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Concealed Food, Broken Workers

[ 9 ] July 29, 2015 |


The title of this post is the title of one of my chapters in Out of Sight. Dissent has published an excerpt from the book to coincide with this evening’s Brooklyn event. I write a lot about food and food production in the book. Here’s a bit of it:

Here’s the thing about food: because it is so important to our lives and our health, it is one set of products where we can effectively resist the concealment of production. Eating is a profound, if everyday, experience that affects our health and our happiness. The explosive growth in farmers’ markets, concerns about genetically modified organisms, and fears of pesticides have challenged the industrial food complex, just not over its treatment of workers. Free-range chickens and cattle have become highly desirable and expensive products, both for taste and for health and safety concerns, but less so because of the workers injured and killed in the meatpacking plants.

We can see the current local food movement as a backlash against corporations’ efforts to hide their operations from us. We cannot control very much about our relationship to the larger economy. But regional food networks, with production ranging from rooftop gardens to large farms on the outskirts of cities, can bring a significant amount of food democracy back into cities while providing enormous environmental benefits compared to the current system. Eschewing monocultures for diversified food crops would cut down on the pesticides and herbicides needed, meaning less fertilizer, less pollution, and healthier rivers, lakes, and oceans as well as small farmers who could afford to live and farm without expensive chemicals.

But food movements also need to be justice movements and connect to bigger issues. If we are serious in thinking about a democratic food system, we have to support good working conditions throughout the food industry. It means we need to support farmworker and meatpacker unions. We have to end the tipped minimum wage and demand greater funding for OSHA and the FDA to inspect our food factories.

Ultimately, our food problems stem from the same lack of democracy that plagues our society. In our food system, animals are abused, workers die, waterways become polluted with animal waste, and wildlife dies. Yet most of us have no idea this is happening. If we can demand ethically produced food that allows consumers insight into food production, we can go far to reshape the world into a more just and sustainable place. Food corporations, from Monsanto to McDonald’s, hope this never happens.

Western Governments and Global Labor Standards

[ 15 ] July 29, 2015 |

Rana Plaza building in Dhaka.

Robert Ross has an excellent article on Bangladeshi labor reforms two years after Rana Plaza. In short, the international outrage has led to some relatively minor but not meaningless changes to building safety and union voices on the job. But very little to none of the money corporations have given to compensate the survivors have made it to the workers, employer resistance is still massive and that includes firing unionists, 10 percent of the Bangladeshi parliament is made up of apparel factory owners, and while the European companies Accord on Fire and Building Safety has helped workers, the American companies’ toothless version has done nothing but protect Walmart and Gap from responsibility for workers’ rights. Ultimately, Ross sees two key points out of this that I discuss in Out of Sight. First, that western governments have the power to make a difference in Bangladesh:

If labor rights and protective government policy (unions, laws, and law enforcement) form the main crucible of decent conditions for workers, alliances with international NGOs and labor unions are the enablers. Policy levers also exist—but Western governments have to be willing to use them. For example, the EU has what is called a Generalized System of Preferences (GSP) written into its trade laws. (The U.S.’s GSP provisions expired in 2013, but are likely to be reauthorized.) These allow duty-free entry of certain goods from low-income nations into the economies of their higher-income trading partners. They are bilateral terms, conditioned, ostensibly, on trade partners observing internationally recognized labor rights.

For example, after the Rana Plaza collapse, the U.S. suspended Bangladesh’s GSP privileges because of its fundamental disrespect for labor rights. But apparel imports are excluded from the GSP. This past year, through April 2015, Bangladesh apparel exports to the U.S. were valued at $4.95 billion. In 2012, Bangladesh imports covered by the GSP provisions were worth $34.7 million. The GSP suspension was symbolic.

However, apparel imports to the multination EU are covered by a single GSP provision. In 2014, they were worth almost $14 billion. At the Second Anniversary Forum sponsored by the ILO at a swank downtown Dhaka hotel, the EU representative to Bangladesh made a clear threat to suspend GSP privileges unless Bangladesh followed through on commitments to protect worker safety and guarantee core labor rights, a duplication in intent of an ILO forum in Brussels two days before. This is a target for European campaigners, particularly the Amsterdam-based Clean Clothes Campaign. Whether they are willing to use the threat—which is dire—remains to be seen.

There are other levers for U.S. allies. The federal government is a large buyer of garments, including the post exchange (PX) retail stores where armed forces families buy goods on military bases around the world. They could be required to buy only from Accord members when they source from Bangladesh. They now report on whether they are using Accord factories, and the Marine Corps requires licensees using their logos to source from Accord firms or from factories that meet its requirements.

Yet for the most part, the American government refuses to do anything. That includes congressional Republicans getting angry at the military for not sourcing their clothing cheaply enough. It has certainly not been a priority for Obama, as the Trans-Pacific Partnership demonstrates. Global labor rights needs to be a political issue in this country for this system to meaningfully change. But this gets to Ross’ other point–that conditions for American workers are also getting worse:

American workers don’t face conditions as grim as those in Bangladesh, but some are not so different. As American workers lose union protection because of hostile laws, courts, and media, so do they lose their ability to defend safe conditions. At Upper Big Branch Mine in West Virginia in 2010, 29 miners died: non-union. In the 1991 Hamlet, North Carolina, poultry plant fire where 25 died and the back doors were locked: non-union. On paper, American workers have all the rights they need to organize and join unions. In practice, they risk getting fired.

In Bangladesh, one of the gaps is a decade-long, as yet unsuccessful, attempt to create a workers’ compensation insurance system. Workers’ comp offers a no-fault system—a grand bargain created a century ago, state by state, in the U.S.: Workers don’t sue; employers pay insurance premiums to cover medical costs and long-term income replacement for disability. Oops: Workers’ comp is under attack in the U.S. in state after state, as caps on payments, limits on payment duration, and other restrictions erode yet another part of the social safety net. We learn about what we need by examining the deficits of others.

Right, and with the destruction of unions and a century of labor law the stated goal of Republicans today, the future of the already heavily eroded standards of American work are very much in doubt. Outsourcing and the global race to the bottom incentivizes American companies to launch attacks on American worker rights while at the same time moving production around the globe to ensure a global Gilded Age of extreme income inequality and severe worker suffering. That can’t get better if workers can’t form their own unions and the companies stick around long enough to deal with those unions. What Ross does not state is the globalized nature of apparel production and the very real fear among Bangladeshi worker activists that the companies could move once again at any time if they feel too much pressure to pay good wages or have safe workplaces in Bangladesh. Only by creating international labor standards enforceable in U.S. courts that follow American companies no matter where they source their items will we begin to create a legal regime that gives workers a fair shake, both at home and abroad.

Speaking of such things, this is as good a place as any to remind our New York readers that I will be speaking with the labor journalist Sarah Jaffe at Local 61 in Brooklyn tonight at 7. There will be copies of Out of Sight available for purchase and I will be happy to sign yours. Also, CSPAN is filming it for BookTV and whenever it actually comes on, I’ll let everyone know.

Law dean calls grads on night before bar exam to try to bribe them not to take it

[ 24 ] July 29, 2015 |

HL mencken

Not the Onion.

There’s nothing like a last-second call from the dean of your law school telling you that you’re about to fail the bar exam to boost your confidence. These are the reports that started pouring in last night from various sources at Arizona Summit Law:

The dean of ASLS is calling several bar sitters trying to talk them out of sitting for the bar exam tomorrow. I do not know if any accepted the offer. I spoke with an acquaintance that received a call from Dean Mays at 5:40 p.m. last night. The bar sitter was so upset by the call that she couldn’t clear her mind and hardly slept.

Another tipster told us that the bar exam deferral stipend being offered by Dean Mays was $10,000 — in case you haven’t been paying attention, that’s the same amount Arizona Summit pays to its repeated bar failures as some sort of a consolation prize.

Capt. Louis Renault is shocked to report that the school in question is one of the Infilaw outfits. The Infilaw schools started cutting their admissions standards from “very modest” to “carbon-based life form” about four years ago, and now various chickens are beginning to roost.

The collapse of bar passage rates for the schools’ grads could in theory lead to the ABA Section of Regulatory Capture Legal Education yanking the schools’ accreditation, although since Infilaw has managed to get a bunch of its shills embedded deep within that august body, this is roughly similar to expect Roger Goodell to do an excellent job at reviewing Roger Goodell’s previous decisions.

The Man Who Hated Women

[ 118 ] July 29, 2015 |


Let us consider two of the testimonials from Noreen Malone’s remarkable story about Bill Cosby’s accusers:

Cosby started mentoring Bernard before she guest-starred on The Cosby Show in the early 1990s. “I looked upon him as a father figure,” she says. “He often said to me, ‘You’re one of my kids, Bernard.’” Later, Cosby drugged her drink, and raped her. During their last contact, on The Cosby Show set in 1992, he told her, “As far as I’m concerned, Bernard, you’re dead. Do you hear me? You’re dead. You don’t exist.” Afterward, she became suicidal. She came forward in May 2015. “For the last 23-plus years I’ve been living with a tremendous sense of fear. Being able to relinquish that fear was freeing for me, and the only reason I was able to do that was so many other women had done it before me, and I felt safe.”

According to the IMDB, Barnard had one more acting gig, a guest role on Seinfeld. Her career was effectively over.

Moritz was getting ready to appear on the Tonight Show when someone opened the door of her dressing room. Cosby stepped inside and closed the door behind him. He stood above Moritz and unzipped his pants. He pushed his penis into her mouth. “It was automatic. It was like he did this with everyone that was on a show with him backstage. I couldn’t push him away. He was Mr. Cosby. He moved himself back and forth, and my head was on his penis at all times. Finally, they called my name. I was supposed to be out, but he wouldn’t let me go. He rushed out and came out on my call, and he said, ‘I am Louisa Moritz,’ and got a huge laugh, which was my laugh I was supposed to get. I don’t remember if they introduced me again. I was a zombie. But I sat down and the show went on. I didn’t look at him. He didn’t look at me.”

These are far from the only two stories of wrecked careers, either. But somehow “objectification” feels inadequate to describe how Cosby treated these young women. He thought nothing of derailing a woman’s career for a minute or two of nonconsensual sexual gratification. Many of the ruined lives and careers were women who he came to offering mentorship. Among other things, Cosby’s victims are giving is a powerful illustration of the sheer inhumanity of the serial rapist, the inability to consider his targets as human beings at all.

And let me note yet again that although several of these accusations have been public for a nearly a decade, a major publishing house published a 500 page hagiography of Cosby that ignored the allegations entirely. It was cited as an “Amazon best book of the month.” Reviews in (inter alia) the New York Times Book Review, Publisher’s Weekly, Washington Post, and Boston Globe did not see this as worthy of mention at all. Kelefa Sanneh’s lenghty New Yorker profile based around Whitaker’s book consigns the accusations to one paragraph, the third last. All of which helps to explain how he got away with such monstrous behavior for so long.

Wednesday Links

[ 54 ] July 29, 2015 |

No Way, Brosé

[ 181 ] July 28, 2015 |


Dudes have discovered Rosé wine. It’s not like it hasn’t been mouldering on the shelves alongside whites and reds for forever now, but apparently since men have discovered it now has relevancy.

I don’t have a problem with people liking Rosé…like, at all. Most of them are too sweet for my taste, but if you dig sweet wine, rock on and swig that sweet wine. What I have a problem with is that this Rosé only became remarkable because men began remarking on it.

(Thanks to N_B for the link.)

Do The Planned Parenthood Videos Provide a Reason to Legally Restrict Abortion? (SPOILER: No.)

[ 210 ] July 28, 2015 |


It as inevitable as the tides that anti-choicers would use the non-news that abortion produces fetal tissue to advocate for the abortion restrictions they favor ex ante.  But the policies they’re advocating remain just as bad as they ever were:

There are numerous critical errors with Linker’s comparison. First of all, American abortion law has never been characterized by “absolutes,” and states have always maintained some leeway to regulate abortions. And even more importantly, state authority to regulate abortion is growing, not diminishing, in the US. Under Roe v Wade, states were permitted to regulate or ban (with an exemption for the life or health of the mother) post-viability abortions. And since 1992, Roe has been superseded by Planned Parenthood v Casey’s holding that weakened abortion protections by saying that pre-viability abortions could be regulated as long as these regulations do not constitute an “undue burden” on a woman’s right to obtain one. States have since been allowed to pass virtually any regulation that does not outright ban pre-viability abortions, and many have passed elaborate regulatory frameworks that make it enormously difficult to obtain safe abortions.

Even worse for Linker’s argument is that the Casey regime has been a disaster. Regulations like waiting periods, parental consent and restrictions on abortion clinics appeal to a vague sense among a lot of people that abortion shouldn’t be banned outright but that women should only obtain them for the “right” reasons. But even leaving aside how unattractive this paternalism is on its face, the fact is that state regulations of abortion don’t actually having anything to do with why women choose to have abortions. What they do is make it harder for poor women to get abortions than rich women, harder for women in rural areas to obtain abortions than women in major urban centers and harder for women in states like Mississippi and Texas to obtain abortions than women in New York and Washington state. And while self-styled moderates like Linker like to emphasize the problems of later-term abortions, these regulatory obstacle courses also make it harder for women to obtain first-trimester abortions.

The United States, in other words, has plenty of abortion “compromise.” The product of these compromises is a host of abortion regulations that are arbitrary, irrational and inequitable. One of the purposes of the Planned Parenthood videos is to support such regulations by advancing the idea that abortion is icky and compromise is civilized. But nothing in the videos dignify regulations that make it harder for more vulnerable women to obtain safe abortions while advancing no legitimate public purpose.



Sue, Tom, Sue!

[ 231 ] July 28, 2015 |

So it turns out that having Roger Goodell act as the appellate adjudicator for Roger Goodell’s rulings is not effective due process.

To state what I think should be obvious, the punishment for BALLGHAZI should be 1)the fine mandated by the rules, and 2)that’s it.  And since the Pats beat my favorite team in the Super Bowl and to the extent I have a favorite AFC team it’s the Bills, that’s not self-interest talking.

This is the business we’ve chosen

[ 30 ] July 28, 2015 |

hyman roth

Dybbuk is in fine form at OTLSS, where he lingers over the program at the annual Southeastern Conference of Law Professors, at the Waldorf Astoria Boca Raton Resort and Club, before bringing the sardonic heat:

The lawprofs can attend a discussion of role-play and other innovations in teaching constitutional law. Then they can hobnob at the dozen or so receptions, galas, luncheons, and the, uh, teen pizza party. Some of these foodfests are sponsored by legal book publishing companies. (Explain again, law “prawfs” how there are important pedagogical reasons to assign $200 casebooks instead of instructing students to print out or read particular cases online). Lots of “sponsored breaks” too, not to mention “a myriad of unforgettable” on-site restaurants and bars, so no law prof need role-play constitutional history or articulate his or her baseball and the law insights on an empty tummy.

They can hear what Indiana Tech Law honcho and jet-setting party animal andre douglas pond cummings has to say about Ferguson. Then they can hit the links at either of the resort’s two exclusive 18-hole golf courses. (West Publishing is sponsoring a golf tournament).

They can ponder whether Edward Snowden is a “Patriot, Traitor, Whistleblower, [or] Spy.” Then they can rejuvenate at the 50,000 sq. ft. spa, rated No. 1 in the world by Conde Nast, and designed to look like the Nasridian royal digs in Granada, Spain, with stone arches, cypress-lined gardens, and Moorish-style windows. I dread the day when the crisis in legal education has reached such proportions that lawprofs are forced to have their prestigious bods exfoliated at a spa that does not resemble a medieval palace.

They can attend a panel on “International Comparative Inequality,” or listen to the head of the oh-so-progressive SALT (Society of American Law Teachers) organization advise fellow law faculty on “navigating identity” and “finding your voice.” Then they can pluck refreshments from the trays of silent low-wage immigrant caterers.

The resort boasts seven pools, four on the waterfront with personal butlers and cabanas. Granted, the lawprofs deserve a few moments of tranquility and ease after gifting a suffering planet with their advice on “International Crisis: Ebola, ISIS, and Late-Breaking Events.” If only the personal poolside butlers were authorized to pass out Nobel Peace Prizes along with tropical-themed drinks.

There is a panel called “Innovations in Academic Support and Take-Aways for Law School Pedagogy.” Isn’t that fine professorial wording? Much better than “Adjusting to the Fact that Our Students are a Lot Dumber than They Used to Be Because We Keep Lowering Admissions Standards to Keep the Money Flowing.” Afterwards, the law professors can take resort shuttle boat transports to “half a mile of golden private beach.” Because the real “Take-Aways” of this event are callous self-indulgence and exploitation.

On a purely economic level, when a law professor blows a couple or three thousand dollars a year of student tuition money (most law schools, and all low-ranked law schools, are largely or almost wholly tuition-funded operations) on these kinds of “free” vacations masquerading as academic events it doesn’t have much effect on the $40,000 to $90,000 per year cost of attendance at these institutions (With an average student to faculty ratio of around 13 to one these days, each student is kicking in a couple of hundred bucks per year — the cost of just one textbook! — toward his or her professor’s well-earned summer, or winter, or spring vacation.

On a symbolic/psychological/can’t-we-at-least-pretend-to-maintain-some-integrity level, it’s another story.

Jeff Harrison attends a Commercial Monetary Policy Conference:

I have been in hot water lately with most academics because I took a vacation and did not figure out a way to get my School to pay for it. Several faculty complained to the Dean. I was so out of line, I complained about me.

Problem solved. I was checking out of the 7 room Volcano Hotel and asked if they took US dollars. They do but I did not quite have enough to cover the tab. Together the manager and I determined how many dollars and how many Iceland Krone (the coins are so cute, the have fish on them, more fish more value).

We took some time and I realized we were having a CONFERENCE on Contract Law and International Currency. And, it was kind of a conference version of cinema verite. So I had some programs printed up and they looked like this:


July 15, 2015

Volcano Hotel (about 10 miles west of Vik, Iceland)

Meeting Room: Check Out Desk in Entry Area

Speakers: Jeffrey Harrison
Jeff’s wife, Sarah

Papers Delivered: On the Complexity of Dividing Everything By 750.

Skype is available for those unable to attend.

Registration Fee: $500
Late Registration $300
No Registration $200.

David Attewell: The Strategic Populism of Podemos

[ 79 ] July 28, 2015 |

Jairo Vargas Martín / Flickr


The question of whether the Left can change the Eurozone from within has been tested to its limit by the recent humiliation of Syriza.[1] The potential for a Podemos victory in the upcoming Spanish general elections is probably the last chance for this reformist strategy.

I don’t speak Spanish, nor am I an expert in Spanish politics. But thankfully I don’t have to be.

The leadership of Podemos is heavily drawn from political scientists and other academics from Madrid’s Complutense University, and they don’t hold their cards close to the chest in the manner of most mainstream political leaders. Pablo Iglesias (Podemos’ leader) has offered an unguarded exposition of Podemos’ analysis of the crisis and its political strategy in a recent article[2] and interview[3] at New Left Review. The two documents give us insight into Podemos’ particular brand of populism and the challenges it faces during a key juncture for the European Left.

Read more…

Tuesday Links

[ 264 ] July 28, 2015 |

Some reading:

SCORCHING HOT Iran Take of the Day

[ 141 ] July 27, 2015 |


As a colleague observes, Leon Wieseltier has written an interesting critique of the Bush administration’s decision to attack Iraq:

The rut of history: It is a phrase worth pondering. It expresses a deep scorn for the past, a zeal for newness and rupture, an arrogance about old struggles and old accomplishments, a hastiness with inherited precedents and circumstances, a superstition about the magical powers of the present. It expresses also a generational view of history, which, like the view of history in terms of decades and centuries, is one of the shallowest views of all.

This is nothing other than the mentality of disruption applied to foreign policy. In the realm of technology, innovation justifies itself; but in the realm of diplomacy and security, innovation must be justified, and it cannot be justified merely by an appetite for change. Tedium does not count against a principled alliance or a grand strategy. Indeed, a continuity of policy may in some cases—the Korean peninsula, for example: a rut if ever there was one—represent a significant achievement.

Alas, Wieseltier sees this as an argument against the distinctly non-disruptive Iran deal, as oppose to the catastrophic war he strongly supported. Oh, and against the Obama administration’s Cuba policy, which I concede is disruptive but since the existing policy has been a consistent failure for decades I’m not sure why this is supposed to be a bad thing.

Wieseltier then goes on to explain his opposition to the Iran deal on the grounds that it does not present an ironclad guarantee that Iran will never in the sweep of human history acquire a nuclear weapon, and not only that the deal doesn’t even nationalize the American health insurance industry. Anticipating the obvious objection of what exactly Obama could have done to guarantee that Iran would never again pursue a nuclear reaction, he responds with an outstanding achievement in the field of vacuous pomposity:

But what is the alternative? This is the question that is supposed to silence all objections. It is, for a start, a demagogic question. This agreement was designed to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons. If it does not prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons—and it seems uncontroversial to suggest that it does not guarantee such an outcome—then it does not solve the problem that it was designed to solve. And if it does not solve the problem that it was designed to solve, then it is itself not an alternative, is it? The status is still quo. Or should we prefer the sweetness of illusion to the nastiness of reality? For as long as Iran does not agree to retire its infrastructure so that the manufacture of a nuclear weapon becomes not improbable but impossible, the United States will not have transformed the reality that worries it. We will only have mitigated it and prettified it. We will have found relief from the crisis, but not a resolution of it.

To the extent that there is content here, it is transparently wrong. A deal that makes it less likely that Iran will acquire nuclear weapons, the status is not still quo. Oh, and the status will also not be quo for the Iranian citizens who are suffering due to the sanctions regime, citizens who do not feature in Wieseltier’s calculus at all. But, remember, his war-is-the-answer-to-any-question foreign policy views are rooted deeply in liberal humanitarianism!

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