In the Belly of the Beast: 3/25/11: 100th Anniversary of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire


The WikiLeaks News & Views Blog for Thursday, Day 110

from The Nation Blogs: Media Fix by Greg Mitchell

Headlines for March 25, 2011

The WikiLeaks News & Views Blog for Thursday, Day 110

from The Nation Blogs: Media Fix by Greg Mitchell

Seymour Hersh: Why were the U.S. ‘Kill Team’ soldiers smiling?

Chris in Paris wrote earlier about the opening of the “Kill Team” trials, the court marshalls of the soldiers who shot up a bunch of Afghan civilians and then took pictures of them, Abu Ghraib–style. (Calling this “Abu Ghraib 2” would not be an overstatement, though “My Lai 2” would also fit.)

As Chris noted, the soldiers knew they were killing innocents:

Asked by the judge what his intent was, [Corporal Jeremy] Morlock replied, “The plan was to kill people.”

“Did everybody know, `We’re killing people who are completely innocent’?” the judge asked.

“Generally, yes, sir, everyone knew,” Morlock replied.

Painful. But I want to spotlight these comments by Seymour Hersh, writing in the New Yorker about this incident.

First, our soldiers — and our whole society — are victims of our wars. We desensitize both them and ourselves, to the point where we make monsters of us all (my emphasis and minor paragraphing):

Why photograph atrocities? And why pass them around to buddies back home or fellow soldiers in other units? How could the soldiers’ sense of what is unacceptable be so lost? No outsider can have a complete answer to such a question. As someone who has been writing about war crimes since My Lai, though, I have come to have a personal belief: these soldiers had come to accept the killing of civilians—recklessly, as payback, or just at random—as a facet of modern unconventional warfare.

In other words, killing itself, whether in a firefight with the Taliban or in sport with innocent bystanders in a strange land with a strange language and strange customs, has become ordinary. In long, unsuccessful wars, in which the enemy—the people trying to kill you—do not wear uniforms and are seldom seen, soldiers can lose their bearings, moral and otherwise. The consequences of that lost bearing can be hideous. This is part of the toll wars take on the young people we send to fight them for us. The G.I.s in Afghanistan were responsible for their actions, of course. But it must be said that, in some cases, surely, as in Vietnam, the soldiers can also be victims.

Not innocent victims, but victims nonetheless.

Same with ourselves: not innocent, but victims. To choose one example from many: it has become ordinary in the U.S. to accept war by decree, by presidential fiat, instead of by democratic deliberation of our elected Congress. The U.S. hasn’t declared war since Pearl Harbor. And most of us go on with our lives, thinking ourselves relieved of responsibility.

That’s the song of the guilty, thinking that Afghan brutality is somehow just the president’s fault. Yet we huddle under his umbrella.

Second, this will come home. That cannot be stopped, not by dreams of exceptionalism, nor by any number of Cheney-esque power fantasies. Hersh comments here (and not for the first time):

The Der Spiegel photographs also help to explain why the American war in Afghanistan can probably never be “won,” in my view, just as we did not win in Vietnam. Terrible things happen in war, and terrible things are happening every day in Afghanistan, as Americans continue to conduct nightly assassination raids and have escalated the number of bombing sorties. There are also reports of suspected Taliban sympathizers we turn over to Afghan police and soldiers being tortured or worse.

This will be a long haul; revenge in Afghan society does not have to come immediately. We could end up not knowing who hit us, or why, a decade or two from now.

Revenge in Afghan society. Even if we turned the whole country — shopping malls and golf courses, crystal cathedrals and condo-complexes — into a mass of barbed-wire gate-checked communities — ask yourself, what could a determined vengeance-seeker do to us? The answer is obvious; anything he wants.

The dirty little secret of security checks? Every popular place you put a security check, you put a large bottleneck of bodies, packed tight and waiting to get through.

You’d have to put a security check outside of every security check, to make sure the Bads didn’t get into the security lines, and blow it up. Think about it; that’s an M.C. Escher impossibility.

We could be hosed for a generation thanks to this stuff. All of us.

100th Anniversary of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire

1-1-play_triangle_history_2_Today marks the centennial anniversary of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire, the deadliest workplace accident in New York City’s history and a seminal moment for American labor. On March 25, 1911, 146 garment workers, mostly young immigrant women, died after a fire broke out at the factory. Many of them leaped to their deaths when they tried to escape and found the emergency exits locked. “I saw people throwing themselves from the window. As soon as we went down, we could not get out because the bodies were coming down” says the last survivor of the fire in a 1986 interview with Amy Goodman. Denied any collective bargaining rights, the Triangle workers were powerless to change the abysmal conditions in their factory: inadequate ventilation, lack of safety precautions and fire drills–and locked doors. [includes rush transcript]

100 Years After Triangle Fire, Tragedy in Bangladesh and Anti-Union Bill in Wisconsin Highlight Workers’ Enduring Struggles

3-play_triangle_todayOne hundred years after the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire, we look at some of the major struggles facing workers today in the United States and around the world. In one of many recent fires, 26 workers making clothes for U.S. companies were killed in Bangladesh last December. Workers across the United States, meanwhile, are facing a resurgent assault on salaries, benefits, and their right to organize—as epitomized in Wisconsin’s anti-union bill.

Labor Rights Legacy of the Triangle Shirtwaist Fire: Garment Unions Marched Out of this Fire and Produced the New Unionism

2-play_triangle_impactThe 1911 Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire in New York City unleashed public outrage, forcing government action. Within three years, more than 36 new state laws had been passed on quality of workplace conditions. The landmark legislation gave New Yorkers the most comprehensive workplace safety laws in the country and become a model for the nation. “There’s a straight line, really, that runs from the fire right through to the New Deal, the labor legislation reform of that era, the welfare state, and the creation of industrial unionism, and the right to organize in the 1930s,” says labor historian Steve Fraser. [includes rush transcript–partial]

Household wealth crashed 23% in two years

It’s fair to start by saying much of the “wealth” in the past was smoke and mirrors. Credit is not wealth. Even so, this is a shocking decline that anti-abortion laws or union bashing can’t hide. There’s a problem is while the GOP is completely ignoring it, the Democrats aren’t doing themselves any favors either. Had the Democrats not rolled over to Wall Street and corporate America, they might be able to speak on this subject with some authority. Being GOP-Lite (Republicans, but without the religious extremism) is not much comfort since we now know that the Republican economic policies fail badly. We’ve seen it since Reagan and it never gets better. More credit sure, but again, that’s not wealth.

Why are those who caused this recession doing so well?

The average American family’s household net worth declined 23% between 2007 and 2009, the Federal Reserve said Thursday.

A rare survey of U.S. households, first performed in 2007 but repeated in 2009 in order to gauge the effects of the recession, reveals the median net worth of households fell from $125,000 in 2007 to $96,000 in 2009.

Why Governor LePage Can’t Erase History, and Why We Need a Fighter in the White House

Robert Reich

Maine Governor Paul LePage has ordered state workers to remove from the state labor department a 36-foot mural depicting the state’s labor history. Among other things the mural illustrates the 1937 shoe mill strike in Auburn and Lewiston. It also features the iconic “Rosie the Riveter,” who in real life worked at the Bath Iron Works. One panel shows my predecessor at the U.S. Department of Labor, Frances Perkins, who was buried in Newcastle, Maine.

The LePage Administration is also renaming conference rooms that had carried the names of historic leaders of American labor, as well as former Secretary Perkins.

The Governor’s spokesman explains that the mural and the conference-room names were “not in keeping with the department’s pro-business goals.”

Are we still in America?

Frances Perkins was the first woman cabinet member in American history. She was also one of the most accomplished cabinet members in history.

She and her boss, Franklin D. Roosevelt, came to office at a time when average working people needed help – and Perkins and Roosevelt were determined to give it to them. Together, they created Social Security, unemployment insurance, the right of workers to unionize, the minimum wage, and the forty-hour workweek.

Big business and Wall Street thought Perkins and Roosevelt were not in keeping with pro-business goals. So they and their Republican puppets in Congress and in the states retaliated with a political assault on the New Deal.

Roosevelt did not flinch. In a speech in October 1936 he condemned “business and financial monopoly, speculation, reckless banking, class antagonism, sectionalism, war profiteering.”

Big business and Wall Street, he said,

had begun to consider the Government of the United States as a mere appendage to their own affairs. We know now that Government by organized money is just as dangerous as Government by organized mob.

Never before in all our history have these forces been so united against one candidate as they stand today. They are unanimous in their hate for me – and I welcome their hatred.

Fast forward 75 years.

Big business and Wall Street have emerged from the Great Recession with their pockets bulging. Profits and bonuses are as high as they were before the downturn. And they’re spending like mad on lobbying and politics. After the Supreme Court’s disgraceful Citizens United decision, there are no limits.

Pro-business goals are breaking out all over. Governors across America are slashing corporate taxes as they slash state budgets. House and Senate Republicans are intent on deregulating, privatizing, and cutting spending and taxes so their corporate and Wall Street patrons will do even better.

But most Americans are still in desperate trouble. Few if any of the economic gains are trickling down.

That’s why the current Republican assault on workers – on their right to form unions, on unemployment insurance and Social Security, on public employees, and even (courtesy of Governor LePage) on our common memory – is so despicable.

And it’s why we need a President who will fight for workers and fight against this assault — just as Perkins and FDR did.

By the way, Maine’s Governor LePage may be curious to know that the building housing the U.S. Department of Labor in Washington is named the “Frances Perkins Building.” He can find her portrait hanging prominently inside. Also portraits and murals of great leaders of American labor.

A short walk across the mall will bring Governor LePage to an imposing memorial to Franklin D. Roosevelt, should the Governor wish to visit.

Governor, you might be able to erase some of Maine’s memory, but you’ll have a hard time erasing the nation’s memory – even if it’s not in keeping with your pro-business goals.

Michigan lawmakers propose constitutional amendment to protect workers rights

from PA Editors Blog by Political Affairs

The text is simple:

Every person shall have the right to form, join, or assist labor organizations and to bargain collectively through representatives chosen by the members of the labor organizations as to wages, benefits, and conditions of employment.

It was proposed by state Rep. Richard Hammel and state Sen. Gretchen Whitmer this passed week.

GOP’s Texas budget cuts may cost 600,000 jobs

If only Texas could promote extreme right Christian ideas to distract voters from their failure to deliver jobs. Sorry guys but you’ve already played that hand for years. Now that the stimulus money is gone, there’s nobody left to blame except the GOP clowns who own the economic problems. CNNMoney:

Texas could see more than 600,000 jobs disappear if lawmakers adopt the $83.8 billion budget that will go before the state House late next week, according to a state agency.

Harsh spending cuts in the budget could cost more than 263,500 private sector jobs and 343,000 government positions over the next two years, according to estimates released Wednesday by the Legislative Budget Board, a bipartisan committee.

This projection, which is based on mathematical calculations, runs counter to the pro-job push underway by Gov. Rick Perry and Republican lawmakers.

You think?

Paul Krugman - New York Times Blog

March 22, 2011, 9:15 AM


Harold Pollack points out that everything I said about Elizabeth Warren applies, with even more force, to Donald Berwick, a highly qualified technocrat who can’t even get a confirmation hearing on his nomination to run Medicare and Medicaid. And then there is, of course, Peter Diamond, an economist’s economist with a sterling reputation, who is being blocked at the Fed.

Part of what’s going on here is simply opposition for the sake of opposition. But as Pollack says, the underlying problem is that anyone with actual expertise and any kind of public profile — in short, anyone who is actually qualified to hold a position — is bound to have said something, somewhere that can be taken out of context to make him or her sound like Pol Pot. Berwick has spoken in favor of evaluating medical effectiveness and has had kind words for the British National Health Service, so he wants to kill grandma and Sovietize America.

So what lies down this road? A world in which key positions can only be filled by complete hacks, preferably interns from the Heritage Foundation with no relevant experience but unquestioned loyalty.

In short, we’re on our way to running America the way the Coalition Provisional Authority ran Iraq.

New podcast: African Americans and the Globalization of White Supremacy, Part 1

from PA Editors Blog by Political Affairs

African Americans and the Globalization of White Supremacy, Part 1

March 23 2011

On this episode we play the first of our two-part interview with historian and author Andrew Zimmerman on his new book, Alabama in Africa: Booker T. Washington, the German Empire, and the Globalization of the New South.

Download the mp3 version of African Americans and the Globalization of White Supremacy, Part 1

This entry was posted in Background & Analysis, Corporations, Corruption, Events, Human Rights, Imperialism, Imperialist Interference & Views, US, US Economy. Bookmark the permalink.

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