Political MoJo

Post-Katrina workers plagued by employer deception, racism, homelessness, and a toxic environment

| Fri Jul. 7, 2006 2:42 PM EDT

Dan Nazohni, a member of the White Mountain Apache Nation, was recruited, along with 79 others on his reservation, to do $14-an-hour labor in post-Katrina New Orleans. The broker who did the recruiting was paid $1,600 by the tribal government for gas and incidentals. He then dropped the workers off in New Orleans and disappeared, never to be seen again. The Apache tribal workers were homeless for days, and wound up in a tent city in City Park, where the rent is $300 a month. Nazohni says he has found barely enough work to scrape by.

Gail Duncan works in the kitchen of a New Orleans restaurant, but she cannot afford to rent an apartment. Her family lived for several months in Fort Worth, Texas, but, Duncan says, her daughter was threatened (reason unknown) by the children at her school, and school officials told her to leave the state. Now she and her children sleep on the floor of a relative's public housing apartment.

Mario Fuentes, who does demolition work, traveled to New Orleans from Houston at the end of 2005. After working for four days, the contractors dropped him off at a fast-food restaurant, bought him a hamburger and a cold drink, then drove away and never came back.

Jorge Ramos, a Honduran man from Houston, was part of a team of a dozen tree service workers cleaned up debris in New Orleans' Garden District. They worked twelve hours a day for thirteen days and earned $20,000, but were never paid. They are living in tents in City Park.

These scenarios represent the gist of a report released yesterday by the Advancement Project and the National Immigration Law Project. The report is filled with examples of racism, deception and police harrassment.

The police harrassment concerns the alleged checking of migrant workers for gang tatoos by members of the NOPD. However, an NOPD spokesman says that police officers would never do such checking unless a complaint had been called in.

In addition to being underpaid, denied overtime, not paid at all, and living in cars, tents and flood-damaged buildings, many migrant workers also work in possibly toxic conditions.

The report calls the treatment of workers in New Orleans "a national crisis of civil and human rights." Considering the reaction to the crisis of suffering caused by the U.S. Corps of Engineers during Katrina, it would be near-futile to expect an appropriate reaction to this post-Katrina tragedy.

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Neo-Nazis and Other Dangerous Extremists Infiltrating the Military

| Fri Jul. 7, 2006 12:39 PM EDT

Oh, great.

Under pressure to meet wartime manpower goals, the U.S. military has relaxed standards designed to weed out racist extremists. Large numbers of potentially violent neo-Nazis, skinheads and other white supremacists are now learning the art of warfare in the armed forces.

Department of Defense investigators estimate thousands of soldiers in the Army alone are involved in extremist or gang activity. "We've got Aryan Nations graffiti in Baghdad," said one investigator. "That's a problem."

So says a new report out from the Southern Poverty Law Center, which says these guys--whose numbers could run into the thousands--are "using their military training to fight wars at home."

Just to give you some flavor...one neo-Nazi, quoted in the report, says, "Join only for the training, and to better defend yourself, our people, and our culture. We must have people to open doors from the inside when the time comes." Another observes, "We have pride in our race, heritage, and culture, and we will do anything to prevent it from being destroyed. White man is the creator, the creator of civilizations."

Via the New York Times.

Sorry about that 16 months of your life; here's a pair of sneakers

| Fri Jul. 7, 2006 4:52 AM EDT

There will be many more of these stories. As people begin walking out of Gitmo and the other terror war jails, blinking and trying to figure out if what they just went through was real, we'll hear over and over again how they were detained on some tip, hint, or clue that would prove to be worthless; how their interrogators first thought they'd caught some terror kingpin, only to lose interest when they realized their prisoner was a foot soldier at best, just an unlucky farmer at worst; how there were fewer and fewer interrogations, but still they were not released, for months or years, until some day they were given a pair of white shoes (what an odd souvenir) and a letter saying they were not deemed a threat by the United States, and put on a plane, and told when it landed that they were free. (Read Emily Bazelon's Mother Jones story on tracking the families of detainees here, and her investigation of torture at Bagram--which also notes the peculiar white-shoe detail--here).

And the awful thing here is, even if you stipulate that maybe, after a bloody attack, it's conceivable that a government would arrest anyone it has reason to believe might be connected to that attack or planned future attacks; even if some people might consider it useful to interrogate those people in secret offshore prisons where they are kept in dungeons and humiliated or worse; even then, why, why keep them locked up for so long after you know for sure that you're not getting any intel out of them?

Why Did the Chicken Cross the Globe? Organic Food and the Global Economy

| Thu Jul. 6, 2006 9:27 PM EDT

"Organic" ain't what it used to be. As Michael Pollan notes in his book, The Omnivore's Dilemma (excerpted in the last issue of Mother Jones), what started out a quarter century ago as a reform movement is now well on its way to becoming a full-on industry, worth $14 billion at the last tally. People will disagree, of course, about whether this is a good thing. Some, like Joel Salafin, a local-food evangelist profiled by Pollan, sees the big organic companies like Whole Foods as, in Pollan's words, "part of an increasingly globalized economy that turns any food it touches into a commodity, reaching its tentacles wherever in the world a food can be produced most cheaply and then transporting it wherever it can be sold most dearly."

Well, good or bad, it's happening. For evidence, see this piece out today from AP. After noting that demand for organic food is outstripping supply (sales have grown 15-21 percent a year), that mainstream supermarkets are getting in on the act, and that the number of organic farms (10,000) is on the rise, though not fast enough to meet supply, the piece touches on the increasing globalization of Organic Inc.

As a result [of the lagging growth in the number of organic farms] organic manufacturers are looking for ingredients outside the United States in places like Europe, Bolivia, Venezuela and South Africa. ...

The makers of the high-energy, eat-and-run Clif Bar needed 85,000 pounds of almonds, and they had to be organic. But the nation's organic almond crop was spoken for. Eventually, Clif Bar found the almonds — in Spain. But more shortages have popped up: apricots and blueberries, cashews and hazelnuts, brown rice syrup and oats.

Even Stonyfield Farm, an organic pioneer in the United States, is pursuing a foreign supplier; Stonyfield is working on a deal to import milk powder from New Zealand.

"I'm not suggesting we would be importing from all these places," said Gary Hirshberg, president and CEO of Stonyfield Farm Inc. "But for transition purposes, to help organic supply to keep up with the nation's growing hunger, these countries have to be considered.

I leave to more sensitive souls the question of whether this development destroys the mystical communion folks have with their chicken dinners. I will say, though, that while there's obviously no inherent reason why the organic food "industry" should be immune from the dynamics of the global economy, the organic "movement," premised as it is on concern for the natural environment, runs into the problem that transporting food--even within the United States--burns up a whole lot of fuel. When a renegade movement is tamed, ironies abound...

Blogosphere--the wild blue yonder

| Thu Jul. 6, 2006 8:42 PM EDT

"Automated Ontologically-Based Link Analysis of International Web Logs for the Timely Discovery of Relevant and Credible Information."

Like the name? "How About Those Blogs?!" would flow better from the tongue, but for $450,000, you have to have a killer name for your study. "Automated Ontologically-Based Link Analysis of International Web Logs for the Timely Discovery of Relevant and Credible Information" (hereafter to be referred to as AOBLAIWLTDRCI) is a three-year project of the Air Force Office of Scientific Research. Dr. Brian E. Ulicny says "It can be challenging for information analysts to tell what's important in blogs unless you analyze patterns."

The researchers plan to develop an automated tool that tells analysts what topics bloggers are interestd in at any given time. If this sounds something like a search engine, the scientists agree, but say it is more focused. Says Ulicny:

Blog entries have a different structure. They are typically short and are about something external to the blog posting itself, such as a news event. It's not uncommon for a blogger to simply state, 'I can't believe this happened,' and then link to a news story.

What does the Air force hope to do with the results of AOBLAIWLTDRCI?

The fact that the web is a vast source of information is sometimes overlooked by military analyst. Our research goal is to provide the warfighter with a kind of information radar to better understand the information battlespace.

The United States of Incarceration

| Thu Jul. 6, 2006 7:40 PM EDT

Why go all the way to Guantanamo to find an unjust, broken prison system when we have one right here in the USA? That's the question cartoonist Mark Fiore takes up this week. (Click on the image to view. You need Flash.)


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Collective Punishment in Gaza

| Thu Jul. 6, 2006 7:20 PM EDT

Over at the Progressive, editor Matthew Rothschild denounces Israel's decision to collectively punish the Palestinians in Gaza--Israeli forces have targeted bridges and the area's sole power plant--in retaliation for the kidnapping of an Israeli soldier, and he criticizes the Bush administration for averting its gaze. Predictably, the piece has elicited some strongly worded reader feedback. Agree or disagree with his analysis--though at a minimum it's hard to see how the Israeli response is remotely "proportionate"—but do take a look.

Iraq Will Cost $1.27 Trillion and the Army Can't Afford to Pay Its Electric Bills

| Thu Jul. 6, 2006 6:02 PM EDT

Here's one to file under "If we're the most powerful nation in the history of the world, then how come...?" AP reports that "a diversion of dollars to help fight the war in Iraq has helped create a $530 million shortfall for Army posts at home and abroad, leaving some unable to pay utility bills or even cut the grass."

From which follows a sorry litany of deprivations, including these:

  • In San Antonio, Fort Sam Houston hasn't been able to pay its $1.4 million monthly utility bill since March, prompting workers in many of the post's administrative buildings to get automated disconnection notices.
  • Fort Bragg in North Carolina can't afford to buy pens, paper or other office supplies until the new fiscal year starts in October.
  • And in Kentucky, Fort Knox had to close one of its eight dining halls for a month and lay off 133 contract workers.
  • Iraq sucking up disproportionate funds is not the whole problem, though. Also at work is good old-fashioned incompetence. "It makes me worry if the Pentagon can't do its accounting well enough to find money for its electric bills," [Michael O'Hanlon of the Brookings Institution] said. "It just boggles my mind a little bit."

    (Oh, and per this piece in the The American Prospect, the Iraq war looks like it'll end up costing $1.27 trillion.)

    Is Congress Doing Enough to Clean Itself Up? Can You Guess?

    | Thu Jul. 6, 2006 5:29 PM EDT

    Six months ago, Jack Abramoff pled guilty to conspiracy, fraud and tax evasion, upon which members of Congress, evincing much faux outrage, lamented the corrupting influence of lobbyist-paid travel, meals, and gifts, and the immorality of earmarking, and issued loud calls for wholesale ethics reform.

    It's now July, and, as the Washington Post recently reported, the "call for lobbying changes is a fading cry." (Which is another way of saying lawmakers were never interested in reform and have all along assumed the public would lose interest in the subject, allowing them to resume business as usual.)

    [Lobbying reform] legislation has slowed to a crawl. Along the way, proposals such as [Speaker Dennis] Hastert's that would sharply limit commonplace behavior on Capitol Hill have been cast aside. Committee chairmen once predicted the bill would be finished in March, but the Senate did not pass its ethics bill until March 29 and the House passed its version May 3. The House has yet to name negotiators to draft the final package.

    Legislators and public-interest group advocates say the most likely result this year is a minimalist package that would allow members to say they have responded to the Abramoff situation and other scandals but would do little to crimp their ability to accept lobbyist favors.

    The change, these people say, reflects a calculation that the political storm has mostly passed and that the need for more intrusive efforts to alter the congressional culture and the lobbyist-lawmaker relationship is less urgent.

    Of course, how urgent the efforts are is a direct function of how much heat representatives get from the folks back home. In an admirable attempt to gauge the public mood and send a message to Capitol Hill, the Sunlight Foundation has just posted an online poll asking Americans if they think Congress is doing enough to address ethics and lobbying reform. You can do your bit by taking the poll here.

    Cheney Profiting Off Bad News?

    | Thu Jul. 6, 2006 4:20 PM EDT

    Where's Dick Cheney investing his money these days? See here. Apparently he's betting that the Bush administration's large deficits will drive down the dollar, drive up interest rates, and cause inflation. Who knew?