Friday, December 6, 2019

U.S. political leaders, as hypocritical as Shakespeare's Richard III, talk freedom and democracy but demand corporate neoliberal rule in Latin America

(To the left below, Shakespeare's Richard III as depicted by the 19th century artist Sir John Gilbert)

Ah, what a glorious hypocrite was the murderous King Richard III in Shakespeare’s 1591 play.

                        “Madam, so thrive I in my enterprise
                          And dangerous success of bloody wars
                          As I intend more good to you and yours
                         Than ever you and yours by me were harm’d!”

These were the tyrant’s words to Queen Elizabeth after he’d had her two young sons murdered along with a host of other victims of his relentless ambition to grab and keep the throne. With his hands drenched in blood, he even dares ask the queen if he can have her daughter in marriage! Here is her response:

               “No doubt the murderous knife was dull and blunt
                Till it was whetted on thy stone-hard heart,
                To revel in the entrails of my lambs.”

 What drives me to quote Shakespeare in this blog are the similarities of Richard’s hypocrisy and that of the United States in its relationship to Latin America. It’s a hypocrisy that mainstream U.S. media share--from the New York Times and the Washington Post to the major TV networks.

What country boasts more about freedom and democracy than the United States, and what country has worked harder to destroy both in the nations to its south? Memories of the CIA-backed overthrow of the democratically elected president of Chile, Salvador Allende, on September 11, 1973, came fresh to my mind when I heard of the recent coup in Bolivia that toppled the duly elected presidency of Evo Morales. President Trump, of course, immediately recognized the new military-and-police-backed regime that has already hammered down hard on protests and dissenters.

Of all the presidential candidates in the Democratic Party, only Bernie Sanders has called the overthrow what it was, a “coup”. Even anti-regime-change candidate Tulsi Gabbard has been reluctant to weigh in on developments in Bolivia. “I think Morales did a very good job in alleviating poverty and giving the indigenous people of Bolivia a voice that they never had before,” Sanders said at the Spanish language network Univision’s Democratic forum last month. “But at the end of the day, it was the military who intervened … . When the military intervenes … that’s called a coup.”

The near silence in the mainstream media is telling. Note how their coverage of protests around the world mainly focuses on the increasingly violent protests in Hong Kong against the Chinese government rather than the widespread protests in Haiti against the corruption of U.S.-backed President Jovenel Moïse, against billionaire Chilean leader Sebastian Piñera’s punitive hike in subway fairs, and against Equador President Lenin Moreno’s slashing of fuel subsidies.

Those protests have led to 35 deaths in Haiti and 19 in Chile. In Hong Kong one person has died during the protests. Mainstream media coverage reflects and upholds U.S. official policy. The Trump Administration, like its predecessors, wants governments in Latin America that are open to U.S. business, and it matters not if those governments are military juntas or dictatorships. Anything that makes China look bad is good for U.S. policy. Trump is waging his trade war with China because he wants the Communist government there to be just as corporatized as the U.S. government is.

“When official enemies can be presented as evil and allies as sympathetic victims, corporate media will be very interested in a story,” writes Alan MacLeod in EXTRA!, the newsletter of the FAIR media watch group. “In contrast, they will show far less enthusiasm for a story when the `wrong’ people are the villains or the victims.”

Many suspect U.S. agents to be encouraging the protests in Hong Kong that continue and grow even more violent despite China and the Hong Kong governments concession to protesters’ original demand that a new extradition law be dumped. From his exile in Mexico, Morales has called the coup in his country U.S.-backed.

One doesn’t have to look hard to see evidence of U.S. meddling in the affairs of Latin American countries—another hypocrisy given all the hand-wringing about alleged Russian meddling in the 2016 election. President Obama’s secretary of state, Hillary Clinton, backed the brutal regime change in Honduras that has led the killing of some 30 trade unionists there since 2009. Fears grow that Trump will move beyond economic sanctions against Venezuela and eventually take military action to remove President Nicolás Maduro from power. After all, his former National Security Advisor John Bolton told Fox News in early 2019 that “It will make a big difference to the United States economically if we could have American oil companies really invest and produce the oil capabilities in Venezuela.”

Argentina and its new Peronist, anti-neoliberal leaders Alberto Fernandez and Christina Kirchner better keep a round-the-clock watch because the White House and the corporatized foreign policy establishment in Washington, D.C., are not too happy about the departure of their boy, Mauricio Macri, from leadership in that country.

“This is the winter of our discontent,” Richard says at the beginning of Shakespeare’s play. “I am determined to prove a villain, and hate the idle pleasures of these days. Plots I have laid, inductions, dangerous … I am subtle, false, and treacherous.”

Such a confession! Of course, Richard is alone when he says these words, and no one is listening except those of us watching the play from our safe distance.   

Thursday, November 7, 2019

UPDATE (11-11-19) - Coup in Bolivia as Latin Americans rise in protest against the neoliberal policies pushed by the U.S., the International Monetary Fund, and the World Bank

A coup in Bolivia has forced President Evo Morales to step down, fulfilling predictions in a Labor South post last week and in an earlier post that neoliberal forces will not tolerate a social uprising against global capital without intervention.

Amid intense and often violent protests and strong pressure from his nation's military, Morales agreed this weekend to step down rather than see Bolivia plunge even deeper into crisis. He had just won another term in office in a contested election. A new election is expected. The coup has been condemned by leaders in Argentina and other Latin American nations as well as by British labor leader Jeremy Corbyn and others. Many see the coup as a blow to democracy and believe it was U.S.-backed, which wouldn't be the first time the Great Yankee to the north has interfered directly in the politics of nations to its south. Below is last week's post:

I teach a course at the University of Mississippi on “Documentary and Social Issues”, and today we finished watching Barbara Kopple’s 1976 classic Harlan County U.S.A, the tale of the long and bloody struggle of unionized Kentucky coal miners to get company owners to give them a fair contract that ensures fair wages and good safety conditions.

The lesson in the film is that the fight goes on even after a battle victory because the other side is fighting a war, and it will never have a change of heart and deal fairly without intense pressure from working people.

The same can be said in regard to the recent strikes by the United Auto Workers and school teachers in Chicago that forced both corporate and government leaders to the bargaining table. What came out of those bargaining sessions wasn’t completely satisfactory to all the strikers but the protests—and that’s essentially what a strike is--did force a resolution and compromise—if only for the time being. As those Harlan County miners from back in the 1970s would tell you, keep vigilant. The other side will always be looking for a sign of weakness.

It’s a lesson well heeded today, too, in Latin America, where protests are rising against the neoliberal policies of the U.S. government, Wall Street, International Monetary Fund, and World Bank that have forced governments to strip away social programs and worker rights as part of the “austerity” needed to repay the giant loans owed these institutions. In other words, adopt a Social Darwinist capitalism or else.

People have had enough of it. They’ve taken to the streets in Chile to protest the regime of billionaire Sebastian Piñera and a recent hike in subway fares that is most punitive to workers, the straw that broke the camel’s back. The slashing of fuel subsidies in President Lenin Moreno’s Equador also has led to huge protests that have rocked the nation. Haitians are in the streets as well to protest political corruption in that country. Bolivian voters recently put anti-neoliberal Evo Morales back in office for another term, a protest in itself at the ballot box. Morales has dramatically reduced poverty in his country and become a symbol of hope particularly for the nation's indigenous groups.

And, following up on an earlier Labor South post, Peronist Alberto Fernandez and his running mate and former president Christina Kirchner defeated neoliberal Mauricio Macri in that country's recent election, a slap in the face to Macri’s own austerity policies and utter allegiance to the financial interests further north that have long kept his nation in bondage.

Latin America is swinging left again, thank goodness, but it must remain vigilant. The eyes of the Big Yankee regime to the north are watching. The sordid history of the United States’ policies in Latin America stands ready to be repeated. A nation itself founded in revolution against the foreign power that controlled it has become the most powerful defender of such control in its relations to countries to its south.

Thursday, October 17, 2019

Bernie Sanders' plan to bring back real journalism. We're sure not getting much of it in the mainstream corporate media

(Muckraking turn-of-the-century reporter Ida Tarbell)

I’m an old reporter who began his career in the 1970s banging away at a typewriter, pasting the sheets of my copy together, and handing it over to a white-haired copy editor whose red ink marker never missed a comma splice or misspelled word. Even before I could articulate it, I felt an allegiance to the working stiff, the little guy who got pushed around, not the fat cats who hung out with my publisher at the country club. In other words, I was a typical reporter.

I made mistakes. I once wrote an obituary for someone who hadn’t died. A frail, wizened man came in the next day to clear up the confusion. It was his similarly named brother who had died, not him. The old fella was nice about it--and I don't know if it was my or the funeral home's mistake--but my editor's eyes were shooting poisoned darts at me from the other end of the newsroom.

Somehow I survived that fiasco to go on to a career that brought me to Washington, D.C., as a congressional correspondent, my national news service’s chief reporter covering the entire U.S. South, and later my three-decades career teaching journalism at a major Southern university.

So why is it today I can hardly read a newspaper or watch the news on TV without wincing? What has become of my craft? Sure, Fox News has always been a propaganda machine for the GOP and now Donald Trump. That’s what you expect. I used to go to MSNBC for fresh air.  Rachel Maddow seemed to bring a steely eye to the issues of the day. No more. I can no longer watch her or MSNBC. Eight million “Russiagate” stories killed that for me. If Russians were behind exposing the Democratic Party’s insider efforts to skewer Bernie Sanders’ campaign chances in favor of Hillary Clinton four years ago, then good for the Russians! I’m glad somebody exposed that rotten deal. Besides, Rachel, what about Yemen and Saudi Arabia’s destructive U.S.-aided war against that nation? What about the continued corporatization of American life and politics, Rachel? What about the saddling of an entire generation of Americans with lifelong student debt to feed Wall Street’s bottomless greed? There are other issues, Rachel!

Now we have U.S. House Democrats pursuing the impeachment of President Trump for using his office to try to get the Ukrainians to investigate Joe Biden’s son Hunter and his involvement with the Burisma Group gas company in that nation. I don’t like Trump. I’d like to see him impeached for a variety of reasons, but I’d also like to know more about what the hell Hunter Biden did to get himself into a top dog position with a Ukrainian gas company. What’s the real deal  with that, and how was the Biden name going to help that company? What favors could it expect from Washington? What I hear on most reports—print or broadcast—is a quick dismissal of any corruption evidence without really checking whether there is or not.

Thank goodness for alternative media and feisty (if I do say so myself) little online publications like Labor South that challenge the existential malaise that has the rest of U.S. media in a credibility tailspin.

Good ol’ Bernie Sanders (to the left). The Democratic Party and corporate media may not like you, but you’ve got some darned good ideas, including ideas about how to reform media. He laid out a few in an op-ed piece in the New York Times back in August. Let’s review them. A Sanders Administration would do the following:

-       - Make future media mergers more difficult and impose a moratorium on them until their effects are clearly understood.
-       - Require major media corporations to disclose whether mergers will cause significant layoffs.
-       - Give employees the opportunity to purchase media outlets through employee stock ownership plans.
-       - Get a new FCC board that’s not bought-and-paid-for by the industry.
-       - Limit the number of stations broadcast giants can own in each market and nationwide.
-       - Work to strengthen labor rights and union rights at media organizations.
-       - Enforce antitrust laws to prevent “hedge fund vultures” and corporate conglomerates from cannibalizing news organizations.
-       - Increase funding for programs that support local public media news operations.

At my university, I teach media history, and we just finished the chapter on the “muckrakers” at the beginning of the 20th century, folks like Lincoln Steffens, Ida Tarbell, Upton Sinclair, Ray Stannard Baker. More than a century ago, they were taking on the corporate moguls, city machines, racist landowners, and, above all, the system, and they changed America for the better. They’re all smiling at you from heaven, Bernie.

Saturday, September 14, 2019

Argentines rise up against neoliberal rule as the Ugly American in the White House weighs his options

(A tango in Buenos Aires' famed Cafe Tortoni)

Your Labor South correspondent hasn’t filed in a while because of deadline pressure for my book on the late actor Harry Dean Stanton. Postings should get back to normal once the manuscript is off to the publisher sometime in October. Meanwhile here is a development in the Global South worthy of our attention.

Argentines rise up again Macri’s neoliberal rule, but Trump is watching

After neoliberal Argentine President Mauricio Macri’s resounding defeat in the August presidential primary, know that the eyes of the “Ugly American” in the White House are watching as that nation prepares for the final October 27 election (with a possible November 24 runoff) to see if the Peronist candidate Alberto Fernandez and his running mate and former president Cristina Kirchner will do as expected and toss Macri out on his ear.

Labor South has had a strong interest in Argentine politics since your correspondent was there during Macri’s election in 2015. Macri’s victory that year ended 12 years of Kirchnerismo, a pro-worker, neo-Peronist movement that saw the nation finally begin to stand on its own feet and not under the shadow of the International Monetary Fund, Wall Street, and the world network of what Bernie Sanders calls “hedge fund vultures”.

The neoliberal world heralded Macri back in 2015. The Economist in Great Britain, for example, called his election “the beginning of saner economic policies” but then added a cautionary “perhaps”.

What happened under the wealthy former businessman subsequent rule, however, was a reversal of the decline in poverty that Kirchnerismo (under the late Néstor Kirchner and then his wife Cristina) had overseen. Two million Argentines joined the poverty rolls. Poverty has risen from 29 percent to 35 percent of the population, The Guardian reported last month. According to the Pope Francis-linked Movement of Excluded Workers (MTE), six million Argentines now roam streets and alleys and rummage through trash cans to keep from starving.

Furthermore, Macri, true to neoliberal tradition, has plunged his nation back into deep debt, twice what it was before he took office. He sought a $57.1 billion IMF loan just last year. Inflation is at 54 percent, and, of course, the only solution to any economic woe that the IMF, World Bank, and other neoliberal institutions ever offer is “austerity” and more austerity. Translation: cut back drastically on social programs, retirement plans, wages, and, of course, UNIONS.

Fernandez, a Peronist but generally moderate in his politics, smartly agreed to align with Cristina Kirchner (of course, she brilliantly orchestrated that alliance) for the August primary, defying the Macri forces that have tried desperately to put her behind bars in classic Latin American political tradition. Together they head the Frente de Todos ticket, and pulling together the poor and the strapped middle class to hand Macri a striking 15-point primary defeat.

Meanwhile, Donald Trump and his minions are weighing their options.  The Obamas may have tangoed with the Macris, but Trump would love to waltz them across the finish line in December if he can. He’s already rattling sabers at Venezuela (as well as Iran and China), and the last thing he wants is another left-leaning country to the south putting his corporate friends’ profiteering at risk.

Sunday, August 18, 2019

Why hasn't billionaire Koch Foods Inc. CEO Joe Grendys been arrested in the recent ICE poultry plant raids in Mississippi?

Why hasn’t Koch Foods Inc. CEO Joe Grendys been placed under arrest? Apparently agents at the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency much prefer going after low-wage immigrant workers at poultry plants than fat-cat billionaires whose economic welfare is protected by their friends among the nation’s political elite.

Over the years workers at Koch Foods Inc. in Morton, Mississippi, and other poultry plants across the country have had to deal with harassment, sexual discrimination, refusal to allow bathroom breaks, charges for normal workday activities, and politicians from Donald Trump on down who’ve worked to reduce workplace safety controls and punish those who complain.

The massive raids and arrests of 680 Latino poultry workers conducted by some 600 ICE agents in Mississippi this month fit perfectly into a pattern that has existed for some time.

Just last year the Chicago-area-based Koch Foods, a $3.2 billion company, agreed to pay Latino workers $3.5 million as settlement of a lawsuit filed by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) for racial and national origin discrimination and sexual harassment at its Mississippi operations. The settlement came after claims that supervisors would touch and make sexual comments to female employees and even strike workers physically. Those who complained were fired.

ICE raids also followed complaints by workers of workplace conditions at plants in Salem, Ohio, and Morristown, Tennessee. Labor reporter Mike Elk wrote an ICE raid came one week after the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) fined Fresh Mark $200,000 for safety violations at the Salem, Ohio, plant.

The recent raids in Mississippi came one the first day of school, thus separating parents from their children—a situation not unknown in the ongoing anti-immigrant-demagoguery of the Trump Administration. Friends and relatives begged the ICE against to “Let them go!” as they carried them off to unknown fates and possibly the concentration-like camps the federal government has allowed in its arrangements with the private prison industry.

Those cries for mercy may have been an embarrassing enough to force ICE later to release temporarily 300 of those arrested.

Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant, a Republican and stalwart Trump supporter, praised the raids.

As far back as 2005, workers at the Koch Foods poultry plant in Morristown, Tennessee, were complaining of the dehumanizing conditions at the plant. When one female worker asked a supervisor for permission to go to the bathroom, “the supervisor took off his hard hat and told her, `You can go to the bathroom in this,’” a worker told New York Times labor reporter Steven Greenhouse.

Mississippians across the state have rallied on behalf of the arrested workers, collecting food and other items for families suddenly left without breadwinners and means to survive.

ICE is good at rounding up poor Mexican poultry workers but apparently maintains a hands-off policy on people like Koch Foods CEO Joe Grendys, a billionaire on the Forbes list of richest Americans. A raid at Koch Foods’ Fairfield, Ohio, plant in 2007 led to 161 arrests of undocumented workers, leading to a $536,046 fine for violation of immigration laws. The company maintains that it uses the federal E-Verify database to make sure its employees have proper documentation.

The nation’s political elite in the White House and Congress have no interest in arresting potential financial supporters like Joe Grendys. In fact, they see it as their mission to make life easier for him. Koch Foods is not related to the billionaire Koch brothers, although they seem to share the same attitudes about workers and worker rights.

“Laws are passed to manipulate labor, not help immigrants,” Mississippi Immigrants Rights Alliance Executive Director Bill Chandler told YES Magazine writer Adam Lynch recently.

(immigrant rights advocate Bill Chandler)

Back in 2017, the Republican-led U.S. Senate, backed by President Trump, voted to eliminate a mandate to disclose injuries and even fatalities that occur at the worksite in poultry plants, which are among the most dangerous worksites in the United States. Three years earlier, the U.S. Department of Agriculture came up with plans to allow poultry plants to increase the speed of processing birds from 140 to 175 per minute. A coalition led by U.S. Rep. Bennie Thompson, D-Miss., led the fight against the new rules. In February of this year the USDA proceeded with allowing the greater speeds.

Friday, August 2, 2019

Sharing a pint in London's pubs and watching a tyrant's tale at one of its theatres while the Trump-like Boris Johnson takes over as England's new prime minister

(Yours truly at Shakespeare's Globe Theatre in London)

LONDON – I complimented my Netherlands-stationed son Michael, who booked our hotel. It was in the perfect location. Southwark/Bankside, just south of the Thames, a red light district during the Roman Empire’s occupation of the area, called “Stew’s Bank” during Elizabethan times for the brothels then known as “stewhouses”. They stood alongside the bear-pits and bull-pits that were there. Also there were theatres like the Globe and the Rose, which hardly had a better reputation, but on their stages the plays of William Shakespeare, Christopher Marlowe and Ben Jonson were performed.

As I enjoyed a pint with my fish and chips at the White Hart pub, the wild-haired blond Boris Johnson was in another part of the city taking office as Britain’s new prime minister, promising that Brexit will be real in October and inspiring the same kind of sharp divisions that American citizens feel about Donald Trump.

(To the right, Boris Johnson)

Like Trump, Johnson presents himself as a straight-talker and thus kind of a working class hero, but, again like Trump, he’s not. A former London mayor and once-star journalist who was fired by a major newspaper in London for telling lies in his stories, Johnson is brash, boorish, and brazen—sound familiar?—but his pro-Brexit stand understandably appeals to Britons tired of the European Union’s neo-liberal rule with its pro-corporate austerity policies and tone-deafness to the real concerns people have about poorly controlled immigration and the terrorist acts that have become associated with it.

Still, Johnson is part of the long-ruling Oxford-Cambridge-and-Eton-educated British elite, and for all his brashness, he “is not just a product of that system but an advocate for it,” writes journalist Gary Younge in The Guardian Weekly. “When we see him call for a massive tax cut for the rich, we see a candidate who has had much and wants more.” Sam Knight of the New Yorker says much the same. Johnson “seems to subvert the existing order but (his) persona—quintessentially English, amateur, clownlike—serves only to reinforce it. … He makes people in power, including himself, appear ridiculous, but that doesn’t mean he would dream of handing power to anybody else. He is a fully signed-up member of the tribe.”

During my recent visit to London, I asked an Englishman at a pub in Soho what he thought of Johnson. “No comment,” he snapped back with a wry smile. “What do you think of Trump?”

As Younge further elaborates, British is very much the class-based society it claimed it no longer was after World War II. Only 7 percent of the British population as a whole went to private schools, but nearly 40 percent of the nation’s elite did. The stretch between the wealthy and everyone else grows wider every day, not that this much concerns media elites, who went to the same schools as the politicians and business leaders they cover.

Although I lived in Germany for several years during the 1970s and have since traveled widely over the European continent as well as in Ireland and Scotland, I never visited London until this recent trip. The Queen, Buckingham Palace, tales of Charles and Diana and Harry and Meghan, the Changing of the Guard, and all that have never interested me. A failed philosopher, I was always drawn to the French and German existentialists, never to the dry-and-dusty analytic tradition that dominated British philosophy.

Still, I love literature and writers, and the city of Shakespeare and Dickens finally seduced me. Only a week there, and I agree with Samuel Johnson’s 18th century declaration that “when a man is tired of London, he is tired of life.”

 (To the right, Michael at Charles Dickens' desk, on which he wrote Great Expectations and A Tale of Two Cities)

 Michael and I roamed the latest version of Shakespeare’s Globe and the site where the old Rose theatre stood 400 years ago. We went to the 130-year-old Garrick Theatre in West End and saw actor John Malkovich perform as corrupt Hollywood tyrant Barney Fein in David Mamet’s Bitter Wheat. We went to Dickens’ house on Doughty Street in Bloomsbury, where he wrote Oliver Twist, that great novel about a poor orphan caught in the malicious web of Industrial Revolution grime and greed.

(Magic Betty and the Coach and Horses pub in Soho)

We spent a lot of times in London’s great pubs, including the Coach and Horses in Soho, one of many in the area where the Welsh poet Dylan Thomas drank and drank and drank. As the sky grew dark, the wonderful Magic Betty emerged in the pub full of spangles and smiles, sat at the piano, and banged away with “It’s a Long Way to Tipperary” and a hundred other songs in London’s great old Music Hall tradition.

That’s the London I came to see and saw--the great working class city that lies beyond the pomp and circumstance of Buckingham Palace, the city where Marx spent much of his life, where Churchill directed the war effort against the Nazis. There was a lot I didn’t see, of course. Seeing labor troubadour Billy Bragg would have nicely added to the experience, but maybe next time!

Friday, July 5, 2019

Death at Howard Industries of Laurel, Mississippi, a company showered by media love and political largesse despite its horrible record

(A 1912 cartoon by Art Young for The Masses)

Controversy still hangs over Howard Industries in Laurel, Mississippi, as the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration continues its investigation into the March 15 death of a 36-year veteran worker at the company.

Sixty-three-year-old Larry Moffett died as a result of what the company called a “crush incident” when a heavy piece of equipment fell on him. Details are sketchy beyond that point, but Moffett was a tank regulator and leak tester and only two years away from retirement.

In a subsequent blog post on the incident, the Grossman Law Offices in Dallas, Texas, noted that OSHA investigations give “people a false sense of hope” and can take up to 18 months and, if the agency finds fault with the company, it usually issues “paltry fines that hardly put a dent in the company’s bottom line, and then move(s) on.” Furthermore, “what does this do to help families facing medical bills, burial costs, lost wages, and the immense pain caused by the loss of a loved one? Not much.”

A billion-dollar maker of primarily electrical transformers that employs up to 4,000 workers, Howard Industries in Laurel has been showered with taxpayer-funded government subsidies and local media adoration as well as state media indifference for years even though its record makes it arguably one of the state’s worst companies.

The death of a Howard Industries worker at its nearby Ellisville, Mississippi, facility in January 2011 led to 17 OSHA safety violation citations. “Two serious violations related to the fatality include not requiring employees to use work safety practices dealing with live electrical circuits, and failing to use locks and tags when de-energizing test equipment,” an OSHA press release said in July 2011.

Workers had to be evacuated from the plant in March 2018 after two transformers caught on fire. OSHA fined the company $200,000 for 54 violations of work safety rules in 2008, the same year the plant was the site of the nation’s largest raid on undocumented workers at the work place in history. Three years later it pleaded guilty to conspiring to violate immigration laws and received a $2.5 million fine.

Thanks to the diligence of the Mississippi Immigration Rights Alliance, Howard Industries was shamed into releasing 283 paychecks to migrant workers that it had held back.

In 2012 the company agreed to a $1.3 million settlement of a discrimination lawsuit by four black women who said they were refused jobs because of the company’s preference for Latino workers.

Despite this dismal history, Howard Industries has benefited from local tax exemptions for years, a $31 million state subsidy in 2002, plus a $20 million bond issue from the county. Its horrible record for low wages among its majority African American workforce brought in the NAACP back in 2015 and led the Laurel City Council to support the NAACP’s plea that Howard Industries raise its wages and to threaten the company’s local tax exemption. Half the workforce belonged to the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers but they still made between $3.55 and $6 an hour less than their counterparts in other nearby plants. The council eventually changed its mind and backed off amid a blistering attack by the local newspaper and likely behind-the-scenes pressure on council members.

Howard Industries also has a record of rewarding friendly politicians. It once rewarded state legislators with free laptop computers.
The Laurel Leader-Call is an embarrassment of a newspaper that heaps such praise on Howard Industries it could hardly be expected ever to do any real investigation of the company. “We were fierce defenders of HI when out-of-towners embarked upon a crusade to get its employees to unionize,” the newspaper editorialized some months ago, “and we smacked around some past councilmen editorially when they tried to pull HI’s tax exemption because of a handful of disgruntled employees.”

Ah, kowtowing, subservient, butt-kissing journalism remains strong in Laurel, Mississippi!