat in climate change, others see profit either now or in the future. And the culture of quarterly income reports makes any real long-term thinking unlikely. But at least it’s in the minds of some of the plutocracy interested in protecting their own wealth.

Republican Outreach to Women

[ 35 ] January 23, 2014 |

The Republican Party’s message to women has really improved. So much evidence.

Exhibit A:

Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee (R) said that the government shouldn’t help women who can’t control their “libido or their reproductive system” by providing co-pay-free birth control and that Democrats are encouraging women to be “victims of their gender.”

Huckabee made the comments during a speech at the Republican National Committee’s winter meeting on Thursday.

“If the Democrats want to insult the women of America by making them believe that they are helpless without Uncle Sugar coming in and providing for them a prescription each month for birth control because they cannot control their libido or their reproductive system without the help of government then so be it! Let us take that discussion all across America because women are far more than the Democrats have played them to be,” Huckabee said.

Huckabee argued that Democrats “think that women are nothing more than helpless and hopeless creatures whose only goal in life is to have the government provide for them birth control medication.”

Huckabee also argued that his party is not waging a war on women.

“The fact is the Republicans don’t have a war on women, they have a war for women, to empower them to be something other than victims of their gender,” Huckabee said.

Exhibit B:

A Republican congressman published a memoir last month in which he expresses his belief that “the wife is to submit to the husband,” The Washington Post reported on Wednesday.

Rep. Steve Pearce (R-N.M.), a Vietnam veteran, explains in his book that families, like the military command, need a leadership structure in which every person has a role. He says the wife’s role, according to the Bible, is to be obedient to her husband.

“The wife is to voluntarily submit, just as the husband is to lovingly lead and sacrifice,” he writes. “The husband’s part is to show up during the times of deep stress, take the leadership role and be accountable for the outcome, blaming no one else.”

Pearce goes on to write that the wife should have a say in important family decisions and that her submission does mean the husband should have “authoritarian control” or be considered superior.

“The wife’s submission is not a matter of superior versus inferior; rather, it is self-imposed as a matter of obedience to the Lord and of love for her husband,” he writes.

Exhibit C:

A Kentucky lawmaker is attempting to tack an anti-abortion amendment on to a state domestic violence bill, claiming that abortion is “the most brutal form of domestic violence.”

Kentucky State Rep. Joe Fischer (R-Fort Thomas) amended the bill, which expands domestic violence protections to include dating couples, to include a ban on abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy.

“The most brutal form of domestic violence is the violence against unborn children. And, this particular bill would prohibit abortions after the fetus feels pain, which is 20 weeks and older,” Fischer said of his amendment, according to WFPL.

Exhibit D:

After taking a drubbing in last year’s state elections, Virginia Republicans are debating whether their party has come to be defined by its extremists. But in a congressional district in Northern Virginia, one of the state’s main instigators of culture warfare, state Sen. Richard H. “Dick” Black, is running in the Republican primary to replace longtime GOP moderate Rep. Frank Wolf, who is retiring. And he’s guaranteed to ignite wedge-issue passion. Exhibit A: As a state legislator, Black opposed making spousal rape a crime, citing the impossibility of convicting a husband accused of raping his wife “when they’re living together, sleeping in the same bed, she’s in a nightie, and so forth.”

Black has referred to emergency contraception, which does not cause abortions, as “baby pesticide.” Black also fought to block a statue of Abraham Lincoln at a former Confederate site in Richmond. He wasn’t sure, he explained at the time, that statues of Lincoln belonged in Virginia. He has argued that abortion is a worse evil than slavery. And once, to demonstrate why libraries should block pornography on their computers, Black invited a TV reporter to film him using a library terminal to watch violent rape porn.

I could go on. And on. And on.

True Freedom is Keeping Proprietary Chemicals From Regulators

[ 22 ] January 23, 2014 |

If you wanted to develop a corporation that personified evil, you couldn’t do better than Freedom Industries:

Federal and state officials were scrambling today following the surprise disclosure on Tuesday about an additional chemical that was in the tank the spilled “Crude MCHM” into the Elk River two weeks ago.

Freedom Industries disclosed the information to state and federal regulators on Tuesday morning, but health impacts of the chemical remain unclear, and Freedom Industries has claimed the exact identity of the substance is “proprietary.”

In an email to state officials Tuesday night and a press statement this morning, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control noted that data about the potential health effects of the chemical “PPH” are — like the information on Crude MCHM — “very limited.”

The EPA could do something about this:

Denison wondered if the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency would exercise its rarely used authority under the Toxic Substances Control Act to compel disclosure of the exact identity of PPH.

Terri White, an EPA spokeswoman, did not respond to requests for comment.

We’ll see if they do. This should be a clear call for an Obama EPA.

Today in the Sixth Extinction

[ 12 ] January 23, 2014 |

The situation for rhinos in southern Africa is grim indeed.

The Worst Person in the World

[ 127 ] January 23, 2014 |

Bayer CEO Marjin Dekkers:

Natco Pharma Ltd. (NTCPH) applied directly to India’s patents office and was awarded the nation’s first compulsory license in March 2012 to make a copy of Bayer’s Nexavar cancer drug at a 97 percent discount to the original product. In March last year, Bayer lost its bid to stop Natco from making the generic drug and is appealing the decision at the Mumbai High Court.

Bayer Chief Executive Officer Marijn Dekkers called the compulsory license “essentially theft.”

“We did not develop this medicine for Indians,” Dekkers said Dec. 3. “We developed it for western patients who can afford it.”

Because the world’s poor doesn’t deserve to survive cancer.

Hot

[ 118 ] January 22, 2014 |

I know it doesn’t seem that way right now for many of us in the east, but the climate continues to warm. 2013 was the 4th warmest year on record. Each of the top 10 is since 1998. The last year with temperatures below the 20th century average (already hotter than the 500 year norm) was 1976. So we are at 37 straight years of above average temperatures. This might be old hat to some of you, but Phil Plait with some of the implications.

So, yeah. One more piece in a very, very long list of evidence that the planet’s getting hotter. While surface temperatures are not the best way to keep tabs on warming—much of the extra energy is being stored deep in the oceans, and local effects can mask overall trends making you think there’s a pause in warming when no such pause exists—it would be foolish in the extreme to ignore it.

This news comes on the heels of lots of other global warming news as well.

Clear and Present Danger

Climatologist Michael Mann wrote an important op-ed in the New York Times called “If You See Something, Say Something.” In it, he argues that scientists are morally obligated to speak up when their research has an impact on society, especially with something as huge and damaging as global warming.

The very first thing he writes is something everyone should read:

The overwhelming consensus among climate scientists is that human-caused climate change is happening. Yet a fringe minority of our populace clings to an irrational rejection of well-established science. This virulent strain of anti-science infects the halls of Congress, the pages of leading newspapers and what we see on TV, leading to the appearance of a debate where none should exist.

That’s why scientists need to speak up about it. But when they don’t, it leaves “a vacuum that will be filled by those whose agenda is one of short-term self-interest.”

He also calls global warming a “clear and present danger.” I agree. Politicians who ignore it (and the media that enable them) are putting our country and our population at grave risk.

Of course we won’t do anything about it. I feel like I’m saying the same thing over and over again. I’m sure more oil drilling will help.

…NASA lets us visualize global warming in 15 seconds. Ugh.

Hope from Scalia?

[ 31 ] January 22, 2014 |

I was feeling pretty hopeless about the forthcoming Supreme Court decision in Harris v. Quinn, which challenges the constitutionality of states signing closed shop contracts with public sector unions. If the right-wingers have their way, states would not be allowed to do this, effectively making the various levels of the federal government operate by right to work laws and kneecapping SEIU and AFSCME, two of the last major successful unions in this country. But as Moshe Marvit reports, Antonin Scalia in oral arguments was quite hostile to the right to work argument:

Scalia turned the NRTW argument on its head by raising the hypothetical of a policeman who, after asking a dozen times for a raise, was denied access to the police commissioner. Did he have his First Amendment rights violated? The answer was no. With this device, Justice Scalia highlighted how the Supreme Court has recognized that the government has wider latitude in dealing with its employees than in dealing with its citizenry. The police commissioner telling his secretary that he didn’t want to speak with his subordinate no more violated the policeman’s First Amendment rights than charging healthcare workers a fair share fee for union representation does theirs.

At one point in the arguments, when Justice Kagan suggested that Scalia believed that the NRTW position was valid, Scalia interrupted to clarify, stating, “I want to hear the answer, too, because, contrary to what Justice Kagan suggests, I didn’t say your First Amendment argument was valid … I said at least it was a comprehensible argument.”

When the NRTW attorney suggested that the way homecare workers negotiate for higher wages was not internal workplace speech, but rather more highly protected political speech, Scalia objected, saying, “Why isn’t it? I mean, it is for private employers.” Scalia went on to suggest that employers may stand to gain by having their workforce represented by a single union. “There are some private employers who think they’re better off with a closed shop and they just want to deal with one union. … They do this as private employers because they think it is in their interest as an employer. Why can’t the government have the same interest?” Coming from Scalia, these arguments have far more force than they would from one of the more liberal justices.

Seattle University Law Professor Charlotte Garden, the author of an amicus brief by labor law professors supporting the union in Harris, tells Working In These Times that Scalia’s position in this case was in line with his partial concurrent opinion in a 1991 case, Lehnert v. Ferris Faculty Association. “Scalia also accepted in Lehnert—and seemed to accept in the argument [on Tuesday]—that requiring the union to fairly represent all members of the bargaining unit, but not requiring the agency fee (which is a model that states are free to adopt) puts pressure on the bargaining relationship by allowing represented workers to free ride,” she says.

Well, I’ll believe it when I see it. And Scalia’s federalism arguments are usually rank hypocrisy that apply only when they favor his personal policy positions. But maybe he cares enough to let states make their own choices here.

At least there’s reason to hope for the future of public sector unionism. For today at least.

The Cost of Free Trade Agreements

[ 287 ] January 22, 2014 |

Free trade agreements are so bipartisan now that even a large number of liberals support them. But free trade agreements and the resultant fully mobile capital unhinged to states has done more than any other thing to destroy the union movement, kneecap the popular environmentalism of 1970s, and undermine the middle class than anything else. It’s cost to everyday people in the United States has been profound. Harold Meyerson on the potential of the Trans-Pacific Partnership for making this even worse.

By now, even the most ossified right-wing economists concede that globalization has played a major role in the loss of American manufacturing jobs and, more broadly, the stagnation of U.S. wages and incomes. Former Federal Reserve vice chairman Alan Blinder has calculated that 22 percent to 29 percent of all U.S. jobs could potentially be offshored. That’s a lot of jobs: 25 percent would translate to 36 million workers whose wages are in competition with those in largely lower-income nations. Of the 11 nations with which the United States is negotiating the TPP, nine have wage levels significantly lower than ours.

Trade agreements that promote the relocation of U.S. corporations’ factories to nations like China and Mexico have played a central role in the evisceration of American manufacturing and the decline in U.S. workers’ incomes. Two out of three displaced manufacturing workers who got new jobs between 2009 and 2012, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reports, experienced wage reductions — most of them greater than 20 percent.

And here’s the thing–for workers in Mexico, Central America, and southeast Asia, the overall effects of free trade has not been particularly beneficial either. American food policy and food companies have forced Mexican farmers off their land, creating a new mobile labor force for the maquiladoras and undocumented workers in the U.S. For both of these groups of workers, they have effectively no rights at the workplace; in the U.S., companies have frequently turned themselves into immigration officials when their undocumented workers have organized. Today in Mexico, movements are rising around the “right to stay at home,” as workers do not want to leave for the border or for the U.S. The situation in Central America is similar and has spurred a lot of migration to the U.S. as well for the same reasons. As for Bangladesh and Cambodia and other southeast Asian nations, free trade has had an impact for the elites quite similar to the U.S.–a lot of wealth is concentrated in the hands of the few. For the poor, the apparel-elite state is more than happy to send the police after you for organizing. And if that doesn’t happen, your factory may collapse and leave you dead.

And while of course on the ground there is a great deal of complexity as to the overall impact of these agreements on poor nations (obviously there are some it has helped in some ways, etc), there is a glib and largely unexamined response from those who support free trade agreements saying that they have helped these workers, they have jobs, they are moving out of poverty, etc. But not only is the last part of that largely not true, but it ignores the preconditions as to why these workers needed jobs–often being forced off their land by the same policies and corporate-political elite that have them working 14-hour days in a Honduran sweatshop today. We need to take that into account before saying these things are universally good for poor nations.

Not to mention the impact of free trade on your own pocketbook, your own future stability, your own ability to send your kids to college, or to retire by choice rather than by long-term unemployment.

….The thing about Meyerson is that he’s a big enough deal writing in one of the nation’s 2 papers of record that he can force the Obama Administration to respond. Which they did through Penny Pritzker in a letter that can basically summed up as “free trade is good for you now shut up and let’s get back to this bipartisan project with no evidence it benefits the majority of Americans. But trust us, we are thinking of you.”

Bomb Shelter Cat

[ 31 ] January 21, 2014 |

I may not have any boxing cats for you tonight.

And I may not have any firefighting cats either.

Or any LOL-style cat photos from the 1870s.

But I do have a picture of a cat in a reinforced cat carrier during World War II.

Not sure what country.

Regulating West Virginia

[ 19 ] January 21, 2014 |

Why doesn’t West Virginia have decent environmental regulations? Because the state legislature has to approve each one!

West Virginia imposes an unusual hurdle for its Department of Environmental Protection: Regulations it writes are not enforceable until approved by the Legislature, giving lawmakers influenced by lobbyists a chance to revise them. Last year a regulation requiring natural-gas drillers to disclose the chemicals injected into the ground during hydraulic fracturing was revised at the request of Halliburton, the giant oil-services company, to keep the disclosure confidential.

In recent years the Department of Environmental Protection has moved to weaken limits on the amount of aluminum, a mining pollutant, in state waterways. Last year a bill sought by coal lobbyists ordering the department to revise limits on discharges of selenium, which is toxic to fish and expensive to clean up, passed the House of Delegates and the State Senate without opposition.

“A lot of our elected officials think it’s political suicide to take a stand against coal or in favor of the E.P.A.,” said Angie Rosser, the executive director of the West Virginia Rivers Coalition, a conservation group.

Other notes from this excellent article:

1. Joe Manchin is horrible.

2. The largest employer in West Virginia is Wal-Mart.

3. West Virginia politicians are all-in for an industry that has left the state 49th in the country in median household income, down from 47th in 1969.

Pipelines vs. Trains

[ 65 ] January 21, 2014 |

As another oil train is dangling over a railroad bridge in Philadelphia, some wonder whether pipelines or trains are better for transporting oil. The answer from available evidence in the United States seems that the difference is fairly negligible.

Including major derailments in Alabama and North Dakota, more than 1.15 million gallons of crude oil was spilled from rail cars in 2013, according to data from the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration.

By comparison, from 1975 to 2012, U.S. railroads spilled a combined 800,000 gallons of crude oil. The spike underscores new concerns about the safety of such shipments as rail has become the preferred mode for oil producers amid a North American energy boom.

The federal data does not include incidents in Canada where oil spilled from trains. Canadian authorities estimate that more than 1.5 million gallons of crude oil spilled in Lac-Megantic, Quebec, on July 6, when a runaway train derailed and exploded, killing 47 people. The cargo originated in North Dakota.

But then:

The March 2013 Exxon Mobil Pegasus tar sands oil pipeline disaster in Mayflower, Arkansas that poisoned nearby wetlands and killed dozens of birds, turtles and snakes. Exxon has never provided a definitive total of how much oil spilled, estimating 210,000 to 294,000 gallons. Mayflower and its wildlife are still struggling to recover.

An 840,000 gallon oil pipeline rupture in North Dakota discovered last October, but that may just be the tip of the iceberg. According to one news report, there have been hundreds of publicly unreported oil pipeline spills in North Dakota in the last two years.

A 27,000 gallon fuel leak in Utah last March that could’ve been much more disastrous if not for a beaver dam.

17,000 gallons of crude oil spilled by the Koch Pipeline Company in Texas last October.

In other words, transporting oil from Canadian tar sands is going to be terrible for the environment and public health of the United States whether it comes via pipeline or rail and both need to be opposed.

Scab Cereal

[ 82 ] January 21, 2014 |

Time to avoid Frosted Flakes and Fruit Loops, since Kellogg’s has locked out the workers making the cereal at its Memphis factory and instead bused in scabs through an Ohio unionbusting company.

Bradshaw says the lockout is part of a plan to make Kellogg union-free. “If we win in Memphis, they have to wait until the master contract expires to make these changes,” he said. “If we lose in Memphis, it’s going everywhere.

“Other companies are going to see it. General Mills has already called our international president and said, ‘What are you doing about Kellogg?’ He’s thinking if Kellogg can do it, they can, too.”

The Memphis lockout is only the latest step in a series of increasingly hostile anti-union moves by Kellogg globally. Management recently announced that two union plants in Australia and Canada will close this year, and production will move to non-union facilities.

Kellogg also recently shifted 58 million pounds per year of cereal production from Memphis to Mexico. Bradshaw said workers in Mexico are required to live in a housing compound near the factory and are bused to work. Some have been kidnapped by drug cartels.

In 1996, more than 800 people worked at the Memphis facility. Now it stands just above 200. Much of the work is automated.

Hardly surprising that a giant corporation like Kellogg’s is using capital mobility as a union-busting strategy. Capital mobility and the outsourcing of American jobs has done more than anything to undermine the middle class, making the working class ever more poor, and generate the enormous income inequality of the New Gilded Age.

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