Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Labor's Cries are Getting Weaker. Who is Going to Dig Them Out?

We Americans are terrific when it comes to catastrophes--even when we're in the midst of one of our own.  We blog, we sing, we donate, we put ourselves out there physically, bodily, and with our hearts.  We cannot stand to see people hurting.  We see pictures of homeless victims, of orphaned children with bloated bellies, of families who have lost everything including loved ones, and we cannot help but cry.

We do this because our hearts are full of love for our fellow human beings. 

We do this, oftentimes and amazingly, without ever making the connections to our own nation's victims:  the jobless, the homeless, the children without enough food, the families without the health care necessary to save a loved one's life.

We have a history of putting blinders on when things get tough, and we have a history of not learning from our own history.  We're in the midst of another severe economic crisis, for all intents a repeat of our Great Depression, and still we hear the voices telling us it's not so bad--and we want to believe them.
 We don't want to have to admit that we've been through this same crisis before, caused by the same mighty forces of neglect and greed.  There are dots to be connected, but we won't play.

Jim Grilio, White House spokesman for the Recovery Act would have us believe that "Nearly a year after the Recovery Act was signed into law, [it] is already responsible for about 2 million jobs.  These jobs are created by wildfire protection grants, assistance to American farmers, investments in research at America's top universities, innovative energy retrofit programs, funding for a smart energy grid and countless other Recovery Act programs like them."

Over at ABC News on January 8, Sunlen Miller reported:

"Switching gears quickly from disappointing jobs numbers (The Labor Department reported this morning that U.S. employers shed 85,000 jobs last month, leaving the unemployment rate steady at 10 percent) to efforts the administration is taking to create jobs, the President announced that the administration is awarding $2.3 billion in tax credits for American manufacturers of clean energy technologies -- companies that build wind turbines, solar panels, and assemble cutting-edge batteries.
Awarded to 180 projects in over 40 states, the administration says they hope the initiative will generate about 17,000 jobs. The money will come from the $787 billion stimulus program.
'This initiative is good for middle class families. It is good for our security.  It is good for our planet,' Obama said, 'a clean energy manufacturing initiative that will put Americans to work while helping America gain the lead when it comes to clean energy.'"

Well and good, but these are the kinds of band-aids you would use when first you begin to think there might be a crisis looming on the horizon.   I'm looking around me, and as far as the eye can see, the disaster is upon us.  Where are the damned emergency crews?

(By the way, about those wind turbines?  This from the UAW's Ron Gettelfinger: "When $1 billion in stimulus money was used to boost the U.S. wind power industry, more than 80 percent of the money went to foreign firms. We're paying to buy wind turbines from China -- even though the Chinese have strict 'Buy China' rules for their own $600 billion stimulus program.")

The president is giving his first State of the Union address tonight.  Words are good.  We need words, and he knows how to deliver.  But will action follow?   We need the kind of action that changes nations.  We need programs so broad in scope it'll terrify us just to think about them.  We need to think in terms of hurricanes and tsunamis and earthquakes.   What we're facing right now is the earth moving, the winds howling, the seas rising.  Emergency forces need to mobilize STAT, giving aid and succor to the wounded. Triage units need to be fully supplied.  Volunteers need to be forming in cities, towns, churches and schools everywhere.  The troops need to be on the alert for scammers and looters. And members of the press need to be on the ground, reporting the devastation.

The task ahead, to rebuild the United States, is daunting, but if we really have the kind of spirit and guts we say we do, it won't be impossible.  The message I want to hear from President Obama tonight is that the number one priority of the recovery process is jobs.  American workers need American jobs that will fill their wallets and lift up their souls.  The government we (The People) elected must set aside their petty differences, must drop their allegiances to the monied class, and start cooperating.

We cannot survive this disaster without them.


(Cross-posted at Talking Points Memo here)         

Friday, January 22, 2010

The SCOTUS Five: Just Asses

"I hope we shall... crush in its birth the aristocracy of our
moneyed corporations, which dare already to challenge our
government to a trial of strength and bid defiance to the laws of our country."   --  Thomas Jefferson

Yesterday, five "justices" of the Supreme Court--the usual suspects: Roberts, Alito, Scalia, Thomas and Kennedy--overturned most of McCain-Feingold, wrinkled up large chunks of the constitution, and laid to rest any laughable remnant of a notion that this is a government of the people, by the people and for the people.  (Unless you're one of those who actually buys into that hokum that a corporation is really a person.  In which case, more about that later.)

Yesterday those five scamps saw another chance to give their corporate heroes the gift that keeps on giving--namely US on a platter--and made into law the right for "corporations, trade associations, unions and nonprofit groups"  to spend any amount they wish from any old source, in order to bash, lash, eviscerate, decapitate, or otherwise destroy, any political candidate who might seriously get in their way.  No holds barred anymore.  None.  Free at last, free at last. . .

 But, since this is America, the decision by those fair-minded (as opposed to "activist") gents, those black-robed pillars of our society, was all-inclusive:  Yes, "trade associations, unions and non-profit groups" get their chance, too.  NOW we're breathing easy.  But, wait. . . tsk. . .hmmm.   Since none of the above have treasuries anywhere near as vast as the corporations,  there might be some slight  disadvantage.  But never mind.  The law says they're included, and the law is the law.

So let's say the UAW empties its coffers in order to get a like-minded candidate elected, but GM really doesn't like the guy.  Every day for, say, six months, right up until Election Day, GM reaches into its pocket, pulls out a fist full of change, and goes after him.  A few days worth of GM's pocket change equals the UAW's treasury over their entire lifetime if they never spent another dime.  Who is going to win?  I don't know about you, but the suspense won't be killing me.

But back to the person-hood issue.  What kind of person is this "corporation"?  Is he/she young?  Old?  Male?  Female?  Black?  White?  Brown?  Yellow?  Red?  Single?  Married?  Gay?  Christian?  Jew?  Buddhist?  Muslim?  Rastafarian?  Other?  Does he/she have a criminal record?  Should he/she have a criminal record?  Is he/she even a full-time citizen of these United States, or are his/her interests elsewhere?  Why don't we know these things?

If a corporation can be a person, can a person be a corporation?  Can my liver and kidneys make up my board of directors or do I have to have a quorum?  Do I still have to pay taxes?  If I beg hard enough and lie good enough will my government give me somebody else's taxes?  Can I get a "Get Out of Jail Free" card?  Can I buy a Senator?

So many questions.  But this is serious.   It all started because an unpleasant little group of people called "Citizens United" made a nasty movie about Hillary Clinton.  I don't know all the details, and I don't care, but apparently things didn't work out on the distribution trail, so they took their gripes all the way to the top.   I don't know how this happened, either, but somehow a 20-year-old court decision in Michigan, my Michigan, Austin vs The Michigan Chamber of Commerce, got hot-footed, too.  Thrown out along with the bathwater.

All day yesterday and into today it's been a veritable firestorm, all the flak over that one ruling.  When John McCain heard of the court's decision to decimate the bill he co-wrote with Russ Feingold, he said, wanly,  “I am disappointed by the decision of the Supreme Court and the lifting of the limits on corporate and union contributions.  However, it appears that key aspects of the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act (BCRA), including the ban on soft money contributions, remain intact.”

Russ Feingold took it harder:  "Ignoring important principles of judicial restraint and respect for precedent, the Court has given corporate money a breathtaking new role in federal campaigns. Just six years ago, the Court said that the prohibition on corporations and unions dipping into their treasuries to influence campaigns was ‘firmly embedded in our law.’  Yet this Court has just upended that prohibition, and a century's worth of campaign finance law designed to stem corruption in government.  The American people will pay dearly for this decision when, more than ever, their voices are drowned out by corporate spending in our federal elections."  

Last year, Feingold stuck his finger up in the air, felt which way the wind was blowing, and knew this was coming.  He spoke about it on the senate floor last October 
"Before BCRA was passed, corporations were making huge soft money donations. They were also spending money on phony issue ads. That’s what Title II was aimed at. But what they were not doing was running election ads that expressly advocated the election or defeat of a candidate. That has been prohibited in this country for at least 60 years, though it is arguable that the Tillman Act in 1907 prohibited it forty years before that. So it is possible that the Court’s decision will not just take us back to a pre-McCain-Feingold era, but back to the era of the robber baron in the 19th century. That result should frighten every citizen of this country. The Court seems poised to ignite a revolution in campaign financing with a stroke of its collective pen that no one contemplated even six months ago. "

I think that's pretty much what Jefferson was thinking.  But since the SCOTUS Five are not "activist" judges, it doesn't matter what anybody thinks.  The law is the law.  Until it isn't anymore.   But do not fret, O ye of little faith, the justices taketh away state's rights (Bush v. Gore), but giveth them back whenever the mood strikes.  The law is the law when they say it is.

Final thought:  Every one of those bastards are in this for the long haul.  That means an entire lifetime, if they so wish it.  They are NOT too big to fail.   If they decree it, we shall fold.

I don't know about you, but I'M not taking the blame.  (Not that that makes me feel any better.)


(Cross-posted at Talking Points Memo and Alternet)

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

A Year of Obama: The Hope Still Lives

A year ago today, as I sat watching the inauguration of Barack Obama, listening to our new president's call to duty, it suddenly occurred to me that it might be a good day to start a political blog.  I already had a couple of sadly neglected blogs on other subjects, and I had been sort of casually thinking of ideas for it, so I got to work setting it up the morning of January 20 and finished it around 4:30 that afternoon.  I began it like this:

Today is January 20, 2009. Inauguration day for Barack Obama, and it can't have come soon enough. It's true that he's been de-facto president since November, 2008, when George W. Bush unofficially, without fanfare or hesitation, turned the job over to him, but today it became official. What a day it's been! They're estimating the crowds at 2 million strong, a sight unseen on any Presidential First Day in modern history.

Obama's speech, so anticipated by us all, was anticlimactic and, at first hearing, a bit of a disappointment. It didn't soar. It didn't sing. The soundbites were few and far between. But, as I think about it now, I realize that what he was going for was resonance. I don't remember the words, but I feel the feeling. What he said was that we're in trouble, we'll need to work hard to get out of it, and if we'll do all that we can do, so will he. He told the world that we were back to being honest and sincere and that they could trust us again.  He told those who would want to harm us to back off.  But most importantly, he told the Fat Cats that their glory days are over. As I said, resonance.

Oh, the joy in my heart as I wrote those words.  Take THAT, you lousy, bloated, insufferable faux-Capitalists.  The Sheriff's saddling up and the posse's not far behind.  We're off to save the ranches!  Widows and orphans, help is on the way!

But lest you think I was totally naive, I also wrote:  "I have no grand illusions about a rapid return to health for this country."  No, I had no grand illusions, but I did have dreams.  I've followed the Great Depression and the effect Roosevelt's brave New Deal had on the country, and I thought I heard the welcome sounds of a Rooseveltian Revolution in Obama's words.  Three hundred and sixty five days later, I realize my hearing might have been failing me.

Still, as I've said so many times before, I'm not ready to write Obama off.  I'm nervous about a lot of what's been coming out of the White House this past year--I admit it.  When I saw Wall Street move in, I chewed my fingers to the nubs.  When Rahm Emmanuel became the head whip-cracker, I felt a distinct shiver up my spine.  And when Barack Obama stopped talking about labor, even as hundreds of thousands of our workers were losing their jobs every month,  I gave up any inclination I might have had to genuflect.

I keep reminding myself that the Good Man took on what amounted to a national nightmare.  There were no easy fixes, and nobody pretended there would be.  But I would have slept better this past year if only I had been able to see the president as a "people person".   Was he ever that?  I don't know.  We might have made him into our own images, taking much needed comfort in an illusion of our own making.  Maybe he is what he is.  But what is he?  After a full year of hosting him in The People's House we're no closer to knowing where he stands, or, more importantly, where he's going.

And yet. . .  And yet.  I trust him.  I believe he is a Good Man.  I believe he understands what it is we need from him, and I believe he is Honest to God trying.  Do I believe he's done everything right?  Of course not.  The proof is in the pudding.  We are not that far along.   In fact, in some respects, we've fallen farther behind.  Our unemployment numbers hover at an unacceptable 10 percent, the bankers are giving out even bigger bonuses even as more and more homes sit empty, the stock market sings "Hallelujah" every time it looks like we're all shout and no clout, and just last night the state of Massachusetts awarded Ted Kennedy's senate seat to a Republican whose election promise was to kill any kind of Health Care Reform bill.   As if it isn't enough that we had to say goodbye to the great Lion of the Senate last year.  Now we have to watch as health care reform, Teddy's all-consuming passion, breathes its last.

So, as this January day marks the beginning of Barack Obama's second year, I'm remembering the grand enthusiasm of that dawning day one year ago.  And, while I admit to the need to dream, I'll be at my listening post, keeping my eyes wide open, pushing--ever pushing--this Good Man to find his backbone and boldly lead where no Democrat has gone before.  (Or at least not for a long, long time.)

I think I'll send him this as a reminder.  Feel free to do the same:

" On some positions, Cowardice asks the question, 'Is it safe?' Expediency asks the question, 'Is it politic?' And Vanity comes along and asks the question, 'Is it popular?' But Conscience asks the question 'Is it right?' And there comes a time when one must take a position that is neither safe, nor politic, nor popular, but he must do it because Conscience tells him it is right"
The Rev. Martin Luther King.  Address at the Episcopal National Cathedral, Washington D.C., March 31, 1968


 (Cross-posted at Talking Points Memo here.)

Friday, January 15, 2010

Robertson, Limbaugh and Why They Matter

 Hour by hour, day by day, we've been watching the devastation that is Haiti.  The plight of that sad, forgotten country is being forced on us in such a way that it is no longer possible to turn away from it, to ignore it, to stop thinking of it as somebody else's problem.  Their most recent crisis was caused by a 7.0 magnitude earthquake, and the horror, almost beyond comprehension, is that tens of thousands of people have died because of it.

But we've known for decades that the Haitian people, even before this natural disaster, were living lives of pure misery.  Remember the Haitian "Boat People"?  They arrived on our shores by the thousands in the 1970s and 80s, before our government finally put a stop to it by sending them back to their homeland, where abject, implacable, unending destitution was what had driven them onto those skimpy boats in the first place.  Many of them died along the way, but that kind of desperation--the kind that most of us could never possibly understand--throws caution to the winds.  There were many of us--I hope there were millions of us--who wrote letters begging our government to at least turn a blind eye to those wretched wanderers staggering toward America.  But bureaucracies prevailed, as they always do, and the struggles of the Boat People to find peace and a helping hand were for nought.  We turned them away.

Now we're going to help.  As a nation, we'll do everything we can to ease the suffering in Haiti.  I know that for a fact, even though I haven't forgotten that as a nation we turned some of these very people away not so long ago.  We're bombarded with the images of the earthquake aftermath and it's hard, seeing the poor suffering victims, not to make the comparisons with our own Hurricane Katrina.  Our reporters, some of the same who covered Katrina, are exhausted and near tears as they describe the horrors they've seen.  They are helpless to do much more than to explain, to make us see, to force us away from our daily routines and bring us along with them into hell. 

We will not let uncaring bureaucracies get in the way this time.   Moments after the reports of the earthquake, the White House went into action and within hours the trucks were beginning to be loaded, the airlifts were in place.  As I write this, three days afterward,  there is a traffic jam on the tarmac at the Port-au-Prince airport as planes filled with volunteers and relief supplies attempt to unload.  The whole world, it seems, finally wants to come to the aid of the Haitians.

As a nation, we're feeling good.  We're where we should be.  We're cheering the aid workers on, we're sending money, we're mobilizing.  For most of us, the fact that the Haitians we're caring about are poor and dark-skinned has no bearing on anything.  And why would it?  But for the past two days we've been sidetracked by the astonishingly pitiless comments of two powerful countrymen who draw enormous audiences and make untold millions from their daily utterances.

Pat Robertson, citing a legend about early Haitians making a pact with the devil to get out from under the French (calling it a "true story"), gave Satan the credit for all of the misery Haiti has had to endure.  He ended by saying, "They need to have and we need to pray for them a great turning to God. . ."

This drew clearly undisguised anger from a Haitian embassador, who probably had better things to do than respond to a so-called cleric who calls a legend about a pact with the devil "a true story":

So then the 700 Club comes back and says it was all about the legend, and we care a lot about the Haitians, who are still--sorry to say--cursed by the devil because they asked for it:

Rush Limbaugh, that great humanitarian, first suggested that President Obama will make hay over this tragedy because. . .something about mutual dark skins.  When that got the expected outrage he so craves, he came back and gloated about tweaking the media.  Then, because his craving for attention hadn't been sated, he used his pulpit to warn people against using the White House website for earthquake relief donations, for fear their money would disappear into Obama's pockets or, worse, the Democrats would be able to get information from their applications.

So why does it matter what these two men say?  It matters because in the Land of Milk and Honey they've amassed unbelievable wealth and power by appealing to the darkest sides of civilized Americanism.

They matter because they've each built entire lucrative industries by consistently proving to be less than we would expect of our fellow Americans.

They matter because, even though they work at eroding the underpinnings of our values while pretending to be at the forefront of everything good and ethical, they gather audiences that most rock stars could only dream about.

Americans by the millions follow their every word, defending them this side of death, spreading far and wide their messages of intolerance and hate.  I wonder how many of their listeners are looking for ways to help the Haitians?  I wonder how many of them see the paradox between what they're hearing and what their hearts are telling them to do?  And if they do, I wonder why they go on doing it?


(Cross-posted at Talking Points Memo here)

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Take Me to Our Leader

The reasons for the stillbirth of the new progressive era are many and much discussed. There's the death of liberal and moderate Republicanism, the reluctance of some administration officials and congressional Democrats to challenge the banks, the ever-larger role of money in politics (see reluctance to challenge banks, above), the weakness of labor, the dysfunctionality of the Senate -- the list is long and familiar. But if there's a common feature to the political landscapes in which Carter, Clinton and now Obama were compelled to work, it's the absence of a vibrant left movement. 

Harold Meyerson, Washington Post, 1/6/10

 Alas, it's true.  The "left movement"--the true left movement, not the middle-of-the-road "Progressives" nor the loony "Lefties"--is no longer vibrant.  We lost our glow long ago, when we decided the worst thing we could ever do to ourselves was to get in the position of being considered Socialists.  We even dropped "social programs" from our lexicon lest someone should suspect us of Commie leanings.  Then we dropped social programs altogether, just in case.

We either forgot or ignored the real contributions unions had brought us since before our grandparents were young, and turned on them just when we needed them the most.  We let the actor Ronald Reagan make the first incision and then stood back, wringing our hands, while the strength of our labor movement slowly seeped away.

Our voices were no more than mere whispers when American jobs by the millions moved to foreign countries.  No representative howls from these quarters when American manufacturing and American wages moved toward the downslide while corporate America's profits went soaring through the stratosphere.

We never completely bought the notion that all was right with the world, that our path to prosperity was named "deregulation", that the people in power had even a nibble of a clue, but every time we turned around someone wicked or more cunning was stealing our soapbox.  So we shut up.  Or so it seemed, for all the good our grousing and complaining did.

For eight long Bushwhacked years, we moaned and groaned and predicted the predictable outcomes.  And when they came, we got nothing for our troubles except to be able to utter a wholly unsatisfying "We told you so".  Because for eight long Bushwhacked years we, the Liberals afraid to speak our own name, had no real leaders.

Nobody stood out as the one willing and courageous and strong enough to take on corrupt big government and big business (even more dazzlingly corrupt).  We've had many voices--many fine voices--like Eleanor Roosevelt, FDR, JFK, MLK, Walter Reuther, Cesar Chavez, Barbara Jordan, Mario Cuomo, Ted Kennedy, Hillary Clinton, Russ Feingold, Dennis Kucinich,  Anthony Weiner, Sheldon Whitehouse, Byron Dorgan (Yes, I've heard--but he still has a voice), Elizabeth Warren, Bill Moyers, Rachel Maddow.  We've had Molly Ivins, Michael Moore, Jim Hightower, and now Al Franken, who's laughing all the way to the Hill.

But where is the one strong leader leading the charge to help put our country back together again?  To take on the jammers and scammers in high places?  To demolish the Fat Cats' havens?  To get people back to work?  To keep families healthy and safe, without poverty looming?   For awhile there, we thought it was going to be Barack Obama.  For a while, I think even Barack Obama thought it was going to be him.   But it isn't.  It's clear he's not the one.

No leader.  Oh, well. . .so be it.


Wait, that was last year.  This year--2010--we're going to have to do it ourselves.  We who see ourselves as the perennial, ineffectual caretakers are going to have to make our presence known.  Don't answer to "Liberal", I don't care.  Call yourselves "Progressives", I don't care.  Just do what liberals have always done.  Help the poor, feed the hungry, nurture the children, restore human dignity, and advocate, always, for equity and honesty.

This year is the year of the PEOPLE.  We are the people.  Only we can make it happen.  We can't do it alone.  We can't even do it with rooms full of like-minded people.  In order to be heard, we have to do it by the millions.  There are millions of us out of work with nothing but time on our hands.  There are millions of us who are retired, with no real schedule, who remember what it was like when the middle class was on top and want that back again.  There are millions of us with brain power and skills working at no-hope jobs through no fault of our own.  And there are millions of us who are union members who need a refresher course in labor struggles and organized ass-kicking.

2010.  The Year of the People.   Last I looked, that's us.


(Cross-posted at Talking Points Memo here.)

Monday, January 4, 2010

Today is my Dad's 99th Birthday

I could have said, "Today would have been my Dad's 99th birthday" and the tense would be truer--he's no longer with us.  But do we stop celebrating birthdays just because the honoree  isn't here to blow out the candles?  I hope not.

Wish this was in better condition.  I love it.
My dad was not a gusher.  He was a toucher, not a hugger.  A pat on the shoulder, a tap on the head. . .that was about as close as he came to showing physical affection after I got too gangly to be sitting on his lap.  But I never doubted that he loved me.

He was not well-spoken, not well-read, but he understood completely his daughter's insatiable need for reading material.  For a time, on most paydays (when there was a payday), he would surprise me with the very book I had been hinting for all week.  When that wasn't possible, he would sit quietly at the public library while I searched the stacks for signs of magic.

He lived to be 78, a hard worker almost to the end.  In his later years he became a notorious (and really, a hilarious) curmudgeon, but to nearly everybody but me.  I don't remember him ever raising his voice to me.  When I began dating, he was a nervous wreck but he left it to my mother to pass along his warnings.  "Your dad says you need to be in before midnight. . ."

He was gruffer with my brothers, Mike and Chris, but there was never any doubt that he loved them both.

He loved his grandkids and always had some special surprise for them when they visited.  He taught the other man in my life how to cook Italian.  His Chicken Cacciatore has never been duplicated, but my husband's comes mighty close.

He was seven years older than my mother, but he outlived her by three years.  She died eight months after they celebrated their 50th anniversary, and on that day he began to die.  His days without her were sad enough that when he slipped into a fog and finally passed, it was with our blessing.

Today he would have been 99 years old.  Even though he would have pretended otherwise, I think he would have liked that we noticed.