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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.

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Bleg!

[ 33 ] December 15, 2014 |

Hey, if anyone can get a screen grab of the “Zales” pop-up that irregularly marches across our page, I’d deeply appreciate.  Please send to the blog e-mail address on the far right sidebar.

Thanks,

Management

…. thanks very much, have what we need.  Working on it!

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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.

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Mythology and the Iraq War Debate

[ 171 ] December 15, 2014 |

On the development of mythology:

Consider this: When Colbert first launched his new show as a spinoff from “The Daily Show” our nation was awash in the culture of fear that followed the attacks of 9/11. In those pre-torture report days anyone who criticized the Bush administration was immediately accused of treason. Those who thought the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan were ill-conceived and immoral, who staunchly opposed torture, and who believed our nation depended on an active, inquisitive and critical citizenry were silenced. In those days it was common to hear of journalists and professors losing their jobs because they had dared to question the administration and ask more of the media.

That was the atmosphere when Colbert took the stage in 2006 to roast President Bush to his face at the White House Correspondents’ Association Dinner. Standing only a few feet away from the president, Colbert dealt a scathing blow to the hubris of the administration and the docile media that covered it. The moment was a real watershed in our nation’s history, because it was the only time in the entire eight years of the Bush administration that anyone had directly critiqued Bush in such detail to his face.

Eh…. I don’t remember it that way.

I’ll grant that things played out differently in Seattle than in other parts of the country, and that the conversation was different in the academy than in other sectors. But by 2004, much less 2006, American public debate had space for some bitingly savage critiques of the Bush administration, and especially of its war performance.  The 2004 Democratic primary was won by someone who, while he nominally favored the war, was exceedingly critical of the manner in which it was being conducted.

Even in 2003, voices in opposition to the war weren’t cries from the wilderness.  Many major newspapers, including the New York Times, either outright opposed the war or believed that the administration had botched the diplomacy. Anti-war protests in 2003 were, by an large, not met by truncheon-wielding thugs.  Instead, they were either completely ignored or used by the right to feed narratives of out-of-touch pacifists who couldn’t protect America. 

With respect to journalists and professors losing their jobs, there surely were cases, but by mid-2004 (if not earlier) opposition to the war in the academy was so ingrained that it was almost certainly more dangerous to be strongly in favor of the war than strongly opposed. For example, I can say without qualification that while the founders of LGM may have worried about how blogging would affect their professional prospects, we were not at all concerned about how potential employers would view our opinions on the war.  In 2005, for example, I was hired to teach national security by a program with a conservative reputation in a southern state. And of course there was a robust internet debate (back when blogging was still a thing) in which anti-war voices were welcome; by 2005, arguing that the United States should withdraw gradually rather than immediately was enough to get a writer lambasted.

We’ve become increasingly fond of saying that there was no debate in 2003. But there was a debate, and our side lost.  It wasn’t fair and square, but such debates rarely are.  We were right at the time, and we were decisively proved right by the course of the war. War supporters have not suffered the public opprobrium they deserve, especially given how solid the consensus now is that the conflict was a mistake. The other side lied relentlessly, although I still doubt whether it really needed to. But we should be hesitant about mythologizing how hard it was to be right at the time, and we shouldn’t paint ourselves as martyrs of latter-day McCarthyism.

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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.

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What’s Wrong With This Picture?

[ 78 ] December 15, 2014 |

I took this at my local CVS in Providence.

12912_10152569926480959_4052344364738952820_n

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.

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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.

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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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Public Official Covers Up For Massive Failure By Approving Torture

[ 48 ] December 14, 2014 |

Kindly old Condi Rice:

Condoleezza Rice gave permission for the CIA to use waterboarding techniques on the alleged al-Qaida terrorist Abu Zubaydah as early as July 2002, the first known official approval for the technique, according to a report released by the Senate intelligence committee yesterday.

The revelation indicates that Rice, who at the time was national security adviser and went on to be secretary of state, played a greater role than she admitted in written testimony last autumn.

The committee’s narrative report (pdf) also shows that dissenting legal views about the interrogation methods were brushed aside repeatedly. The mood within the Bush administration at the time is caught in a handwritten note attached to a December 2002 memo from Donald Rumsfeld, the then defence secretary, on the use of stress positions. “I stand for 8-10 hours a day. Why is standing limited to 4 hours?” he asked.

In conclusion, the real villains here are people who object to Rice being given huge checks and ornamental degrees to read platitudes at graduation events.

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Foreign Entanglements: Killer Robots Redux

[ 1 ] December 14, 2014 |

On the latest episode of Foreign Entanglements, Kelsey Atherton and I jabber about killer robots, Tolkien, and Star Wars:

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Book Review: Hecht, Morrison, and Padoch, eds. The Social Lives of Forests: Past, Present, and Future of Woodland Resurgence

[ 2 ] December 14, 2014 |

For those interested in environmentalism, the dominant narrative of the state of the forests is one of decline and collapse in the face of industrial development. While wilderness protection was won for some American forests in the second half of the twentieth century, around the world, the decline of the rainforest in the wake of logging, ranching, and slash-and-burn farming makes first world environmentalists fear for the planet’s future. In this narrative, forests are largely seen as the victims of humans, despoiled wildernesses that properly should not be centers of human economic activity.

The Social Lives of Forests: Past, Present, and Future of Woodland Resurgence, edited by Susanna Hecht, Kathleen Morrison, and Christine Padoch,
pushes back against this narrative by focusing on forest economies and forest history to argue for a more complex examination of human interactions with the forests. Largely examining tropical forests, the twenty-eight essays that make up this collection situates forests within communities, stressing the necessity of nuanced understandings of their role in regional economies if we want to have a realistic shot of not letting them all go under the saws of industrial logging.

Behind the ways we think about forests is that poor people have an outright negative impact upon them. James Fairhead and Melissa Leach analyze how social scientists have talked about environmental degradation in west African forests to note that scholars see the landscape as degraded. But actually examining the historical advance of vegetation shows this is categorically not true. Using historical photographs and narratives going back to the eighteenth century, they show there is no discernible difference in the level of vegetation for much of the area. Similarly, while the Sahel is often portrayed as encroaching desert because of human activity, Chris Reij argues that Niger especially has actually re-greened the area to a significant extent, with a significant national gain in tree cover over the last twenty years.

Historians have noted how the creation of wilderness has often led to the expulsion of people’s traditional use of that land. That continues today in the developing world. Among many problems with this is that it creates resentment toward those forests and the animals within them. Without a strong government presence, these colonialist parks can’t be properly guarded and thus can actually be counterproductive in the long-term for environmentalist goals. Moreover, while in Europe, as Roderick Neumann states in his essay, has long seen biodiversity woven into history and culture, these very Europeans are conceiving of tropical biodiversity as completely separate from human history and culture.

Several essays discuss the human history and anthropology of tropical forests. Rather than be seen as untrammeled wilderness, it’s important that we understand these forests have long had human involvement. The essay by Heckenberger, et al., shows the “massive forest alterations” people created in the pre-Columbian Amazon, with earthworks, roads, and artificial ponds still observable. David Lentz and Brian Lane explore the long-term effects of an early Mayan site on the forests of Belize today, where trees of economic importance to the Maya are still more common than usual in areas of former population centers than the forest as a whole. Are these forests wilderness today? Does the term even have value? Should the nature/culture divide be broken down? The overarching theme of these essays is yes on the latter question.

When we do think of tropical forests and industrial production, John Vandermeer and Ivette Perfector remind us that most of these forests are fragmented, not fully deforested, which makes a significant difference in how we perceive of environmental problems and solutions. If we see everything through a lost Eden declension narrative, the will to solve problems with the forests that remain become much more difficult. And when people leave the forests to move to cities, they often still rely on the forest for their livelihood, an important issue for crafting forest policy according to Padoch, et al in their essay on the people and forests around Pucallpa, Peru. And in fact, people will need to make a living off the forest and do in creative ways, including minority populations in the uplands of Southeast Asia producing forest tea that they can and do market in a sophisticated manner to discerning rich consumers. Commercialized agricultural is also transforming many forests, including the Laos uplands as Yayoi Fujita Lagerquvist details. This has led to a lot of landscape degradation but understanding the choices farmers have made are important for governments to craft more environmentally and socially responsible policies.

Are there lessons we can learn from these essays for forest management here in the United States? Only one of the twenty-eight chapters discusses the U.S., but I think it’s useful to explore it. Peter Crane, et al write about the “Chicago Wilderness,” or the biodiversity hotspot that surrounds Chicago. Of course, not much of that is in anything close to a pristine state and even the open spaces are often overrun with invasive species. Yet managing those open spaces for both biodiversity and human enjoyment has great potential to bring people and the forest together for a lot of people who can’t make it to the great wilderness areas of the West. That’s what is happening in Chicago by organizations bringing volunteers and children into the wilderness for rehabilitation projects and education efforts. This is also why I like a lot of what The Nature Conservancy does. That organization is I think often unfairly maligned for the compromises it makes with corporations but it goes a long ways to preserve small spots, often near urban areas, that do a lot to promote biodiversity and help urban dwellers engage with the natural world.

To quote Hecht: “As forests become increasingly pivotal in global climate politics, understanding the dynamics of forest transitions, successions, and their social underpinnings—the social lives of forests—is a critical step for whatever resilience we might hope for in the maelstrom of twenty-first century climate change” (113). This sums up the book’s social purpose. If we see forests as “lost” whenever humans work in them, what we lose is the ability to marshal the resources we have to deal with global environmental problems while also giving local people a chance to live.

The Social Lives of Forests
is probably too technical for general readers. The essays range from fairly detailed short histories of forests to heavily data-driven articles. But for those concerned with the long-term sustainability of the global environment, the insights in these essays are very useful.

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Mariota

[ 36 ] December 13, 2014 |

I’ve been waiting for this since before Marcus Mariota was born. Bill Musgrave was a fringe Heisman candidate in 1989 and 1990.  Both Reuben Droughns and Akili Smith received some attention in the late 1990s, with Smith famously promising to bring the Heisman to Eugene.  Joey Harrington was made the center of a notorious PR campaign for the Heisman, and ended up as the only finalist in school history.  The award belonged to Dennis Dixon, until a terrible night in Tucson.  By the time LaMichael came along, the award had become the domain of of dual-threat quarterbacks.

And so it’s about time.

Here’s to hoping that Mariota will be able to buy a suit that fits with the immense amount of money he should start making next year.

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