Categories

Time to Stop Comcast Monopoly is Now!

5170558150_19c732636f_zNew Orleans       After almost a year and a half of trying to pull the wool over federal regulators and the consumer public, the effort by Comcast to create a predatory monopoly over broadband internet and cable with its proposed merger with Times-Warner seems to finally be coming to a head.   Reportedly, the FCC is now entertaining both parties for the first time in fourteen months on whether it will schedule a public hearing on the merger.  Experts talking to the Wall Street Journal say that if Comcast is not able to stop a hearing, the FCC only schedules one as the kiss of death, which gives us all something to hope for now.

There is encouraging news.  The feds seem to have seen through the Comcast flimflam argument that, “hey, fellas, this is just a simple cable deal,” realizing that the real issue is not cable, which all us techno-peasants know could be an outdated technology on its way to the dustbins of history like home telephones and desktop radio sets.  The FCC realized that the merger would give the monopoly almost 60% of the market for broadband internet.  Furthermore, there is nothing in Comcast’s history or recent record that indicates that they would play nice with a monopoly.   No way, no how.

More good news has emerged from the Justice Department indicating they may be coming late to the game, but finally seem to be looking at the antitrust ramifications of this proposed merger.   In recent weeks, reports have emerged that indicate that there is no determination, but the folks at Justice are not liking what they are seeing so far.

Reading the tea leaves, I would say that they are floating trial balloons to help stiffen the back of the FCC, just as the President had to do on the net neutrality issue.  The FCC is charged with determining whether a merger like this is in the public interest, while Justice looks at antitrust.  Sending a message through the newspapers across the wide Washington, DC boulevards that Justice is skeptical on the merger might be the last push towards the right decision by the FCC.

Supposedly, the FCC is also looking at whether or not the Comcast record on their merger with NBC/Universal indicates they can be trusted on this deal.  The Journal says a deal with Hulu is an issue.  I don’t know Hulu from Hawaii, but I do know their commitment to the FCC order about delivering low cost, accessible service to lower income families with children has been a travesty dressed in hypocrisy.   We have already forced the company to pay fines and extend the years required to deliver on their commitment, and they are nowhere close to doing right.  Giving an outfit like this majority control of broadband internet would guarantee that the digital divide for lower income families would be permanent and unbridgeable.  Too much of the future is tied into the internet to allow a company like Comcast to made inequity a permanent condition dividing everyone forever.

If you haven’t already let the FCC know that this Comcast monopoly has to be stopped, then now is the time to do so.

***
Phil Ochs Power and the glory

Flyering Door-to-Door is a Constant Neighborhood Education

11096396_1064931363535826_3795957975232855805_oNew Orleans     Opening a new location of our social enterprise Fair Grinds Coffeehouse on St. Claude Avenue in New Orleans was a relief even if we’re still shaking out the kinks, installing the ice machine, this and that.  How we get the word out for our soft opening and early weeks has been a constant conversation filled with many ideas.  One will say how we need to update our social media on Facebook and our website.  Ok, let’s do that.  Another will say, let’s open up for events, a baby shower here, a violin recital there, and a local meeting here and there.  Sounds good, Ok, let’s do that, too.  But, you can’t take an organizer off the streets, so what I wanted was flyers and lots of them and bigger flyers that I could put up on telephone poles, bus stops, and wherever people might gather.  Would it work?  Who knows, but it’s what I know, and what I like, so….

A week of rain finally stopped and I had a commitment from my son, Chaco, to hit the streets with me, so he could take one side, and I could take the other.  I wanted to hit the immediate neighborhood behind our offices and the coffeehouse that was still in the throes of change between a lower income – working African-American neighborhood and the first waves of urban pioneers and families grabbing something semi-affordable in one of our last slivers of a neighborhood in transition, but still close to the French Quarter and the red-hot Marigny and Bywater neighborhoods.  We had cloudy skies, bright pink flyers, and away we went.

Going block to block, door to door, and flyering is always an education, and it’s hard to get one better than street-side.  You miss things from the windshield that are uncovered walking your dogs along the sidewalks and up and down the porches.  The added benefit on a Saturday afternoon is that you also have some stoop sitters, mailbox checkers, and random walkers and workers on the street that can be engaged in conversation.

Until the rain drove us off the turf, Chaco and I managed to cover the grid for an hour.  Almost half the houses are in transition, either “fixed and fine” or under construction in one way or another.  I had not realized this corridor was going so fast.

On the street, neighbors were making the adjustment.  An African-American couple sitting on their porch yelled out at a young 20’s something white couple with the young man uncomfortably wearing a tie, that they looked good dressed up, while the youngsters tried to laugh it off as they walked down the middle of the street.

We had conversations on both sides of the line.  Old residents, some barbequing on their porches or sitting in the shade were uniformly friendly, usually asking if we served breakfast.  They knew our location as next door to the beauty supply house.  Newcomers knew us as next door to the hipster-punk bar, Sibera.

One bicycle rider reminded me that he was already a regular. Right on!  A guy working on his house asked through the window if we were connected to ACORN and then said that he had been a midnight to 2 AM DJ with a woman named May in 2008 and 2009 at KABF in Little Rock, and I told him to get his act together to do the same thing on WAMF once we were on the air in New Orleans.  A big guy bushwacking around the old, abandoned Annunciation church buildings told me it would be some years before they were returned into community service, but they were starting.  He knew about the coffeehouse and returned the flyer so we would save money.  The grandson of the Cuban tire dealer who sold us the building was on St. Rock behind the new food court that just opened, but said he would be by soon for a cup of coffee.  Chaco found outstretched hands from all of the service workers behind the building who were desperate for a place to have a cup of coffee that was away from their workplace.

Raindrops as big a dimes started falling on us as we came back towards the coffeehouse where a baby shower was in progress behind the iron gates and pink ribbons were tied above the sign saying, “closed, open at 6 am.”

We had the flyers out and were really part of the neighborhood, both old and new, now.

Kansas Takes the War on Welfare Recipients to New Extremes

Photo by Dave Ranney Kansas Department for Children and Families Secretary Phyllis Gilmore looks on as Gov. Sam Brownback discusses a welfare reform measure that will take effect July 1. - See more at: http://www.khi.org/news/article/brownback-says-welfare-reform-aims-to-break-cycles-of-dependency#sthash.HDeRIs2q.dpuf

Photo by Dave Ranney Kansas Department for Children and Families Secretary Phyllis Gilmore looks on as Gov. Sam Brownback discusses a welfare reform measure that will take effect July 1. – See more at: http://www.khi.org/news/article/brownback-says-welfare-reform-aims-to-break-cycles-of-dependency#sthash.HDeRIs2q.dpuf

New Orleans     Governor Brownback of Kansas signed into law the most oppressive and restrictive legislation dealing with welfare families in the United States.  Really?  Is that something to be proud of in Kansas now?

The headlines have focused on the stigmatization of these families with children on TANF – Temporary Assistance to Needy Families.  Nail parlors, liquor stores, casinos, baseball parks, and swimming pools are now off limit and won’t be able to process the TANF debit card.  Welfare moms can also forget about using their welfare dollars on cruise ships and in tattoo parlors as well, much less a trip to the spa or buying themselves a nice new bauble at the jewelry store.  Furthermore they are limited to a cap of $25 per day in using their welfare card at ATMs, so how far could they get.  And, before this good life corrupts a welfare recipient’s character, for good measure the lawmakers reduced lifetime benefits to 3 years from the 4 years they enjoyed before the new law.

Were the legislators outraged that welfare families were living high on the hog?  If you look at the actual benefits, you would have to say no.  Maximum benefits for a family of two in Kansas are $352 per month, family of three $429, and family of four $497 per month and so on, and that’s in the high cost high population counties.  In a rural county, a family can get by according to Kansas on $40 per month less.  I can only guess because they have access to eating more dirt.  On $500 or so per month with a family of four after paying rent, taking the bus to mandatory job searches, paying for school supplies, trying to keep the utilities and phone working, I would have loved to meet the master home economist who could have afforded a sea cruise.

Was this step necessary because the ranks of welfare recipients has been exploding at some obscene, crazy, out-of-control level?  Nope.  Not that either.  Even throughout the recession when nationally the ranks of TANF recipients rose by more than one-third, the numbers have gone down in Kansas by almost 50%.  Last year, in fact, Kansas just about led the nation in losing welfare recipients.

Must have been money then, right?  We’ve all read about the ill-fated Brownback tax cuts that almost bankrupted Kansas for lack of revenue, the lawsuits and court orders to fund schools, and the general horror of state funding.  Well, no, it’s not that either.  The federal government pays about $110 million for TANF in Kansas and the state pitches in about $60 million.  And, in what may be the height of absurdity, as they squeeze every penny from a welfare mother’s clinched fist, Brownback has set aside $40 million in a special TANF reserve according to reports.  TANF may be a money loser for the recipients, but Brownback is making it into a cash-cow for the state.

Oh, and a couple of drug convictions and a little prison time and you are barred from life, so forget about rehabilitation.  And, probably forget about a lot more as well, since the good politicians of Kansas think you can make your future some other way without any welfare.  I guess through crime, but I’m not sure any of them have thought that part of their new policies out any better than any other piece of it.

We’ve run out of rational explanations, I’m afraid.  It just seems to come down to pure and simple meanness.  The inability to openhandedly provide even the bare minimum of income support for low income families without adding hate and stigma to their lives seems past the elected leaders in Kansas now.  There’s no yellow brick road there anymore.  And, it turns out it was not the Tin Man who lacked a heart but Brownback and his buddies in the legislature.

***

“Welfare Music” – The Bottle Rockets

NLRB Looking at Free Rider Pay-to-Play Dues Obligation

duesNew Orleans     The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) took a step that might be small, but at least seems in the right direction.  They have solicited legal briefs, and no doubt there will be many from both the union and management side of the bar, on the question of dues or fee obligations for nonmembers in private sector employment who are represented by the union in grievances and disputes.  This may seem like a small thing to the general public, especially since so few workers are now represented by unions in the private sector, hardly more than one in twenty, but the amount that it rankles anyone who understands the issue is huge.  This problem also only affects the subset of workers in the half of the United States that live in right-to-work states which means even fewer of those workers, but that’s still a big number.

Nonetheless, here’s the contradiction involved in right-to-work states under the current practice and operating assumptions of the National Labor Relations Act.  When a union is certified after an election or by demonstrating a clear majority of support from the workforce and achieving voluntary recognition from an employer, the only thing a union
really “wins” are the rights to attempt to bargain a contract over a twelve-month period, if done in good faith, and the fact that the employer cannot legally challenge the union’s majority for that period.  The union under US labor law is the “exclusive representative” of all of the bargaining unit workers.All individual deals that an employer might try to cut with a worker, no matter how favorable, are illegal, because of the exclusivity of the union’s representation.  Any issue involving wages, working conditions or terms and conditions of employment must be exclusively handled through the union.

If a collective agreement is negotiated successfully, which believe it or not, does happen sometime, maybe in fact about half of the time, then whether in a so-called right-to-work state or a union-shop state, the union under US law continues to be the exclusive representative of all of the workers, regardless of whether the worker decides to join and pay membership dues or in non-right-to-work states pay an agency fee that is less than membership dues, but is mandatory if successfully bargained in the contract.  In right-to-work states though because the union is the exclusive representative, they have a “duty of fair representation” for each worker, regardless of their membership, and here’s where the wound cuts deeply.  If a nonmember has a beef and it is legitimate, the union has the obligation to pursue justice for that worker just as they would
for any dues paying member all the way through arbitration which can cost thousands of dollars.  These workers are called “free riders,” because the other workers who are paying dues are financing the union and paying for them to get a fair deal even while that worker is shirking any dues payment obligations.  Clearly this is unfair all the way
around and, worse, the stories of it crippling entire local unions are legendary, and the number of DFR or duty of fair representation cases filed before the NLRB on such cases are numerous.  Talk about false entitlements!

Professors commenting on the NLRB’s initiative are already clear that there is nothing in the Act or elsewhere that has ever barred some form of fee payment for members in right-to-work states who are accessing union services.  If there is no legal bar to instituting a new system, then we’re only left with the ideological and class objections that divide labor and management, so nothing new there under the sun.  Even righting this contradiction and injustice won’t change the predicament that unions find themselves in, but it least unions would have a fair system in the workplace and a better shake representing private sector workers, no matter where they live in the country.

A fix here will at least take the biggest devil out of the details of a union representing all the workers equally and exclusively.

***

Turner Corn – Remember November

Needing Another Gulf Coast Coal Terminal Like a Hole in the Head

westcoast-coal-terminal-istockphoto

West Coast Coal Terminal

New Orleans        Recently meeting with environmental organizers and researchers at an annual strategy conference in New York City, I heard one report after another about proposed coal terminals on the West Coast that were being abandoned as demand from China decreases and its own growing environmental awareness around climate increases.  The prospects for coal fired production of any sort are plunging worldwide according to one Wall Street mega-dome after another.   All of which surprised me to hear that there continued to be an aggressive proposal to build a new  coal shipping terminal on the lower Mississippi River in Plaquemines Parish below New Orleans to ship the stuff through the Gulf of Mexico.

And that led me recently to talk to Grace Morris, a senior organizer with the Gulf Restoration Network on Wade’s World.  The GRN has a wide reach ranging from Texas to Florida along the entire Gulf Coast so they have been on this fight for years along with other partners nationally from the Sierra Club and Public Citizen, and locally with LEAN, the Louisiana Environmental Action Network, and not surprisingly from many people living around Myrtle Grove and Ironton along the River who are literally sick of how much coal dust they are already trying to  survive.

The backstory is that several years ago RAM Terminals proposed building a coal terminal to store coal for Armstrong Coal Company in Kentucky.  According to reports, Armstrong planned to barge its coal down there and then have it shipped from there, largely for European markets most now believe.Hit Google for Armstrong Coal and make sure you are sitting down when you do it, because it’s frightening stuff when the top listings include the fact that they are being investigated for misreporting dust levels in their mines by the EPA, being sued for spying on their miners by their workers, and closing mines like the one at Lewis Creek in Ohio County, Kentucky.Any reader of the any financial page these days knows that of more than twenty coal companies in the US there are only about five making money, and most are now losing their  shirt.  What is Armstrong thinking?  Is this some kind of corporate suicide mission?

Morris told us that there were already two coal terminals in the same Myrtle Grove/Ironton area, and that now both of them are operating at about 50% capacity.  Furthermore because of the slackening demand, coal is of course piling up and people all along the wind stream along the River are reporting health and breathing problems and of course the usual  damage that coal dust accumulation causes to cars and homes. What in the world?  Clearly we need this new terminal like we need a hole in the head.

Luckily the community and even the State of Louisiana may save Armstrong and RAM Terminals from themselves.  Morris said that recently the state ordered a public hearing after persistent demands from residents and environmental groups which is now scheduled.  There is also movement around requiring a more comprehensive environmental impact statement.  If  we can slow this project down, the economy and common sense may come together to stop this crazy project before it becomes another disaster along the Gulf Coast.  It’s worth looking for their petition on line and adding your name.

***

They Don’t Dig For Coal Here Anymore-Alan Cathead Johnston

How Can Shaming Be A Solution?

1381082573New Orleans               The teaching and testing travesty in Atlanta has been a bitter indictment of almost everything that is off the rails in the US educational system.  When mandatory testing becomes the only measurement of teaching and educational standards, and the testing itself is seen as biased, unfair, and unjust, the temptation for administrators to see an unwritten exemption from normal rules and moral hazards is ever present. In Atlanta, in a vast conspiracy, it seems to have been irresistible.

Here’s what interests me though.  35 teachers and administrators were charged initially with two-thirds of them making various deals with prosecutors to cop pleas and put this behind them over the last six years.  Others went to trial.  Two, including the Superintendent of Atlanta schools, died during this period.   Ten or so were convicted.  The judge seemed to relent during the sentencing phase and was moved to mercy by the character witnesses and pleas for leniency and ordered both sides to try to make a deal on sentencing.  Two people took the deals, which mainly involved suspended sentences, some weekends in jail, and five years’ probation.  They also had to apologize to the community and the children for cheating.  The rest hunkered down.  The judge gave sentences that were harsher than requested by prosecutors involving around seven years for the most part with much of that time suspended.  The three highest administrators all rejected the deal and all say they will appeal, so who knows how this will end.  The question that intrigued me was, “Why would they not take the deal?”

Based on purely individual self-interest, the deal on surface would seem satisfactory, essentially allowing them all to walk.  Why was that not compelling?

Perhaps, I found some clues reading other items in the morning papers.  An op-ed in the Times by a couple of professors argued that the way the government could collect more taxes – at least from the little guys owing less than $2500 – was to shame them in the community with their neighbors and friends.  Oh, yeah, privacy is a problem, but they argued that privacy is disappearing anyway, so sew a scarlet letter on their chests and cha-ching the money comes rolling in.  Shaming seems to not work as well for big scofflaws, but whatever.  A columnist was outraged that a woman – a 32 year old blonde teacher that his paper has regularly pictured on the front and every other page of the paper – charged with having sex with a 16-year old student at her school was allowed to plead out to an obscenity charge, get no time, and not be listed as a sex offender.  What really ticked him off was that she put a picture of herself on Instagram with a smile saying that was her mood today.   She was happy to walk, and who would be surprised that she would feel that way, but the columnist was livid that she didn’t show shame and humiliation and cower into oblivion.

Justice has become irrelevant, and there is no confidence in the judges and courts to deliver it.  Comparisons with other sentences for other crimes and criminals has no meaning.  Some undefined “community” has to have its public revenge and that trumps all, it would seem.

The teachers that made the deal in Atlanta were willing and able to imagine starting their lives over and making peace with the community in Atlanta or somewhere else.  I suspect the ones that couldn’t take the deal felt that they had no future in the shaming community and needed to hold on desperately to their personal communities of other teachers, administrators, friends, and churches where they might find some succor, some understanding, and maybe even the chance of jobs and a future, even if it might mean jail in the future.

The loss of a consensus about the existence of justice destroys all the values of the larger society and leaves people finding and building separate selves and spaces that preserve smaller communities as people abandon larger commitments and communities.  Meanwhile support for a “shaming” community rises without any understanding of the tension between retribution and redemption, much less rehabilitation.

How can shaming be a solution in any healthy society?

***

Buffalo Springfield For What it’s Worth