Thursday, April 28, 2005

Liberal Principles and Class Warfare

Via Political Animal, what do liberals stand for? Kevin Drum has some ideas he thinks America would find fair and appealing.
[E]qual tax rates for all types of income. After all, it's intuitively appealing that if wage earners pay a certain tax rate (which varies with income), people who get their incomes from capital gains, dividends, or inheritances should pay the same rate. That's something that sounds fair to a lot of people, and once it's accepted as a principle it can act as a backstop for a wide range of detailed tax policies.

On the corporate front, how about a fair shake for the working poor who want to unionize? Stronger unions — especially in the service area — would provide an automatic counterbalance to both a wide array of corporate abuses as well as our growing problem of income inequality, all without liberals being forced into either punitive taxation or ill-considered (and probably unpopular) regulatory schemes. What's more, the case that low-paid workers should be allowed to unionize without threats and abuse from management will strike a lot of people as fair and reasonable.
The thing that strikes me about Kevin's two ideas is that both revolve around work or the lack thereof, which I don't hear Democratic politicians talk about much any more and when they do, it's not convincing. Rather than being for the middle-class, why don't Democrats become the party of the working stiff? Isn't this most of the electorate?

Regarding Kevin's insight over taxes, why shouldn't Democrats and liberal interest groups play up the fact that wealth earned from capital gains, dividends, and inheritance aren't products of work and therefore should be valued less, meaning they should be taxed at the same rate as wages, if not more. Why don't Democrats play up the disparity in wealth within the country every chance they get, targeting CEOs whose salaries increase even as their company's revenues go south? A more equal distribution of wealth within the corporation could have a huge impact on diminishing inequality. Relatedly, why don't Democrats use the bully pulpit to point out wages are stagnant even though worker productivity has increased? And finally, as Kevin makes clear, Democrats and liberals need to stand behind unionizing the service industry. As I've written before, this is probably the single best way to increase worker living standards. The service industry doesn't have to be low-wage and high-turnover. Much like the labor movement did to manufacturing in the early 20th century, organizing the service industry can turn "scraping by" into a comfortable, lower-to-solid middle-class existence. Yet, the Republicans and their cohorts on the National Labor Relations Board will try to do away with "card-check recognition" sometime this year. (Card-check recognition is the easiest and most successful way to unionize firms, you can find out more here.) Will there be much opposition from the Democrats? Doubtful.

Tiredly, conservatives and the GOP will claim liberals and Democrats are waging "class warfare." And they would be correct. For far too long, conservatives and Republicans, aligned with corporate interests, have waged class-warfare on behalf of the elite as they have rolled back the New Deal welfare state and enacted corporate friendly legislation (an example being the recently passed bankruptcy bill). It's time we fought back and showed America that they have a grassroots network and political structure that will defend their interests. If the Democrats and liberals can't or won't do this, they should lose, because they essentially stand for nothing, a la Clintonian triagulation. As Christopher Hitchens once remarked, "Don't tell me your politics, tell me your principles." Americans are on that same page, liberals and the left would be wise to follow it.

Continue Reading...

Wednesday, April 27, 2005

Black Rednecks

The Wall Street Journal has a hugely provocative opinion piece today by Thomas Sowell, which argues black underachievement isn't due to race or racism, but to the internalization of southern culture. (Sowell, if you couldn't have guessed, is a conservative and a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution. And yes he's also black, which, by the way, doesn't make him self-loathing.)

To set up his argument, Sowell writes about a study done last year that showed the majority of black Harvard alumni are either from the West Indies and Africa or children of parents that emigrated from these places. This allows him to shoot down race and racism as determining variables.
If this disparity is not due to race, it is equally hard to explain by racism. To a racist, one black is pretty much the same as another. But, even if a racist somehow let his racism stop at the water's edge, how could he tell which student was the son or daughter of someone born in the West Indies or in Africa, especially since their American-born offspring probably do not even have a foreign accent?

What then could explain such large disparities in demographic "representation" among these three groups of blacks? Perhaps they have different patterns of behavior and different cultures and values behind their behavior.
From here, Sowell makes his case that it's the cultural baggage of the South that's responsible for black underachievement as well as white southern failings compared to their northern brethern. As ancestors of blacks freed before 1850 do better than ancestors of blacks freed after 1865, pre-civil war southern whites lagged behind their rivals up north. [Interestingly enough, Sowell's argument aligns with the metro (blue state) vs. retro (red state) debate that presented statistical evidence showing metro areas are more intellectual and economically vibrant.] Sowell calls attention to the fact that there were four times more schools up north than in the south and that northern children went to school twice as many years. I suspect these disparities had to do with the South's agricultural economy where schooling occurred between the planting and harvesting seasons. It's a pretty simple equation, more schooling equals a more robust knowledge base which translates into greater intellectual and economic achievements.

While critics argue the sin of slavery accounts for black and southern white underachievement, Sowell doesn't think so. Regarding blacks he writes:
Slavery also cannot explain the difference between American blacks and West Indian blacks living in the United States because the ancestors of both were enslaved.
His point concerning southern whites is even more plausible because these differences between southern whites and northern whites existed already in England prior to emigration, before these whites every saw a black in bondage. Sowell explains:
The culture of the people who were called "rednecks" and "crackers" before they ever got on the boats to cross the Atlantic was a culture that produced far lower levels of intellectual and economic achievement, as well as far higher levels of violence and sexual promiscuity...While a third of the white population of the U.S. lived within the redneck culture, more than 90% of the black population did. Although that culture eroded away over the generations, it did so at different rates in different places and among different people. It eroded away much faster in Britain than in the U.S. and somewhat faster among Southern whites than among Southern blacks, who had fewer opportunities for education or for the rewards that came with escape from that counterproductive culture.
Being an opinion piece, Sowell's light on the evidence but his argument seems more than plausible. I assume Sowell's piece is empirically backed by his book, "Black Rednecks and White Liberals," which hits shelves this week. And as you can see from the title, the book has a political brunt that isn't too favorable to liberals, which Sowell rams home in his conclusion:
The redneck culture proved to be a major handicap for both whites and blacks who absorbed it. Today, the last remnants of that culture can still be found in the worst of the black ghettos, whether in the North or the South, for the ghettos of the North were settled by blacks from the South. The counterproductive and self-destructive culture of black rednecks in today's ghettos is regarded by many as the only "authentic" black culture--and, for that reason, something not to be tampered with. Their talk, their attitudes, and their behavior are regarded as sacrosanct.

The people who take this view may think of themselves as friends of blacks. But they are the kinds of friends who can do more harm than enemies.
Although most liberals may find that conclusion abrasive and tendentious, I have to agree with Sowell, anyone who equates thug culture to black culture is doing the biggest disservice to inner-city blacks imaginable. Which raises a question: How hypocritical is it to look down on white people who live the stereotypical "redneck" life, while glorifying those blacks who live its inner-city equivalent?

Continue Reading...

Of Carrots and Sticks

I just finished reading Richard Lowry's, "What Went Right: How the U.S. began to quell the insurgency in Iraq," in National Review. (Sorry the link will only get you the intro.) The article's title was much better than the triumphant cover which proclaimed "We're Winning," a presumptuous declaration to make right now, considering the Iraqis' inability to solidify their government and the insurgency's continued strength and daring. As the AP reported via the NYTs today:
Despite nearly 140,000 U.S. troops and a similar number of Iraqi forces, guerrillas have the same capability to attack as they did a year ago, staging 50 or 60 attacks a day, [Air Force General Richard]Myers said.

Myers and Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld noted a recent rise in violence that has coincided with the political impasse over naming a new government.
Gen. Myers doesn't seem to have reached the same conclusion as NR's editors.

Despite NR's swaggering cover, Lowry's article is quite good apart from the uncritical cheerleading. Check out this doozy:
If success in Iraq is not assured, it is within sight. This is a testament to the resolve of President Bush, the Pentagon's push to give more responsibility to the Iraqis, the imagination and flexibility of U.S. commanders, and -- above all -- the courage, the can-do willingness to take on any task, and the amazing capabilities of the American soldier and Marine.
The gist of Lowry's article is that U.S. military strategy has incorporated economic development and infrastructure projects to help drive a wedge between the insurgents and those Iraqis whose legs are dangling over each side of the fence. One, Maj. Gen. Peter Chiarelli, stands out as someone that understood how to drain a swamp. Chiarelli functioned much like Baghdad's mayor, overseeing basic service provision while helping to create jobs. By the time he left Iraq, trash pick-up covered seventy percent of Baghdad. When Moqtada al-Sadr and his Madhi army started problems in north Sadr City, Baghdad, Chiarelli doubled U.S. infrastructure efforts in the south. As Chiarelli told Lowry:
"We let them in the north look at what was happening in the south. We wanted them to say, 'These guys who are fighting have stopped the improvement, all for what? To have IEDs in the streets?'"
Plus, Chiarelli has a better understanding of the importance of Keynesian economics than the bureaucrats of the defunct CPA and it's successor, the U.S. Embassy.
"After Chiarelli beat Moqtada al-Sadr in Sadr City, he kept the focus on rebuilding and employment. The goal was to hire in the neighborhoods, and hire as many people as possible. 'I was upset,' he says, 'when a contractor showed up with a [mechanized] ditch digger: I didn't want ditch diggers.' He wanted to put shovels in peoples' hands for $5-7 a day."
Which brings up this question: Why weren't contractors made to hire a mandatory percentage of Iraqis before they were allowed to start work on reconstruction projects? This is elementary economics and commonsensical public policy. Unemployment breeds despair and a tight money supply that makes it hard to revive any economy. Therefore, the best and most efficient way to ensure steady economic improvement is through public spending that increases the money supply and puts people to work, which creates a positive feedback cycle. Yet the Bush Administration and the CPA chose to play the neoliberal game, making no demands on capital to the detriment of ordinary Iraqis.

Whether NR and its editors appreciate it, Lowry's article demonstrates that if the architects of war paid more attention to the Keynesian carrots used by Chiarelli, the U.S. military may have been able to put down the sticks a lot sooner.

Continue Reading...

Tuesday, April 26, 2005

The Indigenous of Northern Cauca, Colombia

In reportage describing armed conflict -- whether it be war, civil war, or insurgency -- the civilian population is usually cast as helpless victims, one dimensional characters invoked to add human tragedy. Justin Podur counters this tendency with a piece on Znet describing the indigenous communities of Northern Cauca, Colombia, who are embattled between the corrupt left-wing FARC insurgency and the brutal rightist Colombian military as they try to stand their ground against both. As Podur writes, "these people are no passive victims."

Last week, the FARC and the military battled it out throughout this region as the FARC took over a number of mountain towns. Podur describes the damage done by the fighting:
Dozens of homes have been destroyed in the fighting. The FARC use their gas pipe bombs, the Colombian military uses aerial bombardment. The hospital was damaged, disrupting health services, and the health organization is overstretched. All agricultural activity has been interrupted.
Add to this over 1800 displaced people and you have a damn fine humanitarian mess.

Yet Podur doesn't sink to the old standard, and reports the local communities' defiance.
[T]he population have activated their contingency plans: permanent assembly, to keep the communities together and protected as much as possible, while political pressure is built to get the armed actors out of the region. They will have to contend, in their plans, not only with the utter lack of respect for them on the part of the FARC and the Colombian army’s brutality, but also for all the legal repression by the government...Their project is not neutrality or passivity, but autonomy. The military actions and military bluster over their territories drowns out the fact that they have their own ideas and plans for how to live – including how to resolve Colombia’s armed conflict. It starts with respect for civilian populations, with respect, in the words they would use, for life. That means, as a starting point, demilitarization of their region.
This doesn't seem likely, but thanks to Podur, these people aren't merely extras with no control of the script.

Continue Reading...

Taibbi Gone Gonzo

Mother Jones has a funny, interesting interview with Rolling Stone and NY Press's Matt Taibbi. Taibbi's the journalist that caused a stir because of his article, "The 52 Funniest Things About the Upcoming Death of the Pope," and the criticism was warranted. It wasn't funny and it was extraordinarily mean-spirited.

Nevertheless, Taibbi has some insightful things to say about modern-day reportage. His new book, Spanking the Donkey, is his account of covering the 2004 presidential primary where the Democrats' infinite wisdom pushed John Kerry forward. He and it are being compared to Hunter S. Thompson and his Fear and Loathing: On the Campaign Trail '72. Here's Taibbi explaining the differences between today's journalists and the reporters of a few decades back:
Mother Jones: The idea of reporting on political campaign coverage began with Timothy Crouse’s Boys on the Bus and Hunter S. Thompson’s Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail. You’ve now written your own book on the subject. How has that story changed?

Matt Taibbi: I was assigned exactly the same story from exactly the same people [Rolling Stone]. But the difference is that story doesn’t exist anymore. All the other reporters now are so paranoid about being quoted or showing up in an unfavorable light. Everyone assumes they’re going to be on the record somewhere. So there’s no bizarre behavior that goes on. Also I think that there’s definitely a different breed of reporter than what used to exist.

MJ: How so?

MT: My father is a reporter [for NBC], and my whole life I grew up around reporters. When I was a kid, at the time that Boys on the Bus was being written, reporters were rowdy, cynical, wisecracking, foulmouthed, a little bit iconoclastic, and independent thinking. These weren’t necessarily good qualities – but reporters certainly didn’t view themselves as being team players or worrying about the company. It was always “us against the editors.”

Nowadays, when you go around with a big crew of reporters who are following a story like the campaign, they’re all total careerists. Even if they’re straight out of school all they want to do is do a really good job and suck up to the staffers.

MJ: What was the makeup of the bus?

MT: For the most part it’s a lot of Ivy League people. It’s not a real fun-loving crowd. I think the schedule is not what it used to be like in ‘72. I don’t think they did four cities in a day back in ‘72 and there wasn’t a 24-hour news cycle. There were no cable guys who had to file eight times a day and the wire services didn’t have the technology. Now every place you go, as soon as the candidate says anything slightly different than what he said a couple hours ago, they have to go and update everything. The cable people have to go and do a live hit. By the end of the night they’re completely exhausted – just barely enough time to go to sleep to wake up and do it all over again. It’s like a cult. They have no social lives, they’re exhausted they have no time to do anything except file.
Big props to Taibbi for saying what many journalists feel. And wait till you read about Taibbi, high on acid, head cushioned by a Viking helmet, interviewing the former deputy head of the Office of National Drug Policy. Hilarious.

Continue Reading...

Monday, April 25, 2005

Towards a New Trinity

Last week, I went a couple of blocks away from my house on Capitol Hill to play some basketball at the local Baptist Church. Within the gates of the Church's parking lot sits a portable hoop with a forgiving rim. When I arrived this evening, there was already a game in progress between congregates and those who worked for the Church. I stood there awhile dribbling, until two guys from the sidelines introduced themselves. They were extremely cordial and it was the basic questions endemic to DC, "Where do you work?" "What do you do?"

As we were talking, the game ended and three of the four on the court left along with one of the guys from the sidelines. The other guy and me and the straggler from the previous game decided to play "21," which is essentially just every man for himself. Somehow metaphysical questions started to rear their ugly head during the game, all revolving around the King of Kings. When I identified myself as an atheist they looked a bit perplexed and interested and the necessary question, "Why?," followed. I said something to the sort of I've never experienced the divine nor read a convincing argument for the existence of a supreme being. Being a genuinely curious and skeptical person, believing in God would be a gigantic leap of faith for me. "Where's the evidence," I said. Besides, I don't need the consolation of looking up at the night sky and feeling a figment of my imagination stare back at me.

As the discussion progressed, the older guy, the leftover from the first game, asked how we know the difference between right and wrong and whether there's an absolute, divinely-revealed morality. I responded to the first question as I always do, something along the line that we use reason, tradition, and our gut feeling to judge right from wrong and therefore I answered logically to the next question, "No." I also added that morality or ethics was probably an evolutionary addition to ensure the survival of a species that was totally reliance on the group to survive. Who knows if I'm correct on any of this. Certainly I don't.

But the more I think of it, I think there's a crude trinity to human moral decisions that doesn't need an authoritative God handing out dictates to believers. I'll label them reason, empathetic emotion, and intuition. At best, all three should work as an integrated whole to arrive at moral judgements, but I think each works independently as a check upon the other. Moreover, in snap decisions, where action or non-action must be taken immediately, intuition should take precedent. I'll use a rather vulgar example to prove a point.

When I was eighteen I couldn't drink, but one rather adult area I could experience were strip clubs. The first time this option was dropped by a friend of mine, it only took a moment to decide I wouldn't go and I owe it to my gut reaction. I was uneasy about it instantly, and a major deciding factor was my girlfriend - how would she feel? Now, girlfriendless, I've dipped my toe in those waters three times now and I'm still frigid about it. I'm not a puritan in anyway, but when I use my moral trinity I'm convinced I want to stay away from those places. Using reason, I don't know why I want to drop a hundred bucks looking at girls who pay attention to me only so I unload dollar bills on them, especially since it gives me no pleasure (and I assume, no pleasure to them as well). Next, empathetic emotion comes inextricably into play. I think about the girl's feelings, whether she has kids or is in college, which leads me to ask rationally why she's in this line of work to begin with. Usually the answer doesn't equate to freely chosen hedonism, which I can respect, but deeper and darker problems. Lastly, whatever reasonable objections I can make, " She likes her work" or "I shouldn't judge her," I still have a deep distaste for it. And therefore I decide those experiences aren't for me, although in the right conditions they can be morally fine for others.

I use this calculus in all other areas of morality as well. I'll use a more controversial example, abortion. Using powers of reason, I'm confronted with a conflict: Although I want to respect the integrity and value of human life, I'm faced with all manners of complicating situations like rape, incest, severe mental and physical deficiencies, and those rare circumstances where only one person -- mother or child -- can survive the birth. Here empathetic emotion comes into play, because I can put myself in that women's position where abortion is a fateful choice that could essentially give her back her life. How can I judge a woman who got pregnant not do to any irresponsibility of her own, but because she was violated? How can I judge a woman or a couple who decide that when life pits life against each other, the mother's life wins out because the fire of an intelligent, conscious life and all its myriad personal connections is more valuable than a life not yet begun. Intuitively, I respond negatively to abortion, but reason and empathy check that initial impulse.

So, sure, morality functions like a crapshoot, but one can put parameters around it and use those human faculties we're endowed with to make responsible, albeit possibly wrong, moral decisions. To be a happy, productive, and morally responsible adult, one has to become comfortable with such uncertainty. Some place their faith in God to help them along, I rely on myself and argument to help navigate those murky areas where uncertainty is the only certainty.

Besides, I don't know why Christians appeal to a higher authority when their savior put it in such simple, human terms: "In everything, do to others what you would have them do to you..."
(Matthew, 7:12)

Continue Reading...

Friday, April 22, 2005

Conservative Split

I guess I'm having a New Republic kind of day.

Over at TNR, Andrew Sullilvan has a great essay that argues Christian fundamentalism is dividing conservative ideology. It's because of this creeping religious fundamentalism that the Republican conservatism has become so contradictory. Here's the contradictions plaguing the GOP according to Sullivan:
Today's conservatives support limited government. But they believe the federal government can intervene in a state court's decisions in a single family's struggle over life and death. They believe in restraining government spending. But they have increased such spending by a mind-boggling 33 percent in a mere four years. They believe in self-reliance. But they have just passed the most expensive new entitlement since the heyday of Great Society liberalism: the Medicare prescription-drug benefit. They believe that foreign policy is about the pursuit of national interest and that the military should be used only to fight and win wars. Yet they have embarked on an extraordinarily ambitious program of military-led nation-building in the Middle East. They believe in states' rights, but they want to amend the Constitution to forbid any state from allowing civil marriage or equivalent civil unions for gay couples. They believe in free trade. But they have imposed tariffs on a number of industries, most famously steel. They believe in balanced budgets. But they have abandoned fiscal discipline and added a cool trillion dollars to the national debt in one presidential term.
How can the Republican Party accomodate such inconsistency? Because there's two conservative streaks functioning underneath one GOP banner, one strain being conservatives of faith and the other conservatives of doubt. While Sullivan admits it's an artificial construct, it nevertheless does an excellent job of clarifying why the modern GOP likes to peak underneath our sheets.

Conservatives of faith are in the ascendency and have considerable sway within the ruling Republican Party. They're driving the carriage of state and perched upon high, they're deadset on steering governmental policy toward institutionalizing their version of the "good life." For the faithful, there is only one way to reach the "good life" and that one unalterable path can only be found in the Holy Bible. Therefore, public policy must kneel before divinely revealed truth. There can be no compromise. This is why public policy must bar abortion, same-sex marriage, and stem-cell research. Those that do not follow these divinely revealed, monolithic edicts are sorely misguided or overridden with vice or worse. They are contagions let loose within the body politic, infecting the virtuous and leading them astray. Homosexuals are usually the vilified part of this infection. They are the sensuous sirens calling Christian sailors toward libertinism, disaster and death.

But Christian fundamentalism's sway isn't all negation Sullivan argues. It's also affirmation of the federal government's right to fund religious charities, promote abstinence only sex education, and tell "parents in government literature that a gay child may need therapy," regardless if these activities conflict with the separation of church and state or conflict with scientific consensus.

What matters to conservatives of faith is therefore less the size of government than its meaning and structure. If it is harnessed to uphold their definition of the good life--protecting a stable family structure, upholding Biblical morality, protecting the vulnerable--then its size is irrelevant, as long as it doesn't overwhelm civil society. Indeed, using government to promote certain activities (the proper care of children, support for the poor, legal privileges for heterosexual relationships) and to deter others (recreational drug use, divorce, gay unions, abortion, indecent television) is integral to the conservative project.
There is another side to conservatism though, and it's the one infused with the principles of the Enlightenment and rightly skeptical of moral claims revealed by an intangible. Sullivan labels these adherents the conservatives of doubt and they're categorically different than conservatives of faith.
The conservatism of doubt asks how anyone can be sure that his view of what is moral or good is actually true. Conservatives of doubt note that even the most dogmatic of institutions, such as the Catholic or Mormon churches, have changed their views over many centuries, and that, even within such institutions, there is considerable debate about difficult moral issues...They merely believe that the purported choice between moral absolutism and complete relativism, between God and moral anarchy, is a phony one. Their alternative is a skeptical, careful, prudential approach to all moral questions--and suspicion of anyone claiming to hold the absolute truth. Since such an approach rarely provides a simple answer persuasive to everyone within a democratic society, we live with moral and cultural pluralism.

For conservatives of faith, such pluralism can allow error to flourish--and immorality to become government policy--and therefore must be limited. A conservative of doubt, however, does not regard the existence of such pluralism as a problem. He sees it as an unavoidable fact of modernity, an invitation to lives that are more challenging and autonomous than in more traditional societies. Even when conservatives of doubt disagree with others' moral convictions, they recognize that, in a free, pluralist society, those other views deserve a hearing.
For these conservatives, doubt leads to dialogue and deliberation based on reason and human experience rather than appeals to an authority beyond our intellectual grasp and sense perception. This allows those in the minority an arena to argue their case while demanding equal protection under the law. The conservatives of faith don't adhere to these democratic, liberal norms and are trying to use their numerical strength to impose their morals upon society. Sullivan's astute example of this tendency is the fight over same-sex marriage and civil unions.
In response to several court cases across the country that edged closer and closer to giving legal equality to gays and lesbians, conservatives in Washington responded by proposing--as a first resort--a constitutional amendment prohibiting marriage and any of its benefits from being granted to same-sex couples.
The faithful's refusal to even debate their point shows callous disregard for democracy and, I believe, is a show of strength hiding their inability to argue rationally the pitfalls of gay marriage or why marriage isn't a fundamental civil right of two consenting adults. In many ways, the Christian Right is attempting to create their own version of the "nanny state," a rule of theocratic law that denies the individual the right to make certain "sinful" choices. And I may be mistaken, but I thought, theologically speaking, earth was the testing ground for admittance to that celestial club - a reward to the virtuous for a life well led.

All smart-assery aside, Sullivan's concludes forcefully against conservatives of faith, stating:
Advocates for government restraint cannot, in good conscience, keep supporting a party that believes in its own God-given mission to change people's souls...The only pragmatic option is to persuade those who run the Republican Party that religious zeal is a highly unstable base for conservative politics: It is divisive, inflammatory, and intolerant of the very mechanisms that keep freedom alive.
We on the left must help to ensure it's the conservatism of Andrew Sullivan that wins out over the conservatism of Falwell, Dobson, and the rest of their ilk. Otherwise, we'll be combating a milder form of the same fundamentalism we're fighting overseas, here.

Continue Reading...

Uribe: Seeking a Second Term

Colombian President Alvaro Uribe believes he is the savior of his Andean country ransacked by 40 years of civil war. As Rachel Van Dongen reports in The New Republic, Uribe is seeking a constitutional amendment that would permit him to seek another term. Uribe is wonderously popular in Colombia, largely owing to his militant policies aimed at destroying the FARC's left-wing insurgency.

Momentum seems to be behind him as Van Dongen reports:
The reelection proposal has passed the Colombian congress, but it faces several Constitutional Court challenges before Uribe can be on the ballot in 2006. Some are predicting the amendment may be disallowed, in which case Uribe may mount a write-in campaign.
Naturally, Uribe's attempt to change the constitution has more to do with his own self-interest, staying in power, than giving the people what they want.
Uribe and company argue that reelection is a crucial means to continue the president's promising fight against "narco-terrorists" (both the farc and AUC -- right-wing paramilitaries -- are heavily involved in drug trafficking). But, the way the amendment was cleverly written, it would benefit Uribe without helping to strengthen Colombia's institutions. Indeed, the provision prohibits sitting governors and mayors from challenging him for president. That clause was aimed at Bogotá Mayor Lucho Gárzon, the most popular political figure next to the president. "The reelection bill was made for Uribe," said Fernando Giraldo, the dean of political science at Bogotá's Javeriana University. "Reelection isn't a response to a maturation of the democratic system, but the result of political circumstances." Furthermore, the bill is designed to expire in 2014, four years after Uribe would finish a second term. If Uribe really believed that two-term presidents were a way of fortifying the central government and defeating the FARC, he would have fought to permanently change the constitution.
Yet he didn't. And despite all the accolades showered upon Uribe from Washington, D.C., Uribe is more interested in destroying the FARC than destroying the AUC, which has historically strong ties to the Colombian military, is flush with cocaine trafficking money, and is disproportionately responsible for gross human rights abuses. As Human Rights Watch recently stated to the 61st Session of the U.N. Commission for Human Rights:
Units of the armed forces have historically maintained close ties to paramilitary groups, and have been implicated in the commission of atrocities in collusion with such groups. However, the government has yet to take credible action to break these ties. Impunity, particularly with respect to high-level military officials, remains the norm.

Impunity is also a serious problem in relation to atrocities committed by paramilitary groups. These groups are currently in demobilization negotiations with the Colombian government, but have been blatantly flouting their cease-fire declaration. Notably, the government has yet to put in place an effective legal framework to dismantle the paramilitaries’ complex structures and ensure accountability for paramilitary atrocities. As a result, there is a real risk that the current demobilization process will leave the underlying structures of these violent groups intact, their illegally acquired assets untouched, and their abuses unpunished.
The FARC are admittedly bad, but the AUC are worse and it's clear whose side President Uribe is on. Another Uribe term would just extend that right-wing culture of impunity for another four years. Colombia should stay within its constitutional bounds and Uribe should respect that decision.

Continue Reading...

Thursday, April 21, 2005

Iraqi Labor: End the Occupation

Over at, photojournalist and labor reporter David Bacon interviews Felan Alwan, president of the Federation of Workers' Councils and Unions of Iraq (FWCUI). Alwan argues the U.S. should go home and be replaced by a U.N. peacekeeping mission from countries not associated with the occupation. Alwan's FWCUI is much more oppositional towards both the occupation and Iraq's transitional government than the Iraqi Federation of Trade Unions (IFTU), at this time Iraq's largest and most powerful labor federation.

Alwan also makes a rather convincing argument regarding the illegitimacy of the recent elections. And while I tend to agree with him that these elections certainly weren't democratic and that one election doesn't create a democratic society, I'm still happy they occurred in defiance of the insurgency's explicit wish to stop them.

More importantly, the FWCUI has announced the creation of the Freedom Congress. Here's how Bacon describes it:
The union called it "a broad organization committed to establishing a free, secular and non-ethnic government in Iraq," composed of "political parties, trade unions, people's councils, associations and institutions." The FWCUI sees the present situation as a "civil abyss," in which "the fabric of the civil society in Iraq has been torn apart under the US occupation and the domination of the Islamic, tribal and political gangsters."
As I argued in the April issue of the Washington Monthly, found here, Iraq's labor unions can play an enormous role in creating a free and secular civil society that provides the foundation for democratization and that empowers people to create the organizational strength to make demands on the transitional government as well as the occupation forces. Otherwise, Iraqi civil society will be the haven for hierarchical religious organizations, largely Shiite, intent on imposing their brand of Islamic law on what was once a secular, modern country.

Continue Reading...

Wednesday, April 20, 2005

Pope's Leadership Style

I could be wrong, but when speaking about Pope Benedict XVI's leadership style, clergy might want to stay away from descriptions and metaphors like these,emanating from Rev. M. Price Oswalt of Oklahoma City:
"He's going to have a German mentality of leadership: either get on the train or get off the track. He will not put up with rebellious children."
I'm not sure about this, but you might not want to travel down that road considering Ratzinger was brought up in the darkest decades of German history. And it's always good to know that no matter how old you are, if you disagree with the Catholic Church, you're nothing more than a little brat in need of a little "Nanny 911," Pontificate-style.

Continue Reading...

Not a Nazi

Well, whatever can be said about Pope Benedict XVI, formerly known as Cardinal "I put the D back in Dogma" Ratzinger, a Nazi's not one of them. The Jerusalem Post explains:
Ratzinger's membership in the Hitler Youth was not voluntary but compulsory; also admitted are the facts that the cardinal - only a teenager during the period in question - was the son of an anti-Nazi policeman that he was given a dispensation from Hitler Youth activities because of his religious studies and that he deserted the German army.

Ratzinger has several times gone on record on his supposedly "problematic" past. In the 1997 book Salt of the Earth Ratzinger is asked whether he was ever in the Hitler Youth.

"At first we weren't he says, speaking of himself and his older brother, but when the compulsory Hitler Youth was introduced in 1941 my brother was obliged to join. I was still too young but later as a seminarian I was registered in the Hitler Youth. As soon as I was out of the seminary I never went back. And that was difficult because the tuition reduction which I really needed was tied to proof of attendance at the Hitler Youth.

"Thank goodness there was a very understanding mathematics professor. He himself was a Nazi but an honest man and said to me 'Just go once to get the document so we have it...' When he saw that I simply didn't want to he said 'I understand I'll take care of it' and so I was able to stay free of it."

Ratzinger says this again in his own memoirs printed in 1998. In his 2002 biography of the cardinal John Allen Jr. of the National Catholic Reporter wrote in detail about those events.

The only significant complaint that the Times makes against Ratzinger's wartime conduct is that he resisted quietly and passively rather than having done something drastic enough to earn him a trip to a concentration camp. Of course whenever it is said that a German failed the exceptional-resistance-to-the-Nazis test it would behoove us all to recognize that too many Jews failed it as well.

If he were truly a Nazi sympathizer then it would undoubtedly have become evident during the past 60 years. Yet throughout his service in the church Ratzinger has distinguished himself in the field of Jewish-Catholic relations.

As prefect of the Doctrine of the Faith Ratzinger played an instrumental role in the Vatican's revolutionary reconciliation with the Jews under John Paul II. He personally prepared Memory and Reconciliation the 2000 document outlining the church's historical "errors" in its treatment of Jews. And as president of the Pontifical Biblical Commission Ratzinger oversaw the preparation of The Jewish People and Their Sacred Scriptures in the Christian Bible a milestone theological explanation for the Jews' rejection of Jesus.If that's theological anti-Semitism then we should only be so lucky to "suffer" more of the same.As for the Hitler Youth issue not even Yad Vashem has considered it worthy of further investigation. Why should we?

The Jerusalem Post affirming Pope Benedict XVI's anti-Nazi credentials is enough for me. As secular critics of Pope Benedict XVI and the Catholic Church's harsh social conservatism, let's stick to the facts and not exaggerate. There's enough wrong already without making the most inexcusable and intellectually flaccid of connections.

In a later post, I'll investigate Pope Benedict XVI's hostility to liberation theology, which was closer to Jesus's social gospel than the Church proper's ridiculous tiff with homosexuality and contraceptives and their legitimate concerns over abortion and euthanasia.

Continue Reading...

Tuesday, April 19, 2005

May the Force Be Against...Cardinal Ratzinger

Here's my favorite off-handed comment so far today, coming just eight feet to my left from none other than my blog-hating Washington Monthly colleague Justin Peters, "Did you notice Cardinal Ratzinger looks exactly like the evil Emperor from Star Wars."

I didn't, but it's truly eerie. Take a look.

All Ratzinger, aka Pope Benedict XVI, needs is the hood and he's good.

All joking aside, I've already heard Ratzinger called a "nazi" today, while the Washington Post wrote that he worked to squash liberation theology, the only recent movement in the Church that took Jesus's social ministry to the destitute and outcast seriously in my opinion.

To be honest, I don't know all that much about the man. I'll take a look over the next few days to see how true all these accusations are.

Continue Reading...

Labor's Uncertain Future

Over at The Nation I found an edited excerpt of editor Katrina vanden Heuvel and CUNY professor Dr. Peter Kwong discussing labor's role in the progressive movement with SEIU head Andy Stern. (You can read the full transcript here.) What's interesting and scary and refreshing all at once is Stern's honesty about what unions of the industrialized world need to do to fare better in the global economy: he doesn't really know.
The world labor movement,in the First World countries, are just in shock, because all the things we used to do that might have worked--collective bargaining, one country politics--aren't working anymore. Multinational corporations and other institutions are making the rules, not countries as much. Even the president can't stop globalization of the economy. People in other countries are sort of beginning to feel that the rules of the game they played by were supposed to bring them wealth and it hasn't worked. I'm not sure they've figured out what the substitute is for it yet.

But they've bought the American model. They've bought the World Bank, they've bought cutting the services, and they ended up still poor. What's happened in America is people are getting poorer and poorer. I wonder when we're going to realize that it doesn't all work.

With transportation and capitol moving so quickly, there are no more borders. Even the people who promoted the free trade agreements are in shock that they didn't work.

I think people are at a loss. I admit I'm at a loss.
Yet, despite all the hand-wringing, Stern's being a bit coy. He has a plan for reform and it could be one that works. After labor lost the November election, Stern proposed a radical reformation of the AFL-CIO house. Harold Meyerson of the American Prospect explained it well:
Stern knew that labor’s effort for Kerry had come up short not due to deficiencies in its political program, but in good part because there simply aren’t enough union members anymore to turn an election. And so Stern called for rebating half of the affiliates’ dues payments to the AFL-CIO back to the member unions so they could increase their organizing -- a move that would greatly reduce, of course, the size of the federation’s staff and the scope of its work.

Labor’s plight was so dire, Stern argued, that it no longer had the luxury of funding many projects outside organizing and politics. Nor could the movement afford to have multiple unions fighting over the few relatively organizable employers while vast sectors of the economy were never approached by unions at all. To that end, he called for consolidating the federation’s 58 member unions -- most of them too small to embark on serious organizing -- down to roughly 20, each with a clear responsibility for a defined sector of the economy.

It was a huge proposal, but for a time it almost got lost in the surrounding hubbub. The SEIU was already aligned with UNITE-HERE (the clothing and hotel workers union), the Laborers, and the Carpenters. These four unions had shifted resources into organizing and had expressed frustration that the AFL-CIO had been unable to get other unions to follow suit. But Stern’s proposal came as a surprise to his allies, as did his announcement to the press at the meeting’s conclusion that the SEIU was establishing a committee to look at the implications of leaving the federation if it didn’t embrace these changes.
Union members are now only 12% of the workforce, so Stern and his allies' proposal looks necessary if labor ever wants to replenish the well of their socio-economic power.

Stern makes another interesting point in the discussion that I don't hear out of labor often, but needs to be said more and more. Work structures shift. In America they have shifted toward the service sector, which Stern and his SEIU have been enormously successful in organizing. (The SEIU has more members than any other affiliate of the AFL-CIO.) The thing is to follow those economic trends and fashion good jobs out of currently low-wage service jobs. As Stern commented:
We should appreciate that Wal-Mart retail worker's jobs in this country are not inherently low wage jobs. They're no more low wage than autoworkers' jobs once were, and no less skilled than mine workers' jobs once were. They're just not union jobs right now.
Besides, you can't outsource service sector jobs; they're location specific.

Workers in the manufacturing sector of the U.S. economy may be out of luck as globalization makes it cheaper and cheaper to manufacture and assemble goods overseas. The goal of the labor movement should be to ensure people losing good paying, unionized manufacturing positions can make a lateral leap to good paying, service sector jobs. It looks like that's Stern's appraisal as well, let's hope the rest of the AFL-CIO jumps on board.

Continue Reading...

Friday, April 15, 2005

Haloscan commenting and trackback have been added to this blog.

Continue Reading...

Justice Sunday

Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist has joined with the Family Research Council and such "civil rights" illuminaries as James Dobson, Chuck Colson, and Al Mohler in a religious telecast ingeniusly called "Justice Sunday" to denounce Democrats as "against people of faith."

Frist and the rest of the clan will denounce Democratic filibustering of the President's judicial nominees, while trying to create popular momentum to ensure only up-and-down votes govern judicial confirmations. (For a good premer on the history of filibustering and its legitimacy, check out NPR here.) Senate Republicans have 55 of the 100 seats, so this isn't about democratic process as much as it's about GOP self-interest. The logic behind the procedural change is to appoint judges that will counter the new buzz word of Christian conservatives: "judicial tyranny." Rest assured this will be the focus of the "Justice Sunday" telecast. The website for the Family Research Council has this displayed on their Washington Update page:
Join FRC Action and churches from across the country on Sunday, April 24, as we host a live simulcast to engage values voters in the all-important issue of reining in our out-of-control courts and putting a halt to the use of filibusters against people of faith. Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist of Tennessee is committed to returning constitutional order to the Senate by requiring an up-or-down vote on these nominees. To do this, he urgently needs the help of every values voter. Without doubt, this will be the most important vote cast in the United States Senate in this term. If this effort fails, the best we can hope for are likely to be mediocre judges who meet the approval of Ted Kennedy, Charles Schumer and Hillary Rodham Clinton. We must stop this unprecedented filibuster of people of faith.
Somehow evangelical Protestant Christians have rechristenend themselves as a discriminated against majority, viciously attacked by god-less liberals in the numerical minority. As Tony Perkins wrote on the Family Research Councils' website:
As the liberal, anti-Christian dogma of the left has been repudiated in almost every recent election, the courts have become the last great bastion for liberalism. For years activist courts, aided by liberal interest groups like the A.C.L.U., have been quietly working under the veil of the judiciary, like thieves in the night, to rob us of our Christian heritage and our religious freedoms.
Read the rest of Perkin's diatribe here, it's classic projection.

The agenda of the GOP and these Christian fundamentalists is to have a country governed by their interpretation of Judeo-Christian scripture (and we know how clear and uncontradictory the Bible is.) Just take a quick look at the quotation from Perkin's above. Who's trying to rob America of its Christian heritage or its religious freedoms? Who says you can't be a Christian? Who says you can't worship at the place of your choosing?

Perkin's doesn't believe in Christian heritage or religious freedom in the abstract, he believes in his particular version of Christianity's heritage and its freedom to institutionalize its particular beliefs, such as abortion's illegality, that gays not be allowed to receive the same benefits as conventional married couples, or that prayer - let's be honest, Christian prayer -be an integral part of the school day.

For people like Frist and Perkins, the separation of church and state is an obstruction to their realization of a Christian Nation - not just in heritage, but in law. They don't want judicial nominees of a "strict constructionist" bent; they want judges that will give them their own private Kingdom of Heaven on earth.

Continue Reading...

Thursday, April 14, 2005

Cosby the Afristocrat

Penn Professor Michael Eric Dyson has answered Bill Cosby's criticisms of poor, inner-city blacks in the alternative Philadelphia Weekly. If you remember, Cosby publicly skewered poor black parents at the 50th anniversary of the Supreme Court's Brown v. Board of Education decision, arguing their lot in life was their responsibility. Dyson's rebuttal is worthy of a read. He argues Cosby's attacks are classist and elitist - employing the rather ridiculous word "Afristocracy" to describe him - while prominently displaying Cosby's ignorance of the socio-economic forces the poor are up against today. Largely, I think Dyson's right, but Dyson's method of argument and his carefree (even careless) use of "white" tends to shut me down while reading. Here's an example:
Cosby's position is dangerous because it aggressively ignores white society's responsibility in creating the problems he wants the poor to fix on their own.
Dyson writes with such generality here that I don't know if "the poor" he speaks of include white people. Also blaming "white society" for creating the condition of the poor confuses me. If white society creates both poor whites and blacks alike, doesn't this mean our society isn't so much predicated on racial privilege (which certainly exists) than it's predicated on wealth and its translation into power? Maybe to Dyson "white society" is the outgrowth of democratic capitalism, nevertheless, it would be more useful to just substitute "capitalist" for "white" so these confusions don't arise.

Continue Reading...

Wednesday, April 13, 2005

Our Special Project

In has come to light that John Negroponte, currently nominated to be our nation's first Director of National Intelligence, did play a centrol role in the U.S./Contra terror-war against Sandanista Nicaragua as recently released documents acquired by The Washington Post show. According to the NYTs:
The documents appear to lend some support to the contention of Mr. Negroponte's critics that he did little to protest human rights abuses by Honduran military units blamed for abductions, torture and murder. Mr. Negroponte and some of his fellow diplomats have maintained that he worked behind the scenes against such abuses, but the cables make few references to the issue.

In fact, after a meeting in October 1983 with the head of the Honduran military, Gen. Gustavo Álvarez Martínez, who was widely held responsible for human rights abuses at the time, Mr. Negroponte reported to Washington that General Álvarez was misunderstood.
Peter Kornbluh, of George Washington's National Security Archives, is a bit more blunt:
The 392 cables and memos record Negroponte's daily, and even hourly, activities as the powerful Ambassador to Honduras during the contra war in the early 1980s. They include dozens of cables in which the Ambassador sought to undermine regional peace efforts such as the Contadora initiative that ultimately won Costa Rican president Oscar Arias a Nobel Prize, as well as multiple reports of meetings and conversations with Honduran military officers who were instrumental in providing logistical support and infrastructure for CIA covert operations in support of the contras against Nicaragua -"our special project" as Negroponte refers to the contra war in the cable traffic. Among the records are special back channel communications with then CIA director William Casey, including a recommendation to increase the number of arms being supplied to the leading contra force, the FDN in mid 1983, and advice on how to rewrite a Presidential finding on covert operations to overthrow the Sandinistas to make it more politically palatable to an increasingly uneasy U.S. Congress.

Conspicuously absent from the cable traffic, however, is reporting on human rights atrocities that were committed by the Honduran military and its secret police unit known as Battalion 316, between 1982 and 1984, under the military leadership of General Gustavo Alvarez, Negroponte's main liaison with the Honduran government. The Honduran human rights ombudsman later found that more than 50 people disappeared at the hands of the military during those years. But Negroponte's cables reflect no protest, or even discussion of these issues during his many meetings with General Alvarez, his deputies and Honduran President Robert Suazo. Nor do the released cables contain any reporting to Washington on the human rights abuses that were taking place.
The U.S./Contra aggression against Nicaragua, which Negroponte referred to as "our special project," was nothing more than state-sponsored terrorism. You'd think that Negroponte's cozy relationship with Honduran human rights abusers and Nicaraguan terrorists would harm his chances to be confirmed head of National Intelligence, especially in the shadow of Abu Ghraib. Not so. According to The New Republic's Spencer Ackerman, "Only [Sen. John] Wyden [(D-OR)] brought up Honduras, and not to much effect." Naturally, Republican senators hadn't the slightest problem. Via the the same NYTs article:
Senator Pat Roberts, the Kansas Republican who is chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, dismissed the questions about Honduras as "an issue of 25 years ago" with little relevance to the intelligence job.

Senator Orrin G. Hatch, Republican of Utah, noted that Mr. Negroponte and his wife adopted five Honduran children, which he said showed his "compassion" for the Honduran people.
Mr. Negroponte's stay in Honduras: certainly irrelevant and definitely compassionate.

Continue Reading...

"The Strength of Street Knowledge" in Mosul

The Washington Post's front page has what I can only describe as an interesting article on Sgt. 1st Class Domingo Ruiz and his 3rd Battalion's C Company. Ruiz, born in the Bay Ridge section of Brooklyn, lets the insurgents of Mosul "witness the strength of street knowledge." The article explores the tactics of Ruiz's own "ghetto," or if you prefer "urban," brand of counter-insurgency, which he brags he learned "fighting turf battles in New York with 'whatever you had in your pocket.'" The article is an uncomfortable read and allows a look inside urban counter-insurgency, or what C Company's commander Capt. Rob Born calls "probably the ugliest form of warfare there is." Expect exploding heads and dismemberment - basically an all-too-real Iraqi Sin City.

Continue Reading...

Tuesday, April 12, 2005

An Entrepreneurial Spiritualism

The April/May issue of Boston Review has a fascinating essay by historian Gary B. Nash entitled, "Christ's Militia: How evangelical Protestantism came to dominate American religion." The essay explores what can be called a certain entrepreneurial spiritualism among three preachers raised on the margins of society in the half century after the revolution. Nash first delves into Richard Allen, a former slave, who, overcome with religious ecstasy, set out on foot to preach the gospel. By 26, "Allen became the Methodist preacher for free blacks in Philadelphia." Allen would go on to break from the white Methodist church and create his own church focused exclusively on blacks. Nash writes:
The creation of the first autonomous black Christian denomination was as significant for black Americans as Martin Luther's withdrawal from the Catholic Church was for his German followers 240 years earlier.
It was another example of early America's religious life being organized by the common folk, not clergy or theologians. Appropriately, Allen was keen on preaching Jesus' maxim concerning entrance into the Kingdom of Heaven: "The last shall be first and the first shall be last."

The second preacher Nash focuses on is Jarena Lee, a black woman born free. After hearing one of Richard Allen's sermons in her late teens, Ms. Lee heard a voice imploring her to "Go preach the Gospel." Unable to convince Allen to let her preach, she followed his advice and walked the countryside preaching to anyone that would listen. In 1819, back in Allen's church, she arose during a Sunday service as "words tumbled from her mouth" "[t]he crowded church fell under the power of her words." Afterwards, Allen relented, opening the pulpit to her stirring words. According to Nash, her capturing of the pulpit would not occur in other denominations - whether black or white - until the 1970s and 80s.

The last preacher Nash describes is Lorenzo Dow, a poor New Englander that experienced his conversion at 16. Hitting the barriers of parent and preacher alike, Dow struck out on his own at 18 to preach the gospel truth as he perceived it. He was immensely popular, converting so many that the established Methodist church couldn't challenge his right to speak. His power laid: his militant egalitarianism and his understanding of common people. He may have been crazy, but always he was the roving messenger of spiritual equality. In a country born in revolution and founded on the notion that all men are created equal, he warned that concentrated power and ill-gotten wealth were a great beast loose in America...He insisted that God made no distinctions between rich and poor—indeed that the rich were less likely to be heaven-bound than the dispossessed. He railed against tyranny, social pretension, aristocratic airs, the professions of law and medicine. He told common people that they were sovereign, that they must stand independent, that they must think for themselves, take matters into their own hands, and fight all those who were ever ready to oppress and exploit them.
The gospel to these preachers wasn't about dogma and orthodoxy, but about the individual's personal relationship with God, social justice, and liberation.Concepts today's religious right has no affiliation or allegiance to any longer, making them inimical to freedom of religion and democracy itself.

Continue Reading...

Wages Whither

The perception of the average American worker getting smashed against the rocks by economic forces is statistically born out according to both the NYTs and the LA Times. Yesterday, the LA Times put it this way:
For now, workers' wallets are being pummeled by something of a perfect storm of economic forces: a weak job market, rising health insurance premiums and inflationary pressures.
Many point the finger at business, considering corporate profits have risen to "record highs." Yet the LA Times article goes on to say that benefit costs have risen by 7%, therefore eating up the cash set aside for raises. When benefits are added in, employee compensation did outrun inflation. (Don't worry about corporate CEOs though, they did just fine with the typical CEO receiving $9.3 million in 2004 according the Center for American Progress.)

The NYTs article gets a bit more into the nitty-gritty though. Sure, increasing benefit costs are hurting wages, but so is the Wal-Mart effect as well as foreign competition.
Laurie Piazza, a Safeway cashier in Santa Clara, Calif., said she reluctantly voted to approve a pay freeze in the first two years of her union's three-year contract because Safeway insisted that it needed to hold down costs to compete with Wal-Mart. Her take-home pay will fall $20 a week because the contract reduces the premium for working on Sundays to 33 percent of regular pay, from 50 percent.

"We tried to get weekly pay increases, but the company wouldn't do it," said Ms. Piazza, who earns $19 an hour after 18 years on the job. "I think Wal-Mart has a lot to do with this. They're setting the model."

With Wal-Mart moving aggressively into California with supercenters, Safeway officials say they need to clamp down on what they consider high labor costs to meet the challenge.
Increasing foreign competition from lower wage India and China (which I wrote about yesterday) is also putting the screws into American workers as the NYTs article relates.
...Richard B. Freeman, a Harvard economist, predicted that new competition in the form of millions of skilled Chinese, Indian and other Asian workers entering the global labor market will increasingly pull down American wages.

"Globalization is going to make it harder for American workers to have the wage increases and the benefits that we might have expected," he said.

Facing intense foreign competition, Delphi, the auto parts manufacturer, has decided against any merit raises this year for its salaried workers. And at its air bag and door panel factory in Vandalia, Ohio, it persuaded unionized workers to accept a three-year pay freeze, warning that the plant would be closed otherwise.
At the cost of sounding archaic and a bit flaccid, the labor movement along with fellow travelers in civil society - whether it be here or in India or in China - needs to make overtures to each other and truly internationalize unions. An international framework needs to be created, so that multinational corporations, investors, and national governments can't manipulate wage differentials and currency fluctuations to impoverish the many to the benefit of the few. Sure, this sounds like pseudo-Marxian rhetoric, but call me less than novel, I can't think of anything better than multitudes organized democratically exerting force in the market.

Continue Reading...

Monday, April 11, 2005

To the Right of the Pope: the GOP

Here's Frank Rich's dead on assessment of the radical right ruling the executive branch and Congress, within his larger spot-on critique of America's religiously driven "Culture of Death."
If there's one lesson to take away from the saturation coverage of the pope, it is how relatively enlightened he was compared with the men in business suits ruling Washington. Our leaders are not only to the right of most Americans (at least three-quarters of whom opposed Congressional intervention in the Schiavo case) but even to the right of most American evangelical Christians (most of whom favored the removal of Ms. Schiavo's feeding tube, according to Time magazine). They are also, like Mel Gibson and the fiery nun of "Revelations," to the right of the largely conservative pontiff they say they revere. This is true not only on such issues as the war in Iraq and the death penalty but also on the core belief of how life began. Though the president of the United States believes that the jury is still out on evolution, John Paul in 1996 officially declared that "fresh knowledge leads to recognition of the theory of evolution as more than just a hypothesis."
Read the whole thing, it's pretty damn insightful and incisive.

Continue Reading...


Newsflash to American Catholics: If you don't agree with the Vatican all that much - whether it be on abortion, the use of contraceptives, or papal infallibility - then you're not Catholic, but some strain of Protestantism. Geez, why all the reluctance to admit this. I really don't get it. The whole point of Protestantism is in the name: protest. More to the point, protest to Rome, which it seems most American Catholics are. Yet, if you're interested in the way American Catholics perceive themselves and their church, check out this NYTs article.

Continue Reading...

Hit to American Hegemony

India and China have decided to put their differences behind them and have struck a "strategic partnership" of gigantic proportions. As the Post article describes:
the statement announcing the partnership was signed by both premiers and said the agreement would promote diplomatic relations, economic ties and contribute to the two nations "jointly addressing global challenges and threats."
Trade is the decisive factor here:
On Monday, the two leaders agreed to boost bilateral trade to $20 billion by 2008. Last year, trade totaled $13.6 billion, with India recording a trade surplus of $1.75 billion, according to India's trade ministry.

China is keen to develop a free trade area between the two countries. Their combined population is 2 billion, which would make it the largest free trade area in the world. During their talks, Wen and Singh agreed to set up a panel of experts to study the feasibility and benefits that would accrue from establishing such a trade area.
This is a huge deal. As many people know, many of the jobs outsourced from the IT sector have been going to India, while manufacturing jobs the world over have been sucked into China. At the same time, China has been purchasing obscene amounts of U.S. Treasury bonds, that while allowing us to live high on the hog, have been keeping our currency artificially high and therefore pricing a lot of our goods out of foreign markets. The flip side of that means Chinese goods are less expensive around the globe, allowing them to run a trade surplus while we fall farther and farther into debt - a debt that largely Asia owns from buying so much of our Treasury bonds.

The rationale for this strategic alliance is perfectly clear - China and India are trying to usher in a "new Asian century." To be perfectly honest, I don't have the slightest inkling how this will play out (although expect a good number of job losses for average Americans when this free trade area revs up). The only thing I do know is that the Bush Administration and Congress need to get a handle on our trade deficit while ceasing to write checks other countries such as China are financing.

And this may sound a bit militaristic, but the day will probably come when the U.S. has to go to war with China. That's the nature of realpolitik and balance of power theory. Let's not be naive, we're the big kid on the block right now, and there's always someone else who wants to run the schoolyard. That said, shouldn't we keep as much manufacturing capacity as is economically feasible so that we don't have to rely on our enemy for goods that are vital to us during war?

Continue Reading...

Friday, April 08, 2005

Rule of Law

During the week I wrote how any consideration of Pope John Paul II's legacy must account for his role in the child abuse scandals in the U.S. The most shocking was his treatment of Boston's infamous pedophile shuffler, Cardinal Bernard Law. Instead of being held criminally liable for his role in shuttling pedophile priests around the country to "shepard the flock," Cardinal Law resides safely within the confines of Vatican City,appointed by none other than the recently deceased to archpriest of the Basilica of St. Mary Major and, according to the NYTs, "given a spacious apartment." That same article dropped this bombshell:
Cardinal Bernard Law, who was forced to resign in disgrace as archbishop of Boston two years ago for protecting sexually abusive priests, was named by the Vatican today as one of nine prelates who will have the honor of presiding over funeral Masses for Pope John Paul II.
Worse, this abettor of pedophilia will have people hanging over his every word, looking for clues as to who will ascent to Peter's throne.

The Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP)responded with this statement regarding the Vatican's choice of Law to preside over the Pope's funeral:
Law should have the courtesy, decency, and humility to step aside voluntarily, out of deference to the well-being of clergy sex abuse victims, their loved ones, and the laity in the US. If he doesn't, we can only hope that bishops and cardinals around the world will vehemently object to this hurtful decision and insist that Law be replaced.
When Laurie Goodstein of the NYTs asked if Law's record in Boston factored at all in the Vatican's decision, an anonymous official said he "didn't think so," adding "Cardinal Law was not acting as a former Boston archbishop in celebrating the Mass but in 'another capacity - he's one of the senior cardinals.'"

Will Catholics once again look the other way?

Continue Reading...

Culture of Life

Here's White House Press Secretary Scott McCellan doing his damnest to conflate the legacy of Pope John Paul II and President George W. Bush.
...[T]he Holy Father is someone who stood for freedom, for human dignity and promoting a culture of life. And there are many values that the President shared with the Holy Father, and he had great respect for his moral leadership in this world.
Later on in that same press conference, McCellan had this exchange with a reporter:
Q: Scott, you mentioned the culture of life. When Pope John Paul II wrote about the culture of life in 1995, he described it also in terms of the death penalty, not just abortion and euthanasia. He said that in these modern times, cases where the death penalty was warranted are rare, if not nonexistent. Now, knowing that the President fully supports the death penalty, used the death penalty, does he see it as a contradiction to use that phrase, "culture of life," and still support the death penalty, which the Pope expressed his opposition to?

MR. McCLELLAN: Elaine, I think the President's views are well known. I don't think now is the time to talk about where they may have differed on one or two areas. This is a time to honor a great moral leader, someone who, as the President said, was a hero for the ages.
Reporters, remember, you're not supposed to say the emperor's buck naked.

Here's what a "culture of life" meant to former Governor of Texas, George W. Bush. Starting with the most recent, here are the names of the 152 people executed under George W. Bush.

152 Claude Jones 12/07/2000
151 Daniel Hittle 12/06/2000
150 Garry Miller 12/05/2000
149 Tony Chambers 11/15/2000
148 Stacey Lawton 11/14/2000
147 Miguel Flores 11/09/2000
146 Jeffery Dillingham 11/01/2000
145 Ricky McGinn 09/27/2000
144 Jeffery Caldwell 08/30/2000
143 David Gibbs 08/23/2000
142 Richard Jones 08/22/2000
141 John Satterwhite 08/16/2000
140 Oliver Cruz 08/09/2000
139 Brian Roberson 08/09/2000
138 Juan Soria 07/26/2000
137 Orien Joiner 07/12/2000
136 Jessy San Miguel 06/29/2000
135 Gary Graham 06/22/2000
134 Paul Nuncio 06/15/2000
133 John Burks 06/14/2000
132 Thomas Mason 06/12/2000
131 Robert Carter 05/31/2000
130 James Clayton 05/25/2000
129 Richard Foster 05/24/2000
128 James Richardson 05/23/2000
127 Michael McBride 05/11/2000
126 William Kitchens 05/09/2000
125 Tommy Jackson 05/04/2000
124 Timothy Gribble 03/15/2000
123 Ponchai Wilkerson 03/14/2000
122 Odell Barnes, Jr. 03/01/2000
121 Betty Beets 02/24/2000
120 Cornelius Gross 02/23/2000
119 James Moreland 01/27/2000
118 Glen McGinnis 01/25/2000
117 Billy Hughes, Jr. 01/24/2000
116 Larry Robison 01/21/2000
115 David Hicks 01/20/2000
114 Spencer Goodman 01/18/2000
113 Earl Heiselbetz, Jr. 01/12/2000
112 Sammie Felder, Jr. 12/15/1999
111 Robert Atworth 12/14/1999
110 James Beathard 12/09/1999
109 David Long 12/08/1999
108 Jose Gutierrez 11/18/1999
107 John Lamb 11/17/1999
106 Desmond Jennings 11/16/1999
105 Domingo Cantu, Jr. 10/28/1999
104 Jerry McFadden 10/14/1999
103 Alvin Crane 10/12/1999
102 Richard Smith 09/21/1999
101 William Davis 09/14/1999
100 Willis Barnes 09/10/1999
99 Raymond Jones 09/01/1999
98 Joe Trevino, Jr. 08/18/1999
97 James Earheart 08/11/1999
96 Kenneth Dunn 08/10/1999
95 Charles Boyd 08/05/1999
94 Ricky Blackmon 08/04/1999
93 Tyrone Fuller 07/07/1999
92 Charles Tuttle 07/01/1999
91 Joseph Faulder 06/17/1999
90 William Little 06/01/1999
89 Clydell Coleman 05/05/1999
88 Jose De La Cruz 05/04/1999
87 Aaron Foust 04/28/1999
86 Excell White 03/30/1999
85 Charles Rector 03/26/1999
84 Norman Green 02/24/1999
83 Andrew Cantu 02/16/1999
82 Danny Barber 02/11/1999
81 George Cordova 02/10/1999
80 Martin Vega 01/26/1999
79 Troy Farries 01/13/1999
78 John Moody 01/05/1999
77 James Meanes 12/15/1998
76 Jeff Emery 12/08/1998
75 Daniel Corwin 12/07/1998
74 Kenneth McDuff 11/17/1998
73 Jonathan Nobles 10/07/1998
72 Javier Cruz 10/01/1998
71 David Castillo 08/23/1998
70 Delbert Teague, Jr. 09/09/1998
69 Genaro Camacho, Jr. 08/26/1998
68 Leopoldo Narvaiz 06/26/1998
67 Johnny Pyles 06/15/1998
66 Clifford Boggess 06/11/1998
65 Pedro Muniz 05/19/1998
64 Robert Carter 05/18/1998
63 Frank McFarland 04/29/1998
62 Lesley Gosch 04/24/1998
61 Joseph Cannon 04/22/1998
60 Jerry Hogue 03/11/1998
59 Steven Renfro 02/09/1998
58 Karla Tucker 02/03/1998
57 Michael Lockhart 12/09/1997
56 Charlie Livingston 11/21/1997
55 Michael Sharp 11/19/1997
54 Aaron Fuller 11/06/1997
53 Aua Lauti 11/04/1997
52 Kenneth Ransom 10/28/1997
51 Ricky Green 10/08/1997
50 Dwight Adanandus 10/01/1997
49 John Cockrum 09/30/1997
48 Benjamin Stone 09/25/1997
47 Jessel Turner 09/22/1997
46 James Davis 09/09/1997
45 Robert West, Jr. 07/29/1997
44 Irineo Montoya 06/18/1997
43 Eddie Johnson 06/17/1997
42 David Stoker 06/16/1997
41 Earl Behringer 06/11/1997
40 Davis Losada 06/04/1997
39 Dorsie Johnson, Jr. 06/04/1997
38 Kenneth Harris 06/03/1997
37 Patrick Rogers 06/02/1997
36 Robert Madden 05/28/1997
35 Larry White 05/22/1997
34 Bruce Callins 05/21/1997
33 Clarence Lackey 05/20/1997
32 Richard Drinkard 05/19/1997
31 Clifton Belyeu 05/16/1997
30 Anthony Westley 05/13/1997
29 Terry Washington 05/06/1997
28 Ernest Baldree 04/29/1997
27 Benjamin Boyle 04/21/1997
26 Kenneth Gentry 04/16/1997
25 Billy Woods 04/14/1997
24 David Spence 04/03/1997
23 David Herman 04/02/1997
22 John Barefield 03/12/1997
21 Richard Brimage, Jr. 02/10/1997
20 Joe Gonzales, Jr. 09/18/1996
19 Kenneth Granviel 02/27/1996
18 Leo Jenkins 02/09/1996
17 James Briddle 12/12/1995
16 Esequel Banda 12/11/1995
15 Hai Vuong 12/07/1995
14 Bernard Amos 12/06/1995
13 Harold Lane 10/04/1995
12 Carl Johnson 09/19/1995
11 Vernon Sattiewhite 08/15/1995
10 Karl Hammond 06/21/1995
9 John Fearance 06/20/1995
8 Ronald Allridge 06/08/1995
7 Fletcher Mann 06/01/1995
6 Noble Mays 04/06/1995
5 Samuel Hawkins 02/21/1995
4 Billy Gardner 02/16/1995
3 Jeffery Motley 02/07/1995
2 Willie Williams 01/31/1995
1 Clifton Russell, Jr. 01/31/1995

Also of note, Pope John Paul II was strictly opposed to the U.S. invasion of Iraq, calling it, "a defeat for humanity."

Continue Reading...

Thursday, April 07, 2005

Bush-League Reciprocity

What happens when someone commits a felony in another country and flees back to his home country? Typically, that someone would be extradicted, but not if you're a member of the American military.

In another example of American exceptionalism, five U.S. soldiers that allegedly smuggled cocaine from Colombia into the U.S. will not be handed over to stand trial in Colombia, although according to the BBC:
More than 200 Colombian citizens have been extradited to the US to face trial for drug trafficking, under a bilateral deal between the two countries.
Legislator Gustavo Petro had this to say:
"In practical terms, these military personnel committed the alleged crime in Colombia, and according to the extradition treaty, which is bilateral, they should be tried here."
Reciprocity is another word apparently lost on the Bush Administration. Much like the very bad plot-twist in Lethal Weapon 2, it seems the soldiers were working for the U.S. Embassy and therefore cannot be prosecuted under diplomatic immunity laws.

Yet the worst aspect of this little situation is the embarrassment. Colombia receives the 3rd largest aid package of any country from the U.S. government, ostensibly to fight the war on drugs, which is newspeak for Marxist guerillas. So while we lavish billions in aid on Colombia to "stop drug-trafficking," our very own soldiers undermine the U.S. mission by smuggling in the yeah-yo themselves. Then, in a brilliant display of diplomacy, the U.S. circumvents the extradition treaty that has led to the successful prosecution of powerful Colombian drug smugglers in U.S. courts.

Looks like the U.S. Embassy's running a tip-top organization down there.

Where's Riggs and Murtaugh when you need them?

Continue Reading...

How the Tables Have Turned...

Whether the Iraqi government can stablize Iraq and produce a viable democracy is anyone's guess. Whatever occurs, it's hard to argue some justice hasn't been done. As the NYTs reported, Saddam Hussein watched from prison as Jalal Talabani was sworn into the presidency today. Remember, Talabani's a Kurd, so there's something fitting and pleasantly ironic about seeing a Kurd become president of Iraq considering Hussein's campaign of extermination waged against them throughout the 1980s.

Continue Reading...

American Profligancy, Fiscal Theology

More evidence from the Economist that Bush's stewardship of the economy isn't of the conservative variety:
[T]he World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) seem to be trying to stage an intervention. This week, both have come out with reports on the global financial situation—and both reports give warning that America’s fiscal irresponsibility poses serious risks to the world economy.

Neither organisation issues the kind of scathing indictment that might offend its most powerful constituent. Nonetheless, both make it pointedly clear that America’s copious spending is a real, and growing, problem for the rest of the world. America’s 12-month current-account deficit now stands at $665.9 billion, or 5.7% of GDP. Since a negative balance in the current account must be complemented by a positive balance in the capital account, this means that foreign funds are streaming in. America is mortgaging its future to pay for current spending
Who's buying these Treasury bonds you might ask? Asia, which essentially is waging economic warfare against the American dollar to ensure it's over priced.
The natural adjustment mechanism for America’s rapidly growing foreign liabilities would be a declining dollar, which would lower demand for imports and make America’s exports more attractive on foreign markets. But the Asian central banks are stalling this process because they want to keep their currencies from appreciating against the dollar and thus becoming less competitive—and buying sackloads of dollars and then dumping them into US Treasuries achieves just that. This simply enables America to borrow more, making the inevitable adjustment sharper when it comes. That risk, of course, makes dollar-denominated assets less attractive, meaning that the Asian central banks have to go to ever-greater lengths to keep their currencies from appreciating.
As the Economist notes, there's virtually no political will to tackle deficits, i.e. it's not on the Bush Administration's radar. This speaks to the heart of the administration's theological way of doing policy. When the U.S. should be reining in spending to pay off debts, Bush still seeks to make his ill-advised tax cuts permanent as we hemorrhage money to pay for our wars.

Something's got to give, and if we're not careful, it may just be our economy.

Continue Reading...

Wednesday, April 06, 2005

Don't Like the Charter, Don't Join the Club

My editor here at The Washington Monthly, Amy Sullivan, has an informative article advocating the liberal Godfried Danneels, Archbishop of Mechelen-Brussels, as the next pope. Here's why she argues liberal Roman Catholics as well as other progressive theists should advocate for his ascension to the papal throne.
The 72-year-old cardinal is the former head of International Pax Christi, the Catholic peace movement, and has been unusually outspoken for a man who aspires to his church's highest position. In the past few years, Danneels has urged his colleagues to debate controversial questions such as whether an ailing pope should be encouraged, or even forced, to resign; whether women should be allowed to fill top Vatican posts; and whether condoms are an appropriate tool in the fight against AIDS. Comments like these haven't made Danneels too popular in the Vatican. But in challenging the Church to embrace a new kind of openness, Danneels is championing a concept that was born in the Second Vatican Council. Perhaps more than any other leader in the Church today, Danneels has promoted what he calls "a culture of debate" that bucks the tradition of carefully choreographed Church gatherings--and would allow bishops to grapple with the pressing questions that really face their parishioners.
On pragmatic grounds,this would be an unparalleled good, especially if the Church could get behind contraceptives in Africa. Frank, open discussions about contraception and female priests could do a lot to bring liberals back to the Catholic fold. But I don't see this happening, and to be honest, I don't think the Church should bend on these principles - at least contraceptives. (There's no where in The Bible where women are excluded from being the shepards;actually, there's significant evidence that women led masses for centuries after Jesus of Nazareth's crucifixion.)

Therefore, I respectfully disagree when Sullivan argues:
While it is a common observation that liberals have left churches over the past few decades, it is also true that churches have too often left liberals.
How can churches leave liberals when their corpus of church theology is supported by papal decrees that are beyond earthly repute? For Catholics, contraceptives are wrong because sex is solely for procreation, which is why sex outside of marriage is also sinful. Now I don't believe the first two tenets, which essentially, like it or not, excludes me from being Catholic. (Which is good, because I'm an avowed, confident atheist.)

The point is that the Catholic Church essentially has core conditions you must uphold, or at least try your best to uphold, to be one of the faithful. So if you have no problems with open homosexuality, believe abortion is a legitimate choice and not essentially immoral, or believe the state has the right to end criminals' lives, you're not Catholic. I'm not judging; I'm just stating the objective, verifiable conditions a Catholic must try to meet.

If you don't believe in these conditions, this doesn't mean you're God-less, or not a spiritual person, but it does mean you shouldn't find yourself in a confessional booth any time soon, unless that is, your repenting for those above beliefs or practices. Essentially if you don't like the charter, don't join the club.

Another reason the Church hasn't left liberals behind is because church doctrine is supposedly apolitical, following the heavenly father's commands, not the subjective yearnings of man. Besides, lefties can find plenty of examples of beliefs entirely compatible with their beliefs: largely anti-war, anti-death penalty, and the doctrine of the preferential option for the poor.

For left-liberals, religious or otherwise, the most important thing is to advocate the social gospel of the historical Jesus, and leave the dogma and other-worldliness behind.

Continue Reading...

Oil and Its Relation to U.S. Foreign Policy

Via the Economist, high oil prices are here to stay. Here's why.
... [A]s the authors of the Goldman Sachs report point out, the laws of supply and demand are catching up with an oil-hungry world. There is barely any excess capacity in the oil industry, which makes it hard for the market to meet new demand. Russia, the producer to whom markets have been looking for salvation, has seen its rapid production growth level off in recent months, and the other non-OPEC nations are thought to be producing about as much as they can. Meanwhile, even OPEC has little margin to spare: by one estimate, the cartel can pump only another 1.5m bpd—a small fraction of its members’ current quotas of 27.5m bpd—before it smacks up against its production ceiling. With the International Energy Agency (IEA) forecasting oil demand to grow by 1.81m bpd in 2005, supply and demand would seem to be heading for a showdown.
The rest of the article indirectly demonstrates why U.S. foreign policy is concentrated on access to strategic resources such as oil.
Part of the reason that prices are so high is that today’s tight margins mean that a natural disaster or political unrest can leave the world without enough oil to go round. With big producers like Nigeria, Venezuela and Iraq looking unstable, people selling contracts to deliver oil in the future are demanding a hefty premium to cover the risk that the contract may mature in the middle of a shortage.
This is why people on both sides of the aisle sound ridiculous when the discussion of oil gets mixed up with Iraq. The right sounds foolish because oil had to be a big factor in the decision to invade Iraq, while the left sounds foolish because the U.S. and the globe has to have access to more and more oil as more countries develop, or the global economy will go south. Like it or not, the world is reliant on the U.S. economy to keep the motor of global commerce running. As the Economist ruminates:
Perhaps the biggest worry of all is America, which is highly exposed to the price of oil, because of its low taxes, and because oil is priced in its currency. America has led the way out of the global slowdown. If oil prices hit hard, might it lead the way back into the next one?
Obviously, the U.S. needs to avoid this, so expect more interventions by the U.S. in the internal affairs of other oil-producing countries, particularly Venezuela under Chavez. Like it or not, (and I dont'), this is why realpolitik foreign policy has no room for moralizing.

Continue Reading...

Taco Bell's Trajabadores

Eric Schlosser of Fast Food Nation and Reefer Madness fame has a good op-ed in today's NYTs. It seems Taco Bell's parent company, Yum Brands - which also owns Pizza Hut, KFC, among others - has agreed to pay the migrant workers that pick their tomatoes a penny more a pound, doubling their wages. Good news, but Schlosser goes on to document the continuing problem of indentured servitude among illegal immigrants.
Today the majority of America's farm workers are illegal immigrants. They often live in run-down trailers, sheds, garages and motels, where a dozen or so may share a room. Their status as black market labor makes them fearful of being deported, wary of union organizers and vulnerable to exploitation. The typical migrant farm worker is a young Mexican male who earns less than $8,000 a year.

The working conditions in the fields of Florida are especially bad. According to a recent study by the Urban Institute, perhaps 80 percent of the migrants in Florida are illegal immigrants. They are usually employed by labor contractors, who charge them for food, housing, transportation - and, on occasion, smuggling fees. These charges are often deducted from workers' paychecks, trapping migrants in debt. Since 1996, six cases of involuntary servitude have resulted in convictions in Florida; many others have probably gone undetected. In one of these cases, hundreds of farm workers were held captive by labor contractors based in La Belle and Immokalee, Fla., forced to work without pay and warned that their tongues would be cut off if they tried to escape. The Florida legislature has done little to help migrants. Agriculture is the state's second-largest industry, after tourism, and many legislators have close ties with leading growers.
What was documented by John Sayles's magnificient film, Matewan, survives into the 21st century. But as Schlosser's editorial points out, NGOs can successfully battle for change.
The Coalition of Immokalee Workers is one of the few organizations willing to fight for migrant workers in Florida. Founded in 1996 and based in the town of Immokalee, amid lush tomato fields and citrus groves, the group helped the United States Justice Department gain convictions in five of the six slavery cases. During the late 1990's members of the coalition learned that Taco Bell was a major purchaser of tomatoes grown in Immokalee, where the wages of migrants (adjusted for inflation) had fallen by as much as 60 percent during the previous two decades. The coalition asked the fast food chain to pressure its Florida suppliers, seeking a wage increase and guarantees that human rights would be respected. When Taco Bell failed to respond, the coalition started a nationwide boycott in April 2001, focusing its efforts at high schools and college campuses. "Boot the Bell!" was the rallying cry, as students tried to close Taco Bells and block the opening of new ones.
Yum Brands finally relented, with Jonathon Blum, a senior vice president at Yum, articulating this astonishing quote, "Human rights are universal, indentured servitude by suppliers is strictly forbidden."

Much like traditional service workers in the United States need to organize Wal-Mart, the next target for migrant worker advocates needs to be industry giant, McDonald's. As Schlosser notes, Mc-e-D's is "one of the nation's leading purchasers of lettuce, tomatoes, apples and pickled cucumbers."

These Davids of the field will need to super-size themselves to win that battle. To see what you can do, check out the Coalition of Immokalee Workers' website.

Continue Reading...

Drop the Hammer

Don't like corruption in government? Don't enjoy Corporate America buying politicians? Then you need to get behind this.


Believe it or not: you might be subsidizing Tom DeLay's legal defense when you buy an airline ticket, make a phone call or have a happy hour cocktail. A network of large corporate backers – including American Airlines, Verizon and Bacardi – have poured thousands into Tom DeLay's legal defense trust. It's time for this to stop. Visit and send a message to these corporations. Tell them to stop enabling Tom DeLay's unethical behavior. Let these corporations know that unless they stop supporting Tom DeLay, you'll stop supporting them.
As the NYTs reported today, DeLay's own PACs and campaign committees have been spoiling his wife and daughter to the whopping cost of $500,000 since 2001, naturally for services rendered of course. Who said public servantry doesn't pay.

Continue Reading...