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“They Need Jobs, So Let Them Burn”: Fox Business Host On Bangladeshi Fire Victims, “Let’s Not Victimize Poor Walmart”

Fox Business host and self-evidently despicable person Charles Payne:

It is tragic. I don’t think something like this will happen again. Don’t think that the people in Bangladesh who perished didn’t want or need those jobs, as well. I know we like to victimize everyone in this country, particularly when it comes to for-profit motivation, which is being assaulted. But, you know, it is a tragedy but I think it is a stretch, an amazing stretch, to sort of try to pin this on Walmart but, of course, the unions in this country are desperate.

Let’s take this line by line.

“It is tragic.” Said in an offhanded “let’s get this out of the way so I’m not accused of being heartless” way.

“I don’t think something like this will happen again.” Actually, it happens a lot. Hundreds of garment workers in Bangladesh have been killed in fires in recent years. In fact, at least 10 people were injured in another garment factory fire Monday. It’s true that a fire killing more than 100 people is rare, if that’s what Payne means by “something like this,” but if he just means a fatal fire in a Bangladeshi garment factory, then yeah, it’s going to happen again unless there are big, big changes in labor and workplace safety laws there.

“Don’t think that the people in Bangladesh who perished didn’t want or need those jobs, as well.” Well, Charles, people need jobs. But the thing is, “I need this job” and “I look forward to choosing between burning to death or jumping out of an eight-story building to escape burning to death” are two very different things. “I need this job” should not be a license for exploitation. In fact, garment workers have been fighting to improve working conditions even though by law they are not allowed to unionize, unlike many other workers in Bangladesh. Though the minimum wage for garment workers is now just $38 a month, less than two thirds of the country’s per capita income, that $38 represents a big increase that workers protested and fought for this year. Yes, these workers need jobs, but their fight to make those jobs better, and the large protests they’ve staged in the wake of this fire, show that it’s not as simple as “well, they need jobs, so let them burn.”

“I know we like to victimize everyone in this country, particularly when it comes to for-profit motivation, which is being assaulted.” Victimize? Let’s talk about victims. Like the at least 112 victims of this fire in which there were no fire extinguishers, exits were inadequate or even locked, and one manager reportedly told people to get back to work after a fire alarm sounded. I’m pretty sure they, and not the profit motive, are the victims here.

“But, you know, it is a tragedy but I think it is a stretch, an amazing stretch, to sort of try to pin this on Walmart but, of course, the unions in this country are desperate.” In the wake of this fire, it kind of defies belief how many companies whose clothes were found in the burned factory have said their clothes shouldn’t have been there anymore, that, yes, they’d used that factory in the past but had stopped just in time to deny that their clothes should have been there. Amazing. So no, it’s not just Walmart. It’s also Sears and Dickies and Ikea and who knows what other companies. But as the largest retailer in the world, Walmart does more than any other company to set prices and labor conditions for manufacturers.

Really, Payne might as well have said, “I realize I’m supposed to say this is tragic, but I’m a little confused about why I’m supposed to think the tragedy is the loss of more than 100 lives and not the potential threat to Walmart’s profits.”


By: Laura Clawson, Daily Kos, November 27, 2012

November 28, 2012 Posted by | Corporations | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“The Politics Of The Nones”: The Demographic That Should Keep Rove Awake At Night

Imagine a demographic that has doubled its share of the population over the past two decades, is up by 25 percent over the past four years, and now accounts for as many as one in five Americans. Imagine that this demographic votes disproportionately for one political party—to the tune of 70 percent for Obama versus 26 percent for Romney in the 2012 election. Sounds like a demographic that ought to be of interest to politicians, journalists, and activists, right?

That demographic consists of people who describe themselves as atheist, agnostic, or religiously unaffiliated—the “nones,” as they’re sometimes called. And it hasn’t attracted anywhere near the attention it deserves in the postgame analysis of the 2012 election.

A quick Google search turns up 64,000 results concerning the GOP’s “Latino problem” that became evident in exit poll data on Election Day. Latinos represented around 10 percent of the electorate in 2011, up from nine percent in 2008, and they voted for Obama at a rate of 71 percent. But it’s the nones that should be keeping Karl Rove up at night. Pew put them at 12 percent of the electorate in its exit poll data, and at 19.6 percent in its earlier general survey. (The difference appears to have more to do with polling methodology than with voting habits.)

The Public Religion Research Institute, in a study published on November 15, pegs the religiously unaffiliated at 16 percent of the electorate—and they figure that 78 percent of the category went for Obama. Crucially, like Latinos, the nones are young. One in three Americans under 30 are religiously unaffiliated—four times the rate for the over-65 cohort that keeps Rove in business. This isn’t a trickle, it’s a tsunami.

Google also shows that there’s no shortage of interest in the Republican Party’s “white problem.” The white electorate, long the bread-and-butter of Republican victories, has declined from 81 percent in 2000 to 72 percent in 2012. But if you look under the hood, the Republicans’ white problem is worse than these numbers suggest. For one thing, Romney’s white majority mostly came from racking up huge margins among Southern and rural whites, while Obama actually captured majorities of whites in many blue states and blue urban areas.

The most interesting way to divide whites in America, however, may not be by region, but by religion—or lack thereof. White evangelicals, according to Pew, were as red in 2012 as they’ve ever been. They went 78 percent for Romney, up from 74 percent for McCain. The bad news for the Republicans is that, according to Pew, the evangelical share of the population continues to erode—from 21 percent in 2007 to 19 percent in 2012—while the number of the religiously unaffiliated is rising—from 16 percent to 20 percent over the same period. In other words, “nones” and evangelicals are equivalent in numbers.

One explanation for this change in America’s religious complexion is that white Christians are aging: 72 percent of voters over 65 are white Christians, compared to only 26 percent of voters under 30. Pew also tells us that most of the unaffiliated are white—and that much of their growth has come from the white population. That said, lack of religious affiliation is also common among Asian Americans: while 42 percent of Asian Americans identify as Christian, 26 percent report themselves as religiously unaffiliated, in a significant increase over the general population, and 73 percent of Asian Americans voted for Obama.

Like any group of this size, the religiously unaffiliated aren’t monolithic. About a third self-identify as atheists, while the rest say they are agnostic, “spiritual but not religious,” or simply uninterested in religion. They are spread fairly evenly across education and income levels. And they’re politically diverse when it comes to economic ideas. But they do seem to largely agree on one thing: that mixing religion with politics is a bad idea.

Which brings me back to the recent election. If the statistical data seem unreliable, just think back on the extraordinary nature of the debate in 2012. Never before have the culture wars been fought so forcefully on both sides. While the spectacle of Republicans declaring holy war has become old hat, this was the first election in which one of the parties explicitly endorsed same-sex marriage; this was the first election in which one party defended a woman’s right to reproductive freedom without apology or hesitation; and this season also saw the passage of a number of same-sex marriage ballot initiatives, as well as the election of the nation’s first openly lesbian senator.

Some on the right could scarcely believe that this is what America really wants. “Millions of Americans looked evil in the eye and adopted it,” wrote Liberty Counsel’s Mat Staver in his post-election commentary. He has a point—except that, for the majority of Americans, the “evil” they looked in the eye was the one they rejected on November 6. Others on the right, like the Rev. Dr. Albert Mohler Jr., president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, did get it: “It’s not that our message—we think abortion is wrong, we think same-sex marriage is wrong—didn’t get out. It did get out… It’s that the entire moral landscape has changed. An increasingly secularized America understands our positions, and has rejected them.”

So why haven’t the “nones” gotten the political respect they deserve? Part of the answer is that discrimination against nonbelievers—a large portion of the unaffiliated—remains an acceptable form of bigotry. More than half of Americans continue to say that they would never vote for an atheist for president—many more than will cop to being unwilling to vote for a black or gay person. Politicians are reluctant to associate themselves with such a seemingly toxic group.

The other part of the problem has more to do with a failure of the imagination on both sides of the religious divide. “Nones” (as that unfortunate label suggests) are typically represented by what they are not. They—or at least many of them—do not believe in God, they are charged with lacking “values,” and are suspected of not really being American. But this is nonsense. The unaffiliated do have beliefs, just not necessarily about theistic entities; they have just as many “values” as any other group; and their presence is firmly rooted in American history in helping create the world’s first secular republic.

Although the unaffiliated should not be conflated with atheists, it’s worth concentrating on them as they’re clearly the most feared subcategory. When atheists support same-sex marriage, for example, it’s not because they don’t believe in marriage, it’s because they believe in love and commitment. When they insist on removing creationism from public school curricula, it’s because they believe in the power of science and reason to improve the human condition. And if one should really need proof that atheists are as moral as any other group, they can call in some studies, or look at the growing body of research suggesting that humans’ sense of morality is hardwired and innate.

The politics of the nones in America remains to be written. This diverse group seems united primarily in its members’ opposition to the toxic blurring of religion and government. But if trends continue, perhaps we can look forward to the day when the word “values” is no longer used in political campaigns as a code word for bigotry.


By: Katherine Stewart, Religion Dispatches, November 26, 2012

November 28, 2012 Posted by | Politics, Religion | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“The Emergency Exits Are Always Open”: Wal-Mart’s Strategy Of Deniability For Workers’ Safety

Bangladesh is half a world away from Bentonville, the Arkansas city where Wal-Mart is headquartered. This week, Wal-Mart surely wishes it were farther away than that.

Over the weekend, a horrific fire swept through a Bangladesh clothing factory, killing more than 100 workers, many of whose bodies were burnt so badly that they could not be identified. In its gruesome particulars — locked doors, no emergency exits, workers leaping to their deaths — the blaze seems a ghastly centennial reenactment of the Triangle Shirtwaist fire of 1911, when 146 workers similarly jumped to their deaths or were incinerated after they found the exit doors were locked.

The signal difference between the two fires is location. The Triangle building was located directly off New York’s Washington Square. Thousands watched the appalling spectacle of young workers leaping to the sidewalks 10 stories down; reporters and photographers were quickly on the scene. It’s not likely, however, that the Bangladesh disaster was witnessed by anyone from either the United States or Europe — the two markets for which the clothes made inside that factory were destined. For that, at least, Wal-Mart should consider itself fortunate.

The Bangladesh factory supplied clothing to a range of retailers, and officials who have toured the site said they found clothing with a Faded Glory label — a Wal-Mart brand. Wal-Mart says that the factory, which had received at least one bad report for its fire-safety provisions, was no longer authorized to make its clothing but one of the suppliers in the company’s very long supply chain had subcontracted the work there “in direct violation of our policies.”

If this were an isolated incident of Wal-Mart denying responsibility for the conditions under which the people who make and move its products labor, then the Bangladeshi disaster wouldn’t reflect quite so badly on the company. But the very essence of the Wal-Mart system is to employ thousands upon thousands of workers through contractors and subcontractors and sub-subcontractors, who are compelled by Wal-Mart’s market power and its demand for low prices to cut corners and skimp on safety. And because Wal-Mart isn’t the employer of record for these workers, the company can disavow responsibility for their conditions of work.

This system isn’t reserved just for workers in faraway lands: Tens of thousands of American workers labor under similar arrangements. Many are employed at little more than the minimum wage in the massive warehouses in the inland exurbs of Los Angeles, where Wal-Mart’s imports from Asia are trucked from the city’s harbor to be sorted and packaged and put on the trucks and trains that take them to Wal-Mart stores for a thousand miles around.

The warehouses are run by logistics companies with which Wal-Mart contracts, and most of the workers are employed by some of the 200-plus temporary employment companies that have sprung up in the area — even though many of the workers have worked in the same warehouses for close to a decade. Last year, the California Department of Industrial Relations, suspecting that many of these workers were being cheated, charged one logistics company that runs a warehouse for Wal-Mart with failing to provide its employees with pay stubs and other information on their pay rates. Wal-Mart itself was not cited. That’s the beauty of its chain of deniability.

A small band of these warehouse workers has been demonstrating for the past couple of months to bring attention to the bizarrely contingent nature of their employment and the abuses that flow from it. Their numbers were augmented Friday by actual Wal-Mart employees in stores around the nation, calling attention to the everyday low wages and absence of benefits that the vast majority of the company’s 1.4 million U.S. employees receive.

Other discount retailers — notably Costco and Trader Joe’s — pay their workers far more, train them more extensively, have much lower rates of turnover and much higher rates of sales per employee, according to a Harvard Business Review article by Zeynep Ton of the MIT Sloan School of Management. Costco is a very profitable business, but Wal-Mart maintains an even higher profit margin, which it achieves by underpaying its employees. The conservative economic blogger Megan McArdle estimates that if Wal-Mart held its profit margin down to Costco’s level, its average worker would make about $2,850 more each year — a considerable increase in a sector where workers’ earnings average less than $25,000 a year.

But Wal-Mart neither pays its own nor takes responsibility for those who make and move its wares. For America’s largest private-sector employer, the emergency exits are always open.


By: Harold Meyerson, Opinion Writer, The Washington Post, November 27, 2012

November 28, 2012 Posted by | Businesses, Corporations | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“A Cherry On Their Sundae”: Behind The GOP Game On Susan Rice

This point bears emphasizing, I think. I suspect that the Republicans want to block Rice because they want Obama to name John Kerry because they believe that Scott Brown can win that seat back. And as I’ve written before, he probably can, in my admittedly somewhat removed view (but also in the view of certain Bostonians I’ve consulted on the matter)

McCain and Graham have other motivations: getting a scalp, keeping phony impeachment hopes alive, etc. But let’s not forget that these guys are politicians, and senators, and they think of politics and the Senate first. One less Democrat in the Senate would make for a nice little cherry on their sundae.

Which raises another point that deserves attention. If Harry Reid is going to push filibuster reform next January, why should they not include a provision that the minority can’t filibuster certain categories of major appointments? The number of vacancies in this administration, judgeships and other key positions, is mind-boggling, and it reached the point where the administration simply stopped trying to fill positions because some wingnut senator was placing a hold on every single nomination.

This too needs exposure to the old harsh disinfectant. But if Ayotte really puts a hold on Rice, I spect that’ll get lots of attention. Swell move by the party allegedly trying to reach out now to nonwhite voters eh?

By: Michael Tomasky, The Daily Beast, November 27, 2012

November 28, 2012 Posted by | Senate | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“The Pretzel Logic Of The Right”: Another Perceived Attack On The Sovereignty Of America, God And Family!

It’s hardly news any more when conservatives oppose ratification of a treaty reflecting widely shared American values. Concern for U.S. “sovereignty,” often based on conspiracy theories about the United Nations and other multinational organizations the U.S. helped create, has become a reflexive excuse for a kind of rigid unilateralism once associated with the John Birch Society or even older, isolationist conservatives.

But the current conservative fight to kill ratification of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) is especially interesting because the most avid opponents are the cultural conservatives who often profess solidarity with the disabled as part of their fight against legalized abortion. Anti-choicers and home-schoolers, however, have declared war on the convention on the theory that it confirms the “reproductive rights” of people with disabilities, and/or might confer other rights upon them that intefere with the absolute power of the family (presumably a servant-leader male-directed family) to raise children as they wish.

Thus it’s not surprising that Rick Santorum is at the head of this particular parade in the Senate, which raises the ire of WaPo’s Dana Milbank:

The former presidential candidate pronounced his “grave concerns” about the treaty, which forbids discrimination against people with AIDS, who are blind, who use wheelchairs and the like. “This is a direct assault on us,” he declared at a news conference….

[Mike] Lee, a tea party favorite, said he, too, has “grave concerns” about the document’s threat to American sovereignty. “I will do everything I can to block its ratification, and I have secured the signatures of 36 Republican senators, all of whom have joined with me saying that we will oppose any ratification of any treaty during this lame-duck session.”

Lame or not, Santorum and Lee recognized that it looks bad to be disadvantaging the disabled in their quest for fair treatment. Santorum praised Lee for having “the courage to stand up on an issue that doesn’t look to be particularly popular to be opposed.”

Courageous? Or just contentious? The treaty requires virtually nothing of the United States. It essentially directs the other signatories to update their laws so that they more closely match the Americans with Disabilities Act. Even Lee thought it necessary to preface his opposition with the qualifier that “our concerns with this convention have nothing to do with any lack of concern for the rights of persons with disabilities.”

Their concerns, rather, came from the dark world of U.N. conspiracy theories. The opponents argue that the treaty, like most everything the United Nations does, undermines American sovereignty — in this case via a plot to keep Americans from home-schooling their children and making other decisions about their well-being.

And so, Santorum brought his famous daughter Bella, who suffers from a severe birth defect, to the hearing where he fought against acknowledgement of the rights of people like her.

This is where the pretzel logic of the Right can lead.


By: Ed Kilgore, Contributing Writer, Washington Monthly Political Animal, November 27, 2012

November 28, 2012 Posted by | Anti-Choice, Conspiracy Theories | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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