The Net Neutrality Battle’s “Philly” Flavor

Net Neutrality is an issue I know little about, but it’™s a Philly issue when Comcast and its Executive VP David Cohen is involved. The FCC hearing at Harvard is the subject of controversy, with Comcast blowing it with a sophomoric strategy that backfired bigtime.

Commentary By: Steven Reynolds

Oh, I suppose hijinks like Comcast’™s blocking opposition by monopolizing seats at the FCC net neutrality hearing in Cambridge the other day aren’™t just Philly-style hijinks. The whole brouhaha is sure getting a lot of press, though, and Comcast is getting the short end of it. Let’™s give a little background.

The FCC planned a hearing at Harvard on the issue of net neutrality. They planned it for a room that held 290 people, and Comcast paid people off the streets to take seats in the front rows. Petty tactic, but Comcast is claiming the guys off the streets were saving seats for Comcast employees, a claim that would work if the Comcast employees actually showed up to replace the shills off the streets who slept through the meeting. From the Philadelphia Inquirer:

Attention was called to Comcast’™s tactic by Free Press officials who attended the hearing. One photographed two seat-warmers sleeping during the hearing.

‘œWe spent time educating the public about the event and the issue,’ said Free Press spokeswoman Jen Howard, ‘œand we did not have to pay anyone to attend.’

Bracy, of the Berkman Center, said the group of seat-warmers caught her attention when she showed up at the Ames Courtroom at 7:15 a.m. Monday to prepare for the hearing.

About 35 people – mostly men dressed in jeans and baseball caps and one in a camouflage jacket – were parked in the first three rows of the auditorium drinking coffee and reading the Boston Globe, she said.

They were ‘œregular Joes’ who looked like they could have come from Dunkin’™ Donuts, Bracy said. She was surprised to find them there several hours before the late-morning event. ‘œI thought, great, we’™re reaching out to new communities.’

But Bracy’™s suspicions of the Internet activists grew when none of them appeared to know about wireless Internet capabilities and two in the front row fell asleep during the hearing.

Why would Comcast do such a thing. OK, I know net neutrality is a contentious issue, and I know that Comcast is the wrong side of it, but I’™m no expert on the issue. Indeed, I’™ve always wondered why net usage hasn’™t, at least somewhat, been priced by bandwidth usage. Comcast sure would love that, wouldn’™t they? No, I’™m not all that up on the issue of net neutrality, so this article isn’™t about that subject, really. If you want to read about net neutrality, go check out the wikipedia article, or go to savetheinternet.com. No, I won’™t talk much about net neutrality. I’™ll write here about Comcast, their dirty little tricks, how they were incompetent at pulling those dirty tricks off, and how now they’™re going to have to go into the belly of the beast, Silicon Valley, and argue their case. Of course, the Comcast story here probably starts with David Cohen.

David Cohen has a big rep here in Philly. He was a monster presence at Ballard Spahr, a large national law firm with its headquarters here in Philly. During the 90′™s David Cohen worked for the Ed Rendell Mayoral Administration here in the city as Chief of Staff. I remember hearing a speech David Cohen gave to the local American Red Cross chapter about ten years ago. He had the wife and kids up on the stage, and he told a story that is also told in Buzz Bissinger’™s book ‘œA Prayer for the City,’ a moving look at the challenges the Ed Rendell administration faced in Philly in the 90′™s. The story was of an officer who had been shot, and of the intimate exchange that happened at the hospital between Mayor Rendell and the young son of the officer who died. No, not a dry eye in the house. To me, David Cohen will always be the man who told that story and moved me, though he is also now the Executive Vice President of Comcast, a company that has long thrown its monopolistic weight around here in the Philly area and across the country.

I’™m not a Comcast fan. When I first lived in Philly I paid for their services, which went up and up and up seemingly every year. They had no competition, so they charged whatever they pleased, or so it seemed. Heck, that’™s why I’™m with Direct TV now. But I’™ve been a David Cohen fan in the past. And this silly stunt Comcast pulled at the hearing in Cambridge is not something I would expect of Cohen. It is not that I think Cohen is above playing a little hardball on the issues that effect his company. It is that David Cohen has never been so clumsy and incompetent as Comcast has shown themselves with this incident. Let’™s make sure to focus on the issue. One of Comcast’™s most important tasks is to LOOK like it is a good corporate citizen, even if it is on the wrong side of such a populist issue as net neutrality. Comcast’™s tactics blew that fiction apart. Indeed, Comcast will be rewarded with that with a hearing at Stanford, a place where Comcast critics are sure to have a crowd far more energized than the one in Cambridge.

Yeah, Comcast screwed up trying to protect David Cohen by filling the front rows of the auditorium in Cambridge with docile bodies of shills off the street. They should have left well enough alone, for they’™ve gotten bad publicity and an even worse forum, from their viewpoint, for the next hearing. This is simple incompetence on the scale of a George Bush. David Cohen used to be a Democrat, but I’™m beginning to wonder given this incompetent performance.

Sunday, July 31st, 2011 by Richard Blair |

Labor Pains: The Media, the Administration, and the Economy

This year, I’m writing a Labor Day column. With all the layoffs and unemployment, with the blatant anti-labor biases of the current administration and the decisions by the pro-corporate National Labor Relations Board that will linger long into the next administration, next year there may not be much American labor to write about.


Commentary By: Walter Brasch

Once a year, I and a few dozen other reporters and columnists write a Labor Day story. And, like most Americans we don’t remember our history.

We don’t remember that the Knights of Labor created the first Labor Day in 1882 and that Congress made it a national holiday in 1894.

Almost none of us will write about the personalities of the labor movement. About Mother Jones (1830-1930), the militant “angel of the coal fields” for more than six decades. About “Big Bill” Haywood (1869-1928) who organized the Industrial Workers of the World, a universal coalition to fight for the rights of all labor. About cigar-chomping Samuel Gompers (1850-1924), the first president of the American Federation of Labor, a job he held for 38 years.

We won’t be seeing any stories about Sidney Hillman (1887-1946) who led strikes in 1916 to reduce the work week to 48 hours, from the standard 54–60 hours, and then helped create the Amalgamated Clothing Workers of America and the Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO) before becoming a major political force for workers during the labor-friendly Roosevelt administration. Missing will be remembrances of Saul Alinsky (1909-1972), known as the “father of grassroots political campaigns” who worked alongside Cesar Chavez (1927-1993) who used Alinsky’s tactics to organize the United Farm Workers.

Hardly any of us remember Heywood Broun (1888-1939), one of the nation’s best-paid columnists who risked his own financial stability to create The Newspaper Guild in 1935 to help those reporters making one-hundredth of his salary. Most reporters never heard about him or the history of the Guild. After all, we may believe that unions are acceptable for factory line workers, but we’re “professionals,” and mistakenly believe we don’t need unions; we’ll just continue to get assigned unpaid overtime and split shifts, while working for low wages, minimal benefits, and without a minimally-accept

Sunday, March 22nd, 2009 by Walter Brasch |

Eric Cantor is a Saucy Wench!

Stupid Republicans. Eric Cantor, who has campaigned against profanity in the past, even to the point of being captured by the Congressional Record, has published a filthy and profanity laden screed against AFSME. Nevermind the hypocrisy, the guy is attacking workers in a time when layoffs are rampant. Republican stupidity at its best.


Commentary By: Steven Reynolds

Eric Cantor is a Republican Representative from Virginia, representing parts of Richmond’s suburbs and the Shenandoah Valley. (Man, I am listening to folk music now, Stan Rogers to be specific, and I love that Shenandoah song.) Eric Cantor campaigned as a religious conservative, and he’s currently the Republican Whip in the House, and the only Jewish Republican out there in the House. Eric Cantor has been a crusador against dirty language on the airwaves. He’s part of the Republican “virtue squad,” though yesterday his people sent out a missive that is so full of expletives that it belies Eric Cantor’s supposed principles. Poor boy can’t be very consistent, I suppose, just like most Republicans.

The story is from Think Progress. Those guys are great, aren’t they? They’ve got the audio and video of Cantor’s response to an ad by AFSME, which is so laden that it certainly would not pass muster with Eric Cantor’s own bill, which he argued for thusly, according to the Congressional Record:

This important legislation calls for tougher fines and enforcement penalties for obscene broadcasts. Shameless acts are inexcusable and should be disciplined to ensure that they will not continue and will not be tolerated.

I have received over one thousand letters, emails and phone calls from outraged constituents regarding obscene TV and radio broadcasts in recent months. We cannot accept anything less than an effective solution to this problem; we will not be satisfied until those who are responsible have been reprimanded, and we can be assured this kind of behavior will not continue.

We must give parents the peace of mind that the programming available to their children on television and radio today is appropriate.

I urge all members to support this legislation.

Yeah, this is another example of ludicrous hypocrisy on the part of the Republican leadership. According to Think Progress’s count, there are six uses of the F Bomb in Canotr’s screed against AFSME, which is merely an organization representing workers, mind you. Why in the world would anyone want to attack workers? I’m thinking in this time when there are layoffs right and left the Republicans haven’t figured out that workers are voters. That’s not just hypocrisy, but also stupidity.

Wednesday, February 11th, 2009 by Steven Reynolds |

Toomey, Club for Growth, Demonize Unions, EFCA

Today’s Republican Pundit Gone Wild is Pat Toomey, head of Club for Growth, writes today about the dangers of unions. Evidently they cause acne, will destroy our economy, leave dirty stains in our sinks and cause earthquakes if Congress passes the Employee Free Choice Act. Everybody panic.


Commentary By: Steven Reynolds

I am not a union apologist. In the interest of full disclosure, I have boarded corporate jets and with that corporation’s chief labor negotiator. Indeed, I rode with the labor negotiator on several occasions, to Washington, DC, Columbus, OH, Ithaca, NY and Houston, TX. That said, I am not anti-union, either. It is my view that there have been sins on the part of management and unions over the last hundred years in this country. Conversely, there are many good examples of management doing right by employees, as there are good examples of unions standing up for employees and their rights. Pat Toomey, Chair of the Club for Growth, has a different opinion. He thinks all the problems in the world are the fault of unionization.

In today’s Philadelphia Inquirer Toomey writes a column calling for the defeat of the Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA), a small modification of National Labor Relations rules that would allow unions to be certified without a secret ballot under some conditions. Toomey, in an over-the-top drama queen conservative performance, claims right citizens have never had, blames unions for disasters and calamities, and predicts economic catastrophy if this one little rule is modified. Hey, and the big secret is that unions are already allowed to be certified without secret ballots. What the EFCA does as concerns Pat Toomey’s column, is take away the right of companies to force a secret ballot.

As I understand it, prior to the EFCA, companies could call for a secret ballot even if 100% of its employees signed a document saying they wanted to form a union. The National Labor Relations Board would then schedule a time to come run the election. What happens in the meantime? Well, there’s a whole lot of politicking that happens, by the union organizers and the company. Essentially, under present labor law, even if 100% of the employees say that they want a union, the company gets a do over and time to convince those same employees. The EFCA doesn’t let that happen anymore if a mojority of the employees sign saying they want a union. Yeah, this is a small little change in the law, and it takes away the company’s right to a do over.

Pat Toomey thinks the change EFCA represents is the end of the world, and that unions will now destroy American manufacturing completely. I am particularly enamored of this paragraph in his Philadelphia Inquirer article, where Pat Toomey blames the unions the current economic crisis:

Even though most Americans – and even a majority of union members – think fair workplace elections conducted by secret ballot are preferable to card check, Congress doesn’t seem to be listening. And given the economic crisis, this is precisely the wrong time to be sacrificing the interests of American businesses and workers.

The government will likely step in to save the auto industry because of the prevailing belief that it’s too big to fail. But if the auto industry can be brought to the brink by big labor, what about America’s small businesses? By definition, they are small enough to fail, leading to lost jobs and investment.

That’s why stopping the Employee Free Choice Act is an important part of any economic-recovery plan. Let’s hope Congress realizes that before it’s too late.

According to Pat Toomey, the unions forced GM and Ford and Chrysler to produce huge SUVs, trucks and vans. The unions forced GM to make those land yachts and Hummers and cars and trucks that got bad mileage. Then when the price of gas went through the roof and the lending market collapsed, clearly, according to Toomey, because of unions, the unions forced people not to buy GM and Ford and Chrysler cars. In fact, I’m surprised Toomey has not blamed unions for record losses at. . . Toyota.

What are the facts here? EFCA is a relatively mionr change to the labor environment in this country. Pat Toomey is Chicken Little, only the sky isn’t really falling. He’s today’s Republican Pundit Gone Wild.

Tuesday, December 30th, 2008 by Steven Reynolds |

The Media Auto Know Better: Fueling Anti-Union Fires

The meida seems to propel the myth that the American workers, allied with those darned limosine liberals and the liberal press, are to blame for the recent crisis in the auto industry. That’s sloppy and inaccurate reporting and ethically wrong, but there’s nobody calling for a conference on news media ethics nowadays.


Commentary By: Walter Brasch

by Walter Brasch

My local newspaper editor, as he does regularly, once again attacked unions as the problem in America. This is the same editor who once said “all the laziest goof-offs and goldbricks in the newsroom” where he began his career were union officials–and that the unionized New York Times editorial writers are nothing more than “limousine liberals.”

For this most recent attack, two days after Thanksgiving, he combined the economy with what he believes are greedy unions.
“[L]abor unions and their leaders are . . . distorting the truth about the American workplace,” wrote the editor.

First he set up Andy Stern, president of the Service Employees International Union, who said that “Tens of millions of Americans are working harder than ever just to stay afloat. The latest Census Bureau report shows that wages are dropping and more people lack health insurance . . . a greater percentage of the economy is going to profits than to wages.”

Then, he cut apart Stern’s statement by gleefully citing data from the pro-business pro-management U.S. Chamber of Commerce. The Chamber said that wages, adjusted for inflation, for workers rose 30 percent from 1967 to 2007. Now, 30 percent seems good–unless you do the math. That’s about three-quarters of one percent per year, far less than any executive compensation. The editor then added in about 30 percent for benefits. Of course, these benefits also include federally-mandated deductions, like social security, Medicare, and unemployment taxes.

As an afterthought, the editor claimed the “poverty rate dropped from 22.4 percent in 1959 to 12.5 percent in 2007,” mysteriously trying to connect a reduced poverty level with reduced union influence. What he didn’t point out was that 1959 was a recession year, and that between 2000 and 2007, according to the Census Bureau, the poverty rate actually increased from 11.3 percent to 12.5 percent. About 37.3 million Americans are living below the federal poverty level; about 40 percent of all Americans fell beneath the poverty line at least once in the past decade.

Sounding the alarm, the editor tied together Democrats and unions. “[T]he plight of the American worker will grow more dire in the new year, as Democrats push to pass their legislation. . . . The danger is that their union-friendly legislation will hurt rather than help the American economy.” To wrap everything up, the editor of a newspaper with the median circulation of all dailies in America concluded by asking his readers to “consider the current state of the once mighty American auto industry, and ask yourself: What role did the powerful United Auto Workers play in its downfall?”

It’s the workers–and those pesky liberal Democrats–who the editor blames for America’s economic crises. Unfortunately, this editor isn’t alone in his contempt for the workers.

Dozens of columnists and TV pundits spread the myth that the average auto worker at General Motors, Ford, and Chrysler earns $70 an hour–about $146,000 a year. That figure, supplied by executives at the Big Three, reflects every cost associated with labor, including “legacy costs,” which are are costs of pensions and health benefits for retired workers. Thus, the automakers added up every conceivable cost and divided it by hours worked (pensioners, of course, don’t work) to get the inflated numbers. The reality is that the average UAW member earns about $28 an hour, about $58,000 a year, according to the impartial Center for Automotive Research. What the news media fail to report is that the UAW made significant concessions over the years, including wage cut-backs at Chrysler and a 2007 contract for all three auto makers that created a “second tier” wage level of $14.50–$16.23 per hour ($30,160–$33,758 per year, still below U.S. average wage of $40.405, according to the Census Bureau), reduced benefits, and a retirement plan now administered by the UAW not the Big Three.
Others who attack organized labor claim that UAW worker earn far more an hour than their counterparts at non-American non-unionized auto manufacturers in the U.S., and that’s a reason why the Big Three are failing. However, the reality is that the average wage at the international automakers is estimated at $24–$25 an hour, less than a $3 differential an hour for UAW first tier workers, according to Jonathan Cohn in The New Republic. Even the most casual observer understands that it costs more to live in the Detroit area than the rural areas where foreign auto makers established their plants.

In contrast to the concessions given up by the workers, Big Three executives still earn multi-million dollar incomes. Alan Mulally at Ford earned $2 million last year, plus additional compensation totaling about $21.7 million, according to the Securities and Exchange Commission. Ford lost $2.72 billion last year. At GM, Rick Wagoner earned $15.7 million last year, according to the Wall Street Journal, while his company lost $38.7 billion. Chrysler’s Robert Nardelli earned $1 in salary last year, but has significant compensation package that is not publicly disclosed. Chrysler lost about $2.9 billion last year.

But, much of the media and the American public still blame workers and liberal Democrats who are favorable to the union movement for the economic crisis that led the Big Three to rev up their corporate jets and descend upon Congress to beg for a $25 billion taxpayer-funded bailout.
Are the workers and those liberal Democrats to blame for car sales being down 45 percent in October for GM, 35 percent for Chrysler, and 30 percent for Ford from a year ago?

Are they to blame for the auto industry going for the quick profit by pushing gas-guzzling minivans, SUVs, and trucks, while foreign automakers began looking at more energy-efficient cars?
Are they to blame that demand for autos has fallen off because Americans were unable to get financing in an economic crisis caused by greed of investment companies, banks, and almost every corporation that issues public stock?

Are they to blame for the auto industry executives opposing public transportation and alternative energy cars?

Are they to blame for auto executives being wrong about just about everything and for spending too much on everything from golf club memberships to private jets?

Are they to blame for the 100,000 factory layoffs in the past three years that also meant more work and no pay increases for every remaining factory worker?

Are they to blame for the auto industry outsourcing its work to countries where labor is paid pennies an hour–and then reaping huge profits by downsizing America’s workforce?

Are the workers and liberals to blame for the auto industry cutting health care and retirement benefits in order to maximize profits?
Finally, are the workers and those liberal Democrats to blame because Big Three executives failed to understand that they needed to cut corporate costs when maximizing profits so they could reduce their losses during a Recession–or for when their own bad business judgments would cause a catastrophic melt-down?

It may be in the best self-interest of non-unionized media to perpetuate the myth that the economic problems of America are because of the worker. However, such sloppy and inaccurate reporting isn’t in the best interest of the people.

[Dr. Brasch is the author of the recently-published Sinking the Ship of State: The Presidency of George W. Bush, available at amazon.com, bn.com, and numerous independent and chain stores. He is professor of journalism at Bloomsburg University. You may contact him through his website, www.walterbrasch.com or by e-mail at brasch@bloomu.edu]

Sunday, November 30th, 2008 by Walter Brasch |
Category: General,Labor,Media

Bloated Rhetoric and PR Sinks the Big 3 Bailout

This bailout of the Big Three automakers is not an easy issue, and their flying in three seperate private jets is just part of the problem. Americans will take this hit, including the unions and including the notion of both jet pooling, carpooling and a commitment to mass transit. This is an opportunity Bush will shrink from, as have the Dems, so far.


Commentary By: Steven Reynolds

I am reminded of those dancing hippos in Disney’s Fantasia. Everyone is dressing up nice, flying on their fanciest corporate jets, puffing themselves up before the camera. Congressmen, Titans of failing industry, Senators, Talk Show babblers, Union Leaders. It’s all a dance with far more attention to the drama than to the facts of the issue. Will a bailout help America? Isn’t that the most basic issue here? It seems much less the focus today than that a potential candidate for President in 2012, Mitt Romney, has come out against the bailout in the New York Times. This has become far more a PR and political event than a rational and steady examination of the economic advantages and disadvantages, as far as I can tell.

On the PR side, the Big 3 Execs should certainly have jet-pooled to the hearings in Washington. Oops! Tres stupide, non? We just got out of an election where the word “elitist” is being thrown around like confetti and the boys from Detroit each take their own private jet to DC? Hey, don’t get me wrong, I believe in companies using private jets. I am the son of an executive and I flew on those jets with Dad for several years, at least a half dozen times. I have no problem with the use of private jets, but GOOod GOD, MAN, FIRE YOUR PR PEOPLE NOW! Mr. Wagoner, Mr. Mulally and Mr. Nardelli, get a clue.

How about those bloated salaries? Do you think, Mr. Wagoner, that it is unfair of we who you are asking for a handout ask about your pay? (Forbes rates it around $14MM last year.) Mr. Mulally? ($21.7MM in 2007.) As far as creating a little tiny bit of goodwill in front of Congress and the Senate is concerned, these guys should have opened with a description of plans already underway for scaling back pay of executives, including themselves. They did not, but instead showed up in a phalanx on private jets. That PR blunder is overshadowing the issue, and part of delivering a message is managing such distractions.

More bloviation comes from the Senate, where Harry Reid is passing the buck to George Bush and to a GOP proposal. Hey, Bush has got the cash now in that $700BB bailout package they don’t seem to be spending, and he’s still in charge. There aren’t two Presidents at a time, after all. Bus will do the sensiblwe thing, right? Can you say “Heck of a job, Pausony?”

This is a debacle in the making with no easy solutions. The potential impact is devastating, whether we go through bankruptcies for the Big Three or whether we bail them out. The State of Michigan could go under, we could lose millions of jobs, and inaction or the wrong action could trigger a deep depression. Or so the bloviating is warning us. It’s time for a steady hand, and that hand we elected doesn’t enter office until January 20th. But let me suggest a solution.

Someone should take charge. The salary and pension structure at the Big 3 is the problem, and if there is a bankruptcy, then the Big 3 would be able to bargain hard for concessions. Bankruptcy has its perils, however, in that people likely won’t buy cars from companies in peril, as they are worried about warranties and the like. Bankruptcy is rightly seen by the automakers as the first step towards collapse. Whoever takes this by the horn needs to offer a way to keep the auto companies viable for the long term, and that means massive UAW concessions. Nope, that’s not going to make the unions happy, but it is reality. It’s time to mandate a government controlled reorganization tied to a bailout, a reorganization tied to cuts in pay and pension reform for the entire auto industry. If this means an equity stake by the government, just as we now have one in much of the banking industry, then so be it.

Bold? You betcha! Politically risky, since it stomps on the unions like a bug? You betcha! But let’s look at some positives about the US Auto Industry. JD Power’s evaluations of the quality of the cars themselves are as high as they’ve been in a long time. The productivity of American auto workers is high, though their salaries be bloated. What is needed here is a plan that addresses costs for the auto industry both short and long term, that addresses the need to turn the industry radically towards energy efficiency and new energy technologies, and that injects buying power into the hands of American consumers. Only government action can do such a thing, and only bold government action.

I imagine at Barack Obama headquarters, where today they are focused on Janet Napolitano, our soon-to-be Secretary of Homeland Security. It is time for Barack Obama to call up Nobel Laureate Paul Krugman, investment genius Warren Buffet, and the rest of his stellar economic team and ask what the bold plan should be, the nuts and bolts of it, and then take that plan to the people. I can hardly blame Obama if he does not push this hard, given that he is not President yet, but it seems to me that the time is here for action, and nobody trusts Bush. This one will ultimately be in Obama’s hands, so maybe it is time to act now so that Bush and the GOP don’t dig us a deeper problem.

Hey, check that out. A confirmed liberal, I just proposed a plan that smacks the unions hard and blames Democrats in Congress for passing the buck. Of course, I also blame the Republicans for ineptitude. Still, this is not a partisan issue. It is about our entire country potentially going into a depression, not a mere recession. That means drastic action, guided by the smartest men and women out there, needs to be put on the table and now.

Thursday, November 20th, 2008 by Steven Reynolds |

Defrosting The Denial – The Bitter Bite Of 700 Billion Deaths

It’s said that grief is a five stage process. As we embark upon a 700 billion dollar bail out, I suspect the American people are just beginning this journey. At the moment, denial seems to be the order of the day. I fear the next four steps will be far more difficult.


Commentary By: Daniel DiRito

Conventional wisdom would suggest that Americans should be heartened by the plan to stabilize the struggling financial industry. We Americans like action as it soothes the angst created by a stock market in free fall, a housing industry in the tank, a shrinking supply of job prospects, and a general sense of uncertainty as the 2008 election approaches.

As much as I’ve tried, I simply can’t find the reasons for optimism. Frankly, it has all the feel of the death of a loved one…that unease one has in the pit of one’s stomach…an eery recognition that the die have been cast and there’s nothing that can be done to change the trajectory. At times like this, it’s not unusual to grasp at straws…playing games with ourselves in the hopes of turning back the clock and washing away the events we find so troubling. Unfortunately, that isn’t going to happen.

As I’ve attempted to make sense of my own thoughts, I kept coming back to the thoughts of death and the steps psychologists tell us we go through to deal with the grief it brings. If one ascribes to this theory, the first step is denial. Truth be told, I find that an apt description of where we’re at. Rather than focus on our loss, we point our thoughts towards the proposed bail out. In fact, I suspect there is comfort in the sheer size of the endeavor…so much so that the bigger it is, the better we may feel.

It’s akin to sitting in a chair while mom consoles us and applies a bandage to cover our skinned knee…only in this case the injury is far more serious and the salve is far more ethereal. I suspect it will take time for us to adjust our mindset…a mindset that’s been carefully crafted over a number of years with the rhetoric of rah rah…rhetoric that tells us we live in the promised land…that we can do no wrong…that we will prevail because it is God’s will…that our actions are inevitably and invariably enlightened.

Yes, we’re the nation that survived a civil war, the nation that overcame the great depression, the nation that won two world wars, the nation that promoted democracy to the detriment of communism, and the nation that has been the envy of the world. In as much as history predicts the future, we Americans have an expectation that tomorrow will simply affirm yesterday and all will be well. Unfortunately, our optimism is predicated upon ignoring the historical plight of virtually all other societies.

I’ll recount a story I’ve told many times…since this may actually be the moment at which its full magnitude can best be understood. When I was in high school, I had a Social Studies instructor who was quite the character. In fact we called him Wild Bill. He was a colorful man who was well-traveled and full of stories one might expect to find in a Hemingway novel. At the same time, he possessed a keen understanding of the big picture…one of those thinkers who could quickly make sense of the obscure and connect all of the dots.

One day, while I was seated in his class, he proceeded to impart some of his insights, and for whatever reason, the sheer significance of his hypothesis was seared into my brain. As he spoke of the world and the interactions of societies and nations, he paused, as if to question whether he should allow his thought to escape his lips…and then as one would expect, he let rip the following, “The day is coming when the wealth we have in the United States will be challenged. At some point, the family in South America or the family in Asia is going to say, –we want a refrigerator too’, and the intertwined nature of the world will force us to address their demands. The disparity that exists today cannot be sustained forever.”

In retrospect, it’s difficult to know the basis for his prescient thought. My own suspicion is that it was a combination of recognizing the advantages of being an American traveling in a world filled with poverty and his own appreciation for the excesses that are an integral part of human nature. In other words, I think he was sure that our freedom and our wealth would not go unnoticed as we Americans traveled the world and allowed others to witness the essence of the American dream and seek to make it their own.

Returning to grief, I would suggest that the denial we’re experiencing is, in fact, predicated upon our first recognition of Wild Bill’s prediction…the moment at which the rest of the world has made its demand for a refrigerator. Yes, it’s been building for a number of years…but not in a manner that slaps us in the face and says wake up. One need only look at the globalization of manufacturing, our shift towards a service economy, our inability to supply our ever expanding energy needs, our growing reliance upon imports, and our inability to compete given the fact that our standard of living (wages) must be factored into all of our transactions with the rest of the world.

So where does this leave us today? Well, if one accepts the validity of the grief model in explaining our current predicament, we’re barely beginning our march towards the final stage of our journey, acceptance. Right now, 700 billion makes us feel better because it is the language we understand…a money driven construct. Unfortunately, we’re still attached to the notion that the dollar can dictate value to the rest of the world…and while that may well be a valid view, it remains to be seen for how much longer.

Optimists like to point to the debt ratio of other nations in order to dismiss the significance of this bail out and our unrestricted deficit spending. However, the fact that we’ve doubled our debt in eight years can’t be ignored. At some point, the advantages the dollar has afforded will no longer exist and the more debt we assume, the sooner it will erode.

You see, it isn’t just 700 billion for Wall Street…it’s 700 billion annually for importing oil…it’s half a trillion and counting for an endless war…and it’s entitlement programs that cannot be sustained. Even more concerning, it’s a housing market that may never again be the primary wealth creation mechanism for the average American. Absent this key component, the engine of the American dream may have eclipsed its life expectancy.

I suspect one could reasonably argue that the last seven years prove as much. Truth be told, the money that has kept our economy from acknowledging the shadow of a global reality came from artificial interest rates that allowed Americans to keep spending by borrowing against their expanding, though contrived, home equity. As the world waits to see the shake out, there is little reason to believe that confidence in the American economy will be fully restored. As the inevitable autopsy is completed, the endemic toxicity of our superficial economy will cause a shift away from contact with the infectious dollar.

As we move into anger, the second stage of grief, we will likely face our greatest test. Try as we might, blame will come with anger and there will be calls for accountability as we cling to our hopes of preserving the American dream. As we watch the world advance around us, the heat of our anger will eventually give way to a cold reality…a reality that will put ice in the lemonade of our global neighbors…and leave us wondering if we can stand the bitter bite of the lemons we’re left with.

Look on the bright side…if we survive this most sour sojourn…there’s only three more steps to navigate – bargaining, depression, and acceptance.

Cross-posted at Thought Theater

Monday, September 22nd, 2008 by Daniel DiRito |

All Politics is Local – Unemployment Jumps to 6.1%

The late Tip O’Neil got it right – at least as far as politics being connected to one’s wallet. When pocketbook issues start to slam the average American, they’re not so worried about what’s happening in Washington, only that bad policy causes their personal woes. If that’s the case, then the GOP is in a heap of trouble this year.

Commentary By: Richard Blair

A few months back, when her own job was eliminated, Susie Madrack ran out the old saying, “It’s a recession when you lose your job. It’s a depression when I lose mine.”

There are a lot more people today feeling like there’s an economic depression coming. According to figures released this morning, the unemployment rate jumped to 6.1% in August, up from 5.7% in July. Not to state the obvious, but that’s almost a 1/2 percent increase in a single month. And 84,000 people lost their jobs, which is a significantly higher figure than had been predicted.

The last eight years have been a nightmare in employment markets. Well paying jobs continue to be outsourced overseas, and that’s not going to change anytime soon, at least not until U.S. companies have succeeded in driving down wages to third world country standards. The labor unions continue to shrink – in both numbers and political clout – and even many of those jobs have flipped to the service sector, where the presence of unions don’t necessarily mean well paying jobs, but do confer at least a bit of job security (as opposed to non-union positions).

Funny thing is, the economy isn’t shrinking on the top end – the GOP “base”, as it were.

The late Senator Tip O’Neill once famously opined that “all politics is local”. He’s right, in the sense that one’s view of politics is primarily localized to one’s wallet. The last decade and 1/2 of GOP dominance of the political scene is about to come to an end, primarily because the GOP didn’t tend to it’s real base: the American people who put them in power.

Friday, September 5th, 2008 by Richard Blair |

What True “Progressivism” Looks Like

This past week, the State of New Jersey enacted the Paid Family Leave Act. NJ residents will now be able to take time off under FMLA to care for a sick family member, and not totally lose their income. This type of legislation is the face of true progressivism, and represents what the Democratic Party brand should be all about.

Commentary By: Richard Blair

In the not too distant past, the U.S. Congress passed the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA), which allows anyone to take time off from work to care for a sick relative or to stay home after the birth of a child, without fear of losing their job. FMLA was passed at the outset of the Clinton administration, with the support of a Democratic Party-controlled congress. It’s axiomatic that such groundbreaking legislation would have never passed during the tenure of the Bush regime or the lapdog GOP congress that Bush enjoyed during the majority of his reign.

Unlike a long term disability, though, FMLA only guarantees an employee the ability to take the time off. There is no provision for compensation during the leave of absence. So, even though a relative might be terminally ill, if an employee actually does take FMLA to care for the relative, there’s no income during the time of absence. There just aren’t a lot of people who can take off 12 weeks, regardless of the circumstances, without a paycheck.

This past week, the New Jersey legislature fixed that issue for residents of the Garden State. Governor John Corzine signed the NJ Paid Family Leave Law, which provides for 6 weeks paid leave time at 2/3 an employee’s base pay. So now, at least in New Jersey, those who qualify for FMLA leave can do so without fear of being totally without income. How did New Jersey do it?

Very simply: everyone who works in New Jersey will kick in a few bucks per year via a payroll tax to cover the PFL insurance, in an arrangement almost identical to the disability payroll tax. $32 / year isn’t an onerous price to pay to retain some income, and will allow many more people to actually take time off during personally stressful situations. The final bill was a win-win for both employees and employers.

It took over 12 years to get this legislation done, but it’s groundbreaking – and shows what a true progressivism is all about. NJ PFL represents what the Democratic Party brand should be all about.

Saturday, May 3rd, 2008 by Richard Blair |

Award Winning Company Waterboards Employee

A motivational coaching company in Utah is being sued by a former employee for using waterboarding as a performance improvement technique. No word yet on whether snarling dogs, loud music, or pictures of Dick Cheney were also being used to properly inspire the employees.

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So, you think you have a crappy job?

This is what happens when torture becomes acceptable in the mainstream. It’™s also quite a stark commentary on the state of corporate employee / employer relationships:

A supervisor at a motivational coaching business in Provo is accused of waterboarding an employee in front of his sales team to demonstrate that they should work as hard on sales as the employee had worked to breathe. In a lawsuit filed last month, former Prosper, Inc. salesman Chad Hudgens alleges his managers also allowed the supervisor to draw mustaches on employees’™ faces, take away their chairs and beat on their desks with a wooden paddle ‘œbecause it resulted in increased revenues for the company.’ ‘¦

I’™ve heard of some extreme motivational techniques in the workplace, but this just seems a bit over the top to me. No word yet whether or not the company endorses electrodes clamped to employee’™s genitalia as an additional incentive not to slack off on the job.

Is this how Prosper, Inc. won the E&Y Utah Entrepreneur of the Year Award in 2005?

There’™s a Dick Cheney joke in here someplace, but I’™m too tired from traveling today to develop it right now.

Friday, February 29th, 2008 by Richard Blair |
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