Are Unions Regaining Power?

In this morning’s Sunday Boston Globe I read an article which speaks of a recall vote in Wisconsin that seeks to oust Republican Governor Scott Walker because of his role in ending collective bargaining in the state.  The move is being headed up by a union that represented George Pacific paper employees in the state.  Most telling is the comment made by billion dollar industrialist David H. Koch who said, “If the unions win the recall, there will be no stopping union power.” (“Wis. recall effort highlight unions’ election-year push,” Globe, April 29, 2012, p. A10)

Yesterday I attended a conference that celebrated the 100th anniversary of what is call the
“Bread and Roses Strike” of 1912 in Lawrence Massachusetts.  The strike pitted 33,500 mostly non-union textile operatives against the well-monied industrialists and mill owners of the city.  The irony of the situation is the owners then, in the form of William M. Wood, owner of the very large American Woolen Company, expressed the very same sentiment that Koch recently expressed.  It leads me to believe that American industrialists have believed, and probably rightly so, that they have had the upper hand with regard to unions in the corporations.

Last year the Wisconsin legislature outlawed the use of collective bargaining for its unionized public employees.  The idea of collective bargaining started with the Lawrence strike in 1912 when the textile workers refused to make deals on a mill-by-mill basis.  They adamantly stood behind the idea of one deal for all, the collective if you will.  Although strikes were not unusual in the day, they were always settled without any collective bargaining, and in over 75% of the cases, that meant in favor of management.  Even more, industrialists of the era counted on support from the governmental bodies in the cities and states where they existed.  The always got that support.

Between 1950 and about 1975 unions did themselves a huge disservice.  At the time they were at the peak of their power and wielded it with perceived impunity.  The ability of a company to manage its finances had frequently been co-opted by overzealous unions that felt they could win almost any strike they started.  For example, in 1961 a strike by union employees against the Rutland Railroad, a small Vermont railroad, came with a warning from railroad management that a strike would mean the end of the railroad.  The union decided not to believe that and struck anyway.  Within weeks of the strike the railroad closed down forever.  Other industries, steel, auto, textile, who were beginning to see foreign competition also suffered from long strikes and unreasonable solutions.  To be fair, much of American industry had failed to properly retool in the post-WWII era and suffered from the more advanced German and Japanese manufacturing techniques.  But unions of the AFL-CIO, were corrupt and far too powerful.

In the 1980s Ronald Reagan and the Republicans led an anti-union charge that gutted the power of all American unions.  Courts no longer sided with union-busting techniques used by the federal and local governments, most notably was the Air Traffic Controller’s union.  Although the union had the right to strike, Reagan successfully broke the union by having all employees fired, absolutely against the law, but with a public who feared for its safety, a popular move.  Most controllers were rehired but were no longer represented by a union.  Reagan then extended that to include all federal employees who a still unionized, National Association of Government Employees, but who are not allowed to strike even though there are no public safety issues at stake.

But the pendulum of power swung decidedly in favor of today’s corporate management.  The last major strike of any consequence was against Verizon.  Verizon’s response was simply to take all non-union employees and require them to work in the jobs that had been held by union employees.  This quite literally meant that a person who had been a computer database manager could be required to climb a telephone pole to work a wire.  Unsafe, to be sure, but legal.  The public outcry was minimal, and the strike went largely unnoticed.

In the case of Wisconsin, stripping public employees of their right to collective bargaining was simply a way the reduce the power of the union representing them.  For example, a single union may represent the police, firefighters, and building inspectors of a single city.  If the state is trying to double the amount these employees must pay for their insurance, that one union can speak out for those employees collectively rather than the particular local that represents the police having to bargain for their people, the local for the firefighters doing the same, and the building inspectors.  Rather than have three separately locals fighting for the same thing, the overseeing union does it collectively.  That is no longer possible in Wisconsin.  Remember, most public employees do not or cannot strike, police and fire have been banned from strikes for as much as 100 years.  This begs the question, what do state official fear if a strike is unlikely or impossible?

And that takes us back to David Koch and his statement.  Those who head corporate America have enjoyed a prolonged period of employment peace and power.  More often than not, when union contracts have come up for renewal, they have won concessions from the unions.  Union membership feared, rightfully so, that a new contract could lead to layoffs if the perception was they had gotten too much or had not made certain concessions.  But what corporate leadership could not do in 1912, any more than they can do it today, is hide their profits from the general public.  Large American corporations are making huge sums of money, lavishing the board of directors with exorbitant salaries and bonuses, and returning healthy dividends to their stockholders.  The perception, right or wrong, is that this is being done on the backs of workers and to their detriment.

Corportate greed is giving power to the unions once again. And it is being done in exactly the same fashion as happened 100 years ago.  In 1912 there were absolutely no strong unions in America but that changed over the following 10 yeras.  Today’s unions certainly do not have the power they once held but because of actions like those in Wisconsin, they are regaining some of their power and, more importantly, are being seen in a much more favorable light by the general public.


Open Carry Law Redux

I seem to have attracted a lot of attention with my previous post. That’s good! The sentiment is that I got it wrong about open carry laws in the U.S. I didn’t. There are 12 states that allow unrestricted “open carry”: Alabama, Alaska, Montana, Idaho, Wyoming, Nevada, Arizona, New Mexico, South Dakota, Vermont, Kentucky, and Virginia. Another 13 states have a restricted “open carry law” which means you need a permit: Utah, North Dakota, Minnesota, Iowa, Tennessee, Mississippi, Georgia, Indiana, Maryland, New Jersey, Rhode Island, Connecticut, and Massachusetts. The rest of the states do not allow it under any conditions.

The NRA has successfully promoted the myth that the Constitution allows individuals to own guns. That is categorically false. But the Supreme Court has only made a decision of an individual’s right once in U.S. history and it actually sidestepped the issue by deciding against the petitioner without elaborating on the meaning of the amendment. My belief is that by the time the first challenged to the amendment’s meeting arrived at the SJC the justices understood it to be a very delicate case.  Although there have been numerous other challenges they have always come in the form of the powers, rights, and responsibilities of the militia and armed forces.  But in essence, the SJC’s reluctance to make any such ruling has by default affirmed an individual’s right to own a gun.

The wording of the second amendment starts by stating that each state is entitled to an armed militia. It goes on the say the “right of the people” which is using the word “people” in its plural form and not singular. At the time it was written, each state had been an entity unto its own and with limitations extended that upon ratification of the constitution. That is, under English rule each colony was headed by a chief executive, the governor, just as it is today. No colony was answerable to any other colony, and each enlisted, trained, and fielded its own militia as a defense force. The Townsend Acts of 1768 tried to end that when colonial governors were replaced with British governor generals and the armed militia was declared illegal. When British troops marched on Concord Massachusetts it was to disarm the militia. This was fresh in colonists’ minds when they wrote the constitution.

At the time the constitution was written there was a general mistrust of a central “federal” government. We could easily have had a signed constitution a year earlier were it not for that very fact and the difficulty in defining what the federal government would look like. People from Massachusetts did not see things the way Virginians did and Virginians not the way Georgians did. Those were seats of power at the time. An example of just how disparate these views were sits in the form of the “Bill of Rights” or the first ten amendments. Those amendments, plus a law banning slavery, were in the original constitution but the writers recognized they could not get the constitution ratified with all those things in the original document.

Now if you look at the Townsend Act, the Quartering Act, and a series of other laws instituted by Britain in the late 1760s alongside the “Bill of Rights” you will find they line up really well. But it took a full two years before these amendments were enacted, from 1789 when they were proposed to 1791 when they were ratified.  You must remember, however, at the time there were three basic types of guns, pistols, muskets, and cannons.  They did not envision things like revolvers, automatics weapons and other sorts of ordinance that exists today.

That said, I personally believe that individuals ought to have the right to possess any gun they want.  I have no desire to see any weapon declared illegal for an individual to own.  There are exceptions, of course, which I think even the NRA would not have a problem with.  Those exceptions are weapons like live hand grenades and missiles of any sort.  Where the NRA and I disagree is how people come to own such weapons and the terms upon which they can hold them.  I cannot imagine why any responsible individual would dislike background checks and registration, other than laziness and selfishness.  Why is it you do not mind that the government can track your car but not your gun?  Why is it intrusive to assure you have the right to own a weapon when you are purchasing one?  A reasonable person wanting to keep guns out of criminal hands cannot in good conscience challenge the safety of all to their own selfish ends.

Finally, I was not clear as to my meaning of what was happening at the end of the 19th century for that I apologize.  Most cities, and some states, had ordinances in place that outlawed “open carry” of guns.  In time, some states saw fit to overturn these laws with laws of their own, or to reaffirm the law.  At the end of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th century states took it upon themselves to makes laws for the entire state that had previously been held by municipalities; liquor sales, employment, age requirements, and gun laws.  The gun laws became even more stringent during the 1920s when organized crime arose.   The idea that lawless was returning to the streets of America was abhorrent to the average citizen.  But by 1940 better state police forces and stronger federal law enforcement brought an end to that.  This started a period of good feeling by the general public.

I personally have no problem with people openly carrying weapons.  But I moderate that by saying I want the security of knowing that behind that gun is an individual permit to be carrying it.  I want to know that any person openly carrying a weapon has been properly vetted by law enforcement to insure that they actually have a right to own the gun in the first place.  I think in the case of Oklahoma, and any other state, if such assurances are given an open carry law will pass easily.

What Happened to the Old Names?

I have lifted this idea from the first part of the movie “Freakonomics.”  But I am not going to comment on why people have the names they do today or how they effect them.  For the record, I like my name, always have.  On the list of popular names, Peter is a long way down.  I like that.  It is also a really old name, goes way back to Biblical times.  But there are a lot of old names that have disappeared from usage.  I have been working a lot on my family genealogy and I have seen names there that I do not even know how to pronounce.  And I am from an almost strictly English lineage family.

There are names like Gertrude, Bertha, Egbert, and others that you can still find today but they are rare.  In the 1940s thousands of American mothers named their girls Shirley after Shirley Temple.  Now, it is rare.  On the other hand, Sofia and Sofie, which seemed like grandmother names when I was a kid, have returned to popularity.  Why is that?  Are people combing their family trees looking for disused names for their kids?

In the movie they mentioned how the name Tyrone summoned up the idea of a black man.  But my mind immediately when to Tyrone Power who was a decided white guy who was also a movie star.  Their point was, however, how ethnicity plays into how children are named many times.  An Irish family might name their daughter Siobhan, pronounced “shee – von.”  French families may favor Marie while Italians might favor Anthony.

One hundred years ago some of the names popular in my family were Matilda, Herbert, Hiram, Horace, Phebe, and Elihu.  I don’t think I have heard of anyone naming their child any of those names today.  And there are some other names Mehetable, Erastus, Phonia, Relief, Manesseh, Zeruviah, Zephaniah, and Ephraim.  Had I not been so involved in my genealogy it is unlikely, I think, that I would have ever heard any of those names.  Some defy gender identity and were it not for the fact that the gender is mentioned, I still would not know.  Where did these names come from, the Bible?

But there were also some old names in there that I think have a place in today’s society.  Jonas, Cyrus, Abigail, Cordelia, and Minerva.  I have always been partial to the name Hannah.  It is an old name but it is unusual to hear someone with the name.  In my family the name Isaac was used from the time they arrived here in 1638 until my grandfather, and I have a cousin who is an Isaac.  But it too is a name in disuse.  Why is that?  I think it is a great name for a boy.

I once heard that if a girl is named Catherine instead of Katherine it was because she was Catholic but I have no idea if it is true.  But I have never known a Protestant Catherine, or Caren for that matter.

And then there is Jeffrey and Geofrey, same pronunciation, different spelling.  How do they decide?  Or how about Steven and Stephen when they are pronounced the same?  How does that happen?

This is one of those posts that I am not trying to make any point at all.  I just find some things curios and this is one of them.

Open Gun Carry in Oklahoma?

Right now the Oklahoma legislature is considering a bill that would allow Oklahomans to openly carry guns.  The logic behind this bill is the idea that a person who is openly carrying a weapon is much less likely to become the victim of a crime.  The idea is also to level the playing field, so to speak, with criminals.

I find two problems with this thinking.  First, it assumes the carrier will be trained in the usage of the gun and its safety.  But right now Oklahoma only requires a very brief course on gun safety for concealed weapons.  The course hardly inspires confidence that these gun owners could be counted on to act safely and reasonably in all situations.  It also does not assure for the safety of innocents who might get caught in the crossfire.  The other question is begs is how do you insure that these guns will not be taken from these people by criminals and then used in their criminal behavior.  Certainly a person on the street wearing a gun on his hip is open to being stripped of the gun by a thief.  It is hard to imagine any police force or public safety individuals supporting this bill and yet the discussion goes on.

The reason the open carry laws died in the early 20th century is obvious.  People wanted peace on their streets and the images of the old west did not sit well with them.  It was obvious to them that all people could not be counted upon to act reasonably and responsibly in all situations.  Too many innocent people were dying as the result of gun fights.  It also allowed for vigilantes, people like George Zimmerman in Florida, to take the law into their own hands.  If anything, Zimmerman shows us exactly the problems that exist in America today with the current laws.  The NRA has overreached in its efforts to keep as many guns on the street as possible.  Cases like Zimmerman will only increase if an open carry law is passed.

This is not a 2nd Amendment issue, as some will try to point out.  This is a common sense issue.  Our society is too violent as it is.  We certainly do not need to make it any more so by allowing open carry law.

The Koreans

In December of 1968 I was sent by the Army to Korea.  I was one of the fortunate ones who through luck alone was spared the horrors of Vietnam.  But Korea was not a country without conflict.  To the contrary, Korea had a simmering peace that occasionally erupted into armed exchange.  The world took little note of these exchanges because of Vietnam.  But the exchanges were often deadly.  Two of the more infamous events at that time was the taking of the ship USS Pueblo and its entire crew, and the downing of an American spy plane, an EC-121.  I was there for the release of the Pueblo and the entire EC-121 incident.  The latter came close to bringing about an all out fighting war.

But this is not the story of a divided country on the brink of war.  This is the story of a people I came to know, respect, and love.  It was also my introduction to a third world country, and all its challenges.

When I alighted from the Boeing 707 that took me to Korea I noticed a distinct scent in the air.  I found out in time it was a mixture of burning wood, burning charcoal, and human excrement.   The wood and charcoal were the fuels of choice for most of the Korean population and human excrement was used in the rice fields as fertilizer.

Many of the soldiers in Korea, myself included, lived in Quonset Huts.  Each of the huts was kept clean and in good order by a house boy, a Korean man we paid.  It was my house boy who introduced me to Korean society, such as it was.  But prior to arriving in Korea, I had met a Korean family in my home town who expressed to me their desire I visit with their relatives in Seoul.  I did that too.

At the time, Korea had a very small rich class, a slightly larger though still tiny middle-class, and a huge number of poor.  Korea was still recovering from the second world war.  My house boy, of course, was a member of the poor, and the family I was entreated to visit was a member of the middle-class.  You could tell middle-class members by their black and refurbished former US Army jeeps.  The rich owned small Toyotas and Datsuns.

My house boy invited to his house for supper one day.  I, of course, was obliged to accept.   His house was little more than two rooms that included his wife and children plus his parents.  In Korea it was expected and accepted that children cared for their parents.  The door to the outside was a wooden frame with paper filling what would otherwise have been small window frames.  The house was heated by a small charcoal stove situated beneath the floor.  These devices proved to be deadly too often, giving off much carbon monoxide.  It always amazed me that these structures never seemed to catch fire.  Such a fire would have ravaged its neighborhood with its extremely tightly intertwined wooden edifices.

A veritable feast was laid out in front of me.  We sat on the floor and ate there.  It was not as much because of custom but from a lack of any sort of furniture.  Such furniture was a luxury the poor could not afford.  The feast in front of my was, I am certain, far more expensive and expansive than the family could afford.  Rice, fish, kimchi and seaweed were a large part of this feast.  At the time, most poor Koreans allowed themselves fish once a week, opting for rice and kimchi as their staples.  Somewhere in the course of the evening my house boy offered how good they had it compared to others.  He explained that the truly poor were forced to eat rat at times.  Dogs were rare, for obvious reasons, but were considered a delicacy, he told me.   When the meal was finished we men had a drink of cheonju, a Korean rice wine.  When he took a drink my house boy turned his head away.  He later explained he that out of respect to his father, that he did not drink in front of him.

When the EC-121 was shot down my house boy disappeared for a week.  The entire Korean and American army had mobilized for what everyone was certain was the coming war.  My house boy was a member of the national guard which included every man between the ages of 18 and 60 without exception.  My house boy expressed a passionate desire to fight the north and re-unite the two Koreas.  He had relatives in the north he had never met.  When he returned he expressed his disappointment that a war had not started.  It did come to an exchange of artillery fire at the DMZ, and a lot of posturing.

I was also treated to dinner with the middle-class family I had been introduced to.  I do not remember how we found each other, but I do know their American relatives informed them I was there and where to find me, so I expect they reached out at some point.  They picked me up in their black jeep and took me to their home, considerably larger than that of my house boy.  The meal they put out, equal of course to that of my house boy, included pulgogi, beef that is fried upon a small stove.

I visited something that was rather unique in the orient while I was there, a “girl’s university.”  Women were still second class citizens in the far east.  But in Seoul there was a rather large, and or some prestige, college for women to attend, Yonsei University.

Koreans were hell-bent on being both autonomous and powerful.  Their army was large, extremely well-trained, and proud.  They were so highly thought of by the US Department of Defense that they were considered out best ally and fighting partner in Vietnam.  Many Koreans gave their lives in war in Vietnam.  Unlike other allies America has had, the Koreans never backed down from a fight and were intensely loyal.  The ROK soldiers, as they were known, were highly valued by the American troops.  This resolve was fermented in the 40 plus years of Japanese occupation Korea endured.

I knew, at the tender age of 20, that this industrious society would one day come into its own and be respected by the world.  That day, of course, has arrived.  I responded to what I found in Korea by vowing to verbally defend anyone who would detract Korea and its people.  These are wonderful people.  They have a marvelous country, rich with history, and a force in the world both economically and politically.  They are the epitome of Teddy Roosevelt’s axiom, “Walk quietly and carry a big stick.”

Required Feelings

There was a time when someone asked me how long I had felt depressed, I would answer, “I have never known a time when I was not depressed.”  That depression came from a few sources.  One was fear and the other was an inability to deal with my feelings.  Feelings are one of those things that have certain requirements that come with them, but if you do not know what those requirements are, you fail.  I know a lot of people who get negative feelings of some sort respond to those feelings by taking a drink.  I was one of those people.  I knew that when I felt badly I could cover up those feelings by having a drink, or two, or three.

There is a problem to actively avoiding feelings, they are cumulative.  That is, each feeling that is covered up remains with you even if submerged.  They continue to accumulate waiting to be dealt with and released.  In my case more feelings meant more alcohol or pills.  And every time a new and negative feeling arose I covered it up with a drink.  I did not know how to honestly deal with my feelings.

One of the feelings I had that bothered me was a simmering anger.  There was a lot that had happened to me in my childhood and as a young adult that made me feel resentful and angry.  But my inability to deal with those issues in an honest and straightforward manner made me feel worse and worse.  It also made me dishonest.  Whenever someone offered to help I rejected the help because I was too ashamed with what I was feeling to express it and rid myself of it.   One of the things I feared the most, losing friends and family, happened anyway.  My own daughters felt rightfully estranged from me.  I needed a solution but I was clueless as to what it could be.

One day someone suggested I had a problem with alcohol.  My response was that I could control my drinking.  I could stop whenever I wanted.  Of course that was all part of the big lie I told myself so that I believed I had some sort of control of myself.  The truth was, I was totally not in control of my life.  I did not have a clue of how to be happy with myself.  Hell, I hated myself and told myself such regularly.  I resented my mother, my sister, and a whole host of other people.  What I failed to realize was all that resentment was simply my seeing myself and hating what I saw.

I was taken to a meeting of Alcoholics Anonymous, still not believing I had a problem with alcohol.  I heard this promise in one of those meetings that my life would change more dramatically for the good than I could either imagine or hope for.  Of course I did not believe all those good things would happen to me but since I did not have any ideas of my own I decided to stick around and see if things could get better.

One of the first things that happened to me was I gained friends, lots of them, quickly.  I liked these people but they consistently told me that I had to be totally honest with myself and everyone else if I wanted to be truly happy.  It took me well over a year to accept that I had a problem with alcohol but in that year my life changed dramatically.  I finally had a plan for success that was working, and even though I was  not anywhere near where I wanted to be, for the first time in my life I had hope.

I promised myself that I was going to get honest about everything regardless of what it cost me.  That meant dealing with feelings.  It had never occurred to me that negative feelings are a requirement of life.  That is, the only way to know how really good I can feel is to accept how truly badly I can feel as well.  That came out in spades about three months ago when a dear friend, who was a mere 31 years old, lost her battle with alcohol and died.  I felt miserable, and for quite some time too.  But I understood that I had to go straight through those negative feelings.  I would hurt myself by avoiding the negative feelings.  But I had arrived at a place where I realized, gratefully, that everyone feels these things, and the strong and truly happy people readily accept their feelings.

One of the things that separates we humans from the rest of the animal kingdom are these feelings we get.  But we must accept those feelings to live as happily as is possible.  When we feel mad we have to find a healthy way to express that feeling.  When we feel sad it is all right, and a good thing.  When sad we do not need to lie to people who ask us how we are doing.  Telling someone that we are not doing so well is all right, and actually quite healthy.  We have to accept that we are responsible for our feelings and that if someone rejects one of our feelings, that is all right too.  We have an absolute right to all of our feelings regardless of what anyone thinks.  Feelings are a requirement of the human condition.  What we do with those feelings is a matter of personal choice.  Today, I choose to deal with them in an honest and forthright manner.  I have a great 12-step program and over 13 years of sobriety to thank for that.  I also have a fabulous life today and a plan for my next 50 years of life.

What Happens When Oil Runs Low?

Many experts believe we have discovered, and quantified, pretty much all the oil available on Earth.  If that is true, and there is good reason to believe it is, at our current rate of consumption, it is unlikely we will make it half way through the century with affordable fossil fuel.  Think of it this way, in the past 20 years we have used as much oil as we did in the 80 years prior to that.

I filled up my tank today.  It cost me about $35.  It occurred to me as I finished pumping that the money I had just spent on gasoline is equal to half a day’s pay for a lot of people.  And with the price going up as it is, it will not be long before a tank of gas will be equivalent to a lot people’s pay for a full day of work.  That means a 20% outlay of gross income for gas?  That is a problem.

Now consider that aircraft use a petroleum derivative that has historically cost 25% more per gallon than what you put in your car.  True, it is aviation grade fuel, kerosene actually, but the point is, the consumer pays for that fuel in the price of the ticket of course.  Now think down the road to 2050.  By that time oil has become a lot more scarce than it is now and the price of fuel has taken many people out of the car ownership market.  Those people are not going to be opting for a high-priced airline ticket either.  The thing is, until someone comes up with something revolutionary as a fuel for aircraft, they are stuck with petroleum.  While automobiles will be switching to batteries, ships to nuclear power, aircraft do not have any alternative on the horizon.

I think as soon as 10 years from now you will be seeing the effects of skyrocketing aviation fuel causing a steady decline in passengers as tickets become too expensive.  Many airlines will go under, small cities will lose air service all together, and you may well see the re-introduction of trans-oceanic passenger travel as an affordable, though slow, method of overseas travel.

How many of you heat your houses with oil?  That is going to be a problem.  And even natural gas, though far more plentiful now, is not renewable.  Do we switch back to coal-fired furnaces or will industry give us affordable solar alternatives?  Will the nuclear power plant suddenly become popular?