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Category: General

The Embargo Cannot Fail, It Can Only Be Failed

[ 111 ] December 17, 2014 |

Shorter Bob Menendez and Marco Rubio: “How dare Obama discuss ending the embargo on Cuba when it’s probably only a few years away from causing Fidel Castro’s death and therefore being vindicated?”

On Seattle’s Policy Catastrophe

[ 81 ] December 17, 2014 |

djw has been on this for a while, but as a supplement David Roberts has an excellent summary of Seattle’s monumentally stupid tunnel project. Whenever you choose an option that is by far the 1)riskiest, 2)most expensive, and 3)least potentially useful of the available options, you might as well go all the way and make Michael Brown in charge of all infrastructure spending for the state.

Jeb Bush is running for president

[ 198 ] December 16, 2014 |

dale's

Of the United States of America.

OK technically he’s “actively exploring the possibility.” We all know that’s like actively exploring the possibility of of drinking this can of Dale’s Pale Ale I just opened.

So, campaign slogans?

I’ll start: “In five years the Bush family will be completely legitimate.”

BTW Chelsea Clinton becomes constitutionally eligible for the office in February. (If you turn 35 after the general election but before the Electoral College vote are you eligible? What about after the College but before the inauguration? What if you’re from a culture that calls people “35″ during their 35th year of life? I’ve heard Germans do this. They’re not constitutionally eligible though).

Pundits

[ 40 ] December 16, 2014 |

If I was a parent and two of my children were partisan pundits yelling at each other on C-SPAN, I wouldn’t want them home for Thanksgiving either. I’d also probably admit I was a terrible parent for them to turn out this way.

Oh my Lord, shut it down, here is the greatest moment in the history of C-SPAN: A (very Southern) mama called into one of their shows to yell at the guests. Not because she disagrees, but because the guests are brothers and both her sons and she is sick and tired of their shit.

This perfect moment comes via the eagle-eyes at the Washington Post. You see, brothers Brad and Dallas Woodhouse sit on opposite sides of the the aisle, politically, and so they make joint appearances to argue bitterly about things like Obamacare. And their mother has had enough, by God, and so she called into their latest C-SPAN appearance from Raleigh, North Carolina to say that she is glad they both went to their in-laws’ this year for Thanksgiving and she wants this nonsense out of their system BEFORE they come home for Christmas, goddammit. She loves them both, but she wants a peaceful Noel.

Watch and cringe as one of the brothers drops his head into his hands and bemoans, “Oh God, it’s mom.” At least they’ve got something to bond over before the trip home for the holidays.

“Wherever They’s A Fight to Defend the Preposterous Arguments of People Responsible for Arbitrary Detention And Torture, I’ll Be There”

[ 60 ] December 16, 2014 |

Shorter Ann Althouse: “That Dick Cheney was so tough and steadfast and dreamy when he defended his administration’s policy of torturing people, including the innocent. And you betcha the sexual assault rectal dehydration and feeding probably had a legitimate medical purpose, just as Jose Padilla may well have been tortured to stop him from blinking signals to the many people watching him being taken to the denitist at Gitmo.”

As a desperately needed chaser, Chait has a good summary of the various ways Cheney has defended torture now that it’s even harder to pretend that it didn’t happen. My guess is that #1 — by definition, it’s not torture if the right Americans do it to the wrong paper — will be the dominant theme. It’s sad and outrageous that apologias for gross violations of human rights that really should be confined to eighth-rate webcomics will persuade many people, but we are living in a polity in which Dick Cheney could be part of a winning presidential ticket twice.

The Tangled Web of Oppression

[ 35 ] December 16, 2014 |

We all support professional athletes wearing shirts protesting the horrors of police violence against people of color. But what happens when that protest runs up against a horror equally as disturbing? As in, where were those shirts made?

Last week, NBA stars LeBron James, Kobe Bryant and Deron Williams donned “I CAN’T BREATHE” T-shirts in support of Michael Brown and Eric Garner — two unarmed black men killed by police over the summer. But now, a political activist who helped organize and produce some of the shirts says he regrets they were manufactured by a company that has long been accused of poor labor practices.

“I think we want to assume sometimes when we’re ordering shirts that they’re not being made in a sweatshop,” Michael Skolnick, political director for hip-hop mogul Russell Simmons, said in an interview with The Washington Post. “We’ve got to do better.”

Skolnick was featured in a New York Times article last week that detailed how the shirts were secured for players in less than 24 hours to show support for protest movements around the country. But revelations that the T-shirts were made by a company that has faced criticism for mistreating workers — an accusation the firm rejects — is now raising questions about whether a movement for racial justice has a responsibility to make sure it also advances economic fairness.

Political activists have gotten in trouble for their choice of T-shirt manufacturers before. Last month, a shirt that read “This is what a feminist looks like” worn by, among others, U.N. Goodwill Ambassador Emma Watson, was pulled from store shelves in the United Kingdom after allegations it was produced in a sweatshop.

I’m not trying to be overly negative or nitpick here–obviously what these athletes are doing is a pure good. But we also need to remember that the wealthy oppressing the poor in the United States–which is much of what police violence is about–is connected to the world’s wealthy oppressing the world’s poor, in this case through exploitative production methods that can lead to the death of over 1100 workers. All apparel operators need to do more to ensure their clothes are made in dignified conditions. It’s unfortunate that it takes the contradictions of this sort of protest to bring this to our attention, but at least it does.

Lima

[ 52 ] December 15, 2014 |

Seems unlikely that the meaningless toothless climate reductions agreed to in Lima will mitigate the carbon emissions it took to get everyone to Peru to make the deal.

Child Labor on Mexican Farms

[ 20 ] December 15, 2014 |

The Los Angeles Times has another installment in its outstanding series of labor exploitation on the Mexican vegetable farms that supply U.S. markets. This piece is on the rampant use of child labor that picks your vegetables. Once again, American corporations openly seek these arrangements out to lower costs. It should be illegal and they should be prosecuted for selling products made with child labor.

The False Promises of Prison Labor

[ 29 ] December 15, 2014 |

Prison labor not only takes jobs away from non-prisoners who earn wages, but it is a corrupt system that does not save the state money, as the Seattle Times reports. There is also no evidence this unpaid labor creates skills for prisoners they can use upon their release.

But behind CI’s glossy brochures and polished YouTube videos is a broken program that has cost taxpayers millions of dollars, charged exorbitant markups to state agencies to make up for losses, and taken jobs from private businesses that can’t compete with cheap prison labor, a Seattle Times investigation has found.

Far from being self-sufficient, CI has cost taxpayers at least $20 million since 2007, including $750,000 spent over three years on a fish farm to raise tilapia that has yet to yield a single meal.

CI has reaped millions of dollars — money it keeps — by inflating prices of furniture it sells to state agencies and public universities, capitalizing on a law that requires they buy from prison factories. In many cases, prisoners didn’t make the items, but CI instead bought prebuilt furniture then resold it with markups, previously undisclosed state records show.

The Times also found dozens of private business owners in Seattle and statewide who say they’ve had to stop hiring or lay off workers, victimized by unfair competition from an inmate workforce paid as little as 55 cents an hour.

“Have we had some problems?” said Danielle Armbruster, director of Correctional Industries. “Absolutely.”

“I believe in this program. We hope to expand and reach even more inmates. If we help just one inmate, then that’s one less victim in the future.”

But CI can’t substantiate that key claim — that inmates who work in Correctional Industries commit fewer crimes after release than those who do not. State recidivism studies often contradict each other and are rife with shortcomings, failing to account for thousands of inmates who commit new crimes, according to a Times analysis.

Likewise, officials have publicly claimed that CI inmates more successfully gained jobs after release, but they actually have no idea which offenders get jobs or where they’re working.

While for prisoners themselves, doing something with their time is better than sitting in their cell, the problems with prison labor are myriad.

What’s Wrong With This Picture?

[ 78 ] December 15, 2014 |

I took this at my local CVS in Providence.

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Next, Yom Kippur brought to you by my new cosmetics brand, Tsarist Russia!

Note that this is probably the most Jewish neighborhood in all Rhode Island. I’d think someone would have said something about this before, but then I think I only notice these things.

Higher Wages but No Unions

[ 37 ] December 14, 2014 |

It’s hard to argue against Harold Meyerson’s point that it is a lot easier to win higher wages for 100,000 people than to unionize 4000. Or unionize 20. The barriers to both winning a union election and securing a first contract are so great today, even as there is such an overwhelming desire to raise minimum wages by the Maoists making up the electorate of Nebraska and Arkansas, that it leaves one despairing for organized labor’s future while having strong hopes for real worker victories at the ballot box. The problem of course, as Meyerson well knows, is that unions are not just about minimum wages. They are about dignity on the job, grievance procedures, collective actions, benefits, and wages above the minimum wage. Raising the minimum wage is an unalloyed good, but it is not the be all and end all of progressive economic legislation. Plus, unions play a major role in these struggles for higher minimum wages but with each lost job, each shuttered local, each failed contract campaign, they lose the economic basis to provide that key support. So the future of these struggles remains tenuous as well.

How to Regulate Production

[ 14 ] December 14, 2014 |

Imagine if this was the standard for regulating production rather than the exception that took a decade of hard struggle to win:

Growers in the Fair Food Program are prohibited from firing workers who complain about working conditions. Paychecks must be calculated based on electronic time card systems, which are difficult to fudge. Growers must hire their workers directly rather than through labor contractors, comply with surprise inspections, and they have to fire supervisors who abuse or sexually harass worker, or who allow children to work in their fields. Workers’ complaints, collected via a 24-7 hotline, are investigated within two days of being received.

If the FFSC finds that a grower both failed to follow the rules and failed to correct them once caught, the corporate buyer switches to another approved grower, and the noncompliant grower loses business.

This fall, Whole Foods was the first retailer to introduce the Fair Food Label, a labeling program for tomatoes grown under FFSC, in stores. “It’s been a wonderful program,” says Erik Brown, senior global produce buyer for Whole Foods, adding that it helped him to bring “dignity” to his work.

In the program’s first four years, FFSC staff interviewed 7,500 workers in person, and processed nearly 600 complaints from workers, according to the report. Of those, the FFSC found about 40 percent were valid reports of violations of the Fair Food Program; another third of complaints were for conditions not covered by the program. Over the same period, the FFSC suspended seven growers from its program.

This should be the standard, with routine real inspections and a process to deal with problems. This is what needs to happen everywhere from the apparel factories of Bangladesh to the vegetable farms of Mexico. Anywhere that sends products to the United States. Instead, this is a unique program developed in response to a decade or organizing the Florida tomato fields by the Coalition of Immokalee Workers, a union of Latino farmworkers. The CIW is hoping to expand this to the state’s berry fields and spread it around the nation. That would be great. But it shouldn’t take this level of organizing to win these kinds of inspections. They should be government mandated.

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