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TPP Trickery

01.22.15

TPP Trickery

So-called “free trade” deals have a long history associated with the tricky ways they have been sold to the American public. The very term “free trade” itself is word trickery. They are not really free at all.

First of all, they have a cost in terms of American jobs, damage to our environment, undermining our democratic form of government, income inequality effects and much more. Secondly, they still manage trade but in a very complex and opaque way. They tend to very, very long complicated agreements. They manage trade often in ways that reward certain corporation and punish others.

If they really were designed to benefit the general public in the nations involved, they would be publicly negotiated with full input from all the stakeholders to the agreement. This means labor leaders, consumer advocates, small businesspersons, family farmers, food safety advocates, health care experts, environmentalists and average taxpayers would be fully involved from the beginning of the processes in every such trade deal. They are not! Only government officials (mostly from Wall Street) and representatives of large international corporations are involved in drafting these so-called “free trade” deals.

The American people have been promised huge benefits from every deal passed for decades. None of those deals produced the promised benefits in terms of jobs or impacts on our trade deficits. Environmental and labor protection provisions promised were largely ignored in reality. Our manufacturing base and our middle class has been devastated by those so-called Free trade” deals.

Decades of broken so-called “free trade” deals leaves the American public highly distrustful of even more deals with non-specific lofty promises. Where are the specific terms in advance of our support of a fast track process?

The way they are negotiated and passed are inherently dishonest. These deals are really treaties between national governments but are never passed by congress on that legal basis. Treaties are required to be passed by votes much larger than simple one vote majorities. Because these deals are not supported by large majorities of the American public, they are not called treaties when presented to Congress for passage. If the treaties were in reality highly beneficial to most Americans, they would command massive public support and could be passed into law as treaties.

The TPP is no exception to the above general statements on so-called “free trade” deals. In fact, it is much worse. The very name Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) is kind of dishonest. Real partnerships are not formed in secret. They are not negotiated in secret from the parties involved. This one has been done so. The citizens of the nations involved are the real parties involved. The government officials are only acting as our agents. As our agents, they should be telling us everything about this proposed deal as the negotiations proceed. Instead, the process has been secret.

This writer calls the TPP by a more honest name. It is in reality the Trans Pacific Pact and has nothing to do with a partnership of the citizenry of the nations involved. Secret negotiators from the corporate world cannot enter me into a partnership agreement that I do not know the terms of and that I cannot through my elected representatives modify the terms.

This TPP pact is falsely named and completely anti-democratic from top to bottom. We cannot let it be fast-tracked into passage. The fast track process means we have no say through our elected representatives in Congress to modify the secret terms negotiated. We cannot even fully know what those terms are in advance of granting fast track authorization.

Nobody in their right mind would agree to this kind of business contact in their personal finances. Why is it acceptable in our government? The answer is that it is not acceptable. These so-called “free trade” deals are contracts that bind us as American citizens to bear the costs in terms of jobs, and in the case of the TPP, as taxpayers from lawsuits by international corporations. The TPP will primarily benefit international corporations and the global financial elite at our expense.

As a nation, we need a full say in the passage or rejection of the TPP through our democratic election process in the 2016 elections after the complete text of the deal has been made public.

Written by Stephen Crockett :

(Stephen Crockett is the founder & former Host of Democratic Talk Radio www.DemocraticTalkRadio, a small business owner, College Marketing. com www.CollegeMarketing.com, and Editor, Mid-Atlantic Labor. com www.midatlanticlabor.com. He can be reached by email at demlabor@aol.com.)

Voters not Congress should decide TPP trade pact

01.11.15

Voters not Congress should decide TPP trade pact

We need to slow the TPP (Trans Pacific Pact) approval process down until after the 2016 elections. After the final full terms are made public, the voters should decide this issue using our democratic electoral processes. We need this to be a campaign issue in the Senate, House and Presidential elections. It will increase voter turnout (which is good for American democracy) and give the decision real legitimacy.

There are many stakeholders in this deal. Large international corporations, domestic corporations, small businesses, American workers, farmers, consumers, citizens who care about the environment, those with intellectual property, citizens concerned with food safety, those concerned with preserving control of our economy as expressed via our democratic elections, taxpayers and many more elements of our society are stakeholders. Most of these stakeholders have been largely left out of the secretive process of drafting the TPP trade pact.

It seems that large international corporations were the only stakeholders who had a major role in the drafting the trade deal. There is no way that fast tracking approval of the TPP (Trans Pacific Pact) should be under serious consideration. Fast tracking this trade deal is being pushed by those who are politically under the control of large corporate interests.

Regardless of which political party controls the US House of Representatives, the Senate or the White House, they should defer to the will of the American people on an issue as important as the TPP (Trans Pacific Pact) because the deal impacts the role of our democratically controlled government in our economy and many other parts of our economic future. The TPP (Trans Pacific Pact) is widely seen as a massive international power grab based on the leaks pushed in the press from these secretive negotiations.

Few Americans have a deep understanding of the TPP (Trans Pacific Pact) terms. This includes most members of the House of Representatives and the US Senate.

Our corporate controlled press has not given the TPP (Trans Pacific Pact) the kind of serious, extensive reporting that previous trade deals like NAFTA (North American Free Trade Agreement) received. The public has not been effectively informed on the terms of the deal. There has not been enough time for stakeholders to examine the potential impacts of the terms on the American nation.

American democracy has not been served. American democracy has been ignored. Obviously, the will of the American people should have the final say on the fate of the TPP (Trans Pacific Pact).
We need a long, vigorous public debate and a full election cycle in 2016 fought in part on this issue so the American people can be heard before TPP (Trans Pacific Pact) approval decision by a newly elected Congress and President.

Written by Stephen Crockett -

(Stephen Crockett is the founder & former Host of Democratic Talk Radio www.DemocraticTalkRadio.com, a small business owner, College Marketing.com www.CollegeMarketing.com, and Editor, Mid-Atlantic Labor.com www.midatlanticlabor.com. He can be reached by email at demlabor@aol.com.)

Related articles:

Why the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement Is a Pending Disaster (by Robert Reich)
www.huffingtonpost.com/robert-reich/why-the-transpacific-part_b_6422088.html

Bernie Sanders’ Brutal Letter On Obama’s Trade Pact Foreshadows 2016 Democratic Clash (by Zach Carter)
www.huffingtonpost.com/2015/01/05/bernie-sanders-michael-froman-tpp_n_6419874.html

Democrats Slam Obama Over Secretive Trade Deals, Say He Needs Economics ‘Refresher’ (by Dana Liebelson and Jennifer Bendery)
www.huffingtonpost.com/2015/01/08/trade-deal_n_6438288.html

Mitch McConnell Pledges Fast Action For Secretive Trade Deals (by Michael McAuliff)
www.huffingtonpost.com/2015/01/07/mcconnell-fast-track_n_6432118.html

Will Fast-Track/TPP Warnings Reach The Public? It’s Up To You.
(by Dave Johnson)
ourfuture.org/20150107/will-fast-tracktpp-warnings-reach-the-public-its-up-to-you

Obama’s Covert Trade Deal (by Lori Wallach and Ben Beachy)
www.nytimes.com/2013/06/03/opinion/obamas-covert-trade-deal.html?_r=0

Democrats Step Up Efforts to Block Obama’s Trade Agenda (by Julie Hirschfeld Davis)
www.nytimes.com/2015/01/09/business/democrats-step-up-efforts-to-block-obama-on-trade-promotion-authority.html

Bernie Sanders Slams The Trans-Pacific Partnership As A Disaster For Workers (by Jason Easley)
www.politicususa.com/2014/12/29/bernie-sanders-trans-pacific-partnership-disaster-workers.html

Tell Congress to Vote NO on TPP and Fast Track Authority for Trade Deals (Farm-to-Consumer Legal Defense Fund)
www.farmtoconsumer.org/news_wp/?p=17355

National Survey on Fast-Track Authority for TPP Trade Pact
fasttrackpoll.info/docs/Fast-Track-Survey_Memo.pdf

The Veterans Administration Medical Treatment Scandal

05.18.14

The Veterans Administration Medical Treatment Scandal

There is plenty of blame to go around concerning the massive failures of the healthcare system in the Veterans Administration. Both the media and politicians are focusing on administrative failures at the top and calling for the resignation of the retired General who heads the federal agency like that will fix the problems.

It will not.

Obviously, the decisions to create secret wait lists to hide are horrible. There is no excuse for creating them and putting the lives of our brave veterans in danger. Those who are responsible for creating them should be fired and in some cases prosecuted for criminal activity if their actions are determined to be crimes. Just as obviously, those actions were not ordered by the head of the federal agency who is a veteran himself. They were unauthorized decisions made at the local level and hidden from the top leadership of the agency.

Everyone needs to focus on the guilty parties who made the actual bad decisions to create the secret wait lists first and foremost. However, there are other parties who did help contribute greatly to this horrible situation.

The lack of resources arising from insufficient funding of veterans healthcare comes mostly from political decisions made by members of the United States Senate and the House of Representatives. If your members of Congress voted in recent years against increasing the funding of veteran healthcare to meet the greatly increased need created by the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, they deserve much of the blame for this scandalous situation.

Many of those members of Congress calling for the resignation of the agency head are guilty of voting against adequate funding for veterans healthcare. They are partially responsible for the deaths of veterans who did not get medical treatment fast enough to save their lives. It is just as reasonable to call for their resignations as it is to call for the resignation of the agency head if not more so. The agency head can only call for increased funding. It is up to Congress to vote for the authorization of that funding.
The voters may yet fire those members of Congress who have been voting against veterans’ benefits including healthcare in the next few election cycles.

The largest systematic reform needed is greatly increased funding of veterans healthcare!

The poor execution of those two wars under the Bush Administration plays a significant role. Our soldiers should have been provided with body armor and better protected military vehicles much sooner. This would have reduced the demand side of the veterans’ healthcare economic equation.

An even more important factor in creating the current bad situation was the launching of the Iraq War based on lies. All those Bush Administration officials and their neocon allies who lied us into that needless war on false pretenses are responsible for the injuries to our veterans that are taxing our veterans healthcare system.

None of these politicians who have involved us in reckless and unjustified wars have ever been held adequately responsible for the massive damage they have done to our government finances, international standing, military readiness or the health of our veterans. The lives and health of our soldiers should be valued by the political and economic ruling class over their political power or financial profit. We need to go to war only when we have to and then wisely!

After conflicts are over, we need to fully fund the healthcare and medical needs of our veterans forever even if that means making the political and economic elite pay more in taxes.

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Written by Stephen Crockett (small business owner, union activist, talk radio host).
He can be reached by email at demlabor@aol.com, by phone at 443-907-2367 or mail at 7 Planville Drive #1, Fayetteville, Tennessee 37334.

Tennessee Republicans are Anti-Business and Anti-Union

02.17.14

Tennessee Republicans are Anti-Business and Anti-Union

The VW worker unionization vote was the dirtiest union election of the 21st Century and all the dirty tactics were coming from outside anti-union political forces. Without the intimidation and lies of elected Tennessee Republicans along with billionaire financed national Right Wing groups, the union would have won the union representation vote.
Outside groups financed by extremist Right Wing billionaires put up emotionally charged smear campaign billboards blaming the United Auto Workers (UAW) for the decline of the automobile industry in Detroit. These are false charges. Labor costs in total are a very tiny portion of the cost of cars and trucks.

The truth is that trade policy and poor management decisions concerning the types of vehicles built are mostly responsible for the long-term problems and the decline of Detroit.

The most recent crisis that required the bailout of General Motors and Chrysler was the direct result of the collapse of Wall Street and the biggest banks. Sales collapsed because the financing of new car purchases collapsed. Unions certainly played no role in the creation of this crisis. Unions did play a huge role in saving both companies. If either failed, it would have taken Ford down with it since the auto parts suppliers to all companies would have gone out of business. The entire American economy would have gone into another Great Depression. The Wall Street/banking crisis was caused by poor regulation of that industry and abuses by Wall Street/banking insiders. Who pushed thru the deregulation of Wall Street and the banking industry? The answer is mostly Republican politicians and Right Wing billionaire financed organizations like those putting up the anti-union, smear billboards in Chattanooga to defeat the VW unionization vote.

The same Right Wing billionaire groups and Republican politicians (along with some corporatist elected Democrats) largely pushed thru the bad trade policy that created the serious decline of Detroit and the relative decline of the Big Three American automakers.

The irony that those forces who ideas and actions who undermined the American auto industry were blaming the industry’s unionized workers was completely lost on the Tennessee and national media. Nobody seemed to be covering this situation at all. They still are not discussing it.

Another barely covered aspect of the situation is that Republican officeholders used the power of their offices to interfere in this election. The only parties who should have been involved were the workers and the company. VW actually seemed to want the workers to join the UAW. VW has very good relationships with their workers all over the world. They wanted to bring their Worker Council model to the United States to help all American companies and workers establish better cooperation in all workplaces. The UAW was very supportive. The Worker Council model is a huge success and has VW become the international success story that it is.

The Worker Council models, like traditional unions, bring an element of democracy into the workplace. Those forces opposing it are also behind voter suppression laws and actions all over America in our elections to government offices. Their efforts and tactics mirror their actions in these other arenas. They are not friends of democracy in America in government or the economy.

Elected Republicans in Tennessee wanted this model defeated because they profit in terms of campaign donations by the bad worker-employer labor relations situation in the United States. These Republican politicians saw that good labor relations might be good for the nation but would be very bad for them. They went to war with both VW and the UAW just to retain their political power in Tennessee and nationally.

They threatened to pull tax breaks to the manufacturing plant if the workers voted in the union. This was extremely anti-business! The Tennessee politicians and the state government had no business getting involved in this unionization vote. Their actions were completely corrupt and should have been illegal. Governor Haslam and Senator Corker would be facing jail time in a more just society. Their actions are certainly abuses of power not unlike those of the Governor Christie political machine in New Jersey in my opinion. Of course, we are not seeing the media make the same kind of comparison. Threatening tax breaks already granted for blatantly politically partisan reasons certainly seems to need federal investigation by the US Department of Justice.

Statements by Senator Corker about the future product lines from VW seem to be outright lies. They were directly denied by company spokespersons. He claimed that a vote for the union would result in new models going to other plants and seemingly that his information came from top VW management sources. He has not said who those sources are.

It appears those lies and the threats worked on just enough workers to defeat the unionization vote this time. If the media had fully explored the situation and explained the tactics, the outcome would have been very different in my opinion. I hope they will at least get it right after the fact but I believe their class based bias against unions makes that less than certain.

I do hope the federal governments does investigate and prosecute the Republican officeholders who abused their offices to thwart a free and fair unionization vote at the VW plant in Chattanooga.

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Written by Stephen Crockett (Editor of Mid-Atlantic Labor.com)

He is a business owner (College Marketing.com, talk show host (Democratic Talk Radio) and union activist. He can be reached by cell phone at 443-907-2367 or email at demlabor@aol.com.

Can Unions Prevent Austerity from Killing Off the Middle Class?

06.10.13

By GREGORY N. HEIRES

www.thenewcrossroads.com
http://www.thenewcrossroads.com/2013/06/09/can-unions-prevent-austerity-from-killing-off-the-middle-class/

The AFL-CIO promises a wide-ranging and open discussion about the future of the labor movement at its convention in September.
With private-sector union representation approaching 5 percent of the labor force and public employee unions targeted by right-wing governors, the timing couldn’t be better.

Indeed, nowadays some union watchers are pronouncing the labor movement dead. Last year, union membership dropped by 400,000.
Will the convention truly mark the beginning of a turnaround for the labor federation? Let’s hope so.

“We’re going to open up our arms to people who want to join our movement,” said AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka, in an interview with C-SPAN earlier this year, pledging a new direction for labor. “Instead of saying to our community partners and the civil rights movement or the Latino movement, ‘That’s your issue and this is my issue,’ they’re going to be our issues, and we’re going to work together.”

To prepare for the September convention, the AFL-CIO has set up committees of rank-and-file members, academics, and representatives of African-American, Latino and religious organizations to chart a new course for labor.

On the AFL-CIO’s website, a rich discussion is taking place about key questions facing the labor movement: mobilization strategies, the inequality gap, community outreach, the use of social media tools, shaping the country’s political debate and building a more broad, diverse and inclusive labor movement.

Tucked away in the 2013 convention section of the website is an interesting 73-page white paper on the AFL-CIO’s economic agenda, “Prosperity Economics: Building an Economy for All.”

The paper attacks “austerity economics”–the conservative economic doctrine behind the decades-long attack on unions, working people and government–while offering a progressive alternative it calls “prosperity economics” to spark a union revival and lift the poor and middle class out of their economic malaise. The authors are Jacob S. Hacker, a political science professor at Yale University and author with Paul Pierson of the penetrating book “Winner-Take-All Politics: How Washington Made the Rich Richer—And Turned its Back on the Middle Class,” and Nate Loewentheil, a third-year Yale Law School student and editor of the 2008 book “Thinking Big: Progressive Ideas for a New Era.”

If the September convention lives up to the spirit of today’s internal debate and AFL-CIO pursues policies recommended by the white paper, it stands to be the most significant convention since the 1995, when John J. Sweeny and his backers ousted the old guard Cold War warriors.

The white paper’s first section does an excellent job of explaining the assumptions austerity economics. Its assumptions have provided the ideological justification for policies and practices that are wiping out the gains of the middle class since the New Deal more than half a century ago.

Unfortunately, millions of Americans have embraced and internalized free- market principles and meritocracy, which have allowed us to fall for anti-worker economic and political policies, which intensified during the Reagan presidency. Hence, you have millions of people voting against their economic interest.

Austerity: Economic snake oil

Austerity economics, Hacker and Loewentheil explain, is built around five myths:

• spending and deficits are our number one problem

• cutting taxes on the rich spurs prosperity

• inequality is not a problem because social mobility is high

• markets are smart, governments are dumb, and

• those at the top are the ones who create wealth and are alone responsible for their good fortune.

The assumptions collapse on their face when you look at the facts.

For years, “austerians” have used deficit hysteria to stir up opposition to “big government” and to create a bogus fear that it’s inevitable that our economy will collapse because of too generous entitlements.

But even with the increase in military spending, the costly Medicare prescription drug benefit and the massive tax cuts during the Bush administration, the deficit on average was only 1.5 percent of the GDP until the loss of revenue and stimulus that followed the economic crash of 2008. So, the ballooning of the deficit was a symptom of the bad economy rather than runaway government spending, Hacker and Loewentheil say. If anything, the government spent too little to try to stimulate the economy.

Far from spurring prosperity, the Bush tax cuts actually were followed by anemic economic growth. The richest Americans profited while the typical household ended the aughts with less income than at the beginning of the new century. The 2000s were a lost decade for most Americans.

Conservatives don’t believe inequality is problem because, they say, social mobility is high in the United States. Actually, social mobility has stagnated as inequality has risen, and the United Stated ranks lowest in terms of inequality and social mobility among rich countries.

The free-market bias of austerity economics ignores the important role government plays in supporting economic activity. It’s government—not the private sector—that has supported public education, highways, electrical grids, the Internet and scientific research.
Finally, the argument that the rich deserve their economic rewards because they are responsible for producing their wealth ignores how public policies, such as tax cuts, have helped them. As unions have declined, the wealthy have steadily accumulated a greater share of the economic pie.

“Over the last generation, the productivity of American workers—output per hour of work—grew substantially,” Hacker and Loewentheil write. “Yet, in a sharp break with the past, wages for most workers stopped rising in tandem with productivity. The gains of economic growth instead accrued disproportionately to affluent Americans.”

Between 1973 and 2011, median compensation was 10.7 percent while productivity grew by 80.4 percent, according to the Economic Policy Institute. Perhaps more than any figure, this one captures what’s wrong with our society.

Building an Economy for All

So, what is labor’s vision of a more people-friendly economic agenda? The central idea is that prosperity is a product of all of us. The role of government is to prevent the concentration of economic and political power while promoting prosperity and our social health, guaranteeing economic security and regulating the market.

Prosperity economics rests on three pillars:

• innovation-led economic growth, grounded in job creation, public investment and board opportunity

• security for workers and their families, for the environment and for public finances, and

• a vibrant democracy.

The most immediate task is job creation.

More than 12 million Americans are out of work. Millions more are stuck in part-time jobs or have given up. The employment deficit has cost us $3.6 trillion in lost productivity since the beginning of the recession, according to the Congressional Budget Office.

The authors call for a six-year, $250 billion jobs program. Other pro-growth steps include expanding government investment in research and development, reviving the manufacturing sector, pressing the Federal Reserve Bank to encourage growth and job creation by allowing inflation to increase modestly, immigration reform, increasing the minimum wage and investing more in education.
The decline of private-sector workplace benefits—health coverage and pensions—has created a looming retirement crisis, which can be addressed by strengthening and expanding Social Security and Medicare. Providing workers with paid family and sick leave, as well as affordable child care and flexible work schedules would ensure that the younger generations have greater economic security. Underwater homeowners should be encouraged to restructure their mortgages.

To protect the environment, government should put a price on carbon emissions, promote clean forms of energy technologies and promote sustainable technologies.

Prosperity economics would turn the conservative dogma on taxes on its head. It rejects that trickle-down theory, which argues that tax cuts lead to economic growth. Instead, increased revenues would be used to stimulate the economy. A more progressive tax structure would address income inequality. The Bush tax cuts would be scrapped, and capital and labor income should be taxed at the same rate.

Hacker and Loewenthiel back the AFL-CIO’s political agenda of winning federal legislation to make it easier for unions to organize. Unfortunately, they did not dig more deeply into the issue to suggest how unions can change their internal structure and culture to allow for a dramatic shifting of their resources into organizing.

Arguably, organizing is the greatest challenge facing labor—greater even than the right-wing assault on unions. The 1 percent will continue to succeed in its campaign to wipe out the middle class unless AFL-CIO unions organize more aggressively. Barring that, our only hope will be that independent labor groups fill the vacuum. Otherwise, we’re doomed.

Democracy and Prosperity

An interesting theme underlying the AFL-CIO report—one too often overlooked in blueprints for economic reform–is its recognition that a turnaround of the economy cannot occur without strengthening our democracy.

“A strong, open, participatory democracy is the bedrock of a strong, open and dynamic economy,” Hacker and Loewenthiel write. Pulitzer Prize winning economist Joseph Stiglitz similarly makes a connection between a more fair economy and democracy. He describes how inequality and economic concentration erode not only our democratic institutions but also our commitment to democracy itself.

We tend to regard unions as “bread and butter” institutions focused on collective bargaining and achieving wage gains for their members. In reality, of course, they are vital actors in our political system, though far less powerful than their enemies claim. Apart from government, the union is the only institution able to challenge effectively the notion that our democracy ends at the factory gate.

Unions need to be strengthened to force corporations to be more accountable and to curb their excesses. Working with shareholder groups, community organizations, and pension funds, unions can fight for improvements in labor practices, push for pay-for-performance through greater transparency and disclosure requirements, and demand curbs on obscene executive compensation packages.

In his book “Winner-Take-All Politics,” Hacker argued that the corporate interests and the economic elite have over the years seized control of government institutions and the electoral process. So, “shared prosperity” can’t happen without fundamental reform. These reforms include strengthening consumer protections; enacting a national public financing law for elections; creating a national voting day; blocking disenfranchisement efforts; eliminating the 60-vote filibuster barrier to passing legislation; improving regulations on credit cards and predatory lending; replacing 401(k)s with a mandatory public-private retirement plan; placing restrictions on lobbying; reinstating the firewall between investment banking and commercial banking; strengthening community banks, and granting greater bankruptcy protection to students with college debts and homeowners with unmanageable mortgages.

“Prosperity Economics” offers a refreshing blueprint for a way out of our economic malaise, sharpening class differences and broken democracy. Is there hope? This agenda will require strengthening the loose left-leaning coalition—youths, unions, liberal churches, women, blacks, Latinos and progressive whites—that backed Obama.

The Occupy movement, the striking fast-food workers and the budding rebellion at Wal-Mart are signs of hope. Add a more militant trade union movement to the mix, we might soon witness the emergence of a lasting coalition that will finally put an end to austerity.

Mitch McConnell’s ‘Whack-a-Mole’ Dirty Politics Campaign

04.11.13

by Walter Brasch

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) was mad. Not the kind of mad you get when your favorite team blows a big lead and loses its eighth straight game, but Red-Faced-Exploding-Blood-Pressure Mad.

“This is what you get from the political Left in America,” McConnell bellowed to the media. “That is what the political Left does these days.”

McConnell’s campaign manager, Jesse Benton, added his opinion—“We’ve always said the Left would stop at nothing to attack Sen. McConnell.” They demanded the FBI launch a criminal investigation. The FBI response to the media was, “[W]e are looking into the matter.” Not long after, McConnell approved a campaign slogan, exhorting voters to “Stand with McConnell against the liberal media’s illegal and underhanded tactics.”

What McConnell and Benton were furious about was a leaked tape that revealed possible tactics they would use against movie star Ashley Judd if she were to oppose McConnell in the 2014 Senate race.

McConnell had no evidence there was any liberal plot or that the tape was the result of a bug deliberately planted in campaign headquarters, but tried to spin in circles to make people believe it was a liberal invasion of his soul.

David Corn of Mother Jones, which this week published a transcript of the tape that was made Feb. 2, said the tape was not the result of any bugging operation. It is entirely possible that the tape was made by someone in that room, not unlike the videotape of Mitt Romney who told a fundraising meeting of wealthy supporters that 47 percent of Americans were takers. However, unlike McConnell’s fury, Romney took the high road and tried to dance around his words rather than blame the liberals for leaking the tape that may have been the turning point in the campaign.

But the tactics of a five-term senator and his senior staff may be just as damaging to their campaign as the “47 percent tape” was to Romney’s. McConnell said he and his campaign should launch a “whack-a-mole” campaign—“when anybody sticks their head up, do them out.” In this case, McConnell’s team planned to attack Judd’s mental health, her political activism, her loyalty to President Obama, and that she is an “out of touch” Hollywood liberal.

“She’s clearly, this sounds extreme, but she is emotionally unbalanced,” said one of the staff, emphasizing the campaign could go after Judd for past bouts of depression that led to her being hospitalized. Laughter about her depression could be heard on the tape. Judd readily acknowledged that time in her life, even including it in her autobiography, All That is Bitter and Sweet.

A staff aide called Judd “critical . . . of traditional Christianity [and] anti-sort-of-traditional American family.” What the aide meant was that Judd opposes sexism in the Christian church, supports the Affordable Care Act, is pro-choice, believes in the rights of gays to marry, is an animal rights advocate who spoke against Sarah Palin’s campaign to eradicate wolves by shooting them in their dens, and opposes the use of coal and other fossil fuels to try to avoid climate change that could destroy the earth’s ozone layer.

McConnell and the staff also didn’t say that while McConnell has led the “Party of No” into blocking almost all major appointments and meaningful legislation, Judd is a recognized humanitarian who has worked vigorously to expose the wrongs committed against society’s most vulnerable. They also didn’t mention she is a Phi Beta Kappa honors graduate of the University of Kentucky, and earned a master’s in public administration from Harvard. They seemed more focused upon sliming her personal life and the fact her cell phone has a San Francisco area code.

In a subsequent story, Mother Jones revealed that some of the staff in the room when the recording was made, and that others who did the research about Judd, were Senate staffers. If they did the work on their own time, did not use any federal resources (including telephones and other communications devices), and did not do their work in any federal office they would not have violated the Senate’s own ethics standards. However, as Mother Jones reported, the three senior McConnell staffers they contacted “did not respond.”

Bound in a political black hole from which truth never escapes, McConnell and his staff launched a “scorch-earth” attack to divert the public from the facts on the leaked tape was the far greater sin than what was said.

Innumerable politicians, especially in the past decade, have proven that dirty politics has become the politics of choice. By attacking how the information was obtained and disseminated, unable to defend his own words and tactics, McConnell has made it obvious that truth and decency no longer have a place in either his campaign or his elected position.

[Dr. Brasch’s current book is Fracking Pennsylvania, an in-depth investigation of the controversial practice of hydraulic horizontal fracking. The book looks at the health, environmental, worker safety, and economic impact of fracking, and also discusses the collusion between politicians and Big Energy.]

The Politics behind the Killing of Americans

04.05.13

by Walter Brasch

Gov. Rick Perry (R-Texas) opposes the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA), and vows to block the expansion of Medicaid in his state. At a news conference this past week, Perry, flanked by conservative senators Ted Cruz and John Cornyn, declared “Texas will not be held hostage by the Obama administration’s attempt to force us into the fool’s errand of adding more than a million Texans to a broken system.” About one-fourth of all Texans do not have health care coverage.

According to an analysis by the Dallas Morning News, if Texas budgeted $15.6 billion over the next decade, it would receive more than $100 billion in federal Medicaid funds, allowing the state to cover about 1.5 million more residents, including about 400,000 children.
Texas isn’t the only state to politicize health care.

Gov. Rick Scott (R-Fla.) says that expanding Medicaid is the “right thing to do,” but the Republican-dominated state legislature doesn’t agree. Gov. John Kasich (R-Ohio) is having the same problem with his Republican legislature, although participation in Medicaid would save the state about $1.9 billion during the next decade. Gov. Jan Brewer (R-Ariz.), one of the nation’s most vigorous opponents of the ACA, surprisingly has spoken in favor of Medicaid expansion to benefit her state’s residents.

Gov. Bobby Jindal (R-La.) and the Republican legislature oppose implementing the ACA and Medicaid expansion. Jindal says the expansion would cost Louisiana about $1 billion during the next decade. However, data analysis by the state’s Department of Health and Hospitals reveals that if Louisiana accepted the federal program, which would benefit almost 600,000 residents, the state would actually save almost $400 million over the next decade. About one-fifth of all Louisianans lack health insurance.

Pennsylvania, by population, is a blue state, but it has a Republican governor, and both houses of the Legislature are Republican-controlled. Gov. Tom Corbett says he opposes an expansion of Medicaid because it is “financially unsustainable for Pennsylvania taxpayers” and would require a “large tax increase.” This would be the same governor who believes that extending a $1.65 billion corporate welfare check to the Royal Dutch Shell Corp., a foreign-owned company, is acceptable but protecting Pennsylvanians’ health is not.

Fifteen states, dominated by Republican governorships and legislatures, by declaring they won’t allow Medicaid expansion, are on record as placing political interests before the health of their citizens. Another 10 states are “considering” whether or not to implement additional health care coverage for their citizens. The Republican states, pretending they believe in cost containment, claim they oppose Medicaid expansion because of its cost, even though the entire cost for three years is borne by the federal government, the states would pay only 10 percent of the cost after that. The cost to the states would average only about 2.8 percent, according to the non-partisan Congressional Budget office.

If all states agreed to the ACA expansion of Medicaid, 17–21 million low-income individuals would receive better health care. Among those would be about 500,000 veterans who do not have health insurance and whose incomes are low enough to qualify for health care, according to research compiled by the Urban Institute. Veterans don’t automatically qualify for VA benefits. Even those who do qualify for VA assistance may not seek health care because they don’t live close to a VA medical facility, and can’t afford health care coverage closer to home. Spouses of veterans usually don’t qualify for VA benefits.

Under the ACA, Medicaid health care would cover persons whose incomes are no more than 138 percent above the federal poverty line. That would be individuals earning no more than $15,856 a year, only about $800 above minimum wage. Among those covered by Medicaid expansion would be women with breast and cervical cancer, and those with mental or substance abuse problems.

Because they have no health insurance, 6.5 to 40.6 percent of Americans, depending upon the county they live in, delay necessary medical treatment, according to research published in the New England Journal of Medicine. The 6.5 percent rate is for Norfolk, Mass.; the 40.6 percent rate is in Hidalgo, Texas. (Most of Pennsylvania falls in the 6.5–13.4 percent rate.) Texas and Florida have the highest rates of residents who delay getting proper medical care because of a lack of adequate insurance.

Low-income individuals who delay getting medical care because of the cost often develop further complications, some of them catastrophic. The medical bill that might be only a few hundred dollars, which would be covered if the recalcitrant states approved Medicaid expansion, could now become a bill in the thousands of hundreds of thousands of dollars. The hospitals would have to absorb those costs or force the patient into bankruptcy, which could impact dozens of other businesses. The Missouri Hospital Association reported if the state refused to accept Medicaid expansion, the state’s health care industry would be forced to accept more than $11 billion in uncompensated costs.

But, let’s assume that the medical condition isn’t catastrophic, but just serious. Low-wage employees, most of whom have limited sick leave, might be forced to come to work so as not to lose the limited income they already earn. If their illness is a cold or flu, or some other contagious illness, they could infect others, both employees and customers. A waitress, fry cook, or day laborer in the agricultural fields with no health insurance could cause massive problems.

Medical problems, such as rheumatoid arthritis, not treated early would also lead to a severe physical disability, forcing the employee into becoming unable to work even a minimum-wage job. This, of course, reduces both income that could be put into the local business economy and a corresponding decrease in amount of taxes paid. That would trigger disability payments, which could raise taxes for those who are not yet disabled.

Research conducted by the Harvard University School of Public Health, and published in the New England Journal of Medicine, concluded that expanding Medicaid coverage would result in a 6 percent reduction of deaths among adults 20 to 64 years old. According to that study, “Mortality reductions were greatest among older adults, nonwhites, and residents of poorer counties.” For Texas, according to the research, expansion of the Medicaid coverage would result in about 2,900 fewer deaths; for Florida, it would be about 2,200 fewer deaths; for Pennsylvania, it would result in about 1,500 fewer deaths.

But, the real reason Republicans may not want Medicaid expansion could be for the same reason they have been pushing oppressive Voter ID laws to correct a problem that doesn’t exist. Those who are most affected are those who generally are the low income wage earners and persons of color, most of whom—at least according to recent elections—don’t vote for Republicans.

[Dr. Brasch’s latest book is Fracking Pennsylvania, which looks at the health, environmental, geological, and economic impact of natural gas horizontal fracturing. He also investigates political collusion between the natural gas industry and politicians.]

You Can’t Wash Away Fracking’s Effects

02.21.13


by WALTER BRASCH

José Lara just wanted a job.

A company working in the natural gas fields needed a man to power wash wastewater tanks.
Clean off the debris. Make them shining again.

And so José Lara became a power washer for the Rain for Rent Co.

“The chemicals, the smell was so bad. Once I got out, I couldn’t stop throwing up. I couldn’t even talk,” Lara said in his deposition, translated from Spanish.

The company that had hired him didn’t provide him a respirator or protective clothing. That’s not unusual in the natural gas fields.

José Lara did his job until he no longer could work.

At the age of 42, he died from pancreatic and liver cancer.

Accidents, injuries, and health problems are not all that unusual in the booming natural gas industry that uses horizontal hydraulic fracturing, better known as fracking, to invade the earth in order to extract methane gas.

Of the 750 chemicals that can be used in the fracking process, more than 650 of them are toxic or carcinogens, according to a report filed with the U.S. House of Representatives in April 2011. Several public health studies reveal that homeowners living near fracked wells show higher levels of acute illnesses than homeowners living outside the “Sacrifice Zone,” as the energy industry calls it.

In addition to toxic chemicals and high volumes of water, the energy industry uses silica sand in the mixture it sends at high pressure deep into the earth to destroy the layers of rock. The National Institute for Occupational Health and Safety (NIOSH) issued a Hazard Alert about the effects of crystalline silica. According to NIOSH there are seven primary sources of exposure during the fracking process, all of which could contribute to workers getting silicosis, the result of silica entering lung tissue and causing inflammation and scarring. Excessive silica can also lead to kidney and autoimmune diseases, lung cancer, tuberculosis, and Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD). In the Alert, NIOSH pointed out that its studies revealed about 79 percent of all samples it took in five states exceeded acceptable health levels, with 31 percent of all samples exceeding acceptable health levels by 10 times. However, the Hazard Alert is only advisory; it carries no legal or regulatory authority.

In addition to the normal diesel emissions of trucks and trains, there are numerous incidents of leaks, some of several thousand gallons, much of which spills onto roadways and into creeks, from highway accidents of tractor-trailer trucks carrying wastewater and other chemicals.

The process of fracking requires constant truck travel to and from the wells, as many as 200 trips per day per well. Each day, interstate carriers transport about five million gallons of hazardous materials. Not included among the daily 800,000 shipments are the shipments by intrastate carriers, which don’t have to report their cargo deliveries to the Department of Transportation. “Millions of gallons of wastewater produced a day, buzzing down the road, and still nobody’s really keeping track,” Myron Arnowitt, the Pennsylvania state director for Clean Water Action, told AlterNet.

Drivers routinely work long weeks, have little time for rest, and hope they’ll make enough to get that house they want for their families.

But fatigue causes accidents. And contrary to industry claims, workers don’t always wear protective gear when around toxic chemicals they put into the earth, and the toxic chemicals they extract from the earth. Or the toxic chemicals they drive on public roads.

In the Great Recession, people become desperate for any kind of job. And the natural gas industry has responded with high-paying jobs. Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Corbett is ecstatic that a side benefit of destroying the environment and public health is an improvement in the economy and more jobs—even if most of the workers in Pennsylvania now sport license plates from Texas and Oklahoma.

The drivers, and most of the industry, are non-union or are hired as independent contractors with no benefits. The billion dollar corporations like it that way. It means there are no worker safety committees. No workplace regulations monitored by the workers. And if a worker complains about a safety or health violation, there’s no grievance procedure. Hire them fast. Fire them faster.

No matter how much propaganda the industry spills out about its safety record and how it cares about its workers, the reality is that working for a company that fracks the earth is about as risky as it gets for worker health and safety.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) issued Rain for Rent nine violations for exposing José Lara to hydrogen sulfide and not adequately protecting him from the effects of the cyanide-like gas.

It no longer matters to José Lara.

The effects from fracking should matter to every everyone else.

[Dr. Brasch is an award-winning journalist and professor emeritus of mass communications. His latest book is Fracking Pennsylvania, an in-depth analysis of the effects of fracking upon public health, the environment, worker safety, and agriculture. Dr. Brasch also investigates the history of energy policies in the U.S. and the relationships between the energy companies and politicians at local, state, and federal levels. The book is available at amazon.com, http://www.greeleyandstone.com, or local bookstores.]

America’s Uncivil Phone Manners

01.14.13

by WALTER BRASCH

Wednesday, I called the newsrooms of Pennsylvania’s two largest newspapers.

All I got were disembodied voices telling me no one was available and to leave a message.

It was 11 a.m., and I thought someone—anyone!—should have answered their phones. But, with publishers doing their best to “maximize profits” by cutting news coverage and reporters, I figured they either didn’t have anyone capable of answering a phone or figured no one would be calling with any news that day.

So I left a message. It was a routine question, specific for each newspaper and related to verifying information from their papers for a book I was completing.

I left another message the next day. I would have called individual assignment reporters, but unlike the websites of many smaller newspapers, the metros’ websites didn’t have that information. Apparently, they don’t want readers to know who does what at their newspapers.

Nevertheless, no one called back. I wasn’t important enough.

Calls and emails to an agent for an actor, who I was trying to get for a public service announcement for a national organization, a few weeks earlier weren’t returned. Nor were calls and emails to a national talk show host I was trying to secure for a paid speech to a different national non-profit organization.

Nor were several calls and emails to the producers of pretend-folksy “Ellen” ever returned. In that case, I had a “straight-A” student, who was a mass communications major with minors in marketing and dance. She was one of the best students I had ever taught. She wanted to be an intern. You know, the kind who don’t get pay or benefits but get experience. There were jobs available. It took several calls to others who were affiliated with the show just to find out the names of producers or contacts. But no one from the show returned any of my communications, whether by email, letter, or phone calls. Not even to say my advisee wouldn’t be considered.

Celebrities and their companies get thousands of emails and phone calls. To the average citizen that would be overwhelming. But, to corporations, especially those who deal with the public, there should be sufficient funds in an operation that makes millions a year to hire staff to respond to viewer communications.

Most of the smaller media take pride in returning phone calls or responding to letters from readers and viewers. But something must happen when reporters and producers move into the rarified atmosphere of large media.

It’s too bad. Big Media show arrogance to the people, and then spend countless hours wondering why the people don’t trust them.

Unfortunately, the loss of civility isn’t confined to those who are celebrities or part of the Big Media Morass.

A call to a company that installs home generators went to voice mail, and then wasn’t
returned. A call to an individual who advertises that he cleans out gutters and water spouts also wasn’t returned. A call to a university department was answered. The receptionist said the lady “isn’t around.”

“When will she be around?” I asked.

“Don’t know,” came the response.

“Do you think she’ll be available later today?”

“Maybe. You could call back.”

In many cases, the people are left with the belief that others just don’t care. Or, maybe they’re too busy. Or maybe they just forget. Or maybe they’re too busy texting and tweeting to have time to deal with people. Unless, of course, they think we’re at least as important as they are.

Then, they fall all over themselves to talk with us.

Even with these annoyances, most calls are answered; most times, I (and I would hope others) are treated with respect. Most times, receptionists and staff take extra time to try to solve problems.

Nevertheless, more and more we see a loss of civility by people and organizations that may think they’re just too important to deal with the people. For the large corporations and the celebrities that have multi-million dollar budgets, perhaps their PR and marketing efforts should first be focused on dealing with the people rather than splashing us with large-scale media campaigns to convince us that they matter. Failure to do so will leave us believing that they, not us, are the ones who don’t matter.

[Walter Brasch is an award-winning syndicated columnist, author, and former multimedia writer-producer and university professor. His latest book is Before the First Snow: Stories from the Revolution.]

Fiscal Chicken

12.27.12


by Walter Brasch

Talk show hosts and other bloviators have spent hours giving their versions of the fiscal cliff.

In fewer than 750 words, I’ll explain the truth.

Taxes and the deficit are intertwined. If Congress can’t come up with a plan to solve those problems, the U.S. will jump into the abyss of a deeper recession than existed under the latter years of the Bush–Cheney administration.

Let’s first look at taxes.

The Bush tax cuts expire at the end of this year. The idea of the cuts was to spur the economy and give what is loosely called the “jobs creators” a slight push to hire more people.

But, the millionaire “jobs creators” held onto their money. They continued to downsize and outsource jobs, making even more money—which they used to buy whatever trinkets that rich people spend money on.

If Congress can’t agree on tax rates, beginning Jan. 1, 2013, every American will see a restoration of tax rates to a level that is about what they were before the Bush tax cuts. The lower- and middle-classes will be hit harder than the upper class.

President Obama, contrary to what the screaming harpies of the extreme Rightwing claim, doesn’t want to raise taxes. He wants the tax cuts to continue for 98 percent of all Americans—the ones making less than $250,000 a year. He wants to restore—note that word, restore, not raise—the tax liability for the richest 2 percent of Americans. The rate to the rich would still be below the rates they paid during most of the latter half of the 20th century. Even billionaires like Bill Gates and Warren Buffet agree that the rich need to be paying more.

The Republicans, knowing where their financial base is, demand that the tax cuts be extended to everyone. Their compromise was to allow the cuts to apply to everyone making $1 million a year or less. That would be net income, not gross income. Millionaires could still make $3 million a year if they can scam $2 million in deductions. Their rates would still be lower than almost any time since the income tax was first created in 1913.

The President countered with a $400,000 limit. That would include about 99 percent of all Americans. House Speaker John Boehner, however, found that a segment of his Republican party don’t want a compromise; they are determined to uphold some kind of a non-legal pledge to Grover Norquist that there would be no tax increases—ever—even if it is to restore, not raise, tax rates.

The second part of the problem is that of entitlements. The Republicans are willing to do some horse-trading. They won’t continue to hold 99 percent of Americans hostage if there are cuts in “entitlements” and programs that would significantly reduce the deficit. These entitlements benefit mostly the 99 percent. The Republicans even say they’ll consider closing some tax loopholes used extensively by the upper class. But, they won’t tell us what those loopholes are, even though the President has several times asked for specifics. Apparently, the Republicans believe releasing such information is classified, much like battle plans in Afghanistan or the number of toilet paper rolls the Pentagon buys.

The President has already compromised several times, but every time he makes a concession, the Republicans want even more. He has proposed an orderly reduction of the deficit by $1.6 trillion. Not good enough, say the dogma-driven Republicans. They want even more. And they want it now. They are aware that if the tax cuts expire all at once, the deficit immediately decreases, something that makes them drool in ecstasy. However, almost every economist of every political persuasion says a severe decrease in the deficit would lead the U.S. into an even worse recession than the one created by the Bush–Cheney administration.

Behind a wall of political gesturing, the Republicans are doing nothing, while blocking those who can do something. John Boehner now acknowledges he is blocked by party dogma and can’t control the Republican majority in the House who want the government to several cut entitlements while continuing all Bush tax cuts, even to millionaires who, not surprisingly, make up the majority of Congress. Their actions are driving America into fiscal cliff suicide.

The obstructionists in Congress need to realize this isn’t a deserted two-lane highway, and Americans don’t want the Republicans playing chicken with our nest eggs.

[Walter Brasch, a social issues columnist, has covered politics and government for four decades. His latest book is Before the First Snow: Stories from the Revolution, which has a strong pro-union theme.]

Dissolving a Stain Applied by Henry Ford

12.09.12

by WALTER BRASCH

Mark Fields is the new chief operating officer of the Ford Motor Co., second only to the CEO of the 164,000 person multinational corporation.

Normally, this would not be of much concern except to avid readers of the Wall Street Journal. There were several COOs and presidents before Fields. There will be several after him.

But this time it’s different. Mark Fields is a Jew.

Henry Ford, who founded the company in 1903 that bears his family name, was an anti-Semite. When asked in 1920 what the problem with major league baseball was, Ford summed it up in three words—“too much Jew.” At the time, fewer than two dozen Jews had ever played professional baseball during the previous four decades. During the 1920s, Ford’s newspaper, the weekly Dearborn Independent, distributed to every Ford dealership, was loaded with anti-Semitic articles. Several of those articles were compiled into a four-volume set, The International Jew: The World’s Foremost Problem.

By the 1930s, Ford was both praised and honored by the Nazis, including Heinrich Himmler, head of the SS whose mission included the extermination of Jews. Adolph Hitler personally awarded Ford the Grand Cross of the German Eagle, that country’s highest award to a foreigner; Hitler personally kept a picture of the industrialist on his desk.

Ford, of course, wasn’t the only anti-Semite or racist in America. America’s colleges established admissions quotas or excluded minorities entirely. Medical schools admitted only a few Jews, and then only if they promised not to enter clinical practice but become psychiatrists. Apparently, they had to cede psychiatry to Jews because of the pioneering work by Freud, Adler, and other Jews. Jewish scientists—many like Einstein—were trained in European universities and then came to the United States during the wave of immigration between the world wars; they were “carefully watched” and often demeaned. Country clubs denied Jews access, villages denied them residence. And throughout the country, the resurgence of the Klan led to lynchings of Blacks and firebombing of synagogues.

Because of a higher proportion of Jews historically in the sciences, creative arts, social work, mass media, and financial empires than among the general population, a large number of Americans have isolated those professions and blamed Jews for whatever the current problem happens to be. A survey by the Anti-Defamation League in 2007 revealed that 15 percent of Americans held anti-Semitic views. More disguise their views by claiming they don’t oppose Jews, just urban liberals—a higher proportion of Jews live in urban areas than in rural areas, and Jews tend to be more liberal, and more active in social justice, than the general population.

During the late 1940s, Henry Ford II, the founder’s grandson, systematically decreased the company’s virulent anti-union attitudes and increased the company’s affirmative action program, promoting Jews, Afro-Americans, Hispanics, and women into management positions. Mervyn Manning, a Jew, became the first minority ever promoted to a Ford vice-presidency. He once recalled that at the time he was hired in the mid-1950s, the only Black in corporate headquarters was the shoeshine boy. Under Henry Ford II, the company approved and encouraged minorities to own Ford dealerships. But it was never enough.

My family, like hundreds of thousands of other Jewish families, never owned a Ford, nor had any plans to own a Ford, no matter the price, deals, or quality of product. There were other car lines produced by union workers whose bosses may have had attitudes against Jews and other minorities—GM and Chrysler’s affirmative action programs also lagged—but they weren’t as blatant in their Anti-Semitic hate as was the paternalistic creator of the Ford brand who had revolutionized the manufacturing process, paid his workers slightly better than industry averages, and established marketing as a central part to any corporation’s business plan.

Mark Fields was born in Brooklyn, and earned an economics degree from Rutgers and an MBA from Harvard. He began his career at Ford in 1989, and was fast-tracked into several executive positions. Shortly after his promotion to executive vice-president, Fields told an organization of Jewish business executives he “never encountered one iota of discrimination as a Jew during my career at Ford.” He will probably become the CEO within the next two years when the current CEO, Alan Mulally, retires.

It’s possible my family, and thousands of other families, may some day buy a Ford. The stain the company’s founder painted onto his product has faded. Perhaps when Mark Fields becomes CEO—and it’s no longer news that a minority has been promoted into executive management—it might be time to reconsider our decisions.

[Walter Brasch’s latest book is the critically acclaimed best-seller Before the First Snow: Stories from the Revolution, available at amazon.com, www.greeleyandstone.com, and brick-and-mortar bookstores.]

Discounting Lives to Maximize Profits

11.30.12


by WALTER BRASCH

Imitating Sgt. Schultz of “Hogan’s Heroes,” Walmart executives claimed they knew nothing—NOTHING—about working conditions in a garment factory in Bangladesh where 112 workers died and more than 150 were injured in a fire.

Tazreen Fashions made Walmart’s Faded Glory brand clothes, as well as clothes for Sears and other dozens of other major retailers. Walmart officials told the news media they had previously terminated Tazreen as a direct supplier because of concerns about fire hazards, but that another supplier had subcontracted the work to Tazreen. Walmart refused to identify the supplier. In an official statement, Walmart said that the fire was “extremely troubling to us, and we will continue to work with the apparel industry to improve fire safety education and training in Bangladesh.”

News reports indicate that survivors said fire extinguishers didn’t work, exit doors were locked, and there were no emergency exits. The AP reports that most fire extinguishers were not used, the workers having no knowledge of how to use them. According to the AP, most of the workers, about 70 percent of them women, were from the poorest sections of Bangladesh. More than 700 workers have died since 2005 from fires in the Bangladesh’s growing clothing manufacturing industry, according to the International Labor reporting Forum.

As with the Triangle Shirtwaist factory fire in New York in 1911, where 146 women, most of them recent Jewish and Italian immigrants working in sweatshop conditions, the workers at Tazreen were burned alive trying to get through the doors that never opened, died from smoke inhalation, or jumped to their deaths. Many of the dead in both fires were buried in unmarked graves, their bodies unrecognizable. The Triangle fire eventually led to improved safety conditions and the rise of the International Ladies Garment Workers Union to protect workers from management callousness.

Walmart has a fierce anti-union policy for its own stores and employees, but doesn’t say much about working conditions in companies that supply merchandise, nor does it actively oppose unions in other companies overseas. There is no organized representation for most of the workers in Bangladesh sweatshops. Most workers earn $8.50 to $12.50 for a 48 hour work week, with mandatory overtime that can push them to as many as 80 hours. They receive two or three days off in a month. If Americans wonder why their clothes may not be as good as American-made clothes produced in union shops, the answer could be that the workers in Bangladesh may be mentally and physically fatigued, and that multinational corporations pressure suppliers to cut costs on material and labor. Bangladesh, now competing with China, shipped about $18 billion worth of merchandise to American and European corporations last year.

About 40 percent of all merchandise sold by Walmart is produced by contracts with manufacturers (most overseas), where low wages, excessive work hours, and poor working conditions are accepted practice. Walmart doesn’t make public the names of the companies which produce those “low prices” merchandise. However, it is known that it has contracts with several Bangladesh companies, as well as more than 20,000 Chinese manufacturers.

With revenue of more than $447 billion a year and about a 25 percent profit, Walmart is the largest public company in income in the world. But with its “low prices” slogan comes significant risk.

Walmart and other corporations have pushed American suppliers to outsource their own merchandise to overseas suppliers. More than 3.3 million American jobs will have been outsourced by 2015, according to the U.S. Department of Labor. However, Goldman Sachs projects that as many as seven million jobs will have been lost by 2014. Most are in clothing and computer/electronics manufacturing, and in service centers where American customers call “help” lines and often get a heavily-accented representative who says his name is “Sam.” What most politicians, business people, and the public don’t understand is there is a direct correlation between the number of jobs outsourced and high unemployment in the U.S.

Walmart, which originally established a “Buy American” slogan before strutting its “lower prices” philosophy, now claims that over half its merchandise is made in America. This may or may not be accurate—Walmart doesn’t give specifics. But, if accurate, most of that is from its expanded grocery stores. Clothing, electronics, household goods, and thousands of other products are still made overseas—usually in conditions that are, at best, sweatshops; at worst, death traps. Every Congressional bill to ban the import of products produced in sweatshop conditions has been smothered in the committee process.

It’s possible that Walmart executives and upper management of the 2.2 million employee corporation that has eyes in almost every spot of the world did not know about working conditions in Tazreen—or any of the other sweatshops in Asia. It’s also possible they did know, but did a PR shuffle to explain their indifference. It really doesn’t matter.

The sweatshops allow the corporations to sell the cheap merchandise that results in higher return on investment for American corporations that rely upon American consumers who want cheap merchandise, and don’t seem to care where it comes from or how it’s produced.

But, even those Americans who do care, and would pay higher prices for merchandise produced by workers in unionized American manufacturing plants, usually don’t have a choice. It’s hard to find “Made in America” labels on clothes and numerous other products sold by major retailers that have largely ignored sweatshop conditions in order to maximize profit.

[Walter Brasch’s latest book is Before the First Snow, which looks at working conditions. Assisting on this column was Rosemary R. Brasch]

Romney v. Obama: The Debate That Wasn’t

10.05.12

by WALTER BRASCH

What passed as a presidential debate, Wednesday evening, was nothing more than a series of carefully-rehearsed, often rambling, mini-speeches that were more focused on generalities than on specifics.

Mitt Romney and Barack Obama, experienced debaters and strong orators, each threw out several points at once, hoping a few would stick; the rebuttals were a counter-speech, most of which didn’t address the points at all. The party nominees talked over one another, and both talked over the moderator. More important, numerous critical domestic issues, the first debate’s primary topic, were never discussed. Part of the problem was that Jim Lehrer, executive editor and anchor of “PBS NewsHour,” who had moderated 12 previous debates, didn’t control the candidates or the debate, nor ask probing follow-up questions. The direction of the debate became quickly obvious when strict time limits were shattered on the first question and every question after that.

Even the most pro-Obama supporter would have to acknowledge that Romney had exceeded expectations and was able to dominate the President, who was not as sharp as he needed to be. Romney was strong and skillful, perhaps surprising even his own campaign staff. President Obama failed to adequately challenge Romney’s vacillating record and statements that may have bordered on truth, nor did he defend his own record as vigorously as necessary. The President’s closing two-minute speech was, at best, lame and not indicative of either his presidency or his oratorical ability. This was not a time for the professorial “No Drama Obama” personality to dominate. Indeed, this debate was nothing like the much-remembered Lincoln–Douglas debates of 1858 or even the quality of the average debate by college teams in hundreds of tournaments each year.

The third presidential debate, Oct. 22, will focus upon foreign policy. The format is the same—six segments of 15 minutes each, with each candidate being given two minutes to answer the question. In between will be a town meeting debate, Oct. 16. Non-committed citizens chosen from a Gallup poll will ask questions. A candidate has two minutes to answer the question; the other candidate has two minutes to respond.

The vice-presidential debate is Oct. 11, with nine segments of 10 minutes each.

The Democratic and Republican teams argue for months about format and direction. In two of the three debates they know the topics well ahead of time. For the third debate, the “town meeting,” they can pretty much guess what the questions will be. Each campaign staff has been preparing for weeks to answer and spin the prepared questions. As a result, what passes as debates is little more than rehearsed political monologues between nominees for two political parties. Spontaneity and a quick wit, which President Obama has, was missing at this debate.

But, there is a greater concern than long-winded speeches that don’t give specifics. There is no reason why only Democratic and Republican nominees are allowed to debate. This essentially reaffirms the belief that the U.S. has a two-party system, approved by the mass media, which leaves out significant candidates whose ideas and opinions need to be heard. While a debate with more than a hundred declared candidates is unreasonable, it isn’t unreasonable for the debates to include Libertarian Party candidate Gov. Gary Johnson and Green Party candidate Dr. Jill Stein. Both are on the ballots of most states. Both have good views that should be heard. And, both are the only minority party candidates who can mathematically get the 270 electoral votes for elections. Rocky Anderson, whose views are important enough to be heard on a national stage, isn’t on enough state ballots to be eligible to receive a majority of the Electoral College.

The first televised debate was in September 1960 between Vice-President Richard M. Nixon and Sen. John F. Kennedy. Independent polls, and those who only heard the debate on radio, had suggested that Nixon was the winner, but those who watched it on television overwhelming believed it was Kennedy. Nixon, underweight because of an extended hospital stay, appeared sickly; he also refused makeup to cover a 5 o’clock shadow. Kennedy, however, was tan, handsome, and charming. Two more televised debates followed, but it was the first one that mattered. From then on, candidates knew that image mattered over substance.

In 1980, Ronald Reagan scored points with a famous, “There you go again” zinger casually tossed at President Jimmy Carter. In 2000, Al Gore, who appeared to be defeating George W. Bush, lost any advantage when the TV cameras, and subsequent clips, showed Gore sighing over and over.

Nevertheless, no matter how much we wish to believe that debates matter, numerous polls over the past five decades have shown that voters pretty much have their minds already made up, and the debates serve only to reinforce voter intent. As far as the facts? Moderators don’t challenge the nominees, and if the opponent is too busy preparing his next statement and doesn’t immediately respond, the facts are little more than casualties in this war of words.

Certainly, with a campaign buy of more than one billion dollars just in TV advertising, the voters have already been subjected to enough of what PR people call “messaging.” The debates are just more of that packaged and sanitized “messaging.”

[Walter Brasch is an award-winning journalist who has covered political campaigns and politics for four decades. He is also the author of 17 books; his latest is the critically-acclaimed Before the First Snow: Stories from the Revolution.]

Don’t Count Out the Labor Movement

09.01.12

by WALTER BRASCH

Almost every conservative political columnist, pundit, commentator, blogger, and bloviator has written about the decline and forthcoming death of the labor movement.

They happily point to Wisconsin, where Republican Gov. Scott Walker shortly after taking office in January 2011 took advantage of a Republican majority in the House and Senate to ram through legislation that stripped numerous collective bargaining rights for public employee unions. Among collective bargaining rights are those that assure decent working conditions and a fair grievance process to prevent arbitrary and discriminatory discipline.

The Republicans point to Ohio, where Republican Gov. John Kasich, with similar legislative support, signed legislation in March 2011 that restricted collective bargaining rights for public sector employees.

They point to state after state where Republican legislators, with the financial support of private industry, have brought forth self-serving bills to oppose collective bargaining.

The conservative mantra is to pander to the middle-class pocketbook by creating a pseudo-populist appeal. The right-wing claims they are the ones who care about the people enough to cut government spending, which will lower all kinds of taxes. They altruistically scream that inflated payrolls and pensions caused economic problems, and the best way to help those who are struggling in a depressed economy is to lower those costs by curtailing the perceived power of unions. It sounds nice; it’s also rhetoric encased in lies.

Numerous economic studies have shown that the pay for public union employees is about the same as for private sector employees in similar jobs. And in some jobs, public sector workers earn less than non-unionized private sector workers, leading to professionals and technical specialists often switching jobs from government to private industry, usually at higher wages and benefits.

So what, exactly, is the problem? Tax cuts. Bill Clinton left office, having given the nation a strong economy. During the Go-Go years in the first part of the 21st century, under the Bush–Cheney administration, states and the federal government created tax cuts for individuals, and held out generous tax cuts, tax waivers, and subsidies to corporations. The Republican theory was that these tax cuts would eventually “trickle down” to the masses by stimulating the economy.

What happened is that instead of benefitting the masses, these forms of wealthfare and corporate welfare have done little to stimulate an economy that was heading down because the Republican executive and legislative branches, preaching less government, didn’t want government interference in financial institutions, the most politically conservative business. As a result of deregulation or, in many cases minimal regulation oversight, came the twin catastrophes of the Wall Street scandals and the housing mortgage crisis that spun the nation into the deepest recession since the Depression of the 1930s.

But you don’t hear the Republicans tell you they caused it, only that a run-away economy is because of those fictional high government salaries that need to be cut.

Joseph Slater, professor of law at the University of Toledo, says because of the 2008 crisis, states experienced massive budget shortfalls because growing unemployment decreased tax revenue. The problem in the states and the federal government, Slater told NEA Today, isn’t because of collective bargaining, “because some of the worst state budget problems are in the small handful of states that prohibit public sector collective bargaining, states like Texas and North Carolina.” However, said Slater in an article for the American Constitution Society, “states with strong public sector collective bargaining laws . . . have smaller than average deficits.”

In response to conservative calls to curtail “pension abuse” in the public sector, Slater pointed out that “the vast majority of states don’t allow unions to bargain over public pension benefits,” and that some of the worst pension problems are in the so-called right-to-work states that have no public employee unions.

In contrast to the all-out assault upon the workers by Republicans, Govs. Dan Malloy of Connecticut and Jerry Brown of California, both Democrats, have been reducing budget deficits, sometimes with a heavy hand as they slash programs and the number of workers, in consultation with the unions and without curtailing union rights. Unionized workers in both private and public sectors have taken temporary pay cuts or agreed to taking vacation days without pay. Few corporate executives and no state legislators have willingly matched the sacrifices of the workers.

Now, as for those conservatives who are dancing on what they think are the graves of the working class labor movement. There are a few stories they aren’t happily reporting.

In Wisconsin, the recall election of Scott Walker did fail, as out-of-state individuals, PACs, and corporations contributed about two-thirds of his $30 million campaign to keeping him in office, as opposed to his opponent raising only about one-eighth of that amount. However, in subsequent elections, all three Democratic senators survived recall votes, and two of six Republican senators were recalled, leading to a change in Senate membership from 19–14 Republican to 17–16 Republican, but effectively blocking a “super majority” from ramrodding further anti-worker legislation into law.

In Ohio, voters overwhelmingly rejected, 62–38 percent, the new Ohio law that stripped collective bargaining rights of public employee unions. In defeat, Gov. Kasich, whose attacks upon collective bargaining were a central part of his campaign, said “It’s clear the people have spoken.”

Monday is Labor Day. It’s more than just picnics and a three-day weekend. It’s a time to honor the working class, and the unions that gave them the rights of collective bargaining. They may be struggling but they are far from dead.

[Walter Brasch is a syndicated social issues columnist and author. His latest book is the critically acclaimed journalistic novel, Before the First Snow: Stories from the Revolution, which has an underlying union theme. He is a proud member of several professional and trade unions, including The Newspaper Guild/Communication Workers of America.]

Vouchering an Educational Adventure

08.18.12

by WALTER BRASCH

I hadn’t talked with Marshbaum for a couple of years, ever since he left newspaper journalism for more lucrative work in the fast food industry. But here he was in my office to ask if I would publicize his new educational adventure.

“That’s great!” I said. “You’re finishing the last three years of college.”

“I own the school. CEO of Little Minds Charter and Voucher Corp. We’re on the leading edge of the trend to privatize schools.”

“How does mumbling into a broken speaker box make you qualified to run a school?” I asked.

“Interpersonal communication skills,” he replied. “That, and knowing how to count change and arrange work schedules for the three minimum-wage high school kids on my late night shift. It’s all administration and proper marketing.” He thrust a full-color three-panel promotional flyer at me. Buried in small print was the tuition cost.

“That’s a bit high, isn’t it?” I asked.

“With loans, grants, and governmental assistance, it’s almost affordable.”

“Governmental assistance?”

“We’d be bankrupt if we didn’t get it,” said Marshbaum. “Because the state wants to privatize everything, it gives families a yearly check to send their uncultured little cookie crumblers wherever they want. Family gives us the money, and we teach their children the importance of sexual abstinence and the free enterprise system.”

“I suppose you’re making radical changes in education,” I snickered. Marshbaum didn’t disappoint me.

“You bet your Number 2 we are. We’re on track to become the state’s most cost-effective school. Conservative politicians love us. Cutting expenses is where it’s at.”

“What did you cut?”

“First thing we did was order our classroom supplies from China. That saved us over 50 percent. Got a great deal on ugly desk-chairs.”

“You obviously don’t understand the concept of ‘Buy American’,” I suggested.

“Not true, Ink Breath. We get our school uniforms from Wal-Mart. An all-American company.”

“You are aware,” I pointed out, “that most of the clothing in Big Box stores is made by exploited children and their impoverished parents in Third World Countries.”

“Exactly!” beamed Marshbaum. “Cheaper that way. Besides, we use the labels to teach about world geography. That’s a two-fer!”

“How else are you re-defining education?” I asked, knowing Marshbaum wouldn’t disappoint me.

“Downsized the faculty. All those rich college graduates were hurting our bottom line. Hated to downsize Greenblatt, though. Thirty years on the job. Twice recognized as the state’s best history teacher”

“You fired a tenured history teacher?”

“Had to. He was at the top of the salary schedule. Besides, he was teaching about the rise of the middle class and how unions helped get better wages and benefits for the masses. That’s just downright unpatriotic. He refused to be a team player.”

“What you did is probably illegal!” I said.

“We’re a corporation,” said Marshbaum smugly. “We can do anything we want. We’ll be dumping math next.”

“That’s absurd! Of the industrialized nations, the U.S. is already near the bottom in math and science.”

“No one gives a rotten apple’s core about when trains at different speeds leave their stations and pass each other in Wichita.”

“So you don’t have any faculty?” I asked incredulously.

“Don’t be ridiculous. We outsourced our teaching. There’s Bierschmaltz in Austria and Wang Lin in Laos and—”

“I suppose you have them lecturing by speaker phone,” I said sarcastically.

“Even better. They create the lessons, have some teenage videohead record them, and the students can see it on their own computers. Distance Education and Technology is where it’s at. Besides, it’s cheaper than paying live people who demand a lunch break after five classes, and call off sick just because they broke a hip or some other useless joint.”

“If you’re dumping courses, downsizing and outsourcing, how are you going to improve the scores?”

“Not a problem,” Marshbaum said, explaining that the state has specific questions to which the students must know the answers. “We just make sure we drill the students on what they’ll be tested upon.”

“That’s not education, that’s teaching to the test. Your students may get high scores, but they probably won’t get much knowledge.”

“So where’s the problem?”

And with that, Marshbaum grabbed his backpack and went out to recruit more voucher-laden students.

[Walter Brasch spent 30 years as a university professor of mass communications, while continuing his work as a journalist. Now retired from teaching, he continues as a journalist/columnist. His latest of 17 books is the critically-acclaimed novel, Before the First Snow, which looks at critical social issues through the eyes of a ’60s self-described “hippie chick” teacher who is still protesting war, and fighting for the environment, due process issues, and the rights of all citizens to have adequate health care.]

Fighting 21st Century “Evil” in American Politics

07.19.12

Fighting 21st Century “Evil” in American Politics

By Stephen Crockett

What does “evil” mean in terms of politics? This is a question that we seem to rarely ask in 21st Century America. At this point in our history, I think it is high time to pose this question because we seem to be at risk of losing our way as a people. We need to examine our core values…. and quickly find our way back to the American Dream again.

“Evil” comes in many forms. It is justified with many excuses. It must constantly be fought.

Intentionally doing harm to your most vulnerable fellow American citizens is “evil.” In my opinion, this kind of “evil” is in the deepest sense an “un-American” betrayal of core American values. It is a betrayal of the American Dream. It is an assault on the idea that we are, or at least should be, reaching for a better world, a better society with opportunity for all and a common purpose in order to make life better for every single American. We should be reaching for these goals by working together as a nation and a people.

When officeholders and politicians seek to intentionally spread misery among the most unfortunate and powerless among us, they are engaging in “evil” acts. Refusing to help the sick, the hungry, the homeless, the poor and the unemployed are essentially “evil” acts. Choosing to behave this way, just so the wealthiest and most powerful few among us can increase their already excessive wealth and power, is even more “evil.”

Asking the wealthiest and most powerful among us to pay their fair share of taxes is perfectly reasonable. They are the ones who have and will continue to benefit the most from this great nation that we all built together. They get the most out of the American nation as their massive wealth and power indicate and they have the financial ability to contribute more back to our common goals without enduring significant hardship.

Our elected representatives need to be compassionate and caring people because the American people are compassionate and caring people. This is the American way. This common sense of purpose helps define us as a people and is at the core of the American Dream. We are a common people. We are in this great American national experience together. Those officeholders whose public acts do not demonstrate these values deserve to be thrown out of office by the American people.

Denying your fellow American citizens a voice in the democratic processes of the American nation just to increase your personal power or that of your particular group is truly “evil” and “un-American.” In my opinion, this kind of “evil” is in the deepest sense an “un-American” betrayal of core American values. It is a betrayal of the American Dream. It is an assault on the political ideas that define us as a nation and a people.

From the founding of the American Republic, we have been reaching more or less continually for more political equality and slowly achieving it. The great experiment that is the United States of America is based on a growing sense of political democracy. We have constantly struggled to give all our citizens a voice in our democratic government that is equal to every other American citizen.

We were never meant to be ruled by an aristocracy of inherited wealth or political power. The American people since the founding of our nation have struggled against some people or groups of people who have wealth and power and want to rule over the rest of us. They have tried to rig the political processes and economy in order to benefit themselves. In recent years, they have had increasing success and the nation is suffering as a result,

Elected officeholders and public officials are meant to represent us instead of rule over us. They are not meant to be our rulers acting on behalf of the economic and power elite. Officeholders, as representatives, instead of rulers, should remain the political core value of our American nation.

When politicians and officeholders construct barriers to voting for large segments of American citizens in order to increase their political power, they are acting in an “evil” manner. They should be condemned by all Americans, including members of their own political party, and thrown out of office. They cannot be trusted. They are trying to be rulers instead of representatives.

As a nation, the United States of America is bound together by a set of ideas and core values. They should be reflected in our government institutions, our political processes and our laws. We are not defined by a single race, religion, language or ethnic group. Instead, our nation is defined by a set of ideas and values which at their core are about political democracy, community of purpose and equal opportunity.

We should never surrender the core values of American political democracy, community of purpose and equal opportunity for all Americans to the dark sides of our own human nature nor to the greed and power lust of those with excessive wealth and power. To do so, would be to surrender the American Dream to “evil” and end the great democratic experiment which is the American nation.
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Written by Stephen Crockett (President of College Marketing.com http://www.CollegeMarketing.com, host & founder of Democratic Talk Radio http://www.DemocraticTalkRadio.com, Editor, Mid-Atlantic Labor.com http://www.Mid-AtlanticLabor.com )

Email: demlabor@aol.com. Phone: 443-907-2367.

The Citizens United Trap for Republicans

07.10.12

The Citizens United Trap for Republicans

Republicans have been cheering loudly for the unleashing of corporate and billionaire spending that have been flooding the campaign coffers of Republicans all over the United States. It has mostly been a huge plus for a political party that has little else going for them. However, the ruling might not be so great for Republicans in the long run and might even backfire on them by November or over the coming years.

The public hates the Citizens United ruling and wants corporate money completely out of our elections. Public opinion polling margins against corporations and billionaires having the ability to buy elections with essentially unlimited spending is massive among both independents and Democrats. Even most Republicans are against it. And these are not “soft” opinions. The passion is in favor of strict campaign donation limits and zero corporate spending on politics.

If Democrats run campaigns that make the case in enough races that the Republican Party has been “corrupted and sold to corporations and billionaires,” it is likely that the Democrats will capture huge majorities of the key independent vote in November. They are likely to make huge gains in the Senate, the House and in state races using this tactic as part of a “fairness in government” theme.

Having Romney as the Republican nominee will certainly make a “fairness” theme resonate with the public. Obama can point out that he has released all his tax returns for every year as far back as 2000 while Romney has released only one year so far. The “what is Romney hiding” issue is already burning up the Internet. It is starting to generate articles in the mainstream media. By the November elections, this issue will be huge even if it is not played up by the Obama campaign. The American people are sick of excessive secrecy and corruption in government.

If Romney releases his tax returns, then the ways in which he made his massive fortune will be exposed. There will be issues about possible tax evasion or avoidance combined with the ever present “fairness” issue to overcome. This brings us back to the corporate spending unleashed by Citizens United.

The biggest campaign question for 2012 will be “what do corporations and billionaires expect to get in return for all this money they are spending to elect Republicans?” The public can take a look at the actions of Romney in his private sector career and combine it with things from his public office career like the hard drives that his staff took away when he left as Governor of Massachusetts. They will look at his strange bias toward secrecy in both his private business and public office careers. This is going to be a huge “trust problem” for Romney and Republicans to overcome.

Voters will take a look at Republican Governors and state legislators and find massive “trust problems” everywhere. In Florida, Governor Rick Scott has shown terrible judgment in terms of ethics and conflicts of interest especially in regards to the healthcare industry where he made his own massive fortune. Governor Tom Corbett in Pennsylvania along with the Republican state legislature has some serious problems in trying to justify to voters their sweetheart deals with the oil and gas industries. These include a provision in a recent law that doctors may have access to information about the health impacts of natural gas “fracking” but legally prevent the doctors from informing their patients about any dangers the discover. In Pennsylvania, thanks to Republicans, the oil and gas industries will reap billions of dollars in profits that should have paid for schools, roads, senior services, healthcare and more. Because of this kind of essentially corrupt legislation, the corporate campaign cash keeping flowing to Republicans in both states… and pretty much all the other states.

Of course, Republican officeholders are aware of the potential voter backlash. This is why they are making voting and voter registration as difficult as possible for poor and working class Americans in as many states as possible. Pennsylvania and Florida are good examples but Texas, Tennessee, Georgia, Michigan, Ohio, Wisconsin and dozens of others have or are facing strong Republican efforts to reduce the number of voters who would most strongly object to corporate control of government and the corrupting influence of big, big money in government. The Republican voter suppression efforts are energizing the opposition just like the massive spending by corporation and billionaires to elect Republicans.

The Supreme Court’s Citizens United ruling and the resulting are producing some serious backlash that is likely to do long term damage to both corporate and Republican political power. These include four major reform efforts:

(1) a state based effort to amend the U.S. Constitution to ban corporate political spending and make campaign finance laws explicitly Constitutional that has already seen success in New Mexico, Vermont, Rhode Island, Maryland, California and Hawaii legislatures,

(2) a growing movement to strip corporations of their “corporate personhood” status under the law or at least restrict all the political citizenship rights that the Roberts Supreme Court Five Justices claims go with it,

(3) a strong shareholder movement that would require explicit shareholder direct approval of any political spending which would take the decision to spend shareholder money out of the hands of corporate executives or other corporate employees

(4) and finally a movement to Impeach the Roberts Supreme Court Five (see Facebook group at http://www.facebook.com/stephen.s.crockett?ref=tn_tnmn#!/groups/459884114022586/ ) of Justices Alito, Thomas, Scalia, Kennedy and Chief Justice Roberts for bad behavior, lying to Congress during confirmation hearings and/or ethical lapses.

If all these efforts fail and the voters do not rise up against Republican officeholders over the next few election cycles, the Republicans are still facing a corporate and billionaire political spending trap. The massive spending of corporations and billionaires can still be turned against individual Republicans at any time. Corporations and the Super Wealthy have conflicts among themselves over legislation, government spending and public policy.

Any individual Republican officeholder can do a favor for one wealthy campaign donor or corporation and anger a different one or group of them. The Republican politician in this case instead of benefitting from the corrupt campaign spending system can instead become the victim. Republican officeholders will never be secure in their positions because of the political spending system they helped create.

Finally, the billionaire and corporate political spending is going to fray over time the Republican activist base. In the long run, neither the Christian Right nor the Tea Party is going to be happy with their reduced influence in Republican politics. How is the Christian Right going to explain to their people that the largest corporate donor to Republicans so far in 2012 is a casino gambling empire controlled by one of their largest billionaire individual contributors? Will grassroots Tea Party activists have any influence on policy or politics compared to these corporations or billionaires? Will these voters remain parts of the Republican coalition under those conditions?

Clearly, the Citizens United ruling unleashing massive corporate and billionaire political spending on behalf of Republicans may end up being a trap Republicans have sprung on themselves. We can only hope it does not completely destroy American democracy in the process.
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Written by Stephen Crockett (Host of Democratic Talk Radio http://www.DemocraticTalkRadio.com , President of College Marketing.com http://www.CollegeMarketing.com and Editor of Mid-Atlantic Labor.com http://www.Mid-AtlanticLabor.com ).

Email: demlabor@aol.com. Phone: 443-907-2367.

American Patriotism in Hyper-Drive

06.23.12


by WALTER BRASCH

It’s midway between Flag Day and Independence Day.

That means several million copies of full-page flags printed on cheap newsprint, June 14, have been burned, shredded, thrown away, or perhaps recycled. It’s an American tradition.

Flag Day was created by President Wilson in 1916 on the eve of the American entry into World War I. It has since been a day to allow Americans to show how patriotic we have become, and give a running start to celebrating the Revolution by buying banners, fireworks, and charcoal briquettes for the upcoming picnic.

Within American society is a large class of people who fly flags on 30-foot poles in front of their houses and adorn their cars with flag decals and what they believe are patriotic bumper stickers. They are also quick to let everyone know how patriotic they are, and how much less patriotic the rest of us are. But patriotism is far more than flying flags and shouting about liberty in Tea Party rallies.

Find someone wearing socks, T-shirt, bandana, and even a jacket that looks like replicas of the American flag, and you might find a hyper-patriot. Of course, just a few decades ago, they would have spat out their disgust to anti-war protestors or hippies who had so much of a flag patch on their jeans.

Most of these hyper-patriots wrap themselves in the flag and Constitution, but are quick to try to shut off dissent, believe the only true religion is the one they espouse, demand that the police frisk citizens who aren’t White, and declare the Supreme Court is un-American when it doesn’t rule the way they think it should.

Many of the hyper-patriots waved those flags high whenever the U.S. has gone to war, even if that war was created by lies. In Iraq, almost 4,500 Americans have been killed; more than 32,000 were wounded, many of them with lifetime injuries.

Many of the hyper-patriots are insensitive to the problems of the 700,000 Americans, about 70,000 of them veterans, who are homeless on any given day.

They are oblivious to the 46 million Americans, about 16 million of them children, who live in poverty.

They oppose universal health care that would help all Americans, including the 50 million who are currently uninsured.

Many of these hyper-patriots believe unions are un-American, and workers who demand good work conditions and benefits are whiners.

These hyper-patriots are also the ones who believe Social Security should be privatized, oppose Medicare, and go ballistic when they think government is infringing upon rights of the individual. But they believe government should impose standards of what are or are not proper sexual positions for consenting adults.

Although the unemployment rate has fallen significantly in the past year, 12.7 million Americans are still trying to find work. The response of hyper-patriots has been to block all attempts by President Obama to pass a jobs creation bill. They readily accept corporate welfare and special tax benefits for the wealthy, but look away when corporations send work and their profits out of the country. The Wall Street Journal reports the 11 top American corporations cut 2.9 million jobs in the U.S. and hired 2.4 million overseas.

Since 2000, more than six million manufacturing jobs have been lost, and 50,000 factories closed. Among jobs now being outsourced are customer complaint specialists, medical records transcribers, phone operators, telemarketers, and even newspaper copyeditors.

More than 500,000 call center jobs have been outsourced. This past week, hyper-patriots in the U.S. House of Representatives, voting largely along party lines, blocked a bill that would have barred American companies that outsourced call center jobs from receiving federal grants and loans and would have given further protection to Americans from identity theft by overseas companies.

These hyper-patriots readily buy products made outside the United States, proudly proclaim the great bargains they just scored, and somehow believe they are still patriots.

But here are two statistics hyper-patriots might wish to reflect upon during the three weeks between Flag Day and Independence Day. About 99 percent of legal fireworks used during July 4th celebrations are made in China. The second statistic is that during the past decade, Americans paid more than $93 million for U.S. flags made overseas, most of them from China. Many of those flags are proudly waved by hyper-patriots.

[Walter Brasch was recently honored by the Pennsylvania Press Club with its lifetime Communicator of Achievement award for journalistic excellence and community service. His latest book is the critically-acclaimed novel, Before the First Snow, a look at the American counterculture, including the media.]

Mid-Atlantic Labor editorial comment on Walker Recall Election results

06.06.12

If the Labor Movement let a defeat or two stop us, there would never had been a labor movement. Working people need us badly. We are not going to let the bastards grind us down. The fight is still on in all 50 states…. including Wisconsin.

The bad guys won a battle with their mega-millions thanks to Citizens United but we are never going to give up in the fight for the American middle class, American democracy and basic economic justice!

In Solidarity,

Stephen Crockett

Editor, Mid-Atlantic Labor.com

Memorial Day 2012: A Lesson Not Yet Learned

05.28.12

by WALTER BRASCH

Today is Memorial Day, the last day of the three-day weekend. Veterans and community groups will remember those who died in battle and, as they have done for more than a century, will place small flags on graves.

But, for most of America, Memorial Day is a three-day picnic-filled weekend that heralds the start of Summer, just as Labor Day has become a three-day picnic-filled weekend that laments the end of Summer.

There will be memorial concerts and parades. The media, shoving aside political and celebrity news, will all have stories. Among those who will be the first to patriotically salute those who died in battle are those who enthusiastically pushed for them to go to war.

Each of the extended weekends also provides forums for politicians to stand in front of red-white-and-blue bunting to deliver political speeches they hope will make the voters think they care about veterans and the working class—and if it helps their election or re-election campaigns, so much the better.

The first Memorial Day was May 1, 1865, when hundreds of freed slaves, missionaries, and teachers held a solemn ceremony to honor the Union soldiers who died in a Confederate prison camp in Charleston, S.C. That memorial evolved into Decoration Day and then in 1882 to Memorial Day. The last Monday in May now honors all soldiers killed in all wars.

There haven’t been many years when the U.S. wasn’t engaged in some war. Some were fought for noble purposes, such as the Revolutionary War and World War II; some were fought for ignoble purposes, such as the Mexican-American and Spanish-American wars.

The U.S. is currently engaged in winding down the longest war in our history. The war in Afghanistan had begun with the pretense of a noble purpose—to capture the leaders of al-Qaeda who created 9/11. But, that war was nearly forgotten while the U.S. skip-jumped into Iraq, which had no connection to al-Qaeda, 9/11, or any weapons of mass destruction. It did have a dictator who allowed torture against its dissidents— but so did North Korea, Iran, Saudi Arabia, and dozens of other countries that the Bush–Cheney war machine didn’t consider.

No, it was Iraq that became the focus of the White House Warriors. It wasn’t long before the U.S. commitment in Iraq was more than 10 times the personnel and equipment than in Afghanistan. It was a commitment that had left the U.S. vulnerable to the effects of natural disasters, as Hurricanes Katrina and Rita within a month of each other proved. The Bush–Cheney administration had diverted funds from numerous public works projects, including reinforcement of the levees in New Orleans, to increase the U.S. presence in Iraq. By the time Katrina had hit the Gulf Coast in August 2005, National Guard troops and their equipment, including deep water vehicles, were in Iraq.

Also in Iraq was now al-Qaeda, which Saddam Hussein had managed to keep out of his country; and a civil war, as Iraqi political and religious groups fought for control.
Barack Obama, as promised in his campaign, did end the war in Iraq, and reasserted American presence in Afghanistan, sought out and killed Osama bin Laden, and then created a way for complete U.S. withdrawal from combat.

The Bush–Cheney Administration had figured a maximum cost of $100 billion for what they believed would be no more than a two year war. The financial cost of the wars has been almost $4 trillion, according to an investigative study by researchers at Brown University. The $4 trillion includes rampant corruption and no-bid contracts to numerous companies, including Halliburton, Dick Cheney’s home for several years.

But the real cost is not in dollars but in lives. The war is being figured not by names and their lives but by numbers. The war in Afghanistan as of Memorial Day has cost 3,016 American and allied lives. The American wounded, some of whom will have permanent disabilities or may die lingering deaths from those wounds, is now at 15,322. In Iraq, 4,486 Americans died; 32,233 were wounded. There are no accurate estimates of the number of civilian and enemy deaths and wounded, but the numbers are in the hundreds of thousands.

“War represents a failure of diplomacy,” said Tony Benn, one of the most popular politicians, who served in the British parliament for more than 50 years, including several years as leader of various cabinet departments.

In wars throughout the world, there will be more deaths today and tomorrow and the next day and the day after that and every day thereafter. And once a year, Americans will honor the deaths of young men and women sent into battle by intractable politicians, supported by media pundits and a horde of civilians with the wisdom of asphalt who have not learned the lessons of Tony Benn.

[Walter Brasch’s latest book is the critically-acclaimed journalistic novel, Before the First Snow, which looks at the anti-war movement and the cost of war.]