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In a Democracy, Freedom of Assembly Trumps “Free Enterprise”

8:01 am in Economy, Labor by Leo W. Gerard

Sign at pro-workers rally, Madison WI. (photo: WxMom via Flickr)

It’s illegal in America now to buy or sell a human being, but a recorded telephone conversation between a Republican governor and a guy he thought was a billionaire benefactor shows that it’s still possible to own a politician.

Wisconsin’s Republican Gov. Scott Walker didn’t have time to talk to Democratic leaders or union officials about his anti-union legislation – a proposal that has incited protests by tens of thousands for more than a week in Madison. But he jumped on the phone for 20 minutes this week when told the caller was billionaire David Koch, who was Walker’s second largest campaign contributor, who provided $1 million to a GOP fund to attack Walker’s opponent and who bankrolls radical libertarian organizations and the Tea Party.

Republicans like Walker, owned by billionaires like Koch, are fulfilling demands from corporate interests that government “free” enterprise by slashing corporate taxes and regulation. Over the past three years, America has suffered the consequences of a government under-funded after tax breaks to the rich and under-performing after years of lax regulation. The result: a growing federal deficit, the Wall Street collapse, the BP oil spill and the deaths of 29 Upper Big Branch miners. Still, Republicans want more government atrophy. That would leave only one restraint on corporate control of the economy, environment and government.

That one restraint is labor unions. A union is workers using their constitutionally-guaranteed freedom to assemble, the right to get together as a group, in this case a labor organization, to negotiate collectively with employers for better wages, benefits and working conditions.  . . . Read the rest of this entry →

Rights Come with Responsibilities; the Right Shirks Theirs

8:49 am in Uncategorized by Leo W. Gerard

Five years ago, a 47-year-old Missouri woman began a duplicitous on-line courtship through MySpace with a 13-year-old neighbor who once had been friends with the woman’s daughter.

The adult, Lori Drew, flirted with the 13-year-old, Megan Meier, through the guise of a fictitious, 16-year-old character named Josh Evans. Suddenly, “Josh” broke up with Miss Meier, writing to her, “the world would be a better place without you.” Just hours later, Miss Meier hung herself in her bedroom.

Words have consequences.

Drew wasn’t charged with the child’s death. In fact, a judge reversed her conviction on computer fraud charges, saying the law was intended to deal with hacking, not murder. But for most Americans, there is something deeply disturbing, something morally, if not criminally, wrong with deliberate torment, with predatory viciousness. Drew eluded accountability the same way conservatives are seeking to evade culpability after their irresponsible speech has provoked the delusional to violence.

It’s hard to draw a line directly from Drew’s cruel words to the noose around Miss Meier’s neck. Similarly, it’s difficult to directly link violent political rhetoric like Sarah Palin’s illustration showing gun sight cross hairs on U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords’ Arizona district to the shattering of Giffords’ office door after her vote for health insurance reform last March or Jared L. Loughner’s shooting spree last weekend that left six dead and Giffords and 13 others wounded.

What is clear, however, is that vile and threatening communication that becomes so repetitive that it’s routine has the effect of sanctioning an atmosphere of violence. . . . Read the rest of this entry →

It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Oligarchy

8:00 am in Uncategorized by Leo W. Gerard

It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas
Ev’rywhere you go;
Take a look in Tiffany’s store, glistening once again
With Wall Street bonus trinkets all aglow.
It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas
Art flies from Christie’s.
But the amazing sight to see is the tax cut guarantee
For the most wealthy.

Hedge funders content, still paying 15 percent
Is the wish of Boehner and Mitch.
Help these hurt least by financial crises
Is the Chamber of Commerce pitch.
And the GOP and Tea Party can’t wait for Congress’ new session.

It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas
Ev’rywhere you go.
There’s treats in the tax break deal for all the very well-heeled:
Estate tax gifts for billionaires, you know?
It’s beginning to look like oligarchy
Secret campaign gifts
Give scions power in Congress halls to force jumps to all their calls,
Always good and swift.

It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas
If you’re doing drugs.
Look at unemployed stats; foreclosures still roaring fast,
‘merican dreams and life savings both mugged.
It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas:
Food bank grocery lists.
The only break the unemployed see is 13-month’s reprieve
jobless benefits.

Aid and career counselors for jobless 99ers
Was the wish of Bernie and friends;
Help through COLAs for veterans and grandmas;
Was the hope of liberal House Dems;
Both crushed, progressives now all dread Congress’ new session.

It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas
Ev’rywhere you go.
There is a poisonous pill slipped into the tax cut deal:
Robbing Social Security, oh no!
It’s beginning to look like oligarchy.
Soon budget cuts will start
And the thing that will make them sting is the knowledge that you bring
Of the pain they’ll impart.

It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas
Everywhere you go.
Take a look in Congress Hall, middle class badly mauled,
By demands from Republicans, you know?
It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas;
Debts are racking up;
To help jobless 15 million, the bill’s $900 billion
— With the wealthy’s cut.

A steady job with good pay, health benefits to stay
Is the wish of the middle class.
A good economy; hope, security
Are the goals of the working class.
But they know Congress handles their concerns very last.

It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas
Ev’rywhere you go;
No money for construction or local government bond funds.
The stimulus will be much too low, so
It’s beginning to look like oligarchy;
Shake hard workers down
And give to the wealthy few, untrue to the red, white and blue,
Their greed has no bounds.

***

It’s Beginning to Look a lot Like Christmas

1951 — Meredith Wilson

It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas
Ev’rywhere you go
Take a look in the five-and-ten, glistening once again
With candy canes and silver lanes aglow.

It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas
Toys in ev’ry store
But the prettiest sight to see is the holly that will be
On your own front door.

A pair of hopalong boots and a pistol that shoots
Is the wish of Barney and Ben
Dolls that will talk and will go for a walk
Is the hope of Janice and Jen
And mom and dad can hardly wait for school to start again</em

It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas
Ev’rywhere you go
There’s a tree in the Grand Hotel, one in the park as well
The sturdy kind that doesn’t mind the snow.

It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas
Soon the bells will start
And the thing that will make them ring is the carol that you sing
Right within your heart.

The Voters’ Message: Manufacturing a Solution

8:45 am in Business, Economy, Employment, Labor, Manufacturing by Leo W. Gerard

No doubt voters sent a message last Tuesday. Deciphering it correctly is crucial.

Republican cryptographers interpreted the election results that gave the GOP control of one house of Congress as a directive to demolish everything produced over the past two years – health care reform, Wall Street re-regulation and economic stimulus. In fact, like the Blues Brothers, they believe they’re on a mission from God. Unlike Jake and Ellwood who set out to save an institution, Republicans intend to crush the President, and if a crippled leader means the nation suffers, well, too bad.

Republicans got it wrong. The electorate wants construction, not destruction. Voters want cooperation, not gridlock.

President Obama properly decoded the message and reached across the aisle, inviting Republicans to a White House summit. At that meeting, he will attempt to collaborate with politicians bent on his annihilation, which is like trying to navigate a mine field. But in these negotiations, there is a safe zone. That is manufacturing. The electorate wants American manufacturing restored to greatness. Voters know industrial revitalization would create good, middle class jobs, strengthen national security and improve the economy.

Some Republicans already have shown a willingness to cooperate on this issue. Just before the midterm recess, 99 Republicans voted with Democrats to pass by 348 to 79 the Currency Reform for Fair Trade Act, which would enable the Commerce Department to impose import tariffs to offset the detrimental effects of manipulated currencies. This is vital in places like Ohio, Michigan and Pennsylvania where manufacturing has been decimated by Chinese exports sold at artificially low prices. Products from several Asian countries are falsely cheap because the governments intervene in the market to suppress the value of their currencies against the dollar.

Voters know that punishing currency manipulators, dealing boldly with violations of international trade rules like forced technology transfer and copyright abuse, and ending tax incentives to outsource jobs would help reverse the decline of American manufacturing.  . . . Read the rest of this entry →

GOP Wants a Country by Corporations for Corporations

10:54 am in Uncategorized by Leo W. Gerard

Tea Party darling and Republican U.S. Senate nominee Rand Paul spoke last week like the political novice he is – revealing unfiltered GOP “truths.”

First he informed MSNBC talk show host Rachel Maddow that government should not be able to force businesses to serve black people. Corporate desire to discriminate should trump the civil rights of black people, Muslims, Jews, Catholics, and pants-wearing women, according to this Republican candidate, who has since rushed to assure everyone that he personally is not a bigot.

Rand Paul followed up the assertion of corporate-privilege-over-human-rights with two more Republican tenet revelations. First he called the Obama administration “un-American” for holding the corporation BP accountable for the explosion on the Deepwater Horizon oil rig that killed 11 workers and devastated the ecology of the Gulf of Mexico. Then Rand Paul added that society should refrain from the “blame game” in the case of another corporation, Massey Energy, the owner of the West Virginia mine that blew up killing 29 workers. “We had a mining accident that was very tragic,” he said, “Then we come in, and it’s always someone’s fault. Maybe sometimes accidents happen.”

Read the rest of this entry →

More Regulation the Solution, Not the Problem

8:10 am in Uncategorized by Leo W. Gerard

The governors of the Gulf Coast states, all Republicans, asked the federal government for help dealing with the BP oil spill — yeah, the government, the very organization that their hero and mentor Ronald Reagan described as “the problem,” not the solution. “The problem” must deal with our oil problem, those Republicans told President Obama.

The President sent the help they requested, but at the same time, Republican mouthpieces like House GOP Conference Chairman Mike Pence accused the administration of responding too slowly to the spill. Republicans believe government should be shrunk so small it can be downed in a bathtub, that government should get out of the way and allow private enterprise to work. But, simultaneously, they want government to clean up a catastrophe created by private industry.

Twenty-nine dead coal miners in West Virginia, seven dead workers at an oil refinery in Washington State, and 11 dead on a Gulf of Mexico oil rig followed by an ecological calamity all in the span of a month illustrate in blood the need for more regulation and stiffer enforcement. That is more government, not less. And it is government performing an essential basic role – protecting its citizens and preserving the environment in which they live.

Improving regulation and enforcement may cost money. But then, what is the value of the lives of those 47 workers killed in three workplace explosions in one month? What is the value of the oil-polluted Gulf waters and coastline? What is the value of untold oil-suffocated marine animals?

As the oil slick sloshed closer to the Florida coast, Sunshine State Republican Marco Rubio, a candidate for the U.S. Senate, said of the clean-up by BP, which owns the oil-gushing underwater well, “I would prefer BP pay all of it, but ultimately I don’t even know if they have the resources to do that. . . they’re going to have to pay a significant chunk of this.”

Who does Tea-Party-darling Rubio suggest pay the remaining chunk? Taxpayers, of course. He is saying taxpayers should bail out BP, just as they did the too-big-to-fail banks when they got themselves in trouble.

Too many taxpayers bought the Republican mantra that regulation is excessively costly for both business and government. Congress repealed banking regulations, then Wall Street gambling imploded the U.S. economy. Now, after that painful fact, Congress is trying to re-regulate banking.

It is so much cheaper to regulate and enforce than to pay for clean ups. Just like banking, that’s true for industry, which has repeatedly shown it can’t or won’t regulate itself. And clearly the free market fails to regulate business behavior, or Republican Rubio wouldn’t need to propose taxpayers bear costs of a corporate-caused catastrophe in the Gulf of Mexico.

BP is a perfect example. In March of 2005, an explosion at the BP refinery in Texas City, Texas killed 15 workers and injured 170 more. Afterwards, a study showed that one of the best ways to prevent catastrophes such as fires and explosions is a method called “process safety management.” Rather than counting slips and falls, process safety uses engineering and management techniques to constantly ensure that machinery and piping are in good condition, to meticulously record changes on refinery units, to properly train workers and to carefully schedule work to prevent fatigue. It also refers to an Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA) standard governing refineries.

OSHA launched a program in June of 2007 to emphasize process safety, and in the first year completed 20 inspections and issued 456 citations to refiners. “We were pretty shocked and dismayed by what we found,” said OSHA enforcement director Richard Fairfax.

These refineries knew about this program. Still they violated the regulations. Then an explosion at the Tesoro refinery in Anacortes, Wash. killed 7 workers on April 2. Eighteen days later, an explosion in the Gulf of Mexico killed 11 workers at a well owned by BP.

There was BP again, five years after the catastrophe at the Texas City refinery. This corporation didn’t regulate itself. The “invisible hand of the market” didn’t do it either.

And let’s get something straight. These were not natural disasters, not earthquakes like in Haiti or hurricanes like Katrina. These are man-made disasters. And just as important, God didn’t have a hand in these catastrophes. Don Blankenship, the CEO of Massey Energy which owns the West Virginia mine that exploded, and Texas Governor Rick Perry, a Republican, both suggested the Lord’s wrath was at work. Perry said both the oil rig and coal mine explosions were “an act of God.” That would mean Massey and BP are not responsible. In the corporations-are-good and government-is-bad fantasy world where Blankenship and Perry live, society can’t hold corporations accountable because God is to blame.

Just like these Republicans, the American Petroleum Institute (API), which represents both drillers and refiners, does not believe in regulation. Ron Chittim, API senior policy advisor, told the San Antonio Express-News that no new regulation is necessary because the industry already must obey too many rules.

After the explosion at BP in Texas City, the United Steelworkers union, which represents oil and refinery workers, met with API and the oil industry in an attempt to write new safety guidelines. USW Vice President Gary Beevers abandoned the effort because he felt the industry was more concerned about image than safety.

Now, the USW is pressing Congress for stronger safety regulations and fines high enough to actually affect corporate behavior. As this year of fatal explosions has tragically illustrated, less government is a problem. More regulation is the solution.

Change To Believe In or Focus for Hate-Mongering?

1:27 pm in Uncategorized by Leo W. Gerard

When President Barack Obama signed the historic health insurance reform bill, he said it was, “Change we can believe in.” He noted that his party has sought reform for more than half a century. The effort began long before President Harry Truman recommended to Congress on Nov. 19, 1945 a comprehensive health program, noting: “People with low or moderate incomes do not get the same medical attention as those with high incomes. The poor have more sickness, but they get less medical care.”

The legislation Obama signed will tax the wealthy – those earning more than a quarter million dollars a year – to help pay for extending insurance to millions of poor and working people and for guaranteeing insurance companies can’t deny access to those with pre-existing conditions or withdraw coverage from those who get sick.

Republicans have vowed to overturn or repeal this law that would aid tens of millions of Americans. House Republican leader John Boehner yelled, “hell no” repeatedly to the reform proposals and described them as “Armageddon.”

Every historic moment in this country – from the Revolution and the Civil War to the enactment of Social Security and Civil Rights legislation – compelled Americans to assess their values and choose sides. In the case of Civil Rights legislation, for example, some, including the late Republican senator from South Carolina, Strom Thurmond, stood with the Klu Klux Klan and other hate-mongers seeking to deny civil rights to black people. By contrast, others favored peaceful enactment and enforcement of what they perceived to be fair civil rights laws enabling black adults to vote and black children to receive the same quality education as white youngsters.

This is such a moment. Americans must decide what is just and decent in the richest Democracy in the world. They must choose whether to side with the rich and the hate mongers or to align themselves with working people and hope.

“The bill I’m signing will set in motion reforms that generations of Americans have fought for and marched for and hungered to see,” Obama said during the ceremony in the East Room of the White House. That makes it a landmark bill, but it’s also historic because this measure is the first government attempt in thirty years to halt rising income inequality, the New York Times reported a day after the signing.

The wealthy – those earning more than $250,000 a year – will pay for part of the reforms with tax increases. For example, those in the $1 million salary, perks and bonuses club will pay an additional $46,000 a year in 2013, according to the Tax Policy Center, a Washington research group. This million dollar club is the very group that has benefited most over the past eight years from the Bush tax cuts for the rich.

The richest one percent in this club now take in 23.5 percent of all income in this country – the largest percent since 1928, the year before the Great Stock Market Crash and the onset of the Great Depression. Then it was 23.9 percent. Income inequality has risen since the 1970s, when the fortunes of the nation’s rich began skyrocketing while middle class wages stagnated. Simultaneously, the rich got tax rate breaks much larger than those given the middle class and poor.

Beyond taxing the rich, the bill contributes to reducing income inequality in another way. New York Times reporter David Leonhardt described it:

“In the broadest sense, insurance is meant to spread the costs of an individual’s misfortune — illness, death, fire, flood — across society. Since the late 1970s, though, the share of Americans with health insurance has shrunk. As a result, the gap between the economic well-being of the sick and the healthy has been growing, at virtually every level of the income distribution.”

During his presidential campaign, Obama promised to reform health insurance, and signing this bill fulfilled that pledge. Here’s how: It ensures that children with pre-existing conditions get insurance, that adults with pre-existing conditions have access to insurance from a temporary high-risk pool, that senior citizens get help paying for prescriptions during the “donut hole” in their Medicare drug coverage, that every insured person gets free preventive care, that children up to age 26 can stay on their parents’ insurance plans, that no lifetime limit on benefits may be imposed by insurance companies.

It provides for approximately 24 million people who don’t have access to affordable coverage through their employers to get tax credits to buy insurance from new state-based exchanges. It enables everyone who earns less that 133 percent of the poverty level – approximately 16 million people – to get Medicaid. It gives small businesses tax credits of up to 35 percent of premiums to help make coverage affordable for their workers.

And, a benefit for everyone — even the rich — is that the bill will lower the national deficit by $100 billion in the next decade, a determination made by the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office.

Republicans are intent on preventing Americans from receiving these benefits. Republicans in Congress contend they’ll try to repeal the law. A dozen Republican state attorneys general filed suit seeking to overturn it.

Those opposing health insurance reform don’t mention the benefits. Instead, they call names, engage in vandalism and incite violence. Sarah Palin posted a map on her sarahpac website marked with 20 gun sight crosshairs on the congressional districts of Democrats who voted for health insurance reform. The Republican National Committee posted on its website a photo of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi surrounded by flames and urging her firing.

The FBI is investigating death threats made since the vote against Democrats and their families. A brick was thrown through the office window of a New York congresswoman who supported reform and bricks shattered glass doors at a New York Democratic committee office. An Arizona Democrat’s office was vandalized after the vote. Opponents of the bill spit on one Democratic congressman and shouted racial and homophobic slurs at others before the vote and afterward faxed to a black Congressman the image of a noose. Conservative commentators including Glenn Beck compared the reform measure to the devastation on 9/11.

Former Republican presidential candidate John McCain said that because the measure passed, “there will be no cooperation for the rest of the year” from the GOP. Republicans made good on that threat, using an obscure Senate rule to prevent hearings past 2 p.m., forcing cancellations.

Republicans in the Senate have announced they will do everything in their power to prevent passage of a package of amendments adopted by the House to improve the Health Insurance Bill. These amendments include elimination of perks given several states, including the so-called Corkhusker Kickback and the Gator-Aid, both of which Republicans have attacked for weeks. Still, Republicans say they’ll attempt to retain those deals in the final bill by blocking the amendments. Similarly, the package of amendments provides a method to close the donut hole in the Medicare prescription program, providing financial relief to millions of senior citizens. The Republican’s plan to prevent passage of the amendments would force senior citizens to pay nearly $4,000 extra each year for prescriptions.

With their anger and vitriol, Republicans and Tea Partiers are banking on Americans rejecting health insurance reform. But their plan is in peril. Americans appear to be embracing hope and change in health care.

Before the vote, polls showed a majority opposed the bill. Many argued that could be explained by the fact that a significant number of those counted as opponents simply wanted stronger reform, such as a public option. Poll results are different now. A Gallup Poll taken after the House vote found 50 percent enthusiastic or pleased, while only 42 percent were angry or disappointed. Similarly, in that poll, 49% thought the reform measure to be good for the country while 40% thought it was bad.

Hate and obstructionism are ugly. Americans prefer to see themselves and their country as hopeful, constructive and goodhearted.