Subscribe via RSS Feed

Ottawa!

[ 3 ] March 23, 2015 |

I’ll be in Ottawa on Thursday to talk about military diffusion and intellectual property:

What do intellectual property law, industrial espionage, and cyber-warfare have to do with one another?

Industrial espionage is, by definition, a violation of most existing schemes of intellectual property law. In the 19th and 20th centuries, governments actively practiced industrial espionage, dispatching agents to foreign countries in order to steal secrets and bring them back to domestic producers. Despite the potential for glamour and drama, the fruits of industrial espionage, especially in the defense sector, are generally thought to have been limited.

Here’s the info on the talk, which I’m sure will be of great interest to the Ottawa’s vast community of LGM readers!

Be Sociable!

BFD

[ 54 ] March 23, 2015 |

130830095037-obamacare-signing-620xa

It was five years ago today that the Affordable Care Act was signed into law. Particularly given the immense difficulties and compromises inherent in getting legislation through the World’s Worst Deliberative Body, it has been a remarkable policy triumph. Jon Cohn observes:

Five years later, by any reasonable and objective criteria, “Obamacare” has achieved a great deal. The percentage of adults without health insurance has dropped to 12.9 percent, according to Gallup. That’s the lowest the organization has recorded and corresponds, according to the Obama administration, to insurance for about 16.4 million people who might not otherwise have it. “Health insurance” is not the same as “health care,” but studies of previous coverage expansions suggest that as more people get insurance, they will be more financially secure and, over the long run, less likely to die.

Meanwhile, the budget deficit is coming down, and according to the Congressional Budget Office, the Affordable Care Act has contributed significantly to that reduction. Overall health costs — i.e. what the U.S. as a whole spends on medical care — are rising at historically low rates. Nobody can be sure what role Obamacare has played in that progress — but it’s probably helped, and it certainly hasn’t hurt.

At this point it’s also worth going back to another point made by Cohn. Max Baucus was seen by many liberals is a villain in the process, and in certain ways he was. But the crucial facts are that 1)the most important progressive legislation since the Johnson administration got through his committee with his support, and 2)there’s no way a public option was getting 60 votes in the Senate even had it made it into the Finance Committee version of the bill. Particularly since in 1993 an inexplicably (or, come to think of it, all-too-explicably) well-regarded senator from New York in Baucus’s position didn’t merely throw health care reform into the wood chipper but was proudly indifferent about the issue, it’s not a trivial accomplishment and he deserves the credit he’s due.

It’s also worth comparing the above signing ceremony to the one I linked to earlier this weekend, which as I’m sure many of you knew was Bush signing the Partial-Birth Abortion (sic) Ban Act of 2003. It really is the two parties in a nutshell. Democrats want to use the federal government to do things like provide access to health care for millions of people over fanatical Republican opposition. Republicans want to use the federal government to impose health disabilities on women for no benefits whatsoever using justifications that can’t even be bothered to hide their sexism. But, you know, not a dime’s worth etc.

Be Sociable!

#TFC15

[ 2 ] March 23, 2015 |
Sinking of HMS Hood.jpg

“Sinking of HMS Hood” by J.C. Schmitz-Westerholt – Courtesy of the U.S. Army Chief of Military History. U.S. Naval Historical Center Photograph. (link). Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons.I

It’s that time of year: Twitter Fight Club 2015. I’m up today against John Beieler; follow him, follow me, and make the necessary decisions.

Be Sociable!

Cuomo’s Misplaced Transit Priorities

[ 59 ] March 23, 2015 |

While obviously New York City has mass transit that most of the country would envy, it’s becoming both worse and more expensive:

Fares are about to go up. Delays are driving riders to distraction. And on a recent evening, Ian Nolan’s train was out of service.

Widespread problems across the subway system in recent weeks have left weary commuters waiting on crowded platforms, stranded inside stalled cars and scrambling to find alternate routes. With a fare increase set to go into effect on Sunday, riders across New York City are complaining of having to pay more when service is worse.

But transit experts and advocates say conditions will not improve unless the Metropolitan Transportation Authority invests heavily in upgrading and expanding the system’s infrastructure — the tracks, the trains and the tunnels that power the city’s daily transit miracle, except when they don’t.

A plan is being proposed to deal with it:

Transit advocates say that while they understand the angst over another fare increase, they are focused on securing money from state and city officials for the authority’s capital plan, which includes many of the very upgrades that would bring meaningful improvement to commutes. The plan proposes $32 billion in spending over five years, but it is $15 billion short — the largest funding gap ever and a striking sign of the difference between what the system needs and what the authority can afford.

Andrew Cuomo has other priorities:

Mr. Cuomo, a Democrat, has called the plan “bloated” and has not addressed the funding gap, instead publicly drawing attention to other infrastructure projects, including a new Tappan Zee Bridge and his proposal for an AirTrain to La Guardia Airport.

The Tappan Zee replacement is a project of legitimate importance and value. But an LGA Air Train? Even on its face, the idea that this would be more important than the basic subway system is absurd. Via Atrios, I see it’s worse than that: even on its own terms, the project is essentially useless:

As proposed, the project would do next to nothing to improve access to the airport. In fact, compared to existing transit services, most riders using the AirTrain would spend more time traveling to LaGuardia than they do now.

There is no hope that this AirTrain will “solve” the access to LaGuardia problem.

Yeah, that should really be a high priority.

Be Sociable!

Banana Companies Continue Exploiting Latin American Workers

[ 44 ] March 22, 2015 |

IMG_0259

You may well be familiar with the history of the banana companies in Latin America, with their rank exploitation of workers, imperialist treatment of nations, and ability to get the U.S. military to intervene on their behalf. But that story usually ends in our remembered historical narrative with the Guatemalan coup in 1953. Our stories about U.S. imperialism in Latin America after 1959 revolve much more around Cuba, guerrilla movements, and Reagan’s intervention in Central America. But the banana companies have never went away and they are still exploiting workers as much as ever. Diego Arguedas Ortiz reports on a banana strike in Costa Rica:

A strike that has brought activity to a halt since January on three major banana plantations on Costa Rica’s southern Caribbean coast, along the border with Panama, has highlighted the abuses in a sector in the hands of transnational corporations and has forced the governments of both countries to intervene.

More than 300 labourers, almost all of them indigenous Panamanians working on plantations for a branch of the U.S. corporation Fresh Del Monte, have been on strike since Jan. 16 to protest harassment of trade unionists, changes in schedules and working conditions, delayed payment of wages and dismissals considered illegal.

“The company laid us off on Dec. 31 and when it rehired us on Jan. 3 it said we were new workers and that any modification of the work applied to us. But according to legal precedent, to be considered a new worker at least a month has to go by,” Federico Abrego, one of the striking workers from Panama, told Tierramérica by phone from the area.

Abrego and most of the more than 300 workers on strike on the Sixaola plantations 1, 2 and 3 belong to the Ngöbe and Bugle indigenous groups, who live in a self-governed indigenous county in Panama across the border from Costa Rica, where many go to find work.

The plantations in Costa Rica’s Caribbean coastal region are the scenario of frequent conflicts between workers and the big banana companies, and the current strike on the Sixaola plantations is just one example. In 2013, Sitepp held a strike to protest poor working conditions and the complaints are piling up in the Ministry of Labour.

In May 2014, an inspection by the ministry revealed a number of violations of the country’s labour laws and ordered the companies to redress them.

For example, according to the report by the national inspection office, “on occasion, company officials use different forms of intimidation against the workers, either through verbal abuse or shouting or practices of labour harassment.”

“After these denunciations were made, they set up a union, tailored to the needs of the company,” the president of Sitepp, Luis Serrano, told Tierramérica. “Through that union they were trying to take over the negotiation of the collective bargaining agreement that expired in December. They launched a campaign against us and started to give benefits to the union in alliance with the company, which they created.”

The union leaders complain that despite the binational agreement, they have not yet received food support from the institutions, although the 64 workers covered by the accord were rehired.

A large proportion of the banana industry is in the hands of transnational corporations. Besides Fresh Del Monte, there are branches of other U.S. firms like Chiquita Brands, which controls 24 percent of the country’s banana exports, or the Dole Food Company.

As I continue to say, these workers should have access to U.S. courts to demand redress from these companies. Unless companies can be held responsible in both the nation of corporate origin and the nation of production, the grotesque exploitation of the world’s poor will continue.

By the way, I took that picture of the old United Fruit building in New Orleans. I was very excited.

Be Sociable!

Clown Car Gets First Official, and Craziest, Passenger

[ 148 ] March 22, 2015 |

Well, he’s smarter than Rick Perry, give him that.  The race to the winger bottom is going to be even more intense in the 2016 primaries, what with this cycle’s Texas neoconfederate being able to speak complete sentences and everything.

Be Sociable!

This Day in Labor History: March 22, 1914

[ 18 ] March 22, 2015 |

On March 22, 1914, Mary “Mother” Jones was arrested on a train in southern Colorado for her work in fighting for the coal miners on strike that area. This was her second arrest in this conflict, as she had previously been detained by the state militia in Trinidad and then sent to Denver. Upon release in Denver, she immediately went back to the coal fields, daring the mine owners and their bought police forces to arrest her again. Her work here was typical of the sacrifices this iconic organizer made in the second half of her life as she fought for the miners so badly exploited in late nineteenth and early twentieth century America.

Mother Jones is one of the most fascinating characters in American history. An Irish housewife who had little connection to political activism for much of her adult life, she emerged in middle age as a fiery agitator after her husband and all four of children died of yellow fever in Memphis and her dress shop burned in the Chicago fire of 1871. She quickly became the voice of the mineworkers, especially in the coal country of Pennsylvania and West Virginia. She bridged generations of activism, being extremely close friends with Terence Powderly while also hailing the rise of the United Mine Workers and radical activists that Powderly could barely understand at his peak in the 1880s. She said she was much older than she actually was, which had both rhetorical powers and helped cement her in our historical memory, as she claimed to be 100 years old the year she died when she was probably 93.

By 1897, she was known as Mother Jones, wearing out of style Victorian black dresses and using the mantle of motherhood as central to her organizing prowess. Calling her “mother” both established her as a maternalistic figure among the miners but also centered her emphasis on childhood and motherhood in organizing. For instance, she opposed women’s suffrage and ultimately believed that women should be taking care of their children rather than getting involved in politics. Her own life story made this stance not hypocritical. She also used children in her organizing, including the 1903 Children’s Crusade, a march of miners’ children from Pennsylvania to Theodore Roosevelt’s home in Oyster Bay, New York where the children carried signs reading, “We want to go to School and not the mines.” Roosevelt refused to meet with them. She worked for the UMWA but attended the founding convention of the Industrial Workers of World in 1905 and worked as an organizer for the Socialist Party in the late 1900s, returning to the UMWA as a paid organizer in 1911.

mother-jones-3

Though all of these actions, Mother Jones became known as “the most dangerous woman in America,” a title given to her by a district attorney in West Virginia by the name of Reese Blizzard. During a 1902 trial where she was charged with ignoring injunctions against miners’ union meetings (1st Amendment in the coal fields indeed!), Blizzard pointed at her, saying “There sits the most dangerous woman in America. She comes into a state where peace and prosperity reign … crooks her finger [and] twenty thousand contented men lay down their tools and walk out.” That wasn’t true and served the interests of the owners to say that their employees were actually good people but stupid and easily led astray by outside agitators, instead of admitting their employees had a bloody good reason to go on strike. Anyway, the nickname stuck and this attitude from employers was something Jones reveled in.

In the fall of 1913, a 76 year old Mother Jones traveled to Colorado to participate in mine workers’ organizing in the coal fields in the southern part of that state. Conditions in the coal fields were all too typical of the time: complete industry control over a workforce that was polyglot and desperate. Working conditions were horribly dangerous. Between 1884 and 1912, 1708 workers died in Colorado coal mines (out of a total of over 42,000 nationwide). Companies controlled not only the mines but housing, stores, and education. Union organizing was met with brutality and murder. Effectively, the coal companies controlled workers’ lives in Colorado as they did in West Virginia and Pennsylvania. These were Mother Jones’ people.

Jones’ presence was not welcomed by the mine companies. She was thrown off company property several times. She was arrested twice. After the first arrest, she was placed in a comfortable hospital for a month. After all, she was an elderly woman and a bit harder to crack the whip on than the miners themselves. But on March 23, 1914, she was arrested again. This time, the companies were less kind. They threw her into the Huerfano County jail in Walsenburg. This was no nice hospital. She was forced to spend 23 days in the jail.

The United Mine Workers tried to capitalize on Jones’ arrest. They issued a pamphlet describing (and perhaps exaggerating a bit) the conditions this old woman had to suffer through as she lived her faith of defending the miners. The pamphlet discussed the filthy conditions, the rats in the cell, the snow pouring in a broken window, a guard jabbing her with a bayonet. On the other hand, the mine owners and their friends accused Mother Jones of having been a prostitute in a Denver brothel in 1904 and said her support for Coxey’s Army had consisted of procuring women for sex. On both sides, Mother Jones elicited strong opinions.

After her second release, Mother Jones went to Washington, DC to testify on the conditions in the coal country. A few days later, the Colorado coal wars would see their most violent incident, with the Ludlow Massacre. Between Ludlow and the aftermath when enraged miners went on a rampage against anyone associated with the coal companies, up to 200 people died in this strike, possibly the most deadly in American history. John D. Rockefeller Jr. agreed to meet with her about the conditions of the miners as part of his public relations effort when we was savagely attacked for his role at Ludlow.

Mary Jones died in 1930. Earlier that year, on the day she turned 100, Mother Jones was filmed with sound about workers’ rights.

The key book on Mother Jones is Elliott Gorn’s The Most Dangerous Woman in America. Read it. The most important history of the Colorado coal wars is Thomas Andrews, Killing for Coal: America’s Deadliest Labor War. Read it too.

This is the 138th post in this series. Previous posts are archived here.

Be Sociable!

Some Sunday Reading

[ 27 ] March 22, 2015 |

Be Sociable!

How to be a Hack, Fred Hiatt Edition

[ 51 ] March 21, 2015 |

2700667-f4cf685a9d17562533fd669dc9814d48c580630e-s800-c15

 

Above: Now that’s how you compromise on abortion policy!

Today, the editorial board of the Washington Post honors the memory of David Broder with a pitch-perfect parody of Both Sides Doitism.  The thesis: the Republicans holding the nomination of Loretta Lynch hostage to try to leverage Democrats into accepting restrictions on abortion in an anti-sex trafficking bill shows that Democrats are the obstructionist party now. How could anyone possibly defend such a transparently nonsensical assertion?  Behold:

DEMOCRATS WHO have been filibustering the Senate’s consideration of legislation to combat human trafficking cited concerns with language they claimed would greatly expand the reach of Hyde Amendment restrictions on abortion.

You have to love the wording here. Democrats are merely “claiming” that the language would extend the reach of the Hyde Amendment, implying that there’s a dispute about the facts and Democrats might be making it up. A more accurate way of writing this would be “Democrats oppose this version of the bill because it would extend the reach of the Hyde Amendment.” But the way the editorial is worded does demonstrate a skill that’s important to learn. It’s what separates us from the animals! Except the weasel.

This skill is also evident in the next sentence:

But when John Cornyn (R-Tex.), chief sponsor of the trafficking bill and Senate majority whip, offered a compromise that would seem to answer their stated objections, it was rejected out of hand.

You have to like the “would seem” wording. You might think from this that the new version of the bill removes the abortion restrictions, so Democrats now have no reason to oppose the bill. But you would be wrong.

Perhaps Democrats thought they could score political points, or maybe they didn’t want to anger their traditional allies in the abortion rights lobby.

Now we’ve reached the heart of the matter. This is pure, distilled multiple times anti-abortion-rights contrarianism of the kind you don’t see quite as much anymore but must be due for a comeback. As always, the central premise is that Democrats can’t possibly have any principled reason for defending hysterical women and their silly reproductive rights; they must be caving to the immensely powerful abortion rights lobby which is preventing them from addressing real priorities. (Needless to say, similar aspersions are not cast on the motives of Republicans cynically using a bill about sex trafficking to both obstruct an executive branch nomination and try to restrict abortion rights. “Pro-lifers” are always assumed to be operating from a plane of the highest principle, even when their positions are a moral, legal, and intellectual shambles.)

Either way, it became depressingly clear that what they weren’t thinking about was the needs of vulnerable people, mostly young women and girls, who are the victims of sex trafficking.

Yes, if you really care about women who have been coerced into sex work, one way of demonstrating that is being indifferent about restrictions intended to make it more difficult for them to end unwanted pregnancies that have a high likelihood of being the result of sex they did not consent to. This isn’t just recycling brain-dead turn-of-the-century abortion contrarianism — they’re taking it to a new level.

The piece goes on to argue that newly amended language would merely preserve the status quo. But if this is true, why can’t the provision simply be stricken from the language altogether? Leahy’s objections to the new language are perfectly reasonable.  They also argue that Republicans are wrong to hold the Lynch nomination hostage…because it gives Democrats an excuse.

This is also great:

There is, as we wrote earlier this week, a reasonable way for the two sides to compromise on the trafficking bill, but both sides need to be reasonable. Sadly, that was not the case for Senate Democrats this week.

There is a compromise out there that would work. Republicans aren’t actually offering this compromise, but nonetheless Democrats should agree to the bill anyway or they’re the obstructionists. I can’t explain High Broderism any better than that, ladies and gentlemen.

Be Sociable!

World Violence

[ 24 ] March 21, 2015 |

If it seems to you that we have seen an uptick in war and violence around the world, the statistics suggest you are correct.

Be Sociable!

Road Building

[ 5 ] March 21, 2015 |

Orchid_FL_Jungle_Trail08

If you want to destroy an ecosystem, build a road through it.

The reality is that most of the natural world deals better with the landmines and toxicity of militarized landscapes or the nuclear pollution of Chernobyl than the basic activities of human beings.

Be Sociable!

Book Review: Thomas C. Field, Jr., From Development to Dictatorship: Bolivia and the Alliance for Progress in the Kennedy Era

[ 14 ] March 21, 2015 |

Víctor_Paz_Estenssoro

Victor Paz

Thomas Field’s new book on the Alliance for Progress in Bolivia demonstrates just how comfortable America’s Cold War foreign policy establishment was with dictatorship as its preferred method of rule in Latin America. Assuming that Latin America needed American-driven development more than anything else and that communists were both anathema to American foreign policy and the biggest obstacle in the way of developmentalism, dictatorship and development became the twin pillars of the Alliance for Progress, as Field’s important book demonstrates.

The 1952 revolution in Bolivia was a landmark moment in that nation’s history, when a broad revolution brought Victor Paz to power and the reign of the military seemed to end in favor of a government that would reflect the people’s needs. That movement included a lot of support from the left and in his early years, Paz repaid that support, or at least tolerated its existence. The new government nationalized the tin mines and radical leftist union members worked in them. Agrarian reform was undertaken and forced labor abolished. Despite its tin industry, the nation was not particularly important to U.S. policymakers in 1952. That would change with the Cuban Revolution in 1959.

Much of the American foreign policy establishment originally saw Paz as suspicious and a potential communist. But the Kennedy administration viewed him as a key bulwark in holding the line against communism in South America. The Alliance for Progress wasn’t founded to support dictatorship per se. Rather, it intended to bring middle-class modernity to the unaligned states of the region. But as Field usefully points out, that middle-class modernity meant, from the perspective of U.S. economic advisers, the firing of thousands of miners in the nationalized tin mines that were leftist strongholds of communist unions. The stated reason was economic efficiency, but the Kennedy administration also hoped to undermine the communists who not only threatened American hegemony in the region but through their desire to stay employed were keeping nations like Bolivian economically-backwards. Union-busting and labor rationalizations therefore were central to the Alliance for Progress from its beginning. Or as Field states, Kennedy’s foreign policy toward Bolivia was “a program of politicized, authoritarian development that took dead aim at the country’s leftist miners (24).”

Paz was a committed nationalist but he also began to see the nation and himself as one, moving to eliminate rivals and consolidate power. He became increasingly brutal, using ex-Nazis to run his secret security services. None of this bothered Kennedy, Arthur Schlesinger, or any of the other major figures creating Latin American foreign policy. USAID trained indigenous militias (who remained Paz supporters until the end) to attack the miners, eliminate their threat to Paz, and bring modernization to Bolivia. Although Paz long held out against alienating the Communist Party and Cuba, he finally did move against the tin miners and arrested their communist leaders, leading to the miners taking several American government officials hostage in early 1964, Lyndon Johnson’s first foreign policy crisis. His hard moves against the left just endeared him to Washington, who rewarded him with more cash and more military assistance. This just alienated the left even more, continuing the polarization and militarization of Bolivia with U.S. assistance. Vice-President Juan Lechín, the leftists’ man in the government, was increasingly isolated and replaced as VP. For good measure, Paz’s thugs beat Lechín to a pulp so he could not engage in his last official function in office during the new inauguration and thus could not make a speech denouncing the president.

By 1964, the U.S. still held onto Paz as their man in La Paz, but the blind faith in him meant they could not see the cards falling around him. By that year, Paz had not only alienated the left, but the grassroots right and the military. Messing with the nation’s constitution to allow himself to run for a third term helped consolidate opposition to him, with fighters and activists on both sides looking to the military as a solution. General René Barrientos became the center of the military opposition. Originally, a Paz acolyte, the president’s disdain for him finally took its toll. Barrientos created alliances with the communists and was a military solution acceptable to the falangists. With both right and left wing rebellion and a military also alienated from Paz, finally Barrientos led the coup that solved the nation’s Paz problem.

And yet even after Barrientos took power, it wasn’t as if the CIA or Johnson administration lost influence in La Paz. Rather, Barrientos became just as much a tool of Washington as Paz, relying on the U.S. government for the entirety of his five years in power, a period that included the killing of Che Guevara by Barrientos’ troops and the continued repression of the left despite their hopes in him. U.S. influence with Bolivian presidents remained generally pretty strong up until Evo Morales, including once again with Paz, who won a fourth term as president in 1985 where he committed to the country to neoliberalism and helped set the groundwork for Morales’ Bolivarian Revolution.

And while most general readers are unlikely to come to this book with much interest in Bolivia per se, to relate this to another key foreign policy question of the era, this story just reinforces the reality that there is just no reason to believe that Vietnam under Kennedy’s presidency would have come appreciably different than it did under Johnson. For Kennedy, authoritarianism, development, and anticommunism went hand in hand and that meant large infusions of U.S. military aid to ensure that friendly leaders stayed in power. That Johnson would continue Kennedy’s policies in both Bolivia and Vietnam does not exonerate those terrible decisions, but it does suggest that those decisions were not LBJ’s alone and rather the entire U.S. establishment was willing to get the U.S. involved in any number of foreign excursions to defend the world against communism.

Field has definitely written a monograph here and the intricate detail of the Paz administration and his interactions with American officials may not be for all readers. But then that’s the power of such a book, leaving no question in the reader’s mind just how easy it was for Kennedy administration officials–who genuinely thought they were doing the right thing–to slip into supporting a leader using ever more cruelty by the year. These sorts of historical narratives are also necessary for modern readers to understand the roots of American foreign policy problems today. I stress to my students the need to understand the CIA led coup in Iran in 1953 in order to understand the problems between the U.S. and Iran today, noting that while the average American’s attention to a foreign crisis ends at the next episode of American Idol, in other nations who feel the brunt of American power, hostile memories linger for decades. America’s relations with Bolivia are not as geopolitically important as with Iran but hostility lingers much the same. Evo Morales kicking Peace Corps and USAID out of Bolivia comes back to the long-term repressive policies the U.S. has supported in that nation going back to the Paz years.

Be Sociable!
Page 5 of 1,989« First...34567...102030...Last »