Tag Archives: Berkeley

SYNDICATED COLUMN: After Charlottesville: If You Fire a Fascist, You Are a Fascist

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No one should get fired for his political beliefs.

Not even a Nazi.

I am disturbed by the news that some of the white nationalists who attended the violent “Unite the Right” hatefest in Charlottesville last weekend are being outted on social media. Attendees have been on the receiving end of threats and doxxing. It was reported that a restaurant worker in Berkeley was canned after he was exposed on Twitter.

Needless to say — it ought to be, anyway — I hate Nazis, Klansmen and the like. Their politics and values are exactly the opposite of mine. Still, no one should get fired for parading around with torches like it’s Germany in 1933.

This isn’t a First Amendment issue. Nothing in our outdated constitution prevents an employer from firing you on account of your politics. In 2004 an Alabama company even fired a woman for having a John Kerry for President bumpersticker on her car.

It is a free speech issue.

A business has the right to control its employees’ behavior in order to protect its image. Particularly in a liberal stronghold like Berkeley but anywhere really, no one wants a waiter wearing a swastika tattoo or spouting racist views. But if Top Dog restaurant can fire a racist dude for racist views he expresses thousands of miles away, there’s nothing to prevent Google from firing a software engineer for sexism — or you for whatever you happen to believe.

Firing a worker for their politics — especially when those politics are expressed outside the workplace — is McCarthyism. McCarthyism is wrong, McCarthyism is immoral and McCarthyism ought to be illegal.

As usual during episodes like this, many of my comrades on the left are gloating over what they see as righteous payback against violent, racist, anti-Semitic thugs. This makes me very uncomfortable, and not just because it feels more like the “human flesh search engine” online vigilantism that occurs in China than the United States, where the MYOB ethos ruled pre-Internet.

I don’t deny that this is personal. My political views have gotten me targeted by a cyberstalker/identity thief, fired by a publication over a cartoon that appeared elsewhere in another venue, and defamed by a newspaper as a favor to the local police chief who’d cozied up to the paper’s publisher. I’ve been working long enough to observe that what’s popular today gets censored tomorrow, and vice versa. Top Dog gets plaudits for firing a fascist; next time the victim could be a garden-variety Democrat.

“Historically it’s more dangerous as an employee to be associated with racial justice and the NAACP, than it was to be affiliated with the KKK,” notes Walter Greason, a historian and professor at Monmouth University.

A sign posted by Top Dog management reflects a common view: “We do respect our employees’ right to their opinions,” the sign read. “They are free to make their own choices, but must accept the responsibilities of those choices.” The question is, should those “responsibilities” include being deprived of a livelihood?

I wish I had a dollar for every time I’ve read some variation of “You have the right to be a fascist/racist/sexist/jerk/communist, but XYZ Corp. has the right to fire you too.” Or, as Oli­ver Wendell Holmes, Jr. wrote in 1891: “A employee may have a constitutional right to talk politics, but he has no constitutional right to be employed.”

True, that’s the law. What I’m arguing is that free speech will always be meaningless until the constitution is amended. Workers should be protected from retribution for what they think and say.

We live in a capitalist society. Except for those born rich, we must work or else starve. The U.S. is the only nation with at-will employment. And jobs are hard to find. Under these conditions, without workplace free-speech protections, employees must think twice before they attend a rally, post a controversial memo, join a party or slap a bumpersticker on their vehicle. Are you willing to risk unemployment, poverty and perhaps homelessness — not just you, but also your spouse and children? If the answer is “yes,” God bless you. History is made by people like you.

For many others, though, the answer is “no, I can’t afford free speech.” The upsides of free expression are intangible while the downside risks are terrifyingly brutal. A 2016 Harris poll found that 33% of U.S. employees are afraid to talk about politics at work. Increasingly workers have to worry about losing their jobs as the result of talking about politics outside of work too.

The American workplace is a fascist state. It’s time to overthrow the millions of little Hitlers who think the fact that issuing a paycheck turns their employees into slaves subject to thought control.

Just don’t talk about this around anyone who knows where you work.

(Ted Rall (Twitter: @tedrall) is author of “Trump: A Graphic Biography,” an examination of the life of the Republican presidential nominee in comics form. You can support Ted’s hard-hitting political cartoons and columns and see his work first by sponsoring his work on Patreon.)

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SYNDICATED COLUMN: Good Reasons to Hate Big Tech

We love computers and other electronics, but — not unlike an addict’s opinion of his dealer — we hate the companies that sell them to us. Now our contempt for Silicon Valley is expanding to include tech workers.

In San Francisco, where locals know the techies best, 30-year-old worker bees are taking as much heat as their billionaire CEO overlords.

Geographical familiarity breeds political contempt.

Just as Zuccotti Park gave birth to Occupy Wall Street’s clarion cry against the predator class henceforth to be known as the Banksters, San Francisco bus stops have become ground zero in a backlash against Big Tech. Oversized SUV-like buses that ferry Google staffers down the Peninsula provoke anger by clogging public transit stops in a city whose crumbling fleet of city vehicles is starved of funding. Private tech company buses have been blocked by protesters who object to gentrification fueled by the soaring rents paid by deep-pocked tech workers. A bus window got smashed. Across the bay in Berkeley, demonstrators even showed up at the home of a Google engineer to hold him to account for his dual role as tech dystopian (he runs Google’s creepy robot car project) and real estate developer.

Save for a window and a few Google worker tardy notices, nothing has been harmed. Days of Rage this ain’t.

Despite the relative mellowness of it all, any hint that American leftism is livelier than a withered corpse prompts establishmentarians into anxious fits that the streets will soon run red with the blood of fattened-on-organic-veal-and-green-smoothies technorati. In Salon, the usually steady Andrew Leonard lectured San Francisco’s dispossessed that street actions like slashing bus tires are “bullshit,” opining that “delivering passionate rhetoric at a public hearing on city policy toward private shuttles is part and parcel of how a democratic society operates.” (Or doesn’t operate, by his very own account.)

“This is a very dangerous drift in our American thinking,” Tom Perkins, an 82-year-old venture capitalist who helped fund the initial launch of Google, wrote in an instantly infamous letter to the The Wall Street Journal, comparing dislike of 1%ers to Nazi attacks on Jews. “Kristallnacht was unthinkable in 1930; is its descendant ‘progressive’ radicalism unthinkable now?” (Note to Perkins: You’re old enough to remember that Nazism was a right-wing movement.)

“With spokesmen like Mr. Perkins,” David Streitfeld responded in The New York Times, “the tech community will alienate the entire country in no time.”

Gallup’s 2011 poll of public perceptions found that Americans view the tech sector more positively than any other industry but that, I think, is not going to last. Because there are lots of good reasons to hate Big Tech.

The root of our contempt for the tech biz is that all our economic eggs are in their basket. Manufacturing is never coming back. Whatever chance the U.S. economy has of recovering from the 2008-09 collapse (and, for that matter, the 2000-01 and 1989-93 recessions) lies with the tech sector. But the technies don’t care. And they’re barely employing anyone.

Facebook has 6,300 employees, Twitter has 2000, Instagram has 13.

The Big Three auto companies each employ between 2.5 million and 3 million workers directly or through subsidiaries and contractors.

It’s not like Facebook couldn’t use more American workers. Because Mark Zuckerberg can never grab enough loot for himself, Facebook does without the basics, like customer service reps. They don’t even have a phone number.

It’s hard to feel warm and fuzzy about companies that don’t hire us, our neighbors or, well, anyone at all.

Or answer the phone.

Fair or not, we feel vested in tech. The average American spends thousands of dollars a year on electronics and tech-related services, including broadband Internet. Objectively, we spend more on housing, food and energy — but those expenditures feel impersonal. Unlike our devices, we’re not constantly reminded of them.

Smartphones, tablets and desktop computers are central to our minute-by-minute lives, serving as a constant reminder of our material support to the digerati.

Every time we pick up our iPhone, we recall the $400 we spent on it. (And the $300 on its once cool, now lame, two-year-old precursor.) This makes us think of historic, extravagant profits pocketed by their makers. We can’t help but remember the over-the-top paychecks collected by their makers’ CEOs, including the incompetent ones. Also popping to the front of our consciousness is the despicable outsourcing of manufacturing to slave labor contracting firms like Foxconn, where abused Chinese workers attempt suicide so often that the company had to install netting around dormitory windows. Charmingly, Foxconn began requiring new hires to sign an agreement releasing the company from liability if they kill themselves.

Few industries gouge consumers as ferociously as wildly profitable tech outfits like Microsoft, Adobe and Apple.

Not only have Americans been reamed by Big Tech — they know they’ve been reamed. Which sets the stage for big-time resentment.

In the past, wealthy companies and individuals mitigated populist resentment by paying homage to the social contract — i.e., by giving back. Henry Ford paid assembly line workers more than market rates because he wanted them to be able to afford his cars. 19th century robber barons like J.P. Morgan and Cornelius Vanderbilt built museums and contributed to colleges and civic organizations. These gestures helped keep socialism at bay.

Whether it’s due to the influence of technolibertarianism, pure greed or obliviousness, tech titans are relative skinflints compared to the manufacturing giants they’ve supplanted. Yes, there’s the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation (though its “philanthrocapitalism” model is staggeringly ineffective). But Steve Jobs kept almost every cent. Facebook and Twitter are basically “non-players” in the philanthropy world. Google doles out roughly 0.02% of its annual profits in charitable grants.

Some say the techies aren’t cheap — just skittish. “A lot of the wealthy in Silicon Valley are newly wealthy,” said E. Chris Wilder, executive director of the Valley Medical Center Foundation in San Jose. “That money still feels a little too tenuous; still feels fleeting. And the economic downturn has reinforced that feeling.”

Whatever the cause, underemployed and overcharged Americans expect tech’s 1% to start stepping up.

(Support independent journalism and political commentary. Subscribe to Ted Rall at Beacon.)

COPYRIGHT 2014 TED RALL, DISTRIBUTED BY CREATORS.COM

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LOS ANGELES TIMES CARTOON: Cal Bunker

What Happens in the Cal-Bunker

 

I draw cartoons for The Los Angeles Times about issues related to California and the Southland (metro Los Angeles).

This week: The hiring of former Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano as president of the University of California prompts a debate over whether or not to be more transparent.

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LOS ANGELES TIMES CARTOON: Help Wanted – UC President

Help Wanted: UC President

I draw cartoons for The Los Angeles Times about issues related to California and the Southland (metro Los Angeles).

This week: The University of California is reaching outside of academia in its search for a new President for the nation’s largest state college system.

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LOS ANGELES TIMES CARTOON: A New Logo for the U.C. System

I draw cartoons for The Los Angeles Times about issues related to California and the Southland (metro Los Angeles).

This week: University of California officials said they were trying to project a “forward-looking spirit” when they replaced the university system’s ornate, tradition-clad logo with a sleek, modern one. What they got was an online revolt complete with mocking memes, Twitter insults and a petition to restore the old logo. Students and alumni have taken to Facebook and Photoshop to express their displeasure, showing the new symbol ready to be flushed down a toilet and as a permanently stalled computer operating system. One critic suggested the controversial image be tattooed on its creators’ foreheads as punishment.

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SYNDICATED COLUMN: Prequel to a Beginning

Why Occupy Wall Street Still Matters

      It was the middle of September. An ad hoc coalition of political groups, mostly left of center but not all, whose members mostly were young but not all, came together to express their opinions outside the officially approved two-party paradigm.

United by their anger and energy, these people held general assemblies (they called them “sit-ins.”) They marched. Throughout that fall and into part of the following year, they caught the attention of the news media, inspiring activists around the country. In the end, the powers that be did what power powers that be usually do: they sent in the cops. Beaten and swept away in mass arrests, the young activists drifted away. Voters, convinced by the system’s propaganda that the movement threatened law and order, turned to the right.

One year later, it was clear to most that the Free Speech Movement at UC Berkeley had failed.

Students had demanded that school administrators allow political organizations, including civil rights groups, to table and solicit contributions on campus. (In 1964 only the campus Democratic and Republican clubs were allowed to do so.) There was a concession: the acting chancellor grudgingly opened the steps of a single building for open discussion and tables, but only during certain hours. By the fall of 1966, however, UC had a new right-wing president and California was led by a new right-wing governor, Ronald Reagan, who had promised to “clean up the mess in Berkeley.”

Now we understand that the FSM was a prequel to a beginning. The FSM morphed into a campus movement that inspired widespread social unrest of the 1960s that centered on opposition to the Vietnam War. Everything that followed–feminists burning bras, gays rioting after the bust at the Stonewall Inn, America’s withdrawal from Vietnam–had its roots in that “failed” movement.

Keep the “failed” Free Speech Movement in mind as you read and watch this week’s coverage of the anniversary of Occupy. One year after activists set up the first Occupy Wall Street encampments in New York and Washington, D.C., the Occupy movement is described as in “disarray.” Indeed, it’s hard to remember how big OWS was. Were there really more than a thousand Occupations? Did 59% of the American public support OWS when it was barely a month old? What happened?

“I think they’re idiots. They have no agenda,” Robert Nicholson, who works on Wall Street, tells The Los Angeles Times. “They have yet to come out with a policy statement.”

“The movement [grew] too large too quickly. Without leaders or specific demands, what started as a protest against income inequality turned into an amorphous protest against everything wrong with the world,” argues the AP.

I was at Freedom Plaza in D.C. and Zuccotti Park in Manhattan. I’m a member of my local Occupy chapter on Long Island, Occupy the East End. (Yes, we’re still around.) I agree with Mikell Kober of Brooklyn, who was protesting in front of a Bank of America branch. She told a reporter that OWS is “about creating a public space where people could gather and have a conversation about the things that need to change.”

Coming up with a list of demands isn’t the point. Thinking outside the D vs. R box is. Now people know that electoral politics is theater. Real politics is in the streets. For the first time since the Sixties, we know that.

The flaw in Occupy, the seed of its future destruction, was its basic original premise: occupying public space nonviolently.

Occupying nonviolently is an oxymoron. If you decide to be nonviolent, you leave peacefully when the police show up to evict you. Which is what happened last winter to the OWS encampments.  If you are determined to occupy–and remain in–public space, you must resort to violence in order to defend yourselves from police violence.

OWS ought to have decided whether it wanted to be nonviolent or whether it wanted to occupy public space. If it chose nonviolence, it could have engaged in acts of resistance–flash mobs, demonstrations, strikes–that did not require setting up and defending encampments.

Also, a political movement is defined more by what it is not than by what it is. OWS was a movement outside of the duopoly, yet many “Occupiers” worked with, and got co-opted by, Democratic Party front groups like MoveOn.org who stole OWS’ “We are the 99%” slogan.Though the physical presence of OWS is a mere shadow of its presence a year ago, the Occupy idea remains colossally important–largely because the two major parties still refuse to engage the biggest problem we face: America’s growing poverty. “I don’t think Occupy itself has an enormous future,” Dr. Mark Naison, a professor at Fordham University, told the Associated Press. “I think that movements energized by Occupy have an enormous future.”

Like the Free Speech movement nearly a half century ago, Occupy is the prequel to the beginning.

Of course, change doesn’t always mean progress and inspiration isn’t always positive. “Reagan’s political career owed a lot to the [FSM] people who used the [UC] campus as a radical base for political activity. It is an irony that helped elect him,” says Earl Cheit, executive vice chancellor at Berkeley from 1965 to 1969.

(Ted Rall‘s new book is “The Book of Obama: How We Went From Hope and Change to the Age of Revolt.” His website is tedrall.com. This column originally appeared at NBCNews.com’s Lean Forward blog.)

COPYRIGHT 2012 TED RALL

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