Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Late Morning Reading -- May Day

My routine was disturbed this morning by a barking dog. I had to escape for a couple of hours to calm down enough to concentrate, so it is now late morning.  Fortunately, none of these selections are time-sensitive. And a couple are either long reads or long reflection times.


Top Ten Problems in South Carolina Lindsey Graham should worry more about than Benghazi
Juan Cole hits several nails on the head with this post. 

I'm citing it for more reasons that picking on Lindsay Graham or South Carolina. This list of contradictions is typical of the compartmentalized thinking and muddy reasoning of many public figures throwing stones at glass houses like the ones in which they live. 

Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC) slammed President Obama for a deterioration in US security because, he said, of four Americans having been killed in Benghazi last September and then another four at the Boston Marathon. If we were not convinced that such allegations are mere political posturing, we’d have to think he is exhibiting signs of paranoid schizophrenia. There isn’t actually a link between Libya and Boston, and while 8 lives are precious, they don’t signal that the country is going down the hill. 
It is one of the annoyances of American politics that Graham, who represents a little over 2 million people, gets a national voice similar to that of Diane Feinstein, who represents 19 million. 

While Graham is showboating about things he knows absolutely nothing about, such as the political landscape in Benghazi, Libya (can he name a single member of its elected city council?), his own state is not doing very well. Let us consider the sorts of ills a sitting senator from South Carolina should be trying to remedy in his state: 
1.)   South Carolina was the third most violent state in the union in 2012, including crimes against both persons and property.  **
2.)   The murder rate was 320 in 2012, very high for such a small state (4.7 million), which works out to a rate substantially higher than the national norm. A lot of those murders are committed with guns, but of course Graham is against doing anything about that. **
3.)   South Carolina’s rate of violent assault in 2012 was almost twice that of the rest of the country.  **
4.)   South Carolina’s property crime rate in 2012 was the highest in the nation. it has an amazing number of cat burglars.
5.)   More than 1/6 of South Carolinians lack so much as a high school education, the 10th worst performance in the country.
6.)   About 19% of South Carolinians live below the poverty line, nearly 1 in 5, the 9th worst such statistic of the 50 states. Hmmm. I wonder if some of those people address their hunger by becoming . . . cat burglars.
7.)   The life expectancy in South Carolina is only about 76, five years less than in Obama’s Hawaii, and 4 years less than Minnesota. South Carolina is in the bottom fifth of states for life expectancy. It is about the same size, population-wise, as New Zealand, where the life expectancy is … 80. South Carolina on this statistic is in the general company of Albania, Barbados and Mexico. Hawaii is up there with Hong Kong and Switzerland. Doesn’t Graham wake up ashamed about this every day? No. He wants to abolish Obamacare, which has a chance of making things better for people in his state, about whom he apparently cares less than about people in Benghazi.
8.)   18% of South Carolinians are food insecure, i.e. they barely can afford enough to eat each week, and are one unpaid sick day away from going to bed hungry. The rate of food insecurity in the US as a whole is about 15%, so in SC it is worse.
9.)   South Carolina has 21 extremist hate groups, a very high number for such a small state. And, of course, they are armed.
10.)   Unemployment is still 8.4 % in South Carolina, though there has been some improvement. This rate is high considering what a wonderful senator they have, who has done so much to attract professionals to the state and expand its tourism by making an attractive image of it. (Expanding white collar jobs and tourism are the growth sectors). Nebraska, Vermont (socialist Senator), Hawaii (Obama birthplace; yes), Virginia and Minnesota are all doing much better. South Carolina, as in many things, is 10th from the bottom in employment.

**And speaking of gun violence we have this --

5-year-old shoots, kills sister with gift rifle
By Kristen Butler, UPI

A Kentucky 5-year-old shot his sister dead with a kids' rifle in what the coroner called "just one of those crazy accidents." 

Caroline Starks, 2, was shot and killed by her 5-year-old brother while he was playing with a .22-caliber rifle he'd been given as a gift. 
Cumberland County Coroner Gary White told the Lexington Herald-Leader the family had not realized a shell was left inside the gun. The boy picked up the gun from where it was kept in the corner of the house and it accidentally fired when he began playing with it. 
The siblings' mother was home when the shot was fired. The toddler was rushed to Cumberland County Hospital but pronounced dead. 
"It's a Crickett," White said. "It's a little rifle for a kid. ...The little boy's used to shooting the little gun." 
The boy's gun, given to him last year, was a Crickett Firearms model made by Keystone Sporting Arms and branded as "My First Rifle." The weapon appears in a variety of vibrant kid-friendly colors and designs, and the company website says the rifle aims to "instill safety in the minds of youth shooters." 
White said the shooting will be ruled accidental. "Just one of those crazy accidents," he said. 
Photo caption --  Crickett Firearms brand .22-caliber "My First Rifle" kid's model made by Keystone Sporting Arms. (Image via Crickett Firearms Facebook)


The Asia-Pacific Region’s “Operating System” and the “Chinese Dream” of Global “Return”
Reader advisory -- This is a long read. 
And thanks to Dr. Ford's precise use of the mother tongue reading it may require extra concentration. I have never heard him speak, but when I read what he has written I am always impressed with how clearly he is able to explain the most subtle of nuances. 
In this text of an address he gave he discusses the implications of China's economic, military and diplomatic ascendancy

Dr. Christopher Ford presently serves as Chief Republican Counsel to the U.S. Senate Committee on Appropriations -- though he hastens to point out that the views he expresses on this website are entirely his own, and do not necessarily reflect the perspectives of anyone else at the Committee, in the Senate, or in the U.S. Government as a whole. From 2008-13 Dr. Ford was a Senior Fellow at the Hudson Institute in Washington, D.C. Before that, he served as U.S. Special Representative for Nuclear Nonproliferation, Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of State, Minority Counsel and then General Counsel to the U.S. Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, and Staff Director of the Senate's Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations.
A few years ago I wrote a book arguing that it is a powerful strain in Chinese political culture to assume that political authority is related to moral virtue. Order is seen as tending to coagulate, as it were, around the virtuous ruler, all legitimate claimants to political authority must insist upon and vigorously defend their own claims to virtue, and defects in political order are assumed to be the result of defects in virtue.  
Both political authority and moral virtue, moreover, are seen as things lived primarily in the vertical dimension, leading to a distinctively monist, status-hierarchic, and potentially universalist conception of order. Just as suggestions of a lack of superlative virtue are attacks upon one’s basic political legitimacy, so also the virtue of others cannot really be granted lest they be suspected to deserve political and status-hierarchic pride of place.

This traditional Chinese conception of order claims fidelity to a morality of reciprocal obligations and right conduct, but it is sharply hierarchic and zero-sum. Such obligations are vertical in their reciprocity, as in the archetype of the traditional family presided over by a benevolent but sternly authoritative paterfamilias, and with a clear totem pole of status-hierarchy and deference below that apex. There is nothing of real pluralism here: as the old Chinese saying puts it, there cannot be two suns in the sky. 
This system of order can be seen in ancient Confucian conceptions, though such assumptions are shared to a surprising degree even in China’s non-Confucian traditions. I also believe that a good deal of this kind of thinking has persisted into the present day.


The Terror of Capitalism
by Vijay Prashad

This is tough to read. 
When 3Quarks linked this article it triggered a somewhat incoherent string of comments arguing the merits versus the costs of capitalism. That's like arguing about alcohol, guns or antibiotics, none of which is inherently moral or immoral, but all of which beg reasonable controls. 
I post it here in case anyone imagines that laissez-faire capitalism is an altogether good idea. 
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 [a day or two after last Thanksgiving Day].
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).

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 occasional 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.

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