Posts Tagged ‘A&P’

An Administration Obsessed with Leaks

Wednesday, May 15th, 2013

AP_RGBBy Bob Gaydos

When Barack Obama was running for president, he promised an administration that would be the most transparent of all time, one that would make sure the public was aware of how its government was operating — who was doing what and why.

It appears the president meant that openness to apply to those branches of government not under his direct or indirect control. Before the news broke this week that the Justice Department had used a secret subpoena to seize the phone records of up to 100 reporters and editors for the Associated Press earlier this year, the Obama administration had already set a record for indictments of present or former government officials accused of being either whistle-blowers or information leakers, depending on one’s point of view. In fact, the six such indictments are twice as many as all previous administrations combined. That suggests more than a passing interest in keeping things less than transparent.

The new case, under investigation by the U.S. Attorneys Office in the District of Columbia, involves a news story disclosing the CIA’s foiling of an Al-Qaeda plot in Yemen to blow up an airliner with an improved version of the so-called “underwear bomb.” Apparently, the CIA had an agent or agents embedded in the Al-Qaeda group. The AP did not immediately report the story as events were unfolding, at the request of the administration, which cited national security concerns. But the news agency released the story after hearing the White House planned to discuss the case publicly. That would seem to override any arguments of national security.

In fact, the national security argument seems to be questionable in the six pending cases as well, all of which were widely reported in press accounts and/or in books. While officials’ obsession with secrecy has occasionally shaken public confidence in the government, the republic has not yet crumbled from the efforts of a free press.

And that is the overriding issue here — not the CIA’s, FBI’s, or any other secrecy-obsessed agency’s ability to do its job, but the constitutionally protected right of a free and unfettered press to do its job of informing the citizens. Make no mistake, when a powerful government agency, without notice or opportunity to challenge in court, seizes a wide swath of journalists’ files or, in this case, phone records, it can have a chilling effect on the press and the public.

The files seized came from AP phone lines in various bureaus, including Washington, D.C. and New York as well as in the Capitol. As the AP pointed out in response to the seizures, the records provided a list of everyone the reporters or editors had talked to over a two-month period. If there is any more effective way of convincing people not to talk to reporters than removing the assurance of confidentiality, I don’t know it. A free press cannot operate as intended if the subjects of its stories can gain access to the possible source of the information reported.

In this case, the Justice Department apparently did not even have to justify the records seizures, and they came only after the department, by its own admission, had interviewed several hundred people and reviewed thousands of other files. In other words, it had nothing to go on, so it decided to go on a fishing expedition at AP offices.

The president is claiming no knowledge of the Justice Department’s actions in this case, which could well be true. It is also irrelevant. What matters is that high-level officials in the nation’s top law-enforcement agency felt justified in going after reporters’ records with no attempt at due process — no need to prove that the convenient “national security” argument had merit. The more citizens of a country surrender their rights to protection from unreasonable searches, seizures, wire-tappings, detentions, or door-bustings, the less secure they make themselves.

There is no telling how people in power will use that power in the future. That’s why laws should protect the most vulnerable, not the most powerful. Those in power have tremendous resources at their disposal to do what is necessary to protect the citizenry without abusing their power at the expense of the citizenry.

In this case, Obama has asked U.S. Sen. Chuck Schumer, Democrat of New York, to reintroduce a media shield bill that went nowhere four years ago. It would further protect journalists who refuse to disclose confidential sources and would enable news agencies to ask a federal judge to deny requests for access to phone records.

That would at least give the press a fighting chance against heavy-handed “investigation” by government agencies. But a president who promised an open government and has instead authorized increased secret snooping on United States citizens has an obligation to do much more. Far too much behavior in the Obama administration has been justified as necessary for national security. A free and unfettered citizenry and press are the best evidence of a secure nation.



Sandwich: Baloney from Management

Sunday, August 19th, 2012

By Michael Kaufman

A young woman who works at a nearby A&P supermarket told me recently about an interaction with the store manager. The manager approached her with a smile on his face and congratulated her for all the good work she has done since starting her job there. Then he handed her a reward—a piece of paper telling her she is eligible for a raffle drawing among those similarly commended. The prize: a free sandwich from the store’s deli department.

“I didn’t know how to react,” she said. She was thankful her work had been noticed and acknowledged by management. But if all they are giving is a sandwich from the store’s own deli department, she thought it seemed awfully cheap of them. Why not give a sandwich to all the commended workers? She hastened to add that she likes the sandwiches made by her colleagues in the deli department even though they are not on the same level as, say, Katz’s or Carnegie in New York. But the point was moot. Someone else won the sandwich.

“I’d have preferred to have gotten a raise,” she said. She has been working at minimum wage since starting the job but salaries are currently frozen and there is nothing her union can do about it because A&P is in bankruptcy and it was all it could do to hold on to at least some of the healthcare and retirement benefits previously won in contract negotiations. She is among the seven percent of workers in the private sector in the United States who belong to a union. Among them are many who work for companies that have also filed for bankruptcy and received court permission to make drastic cuts, such as American Airlines.

“My union, the Comunications Workers of America (CWA), is organizing 10,000 passenger service workers at American Airlines,” says Hetty Rosenstein, New Jersey director of the CWA. “The airline is refusing to provide the National Mediation Board with an employee list, flat-out defying the law. And they’ve gotten a Bush-appointed judge to block the election, at least temporarily.”

Before the government bailout of General Motors, tens of thousands of retired GM workers lost their benefits; some lost their homes as a result. Yet the bailout neglected to include restoration of benefits for retirees, and the United Auto Workers union had to make numerous concessions in contract negotiations with GM. These examples and many others illustrate the bogusness of the notion that “big labor” is on equal footing with corporate wealth in their respective ability to fund political campaigns as allowed by the infamous Citizens United ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court.

In coming days we will be hearing and reading the latest news about negotiations between Verizon management and the CWA. According to Rosenstein, Verizon has made $25-billion in profits over the past five years. Its top five executives are paid in excess of $25 million per year. Company officials will rely on the corporate media (in which they advertise heavily) to convey their message that the employees have “outrageous” salaries and benefits (particularly healthcare and retirement benefits) that are “out of line” with industry norms (i.e., wages and benefits of non-unionized workers at competing companies).

Management hopes that people who work under less desirable conditions will be unsympathetic to the Verizon employees and that public opinion will help force the union to cave. They know that widespread hostility and resentment has already been created against public employees. “In Wisconsin, the Koch brothers outspent us by $25 million and Scott Walker did not get recalled,” notes Rosenstein, who describes Verizon as “a company that continues to rake in mega-profits while demanding an end to worker pensions.”

Rosenstein thinks labor organizers today should think of themselves as part of a “resistance movement” against the corporate power that threatens an end to democracy in the U.S.. She knows that won’t “turn around the corporate onslaught” and it will not deter the “corporate plan to deprive our movement of resources so that we can’t fight, or the repression of voting rights, or all the other depressing developments.

“Our enemy is big, rich, and bad,” she acknowledges. “But we can go at it like David goes after Goliath. Not like ‘big labor’ taking on ‘big corporate’ but like resistance fighters slinging a shot between their eyes.”

My neighbor up the hill, a CWA member who works for Verizon, has a sign on his lawn that says “Support a fair contract for Verizon workers.” It includes a powerful depiction of a handful of Verizon executives labeled the “one percent” standing above a large group of employees, the “99 percent.” Down the hill lives a young woman who works at the A&P and wishes him well. She knows a victory for the Verizon workers might hasten the day she’ll get a raise instead of a chance to win a sandwich.

Michael can be reached at