Archive for the ‘Commentary’ Category


May 26th, 2013
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On May 20th, the following email came into my inbox:

UCSF email

It actually seems extremely innocuous– I see no judgment positive or negative about the strike, the workers, or the employer– and I would imagine most people deleted this email without any further thought; but my interest in the relationship between workers and employers caused me to hesitate with my mouse over “delete,” and then click on the “for more information” link. Which brought me to:




What do you see in this posting? Note that the address of this site is but also /news. The one suggests that it could be a site with the opinions and official messages of the UCSF organization; the other suggests that it might include some form of journalism and information. The article itself proves to be entirely in the camp of UCSF propaganda.

The first four paragraphs actually do offer some basic facts, which is either laudable or very tricky, setting a tone that may cause a reader not to notice when the piece switches to offering a bunch of UCSF public relations messaging of dubious honesty. Starting with the fifth paragraph, you can notice many phrases such as “UC officials say” and “the University said” and “UC believes” as well as an extensive quote from the Chancellor and the CEO. Further down we are treated to two more direct quotes from the CEO. Meanwhile the entire two pages have not a single quote, sentence, contention, or statement of the position or thoughts of any of the striking workers or their union. This in itself should be enough to make it clear that this article was created by someone in the UCSF public relations department, not a journalist.

Now that we’ve understood that, let’s quickly look at the level of honesty of these folks.
“UC has proposed a total compensation package that includes competitive wages, excellent medical and retirement benefits, and good working conditions.” This sentence is given without any “someone says” to it– as if this were a statement of fact itself. I am certain that the workers involved would disagree, and I am equally certain that the workers would be correct. They would not be striking if this statement were true; and also there are almost no organizations in the U.S. that offer such a package to their workers.

Now let’s get to a very important verbiage, the claim about the sticking point of the negotiations: “[AFSCME’s] refusal to agree to urgently needed pension reform” in the face of “UC is enacting substantive pension reforms to help the University address a 24 billion pension fund liability.” Look at that language: “help” and “liability” are designed to create an ‘oh, poor University’ feeling. The University has this horrible problem visited upon it, and its workers are refusing to help in its hour of need. But liability is just a fancy word for the fact that a certain amount of money has already been promised– as part of the workers’ compensation for work they have already been doing for years!! Imagine someone buys a $10,000 car from you and says they will pay 2, 500 each quarter over the next year; after paying you $2,500, they then inform you that their “liability needs to be relieved” and suggests that you reduce payments to $1,000 for the ensuing three quarters. Would you feel bad for them, and see what you could do to help them? Or would you call them a thief, and demand they pay you what they promised? No wonder AFSCME “refuses to agree to any changes.” These “changes” are taking away money that they have already been promised for work they have already performed! And reading through this entire piece, the claim appears to be that the only dispute is over these pension reforms. So if you were thinking that the workers were greedy and lazy or that the Union was using its power to lord it over UC, be disillusioned: this labor dispute appears not to even have started with the workers asking for better wages, but with UC unilaterally demanding a lowering of their compensation.

In this light, a lot of the other statements in this piece come into question: “UC strives to treat all its employees fairly” and “UC believes AFSCME has not, in good faith, explored all options through bargaining.” UC wants to lower people’s agreed upon compensation, which should be a bizarre and unheard-of idea (though it’s unfortunately not), during a time of inflation, and for no good reason (none is given other than that they owe the workers money and don’t want to pay it); this hardly seems ‘fair.’ And what ‘options’ other than blank refusal would you want a union to explore in the face of an employer trying to renege on their agreement?

There are many other little quibbles you can discover in the language, uncovering truths, such as “the University of California has been working to negotiate a fair contract […] since June 2012.” This phrase suggests that only UC has been putting effort into it, while the other side has apparently not; or that UC strives for something fair while the other side does not. Anyone with even a passing acquaintance of negotiations and capitalism will suspect that UC’s goal was not a “fair contract” but rather the “cheapest contract.” But along with every little chance taken to valorize UC (always meant as a compliment to its top administrators and not to its employees), to laud its values, and to denigrate the Union, there is one major rhetorical concept: that AFSCME and the employees are threatening public health.

This is deliberately selected as a very grave charge against them; and of course for that charge to stick it has to be a contrast: the UC administration cares about patient outcomes as a top priority, while anyone considering a strike does not. This is one of the additional reasons why they keep hammering home “UCSF is a leading university,” “UCSF’s medical center ranks among the nation’s best hospitals,” etc.: to make the case that they care a great deal about the health care they provide. The accusation that stems from this is: “UC officials say a strike […] would pose an imminent threat to public health and safety;” and “UC considers it highly inappropriate for AFSCME to threaten patient care as a tactic in contract negotiations.” I wonder how many of the quoted top members of the administration would show up if their contracts were on hold (which they aren’t since they are in the comfortable position of setting these salaries for themselves)? I guess it would be fine though, as it would not represent a threat to public health and safety since they don’t actually contribute to health and safety in their jobs. Or imagine UC just completely stopped paying these workers: the same argument could be made that if they refused to show up because of that, they were endangering public safety, since we suddenly would not have operational health facilities. Basically, the argument is being advanced that because these particular workers are among those members of society who actually perform a critical function, they lose the most basic of rights to protect their time and labor from the bosses? The safety-blaming also misses the point that an agreement is always between two parties. The UC admins have effectively also been threatening public safety ever since they first started putting pressure on the pensions of health workers, since by threatening those workers’ livelihood they threaten the services they provide.

In another similar piece which I invite you to analyze more fully yourself if interested [Source], senior vice president John Stobo is quoted: “We will do everything possible to ensure the safety of patients at UC hospitals, and that will cost up to $20 million […]. But the real cost is the human one.” If the priority in Stobo’s mind was really patient outcomes, as these several propaganda pieces trumpet, would that not be the first cost he mentions? It seems to me, though this is certainly not proof, that he accidentally betrays the great twist in the plot: that the administrators by and large care more about money than about patient outcomes; while their employees and their union care more about patient outcomes than money. Here are a few fun facts: the 3 quoted administration members in these two articles are chancellor Desmond-Hellman, CEO Laret, and senior vice president Stobo. When she was hired in 2009, Desmond-Hellman’s starting salary was $450,000, plus incentive pay, benefits, relocation, housing, automobile, life insurance (Source). Laret’s base salary was adjusted to $1,222,000 in 2011, rising 100k each year to 1,522,000 in 2014, along with similar benefits and incentive pay (which it is noted may be about 20% of base salary; Source). Stobo started in 2008 with a base salary of $580,000, along with similar benefits, incentive pay, and an incredible $180,000+ to help him relocate (Source). Nowhere in any of the articles I saw on was there any mention of the compensation cuts that any of these three health-lovers had volunteered for in order to help out with UC’s “liabilities;” but I am sure that, before becoming righteously incensed at AFSCME’s patient care employees, who earn a mean salary of $55,000 (Source), for refusing to tackle the problem of these liabilities, they must have taken some pretty drastic cuts themselves.


As it had also in 2008, the last time AFSCME wanted to strike, the California Public Employment Relations Board granted the anti-strike injunction sought by UC.

The whole exercise of this essay is quite important for the reason that almost all “news” you will see widely distributed nowadays is written by and for corporate interests; therefore, being able to ‘read’ them is an important skill.

A People’s Media Takeover?

May 18th, 2013
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Last night a friend showed me this activism attempt, thinking it might be something I’d be into. You can go watch the video if you like, for those who don’t here’s the idea: there is a large media company up for sale, and two current bidders for it– Rupert Murdoch and the Koch brothers. Whichever one controls it, this media company will continue to be an anti-human corporate trumpetpiece for a long time to come. To avoid this fate, we apply the idea of crowd-funding, raise 660 million dollars across millions and millions of humans, and put in a bid to buy the company, ensuring a pro-human media source. Certainly the concentrated corporate control of media is a major problem in America: ideas are power, and the larger the markets one company or individual is able to spread their ideas to, the greater the concentration of power. There’s plenty of evidence that this is already a serious problem in America; as one example compare the percentage of Americans who believe Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction and the percentage in other countries. While you shouldn’t trust polls too greatly the discrepancies are so great as to represent one indication of the power of misinformation. So yeah, two of the worst people in the world taking full control over a large media group is a very scary thing, and I fully sympathize with the instinct to want to take action against it.

But this is absolutely the wrong approach. You have to look to where you have some strategic strength if you want to win a battle. In general human populace v. Koch brothers, our advantage is certainly not the size of our collective wallet– in fact wealth is their only advantage. Though I did go and check and find that the bottom 60% of America does have more wealth than the Koch brothers (they only own about as much as the bottom 40%), it’s not feasible for us to deploy all our wealth towards this end: that would entail giving up our homes, furniture, food, clothes, etc. I don’t think it’s practical for us to get into a bidding war with the Kochs or any other super rich or corporations. Even if it were, it would be neglecting all of our strengths in order to fight on our weakest terrain– gutsy but stupid, if you actually care about winning. And as an example of how well auctions are going for us, consider the sale of hundreds of politicians over the last couple decades: how many of them did normal Americans manage to nab with tons of small contributions, and how many did the rich and corporations get?

The most obvious thing we have over the Kochs is human numbers, and human capital. There’s probably not very much they know how to do. We on the other hand have a mind-boggling array of skills. We know how to write, to edit, to research, to format, to operate printing presses, to bike local routes and deliver papers, to talk to people, to analyze, to make moral choices, and the list goes on. In fact, we have all the skills and manpower to operate a media company. Which ought to remind us…. that the media company already belongs to those who do the work. They just need to take control over their own lives. Whether the Kochs “own” the company or whether it’s Oaktree Capital, Angelo Gordon & Co, etc. as now or the other bidder Murdoch, the employees and customers of The Tribune can always reclaim the true ownership of the company very easily by this simple realization.

Stop giving any of your money to any of these bosses. Do your work as before, without the financial entanglements that have been imposed on you. Do it for the sake of journalism. The people will give money and support for the workers. If you find this unimaginable it’s actually very simple; just try to imagine it! For example, the workers could all quit their jobs, start a cooperative, and then continue doing the exact same work, with all their customers transferring their subscriptions. If the Koch brothers first spend 660 Million before the company evaporates in one day, all the funnier.

Now of course any such action would require a bunch of planning and organization. I don’t want to give the false impression that the emancipation of humanity will ever be easy or depend on a single action, but just to remind us to think strategically about how to win. Remember, to win: know your strengths and your weaknesses; they are the weaknesses and strengths of your opponents. And also, to win: think exactly those thoughts that you have been conditioned to find unthinkable; learn a new habit that every time you start censoring a suggestion out of hand, you stop, and review that idea. Winning!