Category Archives: Labor

Life Suck

As contractions of the national and global economies grow more severe, their impacts are felt more painfully by more people. The same is true here at Civil Tongue. Blog creation is not a money making venture, most bloggers blog out of the need to share something, the need for community. As always, I, your lowly blog author, am available for all sorts of analysis, research and writing – please inquire by posting a quick comment (I can then respond to your email), but my own personal struggle against this economy is not just philosophical – it is also painful in reality.

The last time I had full time employment was before 9/11. My industry was heavily affected by the attacks and I was laid off, then rehired part time. This was adequate for many years because I had my first child four months after 9/11, and my next a couple of years later. Before 9/11, my husband and I were comfortably middle/upper class.

Ten years later and I no longer own a home, we have both been laid off, and are definitely in the low income tax bracket (when we can get work at all). The descent has taken an absolutely devastating toll on my family in other personal, less quantatative ways. We are a poster-childish family of how things fall apart in the current economy involving nearly every major collapse that has happened in the last decade (hey, at least we didn’t have huge investments).

It’s time to stop pretending that I am doing “just fine”, I’m not. This hurts like hell. It is very sad and difficult for me to guide my children and family to a more positive and secure future. Their education, interests, and personality are all relative to how well they will do in the future and I no longer have the resources to provide what’s best or even mediocre.  It’s time for us to let our friends and family know how bad it really is. It’s time to walk across the street to the Joneses’ house, knock on their door, tell them that we can’t keep up with them anymore, offer a truce (like a dinner invitation), and make real friends that don’t compete materialistically – friends that share and support one another in tough times.  I know it may be severely outside your comfort zone.

I’m writing this outside of my comfort zone, but also necessity. I no longer can promise daily posts. My resources are limited and while my heart is in this work, I may have to scrub toilets, stand waving in a Little Ceasar’s costume, or be a gopher for someone. I am taking any and all work that I think I can physically complete – and even that work is few and far between. The work is often poverty wages, so I will likely be busier and busier – probably just fine with corporatists that would like a loud mouth like myself to just shut up and go away (or die- I certainly don’t have health insurance though I have some serious health issues).

For my fair and loyal readers, how I might work this out is to have a few “real” posts per week where I attempt to analyze and make some relevant points on political framing and the current news of the day.  The rest of the days I will do less time consuming posts and just line up some of the poignant news stories that I wan’t to elaborate on, but don’t have time.

As always, I welcome guest posts – especially well thought out and well written ones that are different than my belief system. If you have one, again, let me know by comments.

Government is not bad or good inherently, it is necessary to live together with billions of strangers with some basic universal concerns collectively though through. When those governments cease to help the People, it is time for them to change.

Here are a few stories that I have strong feelings about, how about you?

Mosquito Drones

A team of researchers at the vaunted Johns Hopkins University – in conjunction with the U.S. Air Force Office of Scientific Research at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Arlington, Va. – is helping develop what they are calling an MAV (micro aerial vehicle) that will no doubt have loads of uses, up to and including the usurpation of privacy rights by the Leviathan State.

Initially though, it’s thought that MAVs will be incorporated for use by the military, for situations when stealth is of the utmost importance. The tiny drones could effortlessly infiltrate urban areas, where dense concentrations of buildings and people, along with unpredictable winds and other obstacles make it impractical, if not impossible, to use a standard-sized drone. Domestic uses include search-and-rescue operations and, of course, observation.

How small, exactly? Well, a graphic on the site of the Air Force research agency features what looks to be an electronic mosquito.

Oregon Man Gets Jail Time for Collecting Rainwater on His Own Property

Collecting rainwater can get you in legal trouble in Oregon. A court has sentenced a southern Oregon man to 30 days in jail, and a fine, for maintaining 3 illegal reservoirs on his property. Amelia Templeton of Earthfix reports.

Gary Harrington has told the court, and newspapers that he was just storing rainwater to use for wildfire protection. But rainwater is what fills most of the rivers in Oregon, says Tom Paul with the Oregon Water Resources Department. And you can’t divert its natural flow it without getting permission first.

Paul: “If you build a dam, an earthen dam, and interrupt the flow of water off of the property, and store that water that is an activity that would require a water right permit from us.”

Paul says one of Harrington’s dams was 15 feet high. And the dams were capturing water that flowed into a nearby creek, which belongs to the City of Medford. Harrington is appealing his jail sentence and fine.

Learn more: http://nwpr.org/post/southern-oregon-man-sentenced-jail-time-illegal-rainwater-reservoirs#disqus_thread

Is Algebra Necessary?

This debate matters. Making mathematics mandatory prevents us from discovering and developing young talent. In the interest of maintaining rigor, we’re actually depleting our pool of brainpower. I say this as a writer and social scientist whose work relies heavily on the use of numbers. My aim is not to spare students from a difficult subject, but to call attention to the real problems we are causing by misdirecting precious resources.

The toll mathematics takes begins early. To our nation’s shame, one in four ninth graders fail to finish high school. In South Carolina, 34 percent fell away in 2008-9, according to national data released last year; for Nevada, it was 45 percent. Most of the educators I’ve talked with cite algebra as the major academic reason.

a definitive analysis by the Georgetown Center on Education and the Workforce forecasts that in the decade ahead a mere 5 percent of entry-level workers will need to be proficient in algebra or above.

See the opinion piece here: http://www.nytimes.com/2012/07/29/opinion/sunday/is-algebra-necessary.html?pagewanted=2&_r=1

Man Camps and Sacrifice Zones

There  is no limit to industry’s reach. The corporation – who some want to be regarded as “people”- has no moral guidance, no mission of ethics, no feelings. Corporatists often throw up their hands and say, “What can we do? We are legally beholden to the shareholders to make as much money as possible” the part about disregard for quality of life for anyone but upper management goes unspoken but is understood.” As Chris Hedges says, “These corporations know only one word, and that’s more”.

Oil industry Man Camps Offer No Stress Living – this article offers a local paper’s view on the fracking boom. Reducing options, free time, and family time relates to being stress free in a similar way that a prison cell mate relates to feeling secure.

Another description of the man camp in assumably favorable terms -you will find the link on their own company’s website here.

The camps are basically a series of mobile homes linked together, only each doublewide is flanked with double occupancy bedrooms. Dining is group, there are group exercise rooms,  Here is one excerpt from the Billings Gazette:

Crew camp compounds are typically are made up of small, bedroom-sized units that are interconnected. The facilities usually are leased by companies in the oil industry, and can be deconstructed in days.

“When the bust comes, and it will, these facilities will be farming fields again,” Lash said. “We’re not sticking around, and will move them to the next great opportunity.”

Most counties in western North Dakota are ill-equipped to handle the swarms of workers, many of whom have been forced to live in campers, cars and tents.

“We’re running out of water, out of sewer, out of electricity, and until those get taken care of, how do you add more man camps to the mix?” said Dan Kalil, a commissioner in Williams County, the hub of the oil bonanza.

In Dickinson, in the southwest corner of the oil patch, the planning and zoning commission on Wednesday approved what would be the state’s largest man camp, a 3,000-unit facility in an industrial area near the wastewater treatment plant.

It makes no sense. The workers can’t afford to live there, so they fly home every two weeks to see their family. If an industry can’t allow a human being to live a decent life with their family (not next to a wastewater treatment facility), they should have to offset the environmental costs to the rest of us for their wreckless encouragement of such a high carbon impact lifestyle. Government subsidies to these fossil fuel companies should cease immediately – fracking included.
The article later speaks of the boomtown/ghostown phenomenon in a small town; like a gold/oil/gas rush. Longtimers have high hopes for the revival of their town, industry stays focused on the bottom line, and everyone else scrambles for a living wage any way they know how, moving where the work takes them.

As if that wasn’t cheery enough, here’s a companion piece, aRawStory article featuring Christopher Hedges with Bill Moyers. I’ll leave you with this (and there is a video at the end of this article) to ponder. Perhaps tomorrow we can discuss some of the issue that arise. I would love to hear your input.

Journalist and activist Chris Hedges appeared Friday on Moyers & Company to talk about the conclusions of his latest book. Days of Destruction, Days of Revolt is dedicated to investigating the most exploited and impoverished places in America, places that he says are “virtually off the radar screen in terms of the commercial media.”

“It’s absolutely imperative that we begin to understand what unfettered, unregulated capitalism does,” Hedges emphasized. “These are sacrifice zones, areas that have been destroyed for quarterly profit. And we’re talking about environmentally destroyed, communities destroyed, human beings destroyed, families destroyed. And because there are no impediments left, these sacrifice zones are just going to spread outward.”

When Moyers asked Hedges what he meant by saying there are no impediments left, he explained, “The political system is bought off, the judicial system is bought off, the law enforcement system services the interests of power, they have been rendered powerless.” Even worse, Hedges believes these devastated communities represent the future for all of us.

Hedges was particularly eloquent in describing the coal-mining areas of West Virginia, which “in terms of national resources is one of the richest areas of the United States [but] harbor the poorest pockets of community, the poorest communities in the United States. Because those resources are extracted, and that money is not funneled back into the communities.”

“Not only that,” he continued, “but they’re extracted in such a way that the communities themselves are destroyed. … They no longer want to dig down for the coal, and so they’re blowing the top 400 feet off of mountains poisoning the air, poisoning the soil, poisoning the water. … You are rendering the area moonscape. It becomes uninhabitable. … It’s all destroyed and it’s not coming back.”

Hedges went on to talk about Camden, New Jersey, which since the disappearance of manufacturing has become the poorest city in the United States and one of the most dangerous. “It’s a dead city,” he said. “There’s nothing left. There is no employment. Whole blocks are abandoned. The only thing functioning are open-air drug markets, of which there are about a hundred. And you’re talking third or fourth generation of people trapped in these internal colonies. They can’t get out.”

He spoke also about the Pine Ridge Reservation and migrant workers in Florida, saying, ” It’s greed over human life. … We, in that biblical term, we forgot our neighbor. And because we forgot our neighbor in Pine Ridge, because we forgot our neighbor in Camden, in Southern West Virginia, in the produce fields, these forces have now turned on us. They went first, and we’re next.”

“These corporations know only one word, and that’s more,” Hedges went on. “And because the mechanisms of governance can no longer control them, there is nothing now within the formal mechanisms of power to stop them from the creating, essentially, a corporate oligarchic state.”

“We have become complicit,” he noted sadly, “because we’ve accepted this as a kind of natural law. And the acceptance of this kind of behavior, and even the celebration of it is going to ultimately trigger our demise.”

 

 

 

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LIBOR: The Market is a Fairytale

CivilTongue is on hiatus for one week. Check back next week for more civilized discussions of current issues impacting us today.

Should you care about LIBOR? Not unless you’ve used credit – for home loans, business loans, credit cards, student loans, anything with an interest rate.

Here’s the short of what the LIBOR scandal means for us that have used credit: we’ve been used as a spring of wealth. We the People of the United States and the entire globe, with our earned money have been covering for huckster book cookers. The implications are that most or all major, multinational banks are conspiring and colluding to fix the market at its very basic building block level. The government in London is implicated, possibly most major governments are also guilty.

It looks to be an extremely extensive web of deceit. The market fixing done cannot be done alone – Barclay’s has already admitted to fixing – in order for the level of corruption that has unfolded to be true, the likelihood is that all major banks are involved in this type of fixing and scandal.

So not only do banks need bailing out but they need bailing out even though the game was rigged in the first place. This is despite the fact that they have unlimited legal, financial, marketing, lobbying, security, and public relations resources. Still, they produce no actual product and rely on those of us who actually provide goods and services to the globe to keep the spigot of money flowing their way. The greed and corruption also seems unlimited.

This scandal exposes, not just a corrupt bank, but the very mechanisms by which we are told “the Market” works. Those mechanisms have been found to be figments of the imagination, not even rusty or broken, but a fairytale that bankers have been telling each other – and the rest of us have been betting the farm on them.

Matt Taibbi and Dennis Kelleher explain in more detail:

Once again, it is up to the People to demand that these stories get reported in the media (go ahead and make a request), and that we keep the pressure on by asking candidates about it, asking our representatives about it, and making it an issue while Barclay’s is spilling the beans. These organizations have been left to police themselves, instead they have reinvented pillaging our villages – and been unbelievably successful.

This is not just another scandal, it is about real dollars that used to be yours and now they are not. And those are the same dollars that are buying government influence, and the same dollars that pay to keep labor conditions racing to the bottom while sky’s-the-limit for elite profits and living conditions.

It is easy to write this off as another boring example of how we get screwed over by “the system”. It’s common to hear, “they’re all crooks!” as a general reference to anyone in business or government, but that is the white flag of apathy. It is music to “their” ears to hear a meme that encourages shrugging it off as business as usual.

Yes, it has been, “business as usual”, but the fat financial dragon has exposed its underbelly. Are we going to yawn our way through the opportunity to demand more accountability, transparency, and responsibility? Once again it’s up to us. Learn more here and here and here.

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Privatization Kills Freedom

For all of the freedom loving going on with those that celebrate private industry taking over where government is supposedly falling short, an interesting conversation is happening. A challenge to libertarian thinkers to consider in reality how much freedom private enterprise allows. The simple fact is that an adult in the workplace is at the mercy of whatever governing style is in place. The invention of labor laws, stories of clandestine and overt abuse, and modern day anecdotes from our “favorite” brand name sweatshops let us know that, yes, workers are taken advantage of when no one is minding the minder. Here is the leading argument from Let it Bleed:Libertarianism in the Workplace: Continue reading

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Capitalism Crises Should Send Us Back to the Drawing Board

Modern culture assumes the natural order includes a capitalist philosophy – it is not necessarily the case. Here is a very simple and informative animation that explains how we think about the roots of our current economical crises.

In reality, there are alternatives to capitalismRichard Wolf of the Guardian UK explains based on first hand observation:

Modern societies have mostly chosen a capitalist organization of production. In capitalism, private owners establish enterprises and select their directors who decide what, how and where to produce and what to do with the net revenues from selling the output. This small handful of people makes all those economic decisions for the majority of people – who do most of the actual productive work. The majority must accept and live with the results of all the directorial decisions made by the major shareholders and the boards of directors they select. This latter also select their own replacements.

Capitalism thus entails and reproduces a highly undemocratic organization of production inside enterprises. Tina (short for Euro style capitalism) believers insist that no alternatives to such capitalist organizations of production exist or could work nearly so well, in terms of outputs, efficiency, and labor processes. The falsity of that claim is easily shown. Indeed, I was shown it a few weeks ago and would like to sketch it for you here.

In May 2012, I had occasion to visit the city of Arrasate-Mondragon, in the Basque region of Spain. It is the headquarters of the Mondragon Corporation (MC), a stunningly successful alternative to the capitalist organization of production.

MC is composed of many co-operative enterprises grouped into four areas: industry, finance, retail and knowledge. In each enterprise, the co-op members (averaging 80-85% of all workers per enterprise) collectively own and direct the enterprise. Through an annual general assembly the workers choose and employ a managing director and retain the power to make all the basic decisions of the enterprise (what, how and where to produce and what to do with the profits).

As each enterprise is a constituent of the MC as a whole, its members must confer and decide with all other enterprise members what general rules will govern MC and all its constituent enterprises. In short, MC worker-members collectively choose, hire and fire the directors, whereas in capitalist enterprises the reverse occurs. One of the co-operatively and democratically adopted rules governing the MC limits top-paid worker/members to earning 6.5 times the lowest-paid workers. Nothing more dramatically demonstrates the differences distinguishing this from the capitalist alternative organization of enterprises. (In US corporations, CEOs can expect to be paid 400 times an average worker’s salary – a rate that has increased 20-fold since 1965.)

Given that MC has 85,000 members (from its 2010 annual report), its pay equity rules can and do contribute to a larger society with far greater income and wealth equality than is typical in societies that have chosen capitalist organizations of enterprises. Over 43% of MC members are women, whose equal powers with male members likewise influence gender relations in society different from capitalist enterprises.

MC displays a commitment to job security I have rarely encountered in capitalist enterprises: it operates across, as well as within, particular cooperative enterprises. MC members created a system to move workers from enterprises needing fewer to those needing more workers – in a remarkably open, transparent, rule-governed way and with associated travel and other subsidies to minimize hardship. This security-focused system has transformed the lives of workers, their families, and communities, also in unique ways.

The MC rule that all enterprises are to source their inputs from the best and least-costly producers – whether or not those are also MC enterprises – has kept MC at the cutting edge of new technologies. Likewise, the decision to use of a portion of each member enterprise’s net revenue as a fund for research and development has funded impressive new product development. R&D within MC now employs 800 people with a budget over $75m. In 2010, 21.4% of sales of MC industries were new products and services that did not exist five years earlier. In addition, MC established and has expanded Mondragon University; it enrolled over 3,400 students in its 2009-2010 academic year, and its degree programs conform to the requirements of the European framework of higher education. Total student enrollment in all its educational centers in 2010 was 9,282.

The largest corporation in the Basque region, MC is also one of Spain’s top ten biggest corporations (in terms of sales or employment). Far better than merely surviving since its founding in 1956, MC has grown dramatically. Along the way, it added a co-operative bank, Caja Laboral (holding almost $25bn in deposits in 2010). And MC has expanded internationally, now operating over 77 businesses outside Spain. MC has proven itself able to grow and prosper as an alternative to – and competitor of – capitalist organizations of enterprise.

During my visit, in random encounters with workers who answered my questions about their jobs, powers, and benefits as cooperative members, I found a familiarity with and sense of responsibility for the enterprise as a whole that I associate only with top managers and directors in capitalist enterprises. The easy conversation (including disagreement), for instance, between assembly-line workers and top managers inside the Fagor washing-machine factory we inspected was similarly remarkable.

Our MC host on the visit reminded us twice that theirs is a co-operative business with all sorts of problems:

“We are not some paradise, but rather a family of co-operative enterprises struggling to build a different kind of life around a different way of working.”

No one is supposing that alternatives to capitalism are all sunshine and lollipops, there will always be challenges that arrive, but with a shared interest in efficiency, profit making, and employee quality of life, the solution sounds more fair for more people. The fruits of productivity can raise the standard of living for all, workers really can reap what they sew.

If nothing else, it is time, like the animation showed, to seriously debate and discuss the entire capitalist system.

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