Jim Hightower - New era of workplace exploitation

Today's captains of corporate capitalism like to think of themselves not as mere businesspeople, but as modern society's genius "innovators."

Sounds positive ... until you ask the key question: Innovation for what purpose? After all, some of society's most inventive minds are flimflammers, Ponzi-schemers, gamers and embezzlers. Sure enough, an inordinate amount of the innovation comes out of corporate suites these days, amounting to shameless schemes to dupe and rip off rank and file workers.

The latest of these is a hustle called "gamification," an attempt by such giants as T-Mobile and Walt Disney to give game-like, "psychological" prizes to employees rather than giving pay raises or cash bonuses. As the honchos of United Airlines learned, however, not everyone bites the corporate bait.

United recently announced a new fun game for employees — rather than giving standard bonus payments this year, bosses were creating a dazzling sweepstakes lottery, with prizes such as luxury cars and $100,000 in cash. But the sizzle quickly fizzled as United's 90,000 workers realized that more than 99 percent of them would get nothing from this big prize scam, which actually would let top executives and big shareholders pocket the bulk of bonus money that was owed to employees. United had hoped the game would create "excitement" among the rank and file, but instead it created resentment. Workers, naturally preferring bonus cash to bogus corporate excitement, rebelled with such fury that United is now reconsidering the switch.

That case aside, however, the push from corporate headquarters to replace real pay with cheap "psychic income" (ranging from good-work badges and thank-you notes from bosses to doling out tickets for a sporting event) is on the rise. Major corporations are even hiring "chief behavioral officers" to analyze reams of personal data on employees to devise non-cash ways to motivate them.

Workplace exploitation is at least as old as the industrial revolution. But rather than using whips and chains to make the assembly lines move ever-faster, today's corporate exploiters use technology, devious work schedules and lobbyists to extract more work from employees — for less pay.

Walmart, for example, has tried to grease its pledge to provide next-day delivery for online customers by having its low-wage workforce use their own time and vehicles to drop off packages as they go home after work. Likewise, McDonald's has imposed a complicated, high-tech ordering and curbside pick-up service that requires existing workers to handle more tasks, with no hike in pay. There's a technical term for such unpaid work requirements: Stealing.

Especially victimized by corporate thieves, however, are about 4.3 million Americans who make up our "tipped workforce." Mostly employed as waitstaff in restaurants — from big chains like IHOP to the most exclusive dining establishments — these workers fall under a grossly unjust category of labor law that allows their employers to pay a miserly minimum wage as low as $2.13 an hour! The rationale is that customers will make up for this sub-poverty pay by leaving generous tips — a convenient corporate lie refuted by the fact that 12.8 percent of America's tipped workers live in poverty.

Luckily, Trump has intervened to help. Lucky for restaurant owners, that is. Bowing to demands by restaurant industry lobbyists, Trump's labor department has proposed a new rule allowing employers that pay the minimum wage of $7.25 an hour to seize workers tips and use them for any purpose — including fattening their own profits. Paying $2.13 an hour already amounts to a massive wage theft, but now the thievery is to be humongously compounded ... and legalized!

Even the most notorious robbers in history would be too ashamed to pull a job this wicked. What we have here is the deterioration of executive ethics to the point that openly gaming and cheating America's workaday majority is considered fair game by the avaricious corporate elites. As America is learning, to its horror, the combination of unbridled corporate greed and abandonment of common ethics in TrumpLandia is turning wickedness into gold.

Jim Hightower has been called American's most popular populist. The radio commentator and former Texas Commissioner of Agriculture is author of seven books, including "There's Nothing In the Middle of Road but Yellow Stripes and Dead Armadillos" and his new work, "Swim Against the Current: Even Dead Fish Can Go With The Flow."

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Michelle Malkin - Look homeward 'change agents'

Here is my homework assignment for all the fist-clenching, gun control-demanding teenagers walking out of classrooms this week (and next week and next month) to protest school shootings: Ask not what the rest of the country can do for your local school's safety; ask what your local school boards and superintendents have been failing to do for you.

Chances are, the adults closest to you — those most directly responsible for your security — have been shirking their primary duties, squandering scarce resources and deflecting blame.

Yes, it's glamorous and exciting to appear on "The Ellen Show," rub elbows with Eminem at the iHeartRadio Music Awards, pal around with Anderson Cooper, and soak up praise and donations from George Clooney and Oprah for shouting at the NRA, Republicans and President Trump.

Sure, it's fun to ditch your homework, parade around in "March For Our Lives" swag, and watch your Twitter mentions explode like SpaceX launches every time you indignantly accuse gun-owning moms of hating their own children.

It's lit like Bic to be the Democrats' new junior lobbyists, fundraisers and voter registration captains.

But when the media whirlwind dies down and the Everytown buses ship you back home, mundane realities will set in.

Negligence, incompetence and inattention to the core mission of education and ensuring students' safety don't just spring out of nowhere. They are not alien invaders descending upon your neighborhoods from thousands of miles of away to impose chaos and misery upon your erstwhile Edenic existence.

Take Broward County, Florida. The current superintendent, Robert Runcie, was hired to clean up encrusted corruption in the district and school board that dates back to the early 1990s and resulted in three statewide grand jury investigations in 1997, 2002 and 2011. That last report blasted "malfeasance, misfeasance, and nonfeasance" on the Democrat-dominated school board and within top management at the district. In fact, the grand jury concluded after probing waste, fraud and favor-trading in capital construction projects:

"The culture of misfeasance and malfeasance at the school district is so deeply ingrained, so longstanding and so severe that we believe (employees who blow the whistle) will either be subsumed into the existing culture or drummed out of the district as soon as current attention is diverted from the board and district."

Indeed, one former building inspector who was fired in retaliation for warning about building code violations received a $45,000 settlement from the crooked school board. One board member was convicted on extortion, wire fraud and bribery charges involving school construction. Under Runcie, an $800 million renovation bond passed by voters in 2014 for school repairs on moldy, decaying buildings has been abjectly squandered; critics have alleged more bid-rigging, lax oversight and circumvention of graft reforms passed seven years ago.

The grand jury had issued a prophetic warning: "Bad habits and corrupt practices often return when the light of inquiry is turned off."

Five years later, the district was entangled in yet another fiscal scandal after the state auditor general determined the schools had misallocated $23 million in federal Title 1 funds for low-income students; had "failed to correct safety violations at some schools;" and "paid health insurance premiums for former employees who were ineligible and in some cases dead," according to the Fort Lauderdale Sun-Sentinel.

When public scrutiny is diverted to red herrings and politically expedient scapegoats, feckless educrats are all too happy to participate in accountability Kabuki theater. After the Parkland, Florida, shooting last month, Runcie immediately pounced: "If we really want to do something, spend money on adding more school resource officers and law enforcement."

What bunk. Continued profligacy is no violence prevention strategy. If school leaders can't exhibit basic fiscal discipline and stewardship, how can they be trusted to ensure classroom discipline and physical safety?

Is it any surprise that Runcie's social justice pandering to dismantle the "school to jailhouse pipeline" won him Obama administration accolades — while endangering the lives of children used as political pawns?

The same set of corruptocrats who were in place while cronies rigged bids for personal gain stood by while book-cookers rigged crime statistics to appease racial bean counters.

There were no districtwide walkouts and nationwide protests when Broward County parents of special-needs students were laughed at during a school board meeting as they exposed how their children had been bullied, beaten and bitten by tormentors without consequences in 2016. Nor was there a massive uproar last fall when the district acknowledged a whopping 480 incidents of alleged sexual harassment and abuse in its schools.

As a famous Chicago community organizer once quipped, "Change is hard." Selfies with gun control armbands is easy. Cleaning your own house, district and county is hard. Junkets to D.C. are easy. Digging through audits and public records is hard. Regurgitating Mad Libs-like talking points against the NRA and Second Amendment is easy.

Go back to class and look homeward, all you young "change agents." The faultiest faults are near, not far.

Syndicated columnist Michelle Malkin is the daughter of Filipino Immigrants. She was born in Philadelphia, raised in southern New Jersey and now lives with her husband and daughter in Colorado. Her weekly column is carried by more than 100 newspapers.

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Bob Meade - Growing in hate . . . or . . .

Growing in hate. Doesn’t that sound awful? Yes, it does. But that’s what’s happening. We’re looking for things to hate, things to divide us, things to use to shame others, things to make others feel guilty for being who they are. We routinely abhor the success of others and deny the efforts they made that led to their achievements. We deny the benefit to us and others that have resulted from those achievements. We treat allegations as cold hard fact based simply on who is making the charge; today’s flirtation may be tomorrow’s allegation of sexual abuse. We ignore and excuse actual criminality for one and make scurrilous charges to invent criminality for another.

Did you choose your parents? Your gender? Where you were born? Your physical characteristics and attributes? Your size, weight, appearance? Did you participate in the migration out of Africa thousands and thousands of years ago? How many slaves have you owned? How many people did your ancestors take advantage of or abuse? Aren’t you ashamed and don’t you feel guilty? How do you intend to right those wrongs of long ago? And don’t you feel you need to pay reparations for any acts “alleged” to have been committed by the ancestors you don’t know you have? And, by the way, are not the deaths of a million-and-half patriots who fought to bring freedom to others reparation of the highest order? We now hurl invectives and eschew compliments. We trade comity in exchange for complicity. Hate! Hate! Hate! Is that the “new norm?”

Now stop for a minute, and think ... do you think that, just maybe, at some time during your historical family lineage, there may have been an ancestor or two who were the ones doing the abusing of others? Or, at other times during the lineage, there may have been an ancestor or two who were the ones being abused? You/we don’t know, only God knows! But today we have guilt thrust upon us for things of which we have no knowledge and no culpability.

There’s so much more that could be written but, have you had enough? Now take a few minutes and reflect on the old who-what-when-where-how and why. When did we start on this road of finding things/people to hate? Who or what triggered that need? Why did we decide to join in? How is it that there are so many people feeling the same need and a willingness to build on hate? Do you really know a man who is a misogynist, a real hater of women? That word is routinely used to describe men who have never had that kind of hatred. How does one defend a negative?

How about labeling someone as a xenophobe, one who hates people from other countries? Most of the people in this country are either immigrants or descendants of immigrants. As waves of immigrants came into this country, they were looked down upon and had to struggle to adapt and become accepted. No Irish need apply – in Boston, of all places. Native born Japanese citizens put into internment camps in World War II. Chinese taken into this country to do backbreaking work, building railroad tracks across the country. In city after city, immigrants from various countries formed their own enclaves to live and struggle together as they established their roots in their new country. They were used and abused but they thought it worth the struggle. And it was.

Think too, about all those ancestors who took that abuse and through their struggles, found and made a better way for those who followed. Think of Boston’s no Irish need apply signs and note that the son of Irish immigrants named John Fitzgerald (AKA Honey Fitz) became a two-term congressman, the mayor of Boston, and the father of Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy, the mother of President John Fitzgerald Kennedy. Think that in wasn’t until the 1940s that President Harry S. Truman integrated the Armed Services and the growth that has happened since then ... Colin Powell, born in Harlem of immigrant parents, became a four-star general of the Army, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the National Security Advisor, and the Secretary of State. All wonderful and well earned, merit-based achievements. Think too, that our previous president was the son of an immigrant father and a native-born American mother, who rose in one generation to the presidency. These are but a few examples out of thousands and thousands that can show that this country is truly, the land of opportunity.

Not everyone can become a congressman, or a big city mayor, or a four-star general, a Secretary of State, or the president. Just as not everyone can become a star athlete, or actress, or business mogul. Hopefully, we each achieve the best that we can based on the effort we invest, not on the hatreds that we have.

Bob Meade is a Laconia resident. He may be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

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Alan Vervaeke - Have we just stopped caring?

A dog died the other day on United Airlines. The flight attendant forced the family to put it into the overhead bin, and it suffocated. Within seven days a bill was brought to the floor of the United States Congress to prohibit such actions. Last week, a pedestrian bridge collapsed in Miami that so far has claimed the life of six people and possibly more. Within one hour of the collapse, a member of Congress called for an investigation into the event.

Fourteen teenagers and three adults were killed by a lone gunman in Parkland, Florida on St. Valentine’s Day and as of yet there has been ZERO legislative action taken by the United States Congress or Senate. The president stated that he supported changing the age at which an individual could purchase a rifle to 21 years old ... until a week later when it was “no longer a priority” after the president met with principals of the NRA.

Here in New Hampshire, there is a bill to eliminate the death penalty. There is a bill regarding animal cruelty and abuse because of Christina Fay and her Great Danes. Yet a bill to eliminate bump stocks fails and so does a bill to raise the minimum age of a female for marriage from 13 years old to 18 years old. One local legislator representing Franklin and Hill goes on to compare transgender individuals with pedophiles because he is trying to scare parents and children while abrogating his responsibilities to the same group around the issue of guns. Maybe it is time to start paying our state legislators a living wage to attract a better class of thinker.

What the hell is wrong with our elected legislators? Do they lack human company? Are they being kept in a shed somewhere? I’ve read more letters in the past two weeks about the pros and cons of biosolids than I have about the protection of our children. Not to put too fine of a point on it, but we have more proposed legislation regarding dogs and other animals than we do for our CHILDREN! We have an opioid epidemic and yet support centers are closing due to a lack of support. I’ll say it again – what the HELL is wrong with this picture?

We’ve seen actors, producers, and directors of movies and television accused, hounded, and excoriated in the press until they quit, retire, or go into hiding with the power of the #MeToo movement. We’ve seen state and federal elected officials — like Senator Al Franken — driven out of office by these allegations and the combined might of women. Unless it is Donald Trump, at which point you’re willing to forgive, forget, disbelieve, and cry “Fake News,” when 13 separate women have accused him of sexual assault or sexual harassment. At least two porn actresses have stepped forward to say the president had sex with them while his wife was pregnant, but Fox News and the rest of the conservative right is quiet and unwilling to give it unbiased and objective reporting. What’s wrong here?

Bill Clinton said under oath “I never had sex with that woman,” and when it was proven that he had, Newt Gingrich and the Republican Party howled and called for his impeachment. When asked about the possibility of the current president having had an extra-marital affair with a porn actress, Newt Gingrich smirked and said “The Democrats are just jealous!” And when the president himself admits that he lied to the Prime Minister of Canada and “just made up” numbers regarding trade imbalances between Canada and the United States, no one seems to care.

Is Nero fiddling while Rome burns? Is the United States becoming Rome and has it reached the end of any type of moral ascendancy? We used to pride ourselves on being better than other countries. When Italian Premier Silvio Berlusconi was caught with under-age girls and prostitutes, we tut-tutted and said “Oh, those Italians!” and prided ourselves on our moral authority. Yet when Ronald Reagan was caught allowing arms sales to Iran to arm insurgents in Central America, we turned our head and coughed.

Money in America is now the pre-eminent force. Money buys our politicians on both sides of the aisle, whether it is the NRA, labor unions, Big Pharma or health insurance companies. Our pastors and preachers support a narcissistic womanizer and the sales of guns that kill our children. Our senators are rolling back banking legislation that will personally benefit them while causing untold damage to average men and women who work far more hours than the elite and privileged members of the U.S. Senate ever will. And the problems are on both sides of the aisle. Certainly, the Republicans take in a lot of money from the NRA, but the Democrats are raking it in as well. Then the Supreme Court says “Hey! It’s OK!” to Citizens United and now We The People have lost our ability to truly manage our own government. What the Hell is wrong with us?

We used to have manners. We used to care. We used to be civil. I shouldn’t be surprised with the state of this country when we see the disintegration of it in our everyday life. Men wearing hats in restaurants and people wearing pajamas and fuzzy slippers out in public and into stores. Jeans and T-shirts in church and the church just thankful to have people attending. Racists writing in letters telling us we need to have a whites-only school and for women not to get fat. The Religious Right telling us that our president was “chosen by God” when it seems more apparent every day that God has washed His/Her hands of us because no one here gives hoot about our planet, our children, our wildlife or the future.

Seriously. Just what the Hell IS wrong with us? Why aren’t you angry,? Or have you simply just stopped caring?

Alan Vervaeke is a veteran and father happily living in Gilford.

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Trash pickup in Laconia to be delayed one day

LACONIA — Due to the predicted snowstorm, there will be no trash pickup on Tuesday, March 13Tuesday’s trash pickup will be on Wednesday, and each following day’s trash pickup this week will be delayed by one day, with Friday’s trash being picked up on Saturday.

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