Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Acme Screws Over Employees

I received an email from a friend of mine whose employers have suddenly decided to take advantage of the poor economy and dismal job market and force a non-negotiable contract down their Labor Union's throat. This is becoming pretty common these days; it is getting to the point that Unions aren't even doing a good job of protecting employees. I'm just going to reprint her email in its entirety and let it speak for itself...

So, a couple of weeks ago, June 9th, I believe, we all got phone calls from the Union president stating that Acme had taken a blatantly initimidating step in the negotiating process by sending "us" their "Last, Best, and Final Offer". See, we've been working under an extension of our old contract since February of 2008. The company and the union met 39 times between then and now, and the biggest sticking points were raises, health benefits and pension. That same night we all got phone calls from Acme President Judy Spires explaining that the LBAFO was being sent to us, that it would be in everyone's best interests for us to accept it, and thanking us for all that we do. Since then we've gotten letters and phone calls almost daily from both the company and the union. Every day people from all over Acme Markets have been in our store meeting with us one-on-one and in small groups to answer any questions we have and again explaining to us that this is it--there will be no better offer, and in fact, if we vote against this offer, than the offer could get progressively worse. We've had packets mailed to our house, we've had DVDs mailed to our house...

Unfortunately the Union is spread much thinner, so they've not been as big a presence in the store. We have a meeting tonight at the Spectrum to both vote on the contract and to vote on whether to temporarily raise Union Dues for everyone in UFCW to help us out (read: if we strike) like we all did when Alberston's California workers were on strike for four months several years ago. IN FACT, the company has brought in union workers from California to tell us all how if they had that choice to make again, they'd take the contract. So we're all traipsing downtown tonight, but really, with thousands and thousands of people invited, how are we really going to get all our questions answered? It's going to be more like a free-for-all...

I've read the LBAFO. On the surface, while it ain't great, it ain't horrible, either. The company is calling it a flat contract--no loss, no gain. They're taking money from one place to put it another place (they want to offer us cheaper lump sums instead of raises to offset health care and pension costs). I realize how great I've had it all these years not paying ANYTHING for my health care coverage, so I would absolutely be willing to pay the $20.00 per month they're asking (don't tell anyone I admitted that). The problems with the offer, as I see it, are as follows:

1) There are several instances where it simply says "Delete Article XYZ in it's entirety" without any mention of what the article is. Then when you go look it up in the current Collective Bargaining agreement you realize that it's something really important like Death Benefits or rules governing when one can retire, or something saying that they're going to eliminate all "past practices"--stuff that we've fought really hard for in the past.

2) The language is deliberately vague. There have been several instances in these meetings that we've had with the company in which I or my fellow associates have pointed this out and asked targeted questions that the company people have actually had to go get answers for. I don't trust this at all.

3) The new contract basically screws new associates. Is this a huge problem for me? Sorry, no, as long as these new associates have a clear understanding of what they are getting into when they are hired. They make nothing extra Sundays or Holidays, they will pay more for their health care... However, this is a problem for the Union. I see this as slightly hypocritical, as the union charges new associates for their dues the second they start working for us, even though they aren't members for 60 days, but whatever.

4) The final part of the LBAFO states that should the company be required by law to pay more into our pension than they're bargained for, then the money WILL be taken from our agreed-upon lump sum payments AND from even further reduced payments per associate to the Union for our Health Care. Which means that we could end up with no raise or lump sum payments at all and even more drastically-reduced health care coverage then is already in the cards.

I'm not a moron. I know how some people perceive Unions. I also know that these same people often forget that it was grassroots Union organization that laid the groundwork for their own decent wages, working conditions, and health benefits. The problem here is that most of us "little people" feel betrayed by both our company AND our Union. We had NO IDEA that this was coming. We've been humming along, doing the best jobs that we can, and BAM! I feel like the company is blackmailing us with the fact that the economy is in the toilet and economic times are horrible, and I feel like the Union is overlooking what's best for its members because Acme workers are it's biggest membership, so they have a lot at stake here.

So, the company has said that they are not locking us out. The doors will be open on July 10th, and our jobs/work will be available to us. However, once that date passes, they will, piece by piece, be implementing the LBAFO. The union has said that we are not voting to strike tonight. However, if we vote NOT to ratify the contract tonight, what, then, would be the next step? Or, if we DON'T strike, how will the Union view those associates who DO report to work on July 10th? We aren't crossing any sort of picket line, but... The ONLY way we can collect unemployment is if we are locked out, and the company knows that. Just one more way they have us over a barrel.

I've had several people tell me to take these events and use it as the impetus to move on and get out. And you know, that'd be great--if I had ANY sort of savings to fall back on, or if my household was NOT currently a two-Acme-income household. That'd be great if I came from a really rich family and could count on financial help from my relatives during what might play out. I could make all the lemonade I wanted. But you know what? I don't. So yeah, I'm on daily, trying to "impetus" my ass off, but that's not really helping right this very second. This is a job I've held for over 21 years. It might not be the best job in the world, and it certainly might not be the most mentally challenging, but it's a job, and in these tough times I am grateful to have it. The thought of being out of work and trying to take care of my family scares the CRAP out of me.

Oh, and it's interesting to watch how these very facts are dividing my fellow associates. People who live with their parents, or who have parents who are finacially able to make sure that they won't end up in the street, or people with spouses with really terrific and stable non-Acme jobs are all gung-ho to vote "NO"! The rest of us aren't so sure...

So, that, in a nutshell, is what's been going on. You can read about it in the Inquirer online if you search "Acme", and you can go to for the company's views and for the unions. I'll update you once tonight's meeting's held. Should be awful.

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Sanford Fesses Up: Not Hiking Around in Appalachia, but Screwing Around in Argentina

I hate to admit it, but I feel kind of sorry for the guy. Usually, a Republican caught in a sex scandal fills me with a kind of giddy exhilaration; there's nothing like seeing somebody who rants and raves about morality exposed as a gigantic hypocrite. Sanford certainly fit that bill, having previously spoken out against Bill Clinton and Larry Craig during their respective scandals. The fact that recently he had unsuccessfully attempted to deny stimulus package money to his state's education system in order to make some kind of point doesn't make him any less sympathetic.


Booking photograph (mugshot) of {{w|Larry Crai...Image via Wikipedia

As much as I try, I really can't feel to smug about this one. His confession during the news conference was probably the first one I've ever seen that truly seemed heartfelt and sincere. He didn't try to dodge responsibility or be vague about what had happened. Neither did he pull that "If I hurt anyone" crap. He came right out and listed the people his behaviors had hurt, and he firmly apologized for his actions. I also give him credit for not dragging his wife or kids in front of the camera with as support, a scumbag attempt by other lecherous politicians to imply that if his family supports him, the voters should as well.

The whole Argentina escapade only endears me to him more. This was obviously the self-destructive act of a desperate man burning out under the weight of his own duplicitous shenanigans. His wife has apparently knew about the affair for awhile, but was suffering along with it for the sake of the family and Sanford's office. From the sincerity of his confession and apology, I get the feeling that he regretted what he was putting her through.

It was a poisonous relationship that wasn't doing anybody any good. But he was getting away

Bill Clinton, former President of the United S...Image via Wikipedia

with, and was even being allowed to do so by those who already knew. So, with the decision made to stop it all, Sanford literally disappears and creates a series of events that will guarantee that he will get caught. That's why he held the Press Conference without even waiting for anyone to follow the breadcrumbs and break the story.

Even the press conference was the last act of a desperate man. He could have easily released a statement and went into hiding. Instead, he held a public press conference and bared all to anyone willing to listen. This is a guy burning bridges because he doesn't want to live the way he has been, but knows he will continue to do so if he keeps getting away with it. The only way to come full circle was to botch everything beyond recognition, and give himself the excuse to come clean. The Press Conference wasn't for his constituents or the news media; it was his own personal purge and cleansing, a self-motivated emancipation from the sordid mess he had gotten himself into.

Like I said, I hate to say it. But I feel sorry for the guy.

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Nixon Makes Racist Comments From Beyond the Grave!

Recently, I've angered some people by repeatedly questioning whether or not all Republicans

Nixon gives his trademark Image via Wikipedia

are racist. Now, to be perfectly honest, angering Republicans was indeed one of my goals in asking such a blatantly unfair questions. But considering the way in which many Republicans and conservatives casually dismiss the anger that minorities display when disparaging comments are made about them, I think it is only fair that they get some of it back.

On the other hand, it was also a serious question motivated by the startling number of Republican and Conservative political leaders and spokespersons that have been filling the airwaves with racially insensitive remarks in a fairly regular basis. Granted, there has always been an undercurrent of racism in much conservative diatribes, thanks to the ever present immigration and border debates. But the appointment of Sonia Sotomayor to the Supreme Court, no doubt combined with the pent-up aggravation felt by some about the first black President, somehow triggered an opening of the flood gates. Since that announcement, both thinly disguised and utterly blatant racist comments, all spoken by right-wing pundits, have beem showing up on a weekly, and sometimes daily, basis.

Well, just when I was ready to put this question to rest, yet another Republican leader has

Elvis Presley meeting Richard Nixon. On Decemb...Image via Wikipedia

managed to make headlines with yet another racist comment. And this time, the comment is from a dead Republican.

This past Tuesday, the Nixon Presidential Library released over 150 hours of secretly recorded audiotape from the Oval Office. While most of the recordings that gained attention, as well as the over 3,000 pages of documents, had to do with Watergate, there was a tasty little morsel on abortion buried within.

In 1973, when the courts legalized abortion, then President Richard Nixon didn't come out openly against it. The Oval Office tapes, however, catch him discussing the moral implications of legalized abortions. Like most conservatives, Nixon was afraid that allowing abortions lead to a more sexually permissive culture. However, he did believe that there were specific cases in which abortion was acceptable, if not necessary. Like Rape. Or interracial couplings.

"There are times when an abortion is necessary. When you have a black and a white.

Image via Wikipedia

Or a rape."

Nixon did not go on to say "Or a black raping a white," but I have a funny feeling that thought wasn't too far off. Oh, and there are some fun conversations between Nixon and Billy Graham about the self-destructive Jews as well.

So, with dead Republicans spouting racist comments from beyond the grave to add to the public discourse, I really have to raise this question once again. Are all Republicans racist? I know it still sounds like an unfair question, but when I've got dead and living Republicans alike lining up to make headlines with remarks like this, and no major Republicans condemning the statements, it really makes me wonder.

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Super Barack Obama!

I think that this JibJab video of President Barack Obama donning tights and performing super heroic feats, like bringing peace to the Middle East and wrestling bears, is funny no matter which section of the political spectrum you currently reside in. Hell, I like it. Watch it.

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Tuesday, June 23, 2009

CBS News: Iranian Protesters Don't Care What John McCain Thinks

On ABC News, Iranian filmmaker/journalist Kouross Esmaeli commented on the Republican

John McCain waits to deliver speech in Denver,...Image via Wikipedia

criticisms of President Obama's handling of the Iranian Protests in the wake of the blatantly rigged Elections.

Kouross not only emphasized that most Iranians couldn't really care less about the opinions of Senator John McCain, a man who gleefully sang about bombing Iran during the presidential election primaries of 2008, he even went as far as to recognize that the news media as a whole has been implicitly helpful in spreading and disseminating the Republican Party's illogical and politically motivated arguments against President Obama's well calibrated statements on the Iranian uprising.

Iranian protesters as a whole, it seems, have more important things to worry about than the political aspirations of rapidly aging right-wing politicians. Go figure.

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Ron Paul Casts Only Vote Against Iran Resolution

Ron Paul is an odd political beast. Half of the time, he sounds like an insane carnival barker

attempting to persuade us that his bizarre sideshow is worth the price of admission. Other times, however, he manages to appear as the voice of reason in a endless cacophony of maddened voices screaming into the night. Oddly enough, which version of him you see usually depends on which side of the political aisle your personal views reside on.

This time around, he manages to make a rather eloquent and reality-based point, albeit in a generally unpopular and understandable way. In other words, he's taken a stand against the majority of leaders on both sides of the aisle, an unusual feat for any politician. As Bela Lugosi would have said, "You are saying something profound."

The House and Senate have both passed a resolution in support of the Iranian citizens rebelling against the recent elections, and condemning the government for its handling of the uprising. All in all, it is yet another useless feel-good act of legislation that does little more than give representatives an excuse to pat themselves on the back and make another country's struggle for freedom and justice in the face of oppression and adversity about them and their future political campaigns.

Ron Paul, being the free-swinging individualist that he is, wanted nothing to do with it. Not only did he say as much, he went on to express he feelings about our government's arrogance and hypocrisy on the House floor:
I rise in reluctant opposition to H Res 560, which condemns the Iranian government for its recent actions during the unrest in that country. While I never condone violence, much less the violence that governments are only too willing to mete out to their own citizens, I am always very cautious about "condemning" the actions of governments overseas. As an elected member of the United States House of Representatives, I have always questioned our constitutional authority to sit in judgment of the actions of foreign governments of which we are not representatives. I have always hesitated when

Ron Paul being told Cory is in his house.Image via Wikipedia

my colleagues rush to pronounce final judgment on events thousands of miles away about which we know very little. And we know very little beyond limited press reports about what is happening in Iran.

Of course I do not support attempts by foreign governments to suppress the democratic aspirations of their people, but when is the last time we condemned Saudi Arabia or Egypt or the many other countries where unlike in Iran there is no opportunity to exercise any substantial vote on political leadership? It seems our criticism is selective and applied when there are political points to be made. I have admired President Obama's cautious approach to the situation in Iran and I would have preferred that we in the
House had acted similarly.

I adhere to the foreign policy of our Founders, who advised that we not interfere in the internal affairs of countries overseas. I believe that is the best policy for the United States, for our national security and for our prosperity. I urge my colleagues to reject this and all similar meddling resolutions.
I'm not a Ron Paul supporter, but I've always been somewhat of a fan. Not because I think he has all the answers to what ails our government, but because he tends to shine when it is him against the world, a character trait I am especially fond of. He could have just voted along with everyone else and voiced his disdain. He could have even voted "No" and simply said that he wouldn't back a useless resolution that benifits American politicians more than it does Iranian citizens.

Instead, he stood up called all of his fellow Representatives nothing more than spineless opportunists jumping on a bandwagon that they can safely ride to the next election cycle, while worthy causes that require more thought and dedication are abandoned and ignored on a regular basis.

Say what you like about Ron Paul's political aspirations, but I still like the cut of that man's jib.

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Monday, June 22, 2009

Judge Shelves Catcher In the Rye Knock-Off

Cover of "The Catcher in the Rye"Cover of The Catcher in the Rye

Judge Shelves Catcher In the Rye Knock-Off - Arts & Living News Briefs | Newser

J.D. Salinger is not only one of the most reclusive authors, he is also one of the most litigious. He is very protective of all of his works, but by far his most closely guarded literary contribution is the classic Catcher in the Rye.

Salinger has never allowed anyone to touch this classic novel, despite the desires of many to adapt it to film and/or television. Of course, this is partly due to Salinger's boycott of any kind of adaptation of his works, a conviction that stems from his disapproval of the 1949 film My Foolish Heart, the silver screen version of his short story Uncle Wiggily in Connecticut. Years later, he went so far as to block an Iranian version of Franny and Zooey (Iran does not recognize US copyright laws) from being screened at a film festival in America,

Of course, his protectiveness doesn't just extend to film. He has sued often in the past, whenever publishers have threatened his privacy or his copyrights. He successfully stopped an unauthorized biography with extensive reprints of personal letters, although much of the content he wanted to protect ended up in the public records of the court transcripts.

This time around, a Swedish author has come out with a book entitled 60 Years Later: Coming Through the Rye. Salinger's lawyers argued that the book went beyond commentary or homage, as it borrowed heavily from the original exploits of Holden Caulfield. Salinger scored a victory, as the federal judge agreed and ordered the book shelved.

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Sunday, June 21, 2009

Book Review: The Little Sleep by Paul Tremblay

There is a certain sub-genre of detective novels that I have always been a fan of, that of the Unreliable Narrator. Something about a private investigator that can't trust his own perceptions of reality, let alone his clients, deeply appeals to me. Maybe it has something to do with the individual's daily struggle to make sense out of the world that whirls about them with little rhyme or reason. Perhaps I just like to see my heroes struggle harder than they have to. No matter the reason, I can not resist drug-addled, psychotic, hallucinatory, or just plain confused sleuths.

I now have a new favorite character to add to my shelf alongside Phineas Poe (Kiss Me, Judas) and Manny Rupert (Pain Killers). But unlike the private eyes I just mentioned, my new found favorite sleuth isn't under the influence of narcotics. He's just sleepy.

Of course, sleepy is a major understatement. PI Mark Genevich suffers from severe Narcolepsy, with occasionally bouts of Cataplexy and Hypnogogic Hallucinations. He falls asleep at random. He has vivid daydreams that seem completely real. He becomes completely paralyzed. In short, Mark not only has no control over what his body does, he doesn't even have a firm idea of what he is really seeing, or simply dreaming.

With these stumbling blocks, topped off with a wisecracking smart mouth that guarantees conflicts at every turn, any vocation would be hard to maintain professionally. But Private Investigation?

Genevich doesn't let his lack of control get in the way of his detective work. Even his latest case, which he takes while in a vivid waking dream, is pursued relentless, even though he's not really sure who hired him, or what the case is about. Not that it matters; with the way Mark works, he's bound to annoy somebody that knows something sooner or later.

Granted, the story itself isn't one of the best plotted mysteries out there. There are enough plot holes and debatable coincidences to keep The Little Sleep from being a true masterpiece. But as far as I'm concerned, the real fun is to be had struggling along with Mark as desperately attempts to sort out the mischief that his own mind is up to.

You never know. Maybe it was all a dream.

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Book Review: Pain Killers by Jerry Stahl

I have a nasty habit of discovering excellent series in the middle. Very seldom am I lucky enough to read a novel with characters and situations that I thoroughly enjoy, and then later discover that they have been carried over into new novels. Instead, what often happens is that I find out a book I liked is from the middle (or sometimes end) of an excellent series, and I am forced to backtrack and collect the previous books.

Needless to say, I was not lucky enough to catch Manny Rupert, Jerry Stahl's flighty ex-cop drug addict turned private detective, in his first book, Plainclothes Naked. However, Pain Killers is only the second novel in a what will hopefully be a longer series.

Stahl's writing has always had an edge to it. Not surprising, considering that his real life exploits (as recounted in Permanent Midnight: A Memoir) have been a tad edgy themselves. But it isn't the edge that makes Stahl's writing so good. It is the way he manages to combine it with a dark humor that doesn't flinch at the ugliness unfolding around it. A drug addict ex-policeman posing as prison rehab counselor in order to investigate a possible ex-Nazi in hiding shouldn't be funny. But then Stahl throws lines at you like "If I were a pedophile, I'd paint kittens." He knows what shouldn't be funny, and he knows how to make you laugh at it.

Manny Rupert isn't the kind of hero you root for because he's one of the good guys. He's the guy you root for because, as depraved as he is, he's nowhere near as bad as the people he is surrounded by. Besides, at least he can see the humor of it all, as bitter as it may be. If you're like me, and prefer your leading man to be less than perfect, you'll definitely want to pick up a copy of Pain Killers.

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