Monday, February 28, 2005

Managing Activism: How to Neutralize Democracy

from The Center for Media and Democracy
Managing Activism is written for PR practitioners whose clients engage in risky businesses (fossil fuels, pesticides, genetically engineered foods, nuclear waste, toxic dumps, animal testing) and who therefore become the targets of "activist groups" including "environmentalists, workers' rights activists, animal rights groups and human rights campaigners." Don't expect much sympathy for the activists. Deegan is a battle-hardened PR veteran and a committed soldier in the war against activists who "in an increasingly pluralistic society" present what she calls "a growing threat to organizations of all shapes and sizes. And because activists employ a wide range of aggressive tactics such as generating bad publicity, seeking government and legislative intervention, encouraging boycotts, etc., they can cause severe disruption, including damage to reputation, sales, profitability, employee satisfaction and, of course, share price."
Wal-Mart Workers Vote 17-1 Against Union

from The Wall Street Journal
Workers at a Wal-Mart Stores Inc. tire department in Colorado on Friday voted 17-to-1 against union representation. A spokesman for the United Food and Commercial Workers said the group will ask the National Labor Relations Board to throw out the result. The union claims workers had been subjected to intimidation before the vote and Wal-Mart, the world's largest retailer, added employees to the unit to dilute the strength of the union supporters. In addition, the union says the Bentonville, Ark., retailer unfairly disallowed a union representative to observe the election. A pro-union worker who was scheduled to observe suffered a seizure prior to the vote. Wal-Mart rejected the union's request to have one of its representatives serve as a substitute. A Wal-Mart spokeswoman said the union was offered an opportunity to provide another worker to observe but couldn't find one. She said any workers added to the operation were a response to business needs and not part of an antiunion effort. The spokeswoman said the company doesn't tolerate harassment or discrimination.

Wednesday, February 16, 2005

How dare some say, 'Support our Troops'?

from The Portland Press Herald
Someone recently informed me that they didn't know that my son was being deployed to Iraq and asked why I hadn't told them. I really didn't have an answer.

Saturday, February 12, 2005

Wal-Mart Brings Child Labor Back

from The New York Times
Wal-Mart has faced previous child labor charges. In March 2000, Maine fined the company $205,650 for violations of child labor laws in every one of the 20 stores in the state. In January 2004, a weeklong internal audit of 128 stores found 1,371 instances in which minors apparently worked too late at night, worked during school hours or worked too many hours in a day. Company officials said the audit was faulty and had incorrectly found that some youths had worked on school days when, in fact, those days were holidays.

Friday, February 11, 2005

Assorted Nerds Ask: Will China Be the Next Superpower?

They've got a lot of poor people with no rights, if that's what is meant by "economic powerhouse," etc., in the business press. Yes, that can translate into high profits--for foreign investors and the government officials who set up the deals. What happens to the rest of us is incidental. There may be some benefits; probably a lot of harm done to people in both countries.

As to China becoming a military rival of ours, it's sort of a weird fascination. Obviously the government is in a position to do very well, considering the wealth of "human capital" they have to attract investment. Which means more money for guns and bombs so they can be better tyrants and repress their population even more and cause all kind of trouble in the region, etc. And, yes, maybe someday even pose a threat to the US. But if that's so much of a concern now, it doesn't make much sense to participate in it.

Thursday, February 10, 2005

A Passionate Response, and My Reply

First of all, we do not live in a democracy, so it would be ridiculous to expect that our media serve as a democratic institution. The media actually functions in much the same way that government does. It is a pluralistic system of competing interests. As there is an audience, a program will arise and as there is a program, generally an audience will arrive. If this fails to occur than the idea or media has little saliency in the polity.... And, as for the polarization of the media; is that not a little more intellectually honest than the preposterous notion of an unbiased news source? I actually prefer the more candid, up-front bias. Just as it was in the old days...

European news coverage is no more broad than that of America. Most nations have only one major newspaper. The United States can count at least 5 papers all over a million in circulation.... In fact, a good bit of the "broad" international reporting that you speak of comes from Reuters and the AP, all of which are posted in every major newspaper throughout the world. Here is an interesting note, however, of all the major western countries, the US is the only with no tabloid style paper in the top 5. Do you consider Camilla, the Page Six girls, and French popstars to be a broad news gathering experience? Once more, your vaunted BBC can be heard on NPR. Does the BBC broadcast American news programs to its listeners to give them another perspective? NO, what you consider to be broad coverage are reporters who all work from the same organization, but report from different parts of the globe.

...The fact of the matter is that it takes a certain kind of person to have broad interests outside of their own lives and communities. There is no greater number of those in Europe than in America. And for those in America, there are 400 cable channels, thousands of online newspapers, BBC on NPR and streaming 24 hours a day, and millions of websites great and small.

Of course Europeans complain that the world and media are to America-centric and that we do not have to learn about them as much as they about us. But, isn't that common sense? We have been a dominant power for 60, some say 100, years. It is only reasonable that we receive more coverage. We have a much greater impact on the world. We give more money, by a gross proportion, than any other nation. We consume more resources, we import more, we export more, we have been the leading source of technological advancement. I could go on and on, but like Tony Bliar said, the measure of the country is the number of people trying to get in rather than leave. If we are so narrow, why do the aristocracies of the world send their children here for education? Why is the United Nations here? Why the financial and political center of the world? Simply having those institutions would seem to mean that there are a variety of sources from which the citizens can, and do I might add, learn.

I will not deny that many Americans are ignorant about other cultures and geopolitcal struggles. But, it is a fallacy to think ignorance and exceptional American trait.

I think what you are talking about is developing a more informed citizenry rather than the facade of too few and too narrow media sources. And I imagine you would rather like to have control of what exactly those people digest from the media.

I don't think the idea of US democracy or its meaningful application in our everyday lives is ridiculous at all, and I'm sure you don't either. And while I'm interested to hear your many views, I'm not interested in arguing or defending points that 1) I never made, or 2) that I in fact agree with since they don't bear on anything I said. For instance, I never said anything about Americans having less access to other sources of information than anybody else (the central thrust of what I understand to be your response); my argument was that the programming which serves our communities is less sophisticated and less broad by comparative standards due to (I think) uniquely high levels of media consolidation and lack of regulation in these markets (again, comparatively). (E.g., It's generally recognized that the "spectrum of debate" in the US--liberal vs. conservative--is ridiculously narrow compared to other places, which incorporate a much wider range of political views.) Other than that, nothing much to add to what I've already said.

But let me ask you another question. How is a government run news program more democratic and less oriented to propaganda than a multi-various selection of private news organizations?

There's no reason to expect that it would be. Institutions are democratic to the extent that people have meaningful control over them. That means participating in them--something which highly-concentrated ownership of any kind precludes, regardless of form. If we want democratic media that reflects the concerns of the general public, media ownership and control should be diffused, thus widening the scope of involvement.

Also, what makes you think that Americans are less sophisticated and broad in their media selections?

The fact that the programming is less sophisticated and less broad, something that correlates closely to centralization of media power and absence of (potential) counterveiling forces (in the form of regulation, etc.) which still exist elsewhere. Personally, I think this accounts for the increasingly hostile denunciations of media as "liberal" or "conservative," depending on orientation. When there's only one voice which explains reality, it's only natural that you want it to be yours.
Democracy vs. Capitalism

The conflict between democracy and capitalism is that private ownership and management of productive property excludes popular participation in the central economic decisions that affect everyone (except in cases where such ownership is so diffuse that it extends to most people in the society; no longer the case here, if ever). Individual action and participation means more than going to the polls every four years. It means acting and participating in the institutions of the society, not being excluded from them on the grounds that some specialized class (bureaucrats, executives, generals, royalty, clerics, etc.) reserve this right for themselves, whatever the benevolence of their intentions. In the former Soviet Union, this centralization of power developed in the form of a totalitarian state; in the US, as collectivist legal entities (corporations). In the USSR, the state largely dominated economic institutions; in the US, corporate power dramatically pervades the state. In either case the effects on the general population have been a profound attenuation of their influence over the society--a striking parallel between systems, despite many other (not minor) differences.

Tuesday, February 08, 2005

What Do You Think?

A question I came across today:
As [with] the majority of Canadians I consider my views on political issues to be very liberal and I've only too often noticed that Americans seem to take a more conservative root when debating political issues such as drug laws, abortion and same sex marriage all of which I have no problems with. So my question is for any Americans; why is it that you guys are so conservative where did these values root from? is it a religious thing or is it just something that you believe in? or am I making to much of a generalization?

The reason I think this way is because I see your presidents views and notice that you had no problem re-electing him.

Honesty Needed on Social Security

from The Denver Post
With almost 50 years of solvency ahead of us, we have the time to determine the best way to invest our Social Security dues without engaging in risky schemes or cutting benefits. Unfortunately, President Bush is taking a different approach because he does not believe in the program. He is creating an artificial urgency to help push a solution in search of a problem.

Saturday, February 05, 2005

Of Lies, and Lying Liars

from The Center for Economic and Policy Research
Social Security is currently more financially sound than it has been throughout most of its entire history. To cover any shortfalls that may occur over the next 75 years would require less than we came up with in each of the decades of the 1950s, 60s, 70s, or 80s. All we have to do to save Social Security is to keep the privatizers' hands off of it.

Friday, February 04, 2005

EPA Study Accused of Predetermined Finding

from The New York Times
The Environmental Protection Agency's inspector general charged on Thursday that the agency's senior management instructed staff members to arrive at a predetermined conclusion favoring industry when they prepared a proposed rule last year to reduce the amount of mercury emitted from coal-fired power plants.

Mercury, which can damage the neurological development of fetuses and young children, has been found in increasingly high concentrations in fish in rivers and streams in the United States.
Mayor of New York "Not Very Republican" on Social Security, Challenger Says

from The New York Times
"I've never thought that privatizing Social Security made a lot of sense," said [New York mayor Michael R.] Bloomberg, who, like Mr. Bush, is a Republican. "I think what you'd see is that people would invest...unwisely."

He added, "These are not monies that people should be speculating with."

...[Former City Council minority leader] Mr. Ognibene used Mr. Bloomberg's comments to once again paint him as a disloyal Republican. "He's trying to be negative rather than be supportive of the president's initiative to try to save Social Security," Mr. Ognibene said yesterday. "From that point of view, it's not very Republican."
Study: When the False Comes First, People Forget the Correction

from The Wall Street Journal
The news media would do well to keep in mind that once we report something, some people will always believe it even if we try to stuff the genie back in the bottle. For instance, six months after the invasion, one-third of Americans believed WMDs had been found, even though every such tentative claim was discomfirmed. The findings also offer Machiavellian possibilities for politicians. They can make a false claim that helps their cause, contritely retract it -- and rest assured that some people will nevertheless keep thinking of it as true.

Thursday, February 03, 2005

School of the Americas

from The North American Congress on Latin America
The United States uses its power to penetrate and transform other states for its own purposes, a defining feature of imperialism. In the Americas, U.S. hegemony has always depended on soldiers to uphold a particular kind of capitalist order, and regional military forces have long served as basic tools of this U.S. imperial project. The [School of the Americas] has played a vital role in this undertaking, having trained over 60,000 troops from its post-WWII founding to its 2001 reincarnation as the [Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation]. It forms part of a hydra-headed repressive apparatus-encompassing armies, police forces, paramilitaries, arms manufacturers and think tanks-that consumes ever-more public resources as cold war pretexts give way to neoliberal policies generating widespread discontent. This apparatus, and the School's role within it, remains important as regional governments rely on the armed forces to control the social and economic disorder that, to a considerable degree, results from their own policies.
For the Mightiest Nation, War is Fun

from BBC News
The US Marine Corps has publicly upbraided one of its generals for his comments describing shooting people in Iraq as "fun".

Discussing fighting in Iraq, the General said he liked brawling and enjoyed shooting people.

The Marine Corps said Lt Gen James Mattis had been "counselled" concerning his remarks, made during a panel discussion in California.

Tuesday, February 01, 2005

Human Rights Watch Condemns Meatpacking Industry

from The New York Times
For the first time, Human Rights Watch has issued a report that harshly criticizes a single industry in the United States, concluding that working conditions among the nation's meatpackers and slaughterhouses are so bad that they violate basic human rights.

The report, released yesterday, frequently echoes Upton Sinclair's classic on the industry, "The Jungle." It finds that jobs in many beef, pork and poultry plants are sufficiently dangerous to breach international agreements promising a safe workplace.
Remembering Operation Paperclip

from BBC News
The CIA has been urged to release documents about Nazi war criminals hired by US intelligence officials during the Cold War era.

See also CIA Admits Employing Nazis
War at Wal-Mart

from Business Week
The AFL-CIO is planning an effort modeled on its powerful get-out-the-vote political machine. Headed by a veteran labor and Democratic politico, Ellen Moran, it aims to engage hundreds or even thousands of union members to do mailings, phone banks, and work-site visits to convince labor households and, later, the public, that Wal-Mart undercuts living standards. The campaign won't call for a boycott, but labor leaders say focus group studies they've done show that some people may shop elsewhere if told of Wal-Mart's actions.
For American Companies, a Gift from the Public

from The New York Times
When Congress passed a one-time tax break on foreign profits last fall, lawmakers said their main purpose was to encourage American companies to build new operations and hire more workers at home.

But as corporations are gearing up to bring tens of billions of dollars back to the United States this year, adding jobs is far from their highest priority. Indeed, some companies say they might end up cutting their work forces.
Halliburton's Inflated Costs Keep Generals Guessing (and Undersupplied)

from The Wall Street Journal
In December, Halliburton's giant Kellogg Brown & Root unit, which provides basic services such as food, postal service and telephones to the 150,000 U.S. troops in Iraq, submitted a detailed estimate to the Pentagon for expected spending in the year starting May 1, based on a list of Army requirements. The company said its costs for the year could exceed $10 billion.

But the Army has budgeted just $3.6 billion to support the KBR- provided services during the same period -- nearly $7 billion less than KBR's estimate.

Since then, the Army has been trimming its requests to close the gap. In an interview, Gen. George Casey said the difference now stands at closer to $4 billion. Still, he said, "To say that we're not worried would not be true. Someone has made some assumptions that have driven the costs through the roof."