Saturday, September 19, 2009

The Danger in Underestimating the Right Wing

I found this on a website called The Progressive Puppy this morning.  I'm still shaking and bordering on the incoherent, because I honestly don't know what to DO about this. 

The JFK poster appeared all over Dallas just days before he was assassinated.  I don't know how widespread the Obama poster has been, but the three of these pictures together tell a story that just cannot be denied.  (Thank you, Max Pearson.)

There is something going on in this country that is insidious and destructive and dangerous.  We just can't go on pretending that it comes from fringe groups in small numbers.  Not when we have the Glenn Becks and Rush Limbaughs and Michelle Malkins and even so-called Christian ministers advocating taking Obama down.  They may not be selling violence outright, but they're adding flames to the fire, and they know it.  It draws audiences and constituencies, and they know their people well.

These are the same flame-throwers who, if something does happen to President Obama, will be the first to say, "Don't look at me.  I didn't do it."

At the same time, I don't want to be one who says, "I didn't do enough".  I could cite dozens of websites here that advocate violence against our president, but I won't.  A Google search with the right words is enough to give me nightmares again.  It's out there, and it's growing, and it's becoming mainstream.

It's only one step from becoming normal behavior.  One of our Four Freedoms.  But speech can inflame.  Speech can incite.  Speech can be accessory to violence.

We've already seen the next step past freedom of speech.  We've seen assault weapons being carried into political rallies, where the president is scheduled to speak.  Gunslingers coming to shut the president up.  Now it's at the threat stage--next will be the actual shooting.

When do we finally get it that this is no longer a Free Speech issue?  This is anarchy, and we're standing around making jokes about it, pointing fingers, shaking our heads, and then turning away, as if ignoring the so-called crazies will dilute their messages of pure hatred.

They're just getting started.  When the first "citizen" walked into a public auditorium with a gun slung over his shoulder and nobody stopped him, it gave permission to dozens, then hundreds, then thousands, to follow.

Nancy Pelosi teared up the other day when she talked about the very real dangers in the advocating of violence.  What was the reaction?  A campaign of hatred and ridicule against Nancy Pelosi.

I'm not about to carry a gun to get my message across.  All I have are words, and in this present atmosphere, they're pretty puny.  But I see what's happening--this all-out hatred, this increasing call to violence--as wholly un-American.  This is NOT who we are.  This is NOT who we were meant to be.  Generations of Americans didn't work their asses off to bring us to this.  This is not a vast Right Wing conspiracy, it's Right Wingers out in the open, advocating anarchy, threatening to "take back" a country they've never understood, never nurtured, never respected.

They don't deserve it and they're not going to get it without a fight.

Or are they?

(Addendum:  read Bob Herbert's column here.)
[It's] time for other Americans, of whatever persuasion, to take a stand, to say we're better than this. They should do it because it's right. But also because we've seen so many times what can happen when this garbage gets out of control. Think about the Oklahoma City bombing, and the assassinations of King and the Kennedys. On Nov. 22, 1963, as they were preparing to fly to Dallas, a hotbed of political insanity, President Kennedy said to Mrs. Kennedy: "We're heading into nut country today."


(Cross-posted at Talking Points Memo here.)

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Who Loves Ya, Labor?

On Tuesday two emails appeared in my box,  both asking me for help in doing something about the sorry state of labor in this country.  One was from John Sweeney, the outgoing AFL-CIO president.  This is his message in its entirety:

Dear Ramona,
Yesterday at the opening session of the 2009 AFL-CIO Convention in Pittsburgh, I had the opportunity to thank my family, staff and labor leaders from across the country and around the world for their commitment, personal sacrifice and hard work during the past 14 years. Today, I want to thank you.

I've loved our labor movement all my life. There is no greater honor than the opportunity to serve working people. It has been an amazing 14 years, and together we transformed the debate over globalization and helped redefine the global labor movement as a champion of workers' rights. We called the hand of the greedy corporations that sent our jobs overseas, scammed our mortgage markets and nearly destroyed our economy.

We brought health care and labor law reform to the top of our national agenda. We seated a pro-working-family majority in the United States Congress. We elected a champion of working families as the first African American president in the history of our country.

We changed the direction of our country, and we should be just as proud of how we changed our movement. We built the strongest grassroots political operation in our country and brought hundreds of thousands of union volunteers into the fight to protect the dreams we share. We knew we were faced with building a movement on changing ground, and we reached out to organizations and workers outside our walls.

At the opening of our 2009 convention, I'm filled with optimism. We've helped create one of those rare moments when history invites dramatic improvement in the human condition.

But the excitement over our possibilities is tempered by the realities of our times. We're seeing glimmers of an economic recovery, yet nearly 20 million of our brothers and sisters are still without work. The poor and the out-of-work are no longer invisible or abstract figures—they're our friends and neighbors, our mothers and fathers, our sons and daughters.

We're on the cusp of the greatest advance in labor law reform in 70 years, but we're taking heavy fire from the corporate captains of deceit. We're closer than ever to winning our long struggle for universal health care, but our success has kindled a firestorm of meanness stoked by politicians playing on fear, racism, nativism and greed.

Every one of our achievements represents unfinished business—and the tasks we're challenged with are daunting. But if there is one thing we've learned over the past 14 years, it is this: Miracles present themselves on the shoulders of commitment, unity and action.

At the center of these is unity—the solidarity that flows through the marrow of our movement. For us, solidarity is more than just a strategy, it's a way of life. We believe in helping each other. We care about our brothers and sisters.

Solidarity is what gives workers the collective courage to form a union, to fight back against a greedy employer.

Solidarity is what compelled thousands of first responders and construction workers to risk their lives at Ground Zero eight years ago last Friday.

Solidarity is what saved 155 airline passengers who could have drowned in the icy waters of the Hudson River.

Solidarity is what compels a firefighter to dive into an inferno to save a stranger, a teacher to refuse to give up on a child or back off from a battle with a school board.

Now it is up to you to bring even more solidarity, revive our economy and make it work for everyone.

We will pass the Employee Free Choice Act and help millions of America's workers lift their lives and realize their aspirations. We will guarantee every family in America health care when they need it. And we will be true to our enduring mission of improving the lives of working families, bringing fairness and dignity to our workplaces and securing economic and social equity in our nation.

That's our mission, that's our job—let's get at it.

John J. Sweeney
AFL-CIO President
Labor Warrior At-Large

The other email came from National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation.  I won't print the entire thing, but if you want to read it, the link is here.

It started, "Dear Ramona", and was signed by Mark Mix, head of NRW.  (Somewhere down the road, I either accidentally wandered onto their website or they got my email address from somewhere and added me to their list. However it happened, I've been getting regular emailings from them.  At first, I couldn't believe what I was reading and I almost took my name off of their list.  But then the "know your enemy" strategy kicked in and so, when I can stomach it, I venture into enemy territory and open one of their links.)
But what struck me about those two emails was the stark contrasts of opinion about the same issue.  Who is right?  (The question is rhetorical.  I know the answer.)

Mark Mix (no relation to Tom Mix, he says. That should make Tom very happy.) and his crowd want me to believe that:
The Right to Work principle--the guiding concept of the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation--affirms the right of every American to work for a living without being compelled to belong to a union. Compulsory unionism in any form--"union," "closed," or "agency" shop--is a contradiction of the Right to Work principle and the fundamental human right that the principle represents. The National Right to Work Committee advocates that every individual must have the right, but must not be compelled, to join a labor union. The National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation assists employees who are victimized because of their assertion of that principle.
Meanwhile, the AFL-CIO wants me to believe they're wrong:
To set the record (and the name) straight, right to work for less doesn’t guarantee any rights. In fact, by weakening unions and collective bargaining, it destroys the best job security protection that exists: the union contract. Meanwhile, it allows workers to pay nothing and get all the benefits of union membership. Right to work laws say unions must represent all eligible employees, whether they pay dues or not. This forces unions to use their time and members’ dues money to provide union benefits to free riders who are not willing to pay their fair share.
Mark Mix and pals ask, What effect does a Right to Work law have on a state's standard of living?
The National Right to Work Committee has called attention to the fact that Right to Work states enjoy a higher standard of living than do non-Right to Work states. Families in Right to Work states, on average, have greater after-tax income and purchasing power than do those families living in non-Right to Work states, independent studies reveal. What's more, Right to Work states have greater economic vitality, official Department of Labor statistics show, with faster growth in manufacturing and nonagricultural jobs, lower unemployment rates and fewer work stoppages.
The AFL-CIO says the opposite:
Right to work laws lower wages for everyone. The average worker in a right to work state makes about $5,333 a year less than workers in other states ($35,500 compared with $30,167).[1] Weekly wages are $72 greater in free-bargaining states than in right to work states ($621 versus $549).[2] Working families in states without right to work laws have higher wages and benefit from healthier tax bases that improve their quality of life.
While Mark Mix and posse see smoke signals on the horizon:

How does compulsory unionism affect government policy?

Compulsory unionism is primarily responsible for the Tax-and-Spend policies of the U.S. Congress. Under their federally-granted coercive powers, union officials collect some $4.5 billion annually in compulsory dues and funnel much of it into unreported campaign operations to elect and control congressional majorities dedicated to higher taxes and increased government spending.
The AFL-CIO sees a safe haven:
Right to work endangers safety and health standards that protect workers on the job by weakening unions that help to ensure worker safety by fighting for tougher safety rules. According to the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics, the rate of workplace deaths is 51 percent higher in states with right to work, where unions can’t speak up on behalf of workers.[3]
Mark Mix sees coercion everywhere but in the boss's office:

What is "exclusive representation"?

"Exclusive representation" is the special coercive privilege, given by federal law, that empowers union officials to represent all employees in a company's bargaining unit. This "compulsory union representation" deprives employees, even in Right to Work states, of their right to bargain for themselves. Union officials demand this power, then use it as their excuse to force employees to pay dues for representation they do not want. The unions see it as protection:
Federal law already protects workers who don’t want to join a union to get or keep their jobs. Supporters claim right to work laws protect employees from being forced to join unions. Don’t be fooled—federal law already does this, as well as protecting nonmembers from paying for union activities that violate their religious or political beliefs. This individual freedom argument is a sham.
The email from Mark Mix might have scared the beejesus out of me if I hadn't already seen his kind in action before.  He said:
During the last elections, Big Labor spent more than a BILLION dollars in forced-dues cash to create a national tidal wave of victories for its handpicked candidates. Now they’re demanding PAYBACK!The union bosses are moving at lightning speed to ram through the most extreme socialistic items on their agenda --they’ve been waiting decades for exactly this moment!But at the very top of their agenda are moves to seize more special privileges for coercive unionism. In fact, forced unionism power grabs are at the very heart of the bailout bills, health care overhaul bills, and numerous other laws being pushed by Congress right now.
Man!  Where do I sign up?   But. . .what's this?

 Now I’m writing to all of the Foundation’s best supporters because, according to my calculations, if you and our other most generous supporters gave a gift of $250 to the Foundation today, it would be enough to fully fund the rest of our 2009 program.
I realize that $250 is a lot to ask, but so much is at stake.

You see, I know a few people won’t give at all right now. They will count on others to carry their load.

That's why, if at all possible, I ask you for a very generous contribution of $500.

That may be more than you’ve given in a single gift before, but I hope you will seriously consider digging this deep.

More than anything, such a request is a testament to just how critical the Foundation’s ongoing projects and financial needs are.

But, if I can count on generous donors like you to give such a contribution now, I could put aside any thoughts of scaling back our program and focus on the business of challenging Big Labor’s abuses.

I hope you understand how much is at stake.

With the resources provided by your contribution, the Foundation can maintain and perhaps even increase its aggressive attack on Big Labor’s compulsory unionism schemes. Your support could not come at a better time than now, given the challenges we face.
We’ve been able to rely on you before, and I’m hoping that you’ll come through for the Foundation now. If, for some reason, you just can’t send $500 today, please give at least the full $250 or whatever you can afford right away.

Whether you give $500 or $250 -- or if a lesser amount is the most you can afford right now -- please submit your Supporter's Directive giving me your advice and be as generous as you are able.

Please, help today. Your contribution will make a difference.


Mark Mix

P.S. The union bosses are moving at lightning speed to crush all opposition to expansion of their government-granted special privileges. This is their best shot in decades to move Card Check Forced Unionism and other radical measures into reality.

The National Right to Work Foundation has its back against the wall as we fight Big Labor’s assault. Yet at this crucial moment, I fear the Foundation will not have the resources to fight against all the threats you and I face.

Please let me have your advice by filling out your Supporter’s Directive today. And I really hope you will make a tax-deductible contribution of $500 or at least $250 or whatever you can afford today.

Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha. . . .(catches breath). . .ha ha ha ha ha ha ha. . . . .(rolls off couch). . . .ha     ha     ha.

I had such a headache.  You wouldn't believe. . .

So I went back and read John Sweeney's letter.  Poof!  Headache gone.  All it took was a breath of fresh air.


Monday, September 7, 2009

For Labor: A Pat on the Back, a Hail and Farewell

"Less than a century ago the laborer had no rights, little or no respect, and led a life which was socially submerged and barren….American industry organized misery into sweatshops and proclaimed the right of capital to act without restraints and without conscience. The inspiring answer to this intolerable and dehumanizing existence was economic organization through trade unions. The worker became determined not to wait for charitable impulses to grow in his employer. He constructed the means by which fairer sharing of the fruits of his toil had to be given to him or the wheels of industry, which he alone turned, would halt and wealth for no one would be available…
"History is a great teacher. Now everyone knows that the labor movement did not diminish the strength of the nation but enlarged it. By raising the living standards of millions, labor miraculously created a market for industry and lifted the whole nation to undreamed of levels of production. Those who attack labor forget these simple truths, but history remembers them.
-  Martin Luther King, AFL-CIO address, December 11, 1961


The story of the labor movement in America is a sweeping epic, a saga of betrayal and redemption, a tender love story, a tragedy worthy of the Greeks.  As in any good story, there is hope, there is conflict; there are victims and villains, there are cowards and there are heroes. For some who have followed the story, the end has already come.  For others, the hope lives on.  But, as in any great movement, in any great story, the paradigm changes, the characters along with it.  For labor, the days of glory, of prosperity,  have dwindled.  There are many who see this as a sign of progress.  They've already picked out the casket.

So it is fitting, as we come together to mourn the loss of the strength of America, to  remember and celebrate its existence, and the people who worked to keep it strong.  From Samuel Gompers to Eugene V. Debs to Mother Jones to John L. Lewis to Frances Perkins and the Roosevelt Administration to Walter Reuther to Cesar Chavez  to Martin Luther King to the Willmar Eight to "Norma Rae" , there have been those who stood tall and gave their all to preserve and protect the working class in this country.

Most of those named here are gone now.  If they could come back today, would they lament the present conditions?  No question.
Would they see their own hard work as wasted?  Not likely.  For how much worse would it  have been without them.
Would they put their heads together and come up with a solution?  Oh, yes--yes they would.
Would the solution be revolution?  We could only hope.
Would they lead us again?  Right down the path to victory.

But they are not here, and time and events have passed them by.   There are still some who fight the battles of the workplace with a fervor we could only hope would make a difference, but shouting the truth in the wilderness is, in the end, about as effective as whispering in a crowd.

Labor Day, the celebration of our laborers, began as a union event in 1882 and eventually became a nationwide holiday.  I can remember my dad taking me to a huge Labor Day parade in downtown Detroit when I was a child.  The crowds lined Woodward Avenue by the thousands, but they were almost dwarfed by the rows of marchers holding banners and singing the songs of labor. The people lining the avenue cheered them on mightily, raucously, my dad along with them, and I cheered, too.  The outpouring of emotion was frightening, yet thrilling.  And even at that young age (I couldn't have been more than eight or nine) I sensed that we were a part of something important.

Are there still Labor Day parades today?  Are they in celebration of labor and not just the holiday?

According to the DOL:  The character of the Labor Day celebration has undergone a change in recent years, especially in large industrial centers where mass displays and huge parades have proved a problem. This change, however, is more a shift in emphasis and medium of expression. Labor Day addresses by leading union officials, industrialists, educators, clerics and government officials are given wide coverage in newspapers, radio, and television.

 Our new labor secretary, Hilda Solis, said this at the Union League Club of Chicago on September 2:

From the Great Depression to 9/11, Americans have faced tough times and we beat them. Together. This time will be no different. The fact that the daughter of immigrants is the nation's 25th Secretary of Labor is testament that anything is possible in our country. My mother was a minimum wage worker at a toy assembly plant and was a member of the United Rubber Workers Union, now the Steelworkers. My father worked in a battery recycling plant and was a Teamsters shop steward.
Many people have influenced me, mentored me, and inspired me:
  • Martin Luther King Jr. who sparked my passion for civil and human rights;
  • Dolores Huerta who had her ribs broken in the struggle but never her spirit; and
  • Cesar Chavez, who inspired me and the world by simply saying: "Si Se Puede!" --Yes, We Can!
I am a product of:
  • The women's movement.
  • The labor movement.
  • The environmental movement.
  • The social justice movement.
  • And I'm married to a small business owner.
I'm proud of all that. It is what defines me and shapes my goal as Labor Secretary: Good Jobs For Everyone.
And here's what I mean by "good jobs":
  • Jobs that can support a family by increasing incomes and narrowing the wage gap;
  • Jobs that are safe and secure, and give people a voice in the workplace;
  • Jobs that are sustainable and innovative — like green jobs — that export products not paychecks.
  • And jobs that rebuild a strong middle class.
I want to believe, even in the face of all evidence to the contrary, that the people who labor in and for this country will take back their rightful positions as the vanguards for prosperity, and that those in power will be there to move them forward.  To all who labor in the factories, in the warehouses, in the fields, in the offices, in the schools, and behind the counters, may this day be the turning point.  May tomorrow bring the changes that have so long been promised.  

Our force is in our numbers.  Our weapons are pride and determination.  Our hope is in ourselves.


(Cross-posted at Talking Points Memo here)

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Health Care - A Condition, not a Commodity

Let's get on with it, Mr. President. We're up the proverbial creek with spaghetti as our paddle. This health care thing could have been the crossing of the Delaware, the turning point in the next American Revolution — the moment we put the mercenaries to rout, as General Washington did the Hessians at Trenton. We could have stamped our victory "Made in the USA." We could have said to the world, "Look what we did!" And we could have turned to each other and said, "Thank you."
As it is, we're about to get health care reform that measures human beings only in corporate terms of a cost-benefit analysis. I mean this is topsy-turvy — we should be treating health as a condition, not a commodity.
 Bill Moyers, September 5, 2009

This is Saturday night on the Labor Day weekend, and I have no illusions about anybody stopping whatever they're doing to read this, so I won't take long.

Bill Moyers has been tireless in his efforts to get through to the President the importance of universal, equitable health care.  This isn't something he--or we--can afford to put off.  Millions are without health care, millions are without jobs, millions are without homes, millions are without money.  If this isn't the time to push for health care as an inalienable right for all Americans, I don't know when that will be.

I wrote a letter to President Obama asking him to read the transcript and/or watch Bill Moyers' clip:

I have talked about labor issues and health care on my own blog, as have thousands of others, but I'm writing this today to beg you to watch and read what Bill Moyers said on his program last night.
President Obama, we need at LEAST a public option. Please stop letting the insurance providers set our health care policy. They've bamboozled and defrauded us long enough. Why on earth would you even think of rewarding them yet again?

You made promises about health care that encouraged millions of us to trust you, to vote for you, to work for you. With so many millions underpaid or out of work, we cannot afford to make weak compromises on the health issue. You need to be strong now, and you need to know that we're with you. People are suffering and you can make it right. Remember that when you give your speech on Wednesday night.

Not exactly Moyers quality, but I figure if each of us lets him know in our own words how we feel about the coming health care compromises he'll know it's not all teabaggers and townhallers out there letting their voices be heard.

Write him here and do it before Wednesday:  (I know it's a holiday, but it's a holiday commemorating and celebrating the American work force, past and present.  Do this for them  Please)


(Cross-posted at Talking Points Memo here.)