Thursday, September 11, 2014

Quick Hits - Now with Military Grade Irony

You have got to be kidding me.  

An airman in the U.S. Air Force wants to re-enlist but the Air Force won't let him.  It isn't because he isn't a good soldier.  He didn't commit a crime. He hasn't done anything wrong, he just refuses to sign or say an oath containing the phrase "So help me God."

You see, he is an Atheist.  And up until October 30th of last year that was fine, you could omit that phrase.  But since that date, a change to Air Force Instruction 36-2606 demands that all enlistees swear the complete oath including the phrase "so help me God".

That same enlistee's oath also requires them to "support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic;" and makes them promise to "bear true faith and allegiance to the same;".

Allow me to quote from that same Constitution the enlistees are swearing to protect, Article XI to be exact:
"The Senators and Representatives before mentioned, and the Members of the several State Legislatures, and all executive and judicial Officers, both of the United States and of the several States, shall be bound by Oath or Affirmation, to support this Constitution; but no religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States." [emphasis added]
Now, if an Atheist refusing to sign an oath including the phrase "So help me God" isn't bearing true faith and allegiance to the Constitution, then I don't know what is.

And what religious zealot made the change in the first place?  They do know that this is America and that freedom of religion includes freedom FROM religion, right?  I guess not.

Only in the military...

Friday, August 01, 2014

Do Unto Others

It is no secret that big business doesn’t like unions.  In fact, they have spent billions of dollars supporting the campaigns of candidates who are anti-union.

But what business doesn’t seem to understand is that if they treated their employees well, if they recognized the importance of a vibrant, viable middle class, then unions wouldn’t be necessary.

Case in point, let’s look at the very real difference between grocery store chain Market Basket and the McDonald's Corporation.  Both are suffering from employee dissatisfaction, both have been the targets of work stoppages but for very different reasons.

McDonald’s workers have been staging strikes to protest wages and the employment practices at the restaurant chain.  In response to these strikes, some of the employees have allegedly been retaliated against by their employer.  Many of those employees have filed complaints and as a result, McD’s finds itself on the wrong end of an important rulingthat could help bolster the case for unionization of its employees. 

In 43 complaints filed with the National Labor Relations Board, the NLRB found that McDonalds, not just its franchise owners, are responsible for how workers are treated.  That means that they are partially liable for any awarded damages in the allegations of wage fraud, retaliatory firings etc.

If McDonald's paid a living wage, if they provided benefits and generally treated their employees better, do you think they would be suffering strikes and labor complaints?  I don’t think so, and to illustrate my point, let’s look at the troubles at Market Basket.

They too are suffering from work stoppages and protests.  Shelves are empty and the company is losing millions of dollars.  Here’s the twist - all this is happening not because they treat their employees poorly, but because they have historically been treated well thanks to the recently ousted CEO Arthur T. Demoulas.  They are protesting because the board of directors of the family owned grocery chain fired Arthur T. for being too good to the employees. 

They are protesting because they want him back. 

Why?  Because starting employees make more than minimum wage, long time managers can make six figure salaries, there were regular bonuses, and the company matched 15 percent of the employee’s salary for their retirement fund.  At Market Basket, an experienced cashier could make as much as 40K a year.

On top of that Arthur T. was visible.  He actually went to the stores, knew the employees (and often their relatives) by name. In other words, he treated the people who had made him and his family members multimillionaires with respect.
What has helped endear Arthur T. to workers proved to be a sticking point for shareholders, as he apparently hasn’t been running the company at the expected level of ruthless corporate efficiency. As the Globe’s Adrian Walker wrote, the generosity of Market Basket’s profit-sharing program particularly irked some board members. In one instance back in 2008, Arthur T. made sure the company made up for a loss of $46 million that the profit-sharing fund suffered during the economic crisis.
It’s no wonder that employees such as Tom Trainor, a district manager of 37 stores who was fired on Sunday, have taken to thinking of Arthur T. as a storybook character. “He’s George Bailey,” Trainor told the Washington Post, invoking the hero of It’s a Wonderful Life. “He cares more about people than he does about money.” []
Let’s be clear, before these protests, the company wasn’t in any trouble, it was doing well.  Everyone was making money.  But the board wants to make more money, and they want to do it by talking the cash out of the pockets of its workers.  And they are, and have been, willing to fight tooth and nail to get as big a slice of the profit pie as possible.
Considering the board’s decision last year, led by Arthur S., (Arthur T.’s cousin, a rival heir to the company who now controls the company’s board) to funnel an extra $250 million of Market Basket takings to its nine family shareholders, it’s easy to see why workers are concerned that they may get short shrift in the shakeup. (The We Are Market Basket website and Facebook page has been compiling a steady list of evidence to that effect.)

This isn’t the first time Arthur S. has tried wresting control of Market Basket from his same-named cousin. An ugly legal battle raged last year in which Arthur S.’s side of the family, who control 50.5 percent of the company, tried to grab some $1.5 billion in payouts on top of the $500 million they’d made in the past decade, according to Globe columnist Adrian Walker. These intra-family fights go back decades. Back in 2000, Massachusetts Lawyers Weekly described the Demoulas vs. Demoulas saga as follows: “One family. Ten years. $800 million. More than a dozen lawyers. One witness on the stand for 17 days. One case that wouldn’t end. … [It] was a monster, a modern-day Hydra: every time one evil head would be severed, two more would sprout in its place.” []
Why do we need unions?  Because greed has become more than commonplace in the boardrooms of corporate America, it has become the prevailing creed under which these companies operate.  Rich isn’t rich enough.  The only good money is more money.  And the workers who make that wealth possible are no more important than the share croppers of old. They are expendable. Their poverty is their problem and the food stamps and welfare they need to survive is paid for by you and me, the taxpayer.

When the tax rates for the very rich were between 70 and 90 percent, it made sense for those people to invest their money in their workers and their companies, but with the loop holes and historically low tax rates they now enjoy it makes it easy to keep that money for themselves.

That is why we need unions, because even the good executives can’t stop the culture of greed that now dominates big business.  And if they can’t survive, if responsible CEO’s like Arthur T. can’t keep their jobs, then who besides a union is left to protect workers and their livelihoods.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Just Say No to Koch in School!

Let’s just say, for arguments sake, that you are a dyed in the wool Republican.  I’m not talking an old school Eisenhower Republican; I’m talking a true right-wing libertarian, Fox News watching, Glenn Beck loving, free market, trickle down economics Republican.

And then, for the fun of it, I told you that the Teamsters and the Service Employees Union had gotten together and are sponsoring a business class for high school students, taught by your local high school teacher in your local high school.  And what if that class focused on the importance of unionization to the economic future of America?

And for the icing on the cake, at the end of the class, the students got paid with scholarships etc.

Would you be comfortable with that?  (If you are such a Republican, I suspect you just popped a nitro tablet to fight off the angina.)

Well my hardcore Republican friends don’t worry.  It is actually just the opposite of what I described.  It is, instead, the very right wing Charles G. Koch Foundation and they are buying their way into schools to teach the anti-regulation, free market dogma that mirrors the Tea Party libertarian view of the world.

That’s right folks, the hardcore right wingers at the Koch Foundation don’t like the fact that kids go to college and start thinking, so they are trying to indoctrinate them before they get there through a subsidiary organization called Youth Entrepreneurs.

“Lesson plans and class materials obtained by The Huffington Post make the course's message clear: The minimum wage hurts workers and slows economic growth. Low taxes and less regulation allow people to prosper. Public assistance harms the poor. Government, in short, is the enemy of liberty.”

And this it isn’t just the interpretation of the Huffington Post.  Emails obtained from the program’s open Google group (thanks guys!) make the true intent of the program is clear.

“…the current structure of the program began to take shape in November 2009, documents show, when a team of associates at the Charles G. Koch Foundation launched an important project with Charles Koch's blessing: They would design and test what they called "a high school free market and liberty-based course" with support from members of the Koch family's vast nonprofit and political network. A pilot version of the class would be offered the following spring to students at the Wichita Collegiate School, an elite private prep school in Kansas where Koch was a top donor.

"First, the Koch team chose its mascot: a golden eagle holding a knife in its beak. They also assigned each other nicknames: Ol' Mucky Terrahawk, Mighty Killer, Big Gay Mule, Midnight Bandit and the Erratic Assassin. The group dubbed itself the "Wu-Teach Clan.

"Over the next six months, members of the Wu-Teach Clan exchanged hundreds of emails with one another and with Koch lieutenants. They hashed out a strategy to infiltrate public schools after surveys showed that the wealthy prep school students largely failed to absorb their libertarian message.

"The emails show that Charles Koch had a hands-on role in the design of the high school curriculum, directly reviewing the work of those responsible for setting up the course. The goal, the group said flatly, was to turn young people into "liberty-advancing agents" before they went to college, where they might learn "harmful" liberal ideas.” [HuffPost]

Here are just a few of the “falsehoods” that the YE group wanted to dispel with students:

·         Rich get richer at the expense of the poor
·         FDR/New Deal brought us out of the depression
·         Government wealth transfer programs help the poor
·         Private industry incapable of doing functions that public sector has always done
·         Unions protect the employees
·         People with the same job title should be paid the same amount ...
·         Minimum wage, "living wage," laws are good for people/society
·         Capitalist societies provide an environment for greed and materialism to flourish

Hey, this is a long article and I’m not going to run through the entire thing.  The bottom line is this.  The Koch Foundation is targeting woefully underfunded school districts that are desperate for any infusion of cash or free curricula with right wing propaganda designed to shape the student’s ideology so that it more closely reflects their own. They aren’t teaching kids to think, they are attempting to indoctrinate them into the extreme political right-wing.

And it doesn’t have to stop after high school.
“A student can take the YE course in high school, participate in the YE Academy to earn scholarship money and then use that money to pay for a degree from a Koch-funded university. So it isn't just a relatively small but growing high school program offered in Kansas and Missouri. It's part of a larger mission.” [HuffPost]

YE isn’t about the students, its mission is creating a political future that serves to protect the wealth of the elite to the detriment of the rest of us. It is about securing the future of those with money and power.  It is, simply put, class warfare designed to ensure that the robber barons of today continue to pillage the economy of tomorrow.
Full Article:

Thursday, July 10, 2014

The Stock Markets Are Just a Casino

This report from Yahoo Finance shows just how Vegas like the financial markets have become.  They are no longer about investing in something, they are no longer about owning a part of a company that builds things, they are about moving money and making short-term profits – in other words, gambling Texas Hold’em style.

The company profiled in the article is called CYNK Technology.  It claims to be some sort of social media company and its stock price has climbed nearly 25,000 percent in the past three and a half weeks.

You are reading that correctly, twenty-five thousand percent

That growth, as of the writing of this post, gave the company a market cap of around 5 BILLION dollars.  According to the filings on the company, they have no assets and at last reporting an operating loss of 1.5 million dollars.

But here’s the thing, no one can even prove that that the company exists.  It has never turned a profit, it has only one known employee, and the location of the company is uncertain.

Given that, how is that kind of growth in price even possible?

Because investors no longer care what a company makes, they just want to know if they are going to make money. They don’t buy the stock for the dividend or the long-term prospects of the company.

They buy it for the change in price.  It is buy low, sell high on steroids.

This is one of the reasons our infrastructure in America is crumbling.  Investing in infrastructure is a long-term investment and investors are looking to the next quarter, to the next trade, not years down the road.

From ten cents a share to over four dollars a share in a month…based on absolutely nothing.

If this doesn’t make the case for more regulation in the financial markets, if this doesn’t illustrate what is wrong with the ever growing investment side of our economy, then I don’t know what to tell you.

Something has to be done before we find ourselves in another recession built on the ponzi-scheme like greed of the financial players in our investor class.  Like Veruca Salt of Willy Wonka fame, they want it all and they certainly don’t care what it takes to get it.  And that includes screwing the economy into the ground and leaving the American people to pick up the tab…again.

Wednesday, July 09, 2014

Courage Under Fire

Girls are constantly under attack for the way they look.  The clothes they wear, their body type, the hair style they choose.   Carleigh O'Connell was bullied by peers through a piece of graffiti.  It hurt, she was upset, and then she decided to fight back in the best way she could, by showing her courage to the world. 

She donned a swimsuit and stood next to that piece of hateful scrawl and took a picture.  She then put that picture up on Instagram and sent it to her mother so she could share it on Facebook. Carleigh wanted other victims of this type of bullying to know “There are people there for you. You’re not alone,” 

To quote Carleigh's mother:

"For all youth across America and the world. Words can hurt but how you handle the words makes all the difference.

"Please share this example with anyone you think is hurting because of others and thank you for reading this."

Carleigh O’Connell, as the father of two daughters I want you to know that I am proud of you for the example you just set for young women everywhere.  You knocked it out of the park.

And to the person(s) who wrote that little missive on that concrete all I can say is: 

Well...I can't say what I want to say because I'm attempting the same level of class and dignity as Carleigh, something I'm not always capable of doing, particularly when it comes to bullies.

To help share this example of courage, go here to Daryl Lynn O'Connell's Facebook post.  And while you are there, read the entire post by Carleigh's mom.  As a parent, I totally get where she is coming from and I applaud her for standing up with her daughter in her efforts to help others. It is hard to let your kids be courageous, your instincts are to protect them.  But sometimes the best way to protect them is to let them be brave.  It's not always easy to do.

Kudos Ms. O'Connell, you and your daughter have done something special and I applaud you. 

(If you know of a kid struggling with these kinds of problems, and have a really positive message and were created for teens to have someone to talk to whenever they need it, day or night.)