The Eyes of Labor Are Upon Us

The Eyes of Labor Are Upon Us

Hollywood’s writers and actors are giving new energy and a prominent voice to the struggles of workers everywhere.

When I heard Fran Drescher, president of SAG-AFTRA, make the case for her union members, I was moved.

Did you know that 87% of SAG-AFTRA union members don’t qualify for health insurance? How much do they have to make to qualify? $26,000 a year. In other words, only a select few top earners make big money. Everyone else is barely getting by. This is a working person’s struggle for rights, respect, and compensation.

And the lords of the entertainment universe are not pleased…

“The endgame is to allow things to drag on until union members start losing their apartments and losing their houses,” a studio executive told Deadline.

Meanwhile, Disney CEO Bob Iger (who made $45.9 million in 2021) said, “There’s a level of expectation that they have, that is just not realistic.” What’s not realistic is the idea that income inequality will go unchallenged. It’s unrealistic to think that we “the people,” will continue to passively take whatever the corporations we support with our labor and our buying power dish out.

In her speech, Fran Drescher said:

It’s really important that this negotiation be covered because the eyes of the world, and particularly the eyes of labor are upon us. What happens here is important because what’s happening to us is happening across all fields of labor by means when employers make Wall Street and greed their priority, and they forget about the essential contributors that make the machine run.

Greed is a deadly disease. The good news is there’s a cure and the labor unions in this country have an outsized role to play in providing this cure.

“An entire system incentivized to exploit workers.” There’s nothing more American than that. Not when you consider that unpaid forced labor helped create countless American fortunes.

Tragically, the exploitation of workers of every race is woven into the fabric of this nation. You don’t need a degree in American history to know that American workers in meat-packing plants, in mines, and in garment factories (to name a few) have died in this struggle.

To highlight what Fran Drescher said in her rousing speech:

We stand in solidarity, in unprecedented unity. Our union and our sister unions and the unions around the world are standing by us, as well as other labor unions, because at some point the jig is up. You cannot keep being dwindled and marginalized and disrespected and dishonored.
This is a moment of truth and inside of this truth, we can more clearly see how wrong things have gone in our corporations, our branches of government, our schools, and our media. We can see how broken we are and what widespread corruption and malfeasance does to society.

American freedom is a point of honor, but how free are people who work themselves to the bone, who neglect their mental and physical well-being, and who shirk their responsibilities at home? How free are people who work all day and yet they can barely afford rent, utilities, food, or medicine?
America is the richest nation on earth, and in my lifetime, this wealth has grown exponentially, particularly since the dawn of digital. What I have yet to see is an attendant growth in generosity from those who benefit most (or any legislation to make them pay their fair share of taxes, at the very least).

Income disparity today is ugly and alarming. On average, CEOs today receive about 398 times the annual average salary of production and non-supervisory workers in their firms. It’s disgusting and wrong, and it’s time to turn this tide. It’s time for workers to unite and demand fairer treatment for all.

The 12 Point Plan to Save America

I hear a chorus of cautious and concerned voices in the mainstream media warning Democrats to refrain from pushing their agenda too far to the left. When you’re on the inside looking out, I suppose you’ll do that.

Here’s what I believe: Hesitation kills and this is the absolute worst time in American history to play it safe. The federal government is broken. It does not need a tune-up. It needs a complete overhaul or it’ll never run again.

Were I able to mold a candidate from human clay (as Karl Rove has done), I’d put the following platform forward.

The 12 Point Plan to Save America

1- Reinstate the draft and make military service (or the equivalent public works service) mandatory. It’s the only way to run an Empire.

2- Simultaneously reduce the size of the Empire. We currently maintain more than 800 military bases in 70 countries overseas. Britain, France and Russia, by contrast, have 30 foreign bases combined. Let’s reduce the footprint to 200 total overseas bases and put all those dollars saved into infrastructure and social services.

3- Make Election Day a national holiday and encourage the use of mail-in ballots and paper ballots (to prevent hacking and boost participation rates).

4- Treat guns like cars. Own as many as you want, but each gun must be registered with the state and you must prove you’re competent with firearms (via regular testing) in order to have a license.

5- House the homeless and provide universal healthcare for all people and all conditions. If you need to know how we will pay for it, we will close more than 600 overseas military bases. See #2 above.

6- Outlaw for-profit prisons and turn all but the most high-security prisons into mobile work camps, where people work outside on farms and on other infrastructure projects.

7- Encourage corporations to focus on their triple bottom line and provide job training and jobs via a public/private partnership dedicated to improving our city, county, state, and national parks; providing affordable and efficient public transportation; and creating sustainable energy and agriculture solutions.

8- Make all campaigns for public office publicly funded and remove all dark money from the process entirely.

9- Welcome refugees and put them on a fast track to citizenship and job training.

10- Officially recognize and apologize for our original sins—slavery and genocide—and make restitution to the victims’ offspring. Also, establish two new memorials on The Mall in Washington, DC.

11- Pay our best teachers as much or more than lawyers. See #2 above.

12- Create a North American partnership with Mexico and Canada where all citizens can easily travel and work in any of the three nations.

Maria from Monterrey

I wrote this poem after visiting a photo exhibit at Mexic-Arte Museum in downtown Austin.

Maria from Monterrey

It’s not terribly far, as a bird flies, from Monterrey to Laredo
Young Maria’s journey was wingless
She moved at night, her thirst unsatisfied
Coyotes and owls shared their star-lit canyons
When she slept she had bad dreams of home

Maria finished fourth grade at Santo Nino Elementary
The family moved to San Antonio for a year
English slid smoothly from her tongue
Sister Sarah said she could go to college
“Do they have scholarships for Dreamers?”

Her softball coach was no Nun
Her history teacher spit white lies
Maria found some solace in science
She played her flute by the lake
Butterflies swooned, Suzy, the poodle exhaled

The people of Laredo named her “Best Dental Hygienist”
Maria was always careful with the instruments
Her husband the handsome highway engineer
They made friends with other parents at the pool
She never served a casserole

When Don descended the neighbors turned
The lady at daycare asked for her papers
The dental group let her go
America turned its lights down
Maria cursed the powers that be

Now, heavy white clouds roll in from the Gulf
Torrential rains pound the dry Earth
Maria bathes half-naked in the yard
Her minerality is pure Meximerican
Her spirit, mighty Texican

America’s Priorities Are Plain To See

America’s Priorities Are Plain To See

Military spending in the United States eats up more than half of our nation’s “discretionary spending,” or the portion of the budget that the president requests and Congress appropriates every year.

Yet, you don’t hear cries for change when it comes to military spending. We can’t deprive the American military its right to might. That would be unpatriotic.

Fact: Our Taxes Prop Up The Empire

Can we talk about putting a peaceful end to the American Empire? When you weigh the damage we do, it’s clearly the merciful and sustainable thing to do.

Did you know that U.S. military bases, both domestic and foreign, consistently rank among some of the most polluted places in the world, as perchlorate and other components of jet and rocket fuel contaminate sources of drinking water, aquifers and soil?

Despite recently closing hundreds of bases in Iraq and Afghanistan, the United States maintains nearly 800 military bases in more than 70 countries and territories abroad. For emphasis, please allow me to scream in type: 800 OVERSEAS BASES!

Britain, France and Russia, by contrast, have 30 foreign bases combined.

From private prison profiteers to arms dealers and oilmen, the white men who run the Empire have a lot at stake. A lot to lose, you might say. Can you see why they’re so afraid? They believe in their own supremacy at all costs, literally at all costs.

We’re Nowhere Near The Change We Need

We can hope for change, hope that we get money out of politics, hope that we restore the illusion of democracy, and we can do our part while maintaining hope. We can also start to admit the things that so few of us want to admit. We are a nation built on genocide and slavery, and today we continue the bloodbath we started here on a global stage.

With the help of 139 Democrats, the House of Representatives easily passed the 2019 National Defense Authorization Act last month.

Just how aligned are Rs and Ds when it comes to preservation of the Empire (which we, the People, clearly can’t afford)? The vote was 359-54 in the House for the authorization. The Senate voted 87-10. In other words, we’re a long distance from the kind of systemic change this country needs.

According to NPR, the bill sped through both houses of Congress as the nation’s military continues waging war in Afghanistan, Syria, Yemen, Iraq, Niger, Libya, Somalia and an untold number of other global hot spots.

Congress matched dollar-for-dollar what the Pentagon asked for. The $716 billion in spending authorized by the bill is $16 billion more than what Congress approved for the fiscal year 2018.

Don Don now has a $717 billion war chest. The bill specifically authorizes $616.9 billion for the base Pentagon budget, $21.9 billion for nuclear weapons programs under the Energy Department, and another $69 billion in war spending from the special Overseas Contingency Operations account.

How does that make you feel?

In the Political Arena, Facts Are Like Fossils

When people stop believing in facts, and the mainstream media stops reporting facts, we are a lost people.

That’s a fact.

Cheri Jacobus, a member of USA TODAY’s Board of Contributors and a Republican consultant, is advocating for a fact-based solution to the current state of factlessness in American media and politics.

Non-Trump media are routinely tripped up and slow to fact-check, opting instead to simply repeat the misinformation, acting as mere stenographers, or providing airtime to Trump mouthpieces. The public has to wait hours for the truth and wade through a myriad of outlets to get it. Democrats (and other anti-Trump voices) need to fight the daily Trump lies and distractions in the same type of venue and forum in real time. A daily fact-checking, anti-corruption briefing that follows the White House briefing or other Trump-related breaking news, akin to the opposition party’s response to a State of the Union address, is in order. A lean team of professional press secretaries backed by fact-checkers can provide a quick, real-time check on Trump and defenders like Sanders, Kellyanne Conway and Rep. Devin Nunes.

I like her idea to fact check Don Don all day every day, but it’s not enough. While it’s true that millions of people don’t know the facts, it’s also true they don’t want to know the facts. So, a fact-based narrative like the one HRC relied on isn’t a winning strategy against a comic book hero. To beat Don Don, the Dems need their own comic book hero, who is focused on an entirely different narrative.

In other words, you don’t let Don Don set the agenda, and you don’t bother addressing his lies. You move the conversation to a better place. Like Obama, you provide the kind of hopeful vision that moves people to vote. For the Democrats, you’d think hammering away at how corrupt the Republican Party has become under Trump would be a no-brainer, but it’s not that simple. When almost all politicians from both parties are owned outright by their corporate backers, it’s hard to stand on principle.

Instead of being the less corrupt of the two choices, the opposition party would be wise to paint a new picture for people. For instance, when you run on free healthcare and education for all citizens paid for by massive cuts to the Pentagon’s budget, there’s a clear difference available to the voter. It seems that many candidates want to please the middle, instead of sounding the alarm. I understand the desire for normalcy, but there’s nothing at all normal about America today.

Simple Hard Truths Wrapped in the Flag

As an American, it pains me to see our nation suffer the indignities that come daily with the loss of our democracy and weakening of our institutions. As a communications professional, it’s doubly painful to realize how a smart brand strategy would help lift the Democrats out of the hole we are all in. Right now, Democrats have a lot of high ground to claim, but they’re not currently occupying this messaging territory:

  • Democrats are the true patriots and defenders of American freedom
  • Democrats are, by far, the most successful business people
  • Democrats support women, senior citizens, and people of color

Aside from a tight messaging strategy, it’s high time for bold actions, so I was pleased to see Oregon Senator Jeff Merkley make his way to McAllen, Texas over the weekend to check on immigrant detainees at a federally-funded facility there. The shelter’s supervisor would not talk to Merkley other than to refer him to the Health and Human Services public affairs office in Washington, D.C. He was denied entry, which begs the question, who is more powerful—a mid-level Trump bureaucrat or a U.S. Senator from Oregon?

They turned Merkley away at the gate this time, but the story isn’t over. There are innocent and vulnerable children inside this makeshift prison, plus frightened young mothers and others fleeing persecution in Central America.

Who will speak for the downtrodden? Who in Congress or the media is righteous enough, brave enough, and smart enough to effectively battle at this level? Jeff Merkley from Oregon, Kirsten Gillibrand from New York, and Kamala Harris from California are three Democratic Senators that come quickly to mind. One or more of these national leaders will likely be on the ticket in 2020. In the meantime, they can continue to tell the criminals in charge to go to hell and use the courts, denial of funding, and other Senatorial pressure to make this national embarrassment right.

Black Mirror Is The Clearest Mirror of All

Black Mirror, the Netflix series now in its fourth season, makes an indelible impression on the soft parts of the brain. Season 3, episode 1, in particular, is perfect TV programming for the Digital Age. Vox calls the “Nosedive” episode a social media nightmare dressed like a pastel daydream.

The episode imagines a world where Instagram-friendly perfection reigns, with disastrous consequences. The main character, Lacie, like everyone around her conducts herself according to the points system. When you manage to please people, your score goes higher. When you fail to please people your score falls. In this dystopia, your aggregate score isn’t just an ego boost, it determines access to services.

I highly recommend watching “Nosedive.” We are already captives of our screens and therefore we are controlled to a degree by our impulses and by corporate and political forces that are not always plainly evident. Digital media, like traditional media, can be a means for implementing a system of control. By owning a particular point of view—true or untrue—the media owner helps shapes the story and imparts meaning.

In a totalitarian state, the draconian nature of media’s role is even more dangerous. According to Wired, people in China are living the “Nosedive” reality, today:

In China, the government is developing the Social Credit System (SCS) to rate the trustworthiness of its 1.3 billion citizens. The Chinese government is pitching the system as a desirable way to measure and enhance “trust” nationwide and to build a culture of “sincerity”. As the policy states, “It will forge a public opinion environment where keeping trust is glorious. It will strengthen sincerity in government affairs, commercial sincerity, social sincerity and the construction of judicial credibility.”

Forget all about, “smile on your brother.” It’s time to report on your brother, sister, coworker, and neighbor.

How long before the American government wants to implement a social scoring system like China’s? Some would argue that we have it now thanks to Facebook. One thing is for sure, we do already have a credit score that determines what kind of car you drive and what kind of home you live in. Adding a social scoring system to existing points-based awards programs would allow good citizens to downgrade people like me, who point to societal problems and fixate on the solutions. What an ingenious and insidious way to further isolate dissidents, activists, artists, and intellectuals.

The man is no joke. But the man can be beaten. You’re in control of your screen time and how you use it. For some, it’s important to turn off location tracking, disable cookies, and keep privacy settings on Facebook or Instagram tight. For those who actively court a wider audience via digital channels, keeping privacy on lockdown isn’t as important. I’d argue that all users of digital media platforms can benefit from a periodic detox and digital media check-ups. If the way you use Facebook today makes you anxious or sad, delete your account. If you have to fend off trolls on Twitter, report them, block them, and keep doing what you need to do.

On an individual level, we can lift our heads up toward the sky and sun and moon. The default position with neck craned and eyes strained is embarrassingly poor form. Let’s ask more of ourselves and each other. Let’s look each other in the eye and speak honestly. It’s not too late and you’re not the only one who longs for phone calls from friends and family, instead of an email or text. Short bursts of writing are lazy. Step up and write a handwritten letter and send it in the mail. The receiver will be surprised and pleased that you took the time.

Noise Makers, a poem

Noise Makers (Two for One, Today Only)

The Circus is no longer kid-friendly
What’s all this clankity clank?
Who dares to rattle the cage?
Why are all the clowns on stage?
We can’t see the lion eat his tamer

Downward we spiral into the Dungeons of Deceit
Unfree people in patriots purgatory
Shall we cry out?
How do we climb out?

Amplified trash grows and glows
Poets Howl
Filling vacant minds with word gas

Ignited we rise
Distracted we fall
Break glass in case of fire

Barking sirens, dogs in chains
The city says tat tat tat
Another hot pistol
The ring has no master
Go ahead — scream!

Still, the beasts roar
You are free to rhyme
With this well-intentioned reason

When the game gets rough
Hotheads go puff puff
Hands off my stuff
I never get enough

Break Out of the Culture of Complicity

I’m a guy. Therefore, other guys expect me to be like them (a guy’s guy). But, I have never been that guy, a fact that disappoints some men, and makes a certain percentage of them afraid of me.

Many men expect other men to understand their need for sexual conquest, and to have their backs. Sadly, millions of complicit men have learned to nod along or to look away from the bad behavior of men near them, because they find it too hard to challenge another man or a group of men.

No one wants to be the lone wolf, but I’m well suited for it. When I was in college, I joined a fraternity for three months, before walking away in disgust. I was then known as a GDI, which stands for “god damn independent,” neatly showcasing the wide acceptance for independent thinking at our nation’s colleges.

Have you ever considered why so many young women are viciously preyed upon and attacked while attending college? Could it have anything to do with fraternity brothers glorifying and in some cases demanding sexual conquest from their frat brothers, and then encouraging or demanding that the details of the “sex” act be shared and celebrated widely throughout the brotherhood?

I distinctly recall a guy from another college bragging to me, and our mutual friend, about how he and his frat brothers penetrated a girl with a lacrosse stick while she was unconscious from alcohol overuse. The fact that this happened is horrific. The fact that the guy thought we wanted to hear about the crime and someone celebrate it with him is the larger sickness.

Dirty old men don’t just get that way one day by chance. Many of them have been sexual predators for decades. Some are sly about it and pursue their sick attacks until caught. Others, like Don Trump, are utter buffoons who brag about it, just like they did back at the frat house.

Mimi Kramer, former New Yorker theater critic and longtime writer on books and popular culture explains the impulse behind sexual harassment.

It’s about getting away with something. It’s about seeming to be one sort of person, a ‘pillar of the community’ — responsible, dignified, respectable, a family man, a liberal, a progressive, Presidential, whatever — while really being A Very Bad Boy. That’s exciting for some men. Not the being bad part. The getting-away-with-it part. It isn’t just about power over individuals, the women you victimize. It’s about power over society and the court of public opinion, the thrill of risking everything on one roll of the dice, knowing that it isn’t really all that much of a risk — because nobody will believe her.

Now, the question is where do you, as a man, stand? Are you with the sexual predators and harassers? Or are you with the women of the world?

If you’re with the women of the world who are your sisters, mothers, and daughters, then it’s time to stand up and be heard. Next time some jackass starts spouting off, or whatever other sexist bullshit the guy is pulling, intervene. Not because the woman in question can’t defend herself—intervene because you can’t stand the pattern of abuse for one more moment.

There have times in my own life when I failed to intervene and take down a predator. I hope those days are behind me now, and that I can find the strength to kick the living shit out of the patriarchy (while consciously working to remove any shreds of sexist indecency that continue to live inside of me—after all, I was raised in and live in this deeply sexist culture).

Faux Cowboy Seeks To Lasso Our Public Lands

Extraction. American industrialists posses a voracious appetite for it. In fact, their hunger for more precious metals, oil, and coal is so great, they want to find these untapped riches in our National Monuments.

Thankfully, REI is taking a strong leadership role in the resistance, and actively encouraging its members to step up and help protect our natural heritage.

Our country’s public lands define who we are. These are the places where we work, where we play and where we connect to our shared history. Now is the time to stand up for these places—places that help us live a life outdoors.

Right now, the Department of the Interior, headed by Secretary Ryan Zinke, is undertaking an unprecedented review of 27 national monuments established by presidents from both parties since 1996, including the San Gabriel Mountains in California, Craters of the Moon in Idaho, and Bears Ears in Utah. More than 11 million acres of national public land are at stake.

The Department of the Interior wants to hear from you. And we want to make it easy for you to speak up.

REI’s business is at stake. Taking 11 million acres of public land off the table isn’t just a violation of everything sacred and good, it’s a direct threat to the outdoor recreation industry and the travel and tourism industry. It’s good to see REI fight back. Too many companies hesitate when faced with tough social and political issues. No one wants to offend customers. At the same time, brand managers know they can’t be all things to all people, especially today.

In February, both REI and Patagonia supported pulling out of a major outdoor trade show in Salt Lake City in response to a resolution from Utah’s Gov. Gary Herbert that advised President Donald Trump to overturn Bears Ears as a national monument. Companies like Patagonia and REI are powerful enough to make Utah pay the price for their public official’s backwards ideas. But will it be enough to move the needle and restore common sense throughout the land? No, but it’s a start.

It’s such an odd moment in America. Don and his wrecking crew are busy doing damage to our institutions and traditions. Meanwhile, American brands fight the good fight. Bring all the skepticism you want, but REI and Patagonia aren’t playing marketing games here. This is real, and it’s also a showcase for the power of PR and brand activism. When a movement is backed by an active and loyal community of customers and fueled by an activist company or group of companies, it can be a powerful force for good. Companies haven’t usurped the role of non-profits, nor will they. This increased activism is an added layer of pressure, and an effective one.

America’s Priorities Are Plain To See

The Mixed Up Men Behind The Obfuscator In Chief

When I was 18 years old, I walked into the offices of The College Reporter in Lancaster, PA and soon thereafter my work as a reporter commenced.

My time as a college journalist was difficult but educational. The administration threatened to sue me and frat boys banned me from their parties and wanted to kick my ass. Their anger and outlandish behavior drove me to dig deeper and write better news stories. That’s how journalists operate. They seek the truth in the face of massive resistance and obstruction, no matter what. It can be a highly adversarial occupation—so much so that dozens of journalists are murdered each year.

The truth hurts. In fact, truth sears the flesh of fascists. According to The New York Times, senior liar to the president, Steve Bannon, gave the press a tongue-lashing this week:

“The media here is the opposition party. They don’t understand this country. They still do not understand why Donald Trump is the president of the United States. That’s why you have no power,” he added. “You were humiliated.”

This is the criticism of a savvy media manipulator who ran Breitbart, a hate site far right of Fox News, until Don officially added him to his team last summer.

Could it be that am I too far removed from the Heartland of my birth to now understand the dynamic at work in America? Am I humiliated, as Bannon claims? No, I am embarrassed for the country, a sentiment shared by media pros from coast to coast.

Steve Bannon holds his false staff in a sea of snakes. His divining rod is no good.

Many Americans are in the dark. At the same time, we are in the Age of Radical Transparency, which means it’s nearly impossible to hide the truth. For all the recent talk of fake news and how it threw the election, it’s important to realize that Bannon’s fakes are not at all convincing. MIT Media Lab professor, Ethan Zuckerman, reports:

Preliminary analysis conducted by the Media Cloud team at MIT and Harvard suggests that while fake news stories spread during the 2016 US election, they were hardly the most influential media in the dialog. In tracking 1.4 million news stories shared on Facebook from over 10,000 news sites, the most influential fake news site we found ranked 163rd in our list of most shared sources. Yes, fake news happens, but its impact and visibility comes mostly from mainstream news reporting about fake news.

Bannon has also gone on record as a Leninist who seeks to dismantle all American institutions. Will Bannon’s venomous lies topple the press and the way we govern in this “free country”? I am doubtful. The fact is Bannon’s lies that flow from Don’s mouth on a daily basis are mostly noise, and now that the press is calling a lie a lie, and getting their backbone back, the fight is on for real. “The Steve and Don Show” might be the greatest reality TV program ever made, but like all reality TV programs, it’s a highly produced show that can and will be cancelled.

In related news, last Christmas President Obama quietly signed into law the Countering Disinformation and Propaganda Act, a bill introduced by U.S. Senators Rob Portman (R-OH) and Chris Murphy (D-CT). “Our enemies are using foreign propaganda and disinformation against us and our allies, and so far the U.S. government has been asleep at the wheel,” Portman said.

Perhaps we need another law to protects us from the propaganda emanating from the White House and Republican “leaders” on Capitol Hill. In the meantime, I will rely on journalists to dig, learn and reveal on our behalf. We the people have our own role to play as readers who subscribe to our nation’s best newspapers and magazines, as citizen journalists, as neighbors, friends and colleagues. Lies do die out, but right now in America the lies must be killed.