Sunday, July 19, 2009

FedEx, UPS and the Teamsters.

The House of Representatives has recently passed a bill which could make it easier for employees of Federal Express to unionize. In previous attempts to do so, FedEx drivers have overwhelmingly supported the idea, but have been knocked down by the courts. One reason they face difficulty in collective bargaining is the driver’s classification as independent contractors, but another is the classification of the Federal Express corporation as an airline, which determines which labor laws they are obliged to follow and what rights their employees have.

Federal Express started off as an airline because their original service was strictly air transportation of packages, and is therefore governed by the Railway Labor Act, which covers air transportation in addition to rail, and that makes it more difficult for it’s workers to unionize then that of it’s rival, UPS, which began as a ground transportation service. Congress is currently considering legislation which would make it easier for FedEx employees to unionize by transferring government oversight to the National Labor Relations Act, which is what controls UPS. The reason it is more difficult to unionize under the RLA is because support for a union in that case must come from all eligible employees across the nation, not just those who would show up to vote, a very difficult requirement to achieve under any circumstance. This requirement was probably put in specifically to avoid an economically damaging strike in the rail industry.

It is no surprise that UPS supports this legislation, and FedEx opposes it. The reasons for each are simple, so long as UPS is unionized and FedEx isn’t, UPS’s operating costs are considerably higher, a situation that UPS argues gives FedEx an unfair business advantage. As a result of collective bargaining, UPS union employees receive better wages and benefits. It should be noted that UPS itself treats its non-union employees differently then its union ones. The union employees receive higher wages and better benefits then the non-union ones; and the promotion process is strictly by seniority for union covered positions, while it is open to competition for the others, which includes competition from applicants outside of the company.

FedEx has launched a campaign comparing the legislation to a government bailout for UPS. Their efforts can be seen at this website: Their accusation is ridiculous, and as far as I can see, nobody seems to be buying it. I suspect that most of the traffic to the website is by those who would mock it. They’re also threatening to back out of a multi-billion dollar contract with Boeing if the bill should pass, which is being viewed by many as a sort of economic blackmail.

When contemplating whether to support this bill, Congress should first consider what it would mean to American consumers if FedEx employees unionized. The company’s operating costs would certainly go up, thereby cutting into their profits. Of course, it is understandable why upper management would not want this. But it is unlikely that they would pass this loss on to consumers, since pricing is already comparable to UPS prices, and it’s my opinion that corporations always charge as much as the market will bear. Secondly, a consideration of what the consequences to American workers would be is in order. By the nature of the business, FedEx will not be able to ship these jobs overseas, since the workers need to be physically located locally in order to get the work done. So no large scale job loss is impending.

Since economic conditions will not be effected by unionization, the public at large has very little stake in how this turns out. Profitability between the two corporations is an in-house problem, and of little concern to the general population. So the only large group with any real stake in this issue is FedEx employees, and it should be their voice that should be given the highest priority. It doesn’t take a genius to figure out where they probably stand on this. I was unable to find any independent polling on FedEx employees about this subject (the internal FedEx poll doesn’t count,) nor did I find any media interviews with them; but I did notice that the comments sections of the news stories about this were filled with people claiming to be FedEx employees who were overwhelmingly in favor of unionizing. The most often cited reasons were fear of being fired without good cause and lack of a satisfactory pension plan. The media is covering the big voices here, meaning the spokespeople for the two corporations and the Teamster’s union, but are ignoring the very people with the biggest interest in the passage of the bill.

The FAA Reauthorization Bill has now moved on to the Senate. If the lopsided passage in the House is any indication, it should pass easily.

Saturday, July 4, 2009

Quitters Never Win

We’ve all quit something before we should have. But at some point in our lives we realize that finishing what we start is a virtue that not only speaks to our dependability, but brings about opportunities we might not otherwise have. We should learn that lesson when we’re children, though most of us don’t. Some of us learn it during our teens; but most of us catch on some time during our early twenties. There’s a few of us who never learn it, and those people become the losers who still live in their parents basement, the neighborhood busybodies with no life of their own, and the job hoppers who limit their professional potential. With all her talk about responsibilities and commitments, I wouldn’t have pegged Sarah Palin as a quitter, but alas, she has quit the most important job she will ever have three-fourths of the way through her term. Really, how shortsighted is it to quit something when you’re almost finished with it anyway? So what the hell is she thinking?

Since she didn’t reveal much during her rambling and incoherent resignation speech (she really should have had that proofread by an aid or someone who can write,) everybody is speculating. Some say she’s quitting now so that she can concentrate on a run for president which would be impractical to carry out from Alaska. Other’s say she’s looking to avoid more ethics investigations. There’s even speculation that she’s pregnant again. But the most practical commentators are chalking it up to the opportunity for her to cash in on her celebrity and the multi-million dollar media offers that her job as governor was getting in the way of.

Now here’s the problem. By quitting now, she has destroyed her credibility. She has no political future as somebody with a reputation for not following through with her commitments. It is almost sad, because she was the most talked about presidential prospect for 2012. I personally do not think Sarah Palin is qualified to be president, nor do I think that she could have actually gotten her party’s nomination. But stranger things have happened. For the last year, she’s been the star of the Republican Party. When she has something to say, people do listen. And with her giving up her platform, it’s questionable whether people will be interested in hearing her anymore. It will be like when an actor gets famous on a hit television series, gets a bunch of film offers, leaves the series to make films, and suddenly no more movie offers come their way. Actors David Caruso or Shelly Long could attest to that situation.

If she had finished out her term, all of those great opportunities would still have been present, including an opportunity to run for president. Maybe she wouldn’t have won, but a long term career as a commentator that would have been highly lucrative and influential would have been hers. Instead, she has decided to take the quick cash. A multimillion dollar book deal, a radio show, and the lecture circuit. I predict it will all dry up very quickly, and she’ll be left with a few million dollars, which she would have earned anyway and then some; and one very big regret. With only seventeen months to go, couldn’t she have just lumbered through it?

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Ahmadinejad and The Gays

Several months ago, in September of 2008, the president of Iran, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad announced that homosexuals do not exist in Iran. That’s Ahmadinejad at left kissing another man, not that there’s anything wrong with that. Well, there’s a reason that one might not notice any homosexuals in Iran, and that’s because when identified, the government kills them.

A few years ago, the situation garnered publicity when two teenagers were hung for committing such an atrocity. Here’s an actual picture of them about to be hung at right. They look awfully young. Their names were Ayaz and Mahmoud. If they really were gay lovers, we can only hope that they are now in a place where they can be together in peace. Hanging is particularly gruesome in Iran. They don’t kick out a chair from underneath you so that your neck breaks neatly like we used to do in the U.S. Instead, they lift you up gently into the air by the neck so that you suffocate slowly.

According to Iranian law, homosexual conduct which involves penetration results in the death penalty. That which does not involve said action, are sentenced to a brutal public flogging; but even in those cases, one only gets three strikes until they finally hang you. What’s more, is that once tagged as a homosexual, a person will be constantly harassed by the local Basij paramilitary club, who probably find it entertaining to do so, and aren’t above framing somebody. And how would the court be able to prove that a person has committed such acts? They elicit a confession. Why somebody would confess to a crime that would automatically get them the death penalty is illogical, and not surprisingly charges of torture and threats against ones family during questioning are common.

This is what Ahmadinejad had to say to a reporter in New York after his laughable comment:

Our religious decrees tell us that it’s against our values, and all divine laws, actually, believe in the same. Who has given them permission to engage in homosexual acts? It’s considered as an abhorrent act. It shakes the foundations of a society, the family foundation. It robs humanity. It brings about diseases.
That argument sounds an awful lot like the ones used in the U.S. by fundamentalist Christians, incidentally. And why are homosexuals the consistent target of neo-fascist governments? Because they need a marginalized group to scapegoat, whether it be Jews, Christians, secularists, homosexuals or what have you. Targeting the disenfranchised is not likely to meet resistance from the general population, while at the same time sending that very population the message that they better conform themselves, or they could be next.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

The Legacy of Ed McMahon

You’re not supposed to speak ill of the dead, but I’m about to when I complain about Ed McMahon. Now that he’s passed away, everybody on T.V. will certainly have something good to say about him. How generous he was, what a gentleman he was, how loyal he was; and all of that is probably true. But there was one thing Ed McMahon did that really sticks in my craw: his involvement with a sweepstakes company back in the 80’s and 90’s called American Family Publishers. This company sent masses of deceptive mailings claiming that “You have already won a prize*” The asterisk indicated a disclaimer printed somewhere inconspicuous on the page reading: “if you have the winning number,” in very small print (of course.) The advertisements were blatantly deceptive and meant to extract money from the gullible. Some might say that if you’re that gullible, you deserve what you get. The problem there is that being gullible is often a side effect of having diminished mental capacity, and many of the victims were elderly people who couldn’t afford to be ripped off. Eventually, law suits against the company began to build up until they finally went out of business, all the while putting forth Ed’s trusted face and smiling endorsement. McMahon continued to deflect criticism, rather defensively and not very convincingly as I recall. What most of us couldn’t understand is why someone so well regarded and, we assumed wealthy would sully his reputation like that. The reason Ed continued to lend his endorsement was probably because they paid him well. So, maybe he needed the money, and in fact, we now know that he did. He spent his money as fast as he made it, and he made and spent a lot. He didn’t just make one bad choice here. He continued to make one for close to two decades. A choice that had real victims, while lining his pockets. Ed McMahon sold out principals for profit for a very long time, and that is as much a part of his legacy as are his co-hosting duties on The Tonight Show.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Neda, the Voice of Iran

We are being told that the woman in this picture's name was Neda. She was murdered on the street in Tehran today. The video of her death is one of the most horrifying things that I have ever seen. It is so horrible, that I will never watch it again. She was shot in the chest by a member of the Iranian basij, a group of thugs who are under the protection and influence of the Iranian government. As Neda lay dying the camera is able to get a close up of her face. Beneath the blood that is hemorrhaging from her mouth and nose, you can see that she was beautiful and young. Neda apparently means "voice" in Farsi. I am so sorry that her voice has been so unjustly silenced.

I watched another video of the basij raiding an apartment complex tonight. It is so dark that you can see nothing, but the horrifying screams of the residents reveal so much. This reminds me of the tactics of the Nazi's, who used the Gestapo to perpetuate similar incidents of terror like the Night of Broken Glass. I wonder why the basij were raiding that particular apartment complex? Perhaps the residents were on their rooftop during the daytime shouting out support for the demonstrators. Like most bullies, the thugs waited until the crowds disappeared so that they could terrorize without being challenged.

I keep asking myself why I care so much about what is happening half way around the world. I truly don't know why. I am not friends with anyone who is Iranian, and when I was growing up anti-Iranian sentiment was at its highest. Though I was fortunate enough to have been born in the United States, I am somehow deeply moved by the human story of people who are struggling for their inherent rights. Isn't that statement redundant? The very definition of rights is that they are inherent. Yet time and time again, rights must be fought for and vigorously protected.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Iran Protests

All week I have been enthralled by the protests in Iran. I am thoroughly impressed by the numbers of people who have turned out, the energy that this rebellion contains, and I am excited for them that change appears to be inevitable. I wish that I could do something to help. Of course, I am limited in what actions I can take, and so far, the social networks seem to be the only platform that I might use to offer support. I changed my Facebook profile picture to the green one on the left. I also changed my location from Los Angeles to Tehran in hopes of confusing the Iranian government who will probably be policing the Facebook profiles for subversive Iranians. The more profiles they have to look through, the more difficult it should be to zero in on the rebels. I even opened a Twitter account giving my city as Tehran and adjusting my time zone to comply. In conjunction with many others, this will hopefully help them avoid the government thought police.
I'm very worried about what is going to happen later today. The Ayatollah Khamenei made a very obvious threat in his speech Friday. I understand the protest is expected to begin at 4 p.m. Iran time, which is about 6:30 a.m. my time. By the time I wake up it will all be over with. Three things could happen. 1, the protesters will be too afraid to come out and nothing will happen. 2, The protesters come out and are allowed to proceed. Or 3, the protesters come out and the government begins a bloody crackdown. I am hoping for the second scenario, but unfortunately expect the third. There is a good chance that the Ayatollah will be taking his cues from China, since they got away with what they did in Tiananmen Square. One thing that has changed since 1989 though is technology. Citizens in Iran have cell phone cameras and internet access, and the images taken so far have been getting out despite government attempts to stop them. So the whole world will see what happens, including the Iranian's.

Just Starting Out

I've been wanting to start a blog for a while, and since it's one o'clock in the morning and I have nothing better to do, I figured now is as good a time as any to start. I'm not sure what I'll be writing about, but who knows. Maybe after I get into a rhythm, I might have something profound to say.

I hope I'll be able to change the title of the blog at a later date. I had to think of something quickly so I could start blogging tonight, and stealing the template of my friend Raphael's blog, which is titled "FeloTalk", I came up with "RodRap." It's based on the old Rodney Dangerfield song "Rappin' Rodney." After a good night's sleep, I'll either decide that it's catchy, or that it's stupid.