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Monday, December 13, 2010

Dream Act, Dream On

Passage of the Dream Act looks bleak for the forseeable future, given the influx of Republican congress reps. It would allow about 2 million "illegal" immigrants to become citizens if they came to the U.S. before they were 16 & they finish college or military service before they are 35.

There are many in Congress who feel that our country is flooded with poor people from other countries who are taking scarce jobs from U.S. workers. They want these people out. They want more secure borders. They want to cut off any health or education to discourage them from coming.

How many of these representatives voted against measures that allow U.S. corporations to move their operations to other countries where the labor is cheaper? When corporations move operations to cheap labor countries it's called "outsourcing", and often includes tax loopholes, but when people from poor countries come to the U.S. to get work, it's never called "in-sourcing." They are "aliens."

For me, outsourcing would be acceptable if environmental standards were upheld and labor was paid fairly (not usually the case). I just think a lot of elected officials speak with "forked tongues."

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Whitman Proposal to Resolve Illegal Immigration

California gubernatorial candidate Meg Whitman unveiled a bold proposal today to stop the flow of illegal immigrants from Mexico and other Latin American countries. At a press conference in the Silicon Valley, the former CEO of EBAY said she would work with major employers throughout the high tech industry to outsource over a million jobs south of the border.

Whitman, who has considerable experience in both layoff-management and outsourcing is bringing together her skills and vision to create a California with considerably less traffic congestion on its freeways, less smog, and far fewer illegal immigrants. Critics have pointed to a huge hike in unemployment benefit costs that will impact the state, but Whitman points out that she will keep those benefits lean and temporary. Unemployed workers are more likely to leave the state, or fill the many gardener, housekeeper, restaurant, and nanny openings when "the illegals" hurry home to scoop up the high tech assembly jobs.

Wall Street is already showing a favorable response to the Whitman Plan that promises profits and lowered costs for key corporations.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Undercover Boss

I've begun to watch one new TV show.....a Reality show called "Undercover Boss" on CBS. It features a CEO of a big corporation who goes "undercover" for a week and works alongside his (or her) employees in the field. I watched the CEO of 7-Eleven working in a store, trucking in night deliveries to stores, and doing a stint in the 7-Eleven bakery. I also watched the CEO of Direct TV do a warehouse stint, train as a tech and an installer, and take a shift at a tech support call center. In every situation, the CEO can barely keep up, let alone accomplish the tasks at hand. The employee-trainers are incredibly patient and very skilled at what they do. Usually, at some point they share some facts about their lives in a matter-of-fact, good-natured way. You find out that one goes to dialysis after her incredibly productive shifts as a 7-Eleven store manager. A Direct TV warehouseman has half his vertebrae fused together. Another is a youth pastor. Another is an artist. Two go to school after their full time hours. At the end of the week, the CEO goes back to his boardroom and speaks briefly with the other suits about his time in the field. Then he summons the employees that he worked with and heaps on praise and some meaningful gifts.

It's a feel-good show, and so far, even the CEO's have been more than decent folks. However, the message that comes through loud and clear to me is that there is no way in the world to justify a CEO salary that is more than ten times above his/her people in the field. There's just no way you can rationalize that the CEO's hours in meetings, studying spreadsheets, and making macro decisions are ten or twenty times more grueling or exacting or conscientious than the hours spent by those who do the daily work of the company.

When Ben and Jerry's was owned by Ben and Jerry, they had a rule that nobody in the company would be paid more than seven times what anyone else in the company made. In 2004, more than half of the CEO's of the top 50 U.S. corporations earned at least 104 times what their average employee earned (not their lowest paid employee), and the top 10% "earned" over 350 times what their average employee earned. The research was done by Carola Frydman of Harvard and Raven E. Saks of the Federal Reserve.

Sunday, September 05, 2010


Lawrence Beitler/Bettmann/Corbis

I listened to a chilling 13 minute podcast on NPR's "Radio Diaries", called "Strange Fruit: Anniversary Of A Lynching" that recounts the lynching of two young black men in Marion, Indiana in the summer of 1930. Hours after a white man was killed, three black youths were arrested. By the following evening a mob amassed, broke down the prison wall and hung two of the young men in the Town Center. Photographs of the two bodies hanging were sold as souvenirs and show many upstanding, respected Marion townfolk, milling about as if they were at their county fair.

It makes you wonder what things occurring today will shock those who see photos and hear interviews 80 years from now. There are the easy ones that shock nearly everyone today..... state-sponsored Abu Grahib, waterboarding, stoning to death of adulterers by Islamic fundamentalists, etc. But it's the ones that we are blind to today - so enmeshed are we in our certainty of who's right and who's wrong. Where there is righteousness today, there may be a wake of unconscionable cruelty that won't be recognized for a number of years.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Sissy Boy

I don't think there is an award show that Sally does not make sure to watch. Yesterday I was working out at the YMCA on an elliptical machine. Next to me was a middle aged petite Asian woman. She had her TV tuned to ESPN Baseball. I had mine on the "Red Carpet" show before the Emmys - studying what the stars were wearing. Twelve years of relationship can really alter a person.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Father Knows Best

I read the cover story in The Atlantic magazine, "The Point of No Return: Israel is Getting Ready to Bomb Iran." There's quite an outpouring of comments about it on the magazine's web site. Without getting into the speculation of whether (nuclear empowered) Israel or the U.S. might bomb Iran's budding nuclear facilities, the part that intrigued me was the description of dynamics between Benjamin Netanyahu, Prime Minister of Israel, and his 100 year old father. His father is a hawk. There was an older, venerated son who died a military hero during the rescue of Jewish hostages at Entebbe Airport in Uganda in 1976. It is Benjamin, "the Prime Minister son," who disappointed his father when, under U.S. diplomatic pressure, he withdrew Israeli forces from the West Bank town of Hebron in 1999. The father got up to speak at his centennial birthday party that Benjamin arranged. He did not wax sentimental about his children. He spoke about the need to trust in the military in the face of the existential threat that Iran poses to Israel. One friend of Benjamin's told the article's author that "always in the back of Bibi's (Benjamin's) mind is Ben-Zion (his father). He worries that his father will think he is weak."

The theme of favored, absent son and ever-striving present son sounds like an Arthur Miller play. I suppose that millions of adult sons can be analyzed in their actions and found still to be trying to please or piss off their fathers - me included. But not many of us direct armed forces that rule over another people desperate for their autonomy. Not many of us have a button that could launch a nuclear war.

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Let's Make the Budget Work for California

When I first came to California in January 1973, the community colleges were free, as was day use of state parks, and many communities had multiple library branches. Now there's a plan to have entry fees at the state parks (many have already been temporarily closed); California cities are shutting down library branches; and there's no more free education at community colleges. That's just the tip of the iceberg with program cuts taking place in every arena from rehab programs in the prisons to sidewalk repairs. Why has the state gone backwards?

Very few of us have paid much attention to the state economy, but I don't think that's a viable option anymore. Something has gone really wrong and there's not enough political will in the legislature to change anything. It's high time for us citizens to learn what has caused the mess and how to turn it around.

I listened to a radio show that said we now depend on 140,000 of the richest Californians for 25% of our tax revenues. Is the problem that we stopped taxing the middle class to the levels we used to? Or is the problem that the gap between rich and poor has grown so much that we don't tax those richest folks nearly enough? Did corporations pay much more in taxes back in '73? I know that Prop 13, passed in '78, keeps property taxes low. Is that where the money used to come from? Or is there some truth to the Republican chorus that we added too many state workers and benefits?

It's time for regular citizens to collect data and start to understand the reasons for this demise. If you have some answers, then help educate me. Let's put California back on track.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Pulitzer Prize Photo Subject Was Saved

I imagine a lot of people who read the SF Chronicle's article on the Pulitzer Prize winners wondered what happened to the person in the prize-winning photo above. The article only said that the man was "trying" to rescue the woman. I'm sure there were hundreds of us who googled the Des Moines Register story to find out what happened. Kudos to Mary Chind of the Des Moines Register.

The back-story was even more amazing than I'd expected. Not only was the woman saved, but the rescuer was not some kind of firefighter or trained rescuer. He was a construction worker working on a bridge above where the woman was drowning and had himself lowered from a crane to reach for her. He wants no attention for this heroic act. The woman's husband drowned and it's likely that the photo brings up some very difficult, forever-raw memories for her. "Taking" someone's picture is always a dubious matter when it isn't posed, but I'm thankful to have seen this and I know there are thousands of us today who are sending heartfelt wishes to this sad, noble, survivor.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Blackwater - uncharted and bloody waters

In September 2007, Blackwater contractors were providing security for a convoy of state department officials, when they opened up fire and killed at least 14 Iraqis at an intersection - some shot in the back as they were trying to flee. Even US soldiers testified that Blackwater started the shooting. Four Blackwater employees were indicted for manslaughter, but a couple of weeks ago, all the charges were dismissed because the prosecutors used incriminating confessions that they had agreed not to use. It wasn't clear they could have convicted the shooters anyway given the legal vacuum that they operate within.

In a chilling interview with NPR's Terry Gross, Jeremy Scahill, author of "Blackwater" said that the Blackwater Chief, Erik Prince, sees himself as a "Christian Crusader" avenging the terrorism of 9/11. His band of veteran, mercenary soldiers - established less than 15 years ago - work outside the laws that our own soldiers must obey, with their own weapons, helicopters, and planes. Much of their work is kept secret - even from Congress - because the CIA and JSOC (special operations) don't have to report their contracts. The state department - which does report to Congress - paid the company more than $832million for security work between 2004 and 2006 alone.

From 2005 until the September 2007 shootout, Blackwater staff were involved in 195 shootings in Iraq, according to records gathered by Congressman Henry Waxman, and Blackwater employees fired first on 163 of those occasions.

Both Obama and Clinton - as candidates - said that we must stop depending on unregulated military contractors, but yet we still depend heavily on Blackwater in Afghanistan. As Congressman Waxman wondered in the hearings he convenened, how is it that we pay a group of mercenaries when we have an army, navy, CIA, etc. etc.? I am amazed that our laws allow for a Blackwater at all - with its own military planes, weaponry, training grounds, and soldiers. The company sounds like a right-wing militia group that is wildly successful because they target Muslims instead of the U.S. government.

There are many more shocking facts in the interview, this BBC article, and the Wikipedia entry.