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Category: General

The TPP and Environment

[ 18 ] May 19, 2015 |

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The Trans Pacific Partnership is likely to be as disastrous on environmental issues as it is for labor and intellectual freedom.

In order to avoid dangerous climate change, scientists estimate that 80 percent of the world’s fossil fuels need to remain in the ground. But coal, natural gas, and oil left in the ground means profits left on the table for fossil fuel companies. And under the proposed Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), corporations will likely be able to sue governments that interfere with their business — even if it’s by enacting carbon reduction goals and passing environmental legislation.

“Creating a corporate bill of rights to protect investors is incredibly undermining to our ability to protect the environment,” Ben Schreiber, the climate and energy program director for Friends of the Earth, told ThinkProgress.

Previous trade deals have, in fact, led to lawsuits over fossil fuels. An American mining company, Lone Pine Resources, sued the Canadian province of Quebec in 2013 for passing a ban on fracking. The company says the ban cost them $250 million and that under the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), Quebec is liable for the lost revenue. That lawsuit is ongoing.

In another lawsuit, Chevron alleged that Ecuadorian activists had defrauded the company, after it was ordered to pay $18.2 billion in damages for environmental contamination.

Life as a Fast Food Worker

[ 76 ] May 18, 2015 |

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Fast food workers fighting for $15 an hour took pictures of their homes to publicize what their life is like. Powerful stuff.

One Crucial Reason Why Abortion Criminalization Is Indefensible

[ 37 ] May 18, 2015 |

4-months-3-weeks-2-days

But of course:

A Tennessee Republican is making headlines for voting in favor of a national abortion ban, even after pressuring the women in his own life to have legal abortions.

Rep. Scott DesJarlais (R-TN) publicly opposes abortion and has repeatedly run for office as a pro-life candidate. Last week, he was one of 242 House members to vote for a proposed 20-week abortion ban that has become one of the top priorities for the current GOP-controlled Congress.

An anti-abortion Republican casting a vote in favor of an abortion restriction is not typically newsworthy. However, DesJarlais’ positions on the subject are particularly controversial, thanks to evidence that emerged in 2012 that revealed he has advocated for at least three legal abortions in his personal life.

Three years ago, transcripts related to the congressman’s divorce trial showed that DesJarlais supported his ex-wife’s decision to legally end two pregnancies. He also had several extramarital affairs, and once pressured a 24-year-old woman to have an abortion after she told him she was pregnant with his child. “You told me you’d have an abortion, and now we’re getting too far along without one,” DesJarlais told the woman in a recorded phone conversation. “If we need to go to Atlanta, or whatever, to get this solved and get it over with so we can get on with our lives, then let’s do it.”

This reminds me of people asserting that when John McCain said that if his daughter wanted an abortion he’d leave it up to her, this showed that he was really a moderate on abortion rights. The problem with this is that the formal legal status of abortion is essentially irrelevant to whether the wives, mistresses, and daughters of people like Scott DesJarlais and John McCain will be able to obtain safe abortions. They are fully aware of this when they vote for every abortion regulation and ban to come down the pike. And the disjuncture also illustrates that these votes are appalling. All women should have access to safe, legal abortions, not just women who are affluent or who have access to the patronage of people like Scott DesJarlais.

Target Institutions, Not Politicians

[ 61 ] May 18, 2015 |

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One thing I have discussed over and over again here is how progressives focus so strongly on politicians as part of a moral universe that must be adhered to in order to be supported. In other words, if politician X sells us out on one issue then that person is dead to me and thus Nader ’16! Part of this is related to the politics of authenticity that people so crave. Among its many problems is that ignores the fundamental rule of politics which is that it is about power and power alone. So how to leverage that power? The answer is clear–focus on institutions. That’s the theme of this really smart Jacobin essay by Michael Schwartz and Kevin Young, who show that again and again, when progressives target institutions, whether corporations or parts of government, they can win. The politicians follow the display of power.

Contrary to many analysts’ assumption that putting Democrats into office is the best way to substantially increase the minimum wage, workplace actions and protests targeting low-wage employers could be the best strategy. These actions focus public attention on low wages and help pave the way for local and state ballot referenda to raise the minimum wage.

More importantly, direct pressure — through boycotts, protests, labor strikes, or supply chain interruptions — on McDonald’s, Walmart, and other powerful firms can “adversely affect” their bottom line, especially given “increasing public focus on matters of income inequality,” as McDonald’s company documents recently warned. This pressure can simultaneously yield direct concessions: some fast-food and retail chains have reacted to recent protests by granting raises to unruly workers, and a few have promised company-wide increases.

But beyond this immediate impact, the changes wrought by direct protest can also neutralize the affected firms’ opposition to raising the minimum wage to the level they are (now) paying their workers. Some may even lobby the government for such an increase to reduce their competitive disadvantage. This logic motivated certain US businesses to support the 1891 Meat Inspection Act, the 1906 Pure Food and Drug Act, and other landmark regulatory laws, because they saw the laws as forcing their competitors to honor standards they were already being forced to meet.

Targeting corporations can even make sense when corporations aren’t the most visible enemies of reform, as in the immigrant rights struggle. In March 2011, dozens of Arizona-based corporate executives wrote a letter to state legislators asking that they refrain from passing further anti-immigrant bills like the infamous SB 1070, which was in 2010.

The problem, they explained, was that “boycotts were called against [the] state’s business community” in response to the law. The boycotts were so “harmful to [their] image” that “Arizona-based businesses saw contracts cancelled or were turned away from bidding,” and “sales outside of the state declined” (the boycotts also led many Mexican companies to stop trading with Arizona businesses).

The threat to their profits led them to insist on a change in public policy. The result? Within a week, the Republican-controlled legislature rejected five bills designed to further criminalize immigrants.

This is all why it really doesn’t matter if Hillary Clinton supports the Trans Pacific Partnership or Keystone XL Pipeline. What matters is if she is scared to support it because it would cost her real political capital to do so. Ultimately putting Democrats into office makes the process of change much, much easier, but it isn’t enough and is certainly not a final point. Elections are merely the consolidation of power over the past election cycle, not the end of the game. Those were disappointed with Obama should largely be disappointed with themselves because they misunderstood how politics work in the United States. Hopefully, they learn the right lessons from that disappointment.

The Uses and Mis-Uses of Betrayal in Game of Thrones

[ 4 ] May 18, 2015 |

So…things happened on Game of Thrones that weren’t about that final scene. I wrote about them for Salon – this time, the theme is betrayal – and then I discuss that last scene.

Enjoy!

Rick Scott: Today’s Ideal Republican

[ 27 ] May 18, 2015 |

Florida Gov. Rick Scott Attends Hurricane Conference

As I have observed before, albeit not at the same length, Rick Scott’s selective opposition to federal health care spending tells you most of what you need to know about the Republican Party in 2015:

So Scott used his deceased mother as a shield to lie about his motives in order to funnel federal taxpayer money to Florida businesses, then reneged on his part of the deal, leaving many poor Floridians to needlessly suffer and in some cases die. All par for the course for Scott, who before entering politics oversaw a massive amount of Medicare fraud as CEO of a large for-profit hospital operator.

At this point, one could say that, rank dishonesty and opportunism aside, at least Scott is standing on principle. He is turning down federal dollars to protect state sovereignty. Not a very attractive principle, but at least a principle, right?

Nope. Before the Affordable Care Act, the federal government made money available to states to create Low-Income Pools (LIP) that would reimburse hospitals that treated patients who couldn’t afford to pay for emergency services. Florida is receiving more than $1 billion a year in federal funds from LIP. The ACA, however, makes the LIP obsolete. It addresses problems of uncompensated hospitals by expanding Medicaid, greatly reducing the number of patients who cannot pay their bills.

This lawsuit builds on the Supreme Court’s already shaky holding that allowed states to opt ouf the expansion, pushing it to an extreme that would be too absurd even for the Roberts Court. It has virtually no chance of succeeding.

But the decision to file it is instructive. On the one hand, Scott is arguing that taking an extraordinarily good offer from the federal government to insure its poor citizens would be an intolerable intrusion on the sacred sovereignty of the state of Florida. On the other hand, Scott is arguing that Florida has a right to another source of federal tax dollars for health care.

There is, in other words, no actual principle involved here — not even a bad “states’ rights” one. It’s just pure partisan politics, with Florida’s poor people being punished as a result.

I don’t know that I can say that Scott is America’s worst governor — it’s a tough competition — but he’s up there.

Another Demographic Battle Lost

[ 107 ] May 18, 2015 |

When someone in my twitter feed made this snarky tweet, I did not, as they say, “trust the shorter.”

Well, I should have. Damon Linker weighs in on religion’s (soon to be–I HOPE) waning influence on, well, everything (again, I HOPE).

This Day in Labor History: May 18, 1933

[ 13 ] May 18, 2015 |

On May 18, 1933, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt created the Tennessee Valley Authority as a centerpiece to his New Deal. The TVA would have both short and long-term impacts on the nation’s labor history, ultimately going far to transforming an entire region of the nation, providing the raw materials and industrial capacity necessary to become a major site of American production after World War II.

The Tennessee Valley was one of the United States’ most underdeveloped areas in 1933. Despite a long-term effort by Nebraska senator George Norris to push for public power in the region, private interests prevented a major government investment until the Roosevelt administration swept to power that year. The net farm income of the Tennessee Valley was only $639 a year compared to the national average of $1835. The Roosevelt administration saw widespread regional planning as key to raising the nation’s poorest regions out of poverty. Targeting the Tennessee River Valley, the new agency built sixteen dams to prevent erosion and limit floods, provide electricity for both farmers and industrial operations, and eventually for recreational purposes. It also attempted to establish a model community with modern urban planning for the region to follow at Norris, Tennessee, north of Knoxville.

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Workers at Norris Dam

However, it should be noted that Washington planners, fearful of alienating the white South through this unprecedented government incursion into the economy, not only reinforced segregation on the job, but created new forms of it. Much physical labor on construction sites was not segregated in the 1930s, but after the TVA introduced segregation that its planners assumed already existed, it spread through the South for a lot of hard labor. Yet even here, the federal government was employing black Americans at high rates for the first time in a very long time and despite the institutionalized discrimination of TVA and the fact that the white power structure in the South were all Democrats, it helped the process of convincing blacks to leave the Republican Party which now did nothing for them and join the Democratic Party that might do a little bit for them. TVA did eventually provide better jobs for African-Americans, but only after threatened NAACP lawsuits and Fair Employment Practices Committee investigations. But all hiring of blacks was resisted. When TVA hired three black security guards in 1943, none other than John Rankin said it would “engender more bitterness among southern representatives and southern senators than anything else I could mention.” And when blacks showed up in 1942 to help work on Fontana Dam on the North Carolina-Tennessee border, white workers threatened to lynch them.

For unions, the impact of the TVA would be ambivalent. Fourteen American Federation of Labor trade unions were involved in the construction of the dams but the agency originally would not recognize them as bargaining agents on the projects until its lawyers decided that since TVA was chartered as a corporation, it could be legally liable for not doing so. In 1935, TVA created its Employee Relationship Policy, a sort of localized Wagner Act. It granted the right to organize and choose collective bargaining agents free of management. The AFL then created the Tennessee Valley Trades and Labor Council (TVTLC) as the bargaining agent for all the AFL craft unions. But while the TVA leaders in Washington were relatively open to unionism, local supervisors who lacked any interactions with unions were openly hostile. When John Turner was fired for passing out union literature during working hours, labor appealed to TVA leadership who reinstated him in part because the TVA board itself had facilitated the unionization of the workforce. In 1940, the TVA signed the first general agreement covering its blue-collar employees and then moved on to a similar agreement with seven unions covering white-collar workers. In short, the TVA provided a small bastion of unionism in a harshly anti-union part of the nation.

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Building the Big Ridge Dam, Tennessee

Interestingly, the early TVA also worked with the Highlander School, the radical Myles Horton-led educational center in Tennessee that would later train Martin Luther King and Rosa Parks and then be closed (it moved to a different part of the state). TVA’s first chairman was Arthur Morgan, who had socialist ties, including through his son who was an avowed socialist. Morgan had the TVA pay for a few workers to attend Highlander for industrial training and, while Morgan had to publicly keep his distance from the radical center, the Highlander-trained workers played a central role in organizing the TVA craft unions. The connection between the two institutions continued to thrive over the next few years, although Morgan ignored Horton’s pleas to integrate the workforce.

No American could be sad about new economic opportunities for the Southern working class. But would those jobs be union jobs? In fact, for the most part, outside of the TVA itself, they would not. It was an intentional move on the part of the Roosevelt administration to reshape the geography of American industrial production in the New Deal and especially in World War II. There were many good reasons to do that. But TVA-produced power also provided the infrastructure necessary for corporations to move production from union jobs in New England and the Great Lakes states to anti-union southern states. As early as the late 1930s, textile manufacturers escaping unions in the northeast found the newly electrified areas of the TVA appealing places to move production. The CIO knew this was a problem and understood that the ability to organize these jobs would go a long ways to defining the postwar labor movement. So it initiated Operation Dixie in 1946 to begin organizing the South. And while not all those campaigns were related specifically around TVA-created jobs, its planners knew that TVA-provided power would open up the region to massive capital mobility as manufacturers saw the potential for a non-union workforce again within American borders. But Operation Dixie largely failed for complex reasons and those jobs largely, although not entirely, remained non-union for the existence of the workplace.

In the end, the TVA transformed the South and provided a great deal of new opportunity for Southern workers. It did however contribute, indirectly at least, to the decline of American unionism in postwar America.

TVA-sites-map

TVA sites as of 2005

The material on segregation comes from Nancy Grant, TVA and Black Americans: Planning for the Status Quo. Other material comes from F. Ray Marshall, Labor in the South and Irving Bernstein, Promises Kept: John F. Kennedy’s New Frontier.

This is the 143rd post in this series. Previous posts are archived here.

I’d Like To Buy That Man Woman A Coke

[ 7 ] May 17, 2015 |

Pretty impressive. Let me also endorse Rick Perlstein’s summary from Facebook:

Don finally accepts that faking authenticity is all there is, all the way down.

*Title modified to properly indicate that Eileen Sutton was the source of the theory.

Game of Thrones, Season 5, Episode 6 Open Thread

[ 109 ] May 17, 2015 |

Click to view full size image

Thanks to some scheduling luck, Scott and I should be able to podcast tomorrow, so that’ll be going up earlier than usual. In the mean time, have fun kibitzing in the thread.

And as usual, beware of spoilers.

Mad Men Series Finale Open Thread

[ 53 ] May 17, 2015 |

Don-Draper-

Well, this is it. I have to say that after Season 6, I was really down on the show, but both halves of Season 7 have been excellent. My prediction, which no doubt will be proven wrong shortly, is that the final episode consists of nothing but Don. Maybe Sally or Betty. But all other story lines in the advertising agency have been finished. Given that Roger Sterling is one of the greatest supporting characters in TV history, it’s kind of too bad.

…I was fantastically wrong! Also, cocaine! Mad Men has reached the 70s!

Game of Thrones Pre-Game: Loras Tyrell as “Gay Cartoon”

[ 15 ] May 17, 2015 |

How "Game of Thrones" ruined Loras Tyrell: HBO's “gay cartoon” is so much more in the books

I have a new essay up on Salon.com, this time on the heated debate over the show’s depiction of Loras Tyrell. FYI, I didn’t choose the headline.

Feel free to discuss, but save any Episode 6 comments until the open thread, which I’ll put up at 10PM Eastern.

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