Allison Kilkenny: Unreported

Workplace Massacre in Alabama: Did Endless Downsizing and Slashed Benefits Cause the Rampage?

Posted in Capitalism, corporations by allisonkilkenny on March 13, 2009

Mark Ames (h/t Alternet)

workplace-violenceThe killing spree in Alabama fits a well-worn pattern of workplace-driven massacres that we’ve seen since the “going postal” phenomenon exploded in the middle of the Reagan revolution.

In spite of the fact that these killings have gone on unabated for over 20 years, most of the country doesn’t want to know why they’re happening — least of all the people in power.

If we study the motive for Michael McLendon’s shooting rampage Tuesday, which left 11 bodies across three towns in southern Alabama, and we look at the bizarre way that the causes of the shooting are being hushed up, you begin to understand why this uniquely-Reaganomics-inspired crime started in the United States, and continues to plague us.

But of all the inexplicable circumstances surrounding the murder spree, one of the oddest has to be the way Alabama authorities went from focusing hard on solving the shooter’s motive to suddenly dropping the issue like a hot potato and running away from the scene of the crime, as if they didn’t like what their investigation produced.

On Wednesday night, investigators announced that they had discovered the motive, and they would reveal it to the world on Thursday morning. 

Investigators close in on motive of Alabama gunman
by Donna Francavilla
SAMSON, Ala. (AFP) — Alabama investigators said they were closing in on a motive for the U.S. state’s deadliest-ever shooting, in which a man killed his mother, grandmother and eight others before taking his own life. The Alabama Bureau of Investigations said there had been “very recent developments that we believe may direct us to a motive” for the grisly rampage, but ABI was quick to dismiss earlier reports that a hit list had been found in the house of the gunman, identified as Michael McLendon.

But then something funny happened on Thursday. Alabama investigators completely reversed themselves: They were now claiming there was no way to find out the motive for the killings, and in fact, no motive ever existed in the first place.

“There’s probably never going to be a motive,” Trooper Kevin Cook, a spokesman for the Alabama Department of Public Safety, said Thursday.

Even the list that provided so many obvious clues as to what sparked the shooting is now no longer the “hit list” or list of people who had “done him wrong,” but rather, “the kind of list you’d put on a magnet on the refrigerator door,” according to Cook.

Which is odd, because just the day before, Cook told reporters, “As to motive, what we do know is that his mother had a lawsuit pending against Pilgrim’s Pride.”

Why the bizarre about-face? We may never know, because Alabama investigators abruptly closed the investigation at noon on Thursday, sending home almost the entire team. Nothing to see here folks, keep moving along.

This raises a new question: What was it about McLendon’s motive that officials wanted hushed? Or better yet: What did Pilgrim’s Pride do that could have incited a man described by all as nice, quiet and respectful to unleash a bloody killing spree?

On the surface, the horrific details seem to suggest a straightforward case of a lone psychopath unleashed: Michael McLendon, 28, shot and killed execution-style his own mother and four dogs, then set their bodies on fire before driving to other relatives’ houses and killing them; he killed a deputy’s wife and baby, along with bystanders; and like so many rampage massacres over the past 20 years, he ended his life inside of his former workplace: Reliance Metal Products, in the small town of Geneva, Ala.

Authorities say they discovered a list — presumably a hit list — of people and companies whom McLendon felt had done him wrong. Popular culture tells us that the hit list and his grievances are themselves signs that he suffered from a persecution complex, like so many Charles Mansons. No need to actually look into who was on that hit list and why — the mere discovery of such a list should be enough to indict him, case closed.

But nothing’s solved, nothing’s closed; and if we’re serious about understanding the “why” of this massacre, as everyone claims to be, then that list is the best place to start.

As with so many of these rage massacres from the past 20 years, the more you look at Tuesdays’ killing spree, the more you see that the system we’ve been living under since Reaganomics conquered everything has created all kinds of monsters and maniacs, from the plutocrats who’ve plundered this country for three decades straight, down to the lone broken worker — McLendon — who took up arms in a desperate suicide mission against the beast that crushed him.

So far we’ve learned that McLendon’s hit list names the three companies he had worked for since 2003 — Reliance Metals, which makes construction materials; Pilgrim’s Pride, the nation’s number one poultry producer, where his mother also worked, until she was suspended from her job last week; and Kelley Foods, a smaller family-owned meat-processing company from which McLendon apparently quit just last week.

Even more striking to someone who has studied these workplace massacres, it appears that McLendon was bullied and abused at work. One clue as to why he’d end his spree at Reliance, where he hadn’t worked since 2003, could be that he was trying to kill the source of the pain: workers at Reliance used to taunt him incessantly, giving him the nickname “Doughboy.” Which basically means “fatso” and “faggot” combined: McLendon was 5 feet, 8 inches tall, but he weighed roughly 210 pounds.

Maybe it’s just a coincidence, but “Doughboy” is the exact same nickname that workers at Standard Gravure, a printing plant in Louisville, Ky., gave to a guy named Joe Wesbecker back in the 1980s.

Like McLendon’s case against Pilgrim’s Pride, Wesbecker also was locked in an ongoing labor dispute with his company, whose top shareholders had gone on an eight-year plundering spree, leaving little for the workers; the government backed Wesbecker’s case against Standard Gravure, and he “won” his dispute, but it was irrelevant.

By 1989, the culture had changed, all power went to the CEOs and major shareholders. Standard Gravure’s senior executives ignored the arbitration rulings and continued to treat Wesbecker however they felt, slashing his pay under a different pretense, which would require a whole new round of arbitrations.

Joe “Doughboy” Wesbecker finally cracked: on Sept. 14, 1989, he unleashed America’s first private workplace massacre, pitting aggrieved worker against vampiric company, borrowing from the numerous post office shootings that had erupted a few years earlier. The result: seven killed, 20 wounded, and the death of the company that drove him to the brink. And an unending string of workplace massacres by “disgruntled employees” ever since.

Next time any asshole calls a kid or a co-worker “Doughboy,” put the bully and the bullied on the top of your next Ghoul Pool list. Bullying in the workplace, like bullying in the schoolyard, is only now being recognized as a serious problem, with devastating psychological consequences — and the occasional rampage massacre.

Conventional wisdom used to say that victims of bullying should “deal with it” since it was “just the way things are”; nowadays, after all the workplace and school shootings, anti-bullying laws and codes are becoming increasingly common.

Keep reading…

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Ukraine On The Brink

Posted in Capitalism, Economy by allisonkilkenny on March 2, 2009

NYT

Dozens waited outside the Rodovid Bank in Kiev on Friday to take money out of their accounts. The bank is close to failing. (Joseph Sywenkyj, NYT)

Dozens waited outside the Rodovid Bank in Kiev on Friday to take money out of their accounts. The bank is close to failing. (Joseph Sywenkyj, NYT)

KIEV, Ukraine — Steel and chemical factories, once the muscle of Ukraine’s economy, are dismissing thousands of workers. Cities have had days without heat or water because they cannot pay their bills, and Kiev’s subway service is being threatened. Lines are sprouting at banks, the currency is wilting and even a government default seems possible.

Ukraine, once considered a worldwide symbol of an emerging, free-market democracy that had cast off authoritarianism, is teetering. And its predicament poses a real threat for other European economies and former Soviet republics.

The sudden, violent protests that have erupted elsewhere in Eastern Europe seem imminent here now, too. Across Kiev last week, people spoke of rising anger about the crisis and resentment toward a government that they said was more preoccupied with squabbling than with rallying the country.

The sign held by Vasily Kirilyuk, an unemployed plumber camped out with other antigovernment demonstrators here in the past week, summed up the pervasive frustration: “Get rid of them all,” it said.

Mr. Kirilyuk did not hesitate to take that further. “There will be a revolt,” he said. “And people will come because they are just fed up.”

Mr. Kirilyuk, 29, was standing in the same central square where throngs in 2004 carried out the Orange Revolution, a seminal event that brought to power a pro-Western government in Ukraine. He said he was a fervent supporter then of the protesters, but now he and a few dozen others who have set up tents here are demanding that the heroes of that revolution step down.

It is not hard to understand why world leaders are increasingly worried about the discontent and the financial crisis in Ukraine, which has 46 million people and a highly strategic location. A small country like Latvia or Iceland is one thing, but a collapse in Ukraine could wreck what little investor confidence is left in Eastern Europe, whose formerly robust economies are being badly strained.

It could also cause neighboring Russia, which has close ethnic and linguistic ties to eastern and southern Ukraine, to try to inject itself into the country’s affairs. What is more, the Kremlin would be able to hold up Ukraine as an example of what happens when former Soviet republics follow a Western model of free-market democracy.

Ukraine is a linchpin for stability in Europe,” said Olexiy Haran, a professor of comparative politics at Kiev Mohyla University. “It is a key player between the expanding European Union and Russia. To use an alarmist scenario, you could imagine a situation in Ukraine that Russia tried to exploit in order to dominate Ukraine. That would make for a very explosive situation on the border of the European Union.”

That Ukraine can cause problems for Europe was highlighted in January when Ukraine engaged in a dispute with Russia over how much it would pay Russia for natural gas, as well as over gas transport to the rest of Europe. The Kremlin shut off the gas for several days, and some European countries went without heat. The Kremlin also shut off gas to Ukraine in 2006 in a pricing dispute.

While Ukraine’s economy is dependent on exports of steel and chemicals, which have plummeted, the crisis has cut deeply because people are disillusioned with the government.

President Viktor A. Yushchenko, a leader of the Orange Revolution, who garnered attention around the world in 2004 when his face was scarred in a poisoning episode, is so widely scorned that a recent poll found that 57 percent of people wanted him to resign.

His rivals have also lost popularity, as the public has become exasperated by years of political bickering. In February, the International Monetary Fund refused to release the next installment of a $16.4 billion rescue loan to Ukraine because the government would not adhere to an earlier agreement to pare its budget.

Around the same time, Ukraine’s finance minister resigned, saying that the job had been “hostage to politics.”

On Friday, the monetary fund projected that Ukraine’s economy would shrink by 6 percent this year, and said that it was continuing to work with the government to find a way to disburse the rest of the rescue loan.

A presidential election is coming, probably to be held next January, and this prospect is making politicians, especially Prime Minister Yulia V. Tymoshenko, reluctant to adopt an austerity program that might alienate voters.

Mr. Yushchenko and Ms. Tymoshenko were pro-Western allies during the Orange Revolution, but have bitterly feuded since then, and he fired her once. A third rival, Viktor F. Yanukovich, a former prime minister who heads an opposition party that favors closer ties with Russia, also wants to be president.

On Friday, Mr. Yushchenko and Ms. Tymoshenko held a public meeting in an effort to demonstrate that they were working together. Mr. Yushchenko said he wanted “to show the readiness of all sides to take political responsibility for decisions which today are not easy.”

Even so, the two did not announce further anticrisis measures.

All over Kiev have been signs that tensions are building.

On the city’s outskirts, more than 200 tractor-trailer rigs were parked Thursday, their drivers threatening to block roads if the government did not help them with their debts, which they said were caused in part by the drop in the value of Ukraine’s currency, the hryvnia.

The truckers dispersed Friday, only after the government said it would try to address their demands, but they said they would be back soon if they were ignored.

“The government is to blame for all this,” said a trucker, Viktor V. Zarichnyuk, 26, who had been at the protest for 12 days. “We want the government and the national bank to agree that the money allocated by the International Monetary Fund, at least part of it, should go to regular people.”

At a branch of the Rodovid Bank across town, a tense crowd gathered Friday morning. The bank, close to failing, was allowing withdrawals of only $35 a day. And so people, some of them pensioners fearful for their life savings, have been trooping each day, ever more aggravated, to try to get what they can.

“Every day we come here — it’s insulting — in the cold and line up,” said Alevtina A. Antonyuk, 58, an engineer. “They are nothing at this bank but a bunch of thieves.”

Who is to blame, she was asked. Before she could answer, Dmitri I. Havrilkiv, 78, a retired crane operator, interrupted.

“The government has to be replaced,” he shouted. “They just can’t handle it!”

Iceland on the Brink

Posted in deregulation, Economy, poverty by allisonkilkenny on January 26, 2009

The Independent

Two years ago, Iceland was top of the UN living index. Now it is in the frontline of the global economic crisis after the failure of its banks, reports Sophie Morris in Reykjavik.

s-iceland-largeJust a few short years ago, Iceland had much to be proud of. The good times were rolling so fast that one expected the country’s almost round-the-clock summer daylight to last all year. Business was booming, society overfed, and the capital, Reykjavik, was in vogue as a travel destination for rich revellers, gastronomes and culture lovers.

Iceland is a country of dramatic natural beauty: lunar landscapes, spouting geysers, sheer glaciers and craggy volcanic rock formations; an impressive but inhospitable isle floating in mid-Atlantic isolation. When, in 2007, it topped the UN’s Human Development Index for its high standard of living, literacy and life expectancy, the tiny community of 310,000 felt they had proved their educated, hard-working and resilient character on an international scale.

The previous year, America had abandoned its long-standing naval air station at Keflavik. Symbolically, the move set Icelanders free from more than seven centuries of foreign domination, first as a Norwegian and then a Danish colony, and for the past 65 years, less formally, under the wing of the US.

“The Vikings” had risen again, and this is the admiring title the country bestowed upon the small group of aggressive businessmen whose high-risk investing bloated the island’s economy to 10 times its GDP, buying up chunks of the British and Continental European high streets in the process. French Connection, Debenhams, Karen Millen, Oasis, Warehouse, Mappin & Webb, Hamleys and many more fell into Icelandic ownership. So did West Ham United football club. When Icelanders visited Copenhagen, they would strut into its smartest department store to buy expensive fashions from “their” shop. Like many British chains, it too was owned by the “Viking” Jon Asgeir Johannesson’s Baugur group: one in the eye for the mother country.

Few stopped to consider, let alone fret over, whether their swift financial ascent would end in an equally steep plunge into oblivion. They were too busy flying to Barcelona for dinner, opening smart boutique hotels, investing in art, planning massive public buildings and buying Range Rovers and Audi Q7s – Iceland is one of the top car-owning countries in the world.

In October, Iceland’s three main banks were nationalised and declared bankrupt. Overnight, any Icelander – and there were many – who had bought these status vehicles or invested in luxury new properties with a foreign loan found the value of their purchases plummeting as repayments soared. The currency, the Krona, fell to one quarter its value before trading in it was suspended. Thousands of hard-working couples nearing retirement age had placed their life savings in stocks with the Landsbanki, Glitnir and Kaupthing banks which led the crash. For many, every penny disappeared into the turbulent waters which connect Iceland with its American and European neighbours.

Frugal Icelanders have been stung too. Food and petrol costs are rising all the time and with interest rates nearing 20 per cent, domestic mortgages, even modest ones, are becoming impossible to service.

“The feeling is we are unable to look after our own affairs” says Hallgrimur Helgason, one of the country’s leading novelists. “We were on our own for years and we went too far, too fast, in too little time. We behaved like children and the first thing we did when the stock market opened 10 years ago was go to London and buy toy stores and candy stores. Now we are bankrupt and there will be no money for years to come and we have more debts than we can ever repay.

“We’re just like kids whose parents went away for the weekend and we trashed the entire house.”

There is no word from the government yet on how it plans to repair the damage. What does that mean for the man on the streets of a country whose coffers are empty? Are we talking soup kitchens, sheltered housing and begging on street corners? Far from it. If you’re as comfortable as Iceland was, the rot has its work cut out before it emerges on the surface.

The streets of the capital are clean and the people could not be more hospitable or charming. On Friday and Saturday nights, a succession of bars and clubs are packed out. Judging by the drunken state of most people, they are still spending money here.

Iceland’s troubles did reveal themselves during last week’s tumultuous events. Peaceful demonstrations began in Reykjavik’s main square, outside the Althing (parliament) building, had begun in October immediately after the crash. Last week they erupted in the worst riots since it became a founding member of Nato in 1949. Rocks were hurled at police and the Althing. Its windows were smashed and the building set alight. Over 130 protesters received treatment after police used tear gas to disperse the crowd, and one police officer was seriously injured.

On Friday morning, human rights campaigner and protest organiser Hordur Torfason told a chilling anecdote to illustrate the desperation many Icelanders are feeling. He had received a phone call from a man who said that four generations of his family had lost everything. “He wanted me to help them build a gallows in front of the parliament building,” says Torfason. “I asked him if this was to have some symbolic significance. ‘No,’ came the answer. ‘A member of my family wants to hang himself in public.'”

“I said I would help them but not in this way,” says Torfason. “But he killed himself two days ago.”

Red Cross employees and volunteers are working overtime to prepare for depression and desperation. The relief agency has expanded and is setting up support groups and activities for the unemployed. “One of the effects of long-term unemployment is depression,” says the agency’s Thor Gislason.

More people are attending church, he says, not just for spiritual succour, but because food is sometimes provided for a nominal charge. Soup kitchens, emblematic of Eastern bloc poverty, might be going too far. “We believe people will be too ashamed to stand in line publicly for food,” says Gislason, “so we will organise activities and volunteer work where food is involved instead.”

Icelanders are known for their love of good food. Now is the beginning of a month when people celebrate local cuisine by dining out on traditional dishes, but one smart restaurant with a menu featuring pickled whale blubber, whale sushi and peppered whale steaks, cod liver, pickled herring, smoked puffin breast, reindeer meat and caviar, is empty save a handful of foreign diners. Panorama, a new gourmet restaurant on the top floor of the Centerhotel Arnarhvoll, has magnificent views over Reykjavik’s harbour but is equally subdued. Over in Reykjavik’s 101 Hotel, owned by the “Viking” tycoon Jon Asgeir Johannesson and renowned as a favourite haunt of champagne-loving Kaupthing bankers, there are a few suits and little else.

As many as 8,000 people braved the damp cold to demonstrate last week, the largest number to attend a public protest in the history of Iceland. On Friday, the Prime Minister, Geir Haarde, who has cancer, called an election for9 May and announced that he will not run again. Yet protesters called for his immediate resignation on Saturday. The government’s efforts amount to too little, too late, they say. They want parliament dissolved, a new constitution, and an investigation of those politicians they believe accountable. “Every other person is basically bankrupt,” said organiser Magnus Bjorn Olafsson. “This is a revolution and we want to create a new constitution like the French did.”

All walks of life were evident at the protests; well-heeled Icelanders with their designer coats and dogs were as prevalent as any other group. For many, like Gudbjorg Bjornsdottir, 47, and Runar Mar Sverisson, 50, it was their first experience of protesting. “We thought it was time we showed our support,” says Bjornsdottir, “It is not enough to sit at home. We are not here for our personal situation but for the injustice.”

Asgerdur Einarsdottir, 43, attended a party last week attended mostly by architects and graphic designers. She was the only one there to have a job. She works in Iceland’s remaining steady industry, tourism, for a tour operator which provides visitors with thrills such as snowmobiling up a glacier or driving through lava fields.

Before the crash, Iceland was prohibitively expensive. It is now far more accessible to foreigners but the running costs of her firm, owned by the parents of Barcelona striker Eidur Gudjohnsen, have gone up 110 per cent, and they are losing the lucrative business of indulgent corporate jollies.

On Reykjavik’s main shopping street, Laugavegur, bargains are suddenly to be found: in Saevar Karl, a designer department store, most items are 40 per cent off. Its manager, Tomas Tomasson, notes that Iceland is now the cheapest place in the world to buy Prada.

Everyone blames greed, political corruption and lack of financial regulation for the mess, but most know they must share responsibility. “I feel partly to blame myself,” admits writer Helgason. “We admired the brashness of the Vikings and we all got carried away. We are a young and immature society.”

Torfason says: “Things are bad and they will get much worse. But it is unlikely anyone will starve. There are people with no fixed address here, but none on the street; you would freeze to death. There is no call to be desperate. We are small but we have resources.”

This much is true. The seas are full of fish, geothermal energy and natural gas are abundant. Oil prospecting is beginning. But there is a risk that Iceland will give its riches away in a fire sale to the same Vikings who have already half-sunk the nation once.

Iceland has survived famine, volcanic eruptions and smallpox before. Now it must confront the fact that it has been blighted by a man-made disaster.

Iceland: The facts

*Population: 313,376

*Currency: Icelandic Krona (ISK)

*Unemployment in October 2008 1.9%; January 2009: 7%. Expected to rise to 8.6% in 2010.

*Inflation: 13.1%

*Interest rates 18%

*GDP per capita in 2007: $42,000

*GDP per capita now: $39,400

*The world’s eighteenth largest island, Iceland has nearly 5,000km of coastline.

*Iceland’s natural resources include geothermal power and diatomite, many rivers and waterfalls are used for hydroelectricity.

*Did not gain full independence from Denmark until 1944. Granted limited home rule in 1874.

*Althing, the Icelandic parliament, is the oldest functioning legislative assembly in the world, which was established in 930.

*In 2007 Iceland was ranked the most developed country in the world by the UN.

*The Apollo 11 astronauts trained in Iceland because of the terrain’s similarity to the moon.

Kucinich Hands Kashkari His Own Ass

Posted in politics by allisonkilkenny on November 15, 2008

neel_kashkari_1007Background on Kashkari, the most irronically named man in Washington and the evilest-looking Treasury employee since, well…Henry Paulson:

Time

The government’s $700 billion bailout plan is in the hands of this man. Neel Kashkari, a relatively green assistant secretary in the Treasury department, will be responsible for the government’s purchasing of billions of dollars of bad assets from banks and other financial agencies. His career has been a short one.

Personal Life

• Kashkari grew up in Stow, Ohio, an Akron suburb. As a high school student, he was a fan of heavy metal bands like AC/DC, whose lyrics dot his high school yearbook. He is 35 years old.

• He comes from a family of scientists. Father Chaman has a doctorate in engineering, and won a Presidential award for his work in getting water to African villages. Kashkari’s mother, Sheila, is a retired pathologist, and his sister Meera, specializes in infectious diseases.

• Accordingly, Kashkari also studied science, getting his masters in engineering from the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign

• He and his wife Minal live in Silver Spring, Maryland, with their dog Winslow.

Career

• Neel’s first job was as an aerospace engineer at TRW, where he worked on technology for NASA projects such as the Webb Space Telescope, which is due to replace the Hubble.

• He decided to change careers and go to Wharton Business School at the University of Pennsylvania. After getting his MBA, Kashkari joined Goldman Sachs in San Francisco, specializing in IT security.

• He followed former Goldman Sachs CEO Henry Paulson to the Treasury Department, where he was hired as a senior adviser in 2006. In short order, he was assigned to work on the department’s response to the housing crisis, during which time he grew close to Paulson.

Notable Quotes

“Neel Kashkari is not going to be in Washington much longer if there’s a change in administrations. And that’ll cause some kind of turbulence.”—Madeline Brand, of National Public Radio, on the fact that Kashkari might have to leave after only a few months on the job, Oct. 6, 2008

“When he does anything, if you ask him to make an electric car or ask him to plan an outing to Niagara Falls, he is so meticulous.”—Chaman Kashkari, father, USA Today, October 6, 2008

“I’m a free-market Republican.”Kashkari, at an American Enterprise Institute conference, Sept. 19, 2008

 

Oh really? And yet he couldn’t wait for big daddy government to swoop in and stuff his pockets with taxpayer cash when the free market failed. In a rare display of testicles, Congress absolutely tore into Kashkari, but Dennis Kucinich positively MVPed it. Now, if only they would back-up the tough talk with some serious oversight.

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