Nov
27

Giving Thanks

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Joni Mitchell – The Circle Game from JoniMitchell.com on Vimeo.

Mitchell was making music videos before there were music videos.


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Traditional anti-consumerism boycotts of Black Friday have company this year.

In the wake of the grand jury decision not to charge Officer Darren Wilson in the killing of 18-year-old Michael Brown, activists are encouraging black consumers to turn to economic activism and boycott the busiest shopping day of the year.

Under the title “No Justice, No Profit,” the boycott aims to capitalize on the purchasing power of the black community, which Al Jazeera points out is about $1 trillion, and prove, in a language businesses will understand—money—that injustice doesn’t come without consequence.

Dacia Polk of the Justice for Michael Brown Leadership Coalition explained the boycott to St. Louis Public Radio, saying:

“There will be no business as usual while those who are supposed to protect and serve us,” she said. “Until this nation begins to place value on black lives, there will be no value placed on this business because black lives matter.”

Protesters are urged to avoid large retailers and to support instead local, black-owned businesses. Hashtags: #BoycottBlackFriday, #BlackOutBlackFriday #HandsUpDontSpend, #NotOneDime, and #BrownFriday.

Walmart, the crown jewel of the low-wage economy, is still in the running for “worst corporation in the world.” Again this year, the home of low, low wages faces Thanksgiving and Black Friday protests from community activists and its own employees — I’m sorry Associates:

OUR Walmart first burst onto the scene two years ago, when it used Black Friday, the biggest shopping day of the year, to launch an unprecedented, nationwide strike against Walmart. The group originally demanded that Walmart pay all employees a base salary of at least $25,000 per year, but has since joined with striking fast food workers in demanding at least $15 per hour.

[snip]

As with OUR Walmart’s first major action in 2012, this year’s Black Friday protests will not be a typical strike. Many of those picketing Walmart — perhaps even most — will be outside supporters of the OUR Walmart campaign, not store employees themselves. Those employees who do walk off the job will likely do so for just one day. Yet OUR Walmart has said that their prior work stoppages are legally protected strikes, and the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) has agreed. Strikes over wages and working conditions, or over an alleged ULP (unfair labor practice), such as illegally retaliating against workers, are protected by federal law.

Besides fringe benefits like missing Thanksgiving and Christmas with families, Associates also miss meals:

This year’s protests by Walmart workers will kick off on Thanksgiving with a 24-hour fast by 12 protesters. The fast, which is protesting the hunger suffered by some Walmart workers who can’t afford food, will be staged outside a Los Angeles store.

One of the workers participating in the fast is Richard Reynoso, an overnight stocker at the Duarte, California store. Reynoso is one of those workers who cannot afford to purchase three meals a day. As a result, he only eats once a day on his lunch break.

“Sometimes all I have money for is a can of tuna and crackers,” he said.

But progressives need to be careful. Even as living wage advocates demand higher wages from big-box retailers, such protests can pit them against the very communities they hope to help. Those everyday low prices enable the Waltons’ clientele in poorer neighborhoods to stretch their limited incomes. Perhaps a new slogan?

Walmart: We make poor affordable

(Cross-posted from Hullabaloo.)


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Nov
26

Asheville responds

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At the Vance Monument, downtown Asheville. A response to Ferguson.


Categories : Events, Local, National, News, Race
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Photo via UFCW Local 770

So, what? Do these uppity, chronically stressed workers think The Economy exists to serve people instead of the other way around? Employees — I’m sorry, Associates — are supposed to genuflect and cross themselves at the sound of their master’s voice, and ask how high when Job Creators says jump. What are those Left Coast socialists smoking?

Politico:

Meet your new union reps: the statehouse and City Hall.

San Francisco’s new law, which its Board of Supervisors passed Tuesday by unanimous vote, will require any “formula retailer” (retail chain) with 20 or more locations worldwide that employs 20 or more people within the city to provide two weeks’ advance notice for any change in a worker’s schedule. An employer that alters working hours without two weeks’ notice — or fails to notify workers two weeks ahead of time that their schedules won’t change — will be required to provide additional “predictability pay.“ Property service contractors that provide janitorial or security services for these retailers will also need to abide by the new rule.

What’s worse, these subversive notions have a way of spreading east from the Left Coast like viruses. Call out the dragoons.

Speaking of predictability, the San Francisco Chamber of Commerce is predictably miffed about the “Retail Workers Bill of Rights.” For struggling hourly workers, taking classes, caring for families, and raising children (and managing day care logistics) is something The Economy expects you to fit in between work shifts at multiple, part-time, low-paying, no-benefits service jobs where shift schedules vary a lot. But that’s just the way it is and the way The Economy likes it. With labor unions weakened and workers disempowered, setting working conditions once governed by collective bargaining agreements now falls to local Democrats. That is, if you can find any that aren’t Republican lite.

And go figure, labor-friendly measures such as the Retail Workers Bill of Rights are popular. HuffPost:

With Congressional Republicans opposing a minimum wage hike and other legislation aimed at low-wage work, labor unions and their progressive allies have found much more success on the local level. Despite the drubbing that Democrats took in the midterm elections earlier this month, binding ballot initiatives on the minimum wage passed easily in four red states. A measure that will require many employers to provide their workers with paid sick days also passed in Massachusetts.

Politico continues:

Increased unpredictability in work schedules is driven by technology. When store foot traffic had to be measured manually and work schedules were typed out, employers found it cumbersome to alter work schedules too frequently. But just as computers created vast new producer efficiencies through just-in-time store inventories, so, too, did they create vast new staffing efficiencies through just-in-time work scheduling. Trouble is, getting moved around at the click of a mouse is more disruptive to human beings than it is to refrigerators and automobiles.

“Efficiency” is like “shareholder value” that way. When they start hearing it, flesh-and-blood consumable resources better update their resumes, stock up on antacid, and learn to get by with even less sleep.

Earlier this year, 32-year-old Maria Fernandes of Newark, NJ died of asphyxiation while catnapping in her car between shifts of her four part-time jobs. The Economy did not attend her funeral.

(Cross-posted from Hullabaloo.)


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Nov
23

Cesspits of bad behavior

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Hans Speckaert – Conversion of St Paul on the Road to Damascus. Via Wikimedia Commons.

In business today, too often integrity is an afterthought.

The San Francisco Chronicle quotes from the blog, Both Sides of the Table, by investor Mark Suster, “I believe that integrity and honesty are very important to most venture capital investors. Unfortunately, I don’t believe that they are required to make a lot of money.”

In a piece that might be titled, “The Real Jerks of Silicon Valley,” Alyson Shontell examines how many rising stars in Silicon Valley tend to be “–holes”. (The construction pops up frequently in the piece.) The rogues gallery is expansive, including Uber’s Travis Kalanick. He’s had a particularly bad week. Still,

“Sometimes,” one acquaintance said of Kalanick, “–holes create great businesses.”

Read More→


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Nov
23

Sunday Morning Music

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Nov
22

Hang On Tight

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Just because Rep. Tim Moffitt lost his reelection bid doesn’t mean the fight over Asheville’s water system is over. And guess what? There’s still time for more mischief before January.

The case is still in the courts. So stay tuned.

But as some of us have observed, the push to wrest control of water from cities is not a local phenomenon. Others without any connection to the Sullivan Acts are having the same fights around the country. Detroit, for example. Some, like St. Louis, are winning:

A new report from Corporate Accountability International, “Troubled Waters: Misleading Industry PR and the Case for Public Water,” addresses the privatization juggernaut to describe how some cities have dealt with corporate pressure, especially since some of it is predicated on the needs of U.S. water systems for as much as $4.8 trillion in investment in the next 20 years, as private companies, such as the French multinational Veolia Water North America, hinting that privatization would help create the needed capitalization.

The report describes elements of Veolia’s strategy in St. Louis. One example is their offer of consulting services (through Veolia’s Peer Performance Solutions) that would cut public water system costs, but in reality would be a foot in the door toward privatization. After years of pitching, Veolia got the city, including Mayor Francis Slay, to approve a Peer Performance Solutions contract with Veolia, but community activists and nonprofits challenged the idea. Activists formed the St. Louis Dump Veolia coalition to oppose the contract. The Great Rivers Environmental Law Center did its own analysis of the proposed contract, finding that the “contract will have the effect of privatizing the city’s Water Division, and will make city residents captive to Veolia.” According to the Corporate Accountability International report author, Emanuele Lobina, the terms of the Veolia contract would make Veolia “the private owner of all ideas for improving the St. Louis Water Division.”

Ultimately, Veolia failed. withdrew. Perhaps because 33 U.S. cities that went down the privatization path have already “re-municipalized” their water systems. Sometimes the glossy sales pitch is the only thing that shines about these deals.


Categories : Local, Tim Moffitt, Water
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Nov
22

The other dispossessed

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This week the president presented his new immigration plan for undocumented immigrants. The right will hate it as much as the left will insist it is the decent and humane thing to do.

But Democrats might consider that, unless they widen their focus, doing the right thing for undocumented immigrants and other left-leaning voting groups will further alienate a neglected bloc of voters they very much need to pay more attention to: the white working class. Democrats lost them in 2014 by 30 points.

At PoliticsNC, Thomas Mills explains:

For workers, wages have been stagnant for more than a decade and for most of the past 30 years. For a while, easy credit gave a sense of improving lifestyles, but that illusion came crashing down in the recession. Working class families got hit the hardest and have yet to recover. They’ve also not seen much offered in assistance.
However, their neighbors, some who don’t work and some who are in the country illegally, keep getting help. They want something for themselves. Instead, they see affirmative action programs give minority families and businesses a hand up, or as they see it, an unfair advantage. They see the president offering residency and the benefits of this country to undocumented workers, while they’ve been hard-working, law-abiding citizens who aren’t sure they can offer their own children a better quality of life.

Republicans understand these reactions and have exploited them. Democrats, in contrast, make the case for why the policies are the right thing to do. In short, Republicans appeal to emotions while Democrats appeal to morality and reason. In politics, emotion wins almost every time.

Democrats are losing working-class whites faster than demographics and a younger base of voters can shift the balance in their favor, writes Mills. Plus, they hate welfare, as Kevin Drum says. So while the left’s focus on helping disadvantaged classes feels like (and is) a good and moral thing to do, the struggling white, middle-class worker — feeling pretty dispossessed himself — looks on and feels ignored. The GOP will at least give him a lip-service tax cut and somebody to blame: the undeserving poor and their benefactors, the Democrats.

Kevin Drum writes:

It’s pointless to argue that this perception is wrong. Maybe it is, maybe it’s not. But it’s there. And although it’s bound up with plenty of other grievances—many of them frankly racial, but also cultural, religious, and geographic—at its core you have a group of people who are struggling and need help, but instead feel like they simply get taxed and taxed for the benefit of someone else. Always someone else. If this were you, you wouldn’t vote for Democrats either.

Complaining that polls show progressive policies are widely popular doesn’t win elections. Especially when a frustrated populace complains that there’s no difference between parties and Democrats in leadership go out of their way to reinforce it. The buzzword solution seems to be populism, but it’s one thing to say and another to communicate effectively when it’s virtually a dead language, and Democrats’ leading 2016 contender doesn’t speak it.

An old anecdote about George H.W. Bush comes to mind:

“Colleagues say that while Bush understands thoroughly the complexities of issues, he does not easily fit them into larger themes,” Ajemian wrote. “This has led to the charge that he lacks vision. It rankles him. Recently he asked a friend to help him identify some cutting issues for next year’s campaign. Instead, the friend suggested that Bush go alone to Camp David for a few days to figure out where he wanted to take the country. ‘Oh,’ said Bush in clear exasperation, ‘the vision thing.’ The friend’s advice did not impress him.”

Promising a laundry list of policies, however popular, will not impress a dispossessed white, working class failed by a rigged system unless they fit into a vision of a fairer economy and a more secure quality of life.

(Cross-posted from Hullabaloo.)


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Nov
21

Compassionate at birth

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Genesis 4
9 And the Lord said unto Cain, Where is Abel thy brother? And he said, I know not: Am I my brother’s keeper?

One of the takeaways from the Genesis account of Cain’s murder of his brother is, yes, you are. And we are wired that way, suggest experiments involving young children. Cognitive scientist Paul Bloom, author of Just Babies told Inquiring Minds last week that a basic sense of morality likely developed via Darwinian evolution:

“I think all babies are created equal in that all normal babies—all babies without brain damage—possess some basic foundational understanding of morality and some foundational moral impulses,” says Bloom on the Inquiring Minds podcast.

The question is how much of our moral sensibility is innate and how much is acculturation? By studying babies before they receive instruction and language, Bloom and other researchers hope to get at that answer. Using simple puppet plays , researchers find that babies and toddlers exhibit a sense of fairness, and a preference for “helping” characters. They avoid “hindering” ones.

Interestingly, as the toddlers get a little older, this sense of fairness seems to morph into pure egalitarianism—at least when it comes to distributing other people’s stuff. “There’s a lot of research suggesting that when it comes to divvying up resources that strangers possess, they are socialists—they like to share things equally,” says Bloom.

When asked to hand out treats to other people or to stuffed animals, 3- and 4-year-old children will divide resources equally, if at all possible. Even if they know that one person deserves more of a resource than another because she worked harder for it, they will still opt for equal distribution. In a study of 5-to-8-year-olds, when it was impossible to divide resources equally—for example, if the children were given five erasers to distribute to two people—they would even throw the extra eraser in the trash instead of giving more to one person than the other.

“But this compassion and this helping, it all pertains to the baby’s own group,” says Bloom. They are less naturally generous with out-group members.

By our natures, we strongly value those around us over strangers. And to the extent that you and I don’t, to the extent that you and I might recognize that somebody suffering, I don’t know, from the Ebola virus in Africa, is a life just as valuable as those of our closest friends and family, that’s an extraordinary cultural accomplishment. And it’s something that’s not in the genes. It’s not what we’re born with.

What strikes me is how this research echoes something paleoanthropologist Richard Leakey said about Turkana Boy in speculating about the development of compassion in early Man:

Bipedalism carried an enormous price, where compassion was what you paid your ticket with. You simply can’t abandon somebody who’s incapacitated because the rest will abandon you next time it comes to be your turn.

There but for the grace of God. Compassion has an evolutionary advantage, Leakey suggests. Perhaps it is what helped us rise above the law of the jungle.

The irony is that a libertarian-leaning conservative posted the Mother Jones article on Bloom — “Science Says Your Baby Is a Socialist” — to a Facebook forum as a tweak to lefties (socialist babies, I suppose). In fact, it would seem that a movement that sneers at being your brother’s keeper in organizing human society is hardly an accomplishment, cultural, political, or evolutionary.

(Cross-posted from Hullabaloo.)


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Nov
21

Friday Open Thread

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Has the sky fallen yet?


Categories : Open Thread
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