Sunday, February 15, 2015

Price Rises - Employee Inclusion

Oh dear, oh dear, oh dear. And then sigh. A letter to the WSM General Manager, which is self-explanatory:

"Hey Ruffin,

It never rains when it pours. Contrary to popular misconception, I don't like to rant, I don't like confrontation. But sometimes, you and WSM management make it very difficult.

We had a great store meeting in Southern Village at the end of last year. Communication. Two-way. And promise of more. I've had a couple of good meetings with you. When I thought we had understanding about the very clear WSM Board Policy demanding that employees be involved in decision-making that affects their workplace. You talk about Slack in the last Market Messenger. I wasn't happy there was no discussion with employees before its implementation. But it is at least some form of better operational communication.

And then, a box of new price tags for bakery is dumped in the store this Sunday afternoon, without any warning or discussion. Nothing on Slack. Nothing in the Market Messenger. No department or store meeting. No memo of explanation, let alone inclusion in decision-making. It's as if the word 'communication' had been translated into Sanskrit and tossed in the trash can.

With price rises of pastries and bread some as high as 25%, there is no way this can be classed simply as an operational decision. It affects the very business plan of our co-op, and becomes policy. Frankly, that doesn't make any difference. It is clearly a decision that affects our workplace, and we were not involved. And that is in contravention of WSM co-op policy.

Not giving us any information is just counter-productive. Much is made of our providing good customer service. How can we do that when you do not give us the tools? Moreover, asking your employees to face customers tomorrow with no information, no explanation and no support is not merely undemocratic, un-cooperative and counter-productive, it is just plain rude.

I can't tell you what to do. But in your shoes, I would seriously be considering a full apology in the next Market Messenger. What I can do is, once again, point out that this decision was in contravention of WSM Board Policy requiring that WSM employees be included in decisions which affect their workplace.

I would be grateful if there could be a very full invitation to all employees in the next Market Messenger, in accordance with the full terms of the said Board Policy, asking employees to offer their input in designing the means by which this Policy will be properly implemented throughout the co-op.

If such an invitation is not in the next Market Messenger, then I formally request that my Formal Complaint in this matter be moved to Appeal, and that it be placed on the agenda for the WSM Board Meeting in March, where I should be allowed to address the Appeal in person, and request that the Board comply with the provisions of the Board Policy in question, and instruct you immediately to put in place a process to consult formally with employees in designing the manner in which the Board Policy will be implemented.

All the best,

[Don't even have a funny. Just the caveat. These are my views. And I'm allowed to present them publicly.]

Friday, February 13, 2015

Slack Is As Slack Does

The continuing saga of digital communication (Slack) and employee inclusion within Weaver Street Market Co-operative.

In our most recent WSM employee Market Messenger, we employees were finally told what this new digital communication within WSM is all about. Good thing. Since we were not involved in the decision to implement it. Occasion for a further missive to our General Manager:

"Hey Ruffin,

Thank you for the explanation about Slack in the WSM employee 'Market Messenger' today. I get that it is a communication tool to help relay WSM operational information. My department manager very kindly took the time to explain that to me after the e-mail I sent to you on January 27. The explanation from you both still does little to allay my concern that it was yet one more decision taken without involving employees, in contravention of WSM co-op policy.

That said, while I remain grateful for being told what Slack is for, I want us to be clear about is what it is not. It is not a tool of accountability for decisions taken by WSM management. It is not a policy-making forum. It is not a substitute for department meetings and store meetings. And it is not a substitute for implementation of the WSM co-op policy that demands that all employees be involved in the making of decisions which affect their workplace and employment.

In regards to the latter, I am a little disappointed not to have seen any indication of what I thought we had agreed at our meeting, namely, some effort to invite employees to offer their input on what implementing that co-op policy should should look like, in terms of processes and structures. Are we going to see something soon?

All the best,

We chip away. Sigh. We chip away ...

[Usual caveats: I am not responsible for the groundhog declaring six more weeks of winter. It's not my fault WSM is not planning to build a new outlet in Havana. And these are my views, no-one else's.]

Thursday, February 12, 2015

The Chapel Hill Killings - Lessons

I'm sorry, but it is never too early to be discussing lessons. Especially not in the current world of ADD, where folks move on as soon as the headlines disappear. For me, the two primary lessons to learn are: own responsibility and get involved.

What. No rant about Muslim-haters, police cover-up, irresponsible media reporting? No. Well, some about the latter a bit later. But, no. Why? Because you can't change what you can't change. What you have to do is own responsibility for what you can change, and get involved to change it.
No-one has, or will ever have, the slightest notion of what goes on or was going on in the head of Craig Stephen Hicks. Almost nothing is served by trying to find out now. Of course it was a hate crime. The man hated. Does it really change one dot, tittle or iota of anything to have a long. unseemly, pointless debate about whether it was parking he hated, or Muslims?
You can not legislate the way people feel, including hatred. What you can do is legislate the way they demonstrate their feelings. And this man had been demonstrating feelings for yonks.
I have only the greatest of compassion for Deah, Yusor and Razan. But their deaths should never have occurred. They should have reported Hicks to the police long before the evening of February 10. This man was banging on the doors of all the neighbors, complaining about parking, with a gun on his hip. That is creating a fracas. Call the police.
It doesn't matter whether he hated this neighbor more than another. The moment his hatred took a form that was breaking the law, or just causing disruption and fear, the police should have been called. And the awful events of February 10 likely would never have occurred. For sure, the police are reporting that they never received any complaints about Hicks.
By the same token, if Hicks was concerned about parking, he should have spoken with the apartment office or called the police himself. I live in an apartment complex. We are under strict instructions from our office and the police not to have discussions with neighbors about matters of conflict. But instead to call the police and report the matter to the office. Precisely so as to avoid confrontation.
What if you fear the police? Ok. Not a stupid question. I am one in the town neighboring Chapel Hill (Carrboro, NC), along with others, who are trying to implement a process of citizen design of policing, specifically because of concerns, locally and nationally, with the nature of some policing approach.
Ok. But, if you want less of a police presence in your neighborhood, then you have to engage in community self-policing. I read that a community meeting was held to discuss Hicks. What happened? Nothing. Why? Because folks don't follow through. We need to.
To digress for a moment, the moves in Carrboro, NC have come to a bit of a halt, because the next community meeting with our local police chief is not due until June. I know it is not going to be possible simply to turn up in June and expect people to pick up where we left off from the last community forum. One can not be passive in one's interest. I know that one or more of us will have to work assiduously for the month before that community forum in June to re-interest folk, get some control of the agenda and the like. Advocacy, change, improvement takes work and vigilance, not just a post or two on Facebook.
I said I'd come back to the media. I specifically want to address the earlier article, talking about Hicks's obsession with parking. You can't change people. Can't make them less weird. But journalists can stop writing self-evident nonsense.
The article itself reads stupidly. Even if Hicks turns out to be the most complicated individual in history, it is incumbent on journalists actually to read what they write. I know a bit about this. My book is currently undergoing what my publisher calls editing for consistency. I call it destroying a work of timeless art. Yes. We are having a parking dispute. But, the point is, he won't let me write crap.
How on earth can a journalist write that Hicks was a champion for the rights of individuals, when he is also described as lacking any compassion? How can he be a liberal, who turns up on neighbor's doorsteps, toting a gun?
It's not good enough to say, well, that is what folks said to the journalist. Just because people talk nonsense does not mean a journalist has to write it. Journalism of this low quality merely causes confusion and misunderstanding.
Of course there is some question as to the mental balance of Hicks himself. I'm not talking about that. I'm talking about a journalist saying, whoa, either I report that Hicks was a likely schizophrenic, and report the inconsistencies, or I say, I can't blithely accept these contradictory reports.
Why should a journalist get that involved, I hear you ask? He's just a journalist. And I respond, he's a journalist, in a position of some authority, contributing to analysis and understanding. We need all of us to own responsibility for what we say, and do, and what we do not do.
Again, I know a bit about this. My book results from one thing. I saw stuff around me that did not make sense. I investigated. I asked questions. If we all stand by passively, then bad stuff will go on happening. If something does not make sense, the chances are, it does not make sense. Get stuck in, and find out why. And it starts with people like journalists. So, I do not let the writer of this article off the hook that lightly.
There are lessons to be learned from the tragedy of the Chapel Hill killings. The first is that it was a crime. A heinous crime. But a crime. Not a religious war. It was a crime that could have been avoided. And that can be avoided again. Not with grand protests, marches, or new legislation. But by ordinary folk, you and I, taking an interest, giving a damn, owning responsibility and getting involved, in a purposeful way.

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Murder In Chapel Hill, NC - Who Are We?

Three Muslim college students shot dead in Chapel Hill, NC. This is not who we are. Not in Chapel Hill. Not in North Carolina. Not in the United States.

Back in 2006, I interviewed a Muslim college student from UNC on my radio show, on WCOM, Carrboro and Chapel Hill's community radio station. She was part of a movement to promote understanding between Jewish and Muslim students on campus.

There we were, a Muslim girl, a lapsed Catholic and my two Jewish co-hosts, laughing, being irreverent with each other, and seeing the world through rose-tinted spectacles.

That is who we are. But is it?

For we are the same North Carolina where, just recently, Duke University refused a request to permit a Muslim call to prayer from its chapel tower. The same North Carolina that so condones murder that we permit state murder as restitution for individual capital crime.

We are the same United States that witnesses some 32,000 gun deaths a year. And that has tens of thousands of its military personnel camped out in the Middle East.

There will be many calls today and in the coming weeks for calm, for peace, for Chapel Hill, North Carolina and the United States to renew and reflect our shared values. But precisely what are the values that we are sharing with our own citizens, and with the rest of the world?

Deah Shaddy Barakat came to UNC to learn how to be a dentist. So that he could help to look after fellow human beings. His wife, Yusor Mohammad, and her sister, Razan Mohammad Abu-Salha, were also at university; not to learn how to hate, but as part of a process of making the world a better place.

And we killed them. We may not have pulled the trigger. But we are part of an American society that nurtured their death, every bit as much as their actual killer, Craig Stephen Hicks, nursed some perverse hatred in his heart, whether over a parking dispute or something more sinister, it really doesn't matter.

This is who we are. As Chapel Hill residents. As North Carolinians. As Americans. Until we make it different.

Today, I am Deah. I am Yusor. I am Razan. But I am also Craig Stephen Hicks. And I am ashamed.

#IamDeah #IamYusor #IamRazan

[The attached pic is of a vigil organized at short notice, and attended by students and faculty of UNC and townspeople of Chapel Hill. The Facebook Event Page for the vigil stated that some 5,500 people would be attending. This is a true indication of the spirit of those townspeople and of UNC itself.]

#IamDeah #IamYusor #IamRazan

Today, I am not Charlie. Today, I am Deah. And Yusor. And Razan.

#‎IamDeah‬ ‪#‎IamYusor‬ ‪#‎IamRazan‬

Sunday, February 8, 2015

Poverty: The Human Equivalent of Climate Change?

The attached article caught my eye, especially the sections set out below, for the reasons stated afterwards:

Doctor Sir Harry Burns was the Scottish government’s chief medical officer for nine years until 2014 and he has made the study of health inequalities in society the defining characteristic of his lifetime of work. He wants governments to underpin their approach to meeting the challenge of deprivation with science. “The seeds of deprivation are sown very early in life. Chaos and uncertainty and poor parenting produce a range of biochemical processes that lead to a reduced ability to learn, to engage socially, and to an increased exposure to acquiring chronic disease in later life. We’re seeing this in some parts of Glasgow,” he says.

“Studies have shown that the brains of young animals which are neglected or exposed to threat develop differently. The parts of the brain connected to learning and empathy don’t develop properly. In the field of genetics it’s been shown that the lower down the social scale you are, the faster your DNA ages. All around the world where people have looked at this there is a consistent story. Difficult circumstances in early life lead to bad outcomes, and not just in health.

“There is nothing special about Glasgow. We’ve just had a bigger dose of this. When people lose their traditional ways of living, when they are disconnected from their traditional structures, they take drugs and start fighting. When you talk to young men of 17 and 18 in places like Polmont Young Offenders Institution, they consider their lives finished.”

It is a part of my narrative that we correct social dysfunction by finding solution to the immediate problem, without emotive reference to and the granting of exceptions due to historical disadvantage and prejudice.

For example, I believe the answer to the bad relationship in some parts of the US between police and the communities they serve is best addressed by notions such as citizen design of policing. And, if we improve the behavior of police towards all, then no special exemptions need to be entertained with respect to a community which talks of 400 years of oppression, risk and prejudice.

But, what if I’m wrong? What if disadvantage causes not merely an immediate emotional dysfunction, but a long-term medical one? Is it the case that exceptions should be made? Or, that I am still right (so that we do not create new inequalities)? But that any addressing of social justice inequality counts for nothing if not accompanied by dramatic improvement in economic circumstance and opportunity? Can I truly divorce the two?

Friday, February 6, 2015

How Do We Encourage US & NC Swing Voters Not To Hate?

Yup. Started off tendentious. Let’s continue. At the moment, the body politic in the US and North Carolina generally votes right of center. No-one really believes this is because the Republicans are the party of aspiration. It is because they allow their supporters to hate. Democrats, mind you, aren’t the party of aspiration, either. They have become the party that asks swing voters to support issues and people with which those voters are demonstrably uncomfortable. Hence, the current political landscape in the US and North Carolina.

So, how do we win over enough swing voters to regain a natural voting majority for Democrats? I don’t have a gameplan as such. I have some thoughts though:

1) Stop preaching. Start asking. Democrats do not know best just because we are educated and intelligent. We know what is best for folks because we ask them. Enough of which we do not do at the moment. And don’t be asking a fellow progressive. Ask the people who are going to make a difference. The middle-of-the-road, likely working voters, who voted Republican in 2010, 2012 and 2014, at local and state level. Who preferably might have contributed to Obama’s two landslides.

2) Stop telling folks they are wrong just because they don’t vote the way we do. They are different. Not wrong. You win with candy. Not a stick.

3) A lot of folks in the center vote by herd instinct. I’ve lived around. Dallas, Atlanta, Carrboro, Providence, Boston. The mountains of western Carolina. Low income housing in Fort Worth and Carrboro. I’ve found single mothers with three kids on food stamps in the mountains voting Republican because it’s the cultural thing to do there. I’ve found truck drivers in Carrboro who are progressive because that’s what we do here. Find a way to make people comfortable being progressive, and it can become the mob mentality.

4) We excoriate Republicans because they promote prejudice. Wrong. Just find better prejudices. It’s the herd instinct thing. We want to make people feel good about voting our way. In the long-term, you don’t always achieve that by appealing to intellect. Somewhere along the way, you have to appeal to gut, too. I have made the journey from right-wing British Tory to left-of-center Democrat. I don’t hate. Don’t know how to. Always see the other point of view. But I have been surrounded by people who do hate. Foreigners, immigrants, the poor, people of color, people of different religious or gender orientation. But here’s the thing. And it’s important. Beneath the skin of every reasonable conservative beats the heart of a liberal. They actually want to love. Simple as that. It’s a good feeling to reach out and make people happy. And we don’t stress that enough.

5) Now, as a general rule, learned from some years spent in political public relations, on both sides of the political aisle, you don’t lead with morality or feeling when beginning the quest to change people’s minds. That comes later. You have to start with intellectual argument. And you have to use their language. We have to understand where they are coming from. And explain how where we are at offers something better, in terms they can understand. And often that requires some correction on our part with respect to policy and approach.

Let’s start with where I am politically now. I am a fiscal conservative. You can’t do anything if your economy and the public finances are in a mess. And, until something like mutualism really takes a hold globally, the bottom line is that economies derive their drive from folks who are rich. So, stop fighting it.

People do not aspire to be poor. They aspire to be rich and famous. So, stop punishing rich folk. Stop trying dramatically to re-distribute. Make ‘em pay a fair share. And concentrate on equality of access to all the levers, bells and whistles that allow everyone to aspire to the limits of what they are capable.

And I emphasize equality of access, of treatment. Not equality of outcome. We are not all born equal. We aren’t. We are who we are. We all have different levels and types of capability. Accept it. Be proud of it. Glorify it. What we can do is ensure that everyone receives the same treatment, has the same access and the same opportunity. After that, inequality is what it is. Every time anyone attempts to legislate equality of outcome, it ends in tears. Addressing one seeming inequality with another only feeds the hate.

At the same time, there are folk who will never be able to swim in the capitalist sea that we have created. Socialism does not work. Not in practice. So, it is some form of capitalism we are stuck with. But let us, with dignity and respect, create a proper safety net, that fully cares for those who are unable, through no fault of their own, to look after themselves.

That was my political journey. Accepting the second part of the financial and social equation. It is not a political sin to want to build a working welfare state. However, Democrats too often sound as if it is a sin to want a thriving economy based on a realistic business outlook.

You don’t win people over with the morality of Obamacare. You tell ‘em a healthy workforce is a productive workforce. You don’t win over folks to feel comfortable with gays. You win them over to same-sex marriage by telling ‘em that marriage of any kind is a better home for kids than a foster home. You don’t win over people to the citizenship path for undocumented workers by quoting the Statue of Liberty (one of my favorite things to do, I have to admit!). You win ‘em over by talking about 11 million new taxpayers, who want to build new businesses.

Then, you can wax lyrical how all of this helps to make our fellow man and woman happier. Trust me, you want to create a better prejudice than hate, it is the feeling you get when you make a sad person smile.

In 2011, after Republicans regained the US House of Representatives, and made huge gains in statehouses, I wrote a political song, called ‘Song of Solidarity.’ In my promotion I talked about Republicans who had stolen the mantle of patriotism. And how we needed to win it back for working people. Not Democrats. Working people. Democrats stopped being the party of working people a long time ago.

I talked about working folk who fought our wars, to escape poverty back home. I talked about true patriots being the people who ran our companies and our country. Who worked the shopfloors and fixed our roads. Who owned responsibility not just for their immediate dependents, but for the wider family of their friends and neighborhoods. I talked and still talk about shared responsibility.

How it is no good berating the police, when we don’t ask communities to take responsibility for those among them who break the law. How it is just as important for pastors, preachers and activists to educate the young about healthy social interaction, as it is for the rest of us to understand those at risk. Balance. Responsibility. Prudence. Compassion. And common sense. In equal measure. Not one to the exclusion of others.

One final example. I bought my car from a used car dealer, whom I will call Frank. He was a light Republican. Owned the car lot. Started by his father. Going to leave it to his daughter. We got talking. He wanted to support Obama. Really did. But he put it to me like this. Geoff, he said, I’m a good man. I don’t hate. I run a business. I look after my family. Take care of my ailing dad. Go to church. Pop around and help out neighbors who have fallen on hard times. I don’t mind digging a little deeper, and helping folks I’ve never met, if they genuinely need help. But I keep finding myself asking myself, he said, where are those folk’s family and friends?

Frank, good question. In my simple view, going forward, being a more successful Democrat means not only listening, understanding, changing ourselves and reaching out, it not only means being right, and making folks feel good about making other people happy, it also means asking some very tough questions of the people we want to help, the very folks we are asking swing voters no longer to hate.

Not exactly comprehensive. But it’s a start.

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Same-Sex Marriage, Supreme Court - It's Equality, Stupid!

Oh dear. In an article wondering how the new gay rights case before the US Supreme Court will play into John Roberts’s long game, the NYTimes once again has it back to front. They look at outcome and superimpose intent.

I agree Roberts has a long game. The man became Chief Justice when he was 50. He’d be pretty stupid not to have a long game. And no-one accuses Roberts of being stupid. But, contrary to the NY Times, I think his long game is this:

1) To make the Supreme Court more relevant to ordinary Americans. He doesn’t follow polls. But he does believe that the Court should reflect long-term social trends. And reflect, not mold.

2) He is a constitutionalist. In the sense that I understand it. And in the sense which I broadly support. Which means that he believes that it is up to the executive and the legislature to legislate. It is for the court to interpret and apply the constitution, not to be activist.

3) And only the US Constitution. He is a states rightist. If something is within the purview of states, then that is where the impetus should remain.

4) He believes that the primary value contained within the US Constitution and attendant Bill of Rights is that of equality. And that means equality of opportunity, treatment, not equality of outcome. No-one can legislate feeling. No-one can determine how people will react, and therefore how things will turn out. And, as soon as you address one seeming inequality of outcome with a reverse inequality of outcome, then you sow the seeds of new resentment.

Thus it was with Obamacare that Roberts did not suddenly become a liberal overnight. He took the view that Obamacare had been thoroughly debated within the US executive and legislature, and also around all of the states, that there was broad support, and he was not going to allow his Court to stand in the way on a technicality (1, 2 and 3 above).

So it was with DOMA. At the time that his Court ruled against DOMA, he stated words to the effect that it was becoming increasingly clear that states were moving in the direction of not banning same-sex marriage. Some 17 states at that time had moved towards same-sex marriage. From a position when DOMA was made law, when no states were in favor of same-sex marriage. But, there was a way to go before he was convinced the Court needed to make a declaration for the remaining states (1,2 and 3 above).

Now that some 30 states are no longer opposed to same-sex marriage, he feels that it is time to make such a declaration. A declaration which is not about same-sex marriage, but about equality of treatment. Namely, married couples, and especially their children, who have been properly married and adopted in one state, should not be penalized in another. They should receive equal treatment in all states, now that a majority of the states had indicated that they accepted the premise requiring equal treatment, namely same-sex marriage (1, 2, 3 and 4 above).

The same is true with campaign financing and affirmative action. I believe that the primary interest of Roberts here is to make his Court less activist (2) and more about equality of treatment (4).

I get the feeling that Roberts feels much the same way as I do about campaign finance. So long as Amendment One remains in force, individuals are entitled to have the state not interfere with their free speech. A political donation is a political statement. Any group of individuals, speaking in a corporate (i.e. as a group) sense, are also entitled to make political statements unhindered by the state. Amendment One guarantees equality of treatment, not equality of outcome. We are not born equal. Some of us are wealthier than others. That’s life. Being permitted the freedom to speak does not entitle one to the ‘freedom’ to pay for a million-dollar political TV ad.

The very fact that this is a long game means that the only person who truly knows what it is is Roberts himself. But, once again, I do believe that the NYTimes is allowing its own political bias willfully to drive its misinterpretation of what I suspect is, at one and the same time, a very simple yet a very subtle long game of Roberts.

Sunday, February 1, 2015

Creative Engagement - The Redux

I just added another couple of responses to a post on OrangePolitics, talking about getting feedback from people within their comfort zone, not ours. I have written about this before, also on OrangePolitics.

I believe creative citizen engagement to be crucial with respect to creating a process that fully engages communities with the notion of citizen design of policing. But it has wider implications, too. The latest OrangePolitics post and comments are worth reading in their entirety.

Carrboro, Citizens, Policing - Anarchist Humor

Well, I've been posting updates on the Occupy Chapel Hill/Carrboro [] listserv of the attempts a bunch of us are making to involve ordinary citizens in the shaping of policing policy in Carrboro, NC.

Quite a few folks have expressed interest. But there are one or two die-hard radicals who, for reasons best known to them, have been vehemently dismissive of the concept of citizen design of policing.

The irony has been that I, the reformed British Conservative Party pol from some thirty years back, have been the one saying citizens should decide, cut the red tape, let's prove what can be done. And it is one, especially vocal, purported radical who has been quoting statute, authority and regulation in denigrating the efforts to have citizen policing. Interesting irony, huh?

In any event, the one saving grace is that the radical in question, when he started losing the argument, decided to spend quite a bit of time producing hilarious memes, which I share. I guess it beats throwing rocks ...