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Sold for parts

Returning to the Roots of Case Farms’ Workforce, ProPublica reporter Michael Grabell traveled to Guatemala to find Case Farms workers who returned home, sometimes after years of work and crippling injuries. Osiel López Pérez lost his left leg in a work-related accident, then was fired. See photos of former workers.

by Michael Grabell 
published with permission from ProPublica (co-published with The New Yorker)

By late afternoon, the smell from the Case Farms chicken plant in Canton, Ohio, is like a pungent fog, drifting over a highway lined with dollar stores and auto parts shops. When the stink is at its ripest, it means that the day’s 180,000 chickens have been slaughtered, drained of blood, stripped of feathers and carved into pieces — and it’s time for workers like Osiel López Pérez to clean up. On April 7, 2015, Osiel put on bulky rubber boots and a white hard hat, and trained a pressurized hose on the plant’s stainless steel machines, blasting off the leftover grease, meat and blood.

A Guatemalan immigrant, Osiel was just weeks past his 17th birthday, too young by law to work in a factory. A year earlier, after gang members shot his mother and tried to kidnap his sisters, he left his home, in the mountainous village of Tectitán, and sought asylum in the United States. He got the job at Case Farms with a driver’s license that said his name was Francisco Sepulveda, age 28. The photograph on the ID was of his older brother, who looked nothing like him, but nobody asked any questions.

Osiel sanitized the liver giblet chiller, a tub-like contraption that cools chicken innards by cycling them through a near-freezing bath, then looked for a ladder, so that he could turn off the water valve above the machine. As usual, he said, there weren’t enough ladders to go around, so he did as a supervisor had shown him: He climbed up the machine, onto the edge of the tank, and reached for the valve. His foot slipped; the machine automatically kicked on. Its paddles grabbed his left leg, pulling and twisting until it snapped at the knee and rotating it 180 degrees, so that his toes rested on his pelvis. The machine “literally ripped off his left leg,” medical reports said, leaving it hanging by a frayed ligament and a five-inch flap of skin. Osiel was rushed to Mercy Medical Center, where surgeons amputated his lower leg.

Back at the plant, Osiel’s supervisors hurriedly demanded workers’ identification papers. Technically, Osiel worked for Case Farms’ closely affiliated sanitation contractor, and suddenly the bosses seemed to care about immigration status. Within days, Osiel and several others — all underage and undocumented — were fired.

Though Case Farms isn’t a household name, you’ve probably eaten its chicken. Each year, it produces nearly a billion pounds for customers such as Kentucky Fried Chicken, Popeyes, and Taco Bell. Boar’s Head sells its chicken as deli meat in supermarkets. Since 2011, the U.S. government has purchased nearly $17 million worth of Case Farms chicken, mostly for the federal school lunch program.

Case Farms plants are among the most dangerous workplaces in America. In 2015 alone, federal workplace safety inspectors fined the company nearly $2 million, and in the past seven years it has been cited for 240 violations. That’s more than any other company in the poultry industry except Tyson Foods, which has more than 30 times as many employees. David Michaels, the former head of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, called Case Farms “an outrageously dangerous place to work.” Four years before Osiel lost his leg, Michaels’s inspectors had seen Case Farms employees standing on top of machines to sanitize them and warned the company that someone would get hurt. Just a week before Osiel’s accident, an inspector noted in a report that Case Farms had repeatedly taken advantage of loopholes in the law and given the agency false information. “The company has a 25-year track record of failing to comply with federal workplace safety standards,” Michaels said.
Case Farms has built its business by recruiting some of the world’s most vulnerable immigrants, who endure harsh and at times illegal conditions that few Americans would put up with. When these workers have fought for higher pay and better conditions, the company has used their immigration status to get rid of vocal workers, avoid paying for injuries and quash dissent. Thirty years ago, Congress passed an immigration law mandating fines and even jail time for employers who hire unauthorized workers, but trivial penalties and weak enforcement have allowed employers to evade responsibility. Under President Obama, Immigration and Customs Enforcement agreed not to investigate workers during labor disputes. Advocates worry that President Trump, whose administration has targeted unauthorized immigrants, will scrap those agreements, emboldening employers to simply call ICE anytime workers complain.

While the president stirs up fears about Latino immigrants and refugees, he ignores the role that companies, particularly in the poultry and meatpacking industry, have played in bringing those immigrants to the Midwest and the Southeast. The newcomers’ arrival in small, mostly white cities experiencing industrial decline in turn helped foment the economic and ethnic anxieties that brought Trump to office. Osiel ended up in Ohio by following a generation of indigenous Guatemalans, who have been the backbone of Case Farms’ workforce since 1989, when a manager drove a van down to the orange groves and tomato fields around Indiantown, Florida, and came back with the company’s first load of Mayan refugees.

In 2015, the director of OSHA called Case Farms “an outrageously dangerous place to work.” That year, the agency fined the company nearly $2 million after finding dozens of safety violations.

Just before the presidential election in November, I toured Case Farms’ chicken plant in Canton with several managers. After putting on hairnets and butcher coats, we walked into a vast, refrigerated factory that is kept at 45 degrees in order to prevent bacterial growth. The sound of machines drowned out everything except shouting. Thousands of raw chickens whizzed by on overhead shackles, slid into chutes and were mechanically sawed into thighs and drumsticks. A bird, I learned, could go from clucking to nuggets in less than three hours, and be in your bucket or burrito by lunchtime the next day.

Poultry processing begins in the chicken houses of contracted farmers. At night, when the chickens are sleeping, crews of chicken catchers round them up, grabbing four in each hand and caging them as the birds peck and scratch and defecate. Workers told me that they are paid around $2.25 for every 1,000 chickens. Two crews of nine catchers can bring in about 75,000 chickens a night.

At the plant, the birds are dumped into a chute that leads to the “live hang” area, a room bathed in black light, which keeps the birds calm. Every two seconds, employees grab a chicken and hang it upside down by its feet. “This piece here is called a breast rub,” Chester Hawk, the plant’s burly maintenance manager, told me, pointing to a plastic pad. “It’s rubbing their breast, and it’s giving them a calming sensation. You can see the bird coming toward the stunner. He’s very calm.” The birds are stunned by an electric pulse before entering the “kill room,” where a razor slits their throats as they pass. The room looks like the set of a horror movie: blood splatters everywhere and pools on the floor. One worker, known as the “backup killer,” stands in the middle, poking chickens with his knife and slicing their necks if they’re still alive.

The headless chickens are sent to the “defeathering room,” a sweltering space with a barnlike smell. Here the dead birds are scalded with hot water before mechanical fingers pluck their feathers. In 2014, an animal welfare group said that Case Farms had the “worst chicken plants for animal cruelty” after it found that two of the company’s plants had more federal humane-handling violations than any other chicken plant in the country. Inspectors reported that dozens of birds were scalded alive or frozen to their cages.

Next, the chickens enter the “evisceration department,” where they begin to look less like animals and more like meat. One overhead line has nothing but chicken feet. The floors are slick with water and blood, and a fast-moving wastewater canal, which workers call “the river,” runs through the plant. Mechanical claws extract the birds’ insides, and a line of hooks carry away the “gut pack” — the livers, gizzards and hearts, with the intestines dangling like limp spaghetti.

By late afternoon, the stench from the Case Farms chicken plant in Canton, Ohio, hovers like a pungent fog over Nimishillen Creek and drifts down a highway lined with dollar stores and auto parts shops.

On the refrigerated side of the plant, there’s a long table called the “deboning line.” After being chilled, then sawed in half by a mechanical blade, the chickens, minus legs and thighs, end up here. At this point, the workers take over. Two workers grab the chickens and place them on steel cones, as if they were winter hats with earflaps. The chickens then move to stations where dozens of cutters, wearing aprons and hairnets and armed with knives, stand shoulder to shoulder, each performing a rapid series of cuts — slicing wings, removing breasts and pulling out the pink meat for chicken tenders.

Case Farms managers said that the lines in Canton run about 35 birds a minute, but workers at other Case Farms plants told me that their lines run as fast as 45 birds a minute. In 2015, meat, poultry and fish cutters, repeating similar motions more than 15,000 times a day, experienced carpal tunnel syndrome at nearly 20 times the rate of workers in other industries. The combination of speed, sharp blades and close quarters is dangerous: Since 2010, more than 750 processing workers have suffered amputations. Case Farms says it allows bathroom breaks at reasonable intervals, but workers in North Carolina told me that they must wait so long that some of them wear diapers. One woman told me that the company disciplined her for leaving the line to use the bathroom, even though she was seven months pregnant.

Case Farms was founded in 1986, when Tom Shelton, a longtime poultry executive, bought a family-owned operation called Case Egg & Poultry, whose plant was in Winesburg, Ohio. In the world of larger-than-life chicken tycoons, like Bo Pilgrim — who built a grandiose mansion in rural Texas nicknamed Cluckingham Palace — Shelton, with a neat mustache, a corporate hairstyle and a mild manner, stood out. The son of a farmer, Shelton majored in poultry technology at North Carolina State, where he was the president of the poultry club and participated in national competitions in which teams of aspiring poultrymen graded chicken carcasses for quality and defects. Perdue Farms hired him right out of college, and he quickly rose through the ranks, attending Harvard Business School’s Advanced Management Program before becoming Perdue’s president, at the age of 43.

In 1986, the year that Shelton resigned from Perdue and started Case Farms, he gave a keynote address at the International Poultry Trade Show. It was a time of change: new mass market products such as nuggets, fingers and buffalo wings — along with health concerns over red meat — had made chicken a staple of American diets. With more women working, families no longer had time to cut up whole chickens. To meet the growing demand, Shelton told the audience, poultry plants would have to become more automated, and they would also need lots of labor.

Shelton was the kind of manager who could recite the details involved in every step of production, from the density of breeding cages to the number of birds processed per man-hour. He set about maximizing line speeds at Case Farms, buying additional family-owned operations and implementing modern factory practices. Today, the company’s four plants — Morganton and Dudley, in North Carolina, and Canton and Winesburg, in Ohio — employ more than 3,000 people.

Winesburg, the home of Shelton’s first plant, is a small community in the middle of Amish country. Even today, it’s not uncommon for drivers to yield for horse-drawn buggies or to see women in long dresses and bonnets carrying goods home from Whitmer’s General Store. Before Shelton bought the plant, it had employed mostly young Amish women and Mennonites. But, as the company expanded, it stopped recognizing Amish holidays and began hiring outside the insular community. “The Amish fathers found the urban newcomers objectionable because of such things as coarse slogans on T-shirts, vulgarity in conversations, and ‘necking’ in the parking lot,” the company said later, in federal court filings. The Amish workers left Case Farms, and, almost immediately, the company had trouble finding people who were willing to work under its poor conditions for little more than minimum wage. It turned first to the residents of nearby Rust Belt cities, which had fallen on hard times following the collapse of the steel and rubber industries. Turnover was high. About 25 to 30 of its 500 employees left every week.

Four years before Osiel lost his leg, OSHA inspectors saw Case Farms employees standing on top of machines to sanitize them and warned the company that somebody would get hurt.

Scrambling to find workers in the late 1980s and early ’90s, Case Farms sent recruiters across the country to hire Latino workers. Many of the new arrivals found the conditions intolerable. In one instance, the recruiters hired dozens of migrant farmworkers from border towns in Texas, offering them bus tickets to Ohio and housing once there. When workers arrived, they encountered a situation that a federal judge later called “ wretched and loathsome.” They were packed in small houses with about 20 other people. Although it was the middle of winter, the houses had no heat, furniture or blankets. One worker said that his house had no water, so he flushed the toilet with melted snow. They slept on the floor, where cockroaches crawled over them. At dawn, they rode to the plant in a dilapidated van whose seating consisted of wooden planks resting on cinder blocks. Exhaust fumes seeped in through holes in the floor. The Texas farmworkers quit, but by then Case Farms had found a new solution to its labor problems.

One spring night in 1989, a Case Farms human resources manager named Norman Beecher got behind the wheel of a large passenger van and headed south. He had gotten a tip about a Catholic church in Florida that was helping refugees from the Guatemalan civil war. Thousands of Mayans had been living in Indiantown after fleeing a campaign of violence carried out by the Guatemalan military. More than 200,000 people, most of them Mayan, were killed or forcibly disappeared in the conflict. A reportcommissioned by the United Nations described instances of soldiers beating children “ against walls or throwing them alive into pits,” and covering people “ in petrol and burning them alive.” In 1981, in a village of Aguacatán, where many Case Farms workers come from, soldiers rounded up and shot 22 men. They then split their skulls and ate their brains, dumping the bodies into a ravine.

Through the years, the United States had supported Guatemala’s dictators with money, weapons, intelligence and training. Amid the worst of the violence, President Reagan, after meeting with General Efraín Ríos Montt, told the press that he believed the regime had “ been getting a bum rap.” The administration viewed the Guatemalan refugees as economic migrants and Communist sympathizers — threats to national security. Only a handful received asylum. The Mayans who made it to Florida had limited options.

Beecher arrived at the church in time for Sunday Mass, and set himself up in its office. He had no trouble recruiting parishioners to return with him to the Case Farms plant in Morganton, in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains. Those first Guatemalans worked so hard, Beecher told the labor historian Leon Fink in his book, “The Maya of Morganton,” that supervisors kept asking for more, prompting a return trip. Soon vans were running regularly between Indiantown and Morganton, bringing in new recruits. “I didn’t want [Mexicans],” Beecher, who died in 2014, told Fink. “Mexicans will go back home at Christmastime. You’re going to lose them for six weeks. And in the poultry business you can’t afford that. You just can’t do it. But Guatemalans can’t go back home. They’re here as political refugees. If they go back home, they get shot.” Shelton approved hiring the immigrants, Beecher said, and when the plant was fully staffed and production had doubled “he was tickled to death.”

Evodia González Dimas could feel the pain in her left arm getting worse. For eight hours a day, she stood at a cutting table at the Case Farms Morganton plant, using a knife or scissors to remove fat and bones from chicken legs every two to three seconds. She wore a chain-mail glove on her non-cutting hand to protect it from accidental stabs by her knife or by the blades of her co-workers. The glove weighed about as much as a softball, but grew heavier as grease and fat caught in the steel mesh. By 2006, the pain and swelling were routinely driving González to the plant’s first-aid station. A nursing assistant would give her pain relievers and send her back to the line. She could no longer lift a gallon of milk, and had trouble making a fist. At night, after putting her children to bed, she’d rub soothing lotion on her swollen wrist and forearm.

One Friday, in September 2006, González was called to Case Farms’ human resources office. The director told her that the company had received a letter from the Social Security Administration informing it that the Social Security number she had provided wasn’t valid. González, one of the few Mexicans at the plant, told me that the director sold her a new permanent resident card, with the name Claudia Zamora, for $500, and helped her fill out a new application. (The human resources director denied selling her the ID.) She was assigned to the same job, with the same supervisor. And Case Farms paid her more than it did new hires, noting in her file that she “had previous poultry experience.”

Around that time, Case Farms workers began complaining that their yellow latex gloves ripped easily, soaking their hands with cold chicken juice. Only after pieces of rubber began appearing in packages of chicken did Case Farms buy more expensive, better-quality gloves. It passed the extra expense along to its employees, charging workers, who were making between $7 and $8 dollars an hour, 50 cents a pair if they used more than three pairs during a shift.

The morning the policy took effect, in October 2006, there were grumbles throughout the plant’s locker rooms. As workers began cutting chickens, the line abruptly stopped. One woman yelled that if they stuck together they could force the company to change the policy. When they refused to go back to work, managers called the police, and officers escorted workers off the premises.

More than 250 workers left the plant, gathering at a Catholic church nearby. González and another woman agreed to speak to a local newspaper reporter. Quoted as Claudia Zamora, González said, “Workers at Case Farms are routinely told to ignore notes from doctors about work restrictions when they’ve been injured on the job.” OSHA later foundthat Case Farms often made workers wait months to see a doctor, flouted restrictions and fired injured workers who couldn’t do their job.
Returning to the factory on the Monday after the walkout, González brought a note from the local medical clinic prescribing “light work or no work” for a week. She gave it to the safety manager, who asked her to fill out a report stating when the pain began. When she wrote “2003,” he was baffled. According to personnel records, “Zamora” had worked there for only a month. The human resources director who had hired González as Zamora summoned her to the office; she had been sent a copy of the newspaper article quoting González. The pain couldn’t be related to work at Case Farms, the director told González. After all, she was a new employee.

González didn’t understand. “I’m not new,” she said, her voice rising. “You know how many years I’ve been working here.”

“Claudia, you’re a probationary employee,” the director replied. “I don’t have a job for you.”

González challenged her firing before the National Labor Relations Board, a federal body created to protect workers’ rights to organize. The NLRB judge wrote, “In my opinion, [Case Farms] knew exactly what was going on with respect to her employment status.” The company, he said, “took advantage of the situation.” The board eventually ruled that González had been illegally fired for protesting working conditions. But the victory was largely symbolic. In 2002, the Supreme Court had ruled, in a 5-4 decision, that undocumented workers had the right to complain about labor violations, but that companies had no obligation to rehire them or to pay back wages. In the dissent, Justice Stephen Breyer predicted that the court’s decision would incentivize employers to hire undocumented workers “with a wink and a nod,” knowing that “they can violate the labor laws at least once with impunity.”

Case Farms had broken the law, but there was nothing González could do about it. The doctor told her that she needed surgery for carpal tunnel syndrome, but she never got it. A decade later, her hand is limp, and her anger still fresh. “This hand,” she told me, sitting in her living room. “I try not to use it at all.”

Centro San Jose, a social welfare agency and legal clinic in Canton, Ohio, has been swamped the past few years as hundreds of unaccompanied minors have come to the area, fleeing violence in Guatemala.

What happened to González was part of Case Farms’ decades-long strategy to beat back worker unrest with creative uses of immigration law. The year that Case Farms was founded, Congress passed the Immigration Reform and Control Act, which made it illegal to “knowingly” hire undocumented immigrants. But employers aren’t required to be document experts, which makes it hard to penalize them. The requirement that workers fill out an I-9 form, however, declaring under penalty of perjury that they’re authorized to work, makes it easy for employers to retaliate against workers.

In 1993, around 100 Case Farms employees refused to work in protest against low pay, lack of bathroom breaks and payroll deductions for aprons and gloves. In response, Case Farms had 52 of them arrested for trespassing. In 1995, more than 200 workers walked out of the plant and, after striking for four days, voted to unionize. Three weeks after the protest, Case Farms requested documents from more than 100 employees whose work permits had expired or were about to expire. Case Farms refused to negotiate with the union for three years, appealing the election results all the way to the Supreme Court. After the company lost the case, it reduced the workweek to four days in an effort to put pressure on the employees. Eventually, the union pulled out.

Case Farms followed the same playbook in 2007, when workers at the Winesburg plant complained about faster line speeds and a procedure that required them to cut three wings at a time by stacking the wings and running them through a spinning saw. Occasionally, the wings broke, and bones got caught in workers’ gloves, dragging their fingers through the saw. One day, a Guatemalan immigrant named Juan Ixcoy refused to cut the wings that way. As word spread through the plant, workers stopped the lines and gathered in the cafeteria. Ixcoy, who is now 42, became a leader in a new fight to unionize. “They saw that I didn’t have fear,” he told me.

In July 2008, more than 150 workers went on strike. For nine months, through the depths of the recession, they picketed in a cornfield across the street from the plant. In the winter, they bundled up in snowsuits and protested from a shed made of plywood and bales of hay. According to the NLRB, when the workers walked out again, in 2010, a manager told an employee that he would take out the strike leaders “ one at a time.” A short time later, Ixcoy was fired for insubordination after an argument with a manager on the plant floor prompted some workers to bang their knives and yell “ Strike!” A judge with the NLRB found that Ixcoy had been unlawfully fired for his union activity and ordered that he be reinstated. After Ixcoy returned to work, however, the union received a letter saying that it had come to the company’s attention that nine of its employees might not be legally authorized to work in the United States. Seven were on the union organizing committee, including Ixcoy. All were fired.

After Juan Ixcoy led a series of strikes for better pay and conditions at the Winesburg plant, Case Farms investigated his immigration status and fired him.

The company’s sudden discovery that the union organizers were undocumented was hard to credit. Ixcoy had first been hired in 1999, as Elmer Noel Rosado. After a few years, a Case Farms manager told him that the company had received notice that there was another person, in California, working under the same ID. “The manager, he told me if you can buy another paper you’re welcome to come back,” Ixcoy said. So he bought another ID for $1,000 and returned to Case Farms under the name Omar Carrion Rivera. Current and former workers at Case Farms’ four plants said that the company had an unspoken policy of allowing them to come back with a new ID. An employee in Dudley told me that he had worked at the plant under four different names. Case Farms executives had to have known that many of their employees were unauthorized. On at leastthreeoccasions, scores of workers fled their plants, fearing immigration raids.

Ixcoy eventually received a special visa for crime victims because of the workplace abuses he had suffered. “Ixcoy lived in an atmosphere of fear created by supervisors at Case Farms,” the Labor Department wrote in his visa application. “He feared for his own safety, that if he complained or cooperated with authorities, he would be arrested or deported.”

In the past few years, Tom Shelton has cast himself as the genial proprietor of a winery that he runs on his 40-acre estate on Maryland’s Eastern Shore. Its name, Bordeleau, means “the water’s edge,” and it’s one of the few wineries in the United States that you can visit by boat. Shelton exercises the same attention to detail at the winery that he does at Case Farms. According to Bordeleau’s website, he is “particular about everything, from pruning vines to the operation of the bottling line to the freshness of the wines being served in the tasting room.” The label features Shelton’s elegant Georgian-style château.

Shelton never responded to my calls or letters. A Case Farms PR person said he declined to be interviewed and, instead, arranged for me to meet with the company’s vice chairman, Mike Popowycz, and other managers in a conference room in Winesburg. Popowycz is the son of Ukrainian immigrants, who came to America after World War II. His father was a steelworker, and his mother worked nights in a thread mill. “I know what these people go through every day,” he said. “I can see the struggles that they go through because those are the struggles my parents went through.”

Popowycz, who is the chairman of the industry’s trade group, the National Chicken Council, said that Case Farms had made some safety mistakes but was working hard to correct them. He defended the company on every question I had. Case Farms, he said, treated its workers well and never refused to let them use the bathroom. Fees for replacement equipment discouraged workers from throwing things away. As for unions, the company didn’t need someone to stand between it and its employees. “Our goal is to prove that we’re not the company that OSHA has basically said we are,” he told me.

Case Farms had notice on numerous occasions that a large share of its workforce was undocumented. At least three times in its history, workers fled their plants, fearing immigration raids. One worker said he has worked at Case Farms under four different names.

Popowycz seemed unaware of many of the specific incidents I cited. He was almost like a parent hearing of his teenager’s delinquency: He hoped supervisors didn’t do that, but, if they did, it was wrong. Case Farms operates under a decentralized management system, which Shelton instituted early on. Every Monday at 8 a.m., Shelton hosts a conference call from Maryland, but many decisions are left to local managers. “We want the people at the locations to manage their business as if it’s their own,” Popowycz said.

I found it hard to believe that Shelton, who is known to ask questions about a $10,000 equipment expense, wouldn’t be aware of workplace disputes costing tens of thousands of dollars in legal fees. I contacted 60 former Case Farms managers, supervisors and human resources representatives. Most declined to comment or didn’t return my calls, but I spoke to eight of them. Many agreed that Shelton gave them a good deal of autonomy, and denied that there was pressure to produce chickens faster and more cheaply. “When I was there, any problems that we saw, we took care of it,” Andy Cilona, a human resources director in Winesburg in the ’90s, told me. But two said that promotions went to those who pushed employees hardest, which led some supervisors to treat workers harshly.

Popowycz acknowledged that some human resources supervisors had sold fake IDs; when the company found out, it fired them. He insisted that Case Farms complied with immigration laws. It was one of the first companies in Ohio to report Social Security numbers to immigration in the ’90s. Case Farms also periodically audits its personnel records, and when it receives letters from the authorities about discrepancies in workers’ IDs it investigates. But the company has never used immigration status to retaliate against injured or vocal workers, Popowycz said; any firings that occurred after protests were coincidental. “At the end of the day, we need labor in our plants; we’re not looking to get rid of these folks,” Popowycz said. “Do we do everything right? We hope we do.”

Last fall, I traveled to several villages in the Guatemalan state of Huehuetenango in the hope of finding former Case Farms workers. After passing through the market town of Aguacatán, where women in white-and-red huipiles sell everything from garlic to geese, I headed 45 minutes up a mountain to the village of Chex, where I found a cargo truck that had careened over the side of a road. Dozens of men came from the nearby fields and helped brace the truck with branches and ropes. I asked the men if any of them had worked for Case Farms. “I worked there for a year, around 1999 to 2000,” one man said. “2003,” another added. “Six months. It’s killer work.” “11 years,” said another. Two said that they had been among the first Guatemalans to work in Winesburg.

Former Case Farms workers turned up everywhere — the hotel clerk in Aguacatán, members of the local church, a hitchhiker I picked up on the way to another village. One man in Chex had been a chicken catcher in Winesburg, but years of overuse had left his elbow swollen and in chronic pain. Unaware that Case Farms is supposed to pay for workplace injuries, he told me that he had returned to Guatemala to heal and had spent thousands of dollars seeing doctors. Now his arm lay frozen at his side.

The village where Osiel grew up, Tectitán, is reachable by a rutted red-dirt road marked by two dozen hairpin turns. It’s so isolated that it has its own language, which is spoken almost nowhere else.

The village where Osiel grew up, Tectitán, is at the top of another mountain five hours west, reachable by a winding red dirt road. It’s so isolated that it has its own language, Tektiteko. Like Chex, Tectitán has a long history of sending residents north to work at Case Farms. By the time Osiel was a teenager, a man watching a soccer match could make fun of the Guatemalan team’s goalie on Facebook by saying that he “couldn’t even grab the chickens at Case Farms.”

I met Osiel at Centro San Jose, a social welfare agency and legal clinic operated from an old redbrick Lutheran church on the edge of downtown Canton. For the past few years, Centro San Jose has been swamped by hundreds of unaccompanied minors fleeing gang violence in Guatemala. Osiel was wearing a blue knit hat with a pompom, a white compression shirt, sweatpants with patches, and blue sneakers. He told me that he left Guatemala on his 16th birthday, after his mother’s murder, and, two weeks later, was in the custody of border patrol agents in Arizona. He moved in with an uncle in Canton and befriended some other teenagers from Tectitán who were working nights at Case Farms. He worked at the plant for eight months, earning $9 an hour, before the accident.

Osiel said that, on the night of the accident, after passing out in the machine, he awoke in the hospital. “The nurses told me that I lost my leg,” he recalled. “I couldn’t believe it. I didn’t feel any pain. And then, hours later, I tried to touch it. I didn’t have anything there. I started crying.” Today, he lives with two of his brothers in a weathered gable-front house next to a vacant lot. He is still getting used to the prosthesis, and hobbles when he walks. “I never thought that something like this could happen to me,” he said. “They told me that they couldn’t do anything for my leg to get better. They told me that everything was going to be OK.”

Osiel started working at Case Farms when he was 16 years old, too young by law to work in a factory. The job cost him his leg when he fell into a machine.

The Labor Department, in addition to finding numerous safety violations, fined Cal-Clean, Case Farms’ sanitation contractor, $63,000 for employing four child laborers, including Osiel. The fines and the citations against Case Farms have continued to accumulate. Last September, OSHA determined that the company’s line speeds and work flow were so hazardous to workers’ hands and arms that it should “ investigate and change immediately” nearly all the positions on the line. As the company fights the fines, it finds new ways to keep labor costs down. For a time, after the Guatemalan workers began to organize, Case Farms recruited Burmese refugees. Then it turned to ethnic Nepalis expelled from Bhutan, who today make up nearly 35 percent of the company’s employees in Ohio. “It’s an industry that targets the most vulnerable group of workers and brings them in,” Debbie Berkowitz, OSHA’s former senior policy adviser, told me. “And when one group gets too powerful and stands up for their rights they figure out who’s even more vulnerable and move them in.”

Recently, Case Farms has found a more captive workforce. One blazing morning last summer in Morganton, an old yellow school bus arrived at Case Farms and passed through the plant’s gates, pulling up to the employee entrance. Dozens of inmates from the local prison filed off, ready to work at the plant. Even their days may be numbered, however. During the tour in Canton, Popowycz and other Case Farms managers showed me something they were excited about, something that would help solve their labor problems and also reduce injuries: In a corner of the plant was a shiny new machine called an “automatic deboner.” It would soon replace 70 percent of the workers on the line. §

Michael Grabell covers economic and labor issues for ProPublica and has previously reported on temp agencies, the stimulus, and the TSA. This article is used with permission from ProPublica.

Trump’s 100-day contract to Make America Great Again—Big Fail

Not one promise has been fulfilled

As his campaign floundered last October, Trump went to Gettysburg, Pennsylvania to lay out his “100-day action plan to Make America Great Again.” Now he says that expecting him to accomplish anything within his first 100 days is a “ridiculous” standard. He’s welshing again, as he always does.

“You can’t make this stuff up!” is an all-purpose punch line to point out something in reality that’s so absurd that a punch line would shrivel in comparison. And it’s become a sort of a mantra for observers of the Trump Administration who are having trouble coming up with a punch line as ridiculous as the Secret Service spending $35,000 on golf carts to babysit the 70-year old president in about three months as Trump’s budget would gut federal funding for hungry seniors on Meals on Wheels.

Of course, all of this was not only predictable, it was predicted.

We were told that Trump could be baited, possibly into a nuclear war, with a tweet. We’d been warned that his campaign’s strange ties and allegiances with Russia, already codified with a change to the GOP platform in Putin’s favor, likely indicated something more nefarious. His policies always read like a George W. Bush-redux but with extra strength racism, misogyny and Islamophobia. And Trump’s rank incompetence and ability to dance from failure to failure sucking in gains while ripping off everyone in his wake was obvious in his business record, which included a class action lawsuit he settled for $25 million right before taking office.

But nothing prepared me for Trump’s schtick about his first 100 days.

Yes, a president’s first 100 days is an arbitrary marker we’ve inherited from Franklin D. Roosevelt, who swept into office after years of the Great Depression determined to make his personal optimism manifest in legislation and executive action.

It was “unlike anything known to American history,” historian Arthur Schlesinger Jr. wrote.

Lyndon Johnson’s 100 days intentionally summoned FDR’s spirit to similar effect and in his first 100 days, Barack Obama took steps to prevent a Greater Depression, to rescue and renew the American auto industry, and to create a green energy revolution that will pay dividends in Teslas and better solar panels for generations. (Obama, unlike Trump, also played no golf in his first 100 days.)

In that spirit, as his campaign floundered last October, Trump went to Gettysburg, Pennsylvania to lay out “Donald Trump’s Contract With The American Voter,” which stated his “100-day action plan to Make America Great Again.”

Anyone who knows Donald Trump’s record expects him to welch on any contract he makes, but—hey—at that point, before James Comey got his closeup, did even Don expect Don to win?

And Trump’s first 100 days have gone even worse, legislatively at least, than anyone expected.

He hasn’t jammed Democrats on any significant issues and his only “victories” are a series of reversals of Obama policies that include enabling oil companies to take money from foreign governments, coal companies to pollute rivers, and Internet service providers to track and sell your browsing history. These bills only required Republican votes in both Houses of Congress and were often signed in private because they would have shown the public that he stands entirely “with the Republican establishment he lampooned during his campaign,” as Politico Magazine‘s Mike Grunwald explains.

Yes, Trump is doing untold damage to our environment and the climate while assailing our tourism industry and terrorizing law-abiding undocumented immigrants who, unlike him, would love to pay taxes. And yes, he’s put together a cabinet that is simultaneously the richest and least qualified for public service in American history.

But there isn’t one promise in his 100-day contract he’s fulfilled.

In fact, his only accomplishments worth boasting about were some good jobs numbers and a Supreme Court appointment. Accomplishments, as the Washington Post‘s Dave Weigel pointed out, he inherited from Barack Obama.

Trump’s only talent, it seems, is inheriting things he doesn’t deserve, which makes him apoplectic when it’s time for his success to be compared against people who actually earned theirs.

Yes, there’s a Trump tweet that contradicts everything Trump says or does. The Daily Show‘s Dan Amira noted that “if Trump randomly, like, tripped on a squirrel or something we’d find an old tweet of his saying only fat losers trip on squirrels.”

But I have to say that Trump’s sudden whining about “the ridiculous standard of the first 100 days” was precious beyond my ability to hold water in my mouth, provoking the first unintentional spit take of my life.

This happened when CNN showed a clip of Trump introducing his 100-day plan in Gettysburg by saying, “It is a contract between myself and the American voter – and begins with restoring honesty, accountability, and change to Washington.”

Talk about a ridiculous standard. And never forget how that very speech began with him promising to sue all the women who had accused him of harassment and/or assault after the emergence of the Access Hollywood tape – another promise he flaked on.

All of this is beyond parody. And it’s beyond parody’s power to stop it.

If pointing out Trump’s rank ridiculousness, contradictory tweets, and the hypocrisy of Bible-theme slot machine had sufficient effect on withering Trump’s core support or compelling Republicans into doing even basic oversight, he would never have gotten past his failed Reform Party run for president in 2000.

Alec Baldwin has called Trump “the first satire-resistant president.” If this is true it’s because Trump is far more effective at bending reality, as With Friends Like These‘s Ana Marie Cox keeps saying, than any American politician that has come before him. This comes from his unrelenting combination of the dog-whistle racist demagoguery combined with the subliminal salesman schtick Trump mastered from decades of learning how to rip off people who should know better

No, satire and parody won’t be enough to stop this guy. Our only option is to take the risks he poses to our democracy seriously, deadly seriously. We overestimated the immune system of our society and suppressed the knowledge that the land of the free only truly began extending its full freedoms to minorities, women, and LGBTQ people in the last few decades.

Only by taking Trump absolutely seriously—by contesting every step of his agenda in marches, in town halls, in our reps offices, on the phones, and everywhere we can—have we kept him somewhat in check. Resisting Trump’s agenda relentlessly must be followed by proposing a better one that frame how division weakens us all and strengthens the ruling class. Still, the powers of the presidency are awesome and he likely has at least a baker’s dozen more 100 days left for him to undo the progress we’ve taken for granted here, and in other democracies.

Only an unrelenting, positive resistance will do, because that’s something you can’t just make up.§

This article is published with permission from The National Memo.

Healthy soil

by 

One of the biggest modern myths about agriculture is that organic farming is inherently sustainable. It can be, but it isn’t necessarily. After all, soil erosion from chemical-free tilled fields undermined the Roman Empire and other ancient societies around the world. Other agricultural myths hinder recognizing the potential to restore degraded soils to feed the world using fewer agrochemicals.

When I embarked on a six-month trip to visit farms around the world to research my forthcoming book, “Growing a Revolution: Bringing Our Soil Back to Life,” the innovative farmers I met showed me that regenerative farming practices can restore the world’s agricultural soils. In both the developed and developing worlds, these farmers rapidly rebuilt the fertility of their degraded soil, which then allowed them to maintain high yields using far less fertilizer and fewer pesticides.

Their experiences, and the results that I saw on their farms in North and South Dakota, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Ghana and Costa Rica, offer compelling evidence that the key to sustaining highly productive agriculture lies in rebuilding healthy, fertile soil. This journey also led me to question three pillars of conventional wisdom about today’s industrialized agrochemical agriculture: that it feeds the world, is a more efficient way to produce food and will be necessary to feed the future.

Myth 1: Large-scale agriculture feeds the world today

According to a recent U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) report, family farms produce over three-quarters of the world’s food. The FAO also estimates that almost three-quarters of all farms worldwide are smaller than one hectare – about 2.5 acres, or the size of a typical city block.

A Ugandan farmer transports bananas to market. Most food consumed in the developing world is grown on small family farms. Svetlana Edmeades/IFPRI/Flickr, CC BY-NC-ND

Only about 1 percent of Americans are farmers today. Yet most of the world’s farmers work the land to feed themselves and their families. So while conventional industrialized agriculture feeds the developed world, most of the world’s farmers work small family farms. A 2016 Environmental Working Group report found that almost 90 percent of U.S. agricultural exports went to developed countries with few hungry people.

Of course the world needs commercial agriculture, unless we all want to live on and work our own farms. But are large industrial farms really the best, let alone the only, way forward? This question leads us to a second myth.

Myth 2: Large farms are more efficient

Many high-volume industrial processes exhibit efficiencies at large scale that decrease inputs per unit of production. The more widgets you make, the more efficiently you can make each one. But agriculture is different. A 1989 National Research Council study concluded that “well-managed alternative farming systems nearly always use less synthetic chemical pesticides, fertilizers, and antibiotics per unit of production than conventional farms.”

And while mechanization can provide cost and labor efficiencies on large farms, bigger farms do not necessarily produce more food. According to a 1992 agricultural census report, small, diversified farms produce more than twice as much food per acre than large farms do.

Even the World Bank endorses small farms as the way to increase agricultural output in developing nations where food security remains a pressing issue. While large farms excel at producing a lot of a particular crop – like corn or wheat – small diversified farms produce more food and more kinds of food per hectare overall.

Myth 3: Conventional farming is necessary to feed the world

We’ve all heard proponents of conventional agriculture claim that organic farming is a recipe for global starvation because it produces lower yields. The most extensive yield comparison to date, a 2015 meta-analysis of 115 studies, found that organic production averaged almost 20 percent less than conventionally grown crops, a finding similar to those of prior studies.

But the study went a step further, comparing crop yields on conventional farms to those on organic farms where cover crops were planted and crops were rotated to build soil health. These techniques shrank the yield gap to below 10 percent.

The authors concluded that the actual gap may be much smaller, as they found “evidence of bias in the meta-dataset toward studies reporting higher conventional yields.” In other words, the basis for claims that organic agriculture can’t feed the world depend as much on specific farming methods as on the type of farm.

Cover crops planted on wheat fields in The Dalles, Oregon. Garrett Duyck,NRCS/Flickr, CC BY-ND

Consider too that about a quarter of all food produced worldwide is never eaten. Each year the United States alone throws out 133 billion pounds of food, more than enough to feed the nearly 50 million Americans who regularly face hunger. So even taken at face value, the oft-cited yield gap between conventional and organic farming is smaller than the amount of food we routinely throw away.

Building healthy soil

Conventional farming practices that degrade soil health undermine humanity’s ability to continue feeding everyone over the long run. Regenerative practices like those used on the farms and ranches I visited show that we can readily improve soil fertility on both large farms in the U.S. and on small subsistence farms in the tropics.

I no longer see debates about the future of agriculture as simply conventional versus organic. In my view, we’ve oversimplified the complexity of the land and underutilized the ingenuity of farmers. I now see adopting farming practices that build soil health as the key to a stable and resilient agriculture. And the farmers I visited had cracked this code, adapting no-till methods, cover cropping and complex rotations to their particular soil, environmental and socioeconomic conditions.

Whether they were organic or still used some fertilizers and pesticides, the farms I visited that adopted this transformational suite of practices all reported harvests that consistently matched or exceeded those from neighboring conventional farms after a short transition period. Another message was as simple as it was clear: Farmers who restored their soil used fewer inputs to produce higher yields, which translated into higher profits.

Soil building practices, like no-till and composting, can build soil organic matter and improve soil fertility (click to zoom). David Montgomery, Author provided

No matter how one looks at it, we can be certain that agriculture will soon face another revolution. For agriculture today runs on abundant, cheap oil for fuel and to make fertilizer – and our supply of cheap oil will not last forever. There are already enough people on the planet that we have less than a year’s supply of foodfor the global population on hand at any one time. This simple fact has critical implications for society.

So how do we speed the adoption of a more resilient agriculture? Creating demonstration farms would help, as would carrying out system-scale research to evaluate what works best to adapt specific practices to general principles in different settings.

We also need to reframe our agricultural policies and subsidies. It makes no sense to continue incentivizing conventional practices that degrade soil fertility. We must begin supporting and rewarding farmers who adopt regenerative practices.

Once we see through myths of modern agriculture, practices that build soil health become the lens through which to assess strategies for feeding us all over the long haul. Why am I so confident that regenerative farming practices can prove both productive and economical? The farmers I met showed me they already are. §

 is Professor of Earth and Space Sciences at the University of Washington. This article is published by permission of The Conversation, where it first appeared.

Exxon’s Rex Tillerson

And the rise of Big Oil in American politics

By Brian C. Black, Distinguished Professor of History and Environmental Studies, Pennsylvania State University. In 1945, U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt met with King Abdul Aziz Ibn Saud, part of a behind-the-scenes policy to ensure access to oil for the U.S. and its allies. National Archives and Records Administration “How Big Oil Bought the White House… Continue reading

CLASS WARFARE

Living with more (or less) in Trump’s America

by Dell Franklin

This kid was my best friend when we were both 12, and he told me his goal in life was to be a millionaire. We will call him Carl C. Today, if you drive along a certain freeway in Southern California in an industrial area you will be hard-pressed not to spot a huge square-block-size building with his name on it. He is a billionaire.

Back when we were 12 in our blue-collar town, Carl was already working in his father’s business, a small manufacturer of construction accessories. Carl took my two prized agates I got for my birthday in marbles and sold them. He had the best rare coin collection in town. He was already better than me at cards and repeatedly took money I earned shining shoes at a local amusement park. In junior high, when we walked around town, he never carried money, only a dime in the change purse of his bill fold in case he needed to make an emergency telephone call.

In high school, he bought a car. When he drove us neighborhood kids around town, cruised the drive-in, went to The Pike in Long Beach, or to the beach on summer days, he made sure we paid for gas. If he loaned you money he charged 20 percent interest. I never borrowed money from him because I didn’t need to, but hanging out with him forced me to be almost as cheap as he was, so I wouldn’t get swindled, but I often did get swindled. He was smart, daring, always one step ahead of everybody, including me. The only thing I was superior to him at was athletics. I started and excelled in all three major sports and ran track. Though he was slightly stronger than me, he stunk and got cut from every team sport.

All through high school and college he worked for his dad, whose business grew and boomed, and he wore a coat and tie to learn finances and sales. He majored in business and languages. I went into the Army for three years, and when I got out he had a master’s degree and enough money to start his own business by living at home and saving. It was 1968, and he was about to be drafted. I advised him to go to Canada to avoid Vietnam, but he felt with his education and his ability to “talk himself into good situations” he would get a cushy job, while those less qualified for language school would fight. He ended up in the infantry and deserted a troop movement to ‘Nam and showed up at my apartment with his passport. He was fleeing to Europe. His dad, already hounded by the FBI, showed up looking ten years older, a decorated WWII infantry soldier who fought in North Africa, Italy, France and Germany.

We watched Carl fly away to Paris from LAX and when Mr. C put his arm around me, and I put my arm around him, he was shuddering. His wife was in hysterics.

Five years later, as the war died down, Carl was back home running his dad’s business after Mr. C had a heart attack. Neither Carl or his dad would discuss how he’d managed to get back in the country without going to jail. I had visited Mr. C off and on during Carl’s absence and he was slowly deteriorating before my very eyes, twitching and shaking, black rings beneath his eyes, his once-powerful body withered. He was a person I adored.

When he died a year after Carl’s return, Carl took over the business and expanded. He lived in a plush two-story home on the beach with his beautiful blonde wife and occasionally came into the saloon where I worked as a bartender in Manhattan beach and carried only the dime in his change purse and a crisp new hundred-dollar bill he never broke. He also refused to pay for his drinks, stating if he was tending bar he’d give me free drinks as his good friend, while I explained I worked for a house and didn’t give away their money. He allowed others to buy his drinks. He was always trying to coerce me and bar denizens to bet on football and basketball games where he was at a huge advantage, realizing he was studious of odds and cold-blooded about who won or loss, having no loyalty to any team, while others were guided by emotions. He won a lot of money. When he lost, instead of paying off, he managed to talk winners into letting what was owed them ride on another bet.

I began to despise him. Just the look on his face and in his eyes as he sized up those with less money, less intelligence, less heart, and manipulated them with his uncanny ability to subtly browbeat, began to eat away at me, especially when he never bought anybody a drink after he took their money on bets. The way he so gloatingly fit those bills into his wallet reminded me of his stashing away my agates years back. Like he owned you.

I finally refused to serve him. We had an argument. He called me a loser, working in a bar for tips and coolie wages at 30 years old. I was a failed athlete and had no chance as a writer. He had everything. I countered by telling him I loved my job, played in two basketball leagues, surfed just about every day, had a wonderful girlfriend and a great cat. He scoffed at me, sneered, said not only was I failed athlete, but that he, a non-athlete, could beat me in tennis and wanted to play for a hundred bucks.

He took lessons from a famous pro in Beverly Hills and owned state-of-the-art rackets, a ball machine and 50 cans of balls in the trunk of his Mercedes. I upped the stakes to two-hundred. So we met on the local courts, and as we warmed up, his face changed. The cockiness disappeared. He began to look craven. He came to the net and stated he wanted to play that afternoon for nothing, until he “felt ready”—this after we had shook hands. I called him a slew of names, cussed him in front of various players on other courts, accused him of being a coward and stormed off, told him to never come around me again. He never did.

So I forgot about him, until I heard he was now a billionaire.

***

Carl was not a creep like President Trump. He was a gentleman around girls. As a kid, he was funny and observant and well-read and curious and good company. But as the years passed, his drive to accumulate money began to change him and control his life, until greed began to win out over humanity, just as today, in  this age, capitalism has won out over democracy, turning us into an oligarchy masquerading as a democracy.

As a millionaire and finally a billionaire, I’m sure, as a person who never liked paying for anything, and coaxed others to pay his way, Carl C has the finest tax lawyers to write off everything. I’m sure he became admired in his own sphere of business and society and eventually worshiped, for in America attaining millionaire and billionaire status is the culmination of the American Dream, so that when one of these people speaks, others stop and listen, as well as catering to and often becoming obsequious to such financial titans, almost as if, as billionaires, whatever they touch turns to gold, whatever they say is the truth, and that because they can make millions and billions they can do anything, even run the most powerful, important country in the world, even, as a young millionaire deserter, beat a trained athlete (who in our society is a poor slacker and loser) in a tennis match for two-hundred dollars because his hubris and ego has no bounds. §

Dell Franklin lives in quiet simplicity, never got rich, and doesn’t lack for anything. He writes from his home in Cayucos, Calif. Visit his website: dellfranklin.com.

Trump’s undiplomatic Twitter diplomacy

It isn’t a joke – it’s a catastrophic risk

Brian Klaas, London School of Economics and Political Science and Jennifer Cassidy, University of Oxford

Throughout the US presidential election campaign, many Republicans assured the electorate that once inaugurated, Donald Trump would “pivot” and begin to act like a more conventional candidate. This never happened. Some find that refreshing, others alarming. But the new world of a classically unpresidential president is most dangerous when it comes to Trump’s shoot-from-the hip Twitter diplomacy.

Diplomacy is the art of foreign policy signalling, a delicate craft of nuance, protocol, subtlety. Trump is the antithesis of those attributes. In salvos of 140 characters or less, he has already come close to upending decades of American foreign policy, torpedoing compromises carefully carved out through years of negotiation with a single click. From Taiwan to North Korea, he has recklessly trampled into some of the world’s diciest diplomatic minefields, Tweeting first and thinking about the consequences later.

This is obviously deeply disturbing on a moment-by-moment basis, but the longer-term damage that Trump is inflicting on American diplomatic power is far subtler and far more worrying.

Whichever way you look at it, the destabilising effect of his cavalier tweeting is profound. If foreign leaders take his tweets seriously, with all the obvious risks that entails, conflicts could suddenly escalate whenever Trump wakes up on the wrong side of the bed and turns to his phone to vent. If foreign leaders learn to ignore the mercurial volatility of his day-to-day tweets, then that may be a boon for short-term global stability – but in the long run, that approach will ensure that the US is no longer able to send clear and credible diplomatic signals.

Diplomatic signals can prevent wars or start them, and mixed signals are particularly risky. In the early 1990s, on the same day that the State Department stressed the US’s strong commitment to “supporting the individual and collective self-defence of our friends in the Gulf,” another State Department spokesperson stated that “we do not have any defence treaties with Kuwait, and there are no special defence or security commitments to Kuwait”. Saddam Hussein believed the latter and invaded Kuwait, sparking the First Gulf War.

The lesson is that diplomatic signalling is already fraught with risk even when communicated through the most careful channels – and Twitter is just about the least careful channel imaginable.

The high road

There are already signs that foreign powers plan to ignore Trump’s 140 character rants and instead focus on concrete policy changes. During a recent press briefing, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang made a thinly veiled reference to Trump’s tweets: “We don’t pay attention to the features of foreign leaders’ behaviour. We focus more on their policies.” Xinhua, China’s state-run news agency added that “an obsession with ‘Twitter foreign policy’ is undesirable”.

These sentiments might sound reassuring, but they don’t mean the risk isn’t there. So long as foreign powers are unable to distinguish Twitter bluster from official US government policy, the world will over time become a more dangerous place.

The line between a boastful tweets and an official warning about trade policy or military manoeuvres is one that should never be blurred. Diplomatic protocols exist for a reason: they are the fruit of years of effort to find common ground among countries with varied interests, some of which converge and many which do not. These protocols have for centuries functioned as a guiding compass for diplomatic agents worldwide, dictating how they should act, around whom, and in what setting. They also help mitigate the gravest risks of cultural misinterpretation and linguistic misrepresentation.

When these lines are crossed, the consequences are immediate. George W. Bush famously failed to take off his gloves to shake hands with Slovakia’s president in 2005; the incident overshadowed the entire state visit and noticeably chilled the two countries’ relations.

The same sensitivities are there with communication through text. It may sound pedantic, but colloquialisms, idioms, and even spelling mistakes can and do spark real and serious conflicts, and these risks are in fact magnified when they occur in a few dozen publicly disseminated words rather than a carefully thought-through diplomatic communiqué.

It’s even more terrifying to consider what might happen if Trump’s account were hacked. At the end of 2016, the Pakistani defence minister, Khawaja Muhammad Asif, issued a provocative warning to Israel after he saw a fake news story on social media that appeared to contain a nuclear threat from Israel’s government. Imagine if a similar threat came directly from Trump’s account.

Yet, in spite of these obvious risks, Trump shows a monumental contempt for the convention and protocol on which diplomacy depends. His failure to grasp those rules and norms will have profound consequences for international relations. The more he flouts the basic norms of diplomatic signalling, the more unsafe the world will become. §

The ConversationBrian Klaas, LSE Fellow in Comparative Politics, London School of Economics and Political Science and Jennifer Cassidy, DPhil Candidate in International Development, University of Oxford

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Mutually Assured Destruction: Trump Wishes Us All A Happy Thermonuclear New Year

Now that the presidential election is over, will it ever really end? Not if Donald J. Trump and the cable news networks get their way. Having made the election into a pro-wrestling spectacle, the Twitter-addicted president-elect and his ratings-hungry enablers at CNN, Fox News, etc. appear determined to turn the United States government into an endless… Continue reading