More Dumb Boycotts

by on Nov.10, 2011, under Politics

Via The Frying Pan:

recent investigative report alleges that the online retail giant is subjecting workers to sweatshop conditions. According to the report, “Workers said they were forced to endure brutal heat inside the sprawling warehouse and were pushed to work at a pace many could not sustain.” The report goes on to describe the following scene: “During summer heat waves, Amazon arranged to have paramedics parked in ambulances outside, ready to treat any workers who dehydrated or suffered other forms of heat stress. Those who couldn’t quickly cool off and return to work were sent home or taken out in stretchers and wheelchairs and transported to area hospitals.”

Based on these appalling allegations, the invaluable watchdog group American Rights at Work has called for a holiday season boycott of Amazon. This will clearly run up against our consumerist desire to save time and money — but each time you’re tempted to click the purchase button, remember what’s at stake for the people who make the wheels of Amazon’s empire turn.

Like most boycotts, this is a terrible idea. A boycott needs a specific demand that can be won in order to lift the boycott, and an institutional commitment to building the boycott. “Until Amazon gets the message to stop the exploitation, and start respecting workers…” is not a specific demand. (With rare exceptions, it’s hard to demand that someone “get the message.”) Whether American Rights at Work has any institutional commitment to building the boycott or reforming Amazon beyond collecting an e-petition is an open question.

Asking people who use Amazon for a considerable portion of their shopping to sign a pledge without giving them any evidence that it will make a difference in anyone’s life is a recipe for exhausting sympathy, not building power.

In general, progressives are quick to call boycotts as a response to wrongdoing rather than as a tactic in pursuit of a goal. (Remember the Obamacare-related Whole Foods boycott?) Without a plan to win, they erode credibility, especially when taking on a nationwide giant like Amazon. Aesop has one lesson about this. But I prefer Omar’s.

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Enough to Make You Cry

by on Jun.22, 2011, under Politics

Al Gore has a long essay in Rolling Stone that’s 90 percent about the complete failure of print and TV media to tell the public the truth about the dangers of global warming in the face of industry-financed denialists. The opening paragraphs:

The first time I remember hearing the question “is it real?” was when I went as a young boy to see a traveling show put on by “professional wrestlers” one summer evening in the gym of the Forks River Elementary School in Elmwood, Tennessee.


But the most unusual and in some ways most interesting character in these dramas was the referee: Whenever the bad guy committed a gross and obvious violation of the “rules” — such as they were — like using a metal folding chair to smack the good guy in the head, the referee always seemed to be preoccupied with one of the cornermen, or looking the other way. Yet whenever the good guy — after absorbing more abuse and unfairness than any reasonable person could tolerate — committed the slightest infraction, the referee was all over him.

That is pretty much the role now being played by most of the news media in refereeing the current wrestling match over whether global warming is “real,” and whether it has any connection to the constant dumping of 90 million tons of heat-trapping emissions into the Earth’s thin shell of atmosphere every 24 hours.

The headline in the New York Times? “In Essay, Gore Criticizes Obama on Climate.” CNN? “Gore: Obama has ‘failed.'” Shit, even-the-liberal TalkingPointsMemo: “Al Gore: President Obama Has Failed To Lead On Climate Change.”

Granted, Gore does make that charge, buried after 5,000 other words (approximately) of a 7,000-word essay, and it is true. And I think he foresaw the headlines: “Even writing an article like this one carries risks; opponents of the president will excerpt the criticism and strip it of context,” he writes.

But it must be damned frustrating to be Al Gore,  criticizing institutions to their face and having them deliberately mishear you in real time.

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In fact, snipe is a bird that is hard to shoot

by on May.02, 2011, under Politics

This status update is making the rounds on Facebook:

‎”I mourn the loss of thousands of precious lives, but I will not rejoice in the death of one, not even an enemy. Returning hate for hate multiplies hate, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars. Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that.” — Martin Luther King, Jr.

I admire the spirit and I’m glad to see it circulating. I didn’t repeat it because it doesn’t accurately describe my emotions right now. I will admit to a small patch of gladness to see the guy dead. The feeling is swamped by shame and rage at the past ten years of pointless warfare, loss of life, madness and torture, not to mention being creeped out by the dickswinging “Obama 2012” (ok, I like Moshe Kasher) but I’d be lying to say it wasn’t real.

I’m also not impressed by this petition, also moving fast on FB:

After 10 years of war and the death of Osama bin Laden, it’s time to bring the troops home from Afghanistan. With al-Qaeda driven from the country and Bin Laden now dead, the rationale for war has evaporated. It’s time to stop now.

Well, no. The hunt for OBL long ago evaporated as the pretext for the United States’s two or three Middle East wars. This is coy to the point of useless. This is forgetting as the answer to forgetting.

A fair and related point to make right now is that the wars have in virtually no way led to this day. Rather, it seems to have been through careful, focused intelligence work. The capture or killing of Osama could have been accomplished with a much lower cost.

John Kerry was roundly condemned for saying as much in 2004. As in so much, his phrasing was infelicitous, but he was right. It’s imperfect to call this operation a simple matter of law enforcement and intelligence–for one thing, the ease with which everyone, myself included, dismisses its questionable legality only reveals how many sacred prohibitions we’ve cast aside in the past decade.

To now begin to end the wars will require more than forgetting how much we’ve forgotten. It will require accepting that they were snipe hunts from the beginning, and that their stated aims were either accomplished through other means or never obtainable at all.

UPDATE: Amanda Marcotte’s take: it may be bullshit but let’s run with it. OTOH, zunguzungu. Also MLK never spoke the first line of the quote (which I’ve put in italics). It was apparently added by some tweeter and then copied into the quote as re-posted.

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by on Apr.06, 2011, under Politics

Over at Balloon Juice they’re justifiably fascinated with the spectacle of Andrew Sullivan and others fawning over Paul Ryan’s plan to turn Medicare into a voucher program. Writes Tom Levenson:

“Serious” clearly has a meaning to Villagers and the political elite utterly distinct from anything the rest of us understand by the word.

…[T]he word has become code, several posts here have already pointed out.  Its use signals that the weaker party to any bargain is about to get screwed. The claim that enduring others’ pain is “serious”  is as archtypical an example of rhetorical deceit as one could hope to find.

Sometimes, as a mostly atheistic Jew, I forget that a lot of Christians, especially Catholics but also a whole lot of more religious Protestants, have a fundamentally different outlook than I do on many matters. I was reminded of this when listening to Marc Maron interviewing Conan O’Brien on his podcast. Says Conan at one point:

…I probably have a Catholic need to suffer. That helps me. So the trials and tribulations that I went through in 93-94 probably was my way of paying whatever dues I felt I needed to pay to keep that show, and then once I had suffered enough there was part of me that was like “All right,” and then I could move on to another level.

Suffering is redemptive, right? Suffering is something you gain from?

This is horseshit, of course. Suffering in and of itself gets you nothing. What you suffer through may be valuable in other ways—as a learning experience, or because you’re an adult who can delay gratification as you work toward goals—but in and of itself it is worthless.

Yet many, many people in this country have had it drilled into them from childhood that suffering itself is worthwhile. So government policies that alleviate suffering are worse than just a drain on my pocketbook, they’re robbing sufferers of their chance at redemption.

I don’t for a minute claim that this is a prejudice held consciously, but I think it’s a small contributing factor toward disdain for policies that help the poor, or even the not-so-poor. Especially when the suffering is borne by others.

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The Hipsters, United

by on Feb.15, 2011, under New York, Politics

It may be too much to ask of n+1 that it maintain consistent positions with regard to hipsterdom, but it would be nice to see its investigations at least reference one another. Christopher Glazek’s Hasids versus Hipsters is an entertaining account of a struggle over urban space between “hipster” bicyclists and the Satmar Hasidim of South Williamsburg. The hipsters come off as politically engaged but not fluent; even at its most confrontational, such as when they guerilla-re-paint a bike lane that the city has removed, their activism has a twee, ingratiating quality. That may be enough to earn it the dreaded h-epithet, but it’s also a high-stakes, committed bid for control over public resources.

However, in Mark Greif’s sweeping, scourging survey/eulogy, What Was The Hipster?, hipsterism is resolutely anti-political. “[H]ipsters have mixed with particular elements of anarchist, free, vegan, environmentalist, punk, and even anti-capitalist communities,” bike messengers among them, but the hipster “aligns himself both with rebel subculture and with the dominant class, and thus opens up a poisonous conduit between the two.”

Greif’s essay could be simply discounted as an exercise in No True Scotsman-ing. No True Hipster practices politics; Glazek’s bicycle hipsters practice politics. Therefore, they are not real hipsters. Maybe they are the “particular elements” that help open the “poisonous conduit.” I happen to think Greif’s sour take is an excellent starting point, but it would benefit from a less pre-constrained investigation of how politics plays out among hipsters as examined. (Start by adding Shepard Fairey to Greif’s hipster canon of Dave Eggers and Wes Anderson.) In the meantime, Dorothy at Cat and Girl still has the stronger take.

Cross-posted at Alyssa Rosenberg

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Less Sweat

by on Jan.19, 2011, under Los Angeles, Politics

Celina Su’s anecdote in n+1 about visiting an aid worker in Cambodia, Holiday in Cambodia, includes this observation:

These women [in Phnom Penh] sewed clothes and reported to Chinese factory contractors, who reported to American managers, who reported to shareholders. Every once in a while, an exposé about the sweatshops reached American televised news. To Z, shareholders had an astoundingly predictable, biannual ritual of expressing shock about the sweatshop conditions in which these women earned less than $2 a day.

This is followed by an encounter with backpackers who disappointingly make excuses for the conditions, which allow workers to live at one-third the poverty level according to the United Nations. It’s only an aside, but it’s a misleading one. The rest of the piece describes a visit from a set of resolutely point-missing U.S. Congressional aides to the author’s friend Z’s aid projects. But the sweatshop aside shows a similar lack of attention.

I worked with anti-sweatshop advocates for two years putting together an anti-sweatshop purchasing policy, and they routinely held up Cambodia as an example of third world manufacturing done right. Garment export factories must submit to inspection by the International Labor Organization, described here at length. Violations still exist, but Cambodia’s monitoring regime is among the developing world’s most robust. Su’s observation isn’t wrong, but it feels much more like a pro-forma gesture at “conditions in the third world” than an informed account, even at the level of an aside.

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Welcome Dissent

by on Dec.09, 2010, under Politics

Another term for “repressive tolerance”? Actually I just meant hey to anyone who has come here from Mark Engler’s Dissent blog post Obama’s Tax Cut Debacle. Hey, neat, it’s on HuffPo too! It was I who pithed out the line “Neither delicious bread nor groaning hunger improves a shit sandwich” although I’m sure Big Josh coulda gone me one better if he’d been asked.

Visitors: you may enjoy our Politics section or our protest and solidarity tags. Or, hey, why not get some good comic recommendations?

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What if

by on Oct.29, 2010, under Politics

For someone who usually gets more excited to go door-knocking on Election Day than on Halloween, I’ve had a fairly detached view of the national political scene in the run-up to Tuesday’s election.

It’s clear that the Democrats will lose the House and keep the Senate, and that the President will spend the next two years doing small-bore politics frustrated by Congressional investigation a la the last six Clinton years. His re-election will depend on the state of the economy (political constraints suggest to me that it will not turn around very fast, which will cost Obama the 2012 election).

The last two years suggest to me that the next two will not cost progressives huge opportunities that were ever real. The utter failure of two years of a Democratic Presidency and a Congress under lopsided Democratic control to get anything done on climate change suggests that prospects for the future of the earth haven’t been very high and though they’re now dimmer, it’s not by much. The structural reform that could make the biggest difference would be the elimination of the filibuster, but too many Democratic Senators are too fond of their privileges to make that a reality, and even in a majority-rule Senate, I think that regional concerns would defeat effective climate change intervention.

It’s tempting to ask what if? I’m inspired by the round of What if Al Gore had taken power in 2000 over at Unfogged to ask this question: what if, for the past two years, the labor movement had been united?

(continue reading…)

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I Have Long Since Had It With Christine Quinn

by on Oct.15, 2010, under New York, Politics

Long ago we thought she was one of the good guys.

Now she’s just another sellout.


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Primary Day: A few mini-endorsements

by on Sep.14, 2010, under New York, Politics

Attorney General: Kathleen Rice is completely unacceptable. Eric Schneiderman is acceptable. Eric Scheiderman is the only candidate in serious contention to defeat Kathleen Rice. Schneiderman it is.

For most of the ultralocal races, it matters most who’s most willing to take on Kings County boss Vito Lopez. So I’m following The Brooklyn Paper and going with Chris Owens for male District Leader over Jesse Strauss and Steve Williamson; and Jo Anne Simon over Hope Reichbach for female District Leader. (I’m breaking my personal rule of thumb here to always do the opposite of what Gatemouth wants.)

And Velmanette Montgomery over Mark Pollard. Montgomery is one of the guys with her heart in the right place. She stood up against the Atlantic Yards project and so as far as I’m concerned she gets to go back to Albany until I see a strong reason why she shouldn’t.

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