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Guest Commentary (4541)

Friday, 08 January 2010 07:42

Michael Winship: California, Here We Come

by Michael Winship

A number of years ago, when I would travel to California on business with my friend the late journalist and comedy writer Eliot Wald, we always carved out time to visit a couple of those massive Los Angeles grocery chains, such as Ralph's or Vons.

It wasn't because we had a lust for retail or a massive munchie attack. Rather, we geekily would explore the aisles looking for the odd new products that had started in California, stuff we figured might soon migrate East. Like those big cardboard shades people prop up against the front windows of their parked cars to keep the interior from getting overheated. One of many brilliant California inventions descended from a long line of greats: the Hula Hoop and Frisbee, the Popsicle and Zamboni ice cleaning machine.

Eventually, Eliot moved to LA, where he could continue the pursuit full time. I still feel it's a nice place to visit, but why risk earthquakes or earning millions in the movie business?

Nonetheless, I continue to watch out for California innovations and keep an eye on the store shelves when I'm there. The state remains a harbinger of things to come. These days, though, what California's exporting -- besides Chihuahuas to needy families east of the Rockies -- is more disturbing.

by Jacqueline Marcus

After the election, we believed President Obama would wind things down in the Middle East, and diplomatic solutions would replace costly military operations. For nearly 10 years, we've tolerated inexplicable excuses for invading Iraq and Afghanistan -- all in the name of a vague and meaningless term: terrorism. We invade and bomb people we've never met and then we're surprised that they want to fight back. For eight long years, we've watched the Bush Administration spend billions and billions of our tax dollars for the Iraq invasion that was never connected to the September 11 attack.

In these last nine years, what did the invasions accomplish? The illegal and indefensible occupation of Afghanistan and the expansion to Yemen have only served to increase hate and anger against the U.S. Perhaps if we provided bread instead of dropping bombs on these extremely poor people, rebels would have no reason to plot against us. Nine years later, it has now cost Americans over a trillion dollars to shut down a few hundred Islamic radicals. Hundreds of thousands of lives have been lost as a result of the U.S. military invasion in this poor region of the world.

Voters are boiling mad at both parties because they want these wars to end. They want their tax dollars to help them. They are sick and tired of a war economy that wrecked and shattered American businesses like a domino effect. Resorts are empty. Shopping malls are empty. The housing market is an endless sea of foreclosure signs. There are more homeless people than I've ever seen in my entire life. Fact: when unemployment rises, so does crime. Victor Hugo's "Les Miserables" comes to mind. "As there is always more misery at the lower end than humanity at the top, everything was given away before it was received." Our pro-war Congress gave our entire public treasury away to military spending. It's been reported that the number of Americans on food stamps rose by 50%. We can no longer brag that we're the richest country in the world. The war profiteers destroyed the foundation of our middle-upper class economy, which was once a beacon to the world.

by Carl Finamore

Pioneering women at United Airlines (UAL) organized the world's first Flight Attendant (FA) union in 1945. The carrier quickly recognized them as the official bargaining representative when the CEO said "they need a union." Today, these same workers stand last as the lowest paid among all the major airlines and are hardly getting any notice from management. Negotiations have stalled.

"We are working at 1994-wage levels after suffering wage cuts, staff reductions, and rising health care costs," Chris Black told several hundred flight attendants and other union supporters picketing on January 8 at UAL departure gates at San Francisco International Airport (SFO).

Black is SFO Council 11 President, Association of Flight Attendants (AFA-CWA), and it was her national AFL-CIO union that organized protests on the same day their contract became amendable. A preliminary count by the AFA is that over 1,800 participated at airports all over the world.

Contracts negotiated under the Railway Labor Act do not actually expire but rather become "amendable" with terms remaining "status quo" throughout negotiations overseen by the National Mediation Board. So, while the system does retain contract protections during negotiations, extremely long delays lasting several years have become commonplace.

Thursday, 07 January 2010 01:29

Mark Gilbert: The Great Credit Bubble

by Mark Gilbert, Author of Complicit: How Greed and Collusion Made the Credit Crisis Unstoppable

Where did the money come from? Where did it go? How was this allowed to happen? Who is to blame? These are the key questions surrounding the credit crunch that has engulfed the global financial system.

The answer, in part, is that there wasn't anywhere near as much money as there seemed to be. And because it didn't exist in the first place, the money hasn't gone anywhere. It was all an illusion, although the economic consequences of its disappearance turned out to be very real indeed.

As to how it was allowed to happen and who is to blame, in a sense the honest reply is that we all allowed it to happen, and we're all to blame, either as active accomplices or complicit bystanders. Society as a whole made a collective, unconscious decision to allow the banking system to grow unchecked because the tangible benefits that seemed to accrue from unbridled capitalism outweighed the intangible hazards that might accompany this dangerous test of capitalism's limits.

by Jane Stillwater
"Do you have any Evita T-shirts?" I recently asked a docent at Buenos Aires' Evita museum. I wanted a T-shirt with a picture of Evita Peron on the front. Is that too much to ask for? Apparently so.
Here in Argentina, Evita is either worshipped as a saint or vilified as the devil incarnate. In either case, no one here wants to wear her image on a T-shirt. Rats.
Even finding the Evita museum was a whole bunch of work and involved at least two subway transfers and a whole bunch of "Donde esta...." It's located out in the Palermo district, sort of like the Beverly Hills of Buenos Aires -- and there's a reason for that too, which I will explain later.
I suppose in some ways you could think of Evita Peron as Argentina's Sarah Palin. After all, our Evita did have a passion for designer clothes. Plus both Sarah and Evita cherished the limelight. But the similarities between Evita and Sarah stop there.

by Carl Finamore

The San Francisco Hilton is the city's largest, taking up a square block of prime downtown real estate and boasting 1,900 rooms. Celebrity heiress Paris Hilton's signature phrase, "That's Hot!" might very well apply to the "stunning million dollar views" advertised by her hotel namesake. But it's more like "That's Cold!" when describing the views of the Hilton owners towards their employees.

The Blackstone Group, which owns the Hilton chain, proposes cutting starting wages for new hires by 25%. According to a union fact sheet, the CEO and part owner of Blackstone was paid $1,385,391,042 in 2008. That's right, 1 billion dollars plus. The average union hotel worker earned $30,000 in that same year.

This explains why over 800 members of Local 2, UNITE-HERE and 400 supporters staged their impressive rally and civil disobedience action blocking the main hotel entrance for several hours before 140 sit-in protesters were arrested, cited for misdemeanor trespassing and released a short time later.

Arrestees included Richard Trumka, new president of the 13-million member AFL-CIO and John Wilhelm, International President of the 265,000-member UNITE-HERE. Trumka called the attitude of the hotels a "disgrace" while Wilhelm congratulated Local 2 for its "heart, spirit and endurance" that he said "would spread across the country in 2010" as other hotel contracts expire.

The rally attracted city firefighters, nurses, machinists, teachers, engineers, longshore, teamsters, construction workers, and letter carriers displaying union emblems of support.

by Cliff Kindy and Neil Wollman

After an intense review, President Obama recently ordered about 30,000 more U.S. troops to Afghanistan. Should the U.S. government have made this decision? The goals for the United States are to prevent an Al Qaeda threat in the homeland and to stabilize the Afghan situation, allowing for some level of central government control and a face-saving withdrawal. But who else could or should have weighed in on this decision, and what are their motivations?

The Afghan government realizes that any downsizing of the U.S. presence could threaten its hold on political power. President Karzai recently stated that he expects the U.S. military presence to continue until 2024. The U.S. public is split, mainly along party lines, between those who want an early withdrawal of troops to prevent a quagmire, and those who support the U.S. military presence and fear that withdrawal would squander the investment already made.

The missing voice among these acknowledged players is that of the Afghan public. No country can impose on another a decision that country cannot abide. History is filled with attempts by strong powers to force actions upon weaker ones. This has worked sometimes in the short run, but usually crashes in the long term. The power of democracy is its dependence upon the will of the people who are impacted by a decision.

by Nikolas Kozloff

Recently, I've tuned out the tawdry Tiger Woods sex scandal. However, when Fox newsman Brit Hume sanctimoniously put down Woods' Buddhism a few days ago, I started to take more notice of the story. The Tiger Woods saga has now taken on more interesting dimensions by laying bare some deep seated prejudices.

The controversy started when Hume started to evangelize Woods. Speaking on "Fox News Sunday," Hume said the virtuoso golf player should convert to Christianity because Buddhism had no place for "redemption." "The extent to which he [Woods] can recover seems to me depends on his faith," Hume pontificated.

"He is said to be a Buddhist. I don't think that faith offers the kind of forgiveness and redemption that is offered by the Christian faith," the newsman declared. Presumptuously, Hume then inserted his own personal message to the golfer: "Tiger," he said, "turn to the Christian faith and you can make a total recovery and be a great example to the world."

Needless to say, some Buddhists found Hume's on air commentary distasteful. Kyle Lovett of TheReformedBuddhist.com writes "Could Hume get away with saying something like this about Jewish people or black people or the Muslim Faith? You betcha he couldn't. Why should he be able to skate away scott free when speaking about Buddhists? Because we are only 3% or 4% of the population of the U.S.?"

by Bill Berkowitz

Larry Jones, the founder of Feed the Children, has been fired over charges that he spied on the organization's top executives, surreptitiously accepted money from a supplier, and keeping a cache of pornographic magazines hidden in his office. That's only the tip of the iceberg!
Over the past three decades, you've probably seen its advertisements on television, in newspapers and magazines, encouraging you to donate money to provide food, medical supplies, and clothing to children across the globe. The Oklahoma City-based Feed the Children was founded 30 years ago by Jones as a Christian, international, non-profit relief organization. According to the Chronicle of Philanthropy, it is the seventh largest charity in the United States based on private support.
After years of getting away with a series of shady activities, Larry Jones has got some serious explaining to do. The founder, president and public face of Feed the Children has been fired from the organization after being accused "of taking bribes … hiding hard-core pornography" in his office, and planting "microphones in the offices of top executives who opposed him," Charisma News Service reported on January 5.
Jones, who was fired on November 6, "has denied all wrongdoing" and he has "filed a wrongful termination suit … claiming the ministry board terminated him '"for reasons of personal malice and spite and not for any authorized cause."
According to Charisma News, Feed the Children -- founded by Jones 30 years ago -- filed "a countersuit Dec. 28 that alleges Jones misspent ministry funds, pocketed money given to pay his travel expenses and kept gifts from speaking appearances. It also says hard-core pornographic magazines were found in Jones' office."

by Peter Phillips

Free Market Capitalism remains the dominant American ideological truth. The decline of communism opened the door for unrepentant free marketers to boldly espouse market competition as the final solution for global harmony. According to the American mantra, if given the opportunity to freely develop, the marketplace will solve all evils. We will enjoy economic expansion, individual freedom, and unlimited bliss by fully deregulating and privatizing society's socio-economic institutions.

The selection of Obama as the U.S. President placed into power the party of the trilateralist wing of the American corporate elite. Obama's business/government revolving-door cabinet is comprised of just as many corporate CEOs and business elites as any presidency in recent history. This new government elite will continue the work to see that the American mantra remains safe, globalized, and unchallenged.

Pesky socialist or nationalist leaning governments will be undermined, pressured into compliance or even invaded if they dare to resist the American mantra. The full force of U.S. dominated global institutions: WTO, World Bank, IMF, NAFTA, will focus on maximizing free market circumstances and corporate access to every region of the world.

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