Saturday, January 27, 2007

Lose or Die Tryin

Lose or Die Tryin

Three guesses on which nation shows the way forward to a happy global future. China, for its booming economy? The U.S. for its high standard of living? Italy for its great food? Wrong. Wrong. Wrong. Vanuatu, a string of islands in the Pacific, leads the world in promoting satisfaction, according to the Happy Planet Index, a new measure of human progress created by Friends of the Earth and the New Economics Foundation. This nation of 250,000 people scored well in all three categories upon which the index was based: life satisfaction, life expectancy and ecological sustainability. Here’s the reality check,, Canada placed 111th and the U.S. 150th. So much for the “American Dream”.

And on that happy note, the beginning of my blog entry for this week. If America is so concerned about protecting its borders from the evil doers; terrorists, illegal aliens, drug smugglers, suspicious Muslims, suspicious Iranians, suspicious North Koreans, Afghanistans, Cubans, and Canadians who look like the “enemy”, why don’t they take a look at the enemy within; poverty, racism, a shrinking middle class, congressman who routinely wind up in sexual misadventures, Christian evangelists who wave the flag while having sex with men, prostitutes, and little boys. a Christian right wing that is convinced that all non believers will perish when Armageddon strikes us all down , an era of discontent unprecedented, and led by a President, “Curious George”, who has the worst ratings of any President since Nixon, and we know what he was up to…can you spell “impeachment”.

It appears that the only thing they are not afraid of is American Idol contestants who lose. As a matter of fact for the first time in history, America is actually rewarding losers…the American people are embracing these losers. If you lose on any of the so called reality shows, you can actually become a hero. Lose 200 pounds and you are a hero. get kicked off the Apprentice and you are still a somebody for standing up to the Trumpster, the poster boy for narcissism …get kicked off the Island and people want to interview you on national television the next morning, lose on American Idol and heck you can even get a record contract and make a million bucks with no talent, and no singing ability, and no idea of what actually happened to you. Exhibit A…. William Hung, hit stardom with a bombastic hit “She Bangs”. He appeared last night on Larry King along with three other losers who have made it big. He’s so surprised and amazed at his fame, he remains speechless. However he did get it together long enough to sing something for his new country album. The two other losers applauded him and Larry just pulled back his suspenders and had a senile moment, forgot to breathe and then threw it over to Anderson Cooper who just winced , plugged his ears, and said “Is it over’.

Okay here is my theory of what’s going on in America, and why Canadians are just as nuts for watching. George Bush and his axis of evil twins Dick and Condy have put the country into such a high state of paranoia , that even the simple people believe that everyone in the world wants to invade America so that they can all have a piece of the American Dream. Ah yes America where all things are possible. Make an idiot of yourself and you can become a winner just by being a loser. As a matter of fact if you are ugly enough you can win a Golden Globe award for the funniest show on television. Ugly Betty, the story of how bad and mean people can be to ugly people. Truth becomes reality. Or how about the other big show…”Beauty and the Geek”. Let’s see if the nerdy guys who look like they spent their entire lives in their bedrooms, are used as props for the new reality show, where a beautiful blonde bombshell is fooled into believing she will be meeting the star Adonis quarterback form the Notre Dame Football team. Instead she gets to choose between not one but 15 Napolean Dynamite look alikes. And then there is FIRE ME…PLEASE a new four-episode, one-hour reality series that follows two people starting new jobs on the same day, with the goal of intentionally being fired as close to 3:00 PM as possible.

Television has become a stage for revealing how bad things are in the land of “anything is possible”. Nowadays, most of the shows either make fun of people, kill people, find people who kill others, look for terrorists who want to kill us, look for people who have raped others, look for people who have molested children, Even Oprah offers $100,000 for people who find criminals, Jerry Springer has a hit show by exposing people as they humiliate everyone and the people in the audience holler for more blood, with battle cries of “Jerry.. Jerry”. Does this remind you of the Roman times when the crowd gave the head honcho permission to do a thumbs up or down, .resulting in the poor gladiator either going back in his cage or being fed to the lions. Sounds a lot like Simon on American Idol. But hey it’s whatever the traffic will bear baby. Even Maury realized he could do far better by being more foolish than serious…and he looked over at Springer and thought hey I can do that too. Just parade all the social misfits I can into exposing their miserable lives on television.

I wonder what the Dalai Lama thinks when he visits North America and watches this crap on television. He must think there is less hope than he first realized. Even though Bill Mahr described most Americans as being “stupid”. I think there is hope, and the more people I meet who have now turned off their televisions and view it as an invasion of privacy. the more I think that America is simply looking for something to laugh at. You can only laugh at George Bush for so long. You can only watch so many football games, so many Super Bowls, and you can only hear about the war in Iraq, global warming, the threat of terrorism, and a nuclear bomb. Even food and beer can’t make the pain away. People in America are angry, paranoid, frustrated, poor, unhealthy, and confused. So is it no wonder that the most narcissistic country in the world, who believe they are the envy of the world, ranks as one of the least happiest countries on the planet. It reminds me of the joke about the narccistic person who says upon engaging in a long winded conversation. “Okay that’s enough about me, let’s talk about you, what do you think of me”? More reason for Canadians to take a harder look at how we view our neighbors to the South, because if it’s with envy and we’re not careful we will wind up 149th right behind our American cousins. When I was a kid all we had was the CBC and you know what, I thought it was pretty cool…time to bring back Wayne and Shuster!

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

The Corporate Squeeze

Just When You Thought the Squeeze Was Over

Written by David Batstone January 9, 2007

Just when you thought that the American worker could not get squeezed for any more juice, major retailers have come up with a new cost-savings innovation to apply more pressure on their workforce. Indeed, staffing is the latest area where big retailers like Wal-Mart, Target, and Payless hope to wring out a few pennies with new operational efficiencies.
Mind you, Wal-Mart and its kin already have been blasted for paying low wages, being miserly with health benefits, and reticent to pay their workers overtime. So how could matters get worse for their employees?

Major features in the Wall Street Journal and the San Francisco Chronicle this week reveal that new computerized scheduling systems will move many American workers from a predictable work shift to staffing based on the number of customers in a store at any given time. The system will allow managers to start the business day with a few employees on hand, then bring in "on call" workers when business picks up during the course of the day. Once commerce lags, the manager can send workers home until further notice. In short, it matches staffing to more closely match customer demand.

It's easy to see how this practice could increase productivity and, hence, operational profitability. But consider the plight of workers who no longer can budget their expenses for a week, or arrange for baby sitting for their kids if called into work, or hold a second job that might help them make ends meet. They are essentially at the beck and call of their boss on a daily basis. Rather than work, say, four 8-hour shifts per week, a worker might work two hours one day, six another, and three on a subsequent day. The practice will force a large slice of American workers into low-paid, part-time jobs.

"The whole point is workers were a fixed cost, now they're a variable cost," Kenneth Dalto, a management consultant told the Wall Street Journal. "Is it good for workers?" he added. "Probably not."

I don't know why Dalto had to throw the word "probably" into his assessment. It's clearly a nightmare scenario for workers who will be pressured to be available at the drop of a hat. It gives "flex time" a whole new meaning. It used to mean that workers could arrange their work to fit their personal demands. It now means that workers will arrange their lives to meet the demands of commerce.

Wal-Mart now asks its hourly employees to fill out a schedule of their availability, and encourages them to include a weekend window "if at all possible." This "personal availability form states: "Limiting your personal availability may restrict the number of hours you are scheduled." The obvious implication is that the less flexible you are, you may find yourself in the manager's dog house and fall to the bottom of his call list.

The San Francisco Chronicle reports that some longtime workers, who have reached higher pay scales, fear that managers are using the system to pressure them to quit their jobs. After working 16 years at a Wal-Mart in Hastings, Minnesota, Karen Nelson says managers told her she had to be opening to working nights and weekends. When she refused, her manager told her, "[I can] get two two people for what I pay [you]." Her hours were cut, though restored again after she filed a complaint.

While retailers can defend the new staffing policies by hiding behind improved customer service - workers will be present when the customers most need them - the truth of the matter is that it places an unfair burden on workers. Just how far can we squeeze the worker? It looks like mammoth American retail chains are willing to test that proposition.