Tuesday, September 25, 2007

The View from Inside Detroit of the UAW/GM Strike

The UAW began a nationwide strike yesterday against GM. It was the first since 1976 and it may well be one of their last.

When I passed the GM plant on my way into work today there were a total of four guys walking a lonely, pathetic looking picket line at the front entrance with signs that didn’t explain why they were striking at all. They just said “UAW on strike”.

On my way home there were only two people walking the line. It is almost as if they are trying to fit the stereotype of the lazy, greedy union member who just wants to strike to get out of work and get more money.

This may well be the last dying gasp for Organized Labor in America.

At first it was speculated that the strike would be about the auto companies trying to push the cost of their health care expenses for retirees off on the unions, which cannot possibly end well for the retirees themselves since the unions are in worse financial shape then the struggling auto companies.

Instead they decided to use the opportunity to raise a larger issue, The Right of the People to Work. The right of the people to organize as labor and represent themselves on a more equal level with the global superpowers that today’s multi-national corporations have become.

According to the statement on their website, the UAW went to strike over a number of issues, “job security, economic issues, benefits for active workers and winning investment in future products”.

What the UAW is really fighting against the idea that Americans should lower their standards to those of the workers in the Chinese sweatshops if we want to compete in the global marketplace.

The Milton Friedman disciples, The Corporatists, who believe in a nonexistent, quasi-mystical “free market” that can support itself with no government regulation to back up its legitimacy, say that American workers are lazy and greedy for wanting to cut into the profits of Capital and demand all those pesky, “expensive” rules about “trivial” matters such as safety and quality. They say that there should be no “barriers” to trade like Tariffs and Taxes, at least not for America. Everyone else can protect their economies and their jobs all they want, just not us Americans. The Corporatists say we have to leave ourselves economically defenseless in order to “compete”.

Globalization is destroying the middle class in America and that is really what the UAW is striking against, even though they aren’t framing it that way. They are striking against the Conservative ideology that says Americans should have to compete for our jobs with peasants in Chile and China who don’t have any of those “expensive” government regulated workplace standards.

Thirty years ago Trade Unions comprised about 27% of the workforce, but today they only represent about 7%… and they were struggling to win any concessions thirty years ago.

They don’t stand a chance today. Not unless something radical happens.

When I started there, the Auto Companies had two different types of plants in North America, “Manufacturing”, where the metal was cast and the parts were actually made, and “Assembly” where the parts were assembled and rolled off the line a finished product.

In my time there, I have watched as all the “Manufacturing” jobs have been moved out of the United States and down into Mexico and South America. A couple of years a ago a group of IT employees from various South American plants came to our Headquarters for a series of meetings. During their time here, I got to know several of them. They told me about the conditions at the plants in South America where they manufacture our auto parts now. They all told me about large security forces in all their properties, usually armed with automatic weapons. At one plant, which was built miles away from town for “security” reasons, they pay the people so little that they cannot afford to go home during the week so there is a shanty-town set up of tents and lean-tos outside the fences of the plant property where the employees live during the week in their off time. They told me about how the plant management drives in every day in a large, black SUV, always with their armed escorts. At another plant, I was told that they have a large bin of used shoes for the employees at the entrance because they don’t make enough money to buy themselves new shoes. These are the “cost-saving” measures enacted by most multi-national corporations in the last couple of decades in order to keep increasing their profits.

All that is left in North America are the assembly jobs. Why is that important? Because manufacturing is the hard part to move to another country, it requires secure supply lines, access to raw materials, which have to be processed, and that process produces a lot more waste than assembly does. Waste, which has to be dealt with somehow. Manufacturing is the dirty work. It is the really dangerous work. They deal with the molten metal and the processing of raw material. Most importantly, manufacturing is usually considered the EXPENSIVE work.

Manufacturing is the work that requires a lot more of those “costly” worker safety standards and it is the harder to send overseas because it requires a whole supply chain of raw materials that is harder to deal with then the pre-made, pre-packaged parts are that arrive at the assembly plant in their neat stacks on pallets. Once they move manufacturing overseas, then “tightening the supply chain” and moving the assembly closer to the manufacturing simply excused as a “cost-savings” measure.

This strike by the UAW is thus far a pathetically ineffective, disorganized sham that lacks the quality of media representation necessary to even make their case properly. Ron Gettelfinger looked like Britney Spears at the VMA when he was in front of those cameras today; meekly stating how he was “disappointed” in General Motors.

Why doesn’t the UAW hire a PR firm to help them present their case?

Seriously guys! Hire a professional or a celebrity to get in front of the cameras and make your case for you. This is 2007…the media is all about entertainment value for short attention spans. Think in terms of what would make a good clip on YouTube.

The UAW don’t seem to realize how much popular opinion matters to their own fate, which is sad considering how a free and independent press played a large role in fostering the public opinion that created the labor unions in America in the first place. Granted, we don’t have a free and independent press anymore. There is no longer any such concept as serving the public good in the corporate media of today. What we have now is Infotainment for profit.

This action by the UAW is about 6 years too late.

If they had led a major push for national solidarity in labor after 9-11, the UAW could have pulled off a complete image makeover and forced this country in a completely different direction, against the tide of radical “free”-market disaster capitalism.

But they didn’t. And now we are witnessing their last gasps of breath while they are being successfully squeezed out of existence so we can be more like the Chinese, Brazilian and Chilean Peasants we now have to compete with for our jobs.

Friday, September 21, 2007

The Shock Doctrine at the University of Florida


-Howard Beale

If you have not seen this yet, you should.

Every American should see this.

I was so pissed off I felt physically ill while watching it.

Then I felt worse as I watched the public reaction to what I thought was an obvious and disgusting violation of a young citizen’s right to free speech and to redress his grievances with his government.

At the University of Florida, a 21-year-old student, Andrew Meyer, was tasered into silence for asking John Kerry controversial questions at a public forum.

Let me get this straight.

It is a public forum, at a public university, specifically for the purpose of letting the public ask questions of an elected public official.

Yes, the kid is acting like a bit of a jerk while he is asking his questions, but being a jerk is not a crime in itself.

If it were, Bill O'Reilly and Glen Beck would have been tased into silence long ago and Ann Coulter would be court-ordered to wear a shock collar around her neck 24/7… and Barbara Streisand would get to keep the remote. …But I digress.

You can see at the beginning of the video that everyone is just standing around calmly while John Kerry is speaking. There is no disturbance or commotion and everyone is focused on John Kerry. He finishes speaking, looks up, points directly at this kid and says, "You have a question?” giving this kid the floor.

The kid launches into his piece by presenting the context of his questions, a book, Armed Madhouse, by Greg Palast, which lays out the evidence of widespread Republican election fraud in the 2000 and 2004 elections. Senator Kerry states that he has read the book.

Then he asked his questions.

  1. Why did you concede the 2004 election so quickly? There was ample evidence that something was wrong because the exit polls were so far off from the “official” results that if Senator Kerry has waited and demanded a recount, he may well be President today.
  2. Why won’t you support impeaching President Bush? Again, there is ample evidence of high crimes and misdemeanors by the entire Bush Administration.
  3. Were he and George W. Bush both members of the secretive “Skull and Bones Society” at Yale?

His questions are important ones. He obviously did a lot of preparation and thought about his questions. You can see he is very emotional and feels very strongly about what he is saying and asking. Even John Kerry could be heard responding, “Those are important questions.”

The point at which the line was crossed was when the campus police decided to grab the kid and escalate the situation to physical confrontation. Any properly trained police officer knows that in that situation the “fight or flight” instinct will kick in and they always run the risk of the person they are grabbing fighting back reflexively.

When the police grabbed the kid and started pulling him away from the microphone, you very clearly hear John Kerry telling the campus police, "That's all right, let me answer his questions."

Right then, they crossed another line. They should have stopped right when the Senator and main speaker of the event tells them to stop and let him continue the dialogue.

In my opinion it was at that point that it became a crime committed by the campus police.

If the officers has stopped assaulting the kid then and let the Senator answer his questions, there would not have been an “incident” at all.

But they didn’t stop; instead six officers dragged the kid to the back of the room, cuffed him and sat on him.

He was asking repeatedly “What did I do?” But aside from that he was contained and they could have picked him up and carried him outside.

But they didn’t do that either.

Instead, they tortured him into silence with a taser! Right there in front of everyone, with at least three cameras rolling.

A taser is not a toy. A taser is no joke. A taser is 20,000 volts of electricity conducted through your body. Tasers are extremely painful. They have been known to cause people to lose control of their bowels, have seizures and people have even died from having a taser used on them!

Tasers are meant to be a non-lethal means to stop someone who poses a threat to physical safety.

Tasers are not supposed to be used as torture devices to force citizens into silence for asking controversial political questions!

Obviously the kid staged all this on purpose, supposedly to make a video of him publicly confronting John Kerry with these controversial questions so he could post it on YouTube. The talking heads on the conservative corporate media will point to that as if it were justification for the campus police physically assaulting the kid and torturing him into silence with a taser.

They are wrong.

The Declaration of Independence:

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. — That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed,”

The Bill of Rights:

Amendment I

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.

Amendment IV

The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.

It is Mr. Meyer’s god given, inalienable right to make a video of him asking questions of a public official in a public forum and to make that video public.

I say God bless Andrew Meyer for having the courage to risk his neck asking controversial, emotionally charged, political questions in such a straightforward and public fashion. We see now how dangerous that simple act is in 2007 America.

What disturbs me the most about this whole situation is number of people who actually defend the campus police in this situation. Are some of us suffering from Helsinki Syndrome?

Case in point, a friend of mine, immediately after watching the video of the confrontation, said:

“That kid was a dumb-ass. Any time someone in a position of authority like that tells you to do something you should just do it. If they don’t want you to speak, you shouldn’t get to speak.”

And I seem to hear that same sentiment being echoed all around me and I cannot understand how people are not rejecting it out of simple common sense.

It sounds like someone who is beaten down, has given up and embraced Helsinki Syndrome, and perhaps that is what propels them to defend such an abhorrent public abuse of a citizens rights.

In her new book, The Shock Doctrine, The Rise of Disaster Capitalism, Naomi Klein presents a compelling case study of how shock can be used to pacify and manipulate people, not only on an individual level, but also on the societal.

Shock caused by trauma or crisis, real or perceived, causes a person to regress into a primal, childlike state where they are easily manipulated and pacified.

In other words…“Shock and Awe”

We have been conditioned to live in fear.

This has been happening to America increasingly since Kennedy was shot live on national television. It could be argued that they initially noticed the potential for manipulation of the public after Pearl Harbor, but Kennedy’s assassination was even more powerful because it was delivered live on national television.

Then the little shocks started coming in regularly. Vietnam. Reagan shot live on national television. Then an Army Base in Beirut is attacked. The World Trade Center gets bombed, the USS Cole gets bombed, the US Olympics in Atlanta are bombed, 9-11 (again, live on national television), Anthrax being sent in the mail, snipers killing people in Washington D.C. and Ohio, little girls being kidnapped left and right… the constant drum-beat in our corporate media, repeating the mantra: “Be Afraid.”

Andrew Meyer showed extraordinary courage in standing up to all that fear and loudly, assertively asking tough questions that millions of Americans sincerely want to hear the answers to but will never get from the corporate media.

We all have to take inspiration from Mr. Meyer’s example and do what is right despite our fears.

Courage is not the absence of fear. Courage is acting despite fear.

We all need to start taking more action, despite our fear, to regain the freedoms we have lost and to defend the rest, which remain threatened by authoritarians who take advantage of every tragedy and use the shock they create to push their own agendas.

This story and some Americans’ reactions to it are a strong example of how badly we are losing the battle of ideals against the authoritarians. They show how badly we are beaten down, how terrified, how demoralized and how pacified we all are that we not only sit by as a 21 year old kid is tortured into silence with a taser but that some of us actually defend that action instead of the student’s rights and freedoms.

People who believed they had to be quiet or polite when speaking to public officials about controversial politics did not create this country.

"If ye love wealth better than liberty, the tranquility of servitude better than the animating contest of freedom, go home from us in peace. We ask not your counsels or arms. Crouch down and lick the hands which feed you. May your chains set lightly upon you, and may posterity forget that ye were our countrymen." - Samuel Adams, speech at the Philadelphia State House, August 1, 1776. Trying to convince them to join the American Revolution.

This goes especially for you Democrats in Congress.

Grow some balls.

As Dorothy Sayers once said, “If you don’t stand for something, you will fall for anything.” So far you have been falling for everything. The time to stop that is now.

This is your last chance. If you can find the time to condemn MoveOn.org for stating an opinion shared by a large portion of America then you damn well better be able to find time to condemn this immoral violation of a young citizen’s rights.

The founders only left us with one piece of advice in the case you continue to fail us.

“When in the Course of human events it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature's God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.”

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

The Coconator

My 9 month old Great Pyrenees / Lab mix went to the Vets this weekend and weighed in at 71 lbs!!!

It is hard to believe that this was her just this past February.