Monthly Archives: April 2013

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Mario Piperni on Arizona Guns

Gun Crazy Arizona Does it Again

APRIL 30, 2013 BY  

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I’m not sure that ‘crazy’ is strong enough an adjective to describe the many (or few) who go to the absurd lengths they do in defending America’s out-of-control gun culture. Case in point – Arizona’s Republican legislators.

Last year, Arizona passed a law that forces law enforcement agencies to sell all seized guns to licensed gun dealers instead of destroying the weapons as was the custom. The idea behind the law was, of course, that destroying even a single gun in America is tantamount to defiling the flag or, god forbid, speak ill of Ronald Reagan. Such abuse would not be tolerated in Arizona.

But there was a little loophole in the law that Arizona state Republicans failed to notice when drafting the bill. The law did not prevent local municipalities from destroying guns they obtained in buyback events as was the intent behind buyback programs. Didn’t want your gun any longer? No problem. Sell it through a buyback program, make a few dollars and know that the gun would be safely removed from circulation.

Well that could not be allowed to happen in Arizona. It was time for a new law.

Under House Bill 2455 that passed the state Senate on Tuesday, all guns voluntarily turned in at buyback events in Arizona must be sold back to dealers. Here’s how the Arizona GOP defended the new law.

“It’s not about protecting Second Amendment rights, it’s about protecting the taxpayers,” said Sen. Rick Murphy, R-Peoria. He also argued that the state doesn’t require the destruction of cars involved in fatal accidents, so requiring guns to be destroyed is simply a feel-good measure that protects no one.

As Steve Benen points out, Arizona Republicans have turned gun buyback programs into gun recycling programs, “watch the assault rifle go from the street … to the police … to the gun dealers … back to the street.

As I said, a stronger word than crazy is needed to describe these people.

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Humor: The Borowitz Report

Scalia Never Going to Another N.B.A. Game

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WASHINGTON (The Borowitz Report)—Justice Antonin Scalia disrupted the normally tranquil atmosphere of the Supreme Court today, bursting from his office to shout, “I’m never going to another damn N.B.A. game as long as I live!”

While it was unclear what, exactly, had provoked Justice Scalia’s outburst, one of his clerks said that “he saw something on ESPN that really upset him.”

After emerging from their offices to see the source of the commotion, the other Justices found a visibly agitated Justice Scalia, his face beet-red and his entire body shaking with rage.

“I’ve gone to basketball games my entire life,” he bellowed. “I always thought that was a ‘safe place.’ Well, I guess I was wrong. I guess I’ve been wrong about a lot of things, haven’t I? Haven’t I?”

As Justice Clarence Thomas wordlessly moved to comfort him, Justice Scalia rebuffed his fellow-juror.

“Get away from me, Clarence!” he screamed. “I can’t trust anyone anymore.”

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Photograph by Manuel Balce Ceneta/AP.

Mario Piperni on Too Little, Too Late

What If Bush v. Gore Never Happened?

APRIL 29, 2013 BY  

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Retired Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, ponders Bush v. Gore, the Supreme Court case that decided the 2000 presidential election.

Looking back, O’Connor said, she isn’t sure the high court should have taken the case.

“It took the case and decided it at a time when it was still a big election issue,” O’Connor said during a talk Friday with the Tribune editorial board. “Maybe the court should have said, ‘We’re not going to take it, goodbye.’”

The case, she said, “stirred up the public” and “gave the court a less-than-perfect reputation.”

“Obviously the court did reach a decision and thought it had to reach a decision,” she said. “It turned out the election authorities in Florida hadn’t done a real good job there and kind of messed it up. And probably the Supreme Court added to the problem at the end of the day.

I’ll go out on a limb and say that O’Connor’s regret has less to do with the court having accepted the case (which it should not have) as it has to do with her voting with the other four conservatives on the bench in the 5-4 decision. It’s anyone’s guess as to whether 9-11 would have happened under a Gore presidency. It would be nice to think that Gore would have taken seriously the August 6 intelligence briefing titled, “Bin Laden Determined To Strike in U.S.” instead of dismissing it as Bush did by telling the briefer, “All right. You’ve covered your ass, now.

We can’t know for sure what would have happened with 9-11…but you sure as hell know that had O’Connor not cast her vote with the other Republican-appointed judges in Bush v. Gore, there would have been no Dick Cheney in the administration. No Cheney to bring his neocon fantasies to life would have meant no Iraq war. No Iraq war would have meant no trillion dollar deficit added to the debt. No 4500 dead Americans. No 100,000 to 500,000 dead Iraqis. No added reason to fuel worldwide contempt for America thereby giving rise to more acts of terrorism.

I’ll go out on a limb and say that Sandra Day O’Connor now understands all this and is rational enough to understand that she had a hand in unleashing on to a country and an unsuspecting world, George W. Bush – a simple-minded man of low intellect who was in way over his head from the get-go. The O’Connor decision to stop the ballot count in Florida in 2000 resulted in – quite literally – death, destruction and economic collapse.

O’Connor’s regret is too little, too late. Bush broke the country…and the conservative wing of the Supreme Court is as much to blame as any other single factor.

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Humor: The Borowitz Report

Republicans: Obama Must Take Action in Syria So We Can Criticize Action He Took in Syria

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WASHINGTON (The Borowitz Report)—A growing chorus of Republican lawmakers are demanding that President Obama take some action in Syria so that they can attack whatever action he took in Syria.

Appearing on CBS’s “Face the Nation” on Sunday, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-South Carolina) laid out the situation in stark terms: “The time for President Obama to do something in Syria that we can eviscerate him for is long overdue.”

Arguing that there are a variety of options available to Mr. Obama for dealing with Syria, Sen. Graham said, “The President needs to choose one of those options so that we can immediately identify it as a catastrophic choice and demand that he be impeached.”

Sen. John McCain (R-Arizona) used an appearance on NBC’s “Meet the Press” to express impatience with Mr. Obama’s “steadfast refusal to give us something new to rake him over the coals for.”

“The American people have grown weary of my nonstop criticism of the President’s handling of Libya,” he said. “They are ready to hear me incessantly berate him for his handling of a different country.”

At the end of his television appearance, Sen. McCain seemed to draw a line in the sand, making a direct challenge to Mr. Obama: “Mr. President, we are sick and tired of attacking you for your inaction. The time has come for us to attack you for your action.”

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Photograph by Olivier Douliery/Getty.

Firedoglake & the Corporate State

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The Rise of the Corporate State

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The middle class is dying. Chart after chart, story after story, poll after poll, all show that the claim that we are a middle class nation are hollow fiction. This column by Charles Blow in the New York Times sums up one recent poll:

An Allstate/National Journal Heartland Monitor poll released Thursday found that while most Americans (56 percent) hold out hope that they‘ll be in a higher class at some point, even more Americans (59 percent) are worried about falling out of their current class over the next few years. In fact, more than eight in 10 Americans believe that more people have fallen out of the middle class than moved into it in the past few years.

The poll results are ugly. People know things are bad, they know they are screwed, and they are coming to the realization that the problem is the giant corporations and their rapacious executives. A majority of people polled, 54%, believe that the actions of corporate CEOs have made things worse for the middle class. A majority of people who self-identify as middle class have figured this out as well. P. 15, item 40. Similar majorities also see that financial institutions have made things worse. It’s a short step from here to figuring out that these CEOs aren’t acting in a vacuum. They are motivated in large part by the demands of the richest Americans, the owners and controlling shareholders of these corporations. We are an oligarchy.

This didn’t come out of the blue. It was predicted by C. Wright Mills, the prescient sociologist, who died in 1962 at the height of his powers. We recently had Stanley Aronowitz at a Book Salon to discuss his book, Taking It Big, which discusses Mills’ intellectual life in the context of his time. Mills asserts that there are five major groups that influence the socialization of people in the US: family, religion, mega-corporations, the political directorate, and the military. The initial socialization of children comes from family and religion. For a chosen few, the next step is induction into the leadership of one of the other groups. The rest of us for the most part become fodder for corporate interests or for the military.

We see how that socialization works for corporate fodder. Work hard and keep your nose clean, and maybe you can make a decent living. Or maybe we’ll fire you because we want to make more money or because we don’t like you. Or because we checked your credit score and we didn’t like it. Or because you didn’t wear enough flair. The random outcomes keep people off-balance, and working harder and harder, like perseverating pecking pigeons.

Perhaps you thought your technical and professional skills would protect you, but that’s not true, as all too many excellent computer coders, engineers, accountants and lawyers have learned. It’s no different for many professionals in private practice, and even for middle level administrators. The plain fact is that your success or failure doesn’t depend on your skills, but on whether you get lucky in your selection of a career and an employer.

It’s obvious that the hyper-rich and their corporations are the dominant institution today. The other institutions, the military and the political strive to please them in the hopes of a giant payoff when they leave those sectors. They eagerly leap to meet the demands of the oligarchs to preserve their own wealth and power, and they do only what they must to serve the people who ostensibly put them in power, always in forms such as civil liberties or adequate funding of tower operators so you can fly on schedule; and never in ways that might affect the material wealth of the oligarchs or their grasping for more of that wealth.

Aronowitz writes:

[Mills’s book] The Power Elite and especially Mills’s bold theory that democracy simply did not apply in America at the national level provoked a massive outpouring of condemnation – and a modest trickle of praise, mainly from the Left. P. 168

There is the problem. There was only a modest trickle of praise from the Left, because the Left, or whatever was left of the Left, had joined the universal celebration of America as the Shining City on the Hill, an entire nation united in praise of capitalism and rejection of all alternatives. Corporations and their controlling oligarchs are the rightful authority. The political directorate, supposedly the apex of democracy, flatly refuses to apply the rule of law to our corporate overlords.

The great bulk of us join in this celebration of the American/Capitalist dreamworld, even when, as the polls show, we know it is failing us and our families. What alternative does the Left have to offer? The entire edifice of left economic thought is based on Keynes, and you can barely find any discussion of his ideas by President Obama or other politicians. Even the public disgrace of the intellectual basis for austerity, the Rogoff-Reinhart paper, which followed years of anguish in countries devoted to it, hasn’t awakened interest in either political or economic alternatives.

I identify this as a problem for the Left because historically, the dissent that moves nations forward comes from the left. Today mostly what passes for the Left calls for amelioration of the misery, or even in some cases, justification. But that doesn’t exhaust the possibilities. The Modern Money Theory school has no credibility in the mainstream press or in political circles or in academia beyond a few schools, despite the fact that its ideas are logical and helpful. Who else is there with some dissenting theory?

Corporations and the oligarchs who control them are no longer under the control of democracy. How badly will they beat the people who cling to their self-description as middle class and their dreams of something better for their children before something changes? And why should we think we have some better idea about how to organize things, when our intellectual elites have nothing to contribute?

Mario Piperni on the Church

Popes, Pedophiles and Saints-to-Be

APRIL 28, 2013 BY  

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When an enabler of sexual abuse directed at children sits on the threshold of sainthood, you know you’re living in a world of screwed-up priorities.

The canonisation of Wojtyla is getting closer quickly and it could be celebrated next October. In fact, in the past few days, the medical council of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints has recognized as inexplicable one healing attributed to the blessed John Paul II. A supposed “miracle” that, if it is also approved by theologians and the cardinals (as it is very likely), will bring the Polish Pope, who died in 2005, the halo of sainthood in record time, just eight years after his death.

Here’s what I remember about John Paul II’s 26-year-pontificate.

..on the greatest internal crisis facing the church, the pope failed, time and again, to take decisive action in response to clear evidence of a criminal underground in the priesthood, a subculture that sexually traumatized tens of thousands of youngsters. Despite a 1984 warning memo from the Rev. Thomas Doyle, then a canon lawyer in the Vatican Embassy in Washington, and a ninety-three-page report on the problem co-written by Doyle in 1985, which was sent to every American bishop, John Paul ordered no outreach to victims, no binding policy to rid the priesthood of deviants. In 1989 the US conference of bishops sent experts in canon law to Rome, seeking a streamlined process for defrocking child molesters rather than waiting for the byzantine Vatican bureaucracy and final word from the pope. John Paul refused. Litigation and prosecutions spread, but the pope remained passive.

Children were being raped and the one man who could have done something real to punish the perpetrators and bring about justice…did nothing. By his inaction, John Paul made the conscious decision to allow his clergy to continue the rape of innocent children.

And the consequence of this criminal inaction? Was it the vilification this pope (as others before and after him) so deserves? No. Try beatification and canonization instead. What a shameful travesty. Whatever good John Paul did during his 26-year reign (and there was some), his unwillingness to act on a matter that negatively impacted the lives of tens of thousands young boys, is all that really counts.

Political writer and historian, Michael Parenti (who, as far as I can tell, coined the term Vatican shuffle) puts it all in perspective in this 2010 piece.

…the [Catholic] hierarchy, aging men who have no life experience with children and show not the slightest regard or empathy for them. They claim it their duty to protect the “unborn child” but offer no protection to the children in their schools and parishes.

They themselves are called “Father” but they father no one. They do not reside in households or families. They live in an old-boys network, jockeying for power and position, dedicated to the Holy Mother Church that feeds, houses, and adorns them throughout their lives.

From their heady heights, popes and bishops cannot hear the cries of children. In any case, the church belongs not to little children but to the bedecked oligarchs.

The damage done to sexual victims continues to go unnoticed: the ensuing years of depression, drug addiction, alcoholism, panic attacks, sexual dysfunction, and even mental breakdown and suicide–all these terrible aftereffects of child rape seem to leave popes and bishops more or less unruffled.

Yet they build a 45-foot statue to honor one of the many pedophile-enablers who we ‘eagerly’ await to call Saint later this year. That’s pretty messed up.

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The Growing Education Gap

THE GREAT DIVIDE 

No Rich Child Left Behind
By SEAN F. REARDON

The Great Divide is a series about inequality.

Here’s a fact that may not surprise you: the children of the rich perform better in school, on average, than children from middle-class or poor families. Students growing up in richer families have better grades and higher standardized test scores, on average, than poorer students; they also have higher rates of participation in extracurricular activities and school leadership positions, higher graduation rates and higher rates of college enrollment and completion.

Whether you think it deeply unjust, lamentable but inevitable, or obvious and unproblematic, this is hardly news. It is true in most societies and has been true in the United States for at least as long as we have thought to ask the question and had sufficient data to verify the answer.

What is news is that in the United States over the last few decades these differences in educational success between high- and lower-income students have grown substantially.

One way to see this is to look at the scores of rich and poor students on standardized math and reading tests over the last 50 years. When I did this using information from a dozen large national studies conducted between 1960 and 2010, I found that the rich-poor gap in test scores is about 40 percent larger now than it was 30 years ago.

To make this trend concrete, consider two children, one from a family with income of $165,000 and one from a family with income of $15,000. These incomes are at the 90th and 10th percentiles of the income distribution nationally, meaning that 10 percent of children today grow up in families with incomes below $15,000 and 10 percent grow up in families with incomes above $165,000.

In the 1980s, on an 800-point SAT-type test scale, the average difference in test scores between two such children would have been about 90 points; today it is 125 points. This is almost twice as large as the 70-point test score gap between white and black children. Family income is now a better predictor of children’s success in school than race.

The same pattern is evident in other, more tangible, measures of educational success, like college completion. In a study similar to mine, Martha J. Bailey and Susan M. Dynarski, economists at the University of Michigan, found that the proportion of students from upper-income families who earn a bachelor’s degree has increased by 18 percentage points over a 20-year period, while the completion rate of poor students has grown by only 4 points.

In a more recent study, my graduate students and I found that 15 percent of high-income students from the high school class of 2004 enrolled in a highly selective college or university, while fewer than 5 percent of middle-income and 2 percent of low-income students did.

These widening disparities are not confined to academic outcomes: new research by the Harvard political scientist Robert D. Putnam and his colleagues shows that the rich-poor gaps in student participation in sports, extracurricular activities, volunteer work and church attendance have grown sharply as well.

In San Francisco this week, more than 14,000 educators and education scholars have gathered for the annual meeting of the American Educational Research Association. The theme this year is familiar: Can schools provide children a way out of poverty?

We are still talking about this despite decades of clucking about the crisis in American education and wave after wave of school reform.Whatever we’ve been doing in our schools, it hasn’t reduced educational inequality between children from upper- and lower-income families.

Part of knowing what we should do about this is understanding how and why these educational disparities are growing. For the past few years, alongside other scholars, I have been digging into historical data to understand just that. The results of this research don’t always match received wisdom or playground folklore.

The most potent development over the past three decades is that the test scores of children from high-income families have increased very rapidly. Before 1980, affluent students had little advantage over middle-class students in academic performance; most of the socioeconomic disparity in academics was between the middle class and the poor. But the rich now outperform the middle class by as much as the middle class outperform the poor. Just as the incomes of the affluent have grown much more rapidly than those of the middle class over the last few decades, so, too, have most of the gains in educational success accrued to the children of the rich.

Before we can figure out what’s happening here, let’s dispel a few myths.

The income gap in academic achievement is not growing because the test scores of poor students are dropping or because our schools are in decline. In fact, average test scores on the National Assessment of Educational Progress, the so-called Nation’s Report Card, have been rising — substantially in math and very slowly in reading — since the 1970s. The average 9-year-old today has math skills equal to those her parents had at age 11, a two-year improvement in a single generation. The gains are not as large in reading and they are not as large for older students, but there is no evidence that average test scores have declined over the last three decades for any age or economic group.

The widening income disparity in academic achievement is not a result of widening racial gaps in achievement, either. The achievement gaps between blacks and whites, and Hispanic and non-Hispanic whites have been narrowing slowly over the last two decades, trends that actually keep the yawning gap between higher- and lower-income students from getting even wider. If we look at the test scores of white students only, we find the same growing gap between high- and low-income children as we see in the population as a whole.

It may seem counterintuitive, but schools don’t seem to produce much of the disparity in test scores between high- and low-income students. We know this because children from rich and poor families score very differently on school readiness tests when they enter kindergarten, and this gap grows by less than 10 percent between kindergarten and high school. There is some evidence that achievement gaps between high- and low-income students actually narrow during the nine-month school year, but they widen again in the summer months.

That isn’t to say that there aren’t important differences in quality between schools serving low- and high-income students — there certainly are — but they appear to do less to reinforce the trends than conventional wisdom would have us believe.

If not the usual suspects, what’s going on? It boils down to this: The academic gap is widening because rich students are increasingly entering kindergarten much better prepared to succeed in school than middle-class students. This difference in preparation persists through elementary and high school.

My research suggests that one part of the explanation for this is rising income inequality. As you may have heard, the incomes of the rich have grown faster over the last 30 years than the incomes of the middle class and the poor. Money helps families provide cognitively stimulating experiences for their young children because it provides more stable home environments, more time for parents to read to their children, access to higher-quality child care and preschool and — in places like New York City, where 4-year-old children take tests to determine entry into gifted and talented programs — access to preschool test preparation tutors or the time to serve as tutors themselves.

But rising income inequality explains, at best, half of the increase in the rich-poor academic achievement gap. It’s not just that the rich have more money than they used to, it’s that they are using it differently. This is where things get really interesting.

High-income families are increasingly focusing their resources — their money, time and knowledge of what it takes to be successful in school — on their children’s cognitive development and educational success. They are doing this because educational success is much more important than it used to be, even for the rich.

With a college degree insufficient to ensure a high-income job, or even a job as a barista, parents are now investing more time and money in their children’s cognitive development from the earliest ages. It may seem self-evident that parents with more resources are able to invest more — more of both money and of what Mr. Putnam calls “‘Goodnight Moon’ time” — in their children’s development. But even though middle-class and poor families are also increasing the time and money they invest in their children, they are not doing so as quickly or as deeply as the rich.

The economists Richard J. Murnane and Greg J. Duncan report that from 1972 to 2006 high-income families increased the amount they spent on enrichment activities for their children by 150 percent, while the spending of low-income families grew by 57 percent over the same time period. Likewise, the amount of time parents spend with their children has grown twice as fast since 1975 among college-educated parents as it has among less-educated parents. The economists Garey Ramey and Valerie A. Ramey of the University of California, San Diego, call this escalation of early childhood investment “the rug rat race,” a phrase that nicely captures the growing perception that early childhood experiences are central to winning a lifelong educational and economic competition.

It’s not clear what we should do about all this. Partly that’s because much of our public conversation about education is focused on the wrong culprits: we blame failing schools and the behavior of the poor for trends that are really the result of deepening income inequality and the behavior of the rich.

We’re also slow to understand what’s happening, I think, because the nature of the problem — a growing educational gap between the rich and the middle class — is unfamiliar. After all, for much of the last 50 years our national conversation about educational inequality has focused almost exclusively on strategies for reducing inequalities between the educational successes of the poor and the middle class, and it has relied on programs aimed at the poor, like Head Start and Title I.

We’ve barely given a thought to what the rich were doing. With the exception of our continuing discussion about whether the rising costs of higher education are pricing the middle class out of college, we don’t have much practice talking about what economists call “upper-tail inequality” in education, much less success at reducing it.

Meanwhile, not only are the children of the rich doing better in school than even the children of the middle class, but the changing economy means that school success is increasingly necessary to future economic success, a worrisome mutual reinforcement of trends that is making our society more socially and economically immobile.

We need to start talking about this. Strangely, the rapid growth in the rich-poor educational gap provides a ray of hope: if the relationship between family income and educational success can change this rapidly, then it is not an immutable, inevitable pattern. What changed once can change again. Policy choices matter more than we have recently been taught to think.

So how can we move toward a society in which educational success is not so strongly linked to family background? Maybe we should take a lesson from the rich and invest much more heavily as a society in our children’s educational opportunities from the day they are born. Investments in early-childhood education pay very high societal dividends. That means investing in developing high-quality child care and preschool that is available to poor and middle-class children. It also means recruiting and training a cadre of skilled preschool teachers and child care providers. These are not new ideas, but we have to stop talking about how expensive and difficult they are to implement and just get on with it.

But we need to do much more than expand and improve preschool and child care. There is a lot of discussion these days about investing in teachers and “improving teacher quality,” but improving the quality of our parenting and of our children’s earliest environments may be even more important. Let’s invest in parents so they can better invest in their children.

This means finding ways of helping parents become better teachers themselves. This might include strategies to support working families so that they can read to their children more often.. It also means expanding programs like the Nurse-Family Partnership that have proved to be effective at helping single parents educate their children; but we also need to pay for research to develop new resources for single parents.

It might also mean greater business and government support for maternity and paternity leave and day care so that the middle class and the poor can get some of the educational benefits that the early academic intervention of the rich provides their children. Fundamentally, it means rethinking our still-persistent notion that educational problems should be solved by schools alone.

The more we do to ensure that all children have similar cognitively stimulating early childhood experiences, the less we will have to worry about failing schools. This in turn will enable us to let our schools focus on teaching the skills — how to solve complex problems, how to think critically and how to collaborate — essential to a growing economy and a lively democracy.


Sean F. Reardon is a professor of education and sociology at Stanford.

Naked Capitalism: Ultimate Exploitation

Made in Bangladesh

The Terror of Capitalism

by VIJAY PRASHAD

Delhi.

On Wednesday, April 24, a day after Bangladeshi authorities asked the owners to evacuate their garment factory that employed almost three thousand workers, the building collapsed. The building, Rana Plaza, located in the Dhaka suburb of Savar, produced garments for the commodity chain that stretches from the cotton fields of South Asia through Bangladesh’s machines and workers to the retail houses in the Atlantic world. Famous name brands were stitched here, as are clothes that hang on the satanic shelves of Wal-Mart. Rescue workers were able to save two thousand people as of this writing, with confirmation that over three hundred are dead. The numbers for the latter are fated to rise. It is well worth mentioning that the death toll in the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire in New York City of 1911 was one hundred and forty six. The death toll here is already twice that. This “accident” comes five months (November 24, 2012) after the Tazreen garment factory fire that killed at least one hundred and twelve workers.

The list of “accidents” is long and painful. In April 2005, a garment factory in Savar collapsed, killing seventy-five workers. In February 2006, another factory collapsed in Dhaka, killing eighteen. In June 2010, a building collapsed in Dhaka, killing twenty-five. These are the “factories” of twenty-first century globalization – poorly built shelters for a production process geared toward long working days, third rate machines, and workers whose own lives are submitted to the imperatives of just-in-time production. Writing about the factory regime in England during the nineteenth century, Karl Marx noted, “But in its blind unrestrainable passion, its wear-wolf hunger for surplus labour, capital oversteps not only the moral, but even the merely physical maximum bounds of the working-day. It usurps the time for growth, development and healthy maintenance of the body. It steals the time required for the consumption of fresh air and sunlight…. All that concerns it is simply and solely the maximum of labour-power that can be rendered fluent in a working-day. It attains this end by shortening the extent of the labourer’s life, as a greedy farmer snatches increased produce from the soil by reducing it of its fertility” (Capital, Chapter 10).

Dhaka

In the rubble of Rana Plaza. Photo by Taslima Akhter.

These Bangladesh factories are a part of the landscape of globalization that is mimicked in the factories along the US-Mexico border, in Haiti, in Sri Lanka, and in other places that opened their doors to the garment industry’s savvy use of the new manufacturing and trade order of the 1990s. Subdued countries that had neither the patriotic will to fight for their citizens nor any concern for the long-term debilitation of their social order rushed to welcome garment production. The big garment producers no longer wanted to invest in factories – they turned to sub-contractors, offering them very narrow margins for profit and thereby forcing them to run their factories like prison-houses of labour. The sub-contracting regime allowed these firms to deny any culpability for what was done by the actual owners of these small factories, allowing them to enjoy the benefits of the cheap products without having their consciences stained with the sweat and blood of the workers. It also allowed the consumers in the Atlantic world to buy vast amount of commodities, often with debt-financed consumption, without concern for the methods of production. An occasionally outburst of liberal sentiment turned against this or that company, but there was no overall appreciation of the way the Wal-Mart type of commodity chain made normal the sorts of business practices that occasioned this or that campaign.

Bangladeshi workers have not been as prone as the consumers in the Atlantic world. As recently as June 2012, thousands of workers in the Ashulia Industrial Zone, outside Dhaka, protested for higher wages and better working conditions. For days on end, these workers closed down three hundred factories, blocking the Dhaka-Tangali highway at Narasinghapur. The workers earn between 3000 taka ($35) and 5,500 taka ($70) a month; they wanted a raise of between 1500 taka ($19) and 2000 taka ($25) per month. The government sent in three thousand policemen to secure the scene, and the Prime Minister offered anodyne entreaties that she would look into the matter. A three-member committee was set up, but nothing substantial came of it.

Aware of the futility of negotiations with a government subordinated to the logic of the commodity chain, Dhaka exploded in violence as more and more news from the Rana Building emerged. Workers have shut down the factory area around Dhaka, blocking roads and smashing cars. The callousness of the Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers Association (BGMEA) adds fire to the workers’ anger. After the protests in June, BGMEA head Shafiul Islam Mohiuddin accused the workers of being involved in “some conspiracy.”  He argued that there is “no logic for increasing the wages of the workers.” This time, BGMEA’s new president Atiqul Islam suggested that the problem was not the death of the workers or the poor conditions in which workers toil but “the disruption in production owing to unrest and hartals [strikes].” These strikes, he said, are “just another heavy blow to the garment sector.” No wonder those who took to the streets have so little faith in the sub-contractors and the government.

Attempts to shift the needle of exploitation have been thwarted by concerted government pressure and the advantages of assassination. Whatever decent lurks in Bangladesh’s Labour Act is eclipsed by weak enforcement by the Ministry of Labour’s Inspections Department. There are only eighteen inspectors and assistant inspectors to monitor 100,000 factories in the Dhaka area, where most of the garment factories are located. If an infraction is detected, the fines are too low to generate any reforms. When workers try to form unions, the harsh response from the management is sufficient to curtail their efforts. Management prefers the anarchic outbreaks of violence to the steady consolidation of worker power. In fact, the violence led the Bangladeshi government to create a Crisis Management Cell and an Industrial Police not to monitor violations of labour laws, but to spy on worker organisers. In April 2012, agents of capital kidnapped Aminul Islam, one of the key organisers of the Bangladesh Center for Worker Solidarity. He was found dead a few days later, his body littered with the marks of torture.

Bangladesh has been convulsed this past months with protests over its history – the terrible violence visited among the freedom fighters in 1971 by the Jamaat-e-Islami brought thousands of people into Shanbagh in Dhaka; this protest morphed into the political civil war between the two mainstream parties, setting aside the calls for justice for victims of that violence. This protest has inflamed the country, which has been otherwise quite sanguine about the everyday terror against its garment sector workers. The Rana building “accident” might provide a progressive hinge for a protest movement that is otherwise adrift.

In the Atlantic world, meanwhile, self-absorption over the wars on terror and on the downturn in the economy prevent any genuine introspection over the mode of life that relies upon debt-fueled consumerism at the expense of workers in Dhaka. Those who died in the Rana building are victims not only of the malfeasance of the sub-contractors, but also of twenty-first century globalisation.

Vijay Prashad’s new book, The Poorer Nations: A Possible History of the Global South, is out this month from Verso Books.

Mario Piperni’s Illustrated Late-Night Humor

Late Night Political Humor

APRIL 26, 2013 BY 

Humor - Late Night  :   http://mariopiperni.com/

The best of late night political humor via Daniel Kurtzman’s Political Humor.

Happy Friday.

“Today France legalized same-sex marriage. The next step is legalizing same-sex mistresses.” –Craig Ferguson

“Because of the filibuster, the gun bill failed 54 to 46. Failed. I tell you, if the American people ever learn math, they’re going to be pissed.” –Bill Maher

Republican - Guns Over People : http://mariopiperni.com/

“90 percent of people support background checks, which means even people who can’t pass a background check support background checks.” –Bill Maher

“A lot of the senators are saying off the record that the reason they couldn’t vote for any sort of gun bill is that they couldn’t go back to their district in this year after we’ve dealt with gay marriage and immigration and gun regulations. This is too much for the peckerwoods to process in any one moment. You might as well say Obama is coming for your deep fryer.” –Bill Maher

“These are two bombers – they are two brothers, ethnic Chechens, which is in southern Russia – who came to the U.S. from the country of Kyrgyzstan, which is in central Asia. And today George W. Bush vowed revenge and called for an immediate invasion of Puerto Rico.” –Bill Maher on the Boston bombers

“Between these two a**holes and the douchebag who sent Ricin to President Obama, it makes me very nostalgic for the carefree days of last week when we were just being threatened by North Korea with nuclear annihilation.” –Bill Maher

And here’s commentary on the Boston Marathon bombings from two of the best satirists Americans have known.

Stephen Colbert
“Whoever did this obviously did not know sh*t about the people of Boston. Because nothing these terrorists do is going to shake them. For Pete’s sake, Boston was founded by the pilgrims — a people so tough they had to buckle their goddamn hats on. It is the cradle of the American revolution. A city that withstood an 86-year losing streak. A city that made it through the Big Dig, a construction project that backed up traffic for 16 years — I mean, there are commuters just getting home now. Even their bands are tough. It’s the hometown of Aerosmith, who are, in their fifth decade, still going strong. Even Steven Tyler looks fantastic, for a 73-year-old woman.

“But here is what these cowards really don’t get. They attacked the Boston Marathon. An event celebrating people who run 26 miles on their day off until their nipples are raw for fun. And they have been holding it in Boston since 1897. And do you know how tough you have to be to run in a whalebone corset? And when those bombs went off, there were runners who, after finishing a marathon, kept running for another two miles to the hospital to donate blood.

“So here’s what I know. These maniacs may have tried to make life bad for the people of Boston, but all they can ever do is show just how good those people are.”

Boston - terrorism : http://mariopiperni.com/

Jon Stewart
“Once again, having to start under horrific events here in this country. I really hate the fact that I can cross-reference my thoughts to so many other events that have occurred over the years — so I’m not going to. I’m just going to say this to Boston: Thank you. Thank you for once again, in the face of gross inhumanity, inspiring and solidifying my belief in humanity and the people of this country.

“So thank you for everything you’ve done. It’s a quite a little city you’ve got going on up there. And New Yorkers and Boston obviously have kind of a little bit of a competition. Often, the two cities accusing each other of various levels of suckitude. But it is in situations like this that we realize it is clearly a sibling rivalry, and that we are your brothers and sisters in this type of event. As a city that knows the feeling of confusion, anger, and grief, and chaos that comes with these events, I can tell you from personal experience: You’ve got a hell of a city going on, and you’ve done an incredible job in the face of all this. Thank you.”

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