Category Archives: Labor

Charts of the day II: Dramatic journalism fails

Following up on our previous posts, two charts sum up the fate of American journalism. First, from the Poynter Institute, a graphic depiction of the decline in American newsroom jobs:

BLOG JJob decline

And next, from the Pew Research Center, examples of the drastic declines in value of American newspapers — including their online incarnations [click on it to enlarge]:

BLOG JJob paper decline

Blood on the newsroom floor. . .

Media layoff season continues, as newpapers and electronic media pare their staffs to appease the bean counters with lower staff costs for the coming year.

We’ll begin on the West Coast with a report on layoffs at the Portland Oregonian from Willamette Week:

The Oregonian is conducting a new round of buyouts and layoffs that could reduce the newsroom staff by as much as 20 percent.

Multiple sources tell WW that Oregonian editor Mark Katches told staff this morning that the newspaper is seeking 25 volunteers from the newsroom to take buyouts.

If the paper does not find 25 staffers who want to be bought out, sources tell WW, management will conduct layoffs to reach that number.

On 12 November, the Associated Press heralded some upcoming layoffs:

The owner of the Los Angeles Times, Chicago Tribune and other newspapers says it expects a buyout offer to cut its staff by 7 percent.

Tribune Publishing employees had to apply by Oct. 23. The company said in October that layoffs could follow the buyouts. Spokeswoman Dana Meyer said Thursday that CEO Jack Griffin had said last week on the company earnings call that “initial results indicate that the company will reach its internal targets” for buyouts.

Meyer declined to comment on how many employees took a buyout or how many employees Tribune Publishing has. As of the end of 2014, it had 7,595 full- and part-time employees.

And on Monday, Ravi Somaiya of the New York Times tweeted the final and devastating tab at California’s largest newspaper, the largest in Tribune Publishing’s stable:

The LA Times has lost 82 journalists (of about 500) in recent round of staff reductions, according to a list circulating in the newsroom.

Media blogger Jim Romenesko reported on the 25th on layoffs at one of the few remaining national newspapers, one which has published stories by esnl:

At an all-hands meeting last Friday, Christian Science Monitor staffers were told that the paper is restructuring and will cut about two dozen jobs over the next 18 months. “We will retain the capacity to cover the most important stories of the day,” says a memo to staff, “but a significant share of our resources will be focused on targeted topics.Unknown …This means we will cover fewer topics, but do so with authority, insight, and healing impact.”

On to Pennsylvania with a 13 November report on layoffs in Wilkes-Barre from the Citizens Voice:

Citing a “sharp decline” in some revenue streams, the Times Leader on Friday announced it had laid off three employees, according to a memo obtained by The Citizens’ Voice.

The email, from Publisher Doug Olsson, said the “incredibly difficult” decision to cut staff was the result of a strategic review by its owner, North Carolina-based Civitas Media LLC.

The review showed recent growth in local advertising, including revenue from online ads, but that the company has seen a sharp decline in revenue from commercial printing, private-party classified ads and pre-printed inserts from large retailers, Olsson wrote.

From newspapers on to magazines, first with this POLITICO Media report:

Magazine downsizing season is in full swing, and the latest victim is Wenner Media, where a handful of employees have been laid off, POLITICO Media has learned.

Among those handed pink slips were Peter Stevenson, the former longtime No. 2 editor of The New York Observer who had just taken a job as Men’s Journal’s deputy editor in September.

Wenner Media, which also publishes Rolling Stone and Us Weekly, had already weathered a round of cuts in June. It was unclear whether any titles beyond Men’s Journal were affected in this latest culling, and a spokeswoman for the company did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

More magazine layoffs from the New York Observer:

Condé Nast is pulling the plug on Details, the company announced today. The forthcoming issue of the men’s mag will be it’s last, and its website will gradually transition to

“GQ Style, which has consistently been popular among upscale millennials and luxury advertisers alike, will significantly expand its digital presence and also increase to a quarterly print schedule,” said the memo. “As a result of these changes, Details will cease publication with the December 2015/January 2016 issue. will continue to operate as we transition to in the coming months.”

Detail’s editor in chief Dan Peres and chief revenue officer Drew Schutte are leaving the company, according to the memo. The Wall Street Journal reports that at least twenty percent of the magazine’s 60 person staff will stay at Condé (which means that at least 12 staffers will have a mildly less depressing holiday season).

Still more on the Condé Nast-y cuts from the Hollywood Reporter:

Earlier this summer, Lucky magazine (which was launched under Conde Nast before being sold to BeachMint in 2014) was shuttered.

Seven editorial staff layoffs ensued at GQ, followed by yesterday’s news of the shuttering of Details magazine and the subsequent dismissal of over 55 employees in both the editorial and the ad sales divisions. Publishers at Teen Vogue (Jason Wagenheim) and Self (Mary Murcko) were also let go this month, with ad sales for both glossies condensing under Vogue’s and Glamour’s business umbrellas, respectively.

Today, another wave of layoffs was reported at the company. WWD confirmed that Glamour’s Latina-focused quarterly, Glam Belleza Latina, would fold, cutting five employees in the process, and also that Self was letting go of several editorial employees. The shuttering of Glam Belleza Latina comes less than one month after Hearst shuttered its millennial-targeted Latina magazine, Cosmopolitan for Latinas.

Additionally, The Daily Front Row announced today that a handful of editorial staff at Glamour magazine, including design director Sarah Vinas and accessories director Gretchen Gunlocke Fenton, were dismissed as well.

Lastly, even online sites aren’t immune from the chop, as noted by Cision:

Amid the shift to a political focus, Gawker has shuttered several blogs within its portfolio. These include The Vane, Defamer, Morning After, Valleywag, Millihelen, The Kitchenette, Flight Club, Indefinitely Wild and Throb.


Finally, in a series of layoffs at the company, senior editor Jason Parham, news editor Taylor Berman and staff writers Jay Hathaway and Kelly Conaboy have left Gawker. Jezebel senior reporter Natasha Vargas-Cooper has also left, while Erin Gloria Ryan is leaving the blog to join Vocativ as deputy editor. Follow the transition at Gawker via Facebook and Twitter.

An imperiled treasure of the Sierra Madre

The Huichol people live in Mexico’s Sierra Madre, in in the states of Jalisco, Durango, Nayarit.

They were rediscovered in popular culture north of the border in the 1960s because their religion centers on the use of peyote, a hallucinogenic cactus native to their mountains, and because of their colorful and utterly psychedelic artworks.

In this Wikimedia image of a Huichol mask, the symbol for peyote dominates the forehead, an apt representation of the central role played by the cactus in Huichol life:

BLOG Huichol mask

Huichol culture is in danger, in part because a generation of elders has died, often without leaving behind students who have mastered the rich and intricate oral traditions that bound the preliterate Huichols together.

Our first video offering, a short 1992 documentary by Ryan Noble, features Huichols from the villages of Las Guayabas and San Andreas, in which one remarks on the threatened loss of the ancient culture: “We want to live and remember so that it doesn’t end.”

Note also the system of agriculture employed by the Huichol, the traditional Mexican milpa, the only system of agriculture which has allowed for continuous cultivation for millennia without the use of either pesticides or fertilizers.

The Huichols: History – Culture – Art

Huichol art a sometimes take on a larger scale, as illustrated in this image from Mexico’s Museo de Arte Popular, a sight to stir twitches of envy in the souls of Berkeley’s own art car ornamenters.

BLOG Huichol art car

But the mountains that are home to the Huichols are coveted by multinational corporations, which have been logging the trees and devastating the landscape, forcing ever-larger numbers of Huichols to head to the lowlands simply to survive.

And the jobs awaiting them there are killing them, quite literally.

From Huicholes Contra Plaguicidas:

Huichols and Pesticides

Program notes:

Huichols & Pesticides, documents, through witnesses, reports and persuasive images, the indiscriminate use of pesticides in the tobacco fields, and the poisonings, and even deaths, resulting from the use of agrochemicals.

One notable effort to preserve the Huichols and their way of life is being undertaken by the Huichol Center for Cultural Survival and the Traditional Arts:

The Huichol Center: A model for cultural survival

Program notes:

This documentary was produced to support The Huichol Center. The Center helps the Huichol people of Mexico maintain their culture, art and spirituality. The Huichols have been almost untouched by modern civilization, and have been able to maintain their ancient ways despite crushing poverty and disease.

With their ancient heritage, their system of sustainable organic agriculture, and an artistic tradition that merges the sacred and the profane in unique ways, the Huichol surely deserve protection from the ravages of corporate imperialism and agricultural toxins.

To close, a final image, via Wikipedia, this time of a Huichol yarn painting:

BLOG Huichol yarn

On the mad utopian dreams of neoliberals

A recent episode of Christ Hedges’s news series for Telesur English features an interview with Canadian intellectual provocateur John Ralston Saul on the twisted origins and pernicious intellectual distortions of neoliberal ideology.

An erudite scholar and ferocious analyst, Saul has relentlessly pilloried the intellectual perversions underlying much of modern economic thought in a series of books [most famously Voltaire’s Bastards: The Dictatorship of Reason in the West] and essays, with his most recent targets being the twisted rationales employed by apologists for an economic order that has given rise to modern plutocracy.

In conversation with Hedges, Saul worries that modern neoliberalism has proven to resemble Beniuto Mussolini’s fascism.

From The Real News Network:

Days of Revolt: Neoliberalism as Utopianism

From the transcript:

SAUL: Right? And what they did, most universities, was they did an intellectual cleansing of the economic historians to remove the possibility of doubt, the possibility of speculation on ideas, leaving these sort of hapless — mainly hapless macroeconomists, who fell quite easily into the hands, frankly, of the ideologues, the neoliberals, neoconservatives, who were — you know, let’s face it. What is this ideology? It’s an ideology of inevitability, an ideology based on self-interest, an ideology in which there is no real memory. And at the end of the day, it really is — it’s about power and money.

HEDGES: It’s about, you write, making every aspect of society conform to the dictates of the marketplace, which, as you point out, there’s nothing — and I think you say something like 2,000 or 5,000 years of human history to justify the absurdity that you should run a society based on —

SAUL: On the marketplace.

HEDGES: — the marketplace.

SAUL: Let me just take a tiny step back as a historical marker, which is the day that I realized that the neos were claiming that Edmund Burke was their godfather or whatever, I realized that we were into both lunacy and the denial of history, ‘cause, of course, in spite of his rather crazy things about Mary Antoinette and the French Revolution, most of his career was about inclusion, standing against slavery, standing for the American Revolution, and of course leading a fight for anti-racism and anti-imperialism in India — amazing democratic [incompr.] a liberal in the terms of the early 19th century. So when you see that these guys were trying to claim him, it’s like lunatics today claiming Christ or Muhammad to do absolutely unacceptable things.

And I think that the fascinating thing is once you get rid of history, once you get rid of memory, which they’ve done with economics, you suddenly start presenting economics as something that it isn’t, and you start saying, well, the market will lead. And these entirely theoretically sophisticated experts are quoting the invisible hand, which is, of course, an entirely low-level religious image–it’s the invisible hand of God, right, running the universe. As soon as you hear that term and they say, oh, that’s what Adam Smith said — but when you talk to them, they haven’t read Adam Smith. Adam Smith isn’t taught in the departments of economics. You get quotes from Adam Smith even when you’re doing an MA or whatever. They don’t know Adam Smith. They don’t know that he actually was a great voice for fairness, incredibly distrustful of businessmen and powerful businessmen, and said never allow them to be alone in a room together or they’ll combine and falsify the market and so on, so that what we’ve seen in the last half-century is this remarkable thing of big sophisticated societies allowing the marketplace to be pushed from, say, third or fourth spot of importance to number one and saying that the whole of society must be in a sense structured and judged and put together through the eyes of the marketplace and the rules of the marketplace. Nobody’s ever done this before.

HEDGES: How did it happen?

SAUL: Well, I mean, I think it happened gradually, partly by this emptying out of the public space, by this gradual —

HEDGES: What do you mean by that?

SAUL: Well, by the advancing of the idea of the technocracy and the gradual reduction of the space of serious political debate and ideas, and with that the rise of kinds of politicians who would be reliant on the technocracy and really were not themselves voices of ideas that would lead somewhere, you know, the humanist tradition, democratic tradition, egalitarian tradition. And we can see this all sort of petering out. And you can like them or dislike them, but you can see when the real idea of debate of ideas and risk on policy starts to peter out with Johnson and suddenly you’re into either populists or technocrats.

Chris Hedges hosts a new show on Telesur

Telesur English is getting very interesting. In addition to weekly episodes of shows by esnl favorites Abby Martin and Laura Flanders, the Venezuelan broadcaster has added the inimitable Chris Hedges, former Mideast bureau chief for the New York Times.

In this latest episode of Days of Revolt, Hedges discusses the insidious nature of the Trans-Pacific Partnership [TPP] with attorney Kevin Zeese, co-director of and It’s Our Economy, an organization that advocates for democratizing the economy. Zeese is a political activist and former press spokesperson for Ralph Nader, and in an unsuccessful 2006 Senate run, he was the only candidate ever nominated simultaneously by the Green, Libertarian, and Populist parties.

From Telesur English:

The Most Brazen Corporate Power Grab in American History

An excerpt from the transcript, discussing the TPP’s provision for overturning the power of the American judiciary in the interests of the corporation:

HEDGES: And they’re not allowed to make any amendments, no changes, nothing.

ZEESE: No amendments. Up or down vote. That’s it. And in the Senate, there’s no filibuster, so it’s only 50 percent. You can’t force them to 60 votes. It’s only 51 they need. And so it’s a very restricted Congress.

And all these agreements, by the way, as Ralph mentions in that quote, greatly restrict each branch of government, and Congress [crosstalk]

HEDGES: Well, let’s talk a little bit about how they do that, this kind of–part of this kind of creeping coup d’état, corporate coup d’état that’s taking place.

ZEESE: And I just want to say one more thing about this coup d’état. This is just one aspect of it. We’re seeing the corporate power grow in the United States with Citizens United and the buying of elections and all that corruption. But we’re also–out of places like the World Economic Forum, they’ve come out with a working group called the–that’s redesigning, the Global Redesign Initiative that’s redesigning the way governance works to minimize the nationstate and maximize transnational–. They want the UN to become a hybrid government and corporate body. So that’s what the World Economic Forum is working on as this is all going on, too. So this is a big, big fight about where we go. This is the epic struggle of our times, corporate power versus people power.

Now, the way that they–what Ralph was talking about in that quote was one aspect of this, which is the trade tribunal system, which already exists, but this is expanded. For the first time, for example, financial services can use the trade tribunals to overrule legislation to regulate the big banks.

HEDGES: Now, these trade tribunals, they’re three-person tribunals. They’re made up of corporate lawyers. One of the things I think I was speaking with you that you told me is that if you’re a citizen or advocacy group, you’re excluded from even going to these.

ZEESE: Yeah. You know, in our federal court system, which is the third branch of government that–Ralph’s favorite branch, I think. He just opened the museum in his —

HEDGES: Right, a tort museum.

ZEESE: — in his hometown, a tort museum, which is a great museum. People should go to Winsted to see it, by the way.

But, anyway, in our federal court system, an individual can sue a corporation. They can find a lawyer who takes it on retainer, only get paid if they win. You get a jury of your peers to decide it. That’s a real court system. It has lots of weaknesses that need to be improved on. They’ve been cutting back on it is much as they could with so-called tort reform–as Ralph calls tort deform. And so it’s getting weaker. But it’s still an important branch of government.

This overrules that. Our courts cannot review what a trade tribunal does. The trade tribunal judges are three corporate lawyers who can also represent corporations in other cases. So there’s a real conflict of interest here, because if you’re a lawyer who’s filing suits on behalf of corporations at these trade tribunals, you want to broaden the power of the trade tribunal and the corporation. So as a judge, you can decide things that, say, corporations have this power, corporations have that power, no, that the security issue doesn’t matter, the corporation still wins. They can create legal fictions.

Chart of the day II: Euro small businesses

From Eurostat [PDF], a country-by-country look at the distribution of very small business employment in Europe:

BLOG Euro small biz

The Mafioso, missing beef, and death by arson: A censored story appears, four decades later

esnl reported for the Sacramento Bee for three years, starting in January, 1983. We left because of censorship of stories we reported involving organized crime in California and its ties to politics and corrupt union officials.

What follows is one of those stories, the last we wrote on the Bee’s payroll. It is a story about the Mafia, corrupt businessmen, and a fatal arson.

It is also a story that’s never before been told in its full scope. We submitted it on 28 June 1985 and met with the expected response from an editor wearing a solid gold Rolex with a diamond-studded bezel: “It’s not the sort of thing we’re interested in.”

But it’s a story that should ring familiar to anyone who’s seen Goodfellas, and we think it should be finally told:

An element of mystery still lingers

“I don’t think we’ll ever know what really happened,” said the judge. “There was just too much going on.”

“My feelings are that all of these little arms are part of the same octopus,” said the prosecutor. “I think organized crime is the right adjective. I think it’s totally organized.”

All the investigators and prosecutors who worked on the case agree that they never got to the bottom of it all. But some things can be said for sure about a drama that had been playing out for more than a decade.

Tehama County’s largest stable employer was bankrupted, scores of workers lost their jobs, a arsonist died in a Long Beach because of a fire he had set, and scores of ranchers lost livestock and cash.

The cast of players includes a talented sausage-maker who was less skillful as an entrepreneur, an Arizona businessman with a shadowy past and shadowier linkers to th Teamsters Union, and a mafioso with powerful connections.

The name of then-California Attorney General John Van de Kamp also surfaced in a nor found in a fugitive’s briefcase that triggered an investigation by the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s office.

The Beginnings

The story opens in 1972.

Nicholas J. Cichirillo Sr. was a skilled maker of Italian sausage and, the the time, principal officer of Messina Sausage Company.

“Cichirillo decided he wanted to expand, explained Roger Boren, a Los Angeles County deputy district attorney who got to know Chicirillo when he prosecuted him got arson and grand theft.

Cichirillo engineered the merger of four firms into one company. They were: Messina Sausage; Selecto Sausage, an East Los Angeles manufacturer of Mexican-style sausage; Capri Sausage of Covina, another Italian sausage firm; and The Red Devil, Inc., a pizza restaurant chain.

The resulting firm was called Messina Meat Products, Inc., and was based in Covina — although Cichirillo incorporated in Utah after buying a corporate “shell” called Wasatch Iron and Gold Co.

It was in 1975 that Cichirillo ran into trouble. That’s when Messina Meat Products acquired Minch Meats of Red Bluff.

A family-owned firm for 41 years, Mich Meats was Tehama County’s largest employer. Minch was an attractive takeover target. The company owned equipment for reprocessing meat — for removing fat and boine and packing the beef into leaner, more nutritious cuts.

In 1974, according to former company president Robert Minch, the firm had done just over $30 million in business and employed over 150 people.

Just how Cichirillo learned of Minch is still an open question in the minds of law enforcement investigators.

Enter ‘Sal the Swindler’

Sources have told the Bee that before the sale to Messina, Salvatore Pisello may have met with one of the company’s owners. Munch, the grandson of the firm’s founder, says he doesn’t recall ever meeting Pisello, although “somebody mentioned that Sal was going to do this or that.”

Though a sale was allegedly discussed, Pisello didn’t buy the firm then — it went to Cichirillo. Pisello surfaced as an owner later, along with one of Southern California’s most prominent citrus and meat magnates. But more of that later.

Pisello had been a target of law enforcement investigators for decades. The FBI and Drug Enforcement Administration have labeled him a member of the powerful Gambino Family from New York.

According to an FBI report, Pisello once bragged to an informant of starting restaurants with “laundered” underworld funds received from Meyer Lansky, the mob’s late financial genius [and model for the Hyman Roth character in Godfather, Part 2].

Pisello has also been linked to frauds in Italy, a ripoff at the Hotel de Paris in Monaco, and to an alleged scheme to smuggle heroin into the country in airborne lobster tanks used in a fish importing business he once ran.

According to an FBI file, one of his street names is “Sal the Swindler.”

And the troubles begin

Minch and his three partner taded their interest in Minch for a share in Messina and the deal was consummated in July.

But Minch Meats was in trouble even as the deal was being signed. Minch said his company simply couldn’t compete with Midwestern firms, which relied on lower-priced labor, assembly line techniques,m and cheaper feeding procedures.

In the West, Minch said, Safeway set the price standard for beef carcasses, and the price was less than the cost of production. To avoid financial hemorrhaging, Minch remodeled the plant to produce “portion control” prepackaged cuts which, he hoped, could be sold as a higher-priced brand name line.

But stock of beef accumulated in the Minch plant. Buyer weren’t that interested in portion control, and unions refused to accept company-suggested wage concessions.

An attempt to void the existing labor contract failed, despite predictions from company lawyers that courts would strike down the contract, Minch said.

Then disaster fell. Messina filed for bankruptcy on 5 December 1975. When the front doors were locked and workers forced out, some of the plant’s new equipment disappeared — although no one knows where it went, according to William O. Scott, the former Tehama County District Attorney who conducted a seven-year investigation of Messina in conjunction with the district attorney’s office.

Also missing was a large amount of beef for which Tehma County ranchers and feedlots hadn’t been paid.

The investigations commence

Alerted to the missing beef and equipment, Scott began an investigation with the help of Robert Crim, an investigator for the state attorney general’s office.

According to the public statements of the California Cattlemen’s Association at the time of the collapse, Minch owned $780,000 [$3.53 million in 2015 dollars] to beef producers and $100,000 [$452,000 today] to workers.

At one point the missing beef was reportedly stored in a Sacramento warehouse, but by the time a creditor appeared at the warehouse with a court order, the beef had vanished. Minch speculates that it was unloaded by his former partners for ten cents on the dollar.

During the period of the collapse, one of the four original partners, Donald L. Stroud, had been unloaded his own stock onto another partner, H.L. “Tex” Allen.

According to a lawsuit Allen filed later, Stroud had told him that he had access to 60,000 shares of Messina stock they could acquire jointly at a bargain price.

The stock Allen bought turned out to be Stroud’s personal or family holdings — sold, according to court records, after Stroud had assured Allen that the company’s financial outlook was good.

When Messina collapse, Allen was left holding Stroud’s stock and Stroud was holding $37,000 of Allen’s cash.

[Stroud became a controversial character in Tehama County again in the mid-1980s when his Exchange Enterprises, a barter service exchange, collapse, leaving particpants on the hook for thousands of dollars and leading to another criminal investigation by the county district attorney.]

After the jump, a wiseguy takeover, the lethal arson, Teamsters money-laundering, a political connection, convictions, and more. . . Continue reading