Friday, June 27, 2008

Work Injury? What Work Injury?

Bill Moyers' Journal (June 27, 2008) reported OSHA's lack of oversight in the poultry industry. According to the Charlotte Observer, OSHA inspections have been reduced to the lowest levels in 15 years, siding with corporations over their workers. Observer reporter Ames Alexander states "workers are making 20,000 cuts a day, highly prone to repetitive motion kinds of problems like carpal tunnel. They're working with sharp knives, around dangerous chemicals and equipment." Yet these injuries have been reduced or eliminated from OSHA reports since 2002.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

House Resolution 362 to Provoke Iran War

The US House is close to voting on Resolution 362 to confront Iran with a military blockade in the Strait of Hormuz. The story has received little mainstream attention (CBS News reported on the Resolution on June 24).

The Senate version, Resolution 580, is also in the works. The sponsor of the Senate Resolution is Democrat Evan Bayh. So much for Democrats being anti-war. Although the Resolutions do not authorize use of force, they put Iran and US troops in positions where conflict appears more likely. Just Foreign Policy has a site where you can send an email protest to your representative.

[Update: Seymour Hersch's article about spending on US covert ops in Iran appeared in the New Yorker, June 30th]

Veterans Used as Guinea Pigs in Drug Experiments

ABC News reports that the US Veterans Administration waited months before notifying vets that the drugs they were given for smoking cessation were associated with psychiatric side effects. The vets in the study had PTSD and were trying to quit smoking. According to WebMD, the 1 year efficacy rate for Chantix is 14%. The VA is continuing the study for Chantix despite the warnings.

Chantix is a trademark of Pfizer.

George Will Favors Prison-Industrial Complex, Suggests Prisons Are Better Investments than Public Universities

George Will’s editorial (“Prison time is about crime, not about race”, Washington Post, June 22, 2008) is lacking not only in compassion, but in intellectual depth and vision. His hypothesis that prisons may have greater social value than public universities is equally disturbing.

Race and class are key factors in every aspect of the justice system, from policing to post-conviction. Race and class shape what we define as crime, who we define as criminals, and how the criminal justice system is administered.

Except in a few sensational news accounts (Enron, Martha Stewart, Jack Abramoff, and now Bear Stearns), white collar criminals are rarely perceived as crooks, though their damage to society far outweighs street crime. College students aren’t typically arrested and thrown in jail for drug possession or intent to sell, though drug use is common on college campuses. Black and Latino youth, on the other hand, are profiled and questioned by the police as a matter of course, creating an atmosphere akin to a military occupation.

As for reducing street crime, there are better social investment strategies than spending billions on prisons. The Rand Corporation, for example, has prescribed child abuse prevention, better education, and social support programs as better ways to reduce crime. Given that the roots of street crime are related to economic conditions, it would seem logical that decent paying jobs would also reduce certain types of crime. Whether the public is willing to make such social investments may depend on whether it is informed by people with vision and intellect or deceived by media people like Mr. Will.

Monday, June 23, 2008

TSA and the Expanding Police State

More and more America seems to be spiraling into a police state. According to conservative columnist Walter E. Williams (June 2008), the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) has employed 500 Behavior Detection Officers. The role of these officials is to examine passengers for signs of 'bad intentions.' These cues may include 'micro-impressions' such as fear and disgust. Williams adds that passengers who deter searches are subject to fines of $1500.

TSA's own website reports that the agency has also "enhanced" its airport pat down searches to include crotch areas.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

7.2 Million Under Correctional Supervision

From the US Department of Justice:

7.2 million people were under correctional supervision in the US (probation, jail, prison, parole) in 2006. Approximately 1.8 million were under supervision in 1980.

Pentagon Torture Chief Joins Chevron

Anne Flaherty (AP) reports from the Senate Armed Forces Committee that William "Jim" Haynes, the Pentagon's General Counsel, sought the assistance of military psychologists to plan methods of torture and degradation (use of dogs, stress positions and forced nudity) later approved by Donald Rumsfeld in December 2002. The Armed Forces Committee noted that military lawyers protested the strategies to the Joint Chiefs of Staff but the objections were ignored. Sanctioned torture is morally wrong. It also lets others know that these tactics are legitimate.

Haynes now serves as chief counsel to the Chevron Corporation. Given Chevron's human rights record (see 3-25-08 post), this would seem a likely fit.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

The Dehumanizing Effects of War and Occupation

As long as the US does not rely on robots for military operations they will have to use the working class like robots--or worse. The only thing is that soldiers feel fatigue, they see and feel the inhumanity and the futility of war. And the military response is to give them meds and tell them to "suck it up" as they face another tour.

According to a Time Magazine report (6-5-08, "America's Medicated Army") "about 12% of combat troops in Iraq and 17% of those in Afghanistan are taking prescription antidepressants or sleeping pills to help them cope." The report does not indicate the number of soldiers who self medicate with alcohol and illegal drugs.

According to the Time report stress illness begins "with mild anxiety and irritability, difficulty sleeping, and growing feelings of apathy and pessimism. As the condition worsens, the feelings last longer and can come to include panic, rage, uncontrolled shaking and temporary paralysis." The Pentagon states that only 10% of soldiers experience long-term "stress illness", but who can trust the military to be honest and objective?

What will be the long-term effects on these people, and on American society? According to the Time report "the symptoms often continue back home, playing a key role in broken marriages, suicides and psychiatric breakdowns."

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Enemy to the Working Class

Richard Berman is a lobbyist for the restaurant and beverage industry and an enemy of the working class, with all the ethics of a drug dealer. According to the NY Times (2-14-06), Mr. Berman (aka "Dr. Evil") has:*Lobbied against the minimum wage,*Argued that drinking soda does not contribute to diabetes,*Has fought Mothers Against Drunk Drivers against tightening alcohol limits for drivers,*Has organized an anti-union website called union

Monday, June 9, 2008

The Stacked Court

The US Supreme Court made two more rulings against the interests of the working class. In Engquist v. Oregon Department of Agriculture, the court decided that a public employee was not protected against individual discrimination based on arbitrary, vindictive, and malicious reasons. The so-called High Court also agreed to hear an appeal by big tobacco's Phillip Morris.

Sunday, June 8, 2008

Industrial Disasters

60 Minutes' Scott Pelley investigated the lack of oversight by OSHA in preventing industrial fires and worker deaths. Government has a key role as a check and balance against corporate greed and indifference, unless it becomes the lapdog for industry.

Approximately 5,000 to 6,000 American workers die each year in work-related accidents. Many more die to work-related illnesses, estimated at 50,000 to 70,000 per year (Reiman, 2001). According to David Barstow (NYT, 12-22-03) few people are prosecuted even when the action clearly violated safety regulations.

Friday, June 6, 2008

Maximizing Profits=Switching Up On the Con

Sounds like top US financial institutions--Goldman Sachs (GS) and Morgan Stanley (MS) are taking the opportunity to recoup their losses from the recent mortgage banking crisis, by speculating on oil. Not surprisingly, Morgan Stanley's fortune tellers predict prices will rise to $150 by July 4th; shills for Goldman Sachs say prices could soon rise to $200 a barrel.

According to

"Commodities markets often turn on proprietary information known to a limited number people. An oil company can take advantage of inside information about its own production outlook when it makes trades. However, if traders intentionally create an artificial price and use it to make money, market manipulation charges may arise."

"Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley are major players in the world of commodities, which range from trading to hedging and even owning electricity plants and oil barges. In the first quarter, Morgan Stanley calculated that it took more risks in commodities on a daily basis than in stocks."

[Editors note: According to the House Energy and Commerce Committee, speculators make up 71% of NYMEX oil futures shares, up from 37% in 2000.]

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

The Demise of the US Industrial Middle-Class

Louis Uchitelle (NY Times, 4-20-2008) writes about the steady erosion of wages in US industrial labor, beginning with the steel industry in the 1970s and ending with US automakers replacing union workers with "second tier" hires. GM's recent move to eliminate union workers is only one step in a long race to the bottom. The author adds that use of temp workers, outsourcing, and shifting production to nonunion plants are common corporate tactics.

College promises to be the route back to middle class status for some--while others will sink into the lower class (IMF economists refer to this as "short-term adjustment costs"). Uchitelle adds "that roughly 15 percent of college-educated workers find themselves in jobs for which they are overqualified, the Economic Policy Institute reports, and many of these jobs pay less than $20 an hour." (Note: I would add that tactics used to undermine industrial laborers can be used effectively against white and pink collar labor also.)

In "Bad Money: Reckless Finance, Failed Politics, and the Global Crisis of American Capitalism", Kevin Phillips argues that the US reliance on capital markets instead of manufacturing is a key sign the US is losing dominance in the world economy. Guess we'll have to wait and see.