Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Are The Democrats Poised For Victory?


"County Election" by George Caleb Bingham 1851 Posted by Picasa

Bring yourself back to the point quite gently. And even if you do nothing during the whole of your hour but bring your heart back a thousand times, though it went away every you brought it back, your hour would be very well employed.

---St. Francis De Sales, On Meditation

It is important to see that the main point of any spiritual practice is to step out of the bureaucracy of ego. This means stepping out of ego's constant desire for a higher, more spiritual, more transcendental version of knowledge, religion, virtue, judgment, comfort or whatever it is that the particular ego is seeking.

---Chogyam Trungpa

To find perfect composure in the midst of change is to find nirvana.

---Shunryu Suzuki

At my workplace the other day, a retired social studies teacher, in to substitute and an astute Republican, challenged us assembled Democrats in the lunchroom. We're in Ohio remember, where the gubernatorial election in November will decide between Democrat Ted Strickland, a sensible and friendly man, and Republican Kenneth Blackwell, deranged and perhaps crooked evangelist. Our Republican friend said, "If you guys can't win this time, you'll never win!"

Not counting the distinct possibility that both the 2000 and 2004 presidential elections were rigged, it would seem the Democrats have issues galore and an increasing advantage as the campaign season begins. But what do we see, what do we hear? I see business-as-usual, I hear snoring. Where is thundering oratory about corruption and injustice? I am not alone on the brink of dismissing the Democrats as out to lunch. What follows is a review of Ted Kennedy's new book, written by the publisher of Harper's Magazine~~~

Edward Kennedy's Bland, Tepid Book

Posted on Sunday, May 14, 2006. Edward Kennedy and the Democrats' dwindling hopes. Originally from The Providence Journal, Tuesday, May 2, 2006. By John R. MacArthur.

If you want to know why the Democrats are unlikely to retake the majority in either house of Congress this November, you need look no further than the boilerplate party platform, just published, entitled America Back on Track and allegedly written by Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D., Mass.). Already, that Kennedy claims to be the actual author of this "book" reveals an unbecoming vanity—common to his father and late brothers—that weakens the cause of defeating President Bush's right-wing hordes. But worse is that one of the last, semi-authentic liberals in the upper house would let his name be used by a party machine that seems determined to maintain its minority status in Washington.

With Bush way down in the polls, Tom Delay in disgrace and Iraq a growing disaster, you would think that the Democrats, including Kennedy, might sense an opportunity. Read this committee-written tract and witness the opportunity squandered, just as it was squandered in 2004 by the junior senator from Massachusetts, the “Kennedyesque” John Kerry.

To be fair, Ted Kennedy does acknowledge a “collaborator” for America Back on Track named Jeffrey Madrick, the editor of Challenge Magazine. But it's not fair to poor Madrick to be saddled with such a task, or blamed for the result, even if he was well paid.

Turgid, often self-contradictory, and always predictable, this book—if it had to be published—should have been ghosted by somebody with the courage to reject at least some of the bromides mandated by a party leadership in rapid decay.

Which isn't to say that America Back on Track is useless. Viewed as the Democratic Senate Campaign Committee platform for the 2006 campaign, it has value as a summary. Kennedy/Madrick marshal lots of alarming facts and statistics to buttress their criticisms—overly polite—of Bush and the belligerent Republican majority in Congress. For example, in the realm of Bush administration secrecy, I didn't know that Congress's nonpartisan General Accounting Office had to resort to a lawsuit (unsuccessful) for the first time in its 80-year history to try to pry loose the membership of Vice President Dick Cheney's notoriously secret energy task force.

Regarding America's class, race and market-distorted education system, it's interesting to learn that France and Germany, on a percentage basis, graduate twice as many students with bachelor's degrees in science, math, computer technology and engineering as the U.S. does—this, in part, because U.S. pharmaceutical companies pay their MBAs so much more than their PhDs. On average, say the authors, U.S. “teachers earn . . . almost $8,000 less than comparable graduates in other fields, and the gap almost triples to $23,000 after fifteen years.”

Conventional liberals, Kennedy/Madrick want the federal government to increase its paltry contribution to public schools, still too reliant on the class-biased, locally levied property tax. Washington now provides only 8 percent of K-12 funding, ensuring that Bush's “No Child Left Behind” program will remain a cruel fraud (Howard Dean called it “No Child Left Untested”).

Addressing America's increasingly sordid labor market, Kennedy/Madrick note the obvious: that workers can't live decently on the minimum wage—frozen since 1997 at $5.15 an hour—particularly since there's no national health insurance. Disgusting enough, but worse when you learn that 86 percent of low-wage food-service workers receive not one day of paid sick leave.

But as Kennedy systematically kneels at each station of the cross of liberalism—racial equality, environmental protection, universal health care and international cooperation among others—I can't help being struck by the timidity of someone supposedly so far to the left of the American spectrum and so politically secure in his position.

If you can wade through the sea of blandness, all the way to the end, you might conclude that the country is in dreadful shape—steered by a reckless and tyrannical president; mired in an utterly unjustified foreign bloodbath; dominated by jeering plutocrats and shyster corporations—and that something radical needs to be done. In the face of this crisis, Kennedy et al. offer clich├ęs, sometimes contradictory, in the voice of an advertising agency: “Terrorism is our greatest threat . . . ”; “among our most tragic errors is that we have not clearly defined our new enemy”; then, apparently thinking better of the first statement, “terrorism is our newest enemy, but the spread of nuclear weapons remains our greatest threat.”

Meanwhile, Kennedy can't get the economic threats straight either. He wants a “job-creation tax credit” in the U.S. to combat job losses and wage declines caused by “offshoring.” But he evidently hasn't considered the vast wage differential between Springfield and Shanghai. Like other Democratic “free-traders,” and “pro-immigrant” politicians, Kennedy can't reconcile his supposed love of the American working stiff with his distaste for protective tariffs.

Absent high tariffs on cheap Chinese imports, and without a substantial, government-driven transfer of wealth from the top (where Kennedy lives) to the bottom (where the stiffs reside), all the “job training” in the world won't do much to ease the pain. Raising the minimum wage would help, but unless there's a limit on the flood of desperate immigrants—“guest workers” or illegals—you can't expect the free market to force wages up “naturally” to a humane level. You can't have it every which way. So Kennedy ducks and proposes “community-impact statements” when a corporation ships its assembly line to Mexico or China. Thanks, Ted.

He also ducks on energy. The market (and higher taxes) can promote conservation and fight pollution—indeed, we should welcome higher oil prices to discourage consumption and increase fuel efficiency. But Kennedy only suggests more stringent government mileage standards for cars and trucks because he's afraid of opposing cheap gasoline. At the same time, his call for greater investment in “alternative . . . energy, especially renewable sources such as solar, biomass, and wind energy” is hypocritical given his steadfast opposition to the proposed Nantucket Sound wind-energy project.

As for Iraq, “it's hard to maintain with a straight face that the war was justified” but Kennedy the party man dares not fall out with Democratic hawks and declares that “success in Iraq is essential . . . ” This is both asinine and cynical. Imagine reading these two phrases together at the funeral of your son or daughter killed in the Sunni Triangle.

I wonder what would have happened if Ted Kennedy had really written his own book, free of party dogma and the ghosts of his brothers. A radical notion, but I've heard from mutual friends that he has an authentically generous heart. And even the professional Kennedy hater Howie Carr admits that Ted Kennedy has a sense of humor, a commodity sorely lacking in America Back on Track. In his book, The Brothers Bulger, Carr quotes Teddy's response to a restaurant meeting with the scary and obdurate Billy Bulger, the longtime Massachusetts Senate president. Bulger had insisted on ordering the most expensive items on the menu, all the while refusing to compromise with Kennedy. “I don't know whether we should try to persuade him,” Kennedy remarked to an associate. “I know we can't afford to keep feeding him.”

It's never too late to get back on track. Just ask the former drunk driver George Bush.

About the AuthorJohn R. MacArthur is the publisher of Harper's Magazine.http://harpers.org/EdwardKennedyBlandTepid-129439.html

Thursday, May 04, 2006

Worker-Owned


Messenger photos by John Halley
Slicing and wrapping bread at Crumb’s Bakery in Athens are, from left, Jeroch Carlson, Jen Strecker and Lisa Trocchia- Balkits. The bakery is marking its 20th year as a worker- owned business. Posted by Picasa

The flowers in the breeze are swaying, swaying,
The whole world is out a-Maying.

---Genevieve Mary Irons

Somehow---I [Jakuso Kwong] didn't drop it---the teacup, a temple treasure, dropped itself. You know how those things go? You're positve you didn't drop it, but somehow the teacup left the table. And I missed it and it fell on the floor and broke! And I felt SO bad. And then Katagiri Roshi went, "Oh ooooooh." And the Suzuki Roshi went "ooooooh, ooooooh, ooooh, ooh, oh." Then my mind started working. I could glue it back together! But Suzuki Roshi came over and we picked up the pieces. And he took the pieces and he stuffed them into the garbage so deep that even my mind couldn't get to them.

---"Dropped" Zen

All human beings should try to learn before they die what they are running from, and to, and why.

---James Thurber

The other day it was pleasant to see our son's picture on the front page of the local newspaper...and like any proud papa I want to preserve it and show it around. It's also a good chance to describe the particular organization of the bakery, where he has worked for a few years now and evolved into a position of some shared managerial responsibility. He's very happy with what he's doing. The Athens community has an ongoing interest in these kinds of business opportunities and that spirit is a main reason so many folks move here. In case you missed it or live a distance away, here's Jeroch and a copy of the article~~~

The Athens Messenger
A community climate
Crumb’s celebrates 20 years as worker-owned
Matt Gallagher
Messenger staff writer
Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Getting up to bake before the sun rises is a labor love, and workers at Crumb’s Bakery in Athens have been doing it for many years. This year, the bakery is marking its 20th year as a worker-owned business.

The bakery had its struggles and growths, its early morning frustrations and baker meditations. But being worker-owned instills a sense of community and ownership among the workers, and a sense of fulfillment that eases the tension of the early morning alarm clock.

“Being worker-owned creates a sense of cooperation that leaves room for a whole range of personality types,” said Jeremy Bowman, who has been a Crumb’s worker-owner for more than 10 years.

“Things can get grueling and the work can be arduous, but it’s labor that we love. If the bosses are in the trenches working just as hard as anyone else, there’s this sense of ownership that develops, a pride in what we do.”

The bakery is run by a board of directors made up of employees who work at least 20 hours a week. Everything is done by consensus, and everything gets done through cooperation and collaboration.

The bakery was formerly owned by Steve Koch on a much smaller scale. When he learned he was going to be a father, Koch approached the Worker Owned Network to see what it would take to make the bakery a worker-owned business, according to Charlie Moseley, one of the founders of Crumb’s.

The Worker Owned Network — which is now the Appalachian Center for Economic Networks — negotiated the purchase of the bakery and helped train workers to manage the business and take over its operations.

The Worker Owner Network helped Casa Nueva become a worker-owned business in 1985, and also helped start several other worker-owned businesses that failed to stand the tides of time. Casa Nueva and Crumb’s are the only local worker-owned businesses to survive.

Crumb’s quickly grew, and its five worker-owners expanded to 16, tripling its production that was then sold in health food stores throughout Ohio and surrounding states.

“We made the decision we wanted to be a respected bakery and increase our business,” Moseley said. “You don’t get a lot of administrative talent with people who are underemployed, and we needed a lot of guidance. We were trained for six weeks and then had to do it all ourselves, everything from marketing to production to sales. And we did everything on a consensus basis.”

Like all new adventures, there was a certain amount of risk involved. Not only did the worker-owners have a profit-sharing agreement, they also agreed to share any losses.

http://www.athensmessenger.com/main.asp?SectionID=1&SubSectionID=273&ArticleID=530
Copyright © 2006 The Athens Messenger, Brown Publishing Company