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

[ 60 ] December 16, 2014 |

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

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

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The Tangled Web of Oppression

[ 35 ] December 16, 2014 |

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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?

[ 79 ] December 15, 2014 |

I took this at my local CVS in Providence.

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

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

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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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