Warming | Plant Sale | Burn Permits | Navarro Wharf | Second Boosters | Ospreys | Yesterday's Outage | Cannery Crew | Skyhawk's Nest | Pennyroyal Hiring | Theatre Company | Malcolm's Reporting | Celibate Ballers | Village Chat | Maelstrom | Dissolution/Soccer | Yesterday's Catch | Huerta Photoessay | 911 Rescue | Postmodern Selfie | Pondering Putin | Bucha Images | Baez Art | Attaboy | Union Victory | Taibbi Talk
DRY WEATHER is forecast today through Thursday. Daytime high temperatures are expected to warm well above normal on Wednesday and again on Thursday. A cooling trend with periods of blustery winds are forecast Friday through Monday. (NWS)
SOUTH COAST FIRE PROTECTION DISTRICT: Just so you are all aware, below 70% moisture levels are considered critical. We usually see these levels in October. Guess what, we are currently at 40%. Be safe out there. Remember CAL Fire burn permits are required starting April 4th.
SECOND BOOSTERS [from the AV Health Center]: This week we are offering 2nd Booster COVID-19 vaccines to those who are 50 years old and TUESDAY and THURSDAY from 3-5 pm. Please park and walk up to the door by the ambulance entrance with your vaccine card wearing a mask. If you have any questions, please call the clinic at 707-895-3477.
YESTERDAY MORNING George Hollister wrote: "Hi, there is a power outage beginning at about Navarro Vineyards, going North to Navarro, Rancho Navarro, and Comptche, according to the PG&E website. Any news on the cause? The cause would possibly indicate how long we will be. out. Thanks."
ALL PG&E TOLD US was it was due to "equipment failure" and affected 732 customers. The outage spanned Monday morning.
CHRIS SKYHAWK: I am starting a youtube channel for children, called “Mr. Skyhawk’s nest.” It will be a show of story, and guest interviews on topics of interest to children and the adults who love them. Local videographer extraordinaire Steve Ritchie has already recorded two episodes. Fortunately for Steve, he has more work in Hollywood than he anticipated, so I am ISO someone who can help me. I have a sweet theme song I recorded with my daughters at Peter Temple studio, I am looking for someone with the skills to record the shows and help me post them online, can also be a student in need of a project. I am unable to pay, but there will be a donation link on the episodes, so if that raises any $ that could get shared. But my interest is in creating a free, safe, creative, and nurturing online space for children and the adults who love them. If this sounds like anyone you know please contact me at 707-409-4789.
PENNYROYAL FARM IS HIRING!
We are seeking a tasting room assistant manager and sales associates who are friendly, outgoing professionals excited to share our estate wines and farmstead cheeses. Sales or hospitality experience is ideal and must be age 21+. Email resume to firstname.lastname@example.org or mail PO Box 47, Philo CA 95466.
Tasting Room Assistant Manager: Oversee the daily operations of the tasting room (which include wine and cheese tastings, farm tours, food and wine pairings, events, retail shopping, phone/web/email orders and communications, and direct shipping) and for ensuring high-quality customer service amongst the front-of-house team. Under the direction of and in collaboration with the General Manager, this individual will ensure all policies and procedures are maintained, train, support, and coach the tasting room team, and assist with wine and cheese club membership management.
Tasting Room Sales Associate: Provide a variety of guest experiences (wine and cheese tastings, farm tours, retail shopping, food and wine events, etc), educate customers about our estate wines and farmstead cheeses, and build lasting relationships with our Vine to Table and Farm to Table members.
Both positions offer a competitive wage offered based on experience, with sales bonuses and commissions added. Full-time employment offers medical, dental, and life insurance coverage. All employees are eligible for paid holidays, paid vacations, and generous product discounts.
MENDOCINO THEATRE COMPANY
And here they are...the amazingly talented folks that make up the production team of VISITING MR. GREEN!!!
Thank you Larry R Wagner for this wonderful photo! It truly brings us JOY!
Don't miss VISITING MR. GREEN by Jeff Baron, directed by Ricci Dedola, opening April 28th: mendocinotheatre.org/visiting-mr-green-by-jeff-baron/
EXCHANGE OF THE DAY [Re ‘Who Signed What, When and Why’ posted on April 3, 2022]
John Redding: Macdonald always looks the fool when pretending to write on financial matters. Which is why he writes for a small, backwater publication and not Bloomberg or Forbes. Macdonald’s lack of financial knowledge made it easy for former Board Chair McColley to manipulate him into believing that writing a check for a legal obligation (loan repayment) or letting Adventist Health get their own money is equally as bad as her writing a check to Jacob Patterson even though she knew full well Patterson was not employed by the District. It has all the earmarks of a coverup, doesn’t it?
Bruce Anderson: “Small, backwater publication”? For the record, Boonville’s beloved weekly has been featured in the WSJ, the NYT, the SF Chron and so on, not to mention its national circulation, albeit shrinking as newspaper readers shuffle off this seething mortal coil, taking with them America’s last generations of literate citizens. Malcolm’s reporting? Irrefutable, hence the dyspeptic Mr. Redding’s resort to insult.
COFFEE WITH THE COORDINATOR
Thursday, April 7th, 10 to 11 am, The Mosswood Market
Come down for an informal chat with Anica (the AV Village coordinator) and other AV Village members, volunteers and supporters. Ask questions, share concerns, share ideas for improving our Village/ community, visit with your neighbors, etc. I plan on holding these on the 1st Thursday of the month for a few months.
THE SUBJECT OF DISSOLUTION
The Mendocino Coast Health Care District exists so that members of the public can have a say in the future of health care on the coast. However, there appears to be an effort underway to dissolve the district and hand your future and your taxpayer money over to a distant Board of Supervisors.
Individuals who have proposed an ad hoc committee for exploring this option are the Fort Bragg Mayor Bernie Norvell, Supervisor Ted Williams and reporter Malcolm Macdonald.
Dissolution could occur if the Local Agency Formation Commission (LAFCo), either on its own or as the result of a petition from the Health Care District Board of Directors itself. Dissolution could be justified on the basis that the district no longer serves a meaningful purpose. That last part would be quite a stretch since the district plays a vital role in overseeing the Lease Agreement with Adventist, providing funding for maintenance and repairs, and setting aside money for a new facility that meets earthquake requirements by 2030. Other than that, not much, right?
This is where a warning is needed. A vote by the public is not required!
There are seven members on LAFCo. Two are Supervisors; presumably they would recuse themselves (see below). Of the remaining five, only one member lives in the district, specifically Point Arena. Simply put, the coastal area is not well represented.
After dissolution, Mendocino County would be named the successor agency and would seize the district’s land, hospital, bank accounts including cash assets equal to $10M today ($25M by 2029), and revenue streams including a property tax, the parcel tax and the Lease Payment by Adventist Health.
The Board of Supervisors, including three who do not live on the coast, would then be in a position to determine the future of your health care. Given their cozy relationship, the Board of Supervisors would likely accede to the wishes of Adventist Health.
Norvell, Williams and Macdonald have appeared at the District’s Board meetings voicing their support for this dissolution.
AVA reporter Malcolm Macdonald is more than playing his part. He has flooded Board members with information on dissolution and written opinion pieces suggesting dissolution is the only viable option to maintain a hospital on the coast. His dishonest criticism of the District’s Board can now be seen in a new light – discredit the Board as a whole and make the case for dissolution.
How sad that Macdonald thinks so little of the people in this coastal community that he cannot envision a better Board come December. That the only solution to the Board’s current difficulties is to dissolve the district and have it managed by what he perceives as the superior talent inland. When has that ever been to the benefit of the coast?
If you are alarmed by this behind the scenes maneuvering to leave you out of future health care decisions, now is the time to express your opposition to Mayor Norvell and Supervisor Williams.
John Redding, Serves on the Board of Directors for the Mendocino County Health Care District
* * *
MAYOR NORVELL REPLIES:
Like many of you, I follow the Mendocino Coast Health Care District closely for no other reason than the simple fact that it is just that, the place where decisions can be made that may impact our healthcare.
At a February 24th Health Care District meeting, Chair Amy McColley appointed Directors Jessica Grinberg and Norman deVall to research the idea of dissolution. I was interested, so I followed up with an email to Director deVall on March 29th. On March 30th, Mr. deVall told me that the District’s exploratory committee had not yet met. At the District Board’s March 31st meeting, I asked Chair McColley to direct their committee to join Councilmember Lindy Peters and myself in an effort to objectively research the idea, put together a possible resolution, formulate a list of answers to the inevitable questions, and compile a corresponding list of pros and cons. Chair McColley agreed and gave that direction.
The mission of this group is to organize all the information surrounding dissolution and present it clearly to the District. The plan is not for this group to follow any sort of preconceived notion or collective opinion on the subject of dissolution. My hope is that the District will accept, and contemplate, the information without bias. The primary mission expressed on the District’s website is: “To ensure the continuity of essential healthcare for the coastal communities.”
Please do not see this as an indictment of the current District Board. See this as a positive move in a forward-thinking direction.
Only together can we make our coastal community a place where we can all feel safe and secure. The City and Health Care District representatives can and will report out on our activity to their respective Council and Board. The community will have ample opportunity, via district-wide meetings, to express their opinions.
In the meantime, please email any questions you believe pertinent to the subject of dissolution to email@example.com.
Mayor City of Fort Bragg
PS. HUGE WIN FOR FORT BRAGG!
On March 28th, 2022 the Council once again unanimously voted yes to building two 5v5 Soccer courts on Bainbridge Park.
Last time they voted yes on this matter was in 2019 when Juan Estrada & I spoke directly to the council and they approved for them to be built on contingency of receiving a grant. Well unfortunately that grant wasn’t approved and it almost felt like the idea was gone too.
But with the leading efforts of Mayor Norvell this time we managed to pull funding together through our City, Grant and funds from the City of Fort Bragg Police Dept for this project.
Thank you to Becky Walker ( Unified School District) for supporting this project when Mr. Norvell, Chief Naulty, Vice Mayor Jessica, Noah ( my son) & I spoke to the school district directly.
Seeing this council meeting take place was extremely nerve racking because I have been a huge advocate for these soccer courts and during these moments of change you just don’t know if our council members will support it since Ive always believed our City always finds reasons why not modernize. But after speaking with Major Norvell for a few months now about this project I always had the sense that he was in full support of the idea. This experience has showed me that there is hope to start modernizing the City of Fort Bragg as I have continued to say that we need to catch up with our modern world. While Mayor Norvell was in support he made it very clear that we needed many more community members to also support us and we did. We had many members of the soccer community write letters to the city on why these courts would be beneficial.
These courts will have a huge impact in our community because it will be yet another outlet for our youth to now be able to have two nice turf Courts to play the sport they love. Not only will soccer players be able to play during the day but also during night time as well because these courts will have lights to go with it.
As some might just think these are just soccer courts and who really cares… But these courts to me personally mean a lot more because I feel these courts will actually have a positive outcome to our youth so they continue to stay out of trouble and add another positive outlet to engage in. I believe we have the right leadership in our city like major Norvell! He’s not the type of guy that judges you or shuts you down immediately but instead will listen to your ideas and give you his honest response if he likes it or not… I hope moving forward we all come together to continue to bring positive activities to our city and continue to modernize our city.
Again Great job to everyone that supported this project and now let’s get to Building them!
CATCH OF THE DAY, April 4, 2022
KYLE AYERS, Willits. Domestic battery, protective order violation.
VANESSA ELIZABETH, Fort Bragg. Disorderly conduct-alcohol.
LATEEFAH GLOVER, Ukiah. Trespassing, resisting.
DESIREE VANDYKE, Ukiah. Domestic battery, resisting.
HONORING DOLORES HUERTA'S LEGACY
Photoessay by David Bacon
WALKING HOME IN THE RAIN
by Crawdad Nelson
The sheriff’s dispatcher gave exact coordinates over the phone, out to seven digits I believe, so we knew exactly where the hiker was in relation to other planetary objects. But from where we stood at the trailhead looking vaguely in her direction, with the sheriff’s spotlights marking our position, all we could really see was the spotlights launched into heavy overcast with driving rain coming down on a cold, wet, landscape.
Since her phone was still working it was easy to ask whether she could see the spotlights, and help orient the physical search. She reported that her back was to the ocean and the spotlights were to her right, which meant she was off trail in the brush, somewhere to our right. With only her phone for a light she could not move although she could see lights in the distance, and at least one horizon; any direction she wanted to move in was closed off with brush she had no hope of working through.
I was there because I knew how we could traverse that landscape and actually get to the position. She had about ten percent life in her cell phone battery and had been in contact with the officers off and on as they drove down to meet me, so they knew she was not injured but was standing out in the storm dressed for a warm afternoon stroll. She probably spent a while in the dark before calling 911, because it was over an hour after dark before we were notified. The rain had begun as light showers just before dark and gradually intensified until by about 9 as we were starting the hike it was raining hard with gale-force winds out of the south.
Ordinarily, people do not venture off the trail between Whitehouse Creek and Gazos Creek, because the brush patches are either technically or literally impassable, even moreso at night.
Two years ago I located a lost hiker who had embedded himself in the brush like a bug in a wad of spiderwebs. The feeble light of his cell phone had provided just enough light for me to spot him from about 400 yards and work my way over some dunes and low brush, clearing a passage through the perimeter of taller brush for him to reach open ground.
He had apparently panicked as darkness became more complete, pushing harder and harder in the direction he wanted to go, which only made his position worse before he finally tried to make contact over a cell phone that worked only sporadically.
The hiker last night had made the same mistake: heading out the trail just before dark, venturing off trail, spotting the lights of the resort in the distance and assuming they were reachable by moving in a straight line, then moving in that straight line over the easily-crossed dunes as it got darker. In her case the rain developed from nothing to a raging storm in the first hour of darkness, before she called 911.
By the time she knew she was not just off-trail but stuck, she was in hip-deep grass and shrubbery cut with a meandering patchwork of deer trails that are nothing more than narrow alleys between walls of poison oak, willow, coffeeberry and heavy, matted grasses. Ahead of her was only a wall of head-high brush which she must have tried to break through, realizing after a struggle it was not passable.
We headed out the trail with the officers keeping phone contact with her as we swept the distance with flashlights and asked her to describe her location. She couldn’t really see anything and hadn’t been near the trail in several hours by that time so could provide only vague references. She used her cell phone light as a beacon which we were able to spot about 200 yards in on the trail. She was out in no-man’s land several hundred yards out from the trail, with nothing but wet brush between us. At first we simply cut through the heavy grass on slanting deer trails, keeping her light ahead of us as we zigged and zagged. Off to our left where the trail cut through a hollow my flashlight picked up a set of shining green eyes following our uneven progress into the area people generally stay out of.
The work got heavier as the brush closed in around us. Every step was through something clinging or clutching. The rain continued heavy and the wind was at our backs. At first it felt like we would reach the light after a quick dash, but after about ten minutes it felt like we might never get there, as our flashlights swept over waist-high or higher brush in every direction, and her light was still visible, but seemed to be no closer.
One of the officers called her name, but nothing could be heard over the sounds of wind through heavy cover and surf close by on three sides.
It was always possible to find another deer trail cutting through in more or less the direction we wanted to move in, but the back-and-forth way deer move across a landscape is not designed to save time or energy.
About halfway over the grassy edge of the heavier brush a male northern harrier lifted suddenly out of waist-high grass, rose quickly into the gusts, and dove into the brush not far away. I followed him with my flashlight beam for the few seconds he was airborne, ghostly white and seemingly out of place, airborne in a gale. We disturbed him three or four more times until he managed to let the wind carry him out of our path.
By the time we made contact with the hiker, who was exhausted and soaked, none of us wanted to go back across the way we had just struggled. It would have been twice as exhausting to try and retrace the web of trails we had used to work through the heavy landscape. We could see the resort lit up out there in the southeast but between that and where we stood was a good half-mile of thoroughly impregnable brush. Deer worked their way though it by ducking down and using the passages meant for bobcats, coyotes, and mountain lion; human beings stayed out of it.
I showed them the way out by moving toward where I knew the trail would be, skirting the impassable brush I knew was in that direction and which was doubly-protected near the dunes by an invisible swamp which one of the officers found when he stepped into still waters which found a hole in his boot.
We were all pretty well soaked by that point but nobody wanted to go splashing through a swamp. I worked along the edge, as the ground became more and more sandy underfoot and the brush grew lighter. The first ridge I thought would be a dune was just taller brush, so we moved around that, finding better and easier pathways between the wilderness with each tack.
By the time we came to a real dune, brushy on the lee flank and clear on the windward, all I had to do was follow it to the left until we saw the trail below us.
From there it was a simple matter of walking home in the rain.
FOR YOUR POSTMODERN PHOTO ALBUM
Warm Spiritual Greetings, Please have this photo taken on April 4th, 2022 at the Building Bridges homeless shelter in Ukiah, California of Craig Louis Stehr, for your postmodern American archives.
PUTIN IS BEING WRITTEN OFF AS AN INEFFECTUAL MONSTER, BUT A RUSSIAN DEFEAT IS FAR FROM GUARANTEED
by Patrick Cockburn
I arrived in Moscow as a correspondent in late 1999, just as Vladimir Putin was soaring from bureaucratic obscurity to the Russian presidency in the space of six months. He owed his swift rise to the backing of his predecessor Boris Yeltsin, his success in the war in Chechnya, and a hope among Russians that he would end the chaos and poverty they had endured since the collapse of the Soviet Union.
I was struck at the time by Putin’s cold smile and athletic stride, both self-consciously geared to conveying an impression of business-like authority. I wondered what the man was really like, as did many Russians curious about his public persona. One joke in Moscow, adapted from a jibe often directed at Soviet leaders in the past, asked: “Will there ever be a Putin personality cult? No, because to have such a cult you must first have a personality.”
This put-down probably underestimated Putin. And in any case, his control of the Russian media enabled him to pose as a competent “tough-guy” national leader. But for me he always remained an elusive figure, expert in the mechanics of gaining and keeping power in Russia while making a broad-brush appeal to Russian nationalism.
I tried to think of a historic leader whose life might illuminate Putin’s career. Just before he was first elected president in 2000, a Russian friend quoted to me the German Chancellor Otto von Bismarck’s scathing verdict on Napoleon III, whom he described as “a sphinx without a riddle. From afar something, from near at hand nothing.”
The analogy looks even more appropriate today as both Napoleon III and Putin dealt in over-heated nationalism rooted in a glorious past when their countries were at the zenith of their power (Tsarist and Soviet in the case of Russia, Napoleon I at his peak in the case of France).
Both rulers grew in arrogance the longer they ruled. Napoleon III floundered into the Franco-Prussian war in 1870, some 22 years after he had first won the French presidential election in 1848, and was roundly defeated. After almost exactly the same period, Putin invaded Ukraine and found that he had underestimated Ukrainian resistance, exaggerated Russian military strength, and misjudged a powerful riposte by the Nato powers.
Putin’s political personality remains something of a mystery to this day, with many pundits excoriating him as a mad monster and war criminal. But such a description, justified though it may be by atrocities in Ukraine, is scarcely helpful in determining what he will do next, which, given his absolute power in Russia, will determine the peace of Europe.
Failure is a great teacher
Western governments purport to know what determines his thinking. “Even though we believe that Putin’s advisers are afraid to tell him the truth,” said Jeremy Fleming, head of the signals intelligence agency GCHQ, “what’s going on and the extent of these misjudgements must be crystal clear to the regime.”
True enough, failure is a great teacher for governments as for individuals, but this might only lead to Russian forces fighting more astutely as their failed multi-pronged advances, each too weak to reach their objectives, are now concentrating on the Donbas and south-east Ukraine.
Disclosures by Fleming and senior military officers drip with a dangerous sense that Russian blunders are irreversible. Pentagon spokesman Jim Kirby says that “the fact that he [Putin] may not have all the context, that he may not fully understand the degree to which his forces are failing in Ukraine, that’s a little discomforting”.
Yet nothing said by American and British officers and officials is new. Intelligence agencies, even if they have some secret source information, seldom say anything that would reveal its existence. The CIA, for instance, was desperate to conceal the fact that it could monitor the car phone of Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev.
No easy exit
Putin grossly misjudged almost everything to do with his Ukraine invasion, but the signs are growing that Nato powers are also being lured into wishful thinking as they start to divide up the lion’s skin though the lion is still breathing. Shambolic the performance of the Russian army may have been so far, but it will not necessarily stay that way. In past wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, Western governments have had a self-destructive willingness to believe their own propaganda about a beaten enemy being on the run.
Putin – however foolish his original decision to attack – still has a powerful army in Ukraine while the Nato powers do not have a single soldier there. This is a more important strategic fact than anecdotes about Russian tanks deliberately running over their own commanders or sabotaging their equipment.
The British government in particular assumes that the war can only go one way, arguing that a peace deal today would be premature, letting Putin off the hook and requiring Ukraine to make concessions avoidable if it wins more military successes, which ministers consider inevitable. A senior British government source is quoted as saying: “We think Ukraine needs to be in the strongest possible position militarily before those talks can take place.” He said that Putin should be allowed no easy exit from Ukraine and Boris Johnson insists that sanctions should be intensified until Russian troops leave Ukraine including Crimea.
The idea is evidently that Ukraine should remain a lethal quagmire for Russia, much like Afghanistan was for the Soviet Union in the 1980s or Iraq was for the US and Britain after 2003. Ignoring the fact that a long war might doom Ukraine to Iraqi and Afghan levels of death and devastation, this assumes that the military pendulum is predictable and only swings one way, an assumption that is contradicted by half the wars in history.
Putin’s macho self-image
During his first two decades in power in the Kremlin, Putin’s capabilities were exaggerated inside Russia and in the wider world. Since he ordered the invasion of Ukraine, he tends to be written off as a mad but ineffectual monster going down to inevitable defeat. Possibly this is exactly what will happen, but those who are most energetic in demonising Putin, paradoxically assume that in defeat he will behave with calm restraint when it comes to using chemical or nuclear weapons.
Failure in Ukraine might force Putin out of the Kremlin just as success in the Chechen war 22 years ago opened its doors to him. Ideally, he and his inner circle might retire like Yeltsin and his family with their physical safety and vast wealth guaranteed, but to cut-and-run would be very much against Putin’s macho self-image.
Talk of trying him as a war criminal, which would only happen after foreign-backed regime change in Moscow, works in his favour by adding credibility to his claim that the Russian state is under threat and must defend itself. Over the next few months, we may see – after more than two decades in power – what Vladimir Putin is really like.
I feel frustrated with those who condemn war atrocities, but then use them as a reason to go on fighting a war that will inevitably produce even more such atrocities. If saying that “war is an atrocity” is to be any more than a platitude, then the only way to end the killing is to end the conflict. This is not to let the perpetrators of war crimes off the hook, but a recognition that wars makes such crimes inevitable – though no less culpable.
Yet there are a growing number of politicians and pundits willing to fight to the last Ukrainian to defeat the Russian bear. Some of this is fuelled by popular outrage at Russian brutality against civilians, which is on television every night. Politicians, particularly in Washington and London, relish the thought of Russia being trapped in a Ukrainian quagmire without much concern about what happens to more than 40 million Ukrainians living on this battlefield.
Worrying again is an almost light-hearted belief that Putin would never use tactical nuclear or chemical weapons in this conflict. Where this confidence comes from is a mystery to me. The Economist says sternly that “the best deterrence is for Nato to stand up to Mr Putin’s veiled threat, and make clear that a nuclear or chemical atrocity would lead to Russia’s utter isolation.” Now that will really have them quaking in the Kremlin.
Below the Radar
The atrocities committed by Russia in Ukraine should lead to greater condemnation of similar crimes in Aleppo, Gaza, Raqqa, Sanaa, Mosul and a myriad of places in Afghanistan. But somebody will always stick up their hand and say that this is “how about-ism” – a silly argument which has become a hypocrites’ charter. It is also against common sense: would anybody argue that publicising a murder in Lancashire somehow devalues the vileness of a murder in Kent. Yet at the height of the bombing of Ukraine, a raft of US Senators want to do just that by closing down an investigation into Israel’s bombing of Gaza.
IMAGES FROM BUCHA, UKRAINE (courtesy The New York Times)
JOAN BAEZ’S: Benefit for Ukraine
Meredith Smith: Joan Baez has been producing Portraits to raise money for charities and she just did one of Zelensky to generate funds for Ukraine as a limited edition of 250 signed prints: https://joanbaezart.com/artist/1106
Marco McClean here. And here's Joan Baez dancing with a toy light-up bubble sword next to her camp trailer: https://vimeo.com/583542948
I remember reading, in an interview with her, about how when she was a kid and didn't feel like going to school her mother would ask her if there was anything important happening at school that day. She said (to the interviewer), “I think my mother understood there would never be anything important happening at school.”
LET US NOW PRAISE COURAGEOUS MEN AND WOMEN
The most sustained human rights violations carried out by the global oligarchs over the past few decades have been against workers, whether in the US rust belt or sweatshops in China.
by Chris Hedges
Let us honor those workers who stood up to Amazon, especially Chris Smalls, described by Amazon’s chief counsel as “not smart, or articulate,” who led a walk out at the Amazon warehouse at Staten Island JFK8 at the beginning of the pandemic two years ago to protest unsafe working conditions. He was immediately fired. Amazon’s high-priced lawyers, however, were in for a surprise. Smalls unionized the first Amazon warehouse in the country. He, along with his co-founder Derrick Palmer, built their union worker by worker with little outside support and no affiliation with a national labor group, raising $120,000 on GoFundMe. Amazon spent more than $4.3 million on anti-union consultants last year alone, according to federal filings.
We must not underestimate this victory. It is only by rebuilding unions and carrying out strikes that we will halt the downward spiral of the working class. No politician will do this for us. Neither of the two ruling parties will be our allies. The media will be hostile. The government, beholden to corporations and the rich, will use its resources, no matter which of the two ruling parties is in the White House, to crush worker movements. It will be a long, painful and lonely struggle.
You can tell what the oligarchs fear by what they seek to destroy -- unions. Amazon, the country’s second largest employer after Walmart, pours, like Walmart, staggering resources into blocking union organizing. According to court documents, it formed a reaction team involving 10 departments, including a security group staffed by military veterans, to counter the Staten Island organizing and had blueprints for breaking union activity worked out in its “Protest Response Playbook” and “Labor Activity Playbook.” The strike-breaking teams organized compulsory Maoist-type meetings, up to 20 a day, with workers where supervisors denigrated unions. It employed subterfuges making it hard to vote for a union. It put up anti-union posters in the bathrooms. It fired workers suspected of organizing. And it relied on the gutting of antitrust legislation and OSHA, as well as the emasculation of the National Labor Relations Board, which left workers largely defenseless, although the NLRB made a few decisions in favor of the union organizers.
“They called us a bunch of thugs,” Smalls told reporters after the 2,654-to-2,131 vote to form the union. “They tried to spread racist rumors. Tried to demonize our character, but it didn’t work.”
Amazon, like most large corporations, has no more commitment to worker’s rights than it does to the nation. It avoids taxes through a series of loopholes designed by their lobbyists in Washington and passed by Congress. The company dodged about $5.2 billion in corporate federal income taxes in 2021, even as it reported record profits of more than $35 billion. It paid only 6 percent of those profits in federal corporate income tax. Amazon posted income of more than $11 billion in 2018 but paid no federal taxes and received a federal tax refund of $129 million. Amazon’s Jeff Bezos, the second richest man in the world, is worth over $180 billion. He, like Elon Musk, the richest man in the world, worth $ 277 billion, plays with space rockets as if they were toys and is finishing work on his $500 million yacht, the largest in the world.
Bezos owns The Washington Post. The billionaire bioscientist Patrick Soon-Shiong owns The Los Angeles Times. Hedge funds and other financial firms own half of the daily newspapers in the United States. Television is in the hands of roughly a half dozen corporations who control 90% of what Americans watch. WarnerMedia, currently owned by AT&T., owns CNN and Time Warner. MSNBC is owned by Comcast, which is a subsidiary of General Electric, the 11th largest defense contractor in the US. News-Corp owns the Wall Street Journal and NY Post. The ruling oligarchs don’t care what we watch, as long as we remain entranced by the trivial, emotionally-driven spectacles they provide. None of these outlets challenge the interests of their owners, shareholders or advertisers, who orchestrate the assault on workers. The more powerful workers become, the more the media will be weaponized against them.
The first story I published in a major newspaper, The Christian Science Monitor, was about the US corporation Gulf and Western’s crushing of labor organizing in its industrial free zone in La Romana in the Dominican Republic, a campaign that included the intimidation, beating, firing, and assassination of Dominican labor organizers. The story was originally accepted by the Outlook section of The Washington Post until Gulf and Western, which owned Paramount Pictures, threatened to pull its movie advertising from the newspaper. The Monitor, funded by The Christian Science Church, did not carry advertising. It was an early and important lesson into the severe constraints of the commercial press.
The New York Times had gutted an investigative piece a year earlier written by perhaps our greatest investigative journalist, Seymour Hersh, who exposed the killing of some 500 unarmed civilians by the U.S. army in My Lai and the torture at Abu Ghraib, and Jeff Gerth about Gulf and Western. Hersh and Gerth documented how Gulf and Western, carried out fraud, abuse, tax avoidance and had links with organized crime. Charles Bluhdorn, the CEO of Gulf and Western, socialized with the publisher, Arthur “Punch” Sulzberger, which included invitations to preview soon-to-be-released Paramount movies in Bluhdorn’s home theater. Bluhdorn used his connections at the paper to discredit Hersh and Gerth, as well as to bombard the newspaper with accusatory letters and menacing phone calls. He hired private investigators to dig up dirt on Hersh and Gerth. When the two reporters filed their 15,000-word expose, the business editor, John Lee, in Hersh’s words, and “his ass-kissing coterie of moronic editors,” perhaps fearful of being sued, neutered it. It was one thing, Hersh found, to go up against a public institution. It was something else to take on a major corporation. He would never again work regularly for a newspaper.
“The experience was frustrating and enervating,” Hersh writes in his memoir “Reporter.” “Writing about corporate America had sapped my energy, disappointed the editors, and unnerved me. There would be no check on corporate America, I feared: Greed had won out. The ugly fight with Gulf and Western had rattled the publisher and the editors to the point that the editors who ran the business pages had been allowed to vitiate and undercut the good work Jeff and I had done. I could not but wonder if the editors there had been told about Bluhdorn’s personal connection to Punch. In any case, it was clear to me and Jeff that the courage the Times had shown in confronting the wrath of a president and an attorney general in the crisis over the Pentagon Papers in 1971 was nowhere to be seen when confronted by a gaggle of corporate con men…”
The United States had the most violent labor wars in the industrialized world, with hundreds of workers murdered by company goons and militias, thousands wounded and tens of thousands blacklisted. The fight for unions, and with them decent salaries, benefits, and job protection, was paid for by rivers of working-class blood and tremendous suffering. The formation of unions, as in the past, will entail a long and vicious class war. The security and surveillance apparatus, including Homeland Security and the FBI, will be deployed, along with private contractors and thugs hired by corporations, to monitor, infiltrate and destroy union organizing.
Unions made possible, for a while, a middle-class salary for auto workers, bus drivers, electricians, and construction workers. But those gains were rolled back. If the minimum wage had kept pace with rising productivity, as The New York Times pointed out, workers would be earning $20 an hour.
The nascent organizing at Amazon, Starbucks, Uber, Lyft, John Deere, Kellogg, the Special Metals plant in Huntington, West Virginia, owned by Berkshire Hathaway; REI, the Northwest Carpenters Union, Kroger, teachers in Chicago, West Virginia, Oklahoma and Arizona; fast food workers, hundreds of nurses in Worcester, Massachusetts, and the members of the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees are signs that workers are discovering that the only real power they have is as a collective, although a paltry 9% of the US workforce is unionized. One thousand and four hundred workers at a Kellogg’s plant in Omaha that makes Cheez-Its won a new contract with more than 15% wage increases over three years after they went on strike for nearly three months last fall.
The betrayal of the working class by the Democratic Party, especially during the Clinton administration, the anti-labor legislation, including trade deals that allowed exploited workers in Mexico or China to take the place of unionized workers at home, was passed by bought-and-paid for politicians in the two ruling parties on behalf of big business. The deindustrialization and job insecurity morphed into the gig economy, where workers are reduced to living on subsistence wages with no benefits, job security and few rights.
Capitalists, as Karl Marx pointed out, have only two goals: Reduce the cost of labor, which means impoverishing and exploiting workers, and increase the rate of production, which often occurs through automation, including Amazon’s ubiquitous squat orange robots carrying yellow racks across million-square-foot warehouse floors. When human beings interfere in these two capitalist objectives, they are sacrificed.
The financial distress afflicting workers, trapped in debt peonage and preyed upon by banks, credit card companies, student loan companies, privatized utilities, the gig economy, a for-profit healthcare system that has resulted in a for-profit healthcare system that has not prevented the US from having roughly a sixth of all reported worldwide COVID-19 deaths — although we have less than a twelfth of the world's population — and employers who pay meager wages and do not provide benefits is getting steadily worse, especially with rising inflation.
Biden, while lavishing $13.6 billion on Ukraine and expanding the military budget to $754 billion, has overseen the loss of extended unemployment benefits, rental assistance, forbearance for student loans, emergency checks, the moratorium on evictions and now the ending of the expansion of the child tax credits. He has refused to fulfill even his most tepid campaign promises, including raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour and forgiving student loans. His Build Back Better bill has been gutted.
Amazon workers, like many American workers, endure appalling work conditions. They are forced to work compulsory 12-hour shifts. They are denied bathroom breaks, often urinating into bottles. They endure stifling temperatures inside the warehouse in the summer. They must scan a new item every 11 seconds to hit their quota. The company knows immediately when they fall behind. Fail to meet the quota and you are fired.
Will Evans, in an investigative piece for Reveal from The Center for Investigative Reporting, found that “the company’s obsession with speed has turned its warehouses into injury mills.” Evans amassed internal injury reports from 23 of the company’s 110 “fulfillment centers” nationwide. “Taken together,” he writes, “the rate of serious injuries for those facilities was more than double the national average for the warehousing industry: 9.6 serious injuries per 100 full-time workers in 2018, compared with an industry average that year of 4.”
Those who are injured, Evans found, are “cast aside as damaged goods or sent back to jobs that injured them further.”
“The Amazon tenure of Parker Knight, a disabled veteran who worked at the Troutdale, Oregon, warehouse this year, shows the ruthless precision of Amazon’s system,” Evans writes. “Knight had been allowed to work shorter shifts after he sustained back and ankle injuries at the warehouse, but ADAPT didn’t spare him. Knight was written up three times in May for missing his quota. The expectations were precise. He had to pick 385 small items or 350 medium items each hour. One week, he was hitting 98.45% of his expected rate, but that wasn’t good enough. That 1.55% speed shortfall earned him his final written warning – the last one before termination.”
The New York Times revealed last year that Amazon also regularly shortchanges new parents, patients dealing with medical crises and other vulnerable workers on leave.
“Workers across the country facing medical problems and other life crises have been fired when the attendance software mistakenly marked them as no-shows, according to former and current human resources staff members, some of whom would speak only anonymously for fear of retribution,” the newspaper reported. “Doctors’ notes vanished into black holes in Amazon’s databases. Employees struggled to even reach their case managers, wading through automated phone trees that routed their calls to overwhelmed back-office staff in Costa Rica, India, and Las Vegas. And the whole leave system was run on a patchwork of programs that often didn’t speak to one another. Some workers who were ready to return found that the system was too backed up to process them, resulting in weeks or months of lost income. Higher-paid corporate employees, who had to navigate the same systems, found that arranging a routine leave could turn into a morass.”
The ruling class, through self-help gurus such as Oprah, “prosperity gospel” preachers and the entertainment industry, has effectively privatized hope. They peddle the fantasy that reality is never an impediment to what we desire. If we believe in ourselves, if we work hard, if we grasp that we are truly exceptional, we can have anything we want. The privatization of hope is pernicious and self-defeating. When we fail to achieve our goals, when our dreams are unattainable, we are taught it is not due to economic, social, or political injustice, but faults within us. History has demonstrated that the only power citizens have is through the collective, without that collective we are shorn like sheep. This is a truth the ruling class spends a lot of time obscuring.
Any advance we make in social, political, and economic justice immediately comes under assault by the ruling class. The ruling class chips away at the gains we make, which is what happened following the rise of mass movements in the 1930s and later in the 1960s. The oligarchs seek to snuff out what the political scientist Samuel Huntington cynically called “the excess of democracy.” The sociologist Max Weber, for this reason, called politics a vocation. Social change cannot be achieved simply by voting. It requires a constant, ceaseless effort. It is an endless striving for a new political order, one that demands lifelong dedication, organizing to keep the rapacious excesses of power in check and personal sacrifice. This eternal vigilance is the key to success.
Amazon’s vast machinery, as I write, is no doubt plotting to destroy the union in Staten Island. It cannot allow it to be a successful example. It has 109 “fulfillment centers” it is determined to keep nonunionized. But, if we do not become complacent, if we continue to organize and resist, if we link our arms with our unionized allies across the country, if we are able to strike we -- and they -- have a chance.
TAIBBI TALK (2014)