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The Morning Grumpy – 5/3/13

3 May

All the news, views, and filtered excellence fit to consume during your morning grumpy.

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1. 400 people died in the collapse of a  Bangladeshi garment factory last week. The people there were making the cheap shirts you buy at JCPenney and other low-end retailers and they died working in conditions that were banned in America after incidents like the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire. It might be a good time to ask why we seem to be perfectly content that we wear clothes made by children and others trapped in horrific, slave-like working conditions overseas. For most of us, we don’t have a lot of choice in the matter as we buy what we can afford and in today’s economy, that isn’t much. After all, wages have stagnated for decades and our buying power is less than it was in the glory days of American dominance.

The reasons are many and are beyond the scope of a simple media curation blog. But when you really get down to it, these shirts are made overseas as a means to maximize profits for the manufacturers and retailers who don’t pay their American workers the kind of money that would allow them to buy an American-made shirt

tshirt-graphic

I want us to start thinking more about the reasons why things are the way they are, who benefits, and understand the real consequences of our decisions. It all comes down to the same question I’ve been asking myself a lot lately, what kind of country do we live in? And what kind of country do we want to live in?

2. What happened to all the good jobs?

There are no shortage of suspects for this sorry state of affairs. The stark decline of labor, now reaching less than 7 percent of the private sector, has dramatically undermined the bargaining power and real wages of workers. The erosion of the minimum wage, for which meager increases have been overmatched by inflationary losses, has left the labor market without a stable floor. And an increasingly expansive financial sector has displaced real wages and salaries with speculatory rent-seeking.

New work by John Schmitt and Janelle Jones at the Center for Economic and Policy Research recasts this question, posing it not as a causal riddle but as a political challenge: What would it take to get good jobs back?

Schmitt and Jones start with a basic distinction between good jobs (those that pay $19.00/hr or better and offer both job-based health coverage and some retirement coverage) and bad jobs (those that meet none of these criteria). Each of these categories accounts for about a quarter of the workforce (the rest fall somewhere in between), with the share of good jobs slipping since 1979 and the share of bad jobs creeping up. The goal, by simulating the impact of different policy interventions, is to increase the share of good jobs and to eliminate—as much as possible—the bad jobs entirely.

Pretty solid readin’ here.

3. Hey, remember that fertilizer plant that exploded near Waco?  We cared about about it for a few minutes a couple weeks back. That’s how things work in this country: huge tragedy happens, Matt Lauer and Anderson Cooper are dispatched to the site of the devastation to report the news with a concerned look on their faces and an arched eyebrow, everyone blithely writes “thoughts and prayers” as a half-assed statement of recognition on Twitter or Facebook to the populace of the woe-begotten locale, and then a new shiny object comes along to distract us during the next news cycle. But, what actually happened at that plant to cause such massive devastation and carnage?

Here’s what we do know: The fertilizer plant hadn’t been inspected by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration since 1985. Its owners do not seem to have told the Department of Homeland Security that they were storing large quantities of potentially explosive fertilizer, as regulations require. And the most recent partial safety inspection of the facility in 2011 led to $5,250 in fines.

Why was a plant that stored explosive chemicals allowed to be located so close to a school?

The EPA and other federal agencies actually don’t regulate how close such plants can be to schools, nursing homes and population centers. In Texas, the decision is left up to the local zoning authorities.

A Dallas Morning News investigation in 2008 found that Dallas County residents were “at risk of a toxic disaster because outdated and haphazard zoning has allowed homes, apartments and schools to be built within blocks — in some cases even across the street — from sites that use dangerous chemicals.”

So, the investigation continues and data journalists like the men and women at ProPublica are following the story. You should too. When government funding for safety inspections is slashed, this is what happens. Same thing happened at the Deepwater Horizon drilling platform in the Gulf of Mexico. Also, next time a local economic development agency complains about zoning restrictions and environmental reviews, these types of explosions and accidents are what they’re trying to prevent. Now, we might overdo it here, but finding a middle ground between putting fertilizer plants next to schools in Texas and trying to stop a Greek restaurant on Elmwood from putting tables on its front porch would probably be a good thing for everyone.

4. You won’t believe what’s in your turkey burger.

Back in August 2011, the agribusiness giant Cargill recalled a stunning 36 million pounds of ground turkey tainted with antibiotic-resistant salmonella that had come from a single processing facility in Arkansas, a failure that eventually sickened 136 people and killed another. The company shut down the plant, tweaked its process (mainly by adding to and “intensifying” its system of spraying meat with antimicrobial fluid), and quickly reopened it. Within a month, the companyhad to recall another 108,000 pounds of ground turkey from the same plant, because it was infected with the same strain of superbug salmonella.

Have things improved?

Cargill says it has cleaned up its act, but recent research suggests that ground turkey still has an antibiotic-resistant-pathogen problem. The latest evidence comes from Consumer Reports, which has just published the results of testing it did on 257 samples of ground turkey picked up from retailers around the country, produced by a variety of processors, including Cargill.

Even so, the results of Consumer Reports’ tests won’t make you eager to order that next turkey burger: “More than half of the packages of raw ground meat and patties tested positive for fecal bacteria.”

Overall, 90 percent of the samples tested by CR researchers carried at least one of the five bacteria they looked for—and “almost all” of the bacteria strains they found showed resistance to at least one antibiotic.

So, there’s that.

5. Dorks are the reason we can’t have cool things, like Google Glass.

The Segway. The Bluetooth headset. The pocket protector.

What do these three technologies have in common? They all pretty much work as promised. They all seem like good ideas on paper. And they’re all too dorky to live.

Now, far be it from me to claim that nerdiness equals lack of popularity potential. But I contend that dorkiness and nerdiness are two different qualities. While nerdiness implies a certain social awkwardness that’s ultimately endearing, dorkiness connotes social obliviousness that opens you to deserved ridicule.

Guess which category Google Glass will fall under when it goes “mainstream?”

Dorks.

6. The Internet could have been patented and we all would be living very different lives.

Twenty years ago this week, researchers renounced the right to patent the World Wide Web. Officials at CERN, the European research center where the Web was invented, wrote:

CERN relinquishes all intellectual property to this code, both source and binary form and permission is granted for anyone to use, duplicate, modify and redistribute it.

Incredible.

Fact Of The Day: Oral sex with the man who impregnated you could cure morning sickness. Or, exactly what husbands of pregnant wives will be saying for the next 50 years.

Quote Of The Day: “Realists do not fear the results of their study.” – Fyodor Dostoevsky

Video Of The Day: A little Macho Man to brighten up your Friday.

Song Of The Day: “Ain’t Nothin Wrong With That” – Robert Randolph and The Family Band

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Email me links, tips, story ideas: chris@artvoice.com

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