My Man of the Year and the Flying Fickle Finger of Fate Award

Smyth’s Man of the Year

Edward Snowden leaked classified details of the NSA surveillance program in 2013.  He is my man of the year.

Edward Snowden leaked classified details of the NSA surveillance program in 2013. He is my man of the year.

If you’re an American this should be a no-brainer.  The man of the year is Edward Snowden.  Easily.  Hands down.  I’m not going to get all warm and fuzzy and cuddly about the 30 year old contractor.  Let’s just look at the facts.  Edward Snowden revealed classified information to the press, showing the extent to which the National Security Agency is collecting data around the world about every day folks.  Phone use, internet data, spying on world leaders, you name it.

After 9/11 the country lost its collective mind in offering unlimited power to the federal government to protect the country from further acts of terrorism.  The Patriot Act.  The Transportation Safety Administration (which I find to be its very own terror network every time I have to travel.) And now the NSA is free to snoop wherever and whenever it wants, compiling mountains of data it says it won’t use, but is there, housed someplace to be taken advantage of by whichever official decides they want to do this.  Despite assurances of oversight by Congress and the FISA courts, there are mountains of data tucked away until some future occasion almost surely in violation of the Constitution according to U.S. District Court Judge Richard Leon, a Bush appointee. “Almost Orwellian.”

NSA spying is the new neo-conservative battlefield.  Unable to continue offering up American soldiers as fodder in every point on the globe.  Unable to sell American military families the lie that endless deployments of their loved ones to cozy places like Fallujah and Kandahar should be routine and expected, unable to continue forcing American democratic and social values on parts of the world that are no more prepared to accept them than stones on the surface of the moon, the American intelligence services decided to force American will wherever they deemed necessary by knowing who was talking when, wherever and however.  To know who was reading what. To put every person in the world on a virtual list that could be accessed at any time, for whatever purpose. It is the ultimate expression of American power.  And who is really in charge of this?  The NSA?  The CIA? Mike Rogers? Diane Feinstein?  Barack Obama?  Whoever takes responsibility for this wholesale expression of American power in violation of privacy rights should go.  It is indefensible and inexcusable.  And their British, Australian and New Zealand conspirators should immediately go with them. And if nobody takes responsibility these agencies should be dismantled and buried in the dustbin of history.  We must be able to do better.

Not only that, but it’s unlikely that this pile of “metadata” has stopped a single terrorist act.  But your privacy is violated, and the data lies there like a dump of smoking tires, slowly smoldering until the next Joe McCarthy comes along and decides he’s looking for threats to security, the truth notwithstanding.  It’s not coincidental that Snowden is threatened with prosecution under the Espionage Act of 1917, legislation crafted to crack down on dissent, and destroy political opposition to WWI.  It is disgusting this law remains on the books after so many years and was chiefly useful during the Red Scares of 1920 and the the Post WWII period. It is used extensively by the Obama administration against Snowden and Wikileaker Bradley Manning, but chiefly against journalists who publish leaks.

Edward Snowden has done the United States a huge favor.  He has demonstrated the different ways NSA is violating their privacy.  He’s illustrated how the NSA spies on our allies and world leaders. He’s drawn clear dots between the rush to security and the stockpiling of our personal data. To paraphrase William Lloyd Garrison in his defense of John Brown in 1859, Edward Snowden told us what time of day it is for our privacy and civil rights.  It’s high noon. Now if only the American people will take the time to look at their watches, er, cell phones.

Boeing CEO Jim McNerney with representatives from Emirates Airways at the Dubai Air Show in November 2013.

Boeing CEO Jim McNerney with representatives from Emirates Airways at the Dubai Air Show in November 2013.

The Flying Fickle Finger of Fate Award: The Boeing Company and their love slaves, the Washington State government.

In the 1960’s Rowan and Martin’s Laugh In made awards for dubious achievements in the world of government and business.  Because I’m not particularly creative I’ve purloined their award and offered it up to the Boeing Company and the state of Washington for their efforts to provide a Washington home to produce the 777X wide body jet that should be launched in 2020.

Boeing is not without a home.  It has production facilities in Charleston, South Carolina; Long Beach, California; Kansas City, Missouri; and right here in the good old Puget Sound area.  But Boeing, is looking for a new and better place.  One that will provide the multi-national giant with real estate, port facilities, a rail line, and tax incentives to locate the assembly plant, which will provide about 8,000 high-paying jobs to some lucky community.  So Boeing has gone hat in hand to so some 22 states with 54 potential sites to beg for financial considerations before determining a final location.

The Golden Calf.  Boeing's next big money-maker, the 777X.

The Golden Calf. Boeing’s next big money-maker, the 777X.

Let’s be clear. Boeing is not General Motors ca. 2008.  It made profits last year of about $2.1 billion. Though defense orders look soft, Boeing came home from November’s Dubai air show with 342 order worth about $100 billion.  Happy days are still here, and should remain so into the future.

Yet, Boeing is asking suitors in the competing states to cough up taxpayer money to fund its private enterprise. In Washington, where Boeing’s commercial airplane division is headquartered, and my home state, the offer by the state legislature was $9 billion. Those are tax incentives from a state that is still struggling to get back to 2009 levels of employment, that has been judged by the state supreme court to be underfunding education by at least $1.5 billion, and still can’t agree on transportation packages that may begin to move Washington into the 21st century.  They also haven’t seen fit to give me a cost of living raise in about five years (full disclosure: I’m a teacher,) but when Boeing comes a-calling, it’s as though the tax dollars are free money.

Worse still is Boeing’s treatment of the Machinists Union in the Puget Sound area.  The company’s relationship with the union is, to say the least, contentious. Boeing machinists are highly paid, they do specialized manufacturing, and aren’t afraid to throw their weight around. Because they are at the top of the wage scale working-class food chain, it’s difficult to claim the union enjoys considerable public support.

As a condition for short-circuiting Boeing’s state-to-state shopping spree and locating all 777X manufacturing in the Puget Sound are, Boeing has offered the machinists a new contract.  The contract offers union worker a signing bonus, and very modest wage increases over the eight year life of the contract.  It would create a new retirement program, replacing the current defined benefit program and replacing it with something that looks like a 401K system. The negotiation procedure for this new contract seemed simple enough-take it or leave it. Though this contract would have applied to a second tier of new hires, it was still a guarantee of diminished earnings during a worker’s lifetime, while the current CEO at Boeing, James McNerney’s salary rose to $21.1 million last year despite the many disasters surrounding the 787 launch.  His retirement plan is valued at about a quarter of a million dollars-per month.

Even more disconcerting is the disappointment voiced by elected officials when the machinists voted this contract down in November.  Imagine that machinists would vote in their own economic interests.  Governor Jay Inslee, Senator Patty Murray both voiced their concerns about potentially losing the 8,000 jobs, but seemed quite undisturbed that workers would have to vote away future earnings to get them.  Many have criticized the union vote as not being rooted in economic reality.

And maybe they are correct.  But this is not Detroit, and Boeing is not G.M. Wages in America continue to be stagnant as corporate profits and CEO salaries soar.  It is unreasonable to criticize skilled labor for holding on to what they have while companies like Boeing cherry-pick states and cities to get the best deal, usually in areas of the country that are non-unionized.  The best way to have labor peace is to go where it’s not allowed to be organized.  Yet, in the corporate world, it’s always a guaranteed profit for share holders and executives while workers take it in the shorts. And state governments slobber all over themselves to give away the tax-payers’ money to feather the beds of the free enterprise system.  I’m all for free enterprise, but let’s have a system that’s truly free, and the costs as well as the benefits are born by the folks with the money, not just the taxpayers and workers.

Boeing and State of Washington-this one's for you.

Boeing and State of Washington-this one’s for you.

Boeing and Washington State elected officials, this finger’s for you.


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