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Category: General


[ 0 ] January 11, 2012 |

I’m not writing about the 1912 Lawrence strike in This Day in Labor History this year, so instead read Steve Early’s nice piece on the 100th anniversary of this very important event.


[ 62 ] January 11, 2012 |

So now that everyone is through with Clown Show 2: We Drop Our r’s Edition, maybe we can get to a story that actually matters.* And I don’t mean Clown Show 3: Confederate Homeland Edition. Instead, maybe we should shift our attention to the Hoosier State, where Governor Mitch Daniels** and the Republican legislature is trying to eviscerate Indiana’s unions by passing a right to work for poverty wages law.

To be precise, what a “right to work” law does is makes it legal for individuals in unionized workplaces to choose to opt out of the union, not paying any dues. But the union is still legally required to provide these non-members full representation. It’s a leech law, allowing workers to suck the blood of union members. It also weakens unions by forcing them to provide services without the resources of union dues.

The minority Democrats are doing everything they can to stop this atrocious law from passing. Both sides are using the example of Oklahoma, the last state to pass a right to work law, in 2001. Oklahoma business has talked up how much the law has helped them, but the Oklahoma economy has not exactly boomed. What it has done is undermine unions, which is pretty much all the plutocrats care about here. What about workers? Didn’t making Oklahoma “business-friendly” bring in the jobs?

“There is no doubt that the law has resulted in job loss and lower wages,” said Jesse Isbell, who worked for 36 years at the Bridgestone-Firestone tire plant in Oklahoma City.

That plant closed in 2006, and he and 1,400 others lost their jobs, he said, even though proponents had said the legislation was what was needed to keep jobs from leaving the state.

“Those jobs went to Mexico and they’re not coming back.”

He blamed that in part on the “right to work” law, saying it led to hard feelings and bad morale.

“The instance of free-loaders using union resources to fight discharge and company discipline created a hostile work environment,” Isbell said. “It affected productivity, profitability and the quality of the operations at our plant.”

He and Kitti Asberry, another United Auto Workers member who lost her General Motors job when the Oklahoma plant closed there in 2005, said jobs coming in have not replaced those lost, and that the wages and benefits are lower.


Will Democrats succeed in beating back this law? I tend to doubt it, though there is significant pressure on some Republicans in this reasonably strong union state to vote against it. Moreover, the lack of national pressure suggests the long-time Republican strategy of waiting out short-term Democratic protests, as in Wisconsin, will work in Indiana. By this I mean that liberals protest every now and again but don’t have the day-to-day organizing structure to fight these fires wherever they flare up. Let liberals focus on Wisconsin and conservatives will shift to Indiana and New Hampshire, leaving Wisconsin for a later date.

For whatever reason, even Democracy Now is coming up short on this issue. Instead of being a strong advocate for Indiana labor, it hosted a debate on the issue, allowing a Republican representative to give the 1% side of the story. Can you imagine a union newspaper of the 1930s giving a capitalist equal play? A civil rights newspaper of the 60s allowing a racist equal time? I mean, I know it’s hard for capitalists to get their message out in 2011 and all…..

Indiana should be the next Wisconsin, yet it has received almost no attention. I know our political expectations are lower in Indiana than Wisconsin, but this is war on the working-class that needs to be fought on every front. Instead, we have another 2 million tweets about whatever Rick Santorum said in some meaningless primary debate.

* I’m not entirely saying the Republican Primary doesn’t matter, though on the issues I care about, the differences between the various candidates are almost nil. It’s that the Republican Primary is over so maybe we should talk about something that actually affects people.

** If Daniels had actually run, what would his chances be of winning the nomination at this point? 20%. Fail.

Bard of the 1%

[ 101 ] January 11, 2012 |

I had missed this Friedman column from last week where he argues that we should throw rural people under the bus on high-speed internet access, instead focusing our resources on ultra-high-speed internet for the top 5%. There is proper outrage over this column, from Daily Yonder and Ann Treacy.

A couple of thoughts:

1. I know the fact that people live in rural areas and small towns is inconvenient for people obsessed with national planning and technological fetishism, but that’s the reality of the United States. You can’t just marginalize these people and their futures by dooming them to second-rate access to resources. I mean, you can, but then you have to deal with endemic poverty, high rates of drug use, domestic violence, and any number of other social problems. Remember too that a very large percentage of the Latino population are rural dwellers because of agricultural work. There are lots of kids moving around from rural place to rural place and if we want them to have a better future, we have to allocate resources to them.

2. Friedman’s 5% fascinates me and is a sign of just how elitist he is. I suppose all Times readers think they are part of that 5% so they aren’t outraged by this. But Friedman quite obviously supports a Gilded Age society where the rich and powerful become more rich and powerful. He’s pushed policies promoting this for years. So it’s not just rural dwellers that don’t get the resources, it’s the urban poor and middle class. I suppose all the wealth generated by the increasingly powerful 5% will trickle down to the plebeians and troglodytes. I mean, isn’t that what’s happened ever since Reagan?

…..Shorter Tom Friedman circa 1937: “Let’s not waste our time providing electricity to rural dwellers. We should focus our technology on cities because that’s where we’ll create the future.” Luckily we had people like Franklin Roosevelt and David Lillenthal and Lyndon Johnson at that time fighting for equitable distribution of resources to people regardless of where they lived.

The Arbitrary Murder of Civilians: Still Wrong

[ 101 ] January 11, 2012 |

Since I’m mentioned by name in the Greenwald post referenced by Paul below, I thought I should respond:

But the angriest reactions came from progressive bloggers, who widely denounced Reynolds as “contemptible” for suggesting this; one progressive writer, Lindsay Beyerstein, was horrified that one could even suggest such a thing, explaining that she ”despair[s] for our society when it’s necessary to supply a rigorous analytical exposition of why our government shouldn’t have scientists and religious leaders whacked.” Scott Lemieux railed against what he called Reynolds’ “kooky scheme for illegal death squads” as “crackpot,” “dumb” and “nuttier than a Planters factory.”


I have no doubt that Professors Campos and Heller would apply the same legal rationale now that it’s actually being done, but what about the progressives who so stridently denounced Reynolds? Does Lemieux still believe that whoever is responsible — Israel, the U.S., or some combination — is guilty of dispatching “illegal death squads”?

The answer, quite simply, is yes. If the United States was involved in the killings — and we should stress the “if” here — the Obama administration’s actions were both illegal and immoral, for the same reasons stated in my earlier posts. I don’t know if the assassination of civilians violates Israeli law, but if the state of Israel was involved its actions were certainly wrong.

UPDATE: Hardee-har-har.

A few quiet little murders

[ 23 ] January 11, 2012 |

I can only imagine the pride with which University of Tennessee law professor Glenn Reynolds, aka Instapundit, must peruse the front pages of our national newspapers, now that he can read on a regular basis about the wholesale adoption of one half of his splendid plan to “quietly kill radical mullahs and Iranian atomic scientists.”

It is of course an open question of whether and to what extent the U.S. government is involved in this series of murders:

A former senior intelligence official involved in efforts to thwart Iran’s nuclear program told ABC News that assassinations of top Iranian scientists were usually assumed to be the work of Israel, but that the Israelis would never confirm or admit responsibility.

“Every time we ask,” said the official, “they just smile and say, ‘We have no idea what you are talking about.’ ”

The U.S., for its part, has officially denied any involvement in the deaths of Iranian scientists. A White House spokesman called the accusations “absurd” after Mohammadi’s death. The CIA is known, however, to have recruited scientists as spies.

In 2007, after Iranian General Ali-Reza Asgari went missing in Turkey, the Iranian government said the intelligence official had been kidnapped by Mossad. The Israeli and Western media said he had defected, and was busy providing information on Iran’s nuclear program.

Two years later, award-winning Iranian nuclear scientist Shahram Amiri disappeared while on a pilgrimage to Mecca. He later resurfaced in the United States after defecting to the CIA in return for a large sum of money, according to people briefed on the operation by intelligence officials. A spokesperson for the CIA declined official comment.

Still, it’s rare for a legal academic to see his policy recommendations adopted so wholeheartedly, either by his own government or by a client state.

I have little to add to what Glenn Greenwald has to say about this, but I do want to address a related issue, which is the extent to which academic freedom does or ought to insulate academics from any professional consequences for their actions, in cases where those actions include things like enthusiastically recommending the murder of members of a very small group of specific individuals, especially in a case in which those murders then in fact take place, or playing a key role in bringing about, in flagrant violation of both domestic and international law, a formal system by which the U.S. government repeatedly tortured, under color of law, various prisoners in its custody.

Back when Prof. Reynolds so enthusiastically (and, in turns out in retrospect, quite successfully) first advocated murdering certain specific people, I asked whether one might want to inquire into whether advocating murder — not in some abstract, theoretical way, but in a very individualized, concrete, and one might even say personal manner — was an act that was absolutely protected by considerations of academic freedom. This wasn’t a rhetorical question: the matter genuinely interested me then, and, for obvious reasons, interests me even more so today.

When Prof. John Yoo returned to his academic sinecure after playing his part in transforming the United States government into an enthusiastic practitioner of the various arts involved in torturing captive and helpless human beings, I asked a similar question:

Now Yoo is now back at UC Berkeley, where he taught before joining the Bush administration. He is molding the minds of the next generation of lawyers. The school has no plans to do any inquiry of its own into Yoo’s behavior, or even to modify the professor’s teaching schedule, other than to keep the time and location of Yoo’s classes off the school’s Web site, in order to discourage protesters.

Yoo’s continuing and apparently permanent position on the faculty of one of the nation’s leading law schools does have some significant educational value for his students. For one thing, I am reliably informed that, when he’s not busy arguing that the president has the legal authority to massacre villages and crush the testicles of children, Professor Yoo teaches a very fine class in civil procedure.

In retrospect, I’m sorry I ever raised any questions regarding the potential limits of academic freedom in these cases. Such questions are, under the circumstances, a distraction. We live in a country where law professors advocate torturing and murdering people (unfortunately we have now sunk to a depth where it’s necessary to note that torture and murder remain crimes even when they’re committed by U.S. government officials in the course of performing their official duties), people are then duly tortured and murdered per their official and unofficial recommendations, and there are no subsequent legal or even professional consequences to anyone involved in any aspect of these proceedings. This illustrates the extent to which, in America today, even the most atrocious crimes are simply not crimes at all if they are committed by sufficiently important people:

If you’re a person of high social status and have good enough political connections, nothing will happen to you even if you commit the most serious crimes. This applies even more obviously to Yoo’s former White House employers, but the fact that it’s impossible in this country to levy even the mildest professional sanctions against a mere law professor illustrates the absurdity of imagining it might be possible to ever actually prosecute the likes of Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld.

10 CA v. the Stupid

[ 15 ] January 11, 2012 |

The 10th Circuit struck down the idiotic and flagrantly unconstitutional ban on “sharia” and “international” law passed by the fine citizens of Oklahoma last year.   Good; I would have hated to see Antonin Scalia get arrested if he came to give a speech in Tulsa.

The argument that Mark Tushnet makes about the winger focus on judges using international legal sources being a silly culture war diversion obviously applies even more forcefully to the “sharia law” nonsense.    I just wonder which Republican candidate will be first to describe the 10th Circuit as imposing Sharia on Oklahoma and demand that the court be abolished.

The Court and Indecently Arbitrary Violations of Free Speech

[ 40 ] January 11, 2012 |

Dahlia Lithwick’s piece on the oral arguments on the latest round of the FCC “fleeting expletives” case that the Supreme Court kicked back to the circuit court 3 years ago is excellent. The two most salient points:

  • Based on FCC v. Fox and today’s oral argument, this looks like it’s going to be another example of Liptak’s recent point about how the alleged commitment of the Court’s conservatives to free speech (with the possible exception in this case of Thomas) is greatly overstated.
  • Rather than end the silliness, the Obama administration has “defended the Bush indecency policy with great zeal.”

Live With Mittens or Die

[ 29 ] January 10, 2012 |


Possible outcomes tonight: 1) Romney wins NH and goes on to win the nomination. 2) Romney loses NH and goes on to win the nomination.

Well, eliminate #2 and this is correct. But we can have an open thread for those into that kind of thing. I plan to largely skip television coverage to work and watch hockey, so in light of the 500th goal I missed (and how!) by one game I’ll cite Jarome Iginla’s two greatest games instead:

Salt Lake 2002 wasn’t quite Vancouver 2010, but it was extremely entertaining in its own right. (Oh yeah, and who set up the Crosby OT winner at the latter?) And, obviously, after the defeat of the Bertuzzi/Cooke/Ruutu/Crawford Canucks Iginla (and Kiprusoff) should immediately have been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.

…It’s sad to see people who hang in there beyond reason, not knowing when to quit when they’re done. I refer, of course, to Marty Brodeur. (Apologies to Mr. Brodeur for implicitly comparing the washed-up Hall of Famer to the never-was also-rans in the GOP primary.)

On Leverage (“The Van Gogh Job”)

[ 10 ] January 10, 2012 |

(This be yet another one of them posts.)

Before analyzing a sequence from the “Van Gogh Job” episode of Leverage, I need to discuss a little something about color and continuity. First, you may be familiar with Vincent Van Gogh, but if not, all you need to know is the man loved his yellows:

If you’re thinking those yellows are a little brown, you’re not wrong. But that’s the fault of history and chemistry, not intent, so imagine those yellows are as vibrant as they were the day he painted them. This is important. So too is another of his paintings with which you’re probably familiar:


What’s significant here is the contrast between the once-vibrant yellows and the rich swirls of blue that these lights fail to illuminate. The stars and moon exist independently of the night sky, which has always struck me as a visualization of a menacing thought: things can hide in the presence of all this light. Light can not only fail to illuminate, it can be swept up and away by raging torrents of darkness. (Which invariably contain monsters, because darkness light can’t penetrate always contains monsters.)

That I’m going on about Van Gogh in a post about the “Van Gogh Job” should be fairly self-evident, but it’s not just that the director of this episode/author-of-the-challenge-to-write-this-post, John Rogers, employs a palette similar to that of his subject. More significant is how he employs it, which is both 1) often to the same end and 2) create continuity between his parallel narratives. In the modern narrative, Charlie Lawson (Danny Glover) sits in a hospital bed recounting the events of the World War II narrative to Parker (Beth Riesgraf):

Read more…

Government is not a business, part MMMCXXIV

[ 25 ] January 10, 2012 |

Somewhere in Bourdieu’s conversation with Wacquant, he observes — and I’m paraphrasing here — that the purpose of social science is to make it difficult to say idiotic things about the social world. Now I’m not an economist, of course, but to the degree that idiotic analogies are something of a hobby of mine, so I also have a passing interest in the moronic things people routinely have to say about macroeconomics. By far the worst of the lot, in my view, is the analogy between household and sovereign debt. Today, Krugman describes what might be the closest contender for top honors.

. . . [T]he fact is that running a business is nothing at all like making macro policy. The key point about macroeconomics is the pervasiveness of feedback loops due to the fact that workers are also consumers. No business sells a large fraction of its output to its own workers; even very small countries sell around two-thirds of their output to themselves, because that much is non-tradable services.

This makes a huge difference. A businessman can slash his workforce in half, produce about the same as before, and be considered a big success; an economy that does the same plunges into depression, and ends up not being able to sell its goods. Nothing in business experience prepares one for the paradox of thrift, or even the inflationary impact of increases in the money supply (which is real when the economy isn’t in a liquidity trap.)

All of which only reminds me of Berton Churchill’s famously idiotic harangue in Stagecoach (1939):

I don’t know what the government’s coming to. Instead of protecting businessmen it pokes its nose into business. Why, they’re even talking now about having bank examiners. As if we bankers don’t know how to run our own banks. Why, Boone, I actually have a letter from a popinjay official saying that they were going to inspect my books. I have a slogan that should be blazoned on every newspaper in the country. America for Americans. The government must not interfere with business. Reduce taxes. Our national debt is something shocking. What this country needs is a businessman for President.
Because, of course, that plan has always turned out well.

NAFTA on the Ground

[ 36 ] January 10, 2012 |

Outstanding piece of journalism by David Bacon, showing how NAFTA has brought North Carolina and Veracruz together, connected by Smithfield Farms trying to screw both places over. Essentially, as North Carolinian outrage over the environmental consequences of giant hog farms grew and as workers sought to unionize the brutal hog disassembly lines, Smithfield used NAFTA to undercut both efforts. Smithfield dumped cheap pork on the Mexican market, undermining Veracruz’s farmers ability to make a living. It then recruited Veracruz workers to enter the U.S. without documents and take low-paying jobs in its packing plants. When those workers started unionizing, Smithfield called INS on itself and had those workers deported. Meanwhile, since local opposition in North Carolina to ever larger hog operations made the company’s continued growth difficult, it began opening gigantic and unregulated hog farms in Veracruz. When local people became sick, the hog plants of North Carolina was one of their only options if they wanted to leave the area.

This is how “free trade” works on the ground. The global 1% may benefit, but most everyone else finds their life more impoverished and more poisonous. From Bacon’s piece:

Smithfield didn’t invent the system of displacement and migration. It took advantage of US trade and immigration policies, and of economic reforms in Mexico. In both countries, however, the company was forced to bend at least slightly in the face of popular resistance. Farmers in Perote Valley have been able to stop swine shed expansion, at least for a while. Migrant Veracruzanos helped organize a union in Tar Heel. Yet these were defensive battles against a system that needs the land and labor of workers but does its best to keep them powerless.

“From the beginning NAFTA was an instrument of displacement,” says Juan Manuel Sandoval, co-founder of the Mexican Action Network Against Free Trade. “The penetration of capital led to the destruction of the traditional economy, especially in agriculture. People had no alternative but to migrate.” Sandoval notes that many US industries are dependent on this army of available labor. “Meatpacking especially depends on a constant flow of workers,” he says. “Mexico has become its labor reserve.”

Raul Delgado Wise, a professor at the University of Zacatecas, charges that “rather than a free-trade agreement, NAFTA can be described as…a mechanism for the provision of cheap labor. Since NAFTA came into force, the migrant factory has exported [millions of] Mexicans to the United States.”

About 11 percent of Mexico’s population lives in the United States, according to the Pew Hispanic Center. Their remittances, which were less than $4 billion in 1994 when NAFTA took effect, rose to $10 billion in 2002, and then 
$20 billion three years later, according to the Bank of Mexico. Even in the recession, Mexicans sent home $21.13 billion in 2010. Remittances total 3 percent of Mexico’s gross domestic product, according to Frank Holmes, investment analyst and CEO of US Global Investors. They are now Mexico’s second-largest source of national income, behind oil.

However, Mexico’s debt payments, mostly to US banks, consume the same percentage of the GDP as remittances. Those remittances, therefore, support families and provide services that were formerly the obligation of the Mexican government. This alone gives the government a vested interest in the continuing labor flow.

For Fausto Limon, the situation is stark: his family’s right to stay in Mexico, on his ranch in the Perote Valley, depends on ending the problems caused by the operation of Granjas Carroll. But he has no money for planting, and he shares the poverty created by meat and corn dumping with farmers throughout Mexico. The trade system that allows this situation to continue will inevitably produce more migrants—if not Limon, then probably his children. The fabric of sustainable rural life at his Rancho del Riego is being pulled apart.

Apple’s Record in China

[ 26 ] January 10, 2012 |

The Institute of Environmental and Public Health, a Beijing non-profit, has listed Apple as the lowest ranked of the 29 companies it surveyed for issues of responsiveness and transparency of health and environmental concerns in China.

Now it’s hard to say what kind of methodology was used by this group, particularly given what I assume is the hostility of the Chinese government to publicizing this information. Apple’s defenders will say it is being picked on because of its visibility. And possibly this there is some truth to this, not in the big picture but in relation to other corporations. The real issue here is that measuring these factors is nearly impossible because of the complete lack of transparency within supplier companies. That is the responsibility of multinational corporations and governments. Apple, Wal-Mart, and whoever else use contracted suppliers in part to save costs, but also to shield themselves from blame when workers get sick or die or when the factories pollute an entire ecosystem. And yet they are at least as morally and materially guilty as the supply companies since they demand the goods at extremely low prices. Apple could easily step up to the plate, reveal all its suppliers, investigate conditions, ensure healthful workplaces and dignified wages. But then its top executives might have to give up that ivory backscratcher they wanted for Christmas.

You can download the full report on the linked website, but it is in Chinese.

…..But at least Apple workers in China are forced to sign pacts to not commit suicide.

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