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Orlando: The Stucco Gravestone of American Democracy

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American democracy is dead. No not from socialist government, or from terrorist broadsides and the Bush administration. It has been beaten to death by corporations, right out in the open, and you didn’t even pay attention to it as it screamed and kicked and yelled out to you for help. No better an example of American democracy’s slow, tortured death is there than Orlando, the capital of apathetic America.

Recently Jack joined a small contingent of activists from UCF’s Student Labor Action Project and United Students Against Sweatshops in protesting the NBA’s recent deal with sweatshop overlord Russel corporation. We had our demonstration at Amway (*gag*) Stadium during the final game between the Lakers and the Magic. Both because the deal should be a concern of basketball fans, and because unfortunately its one of the only civic spaces left in Orlando that has not been staked out by strip malls and suburbs. Well, not really…

Even though the old arena was built by the city, and of the $480 million for the new one 85% is payed for in Orlando citizens’ tax dollars (upfront costs only, not including the inevitable cost overruns), apparently neither stadium is public property. So one of the last bastions of civic space in Orlando is essentially owned by the Amway corporation, a company whose business plan is essentially a pyramid scheme, and has been successfully sued because of it. Therefore, unlike a public park, you have no right to free speech on the premises. So those who came to protest a disturbing activity related to the NBA could not speak on what by all rights should be public land. Those who attempted to so much as silently hand out fliers were immediately forced off the premises by Orlando cops. This is obviously not conducive to a democratic society.

While students protesting sweatshops were pushed off the premises, Amway founder Rich DeVos has used the same stadium to advance his own bigoted political message. As this publication notes (see by David Zirin, on page for details), the DeVos family is using the funds from the stadium to advance their right-wing politics. Most recently their support for the anti-gay marriage ban, amendment 2, to which they donated $100,000. Why are we allowing a man worth 4.4 billion dollars to use a stadium we’re building for his political and financial gain? If he wants to build a new stadium, to replace one that is barely 20 years old, he shouldn’t rely on us to do so, and then turn around to use the money he should be spending on the arena to fund his bigoted invasion into our bedrooms. At the very least the stadium should be public property, not his.

This shows how uncommitted Orlando residents are to democracy. The very bad idea of spending $1.1 billion on the three venues were opposed by a tiny fragment of motivated residents and professional activists. The plan was predicated on the revenue gathered by tourism and housing taxes, which was understood even then as financially uncertain. With the tourism industry taking a massive hit, the housing industry imploded, and a city government facing a nationwide tend of metropolitan budget shortfalls, the plan reveals the massive mistake that our city government has forced through.

The town halls concerning the venues back in 2006 were lessons in the corporate take over of government. Proponents were almost always members of the developer class or people with occupational ties to the Magic. One of the few organized elements of democracy were the worker’s unions, divided between the proponents in the form of the building trades and the opponents in the form of the fire-fighter’s union. Both unions turned out to be screwed by the deal, with the firefighters who correctly guessed that the venues would ultimately cause budget problems harming them, and the builders who have been screwed by the city backing out on its deal to use unionized labor for building and maintaining the stadium. In the democratic ghetto outside the stadium the students were joined by the latter who handed out fliers decrying the city’s use of independent contractors, who used undocumented immigrants rather than American labor.

One can blame a lot of our ills on our city government, which has been shown to be incompetent and corrupt, many times by our sister (in spirit) publication the Orlando Weekly. From Dyer’s opposition to allowing people to share food with the homeless, to Daisy Lynum’s innumerable business ties favoring friends and relatives (and her tendency to cry racism every time this is pointed out), that conclusion is certainly apt. However the larger conclusion is inescapable, their continued occupation of their positions is our fault.

Granted it is no secret in the political world that Dyer and his cronies are swimming in developer money, the venues deal and the light rail giveaway to the CSX corporation merely very visible tributes to these connections. However, despite enormous political baggage which could sink politicians much far more skilled, Dyer and his compliant city council have barely been challenged. Why?

Unfortunately, Orlando has several major impediments to democratic activism that should have ousted our crooks and cronies in charge. First, about one third of orange county moves within a year, many who elect to stay will more than likely move to an apartment in a new community. This means that they will be less interested in the upkeep of their community and will not participate in even the bare minimum democratic responsibilities that one would expect, like voting for city officials. Unfortunately, their unwillingness to maintain a bare minimum of democratic scruples screws those of us who do live here.

Also, you may have noticed that Orlando is incredibly spread out, suburbanized nightmare. There are few places were Orlando residents will run into each other, outside of their cars, both figuratively and literally. Lack of civic spaces hampers activism, since without a public square , there are few locations were Orlando citizens are confronted with the cultural and political activity that is virtually required of the informed electorate envisioned by our founding fathers. Combine that with summers that turn our fair city into a sulfuric swamp in hell, you have even less likelihood that you can engage with someone outside of their air conditioned personal bastions.

Next throw in the impact of Disney, which unfortunately touches on everything in this city. While Disney employs much of Orlando, it also has a problematic and infectious ideology attached to it. It is consumer capitalism incarnate, encompassing the worst infantilizing characteristics outlined by Benjamin R. Barber in his testament to the subject Consumed: How Markets Corrupt Children, Infantilize Adults, and Swallow Citizens Whole, which Jack recommends. This ideology both directly and indirectly fuels the tenancy to eschew civic governance that is found in anti-tax fanatics on the right, complacent anarchists on the left, and the politically weary in-between.

All these factors are only some of the reason why Orlando is the veritable wet powder keg of activism. Unfortunately, we don’t have the answers as to how to get Orlando residents to stop seeing themselves as consumers and start acting as citizens. However, the only solution to Orlando’s incompetent city government corrupted by anti-democratic developers, is mass action. We at the Telepath hope that we (AND PARTICULARLY YOU) do something about this, and disprove our pessimistic belief that Orlando is the stucco gravestone of American democracy.

Visit us at populistpress.com. Join the Populist Press Partisans and take back our city through force of enlightened action!

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Written by jackofspades83

June 25, 2009 at 3:17 pm

Magic Fans are Dumb Pricks

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Did the title get your attention? It was supposed to. Let me clarify something here; I do not have a problem with all or even most Magic fans. I do not specifically hate Magic fans as opposed to other basketball team’s fans, I just happen to live in Orlando, and we just happen to be the finals. I have been to Magic games and cheered for them, but my recent experiences with Magic fans have been anything but pleasant.

Recently a small contingent of United Students Against Sweatshops have come to Orlando to raise awareness of the NBA’s deal with notorious sweatshop exploiter Russel Corporation. Obviously the most influential constituency in getting the NBA to renounce sweatshop labor would be basketball fans. I think you can see where this is going.

I joined the USAS with my friends from the University of Central Florida Student Labor Action Project (UCF SLAP) to hand out fliers to people going to the Magic game last Sunday. It was perhaps one of the most depressing, if not the most depressing demonstration I have ever been involved in. In less than two hours I received a powerful lesson in some of the most troubling ailments of American democracy.

Orlando is already a very inhospitable place for activism of any sort, and is not only where people come to die, but where culture dies as well. About 30% of the population of Orange county (Orlando, Florida’s enveloping county) moves within one year, so in addition to the elderly migrants there are plenty of younger people who don’t care about the community around them as well. Too many people seem to come to Florida for the two reasons Tiger Woods claims to have, virtually no taxes and golf. Why care about the decay of society around them, they can afford to play golf!

It was already depressing that one of the last outposts of civic society is a basketball stadium. And while there is nothing wrong with a basketball stadium, they certainly shouldn’t be replacements for the town square. Yet in a town as spread out, suburbanized, and stucco scorched as Orlando, the Amway (*gag*) stadium was the last place to make contact with other people. Not that anyone wanted to make contact with us!

I understand that people came to the stadium to watch a basketball game, and its not like I feel like they had to pay attention to us. I might morn the passage of democratic responsibility and civic space, but the benefit of the town square was that you were simply exposed to politics and culture, not forced to participate. What bothered me was the open disdain people had for us, when all we were doing was handing out fliers. Not engaging people in conversation, simply offering a small sheet of paper to passerbys. It was already noxious enough that the last recourse of civic culture was a basketball stadium, I didn’t need snide douchebags passing by and making jokes about protesting sweatshops.

I could have probably tolerated just that, but there was something even more hideous. We had to be quarantined in an area away from the stadium, because the stadium was Amway property. It might not sound like something to be upset about, its their property right? Wrong!

Recently Orlando’s bumbling city council lead by the fat fool (who’s neck blinks more than his eyes do) “Buddy” Dyer made a giant investment into building a new arena for the Orlando Magic with tax payer money. Because instead of the myriad other potential uses for our money, apparently it was far more important to spend upwards of 500 million dollars to build a new stadium to replace one that is barely twenty years old for a billionaire who runs a corporate pyramid scheme. Out of the total cost of the stadium, the Magic have only ponied up at most 70 million, less than 15 percent of the upfront cost of 480 million. In addition, the billionaire owner of the Magic, Rich “Douchebag” DeVos, used the stadium as a protest venue for a group promoting the gay marriage ban (you can read more about all this in Dave Zirin’s excellent article “How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Lakers”)!

If Orlando’s citizens are going to pay upwards of 85% of the costs of the Amway (*gag*) stadium, it should be a public facility. If DeVos wants his own stadium he can pay out of his 4.4 billion he happens to have, otherwise he should be happy that we let his team play there, much less placing his wretched company’s name on it. There is no defense of his ownership of a stadium he did not pay for, he should not be allowed to host demonstrations against gay marriage when we cannot protest sweatshops on what is at least 85% ours! I think Orlando citizens and Magic fans should be appalled. its one thing for an elected city government to build a basketball stadium, its quite another to give away our tax money to a billionaire and let him use public land to advocate his hateful brand of right wing politics. Are we going to take this lying down? I hope not!

Written by jackofspades83

June 17, 2009 at 3:11 pm

Employee Free Choice Act Facing Legislative Resistance

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With a newly democratic congress and executive, the future is looking brighter for leftist and center-left reforms. However, unlike the united front of the Republican majority a scant few years ago, the Democratic majority is no “rubber stamp” legislature. Even the priorities of one of the greatest proponents of Democratic politicians, that of organized labor, are not guaranteed to pass.

Case in point is the Employee Free Choice Act. This piece of legislation is the at the forefront of labor’s efforts, and has been introduced into congressional debate early this March. The act has the potential for greatly increasing the ranks of American unions after thirty years of merciless attacks by business and government agencies meant to aid working people attempting to organize unions.

The Employee Free Choice Act is composed of three coordinated provisions. First, and most controversial, is the “card check” provision. Considered by labor and management to be the most important piece of the bill, the card check provision would allow a union to be formed in a work place if a 50% + 1 majority of workers sign cards stating that they wish to join a union. If the workers decide on the union via the card check, the union is recognized and can immediately go about negotiating a contract.

Business interests have spent millions of dollars attempting to convince legislators that the provision destroys worker’s access to a secret ballot election. Although this argument does not take into account several means of secret ballot access that would remain if EFCA passed, such as a decertification election (outlined in the National Labor Relations Act Section 9(e)), it has proven effective in swaying conservative democrats into opposing the legislation.

Card check is considered vital to labor, since one of the most powerful means of busting unions is in the implementation of the time between the call for a secret election to the actual election. During this time management mobilizes its many advantages, such as the ability to threaten pay reductions and outsourcing, a monopoly over worker’s time on the job, the ability to have one-on-one sessions pressuring workers against unionizing, and many other tactics that they couldn’t implement in a card-check election. With the card check provision, workers could organize without management having time to stop them or even notice their efforts. This frightens management and its allies, and they are doing whatever they can to prevent it.

The other two provisions are mandatory contract arbitration and stricter monetary penalties for breaking labor law. The mandatory contract arbitration states that if after 120 days management and labor are still in disagreement on a contract, the National Labor Relations Board will send a mediator to force an agreement between the two groups. This is considered necessary by labor, since another effective means of defeating organized workers is to simply decline to negotiate a contract. While not as controversial as the card check provision, it is also been used as an effective means of turning legislators against the Employee Free Choice Act.

Upon introduction to the senate the bill seemed to have a relatively clear path to passage. With 40 co-sponsors and an additional 4 democrats signaling support, it was believed that the vote would go down by party lines, with a mixture of support from Democrats ranging from a “yea” vote to a vote for cloture. To pass the bill would need at least 51 to vote “yea”, and an additional 10 to vote for cloture, otherwise the Republican minority and its allies could effectively kill the vote via filibustering (or the unending debate on an issue making it impossible to vote on).

It was initially believed that with Al Franken winning in Minnesota, would stand at 59 to 40 for cloture. Arlen Specter (R-PA) was the only Republican in support of EFCA, and had voted for an earlier version of the bill, would have cast the deciding vote killing the possibility of a filibuster and allowing the bill to pass. Since the introduction of the bill, Specter has since changed his stance towards both voting against the bill and against cloture as well. However, since he will now run as a democrat, he will not want to anger labor. This puts him in a precarious position, and will only increase the already pressure cooker level of lobbying he has had to face from both sides of this issue.

More disturbingly for proponents of the bill is the defection of moderate Democrats including Blanche Lincoln (D-A) who has openly signaled her opposition to the bill. Other moderate democrats have indicated that they want to see some modification of the bill, almost always focusing on the removal of the card check provision. Some of these conservative Democrats include Mark Pryor (D-AR), Mark Warner (D-VA), Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), Jim Webb (D-VA), and Ben Nelson (D-NE). While the bill still has a possibility of passing, there is a high probability that it will be in a reformed version, most likely changing or removing card check.

Recently Thomas Frank of the Wall Street Journal pointed out the composition of the opposition to EFCA in his article entitled EMPLOYEE FREE CHOICE IS DEAD…conservative Democrats killed it (I disagree with his title, but his points are valid!) : “[M]aybe it’s just the money. Consider the lineup of lobbyists that retail giant Wal-Mart has assembled to make its case against EFCA. According to lobbying disclosure forms filed with the House and Senate we find that Wal-Mart’s lobbyists include Mehlman Vogel Castagnetti (which employs former presidential candidate John Kerry’s liaison to Congress during the 2004 campaign), a former legislative director for Rahm Emanuel, and a former assistant to Arkansas Democratic Sen. Blanche Lincoln.

Wal-Mart has also secured, according lobbying disclosure forms filed with Congress, the services of Tony Podesta, of the Podesta Group, one of the hottest lobby shops in Democratic D.C. Mr. Podesta is joined in pushing Wal-Mart’s views on EFCA by a former assistant to Democrat Mark Pryor, the other senator from Arkansas. [FS note: The firm was co-founded with John Podesta, a lead Obama advisor, although he’s no longer listed on the group’s manifest.]

The real standout on Wal-Mart’s labor-issues roster, though, is D+P Creative Strategies, which wears its liberalism as proudly as last week’s tax protestors did their three-cornered hats. According to its Web site, D+P “highlights partnership, shared benefits, and a commitment to advancing social justice goals.” The disclosure form for its Wal-Mart EFCA activities lists a former assistant to Labor Secretary Hilda Solis. The bio of its principal, Ingrid Duran, who is also listed as a Wal-Mart lobbyist, declares that the firm’s mission is “to increase the role of corporate, legislative and philanthropic efforts in addressing the concerns of Latinos, women, and gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender (GLBT) communities.”

The future for EFCA is far from over though, and the decision about EFCA is bound to be made within the coming weeks. Business interests have poured millions in defeating this bill, and organized labor has done its best to fight back. For the unions to attain any sort of victory from this battle it will have to marshal community support. The conservative democrats are the key focus, and only a concerted effort of letter writing and phone calls made on behalf of EFCA will allow the bill any means of their support.

Written by jackofspades83

May 20, 2009 at 11:56 am