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How appropriate, this May Day, that Human Rights Watch has just released "Discounting Human Rights: Wal-Mart's Violation of US Workers' Right to Freedom of Association," a detailed account of how Wal-Mart systematically violates its workers' right to organize. The right to freedom of association is, as the group notes, "well established under international human rights law," and the United States should be enforcing it. Our government has not been fulfilling this basic task, and as a result, our nation's largest private employer has also become a rogue union buster, whose practices are starkly at odds with any notion of workplace democracy.
Between 2004 and early 2007, Human Rights interviewed forty-one current and former Wal-Mart workers and managers (some of whom supported unionization, some were opposed and some ambivalent). The group also interviewed labor lawyers and union organizers, and analyzed the cases against Wal-Mart charging the company with violating US labor laws. Even adjusted for its size, the human rights group found, Wal-Mart stood out for the number of such violations. Between January 2000 and July 2005, fifteen National Labor Relations Board rulings against Wal-Mart are still standing and have not been overruled -- that is three times as many such rulings as Albertson's, Costco, Kmart, Kroger, Home Depot, Sears and Target combined. Put together, those companies have a workforce 26 percent bigger than Wal-Mart's.
The rights group found that the company begins to indoctrinate and intimidate workers with an anti-union message almost from the moment they are hired. In violation of international standards -- but not in violation of US law -- workers are encouraged to attend "captive audience" meetings in which they hear all the bad news about unions -- with little or no opportunity for union supporters and organizers to respond. In violation even of weak US laws, Wal-Mart spies on union supporters extensively, has fired workers for union organizing, and has told workers they would lose benefits if they supported a union.
The Winograd Commission, established by Israeli PM Ehud Olmert to investigate Israel's notably unsuccessful performance in last summer's war against Lebanon, today issued a first "Partial Report" in Jerusalem. The report covered only the period leading up to the war and the first six days of what turned out to be a 33-day war. It attributed "primary responsibility" for what it described as "very serious failings" in Israeli decisionmaking in this period to Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, the defense minister Amir Peretz, and the then-Chief of Staff Dan Halutz.
Paragraph 10 of the report's Executive Summary detailed the main strategic failings thus:
b. Consequently, in making the decision to go to war, the government did not consider the whole range of options, including that of continuing the policy of 'containment', or combining political and diplomatic moves with military strikes below the 'escalation level', or military preparations without immediate military action -- so as to maintain for Israel the full range of responses to the abduction. This failure reflects weakness in strategic thinking, which derives the response to the event from a more comprehensive and encompassing picture.
I hesitate to get into an inter-magazine pissing match, but I just couldn't let this post by The New Republic's James Kirchick go unanswered. Kirchick takes aim at the Nation's latest issue, which contains a symposium on Cuba, its future and the problems with US policy towards it. Kirchick's critique is two-fold. First, he finds the entire choice of topic and presentation musty, boring and predictable. "Leave it to the Nation," he writes, "that stalwart fount of 'unconventional wisdom since 1865,' to offer a platform to a dictatorship's toady." Well, let's remember that this comes on the website of a magazine that did everything in its power to push the US into a war that its own former editor now describes as a "disaster" and "tragic," and which has resulted in the deaths of tens, most likely hundreds, of thousands of innocent civilians. So Mr. Kirchick may want to check himself before calling out The Nation, a magazine that got the single most pressing foreign policy question of our times right. (And, it should be noted, has published numerous articles critical of the Castro regime in the fast few years alone, including in the very issue that Kirchick criticizes.)
As for his substantive critique, it is this: Because Cuba is ruled by a dictator, any representative of the government is by definition a "toady," spouting "disreputable opinions." His complaints, therefore, cannot have merit, and must be necessarily ignored by anyone who shares Mr. Kirchick's impeccable moral judgement. If this kind of logic seems familiar, it's because it is. It's the same logic that led the New Republic and the establishment to support a sanctions regime against Iraq that almost certainly killed more than a hundred thousand Iraqi children. You see, because Saddam was evil, his government's contention that the the sanctions were killing its civilians had to be wrong. And because Saddam was evil, his government's claim that it had, in fact, been disarmed, could not have been true, even after the UN weapons inspectors confirmed it.
F Scott Fitzgerald famously observed that the "the true test of a first-rate mind is the ability to hold two contradictory ideas at the same time." The Nation published an issue that contained both the voice of the Castro regime and those critical of it. It can be the case that the Cuban regime is a bad regime, and that it has entirely legitimate complaints to offer towards the US. But this is precisely what Kirchick finds so odious. His moral cosmology is that of the Bush administration which says that there are good guys and bad guys in this world, and we just don't talk with or listen to the bad guys until they stop being bad.
Doesn't it feel like a new cold war out there?
Condi Rice has taken off those dominatrix black boots and slipped into dark cold war terminology: "The idea that somehow 10 interceptors and a few radars in Eastern Europe are going to threaten the Soviet strategic deterrent is purely ludicrous, and everybody knows it," she said speaking in Oslo last week at a gathering of diplomats from NATO countries.
The Russians don't see it quite the same way. And last week, Russian President Vladimir Putin suspended his nation's compliance with a treaty on conventional weapons in Europe that was created at the end of the cold war. The decision, fueled by the Kremlin's anger at the US's proposal to build this new missile defense system in Europe, is just another sign of how much has been squandered since the Cold War was officially declared "kaput" in Malta in 1989 at the summit between George Bush I and Mikhail Gorbachev.
Before you imagine that the Democrats' plan, just passed by Congress, would actually get U.S. troops out of Iraq, read the fine print.
Let's be clear about what it is -- when it comes to "withdrawal" from Iraq -- that the President will veto this Wednesday. Section 1904(b) of the supplemental appropriations bill for the Pentagon, H.R. 1591, passed by the House and Senate, mandates that the Secretary of Defense "commence the redeployment of the Armed Forces from Iraq not later than October 1, 2007, with a goal of completing such redeployment within 180 days." If you've been listening to network TV news shows or reading your local newspaper with less than an eagle eye, you might well be under the impression that -- just as the phrasing above seems to indicate -- a Democratic-controlled Congress has just passed a bill that mandates a full-scale American withdrawal from Iraq. (Reporters and commentators regularly speak of the Democrats' insistence that "American troops be withdrawn from Iraq.") But that's only until you start reading the exceptions embedded in the bill.
Here are the main ones. According to H.R. 1591, the Secretary of Defense is allowed to keep U.S. forces in Iraq for the following purposes:
Want a reality check on the implications of the Supreme Court verdict in Gonzales v. Carhart? Throwing out thirty years of legal precedent, the court declared that Congress has an interest in preserving fetal life over and above any implications for women's health. (No wonder Katha Pollitt's "upset." Her latest column Regrets Only is dead-right.) Which women will feel the impact? All women who ever become pregnant and want to make decisions for themselves. As Lynn Paltrow, of National Pregnant Women's Advocates told RadioNation 4/21/07, this is a decision that has potential to affect every woman who chooses to give birth at home, employ a midwife, have -- or not have -- a c-section. The implications for women's rights are devastating, not only for women who choose to abort but also for those who want to have choices as they carry their pregnancies to term.
Then there is the doctor's perspective. During the radio program, one ob-gyn called in from Seattle. She dared not use her name. Here's the transcript of that call:
RadioNation: How will this decision affect you?
Ob-gyn: The decision to perform 2nd term abortions was not easy for me. It's not an easy procedure to do, but I do it out of compassion for fellow human beings. How this will affect me is I will have to watch women who are in dire need of this procedure go without or go with much riskier procedures which include inducing labor in someone their 2nd trimester, or actual abdominal surgery.
I'm not going to hold forth on Leslie Bennetts' new book, The Feminine Mistake, because I haven't read it (that hasn't stopped plenty of others in the blogosphere from weighing in), and I don't disagree with Bennetts' premise that dropping out of the workforce to raise kids can be financially risky for women, especially if they get divorced. But cyberkerfuffles over this book are raging, as they are over Linda Hirshman's op-ed in yesterday's Times, "Back to Work She Should Go," ordering stay-at-home moms back on the job (yet again: Hirshman is also the author of Get To Work: A Manifesto for the Women of the World). Hirshman has her panties in a twist about a study showing that slightly fewer married mothers of infants under a year old are working now than in 1997. She's particularly cheezed that -- surprise! -- rich, well-educated women are the most likely not to work when their children are babies. (The actual study, by Sharon R. Cohany and Emy Sok, economists with the Bureau of Labor Statistics, is interesting but hardly alarming: the percentage of married moms of infants who were working fell six points, to 53.3 percent in 2000 -- the beginning of a recession! -- and since then, according to the authors "has shown no clear trend." The labor force participation rate for married mothers of school-aged children has fallen only 2 percentage points since 1997: 75 % of them were on the job as of 2005.)
In any case, isn't it time for writers and academics to stop telling other women how to live their lives? Our workdays are much more flexible than most people's, and although we do face some difficulties -- huge expenses of health insurance, if you're a freelancer, and of child care -- we're lucky: we get to do work we enjoy and spend lots of time with our kids. Many people (men and women) don't get to do either of those things. It is obnoxious when Caitlin Flanagan waxes judgmental of other working mothers, from her fortunate position as a writer for the New Yorker and Atlantic magazines, working from a comfortably large home in Connecticut with several nannies. But it is also obnoxious when pundits like Hirshman wax condescending about mothers who choose not to work; she wonders who will be the "role models" for future generations of girls, as if women who take a little time off when their babies are under a year can't be role models. There's something elitist -- and a little disturbing -- about the clear subtext here: the labor of childcare is all very well for impoverished immigrants but a waste of time for women with Ivy League degrees. Hirshman -- who retired as the Allen/Berenson Distinguished Visiting Professor at Brandeis University -- doesn't care much, either, about the value or content of other people's work, indeed, in past writings she has criticized women for taking pay cuts to teach or work for social justice, when to truly advance the cause of gender equality, they should be sharking it out in the corporate world. I'm guessing that neither Flanagan's, nor Hirshman's, nor Leslie Bennetts' work life looks very much like that of a Starbucks barista -- or a hedge fund manager. Or that of your average suburban office park commuter.
Much more helpful than the exhortations of pundits are strategies to improve life for regular working women who are not among the super-rich, nanny-hiring, private-school-volunteering set -- and aren't writers or retired professors, either. Moms Rising, the Internet organizing group, along with many other activists and policy organizations, have been fighting to get a Paid Family Leave bill passed in Washington State -- and this week, they won! Now that bill is headed to the governor's desk, where it is expected to be signed in early May.
The Senate majority leader is being portrayed as an awkward duck who doesn't look the part and can't talk it either. Harry Reid, it's true, is given to saying the most inappropriate stuff, opinions that disturb Washington pundits and the third-string political consultants who appear of TV talker shows. They tut-tut and scold. The kinder ones think he must have misspoken. Others insist Democrats should give him the hook and replace Reid with a more responsible leader.
What did the man say? "This war is lost." "The President is in a state of denial." A few years back, Reid shockingly called Federal Reserve chairman Alan Greenspan "one of the biggest political hacks we have in Washington."
What do these and other outrageous remarks have in common? They are all true.A political leader who speaks the truth in unambiguous ways is naturally suspect in the capital city. But he ought to become a hero in the hinterland where citizens dwell. People who care need to rally around Harry Reid now and express their feelings because the political establishment is coming after him. White House slime agents are leading the campaign
Britons go to the polls May 3 to vote in local elections that will have a sizeable impact on the way that Tony Blair's ten-year premiership ends. Blair, who has been Prime Minister since May 2, 1997, has promised he will step down from the post before this year's Labour Party Conference, due in September. I've spent several weeks in the UK since early March-- and was back there again early this week. In much of the country, people just seem eager for him to go, and quickly. But he has hung on and hung on.
His decision to join President Bush in invading Iraq in 2003-- and the slavish support he has given to Bush ever since then-- are the main cause of this disaffection.
Now, Labour looks set to do very poorly in next week's local elections, and that performance is expected to bring Blair's Labour colleagues to the point where finally they tell him that-- for the sake of the party-- it is time for him to go. Chancellor of the Exchequer Gordon Brown now looks more secure than ever to replace Blair as head of the party (and therefore, also of the government.)
How much appeal does an anti-Alberto Gonzales appeal have with grassroots Republicans?
A lot, if John McCain's political calculus is to be trusted.
On the day that the Arizona senator relaunched his candidacy for the Republican nomination for the presidency, McCain pronounced himself to have been "very disappointed in (the Attorney General's) performance" before the Senate Judiciary Committee.