Monday, November 19, 2018

Union buster Carlos Ghosn is gone as Nissan chairman, accused of dipping into company coffers for his own enrichment and understating his earnings at the company

(Carlos Ghosn in 2009)

Japanese authorizes places Nissan Chairman Carlos Ghosn under arrest today (November 19) for claims that he dipped into the company till to enrich his already handsome earnings and that he has been lowballing the amount of those earnings for years.

The Reuters news agency reports that the Nissan Board will fire Ghosn this week, and his chairmanship and status as CEO of partner firm Renault is in question as French President Emmanuel Macron said the company’s top shareholders, the French government, is monitoring developments closely.

“To have so greatly violated the trust of many, I feel full of disappointment and regret,” Hiroto Saikawa, who took over from Ghosn as Nissan CEO last year, said at a news conference. “”It’s not just disappointment, but a stronger feeling of outrage and, for me, despondency.”

Saikaway had worked closely with Ghosn for years.

Nissan Representative Director Greg Kelly has also been accused of financial misdeeds.

Ghosn's earnings at the company were estimated at $10 million annually in late 2017, and his total worth was estimated at $100 million. Nissan is a $38.4 billion company that received a $363 million incentives package from the nation's poorest state, Mississippi, in 2000 to build a plant there. Those incentives have increased substantially since 2000, according to the United Auto Workers. In 1980, the state of Tennessee gave Nissan $44 million in incentives to build a plant in Smyrna, Tennessee.

Both Nissan and Renault stock values have dropped as the business world reels from the news about one of its most public and highly esteemed figures.

Labor South readers know Carlos Ghosn’s name well as he led Nissan through long years of union battles at the company’s plants in Tennessee and Mississippi, the only non-unionized plants in a corporation that stretches across the globe. Ghosn fought those union efforts tooth and nail although he told the French Parliament in 2016 that Nissan always cooperates with unions.

In 2001, however, he famously (infamously, I should say) warned Nissan workers in Smyrna the day before a union election there that voting “Yes” to a union “is not in your best interests.” They got the message and voted “No”, just as they did at the Nissan plant in Canton, Mississippi, in August 2017. That vote came after intense pressure from Nissan management to keep the union out, pressure that included direct violations of international labor standards, according to a 2013 report commissioned by the United Auto Workers.

Ghosn actually rose to fame in the corporate world by slashing so many jobs that he became known in France as “le cost killer”.

Born to Lebanese parents in Brazil and a French citizen as well as a British knight, Ghosn is a comic-book hero in Japan who formerly oversaw the North American operations of the Michelin tire company. Operating out of Greenville, South Carolina, Ghosn’s Michelin successfully prevented the documentary Uprising of ’34 from being shown at the Spartanburg Technical College in 1995. The landmark documentary dealt with the killing of seven striking textile workers in nearby Honea Path, South Carolina, in 1934.

Friday, November 9, 2018

U.S. Senate candidate Mike Espy could make history in Mississippi's Nov. 27 runoff but he faces an uphill battle

(To the right, U.S. Senate candidate and former Mississippi Congressman and U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Mike Espy)

OXFORD, Miss. - I covered Mike Espy during his historic winning bid in 1986 to become Mississippi’s first black congressman since Reconstruction, and I covered him in Washington, D.C., during the first two of his three terms in Congress. He was a young fellow still in his thirties then with a practical, moderate brand of politics that enabled him to keep winning in a predominately black-but-still largely white dominated district.

Espy was different from his successor, U.S. Rep. Bennie Thompson, another Democrat but more the firebrand. Knowing he was less able to reach across the aisle than Espy, Thompson helped negotiate the redistricting of Mississippi’s “Delta” district, extending its border farther south to give black voters a sure majority and in the meantime siphon those votes away from neighboring districts and making them more white.

While serving as U.S. Secretary of Agriculture under President Clinton, Espy began a four-year battle against allegations that he had taken gifts from companies he was regulating as secretary. He could have pleaded a deal, but he fought for his innocence and he won. The legal battle cost taxpayers $26 million and $1.3 million out of Espy’s own pocket and from the pockets of his friends. “The political experience was searing for me,” Espy recently told the Jackson Free Press in Jackson, Mississippi.

After 24-year hiatus from politics, during which time he practiced law, remarried, and rebuilt his life, Espy is back in the fray, running for the seat vacated by U.S. Sen. Thad Cochran, a Republican who retired in March after a nearly 40-year career in the Senate. On Tuesday, Espy carried 41 percent of the vote, enough to face Republican Cindy Hyde-Smith in a runoff November 27. Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant appointed Hyde-Smith to fill Cochran’s seat after he retired.

Espy comes out of the Clinton wing of the Democratic Party and is no raging liberal. He won an award from the NRA in 1988, although he now says “I didn’t leave the NRA, the NRA left me” and laments the organization’s turn to the “really right wing.” Labor organizers still bristle at Espy’s silence during the historic catfish workers strike in the Mississippi Delta in 1990. Espy supporters say he was working on behalf of the strikers behind the scene, but critics wonder whether he simply didn’t want to alienate wealthy Delta benefactors.

In 2007, he endorsed Republican Haley Barbour's bid for a second term as Mississippi governor.

However, in this election, he has campaigned vigorously on behalf of better health care for Mississippians and raged against the closing of rural hospitals that came from Bryant’s opposition to Obamacare and refusal to expand Medicaid. Mississippi is in desperate straits these days after years of Republican rule, the poorest state in the nation with the most threadbare of safety nets for its poor and a political leadership that largely could care less.

Democrats took back the U.S. House of Representatives Tuesday but lost ground in the U.S. Senate. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is already stirring the pot for another Republican-led assault on Social Security, Medicaid and Medicare, and using the growing deficit caused by the Republican-sponsored tax cut to the wealthy as an excuse. The Senate needs Espy, but he faces an uphill battle on November 27.

In the November 6 primary, Republicans split their vote between the establishment candidate, Hyde-Smith, and Tea Party candidate Chris McDaniel. President Trump, a Tea Party hero, gave his endorsement to Hyde-Smith, which McDaniel says doomed his candidacy. Still, McDaniel is urging his voters to support Hyde-Smith, saying loyalty to the president is necessary even when it means voting for an “establishment” candidate.

Hyde-Smith, a former Mississippi commissioner of agriculture, has raised some $3 million for her campaign, and Espy’s campaign chest is around $2 million. Expect a lot of frenzied activity in both camps over the next two weeks. After initial resistance, Hyde-Smith has agreed to debate Espy. Either way, the race is historic with the opportunity for Mississippi to have either its first female elected U.S. senator or its first elected black U.S. senator since Reconstruction.

Let’s hope history is made in a way that Mississippi needs it to be made.

Thursday, October 25, 2018

Trump replaces a rotten deal--NAFTA--with a new trade deal but is it a good deal?

(Bill Mauldin)

OXFORD, Miss. – When the great World War II cartoonist Bill Mauldin returned from Europe in 1945, he saw a dark side to the great citadel of democracy he’d been defending. He found an America riddled with fast-talking shysters, scam artists, religious zealots and big talking politicians who loved to pat the backs of the veteran and working stiff but did little or nothing for them.

“Demagogues have winning ways, especially with the man who has no one else to whom he can turn in his troubles,” Mauldin wrote in the 1947 book Back Home.

Mauldin, creator of the scraggly bearded, foxhole-digging infantrymen Willie and Joe in his Stars and Stripes cartoons, would have a field day with Donald Trump, another demagogue who talks the talk but rarely walks the walk.

On first inspection, Trump seems to have indeed walked the walk with the recent new trade deal that replaces NAFTA with the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA). Under the agreement, a significant percentage of a newly manufactured automobile—estimates range from 30 to 45 percent—must be made by workers earning no less than $16 an hour.

Furthermore, 75 percent—compared to NAFTA’s 62.5 percent—of the parts in that automobile must be made in the three-nation region.

The new deal also partially eliminates the odious Investor-State Dispute Settlement (ISDS) process that allowed a corporation to sue a government if it imposes discriminatory regulations that inhibit that corporation’s profits. ISDS has been scratched between the United States and Canada, but not between the United States and Mexico.

NAFTA was a rotten deal from the minute President Clinton signed it into law in 1994. Within three years, it had cost the United States 100,000 jobs, a toll that would rise to 1 million by 2005, most of them in manufacturing. The U.S. textile industry dissolved as companies packed up and moved to the sweatshops of Mexico and the Far East. At one point, Mississippi, the nation’s poorest state, ranked third among states hardest hit by NAFTA.

Between January and August 1997, nine garment plants here in Mississippi shut down, including Carhartt in Drew, Sunsport Apparel in Lena, Active Sportswear in Kosciusko, Action Apparel in Starkville. In August 1997 nearly 900 workers at MagneTek in Mendenhall learned their plant was moving to Mexico.

The fact that your town—wherever it is—now has a Latino community can be traced at least in part to NAFTA, which tripled U.S. corn exports to Mexico and forced countless farmers there north to support their families.

Only a corporate-schmoozing Democrat like Bill Clinton could have pushed through NAFTA in those days—a Republican president could have never secured the Democratic votes—and he did it by promising protections for U.S. workers, a promise never delivered.

So is Trump a hero for what he calls “the most important trade deal we’ve ever made”? He reminds me of those old Mississippi pols James K. Vardaman and Theodore Bilbo, who pushed for increased funding for schools and hospitals, prison reform, and free textbooks for indigent children yet poisoned their speeches with such vile and odious racism that that’s all we remember.

When Trump came to Southaven this month, he bragged how his Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency “grabs (undocumented immigrants) by the neck, and they throw them the hell out of our country, or they throw them into jail.” Never mind that many of those immigrants are the victims of the same NAFTA deal he claims to despise.

Trump’s new trade deal—which still needs congressional approval--also incudes a huge boost to Big Pharma and agrochemical giants like Monsanto, which will get to keep patents on drugs, seeds, and pesticides a decade or more, driving prices further up, and to Big Oil & Gas by encouraging environmentally destructive fracking practices. Even the wage promise to autoworkers may be a double-edged sword as U.S. autoworkers average $22 an hour. Will there be pressure to bring those wages closer to $16?

Like Mauldin wrote 71 years ago, the man and woman who have no one else to turn to are vulnerable to demagogues. A Democrat sold them down the river back in 1994, and now a Republican claims he’s their savior.

Thursday, September 20, 2018

CoreCivic's private prison in the Mississippi Delta may now be housing hundreds of asylum seekers who've committed no crime

(The Tallahatchie County Correctional Facility in Tutwiler, Mississippi)

OXFORD, Miss. – Father Walter J. Ciszek’s only crime was to minister to laborers in a remote Ural Mountains village, but it was 1941 and the American-born priest soon found himself swept into the Soviet Gulag, where he would spend the next two decades.

“I could not overcome the shock occasioned by the total loss of freedom and the sense of complete control held by someone else over my every action, my every liberty, my every need,” Ciszek would later write. “People could disappear into those prisons and never be heard of again.”

The world’s largest gulag today is in the United States, where a quarter of the world’s prison population is behind bars, and Mississippi is at the heart of that gulag with the nation’s fifth highest incarceration rate.   

Although the state has reduced its prison population in recent years, new arrivals from as far away as India and Nepal may reverse that trend, and what’s more, many of these new arrivals have committed no crime.

The epicenter of this new trend appears to be the for-profit, CoreCivic-owned Tallahatchie County Correctional Facility in the Delta town of Tutwiler. The U.S. Marshals Service this summer contracted to send 1,350 federal inmates to the 2,672-bed prison, and sources say hundreds of asylum seekers are also being housed there.

Like Father Ciszek, asylum seekers have committed no crime. They came to the United States believing the words on the pedestal of the Statue of Liberty and seeking refuge from either gut-wrenching poverty or the violence and corruption of drug cartels and dictatorships in their homeland.

“These are people who spent their last dime to get here, probably being picked up God knows where,” says Lisa Graybill of the Southern Poverty Law Center in Montgomery, Alabama. “Asylum seekers don’t know what rights they have.”

I contacted the prison, CoreCivic, and the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), and none of them is willing to break down the numbers or provide specifics on what is going on inside the prison walls. Many of the detainees or inmates may be undocumented migrants. At least some have come from prisons in other states like South Carolina.

President Trump’s “zero tolerance” policy on undocumented migrants has been a boon to the private prison industry, in this writer’s mind an abomination that turns the judicial system into a profit-seeking enterprise.

The month that the U.S. Marshals Service announced its plans for the Tutwiler facility, CoreCivic’s stock rose 3.5 percent. One of the nation’s largest private prison companies, CoreCivic, like the industry as a whole, benefits not only from government largesse but also from the financial backing of major banks like JPMorgan Chase, Bank of America and Wells Fargo.

CoreCivic, by the way, was a financial contributor to Trump’s inauguration.

Asylum seekers are supposed to be given a court hearing and vetted in a process that shouldn’t take longer than a month. However, CoreCivic and ICE won’t confirm or deny their presence, much less their length of stay, their access to family and legal counsel, the scheduling of hearings.

If the past is prelude to the future, the situation must be scary for anyone behind the walls of the Tallahatchie County Correctional Facility.

“The Tutwiler facility has a sordid record,” says Bill Chandler, executive director of the Mississippi Immigrants Rights Alliance.

Indeed, it was the scene of a violent riot in 2004 in which inmates set fire to a portable toilet, clothing and mattresses. Another CoreCivic facility, the Adams County Correctional Center, was the scene of an inmate riot in 2012 with inmates taking guards hostage. One correctional officer died in the incident.

So, you tired, poor, “huddled masses yearning to breathe free” and who’ve just arrived at Tutwiler, welcome to Mississippi.

This column appears in the current edition of the Jackson Free Press of Jackson, Mississippi.

Tuesday, September 11, 2018

Labor South Review: "City of Devils", a book about Old Shanghai and its underworld rulers before the Japanese took over in World War II

This is my review of the new book City of Devils: The Two Men Who Ruled the Underworld of Old Shanghai by Paul French. It is running in the current edition of the New Orleans Review of Books, and I thought Labor South readers might enjoy it. 

You can access the magazine at

It was 1972, and I was drinking beer with my sergeant in our little base north of Saigon, quietly listening to his war stories when he caught my attention with one word: “Shanghai”. “You were in Shanghai?” I asked. “Yep,” he said, beaming. “1949.”

I pumped him with questions. After all, Shanghai is one of those cities that evoke mystery, intrigue, the exotic. It’s even a verb, something other exotic cities like Marseilles, Casablanca, Kathmandu, and, yes, New Orleans can’t even claim.

He talked about arriving in the port city just before the Communists took over, the crazy scramble before one world ended and another began.

I thought about my old sergeant as I read Paul French’s latest book, City of Devils: The Two Men Who Ruled the Underworld of Old Shanghai (Picador, 2018). It’s a fascinating look at a city that in the 1930s was a freewheeling, expatriate-filled island of gambling, whoring, and partying while the rest of China, and the world for that matter, teetered toward destruction.

A list of the descriptive names people gave Shanghai gives you an idea—the “Paris of the Orient”, the “the insanity of Sodom incarnate”, “the rim of a volcano”, “the city of fear”, and finally “the city of the dead”.

“The neon-bright city feeds off its host of four hundred million peasants barely surviving in China’s fetid hinterlands and laughs at their degradation,” French writes.

The city wouldn’t laugh for long, however, as the Japanese tightened their net around it, and finally after Pearl Harbor in 1941 marched in and took control. Chiang Kai-shek’s “Free China” forces offered little protection against the Japanese hordes as the city’s denizens were “bombed, shot, strafed, burnt, diseased, frozen, and starved,” an attack that included “the worst aerial bombing of a civilian city in history.”

Still, the core story of City of Devils takes place just before the Japanese arrive, and it centers on two men who ruled the gambling dens and show palaces with their Russian dancing girls, imported Chicago jazz bands, and countless slots and roulette wheels.

“Dapper Joe” Farren, a showman who wowed audiences with his Astaire-like moves on the dance floor, had escaped the Nazi takeover of his native Vienna and the concentration camps that awaited Jews like him. “Lucky Jack” Riley was the volatile, tough-as-nails Navy vet and escaped con from the USA Midwest who had his fingertips acid-burned to erase his former identity.

Farren controlled the nightclubs, including the one that bore his name, while Riley was Shanghai’s “Slots King”, and they ruled from the western part of Shanghai known as the “Badlands”. The two eventually work together, but what two kings ever worked together very long? They will meet separate fates as the flag of the Land of the Rising Sun unfurls over Shanghai.

With this book and his earlier book Midnight in Peking, French does for the wartime Far East what novelist Alan Furst has done for wartime Europe. He recreates a danger-ridden, intrigue-filled world endlessly fascinating at this safe distance, if less so for those who suffered through it. City of Devils joins a worthy literature about Old Shanghai that includes, of course, André Malraux’s Man’s Fate and more recently Tom Bradby’s The Master of Rain.

French’s writing is a hardboiled staccato that races along at breakneck speed like a book-length Walter Winchell column. You want him to slow down sometimes, but you’re along for the ride, and you’re damned sure not going to let go.

Wednesday, August 29, 2018

Labor South roundup: Rural Mississippi private prison may be getting asylum seekers as it benefits from Trump's migrant crackdown; Coca-Cola strike on Gulf Coast ends with no contract but hope for better negotiations

It’s time for another Labor South roundup: Strange goings-on at a private prison in rural Mississippi, and the Teamsters end their strike at Coca-Cola facilities in Mississippi and Alabama without a contract but hope for better negotiations
Trump inaugural contributor CoreCivic gets nearly 1,400 new federal detainees and maybe hundreds of asylum seekers, too

(This includes updated information from the earlier post. More updates may be coming)

News broke in late June that the Tallahatchie Correctional Facility in the Mississippi Delta town of Tutwiler is getting 1,350 new federal detainees, courtesy of the U.S. Marshals Service. That’s the kind of thing Wall Street loves to hear, and accordingly CoreCivic—formerly known as the Corrections Corporation of America---saw a 20 percent increase in the value of its stock between early April and late June.

Shares of its stock rose 3.5 percent on the very day President Trump signed an executive order ending the migrant family separations on the U.S.-Mexico border, according to Michelle Liu with Mississippi Today.

Analysts say Trump’s “zero tolerance” policy toward undocumented migrants crossing the border has been a boon to CoreCivic and other private prison companies.

What makes the Tutwiler story even more intriguing is that a source who has had dealings with the private prison told Labor South this month that as many as 500 of its latest residents may be asylum seekers who have committed no crime but sought asylum in the United States due to war, terrorism or other threatening issues in their home countries.

Earlier media efforts to get CoreCivic and the U.S. Marshalls Service to clarify who would be housed at the facility after the Marshals Service deal have been unsuccessful.

CoreCivic spokesman Rodney King in Nashville, Tennessee, told Labor South this week, however, that the Tutwiler facility houses inmates and detainees from six federal, state and local partners, including South Carolina, Wyoming, U.S. Virgin Islands, the Immigration and Customs Enforcement, and those who came through the U.S. Marshals Service. "Regarding asylum seekers, CoreCivic does not enforce immigration laws or policies or have any say whatsoever in an individual's deportation or release. Decisions related to asylum status are solely the discretion of our government partners," King said in an August 30 e-mail letter.

The Labor South source says asylum seekers at the Tutwiler facility come from Latin America, Africa and Asia, with many coming from India and Nepal.

The Tallahatchie facility was the scene of a violent riot in 2004 in which inmates set fire to a portable toilet, clothing and mattresses. Another CoreCivic facility in Mississippi, the Adams County Correctional Center, was the scene of an inmate riot in 2012 with inmates taking guards hostage. One correctional officer died in the incident. The next year CoreCivic lost its contract with the state of Mississippi to operate another facility in Wilkinson County.

Coca-Cola workers end their strike with hope for better negotiations

Workers at Coca-Cola Bottling Company facilities in Mississippi and Alabama are hoping the 11-day strike that ended last week will ultimately lead to a better contract with the company even though they went back to work without an agreement.

Some 250 Teamsters with Mobile, Alabama-based Local 991 went back to work after protesting the company’s treatment of new employees—their pay is up to $8 an hour less than what it had been in the past—plus higher insurance costs. “We needed to go back to work,” union steward David Stephens told Real-Time News from Alabama. However, “I think the company realized that they needed us back. Progress is being made in negotiations.”

Picketing during the strike took place at Coca-Cola bottling plants in Mobile and Ocean Springs on Mississippi's Gulf Coast, plus two other sites.

Friday, August 17, 2018

Let's look at U.S. interference in the politics of other countries if we're going to continue this "tsunami of coverage" about Russian involvement in the 2016 election

(The front entrance to the old headquarters of the United Fruit Company in New Orleans)

Back in 1910, New Orleans fruit company boss Samuel Zemurray got sick and tired of Honduran tax levies on his business interests there and sent a gang of mercenaries to overthrow the Honduran government. They did, and his United Fruit Company, today known as Chiquita, became a giant in the region.

Eighteen years later, the U.S. Navy helped the United  Fruit Company overcome a crippling workers’ strike in Colombia by supporting army leaders there in an attack on the strikers that killed as many as 2,000. Famed writer Gabriel Garcia Marquez wrote about this in his novel One Hundred Years of Solitude.

In 2009, almost exactly a century after the Zemurray-engineered coup d’etat, then-U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton gave her support to the overthrow of Manuel Zelaya, the democratically elected president of Honduras.  Not liking Zelaya’s left-leaning politics, Clinton preferred the military-backed regime that replaced him and has since made Honduras one of the world’s most dangerous, crime-ridden countries.

I wonder what the average Honduran today thinks about U.S. corporate media’s obsessive coverage of alleged Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election.

In 2017, MSNBC, the “liberal” counterpart to right-wing Fox News, ran 1,385 broadcasts on Russia and its political meddling. By comparison, Yemen and its deadly bombing by Saudi Arabia with U.S. military assistance got 82 MSNBC broadcasts.

It’s not unusual today to see terms such as “traitor” and “treason” in USA Today and other corporate media applied to President Trump because of his relationship with the man U.S. media increasingly love to refer to as Russia’s “thug” leader, Vladimir Putin.  As valid as the story of Russian interference may be, is it worth this “tsunami of coverage”, media critic Norman Solomon asks? And why, in this “tsuanami”, are there so many missing elements to the story?

“It’s very rare … to see any mention of the fact that each country, Russia and the US, has several thousand nuclear weapons basically pointed at each other,” Solomon says, “4,000 in each country … at the ready to basically be able to incinerate, not just the two countries, but billions of people on the planet.”

Trump has rankled not only liberals and the Democratic Party but also corporate interests because of his trade policies and also military-industrial interests that would love to see another Cold War, or even hot war, with Russia.

Missing in all this discussion is a sense of history and awareness of the utter hypocrisy of much of the U.S. handwringing about outside interference in a sovereign nation’s politics. Politicians on both sides of the aisle join in this hypocrisy.

Trump loves to wave his saber at Iran, threatening it and raising the specter of yet another war as if the American people weren’t sick to death of war after 17 consecutive years of it.

Why is Iran no longer the close U.S. friend that it was under the pro-Western rule of the Shah of Iran?  Let’s examine.

When Mohammed Mossadegh became Iran’s prime minister in 1951, Iranians cheered at his strong stand against the British-owned Anglo-Iranian Oil Company that had soaked Iran’s resources while only paying back as much as 16 percent of its profits.  England’s response was to join with the United States in launching Operation Ajax to oust Mossadegh and install in his place a CIA puppet. They succeeded, and the Shah subsequently consolidated his rule into a dictatorship that lasted until the Iranian Revolution of 1979.

A long list of countries could be added to Honduras, Yemen, Colombia and Iran as examples of U.S. political interference—Guatemala, Libya, Vietnam, Cuba, Chile, the Democratic Republic of Congo, among them.

(To the right, a 1952 poster supporting agrarian reform in Guatemala) 

Let’s look at Guatemala. When Guatemalan President Jacobo Arbenz Guzmán tried to redistribute land to benefit the legions of poor in his country in 1952, the United Fruit Company raised a hue and cry in Washington, D.C., which was all the CIA needed to get its tentacles into the country and assist with Guzmán’s overthrow in 1954.

And we have to have a few words about Vietnam. Now there’s a story. Consider the U.S.’s crucial supportive role in Ngo Dinh Diem’s consolidation of power in South Vietnam in the mid-1950s, and then in his overthrow by South Vietnamese generals in 1963. That coup d’etat, intended to find a more suitable leader in the fight against the Communists, resulted in the United States’ irrevocable involvement in Vietnam’s political future and the bloody war that lasted into the 1970s.

I could go on, but this is a column, not a book.