Allison Kilkenny: Unreported

Shameless Democratic-Socialist Propaganda

Posted in atheism, Democrats, media, politics by allisonkilkenny on April 8, 2009

YM001405Typical. The Times is at it again. The liberal rag published another thinly-veiled, socialist rant in Tuesday’s edition. Though, this time, the diatribe came from an unlikely source: David Brooks, the Canadian-American columnist, who has served as senior editor to the Weekly Standard, contributes his thoughtful analyses to the Atlantic Monthly, and identifies himself as a “moderate conservative.”

Of course, David is completely unaware that he makes a perfect plea of his readers to join the Democratic-Socialist cause. His column explores the roots of morality, and rattles off scientific theories about where our morality comes from, and how it benefits us as a society to have “morals.” It’s actually pretty interesting, though the best part comes when David steps back and analyzes “morality” i.e. communal spirit:

Like bees, humans have long lived or died based on their ability to divide labor, help each other and stand together in the face of common threats. Many of our moral emotions and intuitions reflect that history. We don’t just care about our individual rights, or even the rights of other individuals. We also care about loyalty, respect, traditions, religions. We are all the descendents of successful cooperators. 

But David, what of that “rugged individualism” that Conservatives so cherish and praise? Are you saying that gallivanting around a dude ranch, refusing to pay taxes and/or care for our fellow humans, is not only the behavior of a selfish, childish asshole, but also detrimental to society itself?

The first nice thing about this evolutionary approach to morality is that it emphasizes the social nature of moral intuition. People are not discrete units coolly formulating moral arguments. They link themselves together into communities and networks of mutual influence.

Like unions, perhaps? But those are the things your Conservative brethren are fighting tooth and nail to suffocate! They’ll be the reason the Employee Free Choice Act fails in Congress. You should really share with them your revelations about all of this “help thy neighbor” stuff, and how it’s so great for our society.

And don’t let Rush hear you talk like that. On the other hand, you may be safe. He’s too busy packing (thank you, Jesus) his things, and moving out of New York. 

The second nice thing is that it entails a warmer view of human nature. Evolution is always about competition, but for humans, as Darwin speculated, competition among groups has turned us into pretty cooperative, empathetic and altruistic creatures — at least within our families, groups and sometimes nations.

Tell your Wall Street buddies that, David. Drop some knowledge onto their finally coifed ‘dos, and let them know competition isn’t everything, that human beings are more than stocks, portfolios, credit default swaps, and speculative mortgages. Ask those financial firm CEOs if jumping out of the burning building with $23 million in severance is an altruistic act, or the act of a pirate.

I’m sorry. That’s not fair. Pirates were actually very democratic creatures that allowed voting and egalitarian debate. They also didn’t profit from suckering poor people into bad loans. Of course, they raped a lot, which is definitely a tick in the “Bad” column.

But I digress. As if he knew I would be reading him today, David throws this curveball at the last possible moment:

[The rise and now dominance of this emotional approach to morality] challenges the new atheists, who see themselves involved in a war of reason against faith and who have an unwarranted faith in the power of pure reason and in the purity of their own reasoning.

…What? Did David Brooks just cite a scientific theory at length, and then in the last paragraph of his column, thumb his nose at atheists who believe in — wait for it — science and reason?

On behalf of the human species, I apologize to the trees that gave their lives for David Brooks’ pointless musings to be published in otherwise highly usable column space.

What an embarrassment.

Reviving the Dream

Posted in Barack Obama, class divide, Economy, politics, worker rights by allisonkilkenny on March 10, 2009

Bob Herbert

workers4Working families were in deep trouble long before this megarecession hit. But too many of the public officials who should have been looking out for the middle class and the poor were part of the reckless and shockingly shortsighted alliance of conservatives and corporate leaders that rigged the economy in favor of the rich and ultimately brought it down completely.

As Jared Bernstein, now the chief economic adviser to Vice President Joseph Biden, wrote in the preface to his book, “Crunch: Why Do I Feel So Squeezed? (And Other Unsolved Economic Mysteries)”:

“Economics has been hijacked by the rich and powerful, and it has been forged into a tool that is being used against the rest of us.”

Working people were not just abandoned by big business and their ideological henchmen in government, they were exploited and humiliated. They were denied the productivity gains that should have rightfully accrued to them. They were treated ruthlessly whenever they tried to organize. They were never reasonably protected against the savage dislocations caused by revolutions in technology and global trade.

Working people were told that all of this was good for them, and whether out of ignorance or fear or prejudice or, as my grandfather might have said, damned foolishness, many bought into it. They signed onto tax policies that worked like a three-card monte game. And they were sold a snake oil concoction called “trickle down” that so addled their brains that they thought it was a wonderful idea to hand over their share of the nation’s wealth to those who were already fabulously rich.

America used to be better than this.

The seeds of today’s disaster were sown some 30 years ago. Looking at income patterns during that period, my former colleague at The Times, David Cay Johnston, noted that from 1980 (the year Ronald Reagan was elected) to 2005, the national economy, adjusted for inflation, more than doubled. (Because of population growth, the actual increase per capita was about 66 percent.)

But the average income for the vast majority of Americans actually declined during those years. The standard of living for the average family improved not because incomes grew but because women entered the workplace in droves.

As hard as it may be to believe, the peak income year for the bottom 90 percent of Americans was way back in 1973, when the average income per taxpayer, adjusted for inflation, was $33,000. That was nearly $4,000 higher, Mr. Johnston pointed out, than in 2005.

Men have done particularly poorly. Men who are now in their 30s — the prime age for raising families — earn less money than members of their fathers’ generation did at the same age.

It may seem like ancient history, but in the first few decades following World War II, the United States, despite many serious flaws, established the model of a highly productive society that shared its prosperity widely and made investments that were geared toward a more prosperous, more fulfilling future.

The American dream was alive and well and seemingly unassailable. But somehow, following the oil shocks, the hyperinflation and other traumas of the 1970s, Americans allowed the right-wingers to get a toehold — and they began the serious work of smothering the dream.

Ronald Reagan saw Medicare as a giant step on the road to socialism. Newt Gingrich, apparently referring to the original fee-for-service version of Medicare, which was cherished by the elderly, cracked, “We don’t get rid of it in Round One because we don’t think it’s politically smart.”

The right-wingers were crafty: You smother the dream by crippling the programs that support it, by starving the government of money to pay for them, by funneling the government’s revenues to the rich through tax cuts and other benefits, by looting the government the way gangsters loot legitimate businesses and then pleading poverty when it comes time to fund the services required by the people.

The anti-tax fanatic Grover Norquist summed the matter up nicely when he famously said, “Our goal is to shrink the government to the size where you can drown it in a bathtub.” Only they didn’t shrink the government, they enlarged it and turned its bounty over to the rich.

Now, with the economy in free fall and likely to get worse, Americans — despite their suffering — have an opportunity to reshape the society, and then to move it in a fairer, smarter and ultimately more productive direction. That is the only way to revive the dream, but it will take a long time and require great courage and sacrifice.

The right-wingers do not want that to happen, which is why they are rooting so hard for President Obama’s initiatives to fail. They like the direction that the country took over the past 30 years. They’d love to do it all again.

GM: Twittering ‘Til The Bitter End

Posted in Economy by allisonkilkenny on February 19, 2009

General Motors and Chrysler’s requests for $21.6 billion in federal loans have a lot of citizens up in arms. GM has already asked for (and received) $13.4 billion in loans under the auto industry bailout, and the company claims it would need another $100 billion in government financing if it goes bankrupt.

But the good news is that the auto giant has a comprehensive, full-proof business model to confront the worsening recession:

1. Cut 47,000 American jobs

2. Close five North American plants

3. Drop several brands, including the lightweight, more fuel-efficient Saturn, and to counterbalance that, the “Why Jesus?!” Hummer brand

4. Hope the UAW doesn’t raise too much hell over GM’s inability to pay retirees’ health care costs

5. Twitter

I learned of step five in GM’s Vision of the Future when I twittered the following innocuous (or so I thought) comment:

allisonkilkenny: sees GM is phasing out the small, fuel efficient Saturn. Oil companies: 1, Earth: 0.

Seconds later, I received a reply tweet from something called GMBlogs:

@allisonkilkenny we don’t have indiv trash cans at ofc cubes at hq, just an ex, not sure total $ saved from small ideas, but likely large

picture-1In other words, GM is still environmentally-friendly because interns have to share trash cans. Shaky reasoning aside, I was surprised that I had popped onto the radar of GM with my casual mention of their brand, especially when the company should theoretically be preoccupied with, ya know’, going out of business.

I contacted Christopher Barger, GM Director of Global Communications Technology, about this weird prioritizing. Barger quickly responded to my questions, and he explained that GM is using TweetDeck to just search for mentions of GM, as well as interacting with the people who were already following the company. It’s not unusual for a corporation to use Twitter to monitor customer reactions to its products, and Barger equated the practice to customer service, though he seemed to take offense when I pointed out the slim differences between corporate acts of “good will” and propaganda.

I responded that, unlike customer service, I didn’t approach GM with a question or complaint. They specifically searched Twitter for mention of their product and then sent a messenger my way to post some talking points about The Corporation. 

An entire department devoted to the cause of Tweeting and blogging may seem like a strange choice for budget allocation considering their economic turmoil, but GM has burst onto the technological scene with great gusto. GM is quick to rationalize, claiming this is totally 100% normal because corporations need to keep their fingers on the pulses of clients and customers, and GM is hardly the only corporation to engage in the magic world of Twitter.

“We knew that when [the loan request] was submitted last night, there would be a lot of people reacting to it — on Twitter, on Facebook, in the blogs.  We wanted to be out there answering as many questions as possible about the viability plan itself, the progress we’ve made in its execution since December 2, the impact of the restructuring on our brands and upcoming vehicles, trying to let people know that Saturn still may have life after GM, trying to gauge how people were reacting to the plan,” said Berger.

Of course, gauging customer reaction shouldn’t take a back seat to providing actual products and services, say cars and health care. If GM is looking for a reaction from American citizens about their billions of dollars in requested loans and mistreatment of their employees, I can save them a lot of time and Tweeting:

It’s not good. It’s very bad. Less people want to buy your heavy, fuel-inefficient cars, and almost no one is thrilled that taxpayers are paying you billions of dollars to close domestic plants and ship jobs across our borders. Few people like that you mistreat unions. No one likes that in your rush to modernize and embrace the technology of the internet (complete with Twitter experts,) you forgot how to compete with foreign car companies.

It is possible to make tweets private and avoid the watchful eye of corporations, though that protection has already been hacked. For now, know that while you may never again own a good American car, you’re sure to get a prompt reply whenever you Twitter about GM.

Bill Easing Unionizing Is Under Heavy Attack

Posted in labor, worker rights by allisonkilkenny on January 9, 2009

New York Times

Workers at the Smithfield plant in Tar Heel, N.C., in 2006. They voted to unionize last month. (Raul Rubiera/Fayetteville Observer, via AP)

Workers at the Smithfield plant in Tar Heel, N.C., in 2006. They voted to unionize last month. (Raul Rubiera/Fayetteville Observer, via AP)

WASHINGTON — Intent on blocking organized labor’s top legislative goal, corporations are quietly contributing to lobbying groups with appealing names like the Workforce Fairness Institute and the Coalition for a Democratic Workplace.

These groups are planning a multimillion-dollar campaign in the hope of killing legislation that would give unions the right to win recognition at a workplace once a majority of employees sign cards saying they want a union. Business groups fear the bill will enable unions to quickly add millions of workers and drive up labor costs.

The Coalition for a Democratic Workplace, a federation of 500 business groups, ran a full-page advertisement on Wednesday that sought to discredit the legislation, called the Employee Free Choice Act. The advertisement said that if secret ballots were good enough to elect Barack Obama then they should be good enough for union members, too.

Richard Berman, a Washington lobbyist, has created a business-backed group, the Center for Union Facts, that is planning to run millions of dollars’ worth of television spots over the next few months to pressure moderate Democrats to oppose the bill.

During last fall’s presidential campaign, groups opposing the legislation spent more than $20 million on television commercials in Colorado, Maine, Minnesota and other states in an effort to defeat Democratic Senate candidates who backed the bill.

At a confirmation hearing set for Friday, Republican senators are expected to challenge Representative Hilda L. Solis of California, President-elect Obama’s choice for labor secretary, over her support for the legislation.

Business leaders denounce the bill because it would largely eliminate secret-ballot elections to determine whether workers want a union. (The union win rate has traditionally been far higher through majority signups than elections.)

“If you know anything about politics, it is a game changer,” said Senator John Ensign, Republican of Nevada. “It is a total game changer for the next 40 to 50 years if the Democrats are able to get this legislation that eliminates the right to a secret ballot. We are fighting it hard.”

Senate Democrats have not decided when to bring up the measure. Given its divisiveness, it will not be one of the first bills they bring to the floor. But the legislation has the strong backing of Senator Harry Reid of Nevada, the majority leader, who is expected to bring it up once Democrats are confident they can overcome any filibuster.

In 2007, the House passed a similar bill, but it failed in the Senate on a procedural vote.

Republican leaders and business lobbyists say the Democrats do not have the 60 votes to overcome a filibuster. But union leaders voice optimism, noting that Mr. Obama has endorsed the bill and that Democrats have close to 60 seats in the Senate, though two remain in dispute. Arlen Specter, a Pennsylvania Republican who once was a co-sponsor of the bill, has not decided whether he would support it this time, an aide said.

Whether it is Wal-Mart or the National Restaurant Association, many companies and corporate groups financing the opposition fear that their companies and industries will be among labor’s earliest organizing targets should the bill become law.

Labor leaders say they are setting their sights on several industries, like banks and big-box retailers like Wal-Mart or Target, where unions have had virtually no success.

“We’re going to organize in the basic industries of our unions: construction, hospitality, health care, retail, food production and manufacturing,” said Tom Woodruff, director of strategic organizing for Change to Win, a federation of seven unions that includes the Service Employees International Union, the Teamsters and the United Food and Commercial Workers. “Those are jobs that are going to stay in the country. The question is whether those jobs are going to be decent middle-class jobs.”

Mark McKinnon, a media adviser to the presidential campaigns of John McCain and George W. Bush, is a spokesman for the Workforce Fairness Institute. Mr. McKinnon said the institute was focusing on drumming up grass-roots support from business. He would not say which companies are financing the institute, founded by several longtime Republican operatives.

“This issue has really become very high on the radar screen,” he said. “Businesses are hearing about it, and they are ready to riot in the street about it.”

The measure “is the most radical rewrite of labor legislation since the 1930s,” Mr. McKinnon said. “It is a political nightmare and a public policy disaster.”

Opponents fear that the legislation will enable labor to become a wealthier and more powerful political force. Union leaders see the bill as crucial for reversing labor’s long decline — unions represent just 7.5 percent of private-sector workers, down from nearly 40 percent a half-century ago.

John Engler, president of the National Association of Manufacturers, said that if Wal-Mart’s United States work force of 1.4 million were unionized, that could mean $500 million in additional union dues collected each year — tens of millions of which might be used to support Democratic causes and candidates.

Acknowledging that Wal-Mart presents a formidable challenge, labor leaders say they hope to unionize up to 100 of Wal-Mart’s more than 4,000 United States stores for starters, which might add 30,000 members.

“We are against any bill that would effectively eliminate freedom of choice and the right to a secret ballot election,” said a Wal-Mart spokesman, David Tovar. “We believe every associate” — Wal-Mart’s term for employees — “should have the right to make a private and informed decision regarding union representation.”

Labor leaders say they do not oppose secret-ballot elections, but rather the bitter two-month management-versus-union campaigns that often precede elections. Union leaders say those campaigns are usually unfair because corporations often fire union supporters and press their anti-union views day and night in one-on-one sessions and large meetings while union organizers are prohibited from company property.

Labor leaders said that last month they won one of the biggest unionization victories in years for the nearly 5,000 workers at the Smithfield pork processing plant in Tar Heel, N.C., by insisting on what they said were fairer rules.

If the bill is enacted, unions say they will try to organize workers by quietly getting a majority to sign pro-union cards before companies can begin an anti-union campaign. In theory, a union organizer or pro-union employee would have an easy time signing up a majority of, say, the 25 workers at a McDonald’s, the 15 baristas at a Starbucks or the 50 aides at a nursing home.

Corporations also oppose a provision of the bill that would allow government arbitrators to determine the terms of a contract when no agreement has been reached within 120 days of a union’s winning recognition. Defending that provision, labor leaders say companies often undermine newly formed unions by dragging out contract talks for months, even years.

“The idea of negotiating a contract and turning it over to an arbitrator who has no interest in the company or the workers’ future and then can dictate the terms of a contract, that’s a pretty reckless way to go,” said Mr. Engler of the manufacturers’ association. “This is the one issue that everybody who’s an employer agrees is a bad idea.”

Canadian Walmart Employees Win Right to Unionize

Posted in Uncategorized by allisonkilkenny on December 11, 2008

Daniel De Groot, Open Left

blogimage_walmartimage_1229012771jpg_thumbs_600x598_thumbs_200x199Per this DailyKos diary, a Wal-Mart store in Saskatchewan has won a 4-year battle with the company and is certified as unionized:

A Wal-Mart store in Weyburn, Saskatchewan has been granted union certification by the Saskatchewan Labour Relations Board (SLRB) after years of Wal-Mart legal wrangling and delays, including two Wal-Mart applications to the Supreme Court of Canada to overturn the process. 

This isn’t in Pepsi-drinking, poutine manging, socialisté Q-bec either, but rural Saskatchewan (which just elected 13 Conservatives to its 14 ridings).

Wal-Mart, naturally is not taking this in stride.

Wal-Mart Canada spokesman Andrew Pelletier said the decision is unjust because some employees didn’t get to vote on whether to unionize.

“We’re disappointed,” he said. “Clearly, you know, our associates have been denied here a vote. They’ve been denied a democratic process. And we believe they should have that process.

Rhetoric sound familiar?  It should:

Wal-Mart Canada said it will appeal the ruling to unionize, pointing out that many of the employees who signed union cards no longer work at the Weyburn store.

“The fact that you’ve got a store now with 104 associates … and only 29 of them were even there at the time of the union’s application, really speaks to the fact that it would be a bit of a stretch to assume that there is widespread support for that store for this union,” said Andrew Pelletier, spokesman for Wal-Mart Canada.

Changes to Saskatchewan’s Trade Union Act this year made it a requirement that a secret ballot vote be held, open to all employees in the proposed bargaining unit, before a union can be certified.

Paul Meneima, president of the United Food and Commercial Workers Union Local 1400, said the decision to unionize the Weyburn store fits with the pre-2008 act,which allowed for union certifications when 50 per cent of employees, plus one, signed union cards.

Yup, Saskatchewan, in better times when it had an NDP government, had its own EFCA, which allowed a Wal-Mart in a conservative part of a fairly conservative province to unionize.  Now that it has a conservative government, bye bye card-check.  

Anyway, the company’s position seems to be “Since we fought to delay this so long that many of the original employees have moved on, we demand a new election under the new us-favouring rules.”  Nice.  I wonder how many of those departing employees left voluntarily?

The town’s mayor is worried Wal-Mart will close the store, which is a real risk, but unlike many other places, there doesn’t seem to be a lot of other places they could put a Wal-Mart nearby.  If they close, they’re likely abandoning this region of the province (and of course other retailers could move in).

A sad follow up on the 8 lube-shop workers who unionized at a store in Québec, Wal-Mart closed the garage in that store, saying it was losing money.  They apparently did keep the workers at least, though.

As for the Union (UFCW) they have pending cases with the Sask Labour Board to unionize two other stores in the Province.  Strength in numbers.  Wal-Mart can’t close every store down.