A little back and forth on current events

Doug Stuber: I am sickened by the US Soldiers, two weekends in a row, running around Seoul, mostly in Itaewon and pulling out guns and “pretending” to shoot at Koreans. It’s sad enough that the US has a mostly poor man’s army fighting the RICH MAN’S wars on many fronts for WAY TOO LONG. But who is TRAINING these volunteers? WHAT DO WE WANT? PEACE! WHEN DO WE WANT IT? NOW!

Russell Scott Day: Peculiar or not. North Korea is a shameful aberration allowed to torture its own and threaten all of us. Working class people do not deserve the insults and threats that North Korea is to us. Even in a complex world it is simple. North Korea is a failure and a threat none of us deserve.

Doug Stuber: But these are soldiers in SOUTH KOREA ACE Scott Day. Where I live. The reason 5000 to 10,000 North Koreans starve to death every month is this: Due to a trade deal, an OLD ONE, the US ships 40 million tons of Rice to South Korea every year. Until Lee Myung Bak ended that rice flowing directly to NORTH Korea, as it always had, less people starved. Repeat, South Korea now keeps the rice, thus hurting own farmers in order to what? Punish fellow CITIZENS in the north. Maybe North Korea got sick of starving to death. Maybe if the rice started flowing again they’d back down as they did Under Clinton, and even Bush. It was a SOUTH KOREAN error that led to the Cheonon Naval Corvette being sunk with 64 sailors dying. Then the bombing of YeungPyeungdo in which 4 South Korean civilians died. BOTH were in reaction to the South cutting off the rice. Those were the 57th and 58th time North Korea had broken the now 60-year-old cease fire. In all 58 instances South Korea never attacked back (thank God. Wanna know why? Artillery cannons that fire shells small enough so no forces can pick them off on their way) are already armed and aimed at Seoul’s population of 18 million people. If South Korea or any part of the US Navy, Army, Air Force or Marines even sneezes at North Korea, Seoul is gone in ONE SHOT, ONE ORDER, unstoppable. History: in the early 2000s, under President Roh, a progressive, reunification Minister Chung (who later lost to Lee Myung Bak in a presidential race) set up the Gaeseong Industrial complex with 88 companies using highly trained technical labor from North Korea to help their firms be competitive (the trained labor made $75 per month, but Kim Jung Il, now known as “Dad” to Kim Jung Eun) never knew. Then it got reported about the low pay, the Kim Jung Il demanded better pay and that South Korea pay RENT, they never had. When Lee Myung Bak said they never should pay rent because it was an effort to reunify (of course after Chung was gone and Roh was dead) then Kim Jung Il CUT OFF Gaeseong from all supplies, making the 88 corporations already there, and the 220 lined up to be a part of the action a MUTE point, so Gaeseong closed. It was AFTER it closed the Lee Myung Bak CUT OFF THE RICE, and just after the rice denial that the Cheonan went down. Who’s the bad guy here?

Additionally, CAPITALISM is the greatest threat to the environment, sustainability and human dignity, as globalization (see many previous posts) wage-enslaves so many, while leaving US workers unemployed, in many cities.  As unemployment leads to higher crime rate, the for profit prisons, and PRISON LABOR IN THE US go up.

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Two for our readers, first from Noam Chomsky, and then from Alan Whyte and Jamie Baker.  Although the second cut-and-paste is from 2000, imagine more workers working in prisons with solitary confinement or 21 cents an hour as their choices.  This to puts hard working, never-a-criminal Americans our of work while contributing to the profits of war mongers, among others.

Noam Chomsky: Will Capitalism Destroy Civilization?

There is “capitalism” and then there is “really existing capitalism.”

The term “capitalism” is commonly used to refer to the U.S. economic system, with substantial state intervention ranging from subsidies for creative innovation to the “too-big-to-fail” government insurance policy for banks.

The system is highly monopolized, further limiting reliance on the market, and increasingly so: In the past 20 years the share of profits of the 200 largest enterprises has risen sharply, reports scholar Robert W. McChesney in his new book “Digital Disconnect.”

“Capitalism” is a term now commonly used to describe systems in which there are no capitalists: for example, the worker-owned Mondragon conglomerate in the Basque region of Spain, or the worker-owned enterprises expanding in northern Ohio, often with conservative support – both are discussed in important work by the scholar Gar Alperovitz.

Some might even use the term “capitalism” to refer to the industrial democracy advocated by John Dewey, America’s leading social philosopher, in the late 19th century and early 20th century.

Dewey called for workers to be “masters of their own industrial fate” and for all institutions to be brought under public control, including the means of production, exchange, publicity, transportation and communication. Short of this, Dewey argued, politics will remain “the shadow cast on society by big business.”

The truncated democracy that Dewey condemned has been left in tatters in recent years. Now control of government is narrowly concentrated at the peak of the income scale, while the large majority “down below” has been virtually disenfranchised. The current political-economic system is a form of plutocracy, diverging sharply from democracy, if by that concept we mean political arrangements in which policy is significantly influenced by the public will.

There have been serious debates over the years about whether capitalism is compatible with democracy. If we keep to really existing capitalist democracy – RECD for short – the question is effectively answered: They are radically incompatible.

It seems to me unlikely that civilization can survive RECD and the sharply attenuated democracy that goes along with it. But could functioning democracy make a difference?

Let’s keep to the most critical immediate problem that civilization faces: environmental catastrophe. Policies and public attitudes diverge sharply, as is often the case under RECD. The nature of the gap is examined in several articles in the current issue of Daedalus, the journal of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.

Researcher Kelly Sims Gallagher finds that “One hundred and nine countries have enacted some form of policy regarding renewable power, and 118 countries have set targets for renewable energy. In contrast, the United States has not adopted any consistent and stable set of policies at the national level to foster the use of renewable energy.”

It is not public opinion that drives American policy off the international spectrum. Quite the opposite. Opinion is much closer to the global norm than the U.S. government’s policies reflect, and much more supportive of actions needed to confront the likely environmental disaster predicted by an overwhelming scientific consensus – and one that’s not too far off; affecting the lives of our grandchildren, very likely.

As Jon A. Krosnick and Bo MacInnis report in Daedalus: “Huge majorities have favored steps by the federal government to reduce the amount of greenhouse gas emissions generated when utilities produce electricity. In 2006, 86 percent of respondents favored requiring utilities, or encouraging them with tax breaks, to reduce the amount of greenhouse gasses they emit. Also in that year, 87 percent favored tax breaks for utilities that produce more electricity from water, wind or sunlight. These majorities were maintained between 2006 and 2010 and shrank somewhat after that.

The fact that the public is influenced by science is deeply troubling to those who dominate the economy and state policy.

One current illustration of their concern is the “Environmental Literacy Improvement Act” proposed to state legislatures by ALEC, the American Legislative Exchange Council, a corporate-funded lobby that designs legislation to serve the needs of the corporate sector and extreme wealth.

The ALEC Act mandates “balanced teaching” of climate science in K-12 classrooms. “Balanced teaching” is a code phrase that refers to teaching climate-change denial, to “balance” mainstream climate science. It is analogous to the “balanced teaching” advocated by creationists to enable the teaching of “creation science” in public schools. Legislation based on ALEC models has already been introduced in several states.

Of course, all of this is dressed up in rhetoric about teaching critical thinking – a fine idea, no doubt, but it’s easy to think up far better examples than an issue that threatens our survival and has been selected because of its importance in terms of corporate profits.

Media reports commonly present a controversy between two sides on climate change.

One side consists of the overwhelming majority of scientists, the world’s major national academies of science, the professional science journals and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

They agree that global warming is taking place, that there is a substantial human component, that the situation is serious and perhaps dire, and that very soon, maybe within decades, the world might reach a tipping point where the process will escalate sharply and will be irreversible, with severe social and economic effects. It is rare to find such consensus on complex scientific issues.

The other side consists of skeptics, including a few respected scientists who caution that much is unknown – which means that things might not be as bad as thought, or they might be worse.

Omitted from the contrived debate is a much larger group of skeptics: highly regarded climate scientists who see the IPCC’s regular reports as much too conservative. And these scientists have repeatedly been proven correct, unfortunately.

The propaganda campaign has apparently had some effect on U.S. public opinion, which is more skeptical than the global norm. But the effect is not significant enough to satisfy the masters. That is presumably why sectors of the corporate world are launching their attack on the educational system, in an effort to counter the public’s dangerous tendency to pay attention to the conclusions of scientific research.

At the Republican National Committee’s Winter Meeting a few weeks ago, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal warned the leadership that “We must stop being the stupid party. We must stop insulting the intelligence of voters.”

Within the RECD system it is of extreme importance that we become the stupid nation, not misled by science and rationality, in the interests of the short-term gains of the masters of the economy and political system, and damn the consequences.

These commitments are deeply rooted in the fundamentalist market doctrines that are preached within RECD, though observed in a highly selective manner, so as to sustain a powerful state that serves wealth and power.

The official doctrines suffer from a number of familiar “market inefficiencies,” among them the failure to take into account the effects on others in market transactions. The consequences of these “externalities” can be substantial. The current financial crisis is an illustration. It is partly traceable to the major banks and investment firms’ ignoring “systemic risk” – the possibility that the whole system would collapse – when they undertook risky transactions.

Environmental catastrophe is far more serious: The externality that is being ignored is the fate of the species. And there is nowhere to run, cap in hand, for a bailout.

In future, historians (if there are any) will look back on this curious spectacle taking shape in the early 21st century. For the first time in human history, humans are facing the significant prospect of severe calamity as a result of their actions – actions that are battering our prospects of decent survival.

Those historians will observe that the richest and most powerful country in history, which enjoys incomparable advantages, is leading the effort to intensify the likely disaster. Leading the effort to preserve conditions in which our immediate descendants might have a decent life are the so-called “primitive” societies: First Nations, tribal, indigenous, aboriginal.

The countries with large and influential indigenous populations are well in the lead in seeking to preserve the planet. The countries that have driven indigenous populations to extinction or extreme marginalization are racing toward destruction.

Thus Ecuador, with its large indigenous population, is seeking aid from the rich countries to allow it to keep its substantial oil reserves underground, where they should be.

Meanwhile the U.S. and Canada are seeking to burn fossil fuels, including the extremely dangerous Canadian tar sands, and to do so as quickly and fully as possible, while they hail the wonders of a century of (largely meaningless) energy independence without a side glance at what the world might look like after this extravagant commitment to self-destruction.

This observation generalizes: Throughout the world, indigenous societies are struggling to protect what they sometimes call “the rights of nature,” while the civilized and sophisticated scoff at this silliness.

This is all exactly the opposite of what rationality would predict – unless it is the skewed form of reason that passes through the filter of RECD.

© 2012 Noam Chomsky

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Prison labor on the rise in US

By Alan Whyte and Jamie Baker
8 May 2000

US trade union officials have repeatedly denounced China for its use of prison labor, as part of the AFL-CIO’s campaign against the normalization of trade relations with China. At the same time, however, the union officials have virtually been silent about the huge growth of prison labor in the United States.

There are presently 80,000 inmates in the US employed in commercial activity, some earning as little as 21 cents an hour. The US government program Federal Prison Industries (FPI) currently employs 21,000 inmates, an increase of 14 percent in the last two years alone. FPI inmates make a wide variety of products—such as clothing, file cabinets, electronic equipment and military helmets—which are sold to federal agencies and private companies. FPI sales are $600 million annually and rising, with over $37 million in profits.

In addition, during the last 20 years more than 30 states have passed laws permitting the use of convict labor by commercial enterprises. These programs now exist in 36 states.

Prisoners now manufacture everything from blue jeans, to auto parts, to electronics and furniture. Honda has paid inmates $2 an hour for doing the same work an auto worker would get paid $20 to $30 an hour to do. Konica has used prisoners to repair copiers for less than 50 cents an hour. Toys R Us used prisoners to restock shelves, and Microsoft to pack and ship software. Clothing made in California and Oregon prisons competes so successfully with apparel made in Latin America and Asia that it is exported to other countries.

Inmates are also employed in a wide variety of service jobs as well. TWA has used prisoners to handle reservations, while AT&T has used prison labor for telemarketing. In Oregon, prisoners do all the data entry and record keeping in the Secretary of State’s corporation division. Other jobs include desktop publishing, digital mapping and computer-aided design work.

US employers have pointed to the tight labor market for their interest in employing prisoners. But the other advantages, though not stated publicly, are obvious. The prison system can provide an “ideal” workforce: employers do not have to pay health or unemployment insurance, vacation time, sick leave or overtime. They can hire, fire or reassign inmates as they so desire, and can pay the workers as little as 21 cents an hour. The inmates cannot respond with a strike, file a grievance, or threaten to leave and get a better job.

Prisoners who refuse to work under these conditions are labeled “uncooperative” and risk losing time off for “good behavior,” as well as privileges such as library access and recreation. In one case, two prisoners at California’s Richard J. Donovan Correctional Facility were put in solitary confinement after a local television station broadcast their complaints about working for C.M.T., a T-shirt manufacturer that required them to put in 60 days of unpaid “training.”

The growth of prison labor has directly led to the destruction of other workers’ jobs. For example, Lockhart Technologies, Inc. closed its plant in Austin, Texas, dismissing its 150 workers so that it could open shop in a state prison in Lockhart. The prisoners assemble circuit boards for industrial giants such as IBM, Compaq and Dell. Lockhart is not required to pay for health or any other benefits. The company must pay the prison the federal minimum wage for each laborer, but the inmates get to keep only 20 percent of that.

Linen service workers have lost their jobs when their employer contracted with the prison laundry to do the work. Recycling plant workers have lost their jobs when prisoners were brought in to sort through hazardous waste, often without proper protective gear. Construction workers have lost their jobs when the contractors were assigned to build an expansion of their own prison—essentially making the chains that bind them.

In 1990, California voters approved a change in the state’s constitution allowing the operation of private enterprise in the prisons if the governor will assure that no civilian jobs will be lost. According to the law, companies that are about to begin using prison labor are obligated to notify the state’s AFL-CIO, but in reality they rarely do.

In 1994, Oregon residents voted overwhelmingly for a constitutional amendment mandating that all prisoners work 40 hours a week. As a result, thousands of public sector jobs have been lost to convict labor, and thousands of private sector jobs have been lost as a result of firms that now utilize prison labor.

The struggle over prison labor has a long history in the US. In the early 1800s, group workshops in prisons replaced solitary handicrafts, and the increased efficiency allowed prisons to be self-supporting. Entire prisons were leased out to private contractors, who literally worked hundreds of prisoners to death. Manufacturers who lost work to prison contractors opposed the leasing system, but only with the growth of the union movement came effective opposition to prison labor. One of the most famous clashes, the Coal Creek Rebellion of 1891, took place when the Tennessee Coal, Iron and Railroad locked out their workers and replaced them with convicts. The miners stormed the prison and freed 400 prisoners, and when the company filled up work with more prisoners, the miners burned the prison down.

The prison leasing system was disbanded in Tennessee shortly thereafter, but remained in many states until the rise of the CIO and industrial unionism in the 1930s. As a result of this mass movement of workers, Congress passed the 1935 Ashurst-Sumners Act, making it illegal to transport prison-made goods across state lines. However, under the presidency of Democrat Jimmy Carter, Congress passed the Justice System Improvement Act of 1979, which granted exemptions from Ashurst-Sumners for seven “Prison Industry Enhancement” pilot projects. Congress has since granted exemptions to all 50 state prison systems.

Although prison labor is today in its infancy, it could become one of America’s most important growth industries. Over the last decade, the prison population has increased by 840,000, many of these prisoners having been convicted of nonviolent crimes. With the use of tough-on-crime mandatory sentencing laws, the prison population continues to grow. Some experts believe that the number of people locked up in the US could double in the next 10 years. The expansion of the number of prisoners will not only increase the pool of slave labor available for commercial profit, but also will help pay for the costs of incarceration.

With 2 million inmates, the US already has the largest prison population in the world. China, which the AFL-CIO consistently condemns as anti-worker and totalitarian, has a half-million fewer prisoners. With only 5 percent of the world’s population the United States has a quarter of the world’s 8 million prisoners.

Proponents of prison labor have argued that the employment of labor for profit has a rehabilitative effect. Expenditures for education and training of prisoners, meanwhile, have been declining.

Nevertheless, the use of right-wing propaganda made possible a situation in Oregon where 70 percent of voters, including many union members, approved the use of prison labor. Today, many of these same voters say they were fooled by the original media campaign advocating prison labor, which maintained that its essential purpose was to teach inmates proper discipline and prepare them to be good citizens when they were released.

Today, the AFL-CIO in Oregon is split on the issue. The Teamsters and the building trades unions and the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) now officially stand for the repeal of the prison labor laws because their implementation has already resulted in the loss of dues-paying union members. However, corrections officers who are AFSCME members support prison labor because it makes their jobs a lot easier; they say that the commercial work keeps the prisoners both occupied and exhausted, and therefore easier to control.

In 1997, the Tennessee AFL-CIO supported proposals to privatize the state’s prison system, having struck a deal with Corrections Corporation of America (CCA) to represent the workers. Private, for-profit prisons such as those run by CCA and Wackenhut have become the modern-day version of the nineteenth century leased prisons. Brutal treatment of prisoners is commonplace, as the for-profit entrepreneurs seek to reduce the expense of food and housing in order to add to the profits from running commercial industries.

Perhaps more significantly, the unions tend to portray inmates as the ones who should be blamed for the loss of union members’ jobs. They depict prisoners as bad seeds wholly responsible for their own incarceration, rather than the victims of a system based on the exploitation of workers’ labor-power. Unions have expressed the idea that giving inmates hard work is good because it will help discipline and rehabilitate them. This ideological outlook turns the prisoner into the enemy of organized labor, as well as civilized society. This conception also makes it possible to deflect responsibility from the corporations that pushed for prison labor, and who are now profiting handsomely from its use.

One step towards organizing an effective response to the growth of prison labor is to clarify what is really behind the law-and-order mentally that is being pushed by both major parties in the US. This would involve examining the relationship of crime to the growth of poverty, social and economic inequality, the decline of real career and growth opportunities for millions of people, the crumbling of schools, the impact of racism and bigotry, and so on.

The labor bureaucracy is incapable of doing this as this would threaten the privileged position that it enjoys in a system based on the exploitation and oppression of the working class. It is for this reason that union officials share and promulgate to their membership the same ideological outlook of the corporations, which essentially blames the working class for the social problems that it confronts.

The role of the union bureaucracy can be clearly seen in the political maneuvers taking place in Washington DC concerning the issue of using inmates as laborers. Officials at the Federal Bureau of Prisons are pushing for legislation that would expand the use of prison labor. There are now two competing bills in Congress that would accomplish just that. Representative Pete Hoekstra, a Michigan Republican, is offering one of the bills that would compel prison labor in state prisons to compete with private enterprise. This is an absurd attempt to claim that somehow free labor can successfully compete with the slave-labor conditions in the prisons. Significantly, this bill has the support of both the United States Chamber of Commerce and the AFL-CIO.

The other bill proposed by Representative Bill McCollum, a Republican from Florida, would greatly expand the program but allow the inmates to earn a paltry $1.15 an hour instead of the current 21 cents an hour. This bill also contains a provision that would prohibit existing jobs from being lost as a result of the expanded use of convict labor. However, the experience in California shows that such guarantees are not worth the paper they’re printed on.

There has been discussion about merging the two bills. This demonstrates the real dangers posed to workers and prisoners alike as both the labor bureaucracy and the organized voice of big business in America work together to enlarge the scope of prison labor.

QUESTIONS FOR DISCUSSION:

This article is over 12 years old.  Do you think using prisoners to make profits in the USA is more or less than it was then?

When Globalization finds the cheapest labor it can in order for corporations to profit, what does that do to the value of labor?

Is cheaper labor a problem just for countries that have less-strong economies (Mexico, Argentina, Philippines, Indonesia, Vietnam, China, etc.) or when jobs move to cheaper labor from “developed countries” does it ALSO lower the value of labor back in the countries (mostly Europe and the USA) that export their jobs and polluting factories to the countries whose populations are so desperate for work?

When corporations make larger profits, those who own shares (stocks and bonds) in the company can make even more money just for investing.  Being able to invest money in companies in order to become even more rich is an integral part of Capitalism.  WHO profits the most from capitalism, the laborers, or the rich people who own shares in the company?

Why does capitalism feel compelled to ruin the earth in order to make profit?

Since most people would rather be a manager in a business than a factory worker “on the floor,” then how long will it be before the planet is used up just so the very few at the top of the economic pile can make more money?

Which parts of South Korea are still socialized?  Did Lee Myung Bak do anything to start to chip away at the benefits for elderly or other parts of the socialized segments of Korean society?  Will Park Gun Hye follow his lead and allow more hospitals to be privatized, less money to be spent on helping the poor, and more money spent on “defense?”

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