Wednesday, April 21, 2010

American Closes

Well, I guess it shouldn't come as a surprise to anyone in the Martinsville area. After a two-year will-they-or-won't-they waiting game, American of Martinsville has apparently closed its doors. From WDBJ 7:

It's lights out at one of Henry County and Martinsville's main furniture manufacturers. The question is, for how long?

Employees at American of Martinsville tell News7 their bosses sent them home from the Redd Level Plant at the end of last week. A security guard is now manning the front gate.

The front doors to the main headquarters in Uptown Martinsville were also locked on Tuesday and executives ignored repeated phone calls made by Your Hometown Station.

Henry County's economic development team seemed to be blind sided by the news as well when a call was made to them Monday afternoon by News7.

All of this is frustrating for the more than 200 employees at the Redd Level location. Many fear what this means for their retirement benefits since they say the company has not given them any clear answers on the status of the plants' operation.

The best part?

It's still unclear what will happen to a Martinsville furniture plant that's been shut down. But the company's president is headed elsewhere.

Trade magazine Furniture Today reports Noel Chitwood left his job as president of American of Martinsville. He's taken a job with a Chinese manufaturer called Lacquer Craft Furniture.

I don't begrudge Mr. Chitwood finding another job, but he knew about this closing long before anyone else did. He had time to get his affairs in order and my guess is he'll do fine financially at his new job. He has the luxury of moving and the industry connections to have some options. Everyone else was blindsided, apparently including the Economic Development Corporation. Moreover, American's former employees don't exactly get to have mobility and industry connections--after all, this is the 21st century and they are manufacturing workers. In the global economy, they're becoming the new serfs.

And that, in a nutshell, is why this economy will never recover until we get our trade policies in order. Globalization will destroy this country unless we change course. As long as the manufacturing sector continues to shrink because of unfair foreign competition--i.e. trading with countries that play by a 19th-century rulebook--the middle class will continue evaporating and the ranks of the working poor will grow. See how many cheap Chinese tables you can sell to someone who can't find a job.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

McDonnell Declares Confederate History Month

Imagine my joy when this story started to make the national rounds:

Virginia's Republican Governor Bob McDonnell has declared April to be "Confederate History Month," the first time in 8 years that such a proclamation has been issued in the state.

In the statement, McDonnell says that the Confederate history "should not be forgotten, but instead should be studied, understood and remembered," and that its leaders "fought for their homes and communities and Commonwealth in a time very different than ours today."

I can almost understand the rationale for this if--and only if--it's done in an objective way. Let's assume for a minute that we do live in an ideal world where this is truly a study of the history of the Confederacy. What would that look like?

It might be good for us as Americans to remember how vulnerable freedom can be when powerful, unscrupulous interests take hold of a democracy, such as the slaveholding aristocracy that pushed the South into secession.

Maybe it would be instructive to recall that without rules to protect basic human rights, the free market might decide it's okay to do just about anything. Like when it decreed that it was okay to buy and sell other human beings as slaves, a practice that only ended after massive government intervention in the form of the Thirteenth and Fourteenth Amendments.

In this rancorous political climate, it would be especially salient to recall what happens when we give in to demagogues and the political process breaks down. Maybe the most militant Tea Partiers would do well to remember that the Confederacy lost one-fourth of its military-age male population in four years; another fourth was horribly wounded in the fighting. To this day, the Civil War is the single bloodiest conflict in American history, taking 600,000+ American lives. Maybe it would do Palin and Beck some good to know what they're really intimating when they use war rhetoric to frame their unhinged ideology.

But for some reason I doubt that's the point McDonnell is trying to make here. It sounds a lot more like a nod to the George Allen wing of the Virginia GOP. Under other governors, Confederate History Month has only served to divide, distract and inflame; unfortunately, it looks like the McDonnell/Cuccinelli team has been pretty good at that so far.

*Sigh*'s gonna be a long four years.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Music Monday: "You Got Yr. Cherry Bomb" by Spoon

This week's Music Monday features a song by Spoon. Here's "You Got Yr. Cherry Bomb":

This one comes from 2007's Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga, supposedly named for the piano rhythm in the song "The Ghost of You Lingers"--if you've heard it, you know what I'm talking about. It's a great record, and I especially like the Motown-esque feel of this song. Another standout from that album is "The Underdog," which has sort of a Steely Dan sound to it. Lots of horns and laid-back rhythm section.

I saw Spoon last week at The National in Richmond. They put on a great show and I encourage you to see them if you can, but be quick about it--their shows sell out fast. At that show, I purchased an LP--yes, an actual 12" LP--of their most recent album, which comes with a coupon for an mp3 download. It's quite good as well, though I haven't picked favorite tracks yet. Anyway, check out Spoon if you're into good guitar-based rock 'n roll.

Friday, April 2, 2010

In Case You Missed It: Martinsville in the New Yorker

Just in case you didn't see this when it came out last week, give this a look. George Packer has written an article for the New Yorker that features Martinsville very heavily. It is a look at the frustration many of us still feel over the disastrous economy, especially in small towns like Martinsville.

Here's the link.

I suppose it's a good thing to have our problems finally receive national attention. After all, it took ten years for the rest of the country to realize that rural communities like ours were getting the shaft; maybe stories like this will keep things in perspective for the media and our policymakers.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

BREAKING NEWS: Texas Secedes; Alaska Declares Self Single, Ready to Mingle

WASILLA--The nation was stunned today as Texas and Alaska suddenly and deliberately severed their ties with the government of the United States of America.

The first state secession since the Civil War came as a surprise. Pull Out Now!, an organization of Tea Party activists, was responsible for organizing separatist movements in the two states, and organizers say they hope more states will pull out "before it's too late," according to lead organizer Levi Johnston.

Johnston later added, "Does anyone out there think I'm relevant yet?"

Speaking at a victory rally in Austin, former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin said she was excited about the news that the two craziest states in America would soon be joining forces.

"Ya know, the folks in Washington need to take this as a wake-up call," Palin said. "Listen, Mr. President: We love America! And gosh darn-it, the only way to save it is to leave it! We're not gonna sit by and let you wreck our country anymore. Now it's our turn!" The crowd cheered enthusiastically and waved posters of Glenn Beck.

When asked how secession was patriotic, one protester responded, "Don't step on the white ones! Hot lava!" Several others refused to comment to the "communist media" and conjectured that reporters were there on the orders of Osama bin Laden.

In Washington, the Republican Party was in total disarray. One reporter caught up with NRCC spokesman Andy Sere while he was waiting for his Happy Meal.

"I mean, whatevs. Alaska's basically Diet Canada anyway, and I don't even watch Deadliest Catch. What? You said Texas too? TEXAS?! Holy crap guys! Crap crap balls crap! That's pretty much our entire base! And all those electoral votes!" Sere then uttered a string of obscenities that led to his removal from the ball pit.

Alaska and Texas have moved remarkably fast in ejecting most federal employees from the state. Texas Gov. Rick Perry said the next order of business was to proceed with building a border wall, and then continue "de-socializing" the state. Perry added, however, that Social Security and Veterans Administration workers would be allowed to remain in the state on the request of his constituents. Perry will also attempt to preserve Medicare, citing seniors' concerns about losing their government health care.

Palin and Perry will hold a joint press conference today announcing the War on Smut, a new trade policy aimed at keeping certain items from being imported into the new nations. Among the items to be declared contraband: beakers and other lab equipment; unapproved textbooks; telescopes; sextants; "nudie-pic textin' machines" (we think they mean cell phones); vegan cookbooks; calculators; hybrid vehicles of any kind, as well as biodegradable coffee cups; coffee; soy milk and other "liberal sissy drinks"; the New York Times, the Washington Post, The Audacity of Hope and other so-called "socialist screeds"; and finally, CNN, MSNBC and Comedy Central will be barred from broadcasting into the two states. Also, the Green Bible is a no-no.

When asked for comment, President Obama simply replied, "Seriously? They really did it this time? And y'all wonder why I smoke."

Vice President Biden echoed that sentiment. "These people are so f***ing ridiculous I can't even deal with it," Biden said.