For Better, For Worse

Living as I do in Minnesota where a referendum item regarding “same-sex marriage” on this year’s ballot has drawn considerable discussion and a great deal of wasted money on TV ads pro and con, I was interested that a New York appeals court declared a similar law in that state unconstitutional. As a Yahoo News story tells us:

NEW YORK (Reuters) – An appeals court in New York ruled on Thursday that a law defining marriage as a union between a man and a woman is unconstitutional. It was the second federal appeals court to reject the law, which could go before the Supreme Court soon.

New York is the third state to rule the law unconstitutional and it is likely that the U.S. Supreme Court will take up the issue soon, since these cases involve the Defense of Marriage Act passed in 1996 and the federal government at present does not recognize same-sex marriages. That should be interesting, though the verdict is predictable. But as a philosopher the entire issue strikes me as puzzling in the extreme. Same-sex marriages are “victimless crimes,” though I would not call them crimes at all. Why do we need laws prohibiting acts that do not involve harm to others? It reeks of paternalism. No one is getting hurt: on the contrary. These marriages are merely found to be offensive by the homophobes among us and those people should simply be told to shut up and find something to keep them busy.

In any event, the people most intimately involved are together because they love one another and that is supposed to be the cornerstone of the religion that harbors the greatest number of critics of same-sex marriage. The inconsistency is glaring. But consistency is the hobgoblin of tiny minds, as Emerson said. So we can take comfort in the fact that the critics of same-sex marriage are simply much smarter than the rest of us who embrace the laws of contradiction and seek to make sure our thinking is consistent and coherent. Right. (I never did agree with Emerson.) Of course in cases such as this there is very little thought of any kind involved, mostly just feelings — strong, often incoherent, feelings.

Seriously, folks, where’s the moral issue here? There is none. And why are states and the federal government wasting precious time and money on a non-issue when there are serious problems to be solved — or at least addressed? People are walking around with semi-automatic weapons in their pockets; the planet is under siege; and the economy is in the toilet while these overpaid politicians waste time discussing whether men should marry men or women marry women. This waste of time and money is the problem, not the pseudo-issue of whether persons who love one another should marry. It’s time to turn to problems that demand solutions and away from trivial issues that don’t deserve serious attention.

Advertisements

Blowin’ In The Wind

One of the remarkable success stories in this country is the amazing strides the wind power industry has made despite the lack of a coherent eco-energy program formulated and supported by our Congress. In fact, the success has come in spite of strong opposition from the right-wing of that body. The Republicans have historically resisted any attempts by this country to go green. One can speculate that this results from the political favors owed to Big Oil which spends millions of dollars every year to get their subsidies and help them push through friendly legislation. Clean energy is not on the Republican agenda for the most part.

There are exceptions, of course. A number of key Republicans such as Senator Charles Grassley (R) from Iowa and Representative Mac Thornberry (R) from Texas have a vested interest in seeing at least wind power prosper. They are representing states where thousands of people are employed helping to produce the wind turbines. When jobs for their constituents are at stake the Republicans do know how to dance.

But on the whole, the Republicans in Congress resist the movement toward clean energy and as I write this it appears the wind power industry is about to be dealt a stunning blow. The renewable-energy production tax credits for wind power signed into law by President George H.W. Bush in 1992 are about to expire at the end of this year. This would be a severe blow indeed. There are 38 states in this country currently producing wind energy. As the recent issue of the Sierra magazine tells us, “This summer the installed capacity of U.S. wind turbines hit 50 gigawatts — as much as can be generated by 44 coal-fired power plants, or 11 nuclear-powered ones.” The U.S. ranks second  behind China as the world’s largest producers of wind energy.

However, as of this writing Republican opposition in Congress has blocked authorization to continue the present subsidies for wind power. If that opposition is not shaken by key members of the Republican party, like Grassley, Thornberry, and Representative Tom Latham (R-Iowa), it could well cost 37,000 American jobs. In fact, more than 400 jobs have already been lost due to the sporadic nature of the political process that plays keep away with the subsidies, while Big Oil continues to enjoys uninterrupted subsidies of $2.7– $4 billion a year. In addition, Wind-turbine manufacturer Vestas in Colorado is at present preparing to lay off an additional 1,600.

Perhaps the possibility of lost jobs in the states represented by key legislators will win the day. But we can be assured that there will be a battle between the short-term interests of Big Oil (and wealthy men like the Koch brothers who are up to their ears in dirty energy) and the clean energy movement itself which desperately needs the support of the majority of Congress to grow to its full potential. And it all centers around the Republican party whose major candidate for President is currently campaigning on a platform of “jobs.” And yet the man avoids the topic of clean energy like the plague.

Liar, Liar, Pants On Fire

There are a couple of excellent sources for checking the facts after political speeches and such “major” TV events as the current presidential debates. One of my fellow bloggers even gives a synopsis after the debates so we can see who told the biggest “whoppers.” This raises some interesting issues.

To begin with, both debaters tell falsehoods and half-truths and do so repeatedly. As one reads the fact checks one notes that while the facts have been checked before a number of the falsehoods are repeated even though the deception has been pointed out, perhaps several times. Strange. But more to the point is the obvious consideration that the average listener has no way to tell in the course of a debate or a political speech that a lie has been told or a half-truth has suddenly appeared from the politician’s hat. This is why the debates are so untrustworthy and leave us little else to go by except impressions. It really is all about theater — as I noted in yesterday’s blog. Consider the following fact check item:

Romney: It’s “already illegal in this country to have automatic weapons”
The verdict: False
The federal ban on manufacturing some semi-automatic assault weapons that President Clinton signed in 1994 expired in 2004, and wasn’t renewed. There are other regulations and restrictions still in place — the National Firearms Act of 1934, the Gun Control Act of 1968, and the Hughes Amendment in 1986, says Brian Bennett at the Los Angeles Times. But ”fully automatic weapons — guns that fire continuously when the trigger is held down — are legal to possess in the United States.”

How many people listening to a rapid-fire (sorry!) debate will know enough to realize that one of the speakers just told a whopper? And he did so on a vital and controversial issue that many people care deeply about, one way or the other. The matter of gun control is a hot topic and as a general rule very few people who argue with one another in bars about this issue have bothered to gather the evidence and check on their “facts” beforehand. That’s to be expected. But one does not expect this from seasoned debaters like these two politicians. Romney told the lie noted above, but Obama didn’t call him out.

How many people know that the second Constitutional amendment guaranteeing the right to bear arms is couched in language that makes it clear that the “right” is tied to a militia that was supposed to make it unnecessary to have a standing army? More to the point, how many people listening to this debate know that the federal ban on semi-automatic weapons was even signed in the first place, or by whom — much less that it expired in 2004? The central question here is whether or not this matters in the least. Will either of these men be asked to make important decisions on their feet? Does the quickness of their minds and a grasp of all relevantl facts really matter when important decisions will be made behind closed doors with well-informed advisers and time to reflect? Of course not. It’s about who presents himself better to the TV audience.

In any case what occurs in these events is that the politicians (all of them) have learned that if you say something with conviction and then repeat it often enough your listeners will accept it as true. The important thing is to have the “ring of conviction” in your voice and look the camera straight in the eye (as it were). It matters not whether what you say is true or false. No one “out there” knows what the hell you are talking about — and very few will bother to check the facts later on. So just let it go and let the (buffalo) chips fall where they may. Truth be damned: it’s all about getting elected!

Debates As Theater

Now that the second of three debates between Barack Obama and Mitt Romney is over and the dissections have begun it is time to either join the fray or turn one’s back in disgust and wish the whole thing were over. I confess I am of the second opinion for the most part, but a recent article on Yahoo News piqued my interest and invited another comment or two on a topic on which far too much ink has already been spilled. I do think the debates are theater and they should not have anything whatever to do with who wins the highest office in the land. But they do, apparently: what I wish were the case really doesn’t count.

Apparently, Obama “won” the second debate according to recent reports. But in political correspondent Jeff Greenfield’s opinion it doesn’t amount to a hill of beans. It’s all about the first debate which Obama “lost.” As Greenfield says, if Obama had performed as well in the first debate as he did in the second the election would be virtually over. Consider:

When the evening began, one observation dominated the conversation: “If President Barack Obama has another debate like the last one, the election’s over.”

When the evening ended, I was struck by a different thought: If Obama had performed this way at the first debate, the election would have been over.

In every debate, whatever the format, whatever the questions, there is one and only one way to identify the winner: Who commands the room? Who drives the narrative? Who is in charge? More often than not on Tuesday night, I think, Obama had the better of it.

Moreover, apparently Romney gained ground from the first debate which he will not lose from his performance in the second debate in Greenfield’s opinion. But note the criteria Greenfield cites as keys to who “wins” and who “loses” the debates: Who commands the room? Who drives the narrative? Who is in charge? What on earth do these things have to do with running the country? Nothing. They are about theater, period. And in Greenfield’s opinion, Obama’s performance in the second debate was better theater than Romney’s (give him a 9.6 to Romney’s 8.3) and considerably better than his performance in the first debate (7.4). Aldous Huxley had it right in the 1950s when he predicted that Americans would one day elect an actor as president!

Historically, viewer interest in the debates does fall off after the first one. And in that regard Greenfield is probably correct in saying that Obama’s performance on October 16th was of little consequence. But again one must ask why on earth the voters of this land hadn’t made their minds up about who could run this country best long before the two men stood before TV cameras and played the roles required of them as performing clowns in that first debate? Where have people been for the past months that they have to listen to a TV debate to decide who will get their vote — given that these two men sit on opposite sides of the political fence on every important issue? The answers seem clear: an astonishing number of people in this country are simply too busy to follow the news, pick up a newspaper, visit web sites, or read carefully argued blogs in order to determine where the two men stand on vital issues that impact all our lives.

But as they say it’s “academic.” The second debate is now over and apparently Obama performed much better than he did in the first debate. But it will not make much difference because apparently watching TV for 90 minutes is all many people can spend making up their minds whom they will vote for as president of these United States, and those 90 minutes took place two weeks ago. As Greenfield said, making clear what arena these debates are held in: “That opportunity [for Obama] vanished that night. While it’s clear that Obama’s performance will revive the enthusiasm of his supporters, it seems unlikely that it will cause those impressed by Romney to reconsider. Like they say in show business, timing is everything.”

Gentle Humor

My wife and I have started watching re-runs of “As Time Goes By” on PBS. They are many years old, but we find them delightful. The humor is generated by clever dialogue and complexities arising from the fact that two people who were in love as young people have come together after years with other spouses and other lives and discovered that they are still soul mates. It is beautifully done and the writing is not only superb, the acting is top drawer as well with Judi Dench as the leading female character and Geoffrey Palmer as the leading male character. The relationship between the two is believable and very touching.

Contrast this with what I take to be “typical” American sit-coms (though I have not viewed that many and have not compiled a catalogue). But the ones I have seen draw their humor from cutting and hurtful remarks between the main characters. It may have started with Archie Bunker’s constant cuts at his son-in-law “Meathead” who could do nothing right. Though they were not “sit-coms” I don’t recall that the sketches on “I Love Lucy” or “The Carol Burnett Show” relied on cutting remarks and humor designed to put people down.  But my list of shows that do this includes “Friends” where such characters as Phoebe repeatedly cuts those close to her, especially Ross, the guy who seems a bit out of step with the other pleasure-seekers around him as his interests are so much broader than theirs. And I can also recall Raymond’s parents who were always downright mean to their daughter-in-law Deborah, the constant brunt of nasty and at times cruel remarks — all designed to be laughed at, judging by the annoying laugh-track that prompts the audience at home when to laugh.

But there is also the group of nerds, especially Sheldon Cooper, who make fun of Howard Wolowitz who “only” has a Master’s degree (from M/I.T. of all places). And there is always Charlie Harper who was relentless in his cutting remarks to his brother Alan who moved into Charlie’s house after his wife “threw him out.” Alan was down on his luck and the brunt of countless remarks not only from his brother but also from his brother’s housekeeper who joins in “all in fun.” And Alan’s son, Jake, is the brunt of countless jokes at his expense as the “dumb” son. Apparently the message is you can hurt someone if you call it teasing: this sort of thing is regarded as funny and, again, our laughter is prompted by the constant intrusion of the damned laugh-track.

I confess that this sort of cutting humor leaves me cold and eventually forces me to look elsewhere. But I wonder what to make of this? The British comedies are not always as gentle as “As Time Goes By,” to be sure. Doc Martin certainly became a bit nasty after the first season.  But I can think of no American comedies since Lucy and Carol left TV that draws on that sort of gentle humor in which no one is hurt. I hesitate to generalize because I have not seen that many American or British comedies lately. But I can certainly take note of the differences I am aware of. Again, what to make of those differences?

Freud tells us that humor is a displacement of sadistic impulses — a release of “cathexis” that allows us to experience the sadistic impulses we all have without actually harming anyone else. (And he insists that we all have them, whether we admit it or not.) The prototype of this sort of thing is the pie in the face of the clown, or the chair pulled from beneath the sitting person at the dinner table. As long as no one gets actually hurt, we laugh and the laughter releases the sadistic impulses. The hurtful sit-coms I mentioned all have this element present — some in large measure. If this is so then ironically the American TV shows I mentioned may be psychologically healthy. It is certainly better to laugh at someone on the TV who is not really hurt by the verbal cuts and bruises than to load up the shotgun and take out our neighbor’s dog whose barking annoys us. I do wonder, however.

It is interesting that people we call “insane” and institutionalize don’t seem to laugh at all. I recall seeing “Titicut Follies” years ago which took place inside a mental institution in Massachusetts and the thing that jumps out is the complete absence of laughter of any sort. So perhaps even the mean and nasty humor of the American sit-coms has its use in a nation stressed out from a frantic pace of life, a weak economy, and almost constant war. It helps us release pent-up frustration and animus toward our fellows. But I would prefer if the humor were derived from the clever words and complex situations the protagonists find themselves in rather than the verbal lacerations that seem so constant. I don’t know about you, but would prefer that our humor were not so nasty.

How To Die

I have stolen the title of this blog from an op-ed piece in the New York Times that deals with the contrast between the attitude toward dying in this country and the attitude in England. The piece focuses on the case of a man in the East of London who had been told he has a number of inoperable tumors and was subsequently taken off life-support at his own request and moved to a quiet room elsewhere in the hospital to spend his last moments with his family.

. . .  the hospital that treated him offers a protocol called the Liverpool Care Pathway for the Dying Patient, which was conceived in the 90s at a Liverpool cancer facility as a more humane alternative to the frantic end-of-life assault of desperate measures. “The Hippocratic oath just drives clinicians toward constantly treating the patient, right until the moment they die,” said Sir Thomas Hughes-Hallett, who was until recently the chief executive of the center where the protocol was designed. English doctors, he said, tell a joke about this imperative: “Why in Ireland do they put screws in coffins? To keep the doctors out.”

The article does give one pause. We don’t like to talk about death and we are committed as a culture to the notion that life in and of itself is of value. We don’t ask whether or not the quality of life may be the central issue, as it assuredly is, we simply insist that no one should have to die.

Further there is a great deal of talk about the “right to life” which tends to focus on an unborn fetus while at the same time tending to ignore the lives of those who have been accused of capital crimes they may not have committed. It also tends to side-step such issues as war and the population explosion which is already overwhelming a planet stressed out from massive and relentless exploitation. But we don’t talk about death or the right to death. We simply assume that prolonging human life is the highest of values. But why do we think this? What about other animal species? And when it comes to humans, why shouldn’t a person be allowed to die if and when he or she has determined that the pain is no longer tolerable, the doctors have done all they can, and the cost to their families will be prohibitive?

The editorial goes on to mention that end-of-life treatment in England was not without its critics but it also addresses the question whether the attitudes about death in this country are likely to change and whether we might take steps toward a more enlightened approach to the subject. The author thinks not and responds as follows:

The obvious reason, of course, is that advocates of such programs have been demonized. They have been criticized by the Catholic Church in the name of “life,” and vilified by Sarah Palin and Michele Bachmann in the pursuit of cheap political gain. “Anything that looks like an official protocol, or guideline — you’re going to get death-paneled,” said Dr. Ezekiel Emanuel, the bioethicist and expert on end-of-life care who has been a target of the rabble-rousers. . . . Humane end-of-life practices have quietly found their way into cancer treatment, but other specialties lag behind.

Though Mary Tyler Moore tried years ago to teach us how to laugh at death (when appropriate) it does seem that certain topics are taboo and that we shy away from asking pertinent questions and opening doors that might have important answers hidden behind them; we have knee-jerk reactions to certain topics and cultural biases that tie our hands and blind our eyes to unpleasantness. We simply don’t like to talk about death and dying even though they are facts of life.

Al Is Green

Al Gore puts his money where his mouth is and it has made him a very wealthy man. The Washington Post recently reported that his net worth these days is around $100 million — 50 times what it was after leaving the office of Vice President — mostly as a result of investments in clean energy. This gives the lie to those nay-sayers who insist that investing in clean energy will not pay dividends and that the government should ignore clean energy and continue to pursue such projects as the Keystone Oil pipeline while maintaining the $4 billion a year in tax subsidies to Big Oil.

Not only has Gore made it big investing in clean energy, others have as well — as the Huff Post reported recently:

Gore isn’t the only one who’s betting on green energy. The United States invested $51 billion in renewable energy in 2011, second only to China in a year where green investments hit a record high.

He also has to thank the Obama administration’s 2009 stimulus package. The $80 to $90 billion worth of government investment in green energy has helped to grow many of the companies Gore and his renewable energy-based hedge fund Generation Investment Management have put the majority of their money in. In fact, nine of 11 companies that Gore endorsed during a 2008 presentation on fighting climate change received government investment, WaPo reports.

There have been failures in the clean energy field, of course, and these have been the focus of comments made during the current presidential campaign by Mitt Romney. Romney would also like to reduce or eliminate altogether future government investments in clean energy in spite of the fact that they are clearly paying off.

But the success rate of renewable energy companies may be far higher than some, particularly Presidential candidate Mitt Romney, would like to admit. During the first Presidential debate, Romney claimed that over half the green energy companies benefitting from stimulus dollars failed. In fact, just 1.4 percent of the U.S. dollars invested in green energy went to companies that had failed by the end of 2011, CleanTechnica reports.

Romney, and others of his persuasion, would like to point to the failures — such as the solar energy company Solyndra which went belly up as a result of the availability of cheap solar panels made in China which the Obama administration finally stopped by imposing tariffs — though too late to save Solyndra. In any event, the success stories greatly outweigh the failures in spite if what Mitt would have us believe.

The stimulus packages clearly help bring money into the clean energy industry, but why don’t both sides of the political aisle get foursquare behind the clean energy movement, help create jobs, boost the economy, and head in the direction of countries like Germany which will be nuclear and coal free within a few years? The answer requires some speculation, but it is fairly clear that the companies that make huge profits from the continued use of fossil fuels would prefer that we not wean ourselves from those sources of energy (despite the damage we are doing to the environment and the planet itself) and they pour large amounts of money into the pockets of politicians to see to it that it doesn’t happen. But the success stories continue to pop up from time to time and people like Al Gore still believe and their belief is clearly paying off.

Hooray For Canada!

Ya gotta love it! The border guards between Canada and Michigan refused admission into Canada of pastor Terry Jones and his fellow passengers. The story begins with a couple of tasty paragraphs:

Stephanie Sapp said fellow pastor and her husband Wayne Sapp, along with Jones, were turned back at the Michigan-Ontario border after being detained for several hours. Jones, who leads Florida’s tiny Dove World Outreach Center, and Wayne Sapp, were scheduled to attend Freedom Showdown, an inter-faith debate Thursday evening outside the Ontario Legislature.

Stephanie Sapp said Jones was denied entry because of a fine he got in Germany almost 20 years ago for using the title “doctor” there (he had received an honorary doctorate in theology from a Californian university in 1993). Also, both men had been charged with breaching the peace at a planned rally in Detroit last year.

I’ll overlook the fascinating question of why the man wanted to be addressed as “doctor” after holding an honorary doctoral degree from “a California university.” (But I do wonder what on earth they were thinking??) The Germans had it right: they should have fined him for impersonating a respectable person. And I would defend anyone’s right to “breach the peace” in the name of conscience. But bear in mind that this is the man of God who ordered the burning of the Quran not long ago precipitating a riot in the streets of Kabul, Afghanistan. He is apparently not the sharpest knife in the drawer.

But I love to think the Canadians have it right to refuse admission of this man into their country. I’m all for freedom of speech (which he claims he is being denied), but there are certain people who simply shouldn’t be allowed to open their mouths in public. Defending a person’s right to spread hatred is pushing the first amendment to its limits. Hate speech is designed to drive people apart and start riots; that sort of thing coming from a professed man of the cloth is doubly reprehensible. However, we cannot pick and choose what a person is allowed to say, though (speaking for myself) there are times when I would like to!!

In this regard, one can sympathize with those in the Middle East who wondered why this country doesn’t refuse to allow films such as “The Innocence of Muslims” that promote racial hatred and which has recently led al-Qaida to declare a “holy war” against the United States and Israel. One can understand, if not sympathize with, those who were outraged at the insults heaped on the founder of Islam. Our notion that free speech is a basic human right is not one that is shared by every other culture. But our defense of free speech is vital to what this country means and we were right to allow the film to be shown in spite of the fact that it stirred up hatred and violence in the Middle East.

We must protect any person’s right to say anything as long as it doesn’t directly result in harm to another person. Determining just what this might be before the person speaks or writes is a problem. One must try to determine the person’s intent, which is not always clear. And the intention of the film-maker in this case was to increase sympathy for the Christians living in Egypt, not to spread hatred — or so he says. Whenever speech is prohibited there is always the danger of censorship which, like any form of repression, is anathema to a free country. Thus, while I may applaud the Canadians for doing what I would love to do myself — namely, refuse to allow Terry Jones entry into the United States — I must admit that he has a right to his opinions no matter how hateful and stupid they might be. It’s the price we pay I suppose.

Birds Of A Feather

A recent story on CNBC and picked up by Yahoo News about David Siegel, C.E.O. of Westgate Resorts, deserves a comment. The man wrote to his employees and told them that if Obama is reelected he may have to downsize and they might lose their jobs. He insists that this is not extortion, but let me quote him directly as this is a key issue:

Siegel stressed that he wasn’t out to intimidate his workers into voting for Romney. “I can’t tell anyone to vote,” he said. But he wants to make sure his workers made an informed choice. “I want my employees to be educated on what could happen to their future if the wrong person is elected.”

In a word: this is not a threat, but if you vote for the “wrong person” you may need to find another job. The man has obviously never heard about the law of contradiction. He simply wants to “educate” his employees. And apparently his weakened reasoning ability is only exceeded by his hypocrisy. He warns against wasteful government spending and yet this is the man who built “Versailles,” reportedly the largest house in America, at a cost that sent him into a financial tailspin resulting in personal sacrifices he now brags about. As the article puts it, “[Siegel and his wife] became symbols of outsized spending, debt and real estate in America. But when the company started buckling under $1 billion in debt during the crisis, the Siegels’ home went into foreclosure and was put up for sale. They cut back on the jet, took the kids out of private school and gave up some of their staff.”

He claims he has turned things around by getting “lean and mean”  (by cutting back on the jet and taking his kids out of private school?) and wants the country to do the same thing. Like so many very wealthy people in this country, this man prides himself on the fact that he made it “on his own.”  As he told his employees in his letter, “. . .people like me who made all the right decisions and invested in themselves are being forced to bail out all the people who didn’t. The people who overspent their paychecks suddenly feel entitled to the same luxuries that I earned and sacrificed 42 years of my life for.”  So many of the very rich simply don’t get it: they really don’t know what it means to struggle and go without. This is becoming a familiar story; the stereotypes just keep tumbling out.

Siegel blames “Obamacare and increased taxes,” which he predicts will follow the president’s reelection, for the projected reduction of some of his 7000 employees. But he ignores the salient fact that among developed countries Americans pay the fewest taxes in the world. The proposed increase in taxes to be paid by the wealthy in this country under Obama would be about 39% — almost exactly what they were under Clinton when the country knew unprecedented economic growth. Additionally, this country is near the bottom of the developed nations in health care, one of the few “civilized” countries without some sort of national health care system — discounting the Affordable Care Act which is in its infancy. And the number of poor grows daily while “Obamacare” in its brief existence has welcomed thousands of the sick under its umbrella — people who had previously been uninsured. The system is not perfect, heaven knows, but it is assuredly a step in the right direction.

What is particularly disturbing about Siegel’s actions are the echoes of Mitt Romney’s dismissal of the 47% of the people in this country who, in his words, have become dependent on the government. Romney famously said it; Siegel simply stands in his shadow and nods his head. The man stoops to extortion and he has a dismissive attitude toward the poor in this country whom he lumps together as leeches and bums — ignoring the fact that many of his 5000 employees who lost their jobs during his “lean and mean” period are probably among their numbers. Shit happens, and it often happens to gifted and highly motivated people who just may happen to work for people like David Siegel.

At a time when the world needs compassion and understanding it is troubling to read about a man who brags about his own success while he threatens others as he denigrates those who struggle simply to keep their heads above water.

Trouble In Wallyworld

A recent story on ABC news told about a possible nationwide strike of Wal-Mart employees on “Black Friday” if the company doesn’t change its policy about allowing unions. Wal-Mart has been adamant about not allowing unions on the grounds that they are not necessary since their workers are well paid and happy. In the case of the recent threat, for example, a spokesman for the giant retailer had the following comment:

Walmart spokesman Dan Fogleman . . .claim[ed] that most employees have “repeatedly rejected unionization.

“They seem to recognize that Walmart has some of the best jobs in the retail industry — good pay, affordable benefits and the chance for advancement,” he said in a telephone interview with ABC News.

Apparently it’s not just politicians who lie with a straight face; corporate spokespeople can do so as well. We all know that things are not going well for the giant retailer. There are numerous strikes and walk-outs at Wal-Mart stores around the country where employees who make barely above subsistence wages demand what they regard as their rights. In Chicago recently, for example 17 peaceful protesters were arrested for supporting a strike that had been going on since September 15th. In addition there have been over 100 different types of lawsuits filed against Wal-Mart over the years, including one filed by female employees demanding equal pay and promotional opportunities which made it all the way to the Supreme Court.

I have blogged before about Wal-Mart which, as I have said, is a mixed bag. The company does many good things, including support of local charities and showing concern for the environment; they also employ 1.4 million people. But they refuse to allow unions, as noted, and their hourly wages are barely above poverty levels — $12.00 an hour on average which nets the worker $24,960.00 a year, barely $1900.00 above poverty levels for a family of four — guaranteeing that the employee’s spouse will almost certainly also have to work.

The employees are wrong to say that every other major company allows unions, of course, as the example of Whole Foods proves. But companies such as Whole Foods actually do put the employee’s needs first as they have better pay and even profit-sharing for their employees who do appear to like working for the company. So it’s not a question of unions, which are also a mixed bag, it’s about the giant company’s attitude toward its employees — all of them, and not only those at the managerial levels. Talk is cheap, especially when it is riddled with lies. It’s time for Wal-Mart to put its money where its mouth is and treat its employees ethically. The threat of a major strike on “Black Friday” may be the impetus the company needs to do the right thing.