The Superheroics of Social Justice or “Action Comics #1: Awesome Then, Awesome Now.”

Action Comics #1 (June 1938), page 1: Superman...

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You probably know about the DC Comics relaunch.  I picked up the new Action Comics #1 and really, really liked it.  Supes looks like Woody Guthrie.  He can’t fly (yet?) and is a wrecking ball for social justice.  He trifles with authorities and struggles to pay rent.  A hero for our times if there was one.

Commentators have been talking about this as a return to Superman’s activist origins.  Indeed, a read through the original Action Comics #1 from 1938 reveals a bold American character, an immigrant, “champion of the oppressed, the physical marvel who has sworn to devote his existence to helping those in need!”

I love this guy.  Read the original Action #1 here, and cheer with me as Supes dispatches the governor’s butler in a last-minute attempt to save an innocent woman from state execution.  Like I said, a hero for our time if there was one.

Kindle Fire an Aptly Named Product (Yes, This is About Amazon’s Deplorable Working Conditions in the Lehigh Valley)

Twitter is just ablaze (see what I did there?) with news about Amazon’s new Kindle Fire.  It’s touch. It’s cheap. It slices and dices and makes three different (pizza slice falls on Master Splinter’s head.  I never did have resolution about that).

The Kindle Fire by Amazon.  The must-have gift this Christmas.  The incredible price point of $199.  Made possible, of course, because Amazon runs facilities like those in Breinigsville, Lehigh Valley, PA, where conditions over the summer were so unsafe that Amazon used the local ambulance corps. as a concierge service.  “Well, you know, it was hot this summer,” says Amazon.  Then why weren’t the same dangerous conditions observed at any of the many other warehouses in within a stone’s throw of Amazon’s facilities? Curiouser and curiouser.

The Kindle Fire: Because Our Warehouses Are Hot as Hell!

The Kindle Fire: Because That’s What We Do To Temps and Employees Who Use Heat-Induced Sick Days!

The Kindle Fire: So Cheap, We’re Hoping You Ignore our Human Rights and Safety Violations!

The Kindle Fire: Give the Gift of Worker Abuse This Christmas!

This Is Not Recovery: Reading the Economic Indicators of Place

For at least the past five years, most of the new commercial development I’ve seen with my own two eyes has been the frenzied building of shiny new banks and drug stores. This has everything to do with the credit bubble, aging populations, strengthened lobbies, and thickening anxieties. And of course, we ought to be anxious. But there’s something not quite right about this tandem proliferation, is there? Something not quite right about the idea that as banks continue to prosper, even in the worst economy most (if not all) of us have lived through, so too do pharmaceutical companies. The less money we have, the less health care we have, the more anxious we are because of these things and countless others, the more, it seems, we spend on medicine. This is anecdotal, yes, but someone ought to look into the relationships between Big Pharma and Big Money. There’s absolutely something there.

In the past few weeks I’ve seen a new business trend. “We Buy Gold” and “Cash For Gold” stores popping up where suburban notaries, sub shops, and dry cleaners used to be. The economic indicators of place tell me, friends, that this is not recovery. This is not a healthy middle class. But the banks bank on, and the drug stores keep building. Now a new class of opportunist arrives, producing nothing. I like Pawn Stars just as much as the next guy (I really do), but we’re quickly becoming a nation of emergency liquidators prime for the picking. This isn’t recovery, and it’s not justice, either.

Oh, justice. No, the spread of proxy pawn shops to the suburbs doesn’t feel like you in your purest Form, but there’s a poetic justice here, a kind of irony: the struggle the middle class is facing is no news to the poor, to our cities, to our always-disenfranchised. But now it’s here for everybody else. Everyone without big pensions, bailouts, or golden parachutes. Everyone with a mortgage, a car payment, tuition. Almost everyone I know.

Lehigh Valley Air Quality Facts a Little Hazy? I’m Here to Help.

The Lehigh Valley is the 13th-Smoggiest Medium-Sized Metro Region in the Country, according to a new report, Danger in the Air, produced by PennEnvironment.

There was a time when this would have been because of all of the industry booming here along our rivers.  These days, it’s mostly because of how much time most of us spend in our cars.  We’re a commuting metro region, and 1-78, the great East Coat conduit that cuts right through our valley, brings thousands of just-passing-through drivers who leave their emissions hanging in low elevation between our mountains. On hot summer days, those emissions interact with naturally-occurring volatile organic compounds, get baked by the sun, and make for unhealthy levels of smog in the region.

That the Lehigh Valley has air quality (and commuter) problems isn’t news.  What many folks don’t know, however, is that the air quality standards the EPA currently uses to warn the public about bad air quality days is, by most scientific accounts, sadly out of date.  Barack Obama has recently punted the issue to 2013, an awfully presumptive move at the moment.

Here in Pennsylvania, meteorologists at the Department of Environmental Protection produce air quality forecasts every day that specifically indicate the levels of fine particle pollution and ground-level ozone (o3) likely to be present in our air.   These levels are matched against the federal  Air Quality Index, a color-coded indicator meant to tell us when air conditions will be unsafe for various groups.  Green Days are supposed to be healthy for everyone.  Yellow Days are likely to be unhealthy for children, the elderly, and people with respiratory conditions.  Orange follows yellow, red follows orange, and Purple Days are unsafe for everyone. Maroon Days are extremely dangerous.

Working in accordance with these federal guide lines, which PennEnvironment and others have called out-of-date, the DEP announces Air Quality Action Days when levels for either pollutant (particle pollution, in this case, PM2.5, and ground-level ozone) are expected to exceed Code Yellow levels.  Once upon a time in the Lehigh Valley, residents could ride LANTA for free on Air Quality Action Days when orange levels were exceeded.  The “Ride Free On Red” program has been without vital state funding for some time, even though evidence compiled by LANTA and the Air Quality Partnership shows clear surges in LANTA use, especially among the elderly, on Code Red Days.

Why was this important?  Because ride-sharing, car-pooling, and mass-transit are essential to reducing ozone emissions (smog) generally and on Air Quality Action Days specifically.  There are other personal choices and behaviors that citizens can use to reduce their personal levels of smog production, and they can all be found at AirQualityAction.org, the online home of the Air Quality Partnership of Lehigh Valley – Berks.

As I said on television and in the press release accompanying the release of the report, the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania can and should play a lead role in demanding a much-needed change to federal guidelines, and should also make it easy for government agencies and state businesses to incentivize the kinds of commuter habits that would help us reduce ozone levels across the state.

All of this comes as some presidential contenders are pushing for the abolition of the EPA.  I saw one prospective voter question the validity of regulating “dust,” certainly not knowing the the regular of fine particle pollution (like the regulation of ground-level ozone emissions) saves lives.  Particle pollution doesn’t just dissipate to nothing.  It turns out that Kansas was wrong about that: dust in the wind ends up lungs, and so does ground-level ozone.  Both put our most vulnerable populations at risk, and reducing the occurrence of both here in the greater Lehigh Valley is the Air Quality Partnership’s main mission.

We’re at a critical economic, political, and environmental crossroads.   Our partnership needs increased participation from business, government, and health leaders.  We need new ways to fund projects like “Ride Free on Red,”  and we need public engagement in initiatives like our newest endeavor, the Share the Ride Challenge.  We continue to have great successes with regional educators and students, providing tremendous educational resources ate age-specific levels to primary and secondary public schools across three counties.

I’m an asthma sufferer, but as I said last week, our calls for continued education, advocacy, and support are not a case of special pleading.  We all breathe the same air, and most of us are just as culpable as the next person in the production of smog.  Our partnership exists to educate, to advocate, and encourage practical changes at corporate and private levels so that we all might breathe a little easier.  Please help us.

 

 

 

 

We Already Have a Federal Ban on Execution

and it’s called the 8th Amendment.   The Supreme Court of the United States grossly violated this amendment while they pretended to deliberate over a stay of execution for Troy Davis on Wednesday night.  While they did political calculus, Troy Davis was strapped to the gurney in the death chamber, needle-ready.  For 4 hours.

Disgraceful. Disgusting. Criminal.

Then we have the missing-in-action activist President.  I wonder when the community organizer will actually materialize.  Then, in last nights Republican Primary Debate, everyone on stage, including the moderators, let Rick Perry say in regards to his mandated HPV vaccination of every girl in Texas: “I erred on the side of life.  And I will ALWAYS err on the side of life.”

If only, Rick Perry.  If only, Georgia.  If only, Supreme Court.  If only.

Between Georgia and God: Prayers for Troy Davis

I started the week wanting to write extensively on the Amazon story here in the Lehigh Valley.  What good is writing for the Huffington Post if I can’t shine some light on glaring corporate-sponsored, government-enabled, and consumer-driven sin right here in my back yard?

Then PennEnvironment released their new report, Danger In The Air, and invited me to speak at a press conference along with their representatives and PA Rep. Steve Samuelson this morning in Allentown.  The long and the short of it is that by the most current scientific standards (not currently used by the EPA, even Obama’s EPA), the Allentown Metro Area (that is, the Greater Lehigh Valley) ranks as the 13th smoggiest metro-region of similar size in the nation.  Pennsylvania ranks 6th worst on the state list.

Both of these stories have me in knots, as does the pending execution of Troy Davis.  There are things I can do about the sweatshop in Breingisville and about the state of our air.  In the case of Troy Davis, I feel like all I can do is tweet, make phone calls that go unanswered, email, and pray.  In the 21st century, this is all part of advocacy, but I know that no matter what I write about today,  the life and death of Troy Davis is finally  between some [people] in Georgia and God.

Please: email those [people] and pray to that God.  Make phone calls.  Demonstrate peacefully.  Stand up for change.  To Pro-life Christians and others who support the death penalty: please connect the gapes in your garment of life and realize that the death penalty is every bit as barbaric is abortion.  Even if Troy Davis is guilty, what’s about to happen is wrong.  Death-penalty fans:  where, philosophically, does your traditional mistrust of government fit with your belief that our social contract somehow invests the state with the right to end life?  That’s insane.

So I’ll Be Boycotting Amazon.com Because of the Sweatshop they Put Up in My Back Yard (How About You?)

It’s bad enough that 100 years later, no collective labor rights exist for people now working on the site of Bethlehem Steel.  Now we have an in-depth report from the Allentown Morning Call about conditions at the Amazon.com warehouses in Breinigsville that make the Lehigh Valley sound like Shenzhen.

Please read the whole thing here.  Below are some highlights and commentary.

Amazon’s priority and key competitive edge is quick delivery of products at low prices. Its Lehigh Valley location on Route 100 near Interstate 78 puts one-third of the population of the U.S. and Canada within a one-day haul. And the weak labor market helps keep employment costs down.

“We strive to offer our customers the lowest prices possible through low everyday product pricing and free shipping offers … and to improve our operating efficiencies so that we can continue to lower prices for our customers,” Amazon says about itself in documents filed with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission.

The situation highlights how companies like Amazon can wield their significant leverage over workers in the bleak job market, labor experts say. Large companies such as Amazon can minimize costs for benefits and raises by relying on temporary workers rather than having a larger permanent workforce, those experts say.

“They can get away with it because most workers will take whatever they can get with jobs few and far between,” said Catherine Ruckelshaus, legal co-director of the National Employment Law Project, an advocacy group for low-wage workers. “The temp worker is less likely to complain about it and less likely to push for their labor rights because they feel like they don’t have much pull or sway with the worksite employer.”

Amazon warehouse workers interviewed come from a variety of backgrounds, including construction, small business owners and some with years of experience at other warehouse and shipping operations. Several of them said it was their worst work experience ever.

The Lehigh Valley’s prime location is being leveraged against us.  Our community ( let alone our national economic depression and our own desire to work) is being exploited, and a firm called “Integrity” is key to the process.   Isn’t it peculiar how the world “Amazon” itself still conjures images of “jungle,” and how the quintessential literary indictment of bullshit like what’s happening in Breinigsville was called The Jungle?

Their accounts stand in sharp contrast to the “fun, fast-paced” atmosphere described in online help wanted ads for the Amazon warehouse. Amazon and ISS both said they take the safety of workers seriously, but declined to discuss specific concerns current and former employees voiced to The Morning Call. Both companies had three weeks to respond to multiple Morning Call inquiries for this story.

Integrity. Got that?

Goris, the Allentown resident who worked as a permanent Amazon employee, said high temperatures were handled differently at other warehouses in which he worked. For instance, loading dock doors on opposite sides of those warehouses were left open to let fresh air circulate and reduce the temperature when it got too hot, he said. When Amazon workers asked in meetings why this wasn’t done at the Amazon warehouse, managers said the company was worried about theft, Goris said.

“Imagine if it’s 98 degrees outside and you’re in a warehouse with every single dock door closed,” Goris said.

Computers monitored the heat index in the building and Amazon employees received notification about the heat index by email. Goris said one day the heat index, a measure that considers humidity, exceeded 110 degrees on the third floor.

“I remember going up there to check the location of an item,” Goris said. “I lasted two minutes, because I could not breathe up there.”

Allentown resident Robert Rivas, 38, said he left his permanent Amazon warehouse job after about 13 months to take another job. He said he intensified his job search in May after the warehouse started getting very hot.

“We got emails about the heat, and the heat index got to really outrageous numbers,” he said, recalling that the index during one of his shifts hit 114 degrees on the ground floor in the receiving area.

Rivas said he received Amazon email notifications at his work station when employees needed assistance due to heat-related symptoms. He estimated he received between 20 and 30 such emails within a two-hour period one day. Some people pushed themselves to work in the heat because they did not want to get disciplinary points, he said.

This is an 11-page story in the paper and 9-page story online.  You get this gist, but you need to read the whole thing if you haven’t already.

If Billy Joel could see us now.