Sunday, August 31, 2014

A Labor Day Round Up: Let's Hear It For The Workers

Thomas Perez has been Secretary of Labor for just about a year now, having been sworn in on September 4, 2013.  He missed giving his first Labor Day pronouncement by two days, so this year's pronouncement is his first.

Here's what he had to say:

Statement on Labor Day by US Secretary of Labor Thomas E. Perez

WASHINGTON — Each year, Labor Day gives us an opportunity to recognize the invaluable contributions that working men and women make to our nation, our economy and our collective prosperity. It gives us a chance to show gratitude for workers' grit, dedication, ingenuity and strength, which define our nation's character. At the Labor Department, it also provides an opportunity to reflect on how we can best serve and honor workers in return.

This year, we're honoring workers by investing more than a $1 billion in job-driven training programs to give Americans the skills employers need. We're honoring workers by promoting quality apprenticeships that will enable more people to "earn and learn." We're honoring workers, at President Obama's direction, by developing new rules to give more workers access to overtime pay and increase the minimum wage for private-sector workers hired under federal contracts. We're honoring workers by implementing a new life-saving rule to limit miners' exposure to coal dust and move us closer to eliminating black lung disease and by taking the next steps toward protecting workers from inhaling high levels of crystalline silica.

But as a nation, we can do more to lift workers up, and to ensure that all hardworking people are able to climb ladders of opportunity and reach for the American dream. It's time to raise the national minimum wage, so that no one working a full-time job has to live in poverty. It's time to update our workplace policies to reflect the realities of the 21st century labor force and to support modern working families. It's time to continue our nation's long commitment to supporting unemployed workers by extending emergency unemployment compensation.

Our nation is in the midst of a strong economic recovery. Job growth has topped 200,000 for six consecutive months — the first such stretch since 1997. Businesses have added nearly 10 million jobs since February 2010, with 53 consecutive months of growth. I'm optimistic about where we're headed — and I know we wouldn't be where we are without the resilience, commitment and strength of American workers.

This Labor Day, let's remember that hardworking men and women are the backbone of our country, and let's redouble our efforts to uphold our nation's great promise to them: that if you work hard and play by the rules, you can make it in America.
 The emphasis is mine and here's why:  This is Labor Secretary Perez's first Labor Day speech--a fine tradition continued by Labor Secretaries for decades now, and this one, by most standards, is not bad.  It says what you would expect from the Labor Secretary.  Workers are great and we're doing all we can to make sure they know that so they'll keep on working. 

But really, Secretary Perez?  Couldn't you have mentioned unions and the labor movement at least once?

Labor Day is an American holiday created by labor unions.  It became a national holiday in 1894, and since then it has been celebrated on the first Monday in September, without fail.   We celebrate the labor movement on Labor Day each year because working hard and playing by the rules (whose rules?) was not and never has been a ticket to success in America.  It took the labor movement to gather enough strength to make sure hard working, rules-playing workers got a fair shake in the workplace.

So let's look at what others are saying on this 160th anniversary of the American Labor Day weekend:

Robert Reich, Labor Secretary under Bill Clinton, created a video with cartoons for his Labor Day contribution.  He mentions unions.   (Bonus:  PBS Frontline interview in which he talks about his job as Labor Secretary.)

Richard Reeves takes this time to call Labor Day "a farce".  He has his reasons.

Richard Trumka asks a question this Labor Day, and the AFL-CIO offers printable "Thank a Worker" cards

 AFSCME president Lee A. Saunders gets tough on politicians who scapegoat unions.  (It happens.)

Even Forbes gets in on it, with an essay by Steve Dunning entitled, "The Shame of Labor Day".  (Hint:  Ronald Reagan started this mess.)

And, as I seem to do every year, let me just drag out a few of my own Labor Day columns.  Whatever I might say today I've already said here and here and here.

But, hey, not everybody wants to celebrate.  The Freedom Foundation (Not just any old Freedom Foundation, THE Freedom Foundation) is boycotting Labor Day by going in to work!  Here's CEO Tom McCabe: 
"I can't think of a problem in society that can't be traced in some way back to the abuses of organized labor, and it would be hypocritical of us to take a day off on its behalf."

Well, yeah!  That'll show us!

Hope your long weekend was a smash hit.  If you were lucky enough to have all three days off, don't forget to thank the union movement.  Without unions fighting for your rights, you might never have had a day off, let alone a paid day off.

(Cross-posted at Dagblog and Alan Colmes' Liberaland)

Monday, August 25, 2014

Five Years Later I miss Ted Kennedy Even More

May it be said of our Party in 1980 that we found our faith again.
And may it be said of us, both in dark passages and in bright days, in the words of Tennyson that my brothers quoted and loved, and that have special meaning for me now:
"I am a part of all that I have met
To [Tho] much is taken, much abides
That which we are, we are --
One equal temper of heroic hearts
Strong in will
To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield."
For me, a few hours ago, this campaign came to an end.
For all those whose cares have been our concern, the work goes on, the cause endures, the hope still lives, and the dream shall never die.
Senator Edward Kennedy, August 12, 1980


Note:  Today marks the fifth anniversary of Ted Kennedy's death.  Here I repeat the post I wrote on the day we lost this great senator and friend to those who had almost given up on a government of, by and for the people.  I miss his huge voice, his huge heart, his ability to cut through the crap and get to the simple truths.  We could use you now, Teddy.  We could use you now.

August 25, 2009:

I woke up this morning to the news I've been dreading for weeks now.  Ted Kennedy, the Good Man of the Senate, has died.  He has been on my mind a lot lately, as we wage this battle for the common good, because what I fear most now is that our progress will suffer badly without his counsel, without his presence.

For more than 40 years he has consistently been on the side of the people without power.  As former senator Bob Kerrey said on "Morning Joe" today, "If you're getting the shaft, you ought to be weeping today because Ted Kennedy was your best friend."

The list of his accomplishments, the bills he worked so tirelessly to get passed, the people whose personal stories tell the tale of a man of high privilege coming to understand his role in the negation of human misery--are all part of our history we will never forget.

But no matter how much we would prefer to concentrate on the triumphs of his life, on the undeniable good he has done for his country, the specter of Chappaquiddick will never stop casting a long shadow over it all.

Already, this early in the morning, it comes up in the remembrances of those who knew him and are now before the cameras talking about his life.  It happened--we know it happened.  The facts are that Mary Jo Kopechne's life ended on July 18, 1969, after  drowning in a river on Chappaquiddick Island.  It was late at night and she was a passenger in a car driven by Sen. Edward Kennedy.  They were heading toward the ferry to the mainland after a victory party when the car skidded off a bridge and crashed into the water. Kennedy survived, but Mary Jo didn't. She was just days away from her 29th birthday.

There is no question that Ted Kennedy panicked and swam across to the mainland, leaving Mary Jo in that car in that river.  Did he try to save her?  He says he did.  He says he was going for help, but it was hours before anyone found the car with Mary Jo's body inside.

Leaving the scene of an accident is a crime, and there were a lot of us--maybe most of us--who wanted to see him, at the very least, serve time in jail.  His sentence was eventually suspended, a seemingly contemptuous judicial act that stunned us all.  No punishment for running like a coward, allowing a young woman to die?  Why?  Because the rich and famous are exempt from having to pay for their sins?

For years I didn't want to ever hear the name Ted Kennedy again.  For years I heard the stories of his drinking, his carousing, and I wondered how the good people of Massachusetts could go on electing him.

He ran for president against Jimmy Carter and campaigned badly.  Again, we counted him out.  Then he gave his concession speech, his "the dream shall never die" speech, on the night of Jimmy Carter's primary victory.  There were a number of us in the room that night watching the returns, but I can still remember how quiet it was as we listened to the final moments of his speech..  I remember that none of us expected much from him by that time so when he started we were barely listening.  When it ended, we all looked at one another and someone said, "Why in God's name did he have to wait until now to give that speech?"

I've heard people say that he campaigned badly because, after Chappaquiddick, he felt deep down that he didn't deserve the presidency.  I can't begin to look into Ted Kennedy's soul at the time, but after that defeat he was a different man.  He went to work to fight for the causes his liberal heart told him were the most important, and he never looked back.
Already I'm seeing the hatred toward the Liberal Lion, the greatest senator of our times, bombarding the boards.  I won't repeat them here because I choose to celebrate Ted Kennedy's life.  It's a life that is ultimately deserving of praise.  Many of the people who are without a doubt going to go on the Hate Kennedy rampage today will laugh at the idea of a plea for forgiveness,  so I'll say this in words that most of them can understand:

Luke 17:3 - Take heed to yourselves; if your brother sins, rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him.

To forgive is not to forget.  I'm not alone in wondering where Mary Jo's life would have taken her.  From all accounts, she was good, decent, smart, loving.  She was on Robert Kennedy's staff, even helping to write a speech he gave against the Vietnam War.  Who knows what kind of career she would have chosen?  Where she would be today?

I've always wondered if it's possible that Ted Kennedy chose to give his life over to helping people who couldn't help themselves because the one time he might have actually saved a life, he failed.  A noble act of repentance.

If I weep for Ted Kennedy today, it is not for all the things that might have been, it is for all the things that were and now will be no more.


Wednesday, August 13, 2014

The Long Dark Sadness Claims Another Victim

The news that comedian Robin Williams has succumbed to deep depression is sparking thousands of conversations on the airwaves and throughout the internet. Once the shock is over, once the tributes and the memories and the RIPs have been delivered, the talk turns, as it always does when someone commits suicide, to what it was that could possibly make someone do such a thing. He had everything going for him and it still wasn’t enough. . .  Suicide is a selfish act. . .  A cowardly act. . . Look what he’s done to his family. . .

I come from a long line of depressives. The disease—dirty, rotten infiltrator that it is--hasn't skipped me, my children, or even my grandchildren.  In both my immediate and my extended family there have been suicides, hospitalizations, therapies and drugs—drugs that have worked miracles and drugs that have been disappointing failures.
At times not of our choosing an unrelenting sadness washes over us and we have to struggle to keep from going under.  It may seem to others that we're weak or self-indulgent or self-destructive or stubborn or just wet blankets. From the moment it hits, it demands--and gets--all of our attention. Happiness is momentary, a fleeting teaser--a whiff and then it's gone.

Those who have never had to deal with chronic deep depression are understandably impatient.  Because our illness is not obvious on the outside and because we can get pretty crazy with it--seeming to fight every attempt to help us get well--it's easy to give up on us.

I haven't felt that kind of depression for several years, but I still say "us" because I know from experience the depression bug is lurking somewhere and could rear its ugly head at any time, in any place, without my permission. 

I have been suicidal. Depression is exhausting. It winds us down and makes us weary. It takes away any feeling of worth and no matter who is telling us we're loved, we're good, we deserve to be happy--we know better. We're feeling something else.

We are a burden not just to ourselves but to everyone around us.  Love (or the lack of love) has nothing to do with it.  When we're in a depressed state we have turned inward and our demons have locked the door. We put on our outside face and pretend.

 The people taking turns to comfort us, to soothe us with just the right words, might as well be talking to themselves. We indulge them, we pretend for their sakes that their words are magically healing, are just what we needed, but when they've left it's as if they were never there.

We work sometimes at convincing ourselves the people we care about would be better off without us because, if it ever comes to that, the leaving will be easier.

The common perception is that we are our own worst enemies, when, in fact, the enemy is within us and is messing with us in ways too cruel to even fathom. It takes all our energy to act casual while our inner demons are keeping us wedged in our darkest places. We know, even as the depression drops a curtain over our feelings and drives us down, that we must appear normal for the sake of those often at their wit's end trying to figure out what they can do to make us happy again.

Depression doesn't work that way.  While tender loving care is a welcome and necessary aid, it's not a treatment and it's not a cure.  Depression is an illness as real and as insidious as cancer.  It's a cancer of the psyche, eroding and destroying our self-worth. It takes with it our ability to appreciate even the smallest joys. Every depressive I've ever known carries a burden of guilt.  We should be happy.  Why can't we make ourselves happy?

You might wonder how I got over it.  I wish I knew. Then I might know how to avoid it the next time.  I might know how to help the people I love who still suffer. I don't know. I could say it was many things--true love, living in a place of beauty, thinking happy thoughts--but that would be giving in to the myth that clinical depression is based on tangibles. It is a chemical imbalance of the brain.  There are modern pharmaceutical concoctions that do, in fact, work miracles for some, but the frequency of depression-based suicides tells us there is still much to learn, still much to do.

We could move light years ahead if we removed the stigma from every form of mental incapacity and treated it all as the physical illness it is.

We could make life easier for the survivors of suicide victims if we stopped looking to them for answers and looked, instead, toward treating depression as a disease that kills as surely and as swiftly as any other malignant disease. 

We've lost too many to it already.  We need to try something different.

(Cross-posted at Dagblog and Alan Colmes' Liberaland)

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Charles Koch Schools Us on How to Keep His Family the Second Richest In The Country

The gazillionaire Charles Koch, the Right Wing benefactor whose father was a co-founder of the John Birch Society,  the same Charles Koch who, along with his brother, David, works tirelessly against any sign of government interference when it comes to health care, public education, infrastructure, climate change, or  aiding the pitifully down and out, and who most generously funds any person, politician or party promising to fight along with them on the Kill the Government Before They Kill Us battleground--that very same Charles Koch has just written a whopper of an op-ed in USA Today extolling the virtues of "real work" and "real values" (surprise!) and decrying the existence of anti-business government regulations. (Double-surprise!)

Every now and then--as if we don't get enough of him second hand--he comes out of the shadows and into the light and says publicly what he and his brother, through their various foundations, including the anti-government, pro-them organization, Americans for Prosperity, have been pressing their free-market screw-the-poor minions to go along with for many dozens of years. 

A sampling of his USA Today piece:
"When I was growing up, my father had me spend my free time working at unpleasant jobs. Most Americans understand that taking a job and sticking with it, no matter how unpleasant or low-paying, is a vital step toward the American dream. We are in for more trouble if young people don't find that all-important first job, which is critical to beginning their climb up the ladder.

Finally, we need greater incentives to work. Costly programs, such as paying able-bodied people not to work, are addictive disincentives. By undermining people's will to work, our government has created a culture of dependency and hopelessness. This is most unfair to vulnerable citizens who suffer even as we say they are receiving 'benefits.'

I agree with Dr. Martin Luther King. There are no dead-end jobs. Every job deserves our best. 'If a man is called to be a street sweeper," King said, ' he should sweep streets so well that all the hosts of heaven and earth will pause to say, 'Here lived a great street sweeper who did his job well.'"
 Dibs on the throw-up pot.  And let me just sit a spell; I'm feeling pissed faint. 

This from a man who has advocated his entire adult life for the total destruction of a system of government purportedly hindering the ability of any citizen to make his or her fortune.  Never mind that his family is ranked the second richest in the entire country.  Their net worth is $89 billion

Wage inequality has become so lopsided the top one percent owns 40 percent of our wealth.  Our once-vibrant middle class has dwindled to a precious few, with the union-starved working poor making up the majority of our work force now. 

But beyond that, Charles Koch, in his phony bid to convince Americans that the poor are simply lazy and the free market will work for everybody no matter what we've heard, cites Martin Luther King, of all people, as an example of a person who understood how these things work.

This same Charles Koch:
"Charles Koch was not simply a rank and file member of the John Birch Society in name only who paid nominal dues. He purchased and held a "lifetime membership" until he resigned in 1968. He also lent his name and his wealth to the operations of the John Birch Society in Wichita, aiding its "American Opinion" bookstore -- which was stocked with attacks on the civil rights movement, Martin Luther King, and Earl Warren as elements of the communist conspiracy. He funded the John Birch Society's promotional campaigns, bought advertising in its magazine, and supported its distribution of right-wing radio shows.
 Charles and David Koch came by their Bircherish notions naturally.  In Claire Conner's chilling memoir, Wrapped In A Flag (a recounting of Conner's life as the daughter of founding members of the John Birch Society growing up in a house where her parents' every waking moment was devoted to the destruction of Communism and the government that was in cahoots), she had this to say about the Koch brothers' father, Fred Koch, whose fortunes began while traveling across Russia overseeing the installation of 15 oil refineries for the Soviets:
"In 1960, a little over a year after he became a founding member of the John Birch Society, Fred published A Businessman Looks at Communism, a harsh critique of the Communist system.  The book became a hit in the growing anti-Communist movement . . . . .Koch's book outlined the steps the Communists planned to take over America:  'Step One:  Infiltration of high office of government and political parties until the president of the U.S is a Communist. . .even the Vice presidency would do, as it could be easily arranged for the president to commit suicide.'
Step Two was a general strike, which 'could bring our country to its knees.'  Wrote Koch, 'Labor unions have long been a Communist goal. . .the effort is frequently to make the worker do as little as possible for the money he receives.  This practice alone could destroy the country.'"
 I doubt if any newspaper in the country would turn down an op-ed submission from someone like Charles Koch (I wonder if they had to pay him?), and USA Today is no exception.  This had to be the catch of the year for them, and it's paying off big time in exposure.  But where was the rebuttal for such an obvious propaganda piece?  USA Today often publishes "the other side", giving someone else the chance to take the opposite view.  (Say, from Bernie Sanders?)  Not this time.

From now until November we'll be seeing Koch-inspired disinformation with a vengeance.  They've even found us up here in the north woods, where hardly anybody lives.  (Though the ones who do, I'm sorry to say, are mainly Republicans.  Many, many, many of them are on unemployment, are underemployed, are on food stamps, and rely on Medicaid for their health care, but they've bought into the lie about the government coming to take away their rights.  I don't know how to explain it, and I don't even try.)

This is an example of the primary election materials that came to our mailbox just this last month.  All endorsed and paid for by The Americans for Prosperity.  This is just the beginning.  They have more money than dozens of small countries across the globe and they're willing to spend it to get what they want in November.

Charles Koch and those like him will go to any lengths to create the oligarchy they've always dreamed of.  We have the knowledge and the wits to stop them but there is no question that they can outspend us.  They can use their power to buy airtime (and stations), to have open access to op-ed pages (and buy newspapers), to get their message across in a million different ways while working, in ways that are staggeringly effective, to suppress ours.

If money can buy anything, we're in trouble.   Our job now is to prove that it'll take more than huge semi-loads of cash to get us to give up on a country we've worked so hard to build.  They don't own us.  Not yet.  There's still time.

 (Cross-posted at Dagblog and Alan Colmes' Liberaland)

Saturday, August 2, 2014

George Will's Backhanded Tribute to Sherrod Brown

I don't know what to make of George Will lately.  It's as if George Will the Good has been working his way out of George Will the Bad's closet, escaping for a few minutes of sunlight before his evil twin GWTB discovers him and throws him back in.

George the Good surfaced on Fox News one recent Sunday and had this to say about  the children crossing our borders from Central America:
 "We ought to say to these children, 'Welcome to America, you're going to go to school, and get a job, and become American.  We have 3,141 counties in this country. That would be 20 per county."

He went on to shock his Foxhole buddies by adding,  "The idea that we can't assimilate these 8-year-old criminals with their teddy bears is preposterous."

 I know!  George Will!  The same George Will who got himself in hot water this June by refuting the reported numbers of sexual assaults on American college campuses, and then refusing to back down.

The same George Will who went after government-sponsored scientific research on climate change, basing his conclusions on what he sees as silly liberal science.  (The ice caps didn't melt when Al Gore said they would.  End of story.)

The proof that there are two George Wills battling against each other comes in this morning's Washington Post piece about Democratic senator Sherrod Brown of Ohio.  Today both George Wills are out in the open, and while GWTB gets more print space, GWTG manages to sneak in some swell stuff about our man Brown.  I suspect GWTB allowed it to stay because it was a perfect counterpoint to what he had to say about Hillary Clinton and Elizabeth Warren  (Very first paragraph):

"If Ohio's senior senator were named Sharon Brown instead of Sherrod Brown, progressives would have a plausible political pin-up and a serious alternative to the tawdry boredom of Hillary Clinton's joyless plod toward her party's presidential nomination.  Drop one of Brown's consonants and change another and a vowel, and we might be spared the infatuation of what Howard Dean called "the Democratic wing of the Democratic Party" for Sen. Elizabeth Warren. "
But both George the Good and George the Bad must have worked on this:
"Brown, however, looks, sounds and acts like a real, as opposed to faculty club, leftist.  Although he is a Yale graduate, he has the rumpled look and hoarse voice of someone who spent last night on Paris barricades, exhorting les miserables to chuck cobblestones at the forces defending property.  And he is not just talk."
(That's a compliment, right?)

Will goes on to talk about Brown's campaign to seat Janet Yellen instead of the president's first choice, Larry Summers, as chairman of the Federal Reserve, complimenting him for managing to get 20 senators to sign a letter in opposition to Summers.  That was a good thing.

He praises Brown for working to end the crazy notion that banks can be too big to fail.  All good.

But then he says, in his inimitable georgewillian style, 
"He is impeccably wrong, meaning progressive, about free trade.  He is for fair trade, a.k.a. protectionism disguised in Pecksniffian sanctimony demanding that less-developed nations adopt stronger labor and environmental standards." 
("Pecksniffian sanctimony"! Score one for George the Bad!)

I may not say it often enough but I think Sen. Brown is such an asset to the country--and to the Democratic Party--if he decided to move up and run for president some time in the future, I would drop everything (within reason, of course) and work my tail off to get him into the White House.   I would do the same for Elizabeth Warren.  They are both liberal populists, and, contrary to what Will might believe, Brown and Warren do, in fact, work well together

 Sherrod Brown is not an unknown entity among Democrats, as Will would have us believe.  There are plenty of us, among the hoi polloi, and among the Big Guys,  who have been paying attention to him and like what we see.  There has been talk of a Clinton/Brown ticket in 2016.  Brown is having no part of it--for now. But if Hillary Clinton is our candidate, Sherrod Brown will be right out in front with us supporting that choice, working hard to make that happen. 

The Will Boys end the piece like this:
"Are progressives so preoccupied with gender that they prefer Clinton's risk-averse careerism, or Warren's astonished tantrums about the obvious dynamics of big government, to Brown's authentic progressivism?  Yes."
Well, no.  I would hardly call Hillary Clinton's checkered career "risk-averse".  And  Warren's "astonished tantrums" are not the female version of Brown's "authentic progressivism".  (Nice one, GWTG)  They're one and the same.  Both Brown and Warren are known populists working to lead us out of this mess and millions of us are working to make sure they succeed.

But thanks for the attention, Mr. Will.  And a High Five to George the Good.  See you again sometime?


(Cross-posted at Dagblog and Alan Colmes' Liberaland.)