September 01, 2014

Turbulence in Randi-world? Grothe booted, LA office closed at #JREF

I'm not hugely plugged into the world of "scientific skepticism" or "movement skepticism," but the dismissal of D.J. Grothe as president of the James Randi Educational Foundation.

Here's the whole release:
In order to achieve cost-savings and greater efficiency, the Los Angeles office of the JREF has closed effective September 1, 2014. All operations have been moved to Falls Church, Virginia. 
 DJ Grothe is no longer with the JREF. James Randi has taken over as acting President. 
 This restructuring is part of an enhanced educational agenda aimed at inspiring an investigative spirit in a new generation of critical thinkers by engaging children and their parents, as well as educators and the general public, in how to think about the many extraordinary claims we hear every day.

Color me, er, skeptical! There's surely more to it than this.

While I don't follow JREF as much as Center for Inquiry, which I also don't follow a whole lot, I'd heard no major rumors among more plugged-in Facebook friends about significant financial worries.

Beyond that, is Grothe's salary that huge? Probably less money than rent of the L.A. office, along with utilities and expenses. And, the idea that an 86-year-old Randi will be "acting president" in any real sense for any length of time is laughable.

Unless the real president is "Carlos," aka José Alvarez, aka Devyi Peña, aka Uri Geller for all the hell I know. That said, as I've blogged before, I have no doubt that Randi knew who "Carlos" was, and had at least a hint about his identity theft, long before either one came clean.

Out of curiosity, I bopped over to CFI; no beans spilled there about any inside information on this.

Anyway, so, no rumors. And, if it needs change, it surely needs it beyond an 86-year-old being acting president. Maybe Randi, like Paul Kurtz, has founder's syndrome? After all, per Wikipedia, Randi himself was chairman of the board. Maybe Grothe wasn't taking orders well enough or whatever.

Even if other people affiliated with JREF had problems with Grothe, part of that could be larger "alignment" issues. And, beyond the savings in salary and office space, a head of a nonprofit is supposed to help out with fundraising, and Grothe apparently wasn't doing that. If it's as bad as it may be, this can't be a surprise — other than it being a surprise he wasn't escorted out even earlier.

Per a Tweet by Jim Lippard, it is that bad, on funding: JREF Revenue: 2011: $1.56M, 2012: $1.29M, 2013: $887.5K.

Still, the suddenness seems "interesting." Because financial problems, if known, don't suddenly pop up out of nowhere. Ones that bad certainly  don't.

And, neither does larger mismanagement. That includes social media mismanagement of posting the same annoucement on Facebook and adding a "no comments" at the end of it. And, now, the beginnings of a flame war between social justice warriors and others have broken out there.

And, it's being abetted by P.Z. Myers, aka Pharyngula, to whom I shall not link. (P.Z. has some information wrong, but, since I'm now also blocked from commenting there with my Yahoo account,I won't try to figure out some other way to straighten him out.)

Meanwhile, the Randi site's forums, which I know led to a lot of interesting discussion, and probably some occasional flaming, are being cut off from the organization? Jim Lippard notes that this is a few days old, and has been done by other skeptical or atheist nonprofits. That said, I think it would be smarter to kill a forum outright rather than hand its ownership over to somebody else. Branding issues, etc.

Especially given that Gnu Atheist type social justice warriors are "goosing" this whole situation, and probably have been since rumors started a year ago about Grothe's management, the forums should have either been killed outright or handed off to a third party some time ago.

Flip side is that the Gnus are surely at least partially righton the amount of libertarianism under guise of alleged skepticism that runs around JREF. If someone like Sharon Hill, the blank-check defender of Brian Dunning, is that involved, that says something.

As usual, a bit of pox on both houses from where I stand.

And, yes, bad management happens in the skeptics world. Witness both problems Paul Kurtz had at Center for Inquiry and some  that his successor, Ron Lindsay, has had. Some were financial; some were other management issues. 

Related to that, "founder's syndrome" doesn't necessarily just apply to the founders of non nonprofit advocacy-type groups. Witness the "single donor" issue at Center for Inquiry, withdrawing his 25 percent of budget donations when Kurtz was pushed aside. That said, in Randi's case, given that he named the organization after himself, there's an extra twist there.

Beyond that, how many skeptics' groups are needed? One commenter on Randi's forums may be right: Michael Shermer will take over The Amazing Meeting (for now), and perhaps the whole Randi shebang eventually. 

And, Randi  was getting $250K as chairman of the board? Really? That is founder's syndrome.

But, don't worry, Gnus; if P.Z. and his Freethought Blog co-founder Ed Brayton get the idea for a larger Gnu Atheist "portal" or something, they'll have some of the same issues, in all likelihood.

#LaborDay — dying unions ignored by #neoliberal Democrats

That's the simple story — the Republicans, never organized labor's allies (though Robert Taft tried to modify his signature Taft-Hartley Act before he died) don't care, and now, "free trade" social interest group Democrats don't care, either.

But, the reality of the story is a bit more complex. And, today's the day to look at all of it.

Yes, Labor Day is more than a day for a picnic or a barbecue. It's a day to remember the advances of organized labor in the past and its declines today.

It's also a day to remember why those declines have happened — including fingering organized labor's own share of responsibility.

First, a couple of today's anti-worker issues.

Wage theft, from hourly employees,  but also to salaried persons, is becoming ever more common.

And, its methodology grows.

The story notes reclassification of workers as independent contractors, a practice that continues to grow, and in my profession, at daily newspapers, is highly stressful. That delivery driver who throws your paper? He or she is an independent contractor, not a newspaper employee. And, at a daily newspaper, responsible for finding a replacement if sick, wanting any vacation, etc. Remember, a seven-day daily paper gets thrown every day. Think about that next time you hear the phrase "liberal media."

Another trick, seemingly new in the mode of execution, is an electronic version of pencil-whipping time cards.

That said, the penalties, under statutes like the National Labor Relations Act, are usually weak, limited to no more than back pay, possibly with interest.

So, this:
Michael Rubin, one of the lawyers who sued Schneider, disagreed, saying there are many sound wage claims. “The reason there is so much wage theft is many employers think there is little chance of getting caught,” he said.

And, that's the case.

Or, as Harold Meyerson notes in a must read, there's little penalty: 
To get some perspective on how negligible such penalties may be, one just has to look at the 2007 unionization campaign at the Yale–New Haven Hospital, conducted outside the framework of the NLRA. An independent arbitrator ruled that management had committed numerous fair-practice violations and fined the hospital $4.5 million. During the decade of 2000–2009, by contrast, the total of all fines levied nationally by the NLRB for illegal punishment of workers for their union activity came to $36 million, or $3.6 million a year.
That said, wage and hour problems, and the problems of unionization in general, have been almost as bad under Democratic presidents as Republican ones.

It would be easy to blame globalization, given a mix of GOP and neoliberal Democrats in the White House but Meyerson says, not so fast:
(G)lobalization by itself doesn’t necessarily lead to a weakened labor movement and declining worker income. If it did, unionized German manufacturing workers would not enjoy pay and benefits that exceed those of Americans even as their country has become the export giant of the Western world. Because unions are more powerful in Germany than they are in the U.S., and because German law requires large companies to divide their corporate boards equally between workers’ and management’s representatives, multinationals like Siemens, Daimler, and BMW have kept their most highly productive and best-paid jobs at home. Only where corporations have been free to structure globalization to their workers’ disadvantage—that is, in the United States—has it led to massive union decline.
That said, while Tony Blair promoted the "Third Way of new Labour and neoliberalism, Germany's Gerhard Schroeder resisted. But, the Social Democrats are out in Germany and have been for several years, while in France, François Hollande's Socialists look like they will start treading that path.

But labor's woes go beyond globalization, or beyond that and weak domestic labor laws.

And, it's not just that neoliberal Democrats focus on a couple of hot-button social issues to fluff Hollywood and Silicon Valley donors, even while Silicon Valley is relentlessly anti-union, though that is a problem itself.

Beyond that, those neolibs are moving into big-city municipal government, not just the White House and statehouses:
Already, some Democratic mayors, among them Chicago’s Rahm Emanuel and Newark’s Cory Booker, are building coalitions that array their city’s corporate elites and minority communities against their cities’ unions. 
It's really not the "minority communities," it's the "top minority 'players'" who claim to represent "minority communities," which itself illustrates another problem with modern interest-group Democratic Party "liberalism."

That said, there's plenty of neolib Democrats in statehouses, too:
Even in such progressive bastions as California or New York, there’d be no guarantee that Governor Jerry Brown, who vetoed a card-check bill for California farmworkers last year, or Governor Andrew Cuomo, who has cultivated an adversarial relationship with many of New York’s unions, would be inclined to make it easier for workers to organize in the private sector. 
The Green Party, on paper, talks about worker empowerment, better wages, etc. However, Greens, or lowercase greens or environmentalists, have often long been skittish about unions.

Unions used to represent heavy industry — big polluters whose workers always sided with their bosses on environmental issues. And, as Meyerson notes, unions were staunchly pro-war in Vietnam, and arguably, by the reception George W. Bush got at Ground Zero after 9/11, still more pro-war than the Democratic Party in general in the current century. (That's ignoring the AFL-CIO's history of being in bed abroad with the CIA any time the CIA wanted an anti-Communist labor front in a country it was trying to destabilize for allegedly being Communist.)

Meyerson notes that the war, and lack of labor organization today, is unions shooting themselves in the foot. That said, he misses one bigger issue which ties to today: national health care.

Harry Truman was the first president to make a bid for that. Everybody knows that the American Medical Organization and big business were two legs of the "stool" opposing him. The third?

Organized labor. It saw generous private-sector health benefits as a prime union recruitment tool. This is of a straight-line connection with the AFL-CIO being suckers for anti-Communism claims, of opposing environmentalists any time they wanted factories to get cleaner, and more.

In the U.S., traditional blue-collar unions have often been as capitalistic as their employees. They've focused on wage and hour gains first, work safety a fairly distant second, and broader employment-related quality of life issues a distant third. Walter Reuther and his emphasis on backing the civil rights movement was the exception far more than the rule.

Indeed, the development of Labor Day, rather than May Day, as the "workingman's day" in the US, argues for that. May Day, which of course had been a pagan Germano-Celtic holiday for centuries, either Beltane or Walpurgis Nacht, was made the International Workers Day in Europe in 1886 — precisely because of the Haymarket Riot of May 4, 1886.

Who made it that? Per Wikipedia:

May 1 was chosen as the date for International Workers' Day by the Socialists and Communists of the Second International to commemorate the Haymarket affair in Chicago that occurred on May 4, 1886.
There you go — a commemoration of the workers, by the workers, for the workers.

That's what it's largely continued to be. And, it's been "maintained" better as such than Labor Day here in America.

Over here, it's a different story. American workers apparently never appreciated what a handshake of solidarity European workers were offering. (Canadian workers do; even though Labour Day is the official holiday, unions generally celebrate May Day more.)

The U.S. Labor Day? Entirely different. Also per Wikipedia:
Labor Day was promoted by the Central Labor Union and the Knights of Labor, who organized the first parade in New York City. After the Haymarket Massacre, which occurred in Chicago on May 4, 1886, U.S. President Grover Cleveland feared that commemorating Labor Day on May 1 could become an opportunity to commemorate the affair. Thus, in 1887, it was established as an official holiday in September to support the Labor Day that the Knights favored.
Did organized Labor in the U.S. have to agree to this date? No. But it did, instead of celebrating May Day and telling Grover Cleveland to go fuck himself.

Now, wage-and-hour gains are fine, when that's the primary need. But, rather than fighting for table scraps from someone else's power, American unions could have been doing more, and different.

The recent Volkswagen of America union rejection vote brought up the issue that, in Germany, labor representatives get seats on the company's boards of directors. Why didn't George Meany work for that in the 1950s or ’60s? Why didn't he campaign for Americans to get minimum paid vacation rights, and for them to get a third week of paid time guaranteed after either so many years with a company, or in the workforce in general?

Because, the restlessness and workaholism that's in the corporate DNA of many a  company and company CEO is still too embedded in too much of American unionism, especially that of the old industrial unions.

Walter Reuther, just like his French auto labor counterparts, may have read Sartre or Camus, but, I don't think nearly the same percentage of American line workers did, as did their French counterparts. Probably, 40 years ago, hardhats would have called "quality of life" a Communist issue or something.

So, Meyerson probably didn't go quite far enough. If American unionism is to be revitalized, the old building may need to be razed. And the old foundations may need to be blown up along with that.

That all said, I have some personal background for commenting on all of this.

I've never belonged to a union, but I would have no problem joining one as part of a job.

That said, as an adjunct college instructor, I taught at a place in Michigan called Baker College. It had a separate division called "Corporate Services," which was really "UAW Services." Almost every person in every class I taught was a union member trying to get a college degree to do something — to do anything — before the next layoff. The few exceptions were people promoted from the line to white-collar salaried engineering jobs, still in auto plants.

I had not just union workers but one steward, at Flint Truck and Bus, in my classes. We talked, outside of class — and inside of the sociology class I taught — about union sociology issues. 

Introducing your Texas gubernatorial candidates

It is Labor Day and the start of the "official" campaign season, so here's your four — yes, four — official candidates.

First is Republican Greg Abbott, aka Dr. Strangeabbott. Like his counterpart, Dr. Strangelove, one wonders if Abbott is always about to break into a Nazi salute. His salute would be either to rich campaign donors, especially if they have any vague, tenuous connect to cancer and can come under the CPRIT umbrella, or if they're gun nuts.

Abbott has never met a fetus he didn't like, unless its mother liked Medicaid. He's never met a schooling idea he didn't like, unless it involved money.

In short, he's a tougher, more bare-knuckled version of Rick Perry pretending to be a kinder, gentler one. He's also, given his losing track record on lawsuits against the feds, a more stubborn version of Perry.

Second is Democrat Wendy Davis, aka Wendy O. Williams. I settled on that nickname last week, because Davis' campaign seems like a discombobulated whirl of energy, when it's not on internal lockdown of some sort.

Davis had a great filibuster in the Capitol last August and has generally gone downhill since. Actually, she got close to the bottom of the downhill last December, shortly after her campaign started. When you openly pander for "moderate" Republican voters at your first major campaign event, that's not a good sign.

Since then, Davis has dodged abortion and reproductive choice issues like a vial of plutonium

Third is Libertarian Kathie Glass, also known as the Lawyer from Hell, who probably thinks that GOP Senator Ted Cruz is a softie on the "treason" and "tyranny" being instituted across the land by Barack Obama.

Glass has also never met a lawsuit she didn't like — at least if she thinks it helps business. You'll notice her website has nothing decrying either forced binding arbitration, or the monstrosity called "tort reform."

Fourth is Green candidate Brandon Parmer. Does anybody know if he's still alive? With a Facebook page not updated in six months and no website, it looks like he self-suspended his campaign. I don't mean that in the sense that some Greens hinted at him suspending his campaign if a deal could be made with Wendy O. Williams, which I blogged against.

I just mean that he seems to have been kidnapped by aliens, joined ISIS, or otherwise dropped off the face of Texas. Parmer's had plenty of chances to fill in gaps in real liberalism left by Davis, and we've heard bupkis.

Anyway, Parmer's so dead I don't even have a nickname for him.

Two years from now, Texas Green Party? Put in a "none of the above" voting option, so that if there's an exceptionally weak candidate, even by third party standards, and he or she is unopposed, the party still doesn't have to put him or her on the ballot, OK? It's nice that the party has its largest ballot numbers ever this year; for 2016 and beyond, let's work on quality as well as quantity.

August 30, 2014

#GregAbbott still can't "stand" for much, can he?

There's also other politically incorrect language the Abbott folks probably want us to avoid.

Like, I guess we can't ask him to "roll out new policy statements," can we? "Asleep at the wheel" might be problematic, too, especially asleep at the wheel of crony capitalism at CPRIT and elsewhere. "CPRIT: Too strong for a Texas Republican man, but made for a Democratic woman (if she will actually pull the trigger)."

He certainly can't "stand" for multiple debates against Wendy Davis. That's probably because he's afraid it would be too much work to fake sincerity, to fake humanness, in a roundtable-style format. The fact that he's now agreed to a "new" debate offer, set for the same day as the original was slated, and also in the Metromess, underscores that.

I'm surprised he can "stand" continuing to lose in court, like on the state's abortion law. Maybe that's why another reason why he doesn't want a roundtable-style debate with Davis.

Update, Aug. 31. I'm sorry. Abbott will "stand" for one thing, namely voter suppression. Hat tip to Perry.

At the same time, the state's lamestream media can't stand for more than two people in debates. Lets invite Libertarian Kathie Glass. Let's invite Brandon Parmer of the Greens, if he's still alive. Per the second link, the spinelessness of Metromess media in offering a "new" debate option to Abbott underscores how bad they are.

August 29, 2014

Texas #abortion law: #GregAbbott loses again in court

Like clockwork, Greg Abbott loses another case in federal court:
U.S. District Judge Lee Yeakel ruled that requiring abortion facilities to comply with the standards of ambulatory surgical centers would reduce access so much that it would put an unconstitutional burden on Texas women seeking the procedure.
 "The ambulatory-surgical-center requirement is unconstiutional because it imposes an undue burden on the right of women throughout Texas to seek a previabilty abortion," Yeakel ruled, blocking enforcement of the requirement scheduled to take effect Monday.

Now, while Planned Parenthood has "come out swinging," will Wendy Davis do so on what propelled her to the statewide political limelight in the first place?

Given that she's pretty much avoided this issue like the plague, this could be "interesting."

It could actually be a "get your popcorn" moment; we might see if Davis has St. Vitus Dance or something, based on the amount of wiggling.

Or she might say something as bland as "let the justice system run its course," like after Rick Perry's indictment.

Your #GregAbbott movie text of the week? "John Dietz" or "school finance"

"Thank" Greg Abbott for interrupting your movie.
As a number of people know, Greg Abbott hit a new barf-inducing low a few weeks back of asking supporters to text him from movies.
In a new twist, Abbott is taking his campaign to the movies. He is running an ad in two dozen movie theaters across the state, playing on every screen a film is being shown. The ad asks moviegoers to text the word “FREEDOM” to the campaign. The effort is aimed at collecting information the campaign can use to identify and boost turnout.
This combines three barf factors of the modern movie-going experience:
1. Ads before movies;
2. Political advertising in general today;
3. People using cellphones at movies.

And, as regular readers know, as more and more opportunities to lampoon Abbott come up, I'll be doing just that.

Given Judge John Dietz' ruling on the unconstitutionality of Texas' school financing earlier this week, your text, per the header, is obvious.

Update: Or, even better than any of the other links, text "abortion," or "reproductive choice," or "anti-woman," or similar. Texas' Worst Lawyer has lost again in court, on the state abortion law.