Monthly Archives: February 2009

Wal-Mart Martyrs?


Thích Quảng Ðức (IPA: [tʰic wɐːŋ dɨk]; born Lâm Văn Tức in 1897June 11, 1963) was a Vietnamese Buddhist monk who burned himself to death at a busy SaigonJune 11, 1963. Thích Quảng Ðức was protesting the persecution of Buddhism by South Vietnam‘s Ngô Đình Diệm administration. Photos of his self-immolation were circulated widely across the world and brought world attention to the policies of the Diem regime. Photo by Malcolm Browne. intersection on

I don’t understand the depths of depression or despair or rage or indifference that would make a man douse himself in lighter fluid and strike a match. But it happens. And, curiously, this time it wasn’t a monk protesting a tyrannical regime, it was a Wal-Mart employee, 58-year old night-shift shelf-stocker Larry Graziano of Carol Stream, Illinios, that did it. And he did it in front of the Wal-Mart store where he worked, in Bloomingdale, IL.

His reasons for choosing to kill himself in what must have been an excruciating painful way are thus far a mystery. Perhaps it was a failed relationship, or drugs. Perhaps it was mental illness, or a painfully numb existence that he could no longer bear. Perhaps this disgusting act of self-immolation was in fact a political statement of some kind.

Right now it just seems like another reminder that we are now in truly dark times. Perhaps we can take comfort in the notion that it is always darkest just before the dawn.

AP:

BLOOMINGDALE, Ill. — Police in a Chicago suburb say a Wal-Mart employee has died after setting himself on fire outside the store where he worked.

Police watch commander Randy Sater says 58-year-old Larry Graziano of Carol Stream set himself ablaze late Thursday outside the store in Bloomingdale. It was not immediately clear how he caught on fire, but Sater says lighter fluid was involved.

The Cook County Medical Examiner’s office says Graziano was taken to a hospital and pronounced dead early Friday.

Sater says Graziano told police he “couldn’t take it anymore.”

Police say bystanders tried to help, but Graziano fought them off.

Wal-Mart spokesman Dan Fogleman says Graziano had been with the company for seven years and that he had no reported personnel issues.

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Vote in Parade magazine poll: Does America still need unions?

Parade Magazine asks, “Does America still need labor unions?”

So far, the online poll is 92% Yes and 8% No. Why don’t you follow this link and vote if you haven’t already.

70 million people read Parade Magazine, so a resounding UNION YES! is sure to help the cause.

from Parade:

Does America Still Need Labor Unions?

The Employee Free Choice Act, or “Card Check” for short, is one of the most controversial measures Congress faces this year. The bill—first introduced in the Senate in 2007 by Ted Kennedy and co-sponsored by then-Senators Barack Obama and Joe Biden—would make it easier for workers to join unions and would tighten penalties for employers who try to stop them. Supporters such as Human Rights Watch and the NAACP say the bill provides important protections for the middle class. Opponents like the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the National Restaurant Association say it increases labor costs and hurts the bottom line. Both sides have spent millions on lobbyists and advertising to make their case.

With only 12% of American workers in unions, why should the rest of us care? Professor Clete Daniel, a labor expert at Cornell University, says a revived labor movement could benefit workers both in and out of unions. “ There is definitely a need for forces that promote a fairer sharing of wealth,” he says, noting that the gap between America’s rich and poor is the largest it’s been since 1928. Over the last 75 years, unions helped secure benefits like unemployment insurance, Social Security, and the 40-hour workweek.

Others contend that unions have outlived their usefulness. “The workplace is much better today,” says Michael Eastman of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. “Employers know they need to offer certain benefits and good wages to keep good workers.”

Professor Daniel says Card Check likely would not increase union membership until the economy improves, since workers are currently more concerned about job security than wages and benefits. “ Today, most workers are too fearful to take a risk for unions,” he adds.

— Lyric Wallwork Winik

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Vigorous debate no longer necessary for a democracy–especially workplace democracy

Lemme ask you a question: Have you ever had a disagreement with someone about something, maybe during a discussion about sports or politics or religion or your personal anatomical preferences concerning members of the opposite sex, or whatever, that got heated–not out-of-control with shouting and threats and flying spittle, but pretty intense? I thought so. Assuming you are capable of rational debate, did that disagreement play out in a back-and-forth consersation where you and the other person presented anecdotes, facts, and opinions in an effort to convince eachother of the rightness of your respective side, and end on a civil, or at least neutral tone? Again, I thought so.

The reason I ask is because I’ve been reading a Townhall.com blog bashing the Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA). Between calling it the “Forced Choice Act”, cries of “socialism”, and the false assertion that a secret ballot election is being taken away by EFCA, there’s another canard that bothered me even more: That if EFCA–they call it “card check”, is passed, union thugs or goons will intimidate workers into signing the cards.

If one read the bill, they’d see that EFCA still allows for a “secret ballot” election with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB). If a work unit has more than 30% of workers signing a union organization drive card, but less than 50%, it will get a NLRB “secret ballot” election. The change in labor law comes when a simple majority (>50%) sign cards indicating they want a union. A large majority (over 60%) of polled non-union workers want to form a union. So why don’t they? The answer is that, even though current labor law is so weak it heavily tilts the “playing field” to management, more times than not management breaks labor laws to prevent unions from forming. One in four union organizers are illegally fired during a organizing drives. And it takes years to receive compensation for their illegal firings. All manner of goings-on happen during NLRB elections, such as peculiar power outages that occur just as pro-union workers are about to vote and last through the entire period of their allotted voting time. And there are the technically legal and quasi-legal actions an employer can take to dissuade unionization: mandatory meetings on the dangers of unionization with law firms specializing in union prevention , threats of plant closings if a union is formed, flat-out stalling or changing the date of the NLRB election, etc.

There are a bunch of blogs that counter point-for-point the lies and distortions about EFCA, and the failings of the NLRB and their “secret ballot” elections. But what prompted me to blog is this notion of union intimidation to get cards signed. I know countless op-eds have been written about an AFLCIO memo or some such thing that acknowledged sometimes people signed cards “just to get the union off their back.” Anti-union groups have speculated that workers gave in and signed the cards, but once they were in the safety and anonymity of a voting booth, they “wisely” voted against the union. This may be the case in a few isolated cases, but for pete’s sake we live in 21st century America, not 1897 America, not 1970’s America, not not some third world hell where union organizers and bosses hack at each other with machetes. Speaking of third world hell, I even read an op-ed where the author quoted a Democratic politician who supports EFCA saying that secret ballot elections in union organizing drives are necessary–in Mexico. Given that there are, how shall I put this, striking differences between the governments, legal system, and law enforcement agencies of Mexico and the US, I don’t see how union drives in Mexico can seriously be compared to union drives in the US.

But let’s think about this “union intimidation” meme a little more, in the context of the here and now: the good old US of A in the year 2009. Let’s say Union ABC is organizing at Factory XYZ. Given that nonpartisan, impartial polling indicates a large majority of workers would vote to join a union if given a chance, why would Union ABC play like Tony Soprano and threaten to bash skulls if workers went against them? Why not just give workers a chance to choose on their own? This seems easier than bashing heads, given that bashing heads for no good reason is illegal, and not bashing the aforementioned heads has the added benefit of keeping one out of jail. Now consider that ZERO Representatives from Union ABC are going to be allowed on the premises of factory XYZ. There is something called private property in this country, and no manager with a brain is going to let professional union organizers set foot on his or her workroom floor, breakrooms, grounds or parking lots. That would mean any intimidation at the workplace would have to come from fellow employees who want a union, and its here where events get really exciting for union-haters: What happens if a pro-union employee at Factory XYZ intimidates another employee at work? Well, If a supervisor sees it or is told about it, the rabble-rousing pro-union employee gets–you guessed it–fired. It is completely legal and proper to sack any bozo that is intimidating his or her fellow employees, and doing so not only subtracts one vote for the union if they get a NLRB “secret ballot” election, but also sends a strong message to other would-be “goons”. (Lets just put aside for the moment the fact that 1 in 4 employees who organize for unions in the workplace are illegally fired, and the chilling effect that firing has on other employees in the workplace.)

The next question we have to ask is, what constitutes intimidation? This is where is I started this post, with a hypothetical disagreement between two parties. Now, we know who those two parties are and what they are disagreeing about: The first, a pro-union organizer at Factory XYZ trying to talk up his coworkers about the benefits of unionization. The second, another employee at Factory XYZ who doesn’t want to join the union for his own reasons. We’ll call the first guy Union Joe and the second guy company man Dave (hereafter, just Joe and Dave). Can Joe engage in a reasonable discussion with Dave about the union without being fired? It seems to me if he can’t we’ve really lost our way as a people and a country. Isn’t vigorous debate necessary for the protection of a democracy, and can’t that same principle be applied to a workplace? Unions ARE workplace democracies, as opposed to corporations, which are dictatorships–or at the very best, oligarchies. Union members vote on their officials and contracts, can run for office, and can attend regular meeting where they can voice their opinions. Employees of corporations do what the boss says, or they are summarily dismissed. Shareholders of publicly-traded companies are afforded little voice in the company, and cede much of their power to boards beholden to the CEO.

Back to Joe and Dave. Joe knows that Dave has some pretty uninformed views of unions from years of listening to Rush Limbaugh, so he passes Dave some literature at lunchtime and asks him to look it over before he passes judgement on Union ABC and refused to sign a union authorization card. Is that intimidation?

The next week, Joe and Dave have a disagreement about the organizing drive. Joe and Dave have a mostly civil discussion, and Joe, who knows facts and figures about the benefits of unionization, makes Dave’s arguments, mostly blather about “rugged individualism”, “creeping socialism”, and people putting their hands in his pockets, look pretty silly. Maybe at this point Joe has convinced Dave, and Dave signs a card indicating he wants a union. Let’s say he doesn’t. Let’s say at this point, Dave is really steamed; Joe got the better of him rhetorically, since all his “Rushisms” seemed silly next to the naked facts that union workers make more than non-unionized workers in similar fields, more often have access to cheaper and higher-quality health care, receive more paid holidays off, more sick time, and more vacation than their non-unionized brethren, and have protections in place to guard against workplace discrimination and unjust dismissal. But the years of listening to a drug-addled, draft-dodging windbag on the radio every day have slightly unhinged Dave. Instead of just telling Joe to ix nay the union stuff, he tells a supervisor that Joe is “intimidating” him. Joe’s fired faster than you can say “card check”. Which sucks for Joe since he’s got a family to support and bills that need to be paid. And Joe’s firing will squash most if not all debate about the union drive at Factory XYZ. Some would say the remaining employees are being intimidated not to support the union lest they end up like Joe, but no one at either the NLRB or Factory XYZ really gives a rat’s butt about that.

Let’s explore another scenario of possible “intimidation” by union “thugs and goons”, one pointed out to me by Townhall.com poster Publius 4254:

The unions are salivating at the thought of being able to intimidate more workers into signing the cards and getting more union members than they would get through the secret ballot. Is it any stretch of the imagination to believe that the unions won’t send out a bunch of thugs to make sure every worker makes the “correct” choice? After all, the unions know where the workers live and where their kids go to school. What worker would be able to resist the pressure when some thug is standing in front of him making subtle threats against his family? I don’t for a minute believe that businesses would resort to such tactics, but unions are known for that.

Yes, it is a stretch of the imagination. But, I have a good imagination, so here goes: Ah, yessssss, I imagine it, a bizarro world of America 2009. In this world most unions have the resources to deploy vast goon squads to kneecap resisters and/or kidnap their children (Incidentally, my own union, the American Postal Workers Union, has coffers so overloaded with cash that it has just suspended our monthly union magazine. But in Bizarro America we have $10 million dollars budgeted for various thugs and thuggery) And in bizarro America everyone knows most union bosses are cruel, subhuman monsters who delight in inflicting pain and causing human misery. Don’t even get me started on the seemingly endless loop on the Bizarro nightly news and in newspapers stories about these tactics being deployed at one workplace after another after another.

Let’s think about this for a moment: what happens if a union thug assaults/threatens/etc. a working man who doesn’t want a union in his shop? For starters, the thug is probably arrested, a complaint is filed, and the union drive is cancelled by the NLRB. The union that engaged in said tactic gets lots of bad press, fines, audits, probes, etc. etc. etc.–it could even be de-certified. All to influence an election that, if freely and fairly administered sans union or management dirty tricks, will most often result in the formation of a union.

Another comment from Townhall, this one from conservativeman in NC illustrates just how silly the notion of a “union thug” ringing your doorbell with baseball bat in hand and kneecap-breaking in his mind really is:

Let the Unions send their thugs
Because in some places those thugs won’t go back to the hall in the same condition they arrived in.



Bingo. America is probably high up on the list of most armed places on the planet. Thanks to the Second Amendment to the US Constitution a citizen has the right to keep and bear arms. Remember the story last Halloween of the trick or treaters in a Detriot suburb who were blown away because they knocked on the door of a home which housed a meth lab? Imagine the thug who approaches a home with his trusty bat only to be confronted with a homeowner with a tricked-out Bushmaster rifle–he probably wouldn’t make it back to his union hall period.

Even without a gun, there’s such a thing as 9-1-1. If a goon came to your house and wouldn’t leave, you can and should call the cops–or yell for help to a neighbor–or just sign the card and call the authorities when they leave and tell the bosses when you return to work. Real life, 99.99% of the time, isn’t like a bad Hollywood movie.

To sum up, I don’t think workplace union intimidation is really as big a menace as those who bash EFCA make it out to be. Despite my snarky title, vigorous debate is needed more than ever in the workplace. Informed workers have to educate their coworkers on the necessary role of unions. People aren’t made of glass, and they won’t shatter if they hear new ideas. Workers who step over the line and harass will be terminated, of that you can be assured.

The playing field has been tilted greatly towards management’s favor for a least 40, if not 60, years. And though I hate the three-legged stool analogy, but you really do need a three-legged stool in the workplace: Labor is one leg. Management is another. Government is the third. All the legs need to be equal or the stool wobbles. If you saw too much off any given leg, the stool will fall over. Labor and management oppose eachother, while government regulates and makes sure all’s fair and nobody gets hurt (in a perfect world). I think we can see the effects of the labor and the government regulatory legs being worn down all around us. Don’t you think there’s some connection between stagnating wages and the decline of organized labor (and good government) in at least the past thirty years? Adjusted for inflation, worker’s haven’t gotten a raise since the late 1970’s, while CEO increased over a thousand-fold in the same time period. With wages flat and the cost-of-living soaring, is it any wonder working class families were forced to spend their home equity and max out their plastic just to pay the bills and feed and clothe their families? And in light of that, is it any wonder we find over country $12 trillion dollars in the hole and facing the greatest economic crisis since the Great Depression?

Let Joe and Dave engage in a vigorous debate and work out their differences, and pass the Employee Free Choice Act.

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Best. Gladwin. Letter. EVER.

I’ve been sitting on this gem awhile, too lazy to transcribe it into the blog. There was a binding ballot question in Massachusetts to decriminalize small amounts (under 1 oz.) of marijuana. It passed. Now if you get caught with less than an ounce, you are fined $100 and let go instead of arrested. Gladwin had this to say about the ballot initiative (reprinted from the Aug. 30 Springfield Republican letters to the editor):

Legalizing marijuana poses insidious risk

Far out, man. (“Financier backs Mass. bid to revise marijuana laws,” Republican Aug. 8). If the measure passes, it will only cost you about the same to pay the fine as it did when you illegally purchased that less than an ounce of grass–but only if you get caught, which will be less likely because we’ll spend less to catch you.

Hey, let’s get high and think about this. Er, well, let’s get high and try to think about this: George Soros, the guy that hate President Bush and spent millions trying to prevent his re-election, is the backing financier. So that must mean? Oh, yeah. If Bush doesn’t want it, it must be good. No, wait! George Soros must be good. Therefore, if he wants it, decriminalizing pot must be good. A bone in the hand is worth two birds for Bush. According to Soros’ spokesman, the war on drugs is draining money and resources that could be better spent, and the ballot question is a “responsible initiative” to reduce criminal sanctions.”

Maybe I’m just being paranoid due to my own experience with the lovely Mary Jane, but I see anyone who is trying to advocate being slightly out of their mind as OK–and advocating that it should be made perfectly legal–as the most insidious and dangerous influence in our society.

I was lucky to see through the stupidity of the likes of Timothy Learys and now the politically powerful and rich George Soroses “turn on the drop out” mentality.

Their diabolic power and prestige to weaken us through cheap and shallow hedonism is insulting to intelligent thinkers, and you have to wonder if they are deliberately trying to hook hoping we fry our brains out. Dude. I am totally looking forward to at least seeing this question allowed on the ballot–a definition of a somewhat, but not totally illegal pothead. Not because we bought it, but because it was less than an ounce in our possession, for personal use–but only after the first time.

WALTER GLADWIN
Westfield

Kind of like a letter to the editor version of “Reefer Madness”, no? Start with 1950’s/60’s Dragnet-style propaganda–pot “hooks” then “fr[ies] our brains out”; mix in some hypocrisy (Gladwin used it back in the day and it was awesome, but now he’s older and wiser and realize it’s the devil); sprinkle on some full-on kooky (“A bone in the hand is worth two birds for Bush.”); heat on medium with faulty logic (Soros opposed Bush’s reelection, so anything he says about the nation’s fatally flawed drug policy is therefore bunk); stir in lots of faux stoner/hippie slang (“Far out, man.”) and you’ve got. . . Crazy Uncle Walter’s Pot Stew.

Poor Gladwin has had a tough run of bad luck with his prognostications lo this last year or so. He predicted the Dems would lose big in 2008. “Get blasted” were his exact words, I believe. Oopsie doopsie. He called the housing bubble economy the “crown jewel” in Bush’s crown. I kind of wish he’d been right on this one, even though as he wrote it the economy was already teetering on the edge of recession. He stated America hadn’t lost any prestige on the world stage due to Bush foreign policy: One look at the cheering crowds everywhere Obama travels internationally kind of deflates that one. He also disagreed with Eugene Robinson’s assertion America honor and “soul” had been tarnished by Bush’s ill-conceived “war on terror”. Opinion polls favoring a Truth and Reconciliation commission to investigate Bush-era policies seems to refute this.

And I want to pause here, because in responding to Eugene Robinson, Gladwin used the most vile tactics in the playbook: Gladwin insisted that every action taken in the war and terror was necessary and proper to defend this country, including waterboarding and rendition, I guess. And then he played the fear card: If Obama deviated from Bush-era policies, Gladwin said, we’ll get hit again by the terrorists. Everyone knows there is danger in the world, and right now there are extremists out there somewhere plotting America harm. But to throw away ones ideals and become like them in fighting them is cowardly and unamerican. Either you have ideals or you don’t. You don’t abandon your highest ideals such as liberty, equality, justice, and fairness because you’re scared and want to be protected. Ben Franklin said those that would trade essential liberty for temporary security deserved neither and would lose both. This as the greatest Empire of his day was sending troops to crush the nascent American revolution. In the depths of a depression that left a quarter of the country jobless, penniless and without hope, FDR said: “The only thing we have to fear is, fear itself.” At a time when nuclear war with the USSR seemed inevitable, President Eisenhower implored us to remember we are not descended from fearful men. And now, in the eighth year of the “Long War” on global terrorism, those like Gladwin say: “Please continue to spy on American citizens and torture those scary Muslims so they won’t interrupt my good time.” Far out, man indeed.

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Forgotten (by me) Awesome Doonesbury Obama Strip

I meant to post this strip when it ran, right after the election. Trudeau penned it w/o knowing if Obama would win (long lead time for newspaper comic strips), but he was pretty confident he would: Usually he pens two strips for the day after election day, one specific to each candidate. Not this time. Either Obama won and this strip ran, or. . .? Re-run a classic Doonesbury? I can’t quite remember what they had planned. Regardless, completely wonderful outcome to the race and completely wonderful Doonesbury strip. Enjoy.


I know I was so proud. Proud of all the hard work so many did to help Barack Hussein Obama become the 44th President of the United States of America. I still am.

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Slap a CEO, save the economy?

Addicting Games has a online arcade game where you can distribute $1 trillion in borrowed gov’t money to CEO’s and deserving homeowners–and smack down (literally and figuratively) the greedheads. Save the economy and inflict some payback on the guilty. Good for at least a couple of minutes of mindless entertainment.

Play Games at AddictingGames

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Bodypaint we can believe in (NSFW)

Brazilian carnival queen paints Obama on her thigh. Not her chest–her thigh. Lower. Lower.

AP SAO PAULO — A Brazilian carnival queen famous for her skimpy attire is grabbing headlines again for painting President Barack Obama’s face on her body.

Viviane Castro paraded nearly nude early Saturday with the U.S. leader’s visage on her right thigh. Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva’s face was on her left thigh.

Castro’s stomach read “for sale” _ a message she said represented the sale of Brazil’s Amazon to the U.S. Many here fear the U.S. wants to control the resource-rich region.

Castro appeared in last year’s Rio Carnival parade wearing nothing but a strategically placed piece of tape 1 1/2-inches (4-centimeters) long , violating a little-enforced nudity rule and drawing a penalty for her samba group.

She wore the same patch this year.

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