WYSK: 01/14/22

This Week: 1. Kroger Memo; 2. Tesla's Showroom; 3. Opensource Deletions; 4. Civil War?

WYSK: 01/14/22

What you should know from the week of 01/14/22:

  • Kroger Memo: The worst kind of socialism: Kroger's poor pay leads to insecurity;
  • Tesla's Showroom: Tesla downplays genocide with new showroom in Xinjiang;
  • Opensource Deletions: Open source mantainer Marak deletes some of his repos and is suspended;
  • Civil War?: Are things as dire as they sound? Division, narrative, and news sources.

Kroger Memo:

"Most employees are considered to be living in poverty and need State Aid as in food stamps, free school lunch, etc. just to get by." - Internal Kroger Memo

An internal 2017 memo from the Kroger family of grocery stores was leaked this week and reported on by PerfectUnion:

The internal presentation, titled “State of the Associate” and marked “confidential,” warned Kroger executives in 2018 that hundreds of thousands of employees live in poverty and rely on food stamps and other public aid as a result of the company’s low pay.

According to its website, Kroger operates "nearly 2,800 stores in 35 states under two dozen banners and annual sales of more than $132.5 billion, Kroger today ranks as one of the worlds largest retailers."

Page 6 of the memo notes that Kroger employees suffered from low wages:

And notes that the percentage of Kroger employees on government assistance (SNAP or WIC) was increasing while the percentage of non-Kroger Americans on governmental assistance was actually decreasing.

PerfectUnion notes that this level of poverty among employees contrasts starkly with the pay of Kroger's CEO:

[Kroger is projected to make $4 billion in profits in 2021]... CEO Rodney McMullen made $22 million in 2020, more than 900 times as much as the median worker. Kroger has one of the largest CEO-worker pay gaps of any major U.S. company.

The memo also included quotes from Kroger employees:

Kroger's long-time poor pay for employees has resulted in a strike of employees, increasing insecurity during a time of critical shortages:

On Wednesday, about 8,700 employees of the Kroger-owned King Soopers grocery chain in Colorado launched a three-week strike to demand better wages and benefits.
The company’s “last, best, and final” contract offer to UFCW Local 7, the union representing the workers in Colorado, included a starting wage of $16 an hour, just 13 cents above the minimum wage in Denver.

It is absurd for a company to be paying employees such low wages that they require government assistance to eat. Such policies, especially for profitable companies, represent failures of governance and business.

Kroger's behavior is certainly profit-driven, but it is also anti-capitalist. When you hear about socialism in America don't think about a UC Berkeley student; rather, envision Kroger—a multi-billion dollar corporation with hundreds of thousands of employees—making a business decision to depend on the US Government to cover the gaps in its payroll rather than pay employees a living wage.

While Kroger's behavior here is egregious, this kind of behavior is not unique to them; for example, Alabama's minimum wage is so low that someone working 2,080 hours (every weekday for a year, with no holidays) at minimum wage would have so low an annual income as to qualify for SNAP in Alabama. This is true for many states that have a minimum wage at the federal minimum of $7.25 an hour.

Tesla's Showroom:

Elon Musk: Tesla criticised after opening Xinjiang showroom
The world’s most valuable car maker opened the new showroom in the city of Urumqi on New Year’s Eve.

BBC reported this week on Tesla's new showroom:

Electric car maker Tesla has been criticised in the US after opening a showroom in China's controversial Xinjiang region.

Xinjiang is a region in the Northwest of China, where China is currently engaged in genocide of the ethnic Uyghur population. I've written in a previous WYSK on the torture of Uyghurs, and lobbying conducted by Western companies on bills addressing forced labor in Xinjiang.

By opening a showroom in Xinjiang, Tesla is showing tacit approval of Beijing's campaigns in Xinjiang. This is of course immoral, anti-American, and likely to be a smart business decision for Tesla.

As the BBC article notes Western companies that have criticized—even mildly—Beijing's actions in Xinjiang have rapidly bowed to Chinese pressure and issued apologies for their statements. Tesla does a lot of business in China, and its Shanghai factory produces more than its Fremont California factory. As the NY Times notes:

"...the Chinese government has embraced Tesla with open arms. It has offered Mr. Musk’s company cheap land, loans, tax benefits and subsidies. It even allowed Tesla to run its own plant without a local partner, a first for a foreign automaker in China."

By showing support for Beijing's (criminal and immoral) policies, Tesla is likely to experience greater freedom and support from Beijing. In contrast, America is unlikely to take any actions that will result in a business impact to Tesla, despite significant outrage.

In response, Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida tweeted:

Right after President Biden signed Sen. Rubio’s Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act into law, @Tesla opened a store in #Xinjiang. Nationless corporations are helping the Chinese Communist Party cover up genocide and slave labor in the region.

Industry leaders also spoke out:

Scott Paul, the president of the Alliance of American Manufacturing industry body, said: "I'll be blunt: Any company doing business in Xinjiang is complicit in the cultural genocide taking place there. But Tesla's actions are especially despicable."

At the end of 2021 the US passed a law that provides some response to Beijing's actions in Xinjiang. H.R. 6256 "...imposes importation limits on goods produced using forced labor in China, especially the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region, and imposes sanctions related to such forced labor."

Unfortunately this law is not a very strong response to genocide, and the significance of the law is further weakened by an 'American' company like Tesla expanding in Xinjiang.

Actions of US congressmembers have also eroded the credibility of this bill.

Kentucky Rep. Thomas Massie was the sole vote against the The Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act.—this is in line with his consistent stance that 'the US should not meddle in other countries' internal affairs.'

Massie's stance is sickly and inane, as it fails to draw a line between the legitimate internal functions of a state (which has an arguable definition but should not be interfered with), and gross crimes against humanity like genocide (under administrations of both main political parties the US government has consistently classed Beijing's behavior as genocide).

Opensource Deletions:

Open source developer corrupts his own files, impacting millions
Marak Squires had previously posted on GitHub that he no longer wanted to support Fortune 500 companies with his free open source work.

A weird and dysfunctional story this week centering around open source drama. Marak Squires is a developer in New York who had written some "open source" projects that were heavily used by individual developers as well as large organizations.

Opensource.com defines open source software as "software with source code that anyone can inspect, modify, and enhance." It is provided for free and can be (in most cases) used by anyone for any purpose.

In 2020 Marak announced that he would not provide free labor for large corporations, but continued to update his code repositories. Until January of 2022, that is.

This week Marak replaced his functional code on Github (a Microsoft-owned website that hosts code and uses the software version control software "git") with code that printed gibberish rather than provide the expected output.

Github (and also npm, but npm is owned by Github as of 2020) immediately suspended his account and reverted his changes, preventing him from accessing any of his public and private projects.

It's an interesting situation: Marak released his code under a public license so that anyone could use his code, and everyone who used his tools did so purely through their own choice and had no agreement with him to provide a requirement or expectation of the quality of his code.

But when he changed them in a way that that users did not like they raised such an uproar that Github revoked his access to all of his own projects.

While what Marak did wasn't a good thing, it is bizarre that there was such a universal expectation of access to his code that Github locked him out of access to his systems, and the software world generally appears to consider their actions good and just.

While what Marak did wasn't a good thing, it is bizarre that there was such a universal expectation of access to his code that Github locked him out of access to his systems, and the software world generally appears to consider their actions good and just.

This perspective that open source developers are of low impact in the tech ecosystem can also be seen in a recent White House meeting reported on by The Verge:

The White House will meet with leaders of major tech companies including Apple, Google, Amazon, Meta, IBM, and Microsoft on Thursday to discuss the security of open-source software. The issue has become urgent in the wake of the extremely serious Log4j vulnerability, discovered in December 2021.

According to CNN, White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan described open source software as "a key national security concern" because it is maintained by volunteers.

It is odd for tech giants to be invited to discuss open source when they aren't the key players in that space. According to GitHub's Chief Security Officer "Open source software underpins the vast majority of the software we all use daily." Yes tech giants have produced valuable open source tooling, but the primary developers of open source software are individuals and small foundations.

Civil War?

This is not how civil wars start
Extremism experts don’t get America’s hinterland

James Pogue writes a very good article in UnHerd about division in America, and the breathless reporting on that division. He notes that America's boom industry of "extremism-watchers" has monopolized the narratives around division in America:

...What’s interesting about [Barbara Walters' book How Civil Wars Start: And How to Stop Them] is that it shows that something has gone deeply wrong with the systems of information that many Americans use to learn about their country.

The sharp downturn in local news sources has been lamented scientifically and anecdotally broadly, and Pogue observes that loss does not merely impact local communities, but also reduces the available information sources for the rest of the country:

...There is no incentive at all to feed America’s policymakers and media narrative-shapers information that doesn’t alarm them, or that would give them a complex moral picture of America’s radical fringe, which is overwhelmingly a rural phenomenon. Even if our urban thought leaders wanted to get a fair sense of what was going on in their restive hinterland, how could they get good information?

Pogue uses some anecdotes from his experience moving to a more rural community to note that the headline narratives simplify the actual concerns/issues driving division in America, and that simplification contributes to additional problems:

I happen to think that there’s a lot of white identity involved in the fringe politics of the county that I live in. But it’s not the organising force, and it would be dangerously naive to think that it was.

These narratives aren't just harmless ways to sell more advertisements:

...analyses like Walter’s can become self-fulfilling. The paper here has mostly stopped reporting local news, and so many experts and officials have no way of knowing what’s going on — all they have are national narratives about Trump and demographic change that don’t actually explain the particular circumstances of the county.

WarOnTheRocks also released an article addressing this same issue, but from a slightly different approach; it is a Ph.D-heavy essay, and written more for a more "military-industrial complex" kind of audience. While it focuses on political violence, it discourages the term "civil war" and has some similar takeaways to Pogue's essay:

Democracy in the United States is at its most perilous moment in a hundred years, and analysts, journalists, and scholars should be clear-eyed about the forces that threaten the country. When they do so, however, they should avoid doing so by asking whether the United States is on the brink of a civil war and should instead ask who is in danger of what from whom. This might make for a poor tagline, but it is a more whole assessment of the threats the United States actually faces. The stakes are too high for Americans to be anything less than precise.

Interest piqued? Disagree? Reach out to me at TwelveTablesBlog [at] protonmail.com with your thoughts.

Photo by Tamara Gak on Unsplash