Wednesday, November 23, 2011
By Reginald Johnson
I got a note in my email box this week from the fine group “Strengthen Social Security” enititled ‘Something to be thankful for.’
In it they extend their thanks to the many people who worked hard to send letters, made phone calls, held rallies and signed petitions when the call went out to tell Congress not to make cuts to the bedrock safety net programs of Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid.
Everytime Congress threatened these programs, the letter said, “you were there, pushing back. And you were successful.”
While noting that the battle to save the “Big Three” programs isn’t over, there was a major victory this week, with the announcement by the so-called congressional super committee it couldn’t reach agreement on the drive to cut the U.S. debt. The committee at one point had been considering major cuts in the social programs.
“Many people will call this a failure,” the letter said. “But make no mistake, this is a victory for the 99 percent and democracy, and it’s due to your hard work.”
I’d like to second their thoughts. But I also want to say another group should be thanked for thwarting the drive to undermine public assistance programs: all those who are participating in the Occupy Wall Street movement.
Thousands of people, many young, are encamping around the country and rallying everyday to demand accountability from the banks and the financial elite while insisting on a fairer shake for working people. They deserve so much credit. Their persistence has forced a change in the national discussion, from talking about the so-called problems of the budget deficit and the need to cut programs, to talking about income inequality and the needs of “the 99 percent.”
What Occupy Wall Street has already accomplished is amazing --- in just two months. Despite the vicious actions of city leaders like New York’s billionaire Mayor Michael Bloomberg to break up the movement by destroying encampments, I think this drive for national economic justice is only going to get stronger. It has the makings of the strongest social change movement in generations.
On this Thanksgiving Day, I tip my hat to all the participants in Occupy Wall Street. Thank you.
Sunday, November 6, 2011
To Tiffany Mellers, big banks are doing the American people an injustice.
They’re charging high credit card rates, making it difficult to get mortgages and hitting people with excessive fees. They’re also not investing in the local communities like Bridgeport, said Mellers, herself a city resident. At the same time, the large banks are pulling in record profits and rewarding their top officers with hefty bonuses. In many cases, they’re also paying little or no taxes, Mellers said..
Like thousands of others around the country, Mellers has decided that the people have to fight back. One way they’re doing that is by encouraging people to move their money from banks like Bank of America, Chase and Wells Fargo into small banks and credit unions.
On Saturday, Mellers took part in “Bank Transfer Day” --- a nationwide action where people were urged to withdraw their money from large banks and shift the funds to smaller institutions.
Mellers joined several other protestors in Bridgeport, standing outside the Bank of America branch on Middle Street and then on Main Street and Capital Avenue, to urge people to drop business with the bank.
“This is about holding banks like this accountable,” said Mellers, as she handed out flyers near the branch on Main Street.
By investing money in credit unions and community banks, she said, people will better insure their money will be invested locally.
“These banks aren’t recycling the money locally,” Mellers, pointing back at the Bank of America sign.
The nationwide protest, also called “Move Your Money Day,” was organized by Moveon.org and a number of other progressive organizations. Since September, there’s been increasing calls for consumers to move their money out of mega banks. Part of the drive has emanated from the Occupy Wall Street movement, which is aimed at making corporations, including large banks, pay their fair share in taxes and act more responsibly in terms of credit card rates, foreclosure procedures and fees.
Just since Sept. 29, credit unions have pulled in some 650,000 new customers, according to an industry trade group. That influx took place after Bank of America announced they were hitting customers with a new $5-a-month debit card fee. (The bank has rescinded its decision, and other banks dropped similar plans).
Credit unions are not-for-profit cooperatives owned by their members. They generally charge less fees than banks and offer credit cards with lower rates of interest.
Mellers is an organizer with Moveon.org and a member of the “American Dream Movement.”
In the Saturday protest, Mellers was dressed up in a colorful red, white and blue costume. Calling herself the “American Dream Girl,” she held up a sign saying “Save the American Dream.”
When she wasn’t chatting with people who stopped at the stop light, she sometimes broke out in song. One ditty went:
“The banks have tanked, We bailed them out, It’s time to take your money out. Move your money!”
Tuesday, November 1, 2011
When I hear the words “general strike,” it’s music to my ears.
This is an event where everyone in a city or country decide they’ve had enough of being exploited and they want a fairer shake from their government, their employer or prevailing economic system. Often general strikes have been made in support of a group of workers who are being abused by a company.
The general strike sees workers, students and regular citizens stop their normal routines. They don't go to work, don't patronize businesses, don't to school. The system comes to a halt for that day, or days.
A general strike can send a powerful message to the powers that be that the people are really serious, and they’re willing to make major sacrifices to bring about greater political fairness and wider economic rights.
Huge general strikes took place in Egypt earlier this year, which led to the ouster of long-time dictator Hosni Mubarak. General strikes have also rocked Spain and Greece, where millions of people chafe under the brutal austerity demands of governments and corporate elites.
The U.S. --- where some historic general strikes took place back in the turbulent 1930s --- has not seen much in recent years.
But things are changing now, as the Occupy Wall Street movement sweeps the country.
On Wednesday, Occupy Oakland plans a general strike aimed at shutting down the Bay Area city.
Members of the Oakland movement are furious over their treatment by city authorities. Police evicted them from their encampment at a plaza near City Hall last week and 85 people were arrested. Then when the group tried to retake the plaza, police beat them back using stun grenades and tear gas. During the melee, a 24-year-old Iraq War veteran, Scott Olsen, was hit in the head by a tear gas canister, leaving him seriously injured.
News of the injury created a wave of anger among the protesters and Olsen has become a rallying cry for the Occupy Wall Street movement nationwide.
The movement, which began with an occupation near Wall Street in New York City in September, is aimed at fighting economic inequality and corporate greed. Occupiers say there's something wrong with a system that allows the top 1 percent of income earners to enjoy so much wealth and power while everyone else --- the 99 percent --- struggle with unemployment, declining incomes and escalating costs.
"Occupy" protests have sprung up at 200 locations around the country.
Of the general strike, organizer Cat Brooks said, “We mean nobody goes to work, nobody goes to school, we shut the city down.”
He added, “The only thing they seem to care about is money and they don’t understand that it’s our money they need. We don’t don’t need them, they need us.”
It’s not clear how successful the Oakland strike will be, which was hastily organized.
Protests will be held Wednesday at banks and corporations that refuse to shut down. Protesters will then march to the Port of Oakland to try to shut down the night shift.
It’s interesting to note that one of the most famous general strikes in U.S. history took place in 1934 in San Francisco, when thousands of both union and non-union workers walked off their jobs to show support for striking longshoremen and protest violence by police.
Even if the Oakland action is not totally successful, I think a spark has been lit, and there’s likely to be more general strikes in other areas and possibly a nationwide general strike down the road.
Let’s hope so.
Wednesday, October 26, 2011
By Reginald Johnson
October 26, 2011
A lot of people are cheering the fact that Libyan dictator Moammar Gadhafi has been killed. Good riddance to a brutal despot, they say, the world is better without him.
I’m not cheering. It’s not that I think Gadhafi was some kind of nice guy. He clearly was not. He was a brutal tyrant. It’s just that I am getting sick and tired of how the United States thinks that it has the right to essentially rub out any person it deems to be acting against its interest, and to do so irrespective of U.S. law and international law.
As Noam Chomsky would say, we act like a Mafia don on the world stage --- using force and violence to get our way. Look at the godfather cross-eyed, and you’re history.
The so-called Libyan rebels reportedly killed Gadhafi, after a protracted battle for the dictator ‘s hometown of Sirte. But the reality is, the Americans and their fellow partners in crime, France, Britain and Italy, killed Gadhafi.
While there was a genuine uprising in Libya’s east in February against the dictatorship, and Western countries entered the conflict supposedly on humanitarian grounds --- to protect rebel areas and civilians from a massacre by Gadhafi forces --- the intervention soon became an all-out assault on the entire country. The action against Libya --- in the form of NATO planes attacking pro-Gadhafi areas constituted an illegal invasion that went far beyond the terms of the UN resolution passed in March allowing for military action to protect civilians.
The U.S. and their allies wanted Gadhafi out. Getting rid of the eccentric and independent-minded Libyan leader was seen as a means to install a more pliant government, which would surely grant unconditional access to the Libya’s massive amounts of high quality oil and water. A more obedient government in Tripoli also means the U.S. can build military bases in the country giving America a springboard for further interventions in the rest of resource-rich Africa.
The U.S., Britain and France saw the Benghazi uprising as providing a pretext for making their move on Gadhafi. The intervention had nothing to do with helping the Libyans achieve democracy, or promote the Arab Spring --- a idea advanced by some people on the left who should know better.
After months of NATO bombing runs --- with many civilians killed and civilian infrastructure destroyed ---- the rag tag rebel army caught up with Gadhafi and shot him. The exact circumstances of Gadhafi’s death are not clear, but this fact is: the rebel army never could have won this war without NATO assistance, and if the word had come down during the battle for Sirte, ‘capture, don’t kill Gadhafi,’ the dictator would have been taken alive. He was not --- this was an execution.
The annoying and nationalist-minded Col. Gadhafi was out of the way.
But had Libya attacked the United States, France or Britain? No. There was no legal basis under international law for the all-out assault that took place on this sovereign country. Nor did President Barack Obama get congressional approval for the attack in which the United States was so centrally involved. In so doing, Obama trampled on the constitution and the War Powers Act.
The elimination of Gadhafi was the third time this year that the U.S. carried out extra-judicial killings of heads of state or alleged terrorist leaders.
In September, a CIA drone in Yemen killed Anwar al-Awlaki, an American-born Muslim cleric with alleged al-Qaeda ties. He had been implicated in plots to harm the United States, but was never indicted. Nonetheless, he was put on a “kill list” set up by a secret panel in the White House’s National Security Council.
Awlaki’s killing violated the U.S. Constitution. The Fifth Amendment says no American citizen shall be “deprived of life, liberty or property without due process of law.”
What due process was given al-Awlaki? None. Just put on a kill list, and boom, taken out.
How different is this than what Stalin and Hitler did to opponents of their regimes, or those who they considered terrorists?
Al-Awlaki should have been captured and put on trial. Why wasn’t he? Maybe because the case against him wouldn’t have stood up in court?
Osama Bin-Laden, the reputed author of the 911 attacks (though no conclusive evidence has ever been presented to verify his role) was executed by U.S. commandoes in May. The raid on Bin Laden’s compound in Pakistan was done unilaterally by the U.S. without consultation with Pakistan.
Bin Laden was unarmed at the time of the raid, and could have been taken alive. Like al-Awlaki, he should have been captured, and brought to trial for his alleged crimes. He had been indicted for his role in the bombing of the U.S.S. Cole in 2000.
But he was executed, possibly on orders of President Obama, who watched the raid in real time with his White House team.
His body was then dumped at sea.
What has our nation come to? Is this the America of 2011 --- one whose government has secret kill lists, execution teams and a population (at least many) who cheer when designated “bad guys” are killed in a lawless manner? Apparently so.
Friday, September 30, 2011
The Occupy Wall Street protests are not only continuing, they’re getting bigger.
As the old saying goes, this is just what the doctor ordered.
I think that at long last, a large number of people (including young people --- thank you!) are waking up to the fact that they’ve been fed a line of bull that our system will work for them. They see that contrary to myth, the American economy is totally controlled by the power of big corporations --- particularly the big financial institutions like banks and investment firms. In turn, the corporate behemoths control the politicians and the legal apparatus. Our society is effectively in a straitjacket. Creating real change and bringing about social and economic equality is impossible through traditional channels, because corporate power will block such drives every time.
The only way to break this stranglehold is through a mass movement, where so many people are involved, so many people are willing to be arrested, that political and business leaders have to accept change, otherwise, they’re gone.
The Occupy Wall Street movement and similar uprisings in other cities, are capturing the attention of the nation. People have had it. They’re tired of the lies from Wall Street stooges like Obama, tired of being told they have to sacrifice to keep our country afloat, while big banks and the people that run them, escape any requirement to sacrifice. It is infuriating to people that as their wealth declines through job loss and sinking house values, guys at the top of banks like J.P. Morgan rake in $30 million a year. This, after the same banks nearly collapsed our economy through reckless investment schemes, such as mortgage-backed securities, and had to be bailed out with trillions of dollars in government money.
So the beginnings of a mass resistance is underway, and it’s critical to get on board. The movement must succeed. The alternative is a rapidly declining level of political democracy and an increasing level of economic injustice.
It’s wise to remember the words of the great abolitionist Frederick Douglass:
“Those who profess to favor freedom, but deprecate agitation, are men who want crops without plowing up the ground. They want rain without thunder and lightening. They want the ocean without the roar of its many waters. This struggle may be a moral one; or it may be a physical one; or it may be both moral and physical; but it must be a struggle. Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will.”
One other note. As the participants in Occupy Wall Street work hard to build their movement for greater economic justice --- and at real risk --- some people tied to the wealthy financial institutions in lower Manhattan apparently find the protests amusing. Check out this video from Global Research TV http://tv.globalresearch.ca/2011/09/wall-street-mocks-protesters-drinking-champagne, showing a group of financial types standing on a balcony last week sipping champagne and laughing at demonstrators. They appear totally oblivious and insensitive to the problems of working people. It brought to mind the famous comment by 18th century French royalist Marie Antoinette, after she was asked how to help hungry peasants. “Let them eat cake,” she said.
Friday, September 2, 2011
By Reginald Johnson
Sept. 2, 2011
It’s a stirring sight to see so many people engaging in acts of civil disobedience in the on-going protest outside the White House against the proposed Keystone XL oil pipeline from Canada to the United States.
To date more than 1,000 people have gotten arrested by sitting in front of the White House and refusing to leave, in the largest environmental protest in a generation. The demonstrators are trying to pressure President Barack Obama into rejecting a permit for the 1,700-mile pipeline.
The pipeline will carry a million barrels of tar sands oil a day from Alberta to refineries in Texas. Tar sands oil is particularly heavy in greenhouse pollutants like carbon, and the refinement into petroleum will emit large amounts of carbon and other gases.
The earth’s atmosphere is already loaded with carbon, which is creating global warming and an increasing amount of extreme weather --- hurricanes, tornadoes, drought and wildfires.
The last thing the planet needs is for the U.S. to start tapping into this massive amount of tar sands and sending tons more carbon into the air.
This is a time when the U.S. and other countries have to sharply cut back on the use of fossil fuels in order to fight global warming --- not make the problem worse.
Don’t take my word for it. Take the word of Dr. James Hansen, the NASA scientist and leading climatologist who said recently that if the tar sands project goes through, “it’s essentially game over for the climate.”
In scientific terms, Hansen says that if we want to keep life sustainable on earth, there can be no more than 350 parts per million of carbon in the atmosphere. Right now the atmosphere is at 392 parts per million.
Going ahead with the tar sands project and failing to take concerted steps to get off oil and coal, means there’s no hope. We’re hurtling towards 600 parts per million of carbon and doom for the planet.
Get involved in this battle. If you can’t make it to D.C. for the White House protest (Saturday is the last day for sit-ins at the White House, but another demonstration is planned in the city), go to www.tarsandsaction.org. Learn what’s happening and sign the petition asking President Obama to reject the tar sands pipeline.
Thursday, August 4, 2011
By Reginald Johnson
August 4, 2011
You don’t get a good feeling about what’s happening in this country right now --- not after the events of the last week.
Not after a supposedly Democratic president and leaders in Congress agreed to the demands of a group of far-right-wing zealots in signing a debt-ceiling agreement which will inflict substantial harm to the citizens of this nation.
President Barack Obama, after garnering votes of approval in both chambers of Congress, signed the deal which will allow the government to borrow hundreds of billions of dollars needed to keep regular government operations going and avoid the U.S. going into default on its obligations.
The good part of this agreement is that the U.S. will not renege on its obligations, which would likely have made an ailing world economy even worse.
The bad part --- and it’s really bad --- is that Obama agreed to some $2.5 trillion in spending cuts here at home, which were insisted on by Republicans as a condition for their support for the debt increase.
The cuts will slash everything from education to environmental protection to housing and will eventually chip away at bedrock safety net programs like Medicare and Medicaid, which hundreds of millions of Americans rely on.
Though the aim of the deal was to reduce debt, the agreement calls for no revenue enhancements in the first phase of the deal. The wealthy and corporations, who already enjoy historically low tax rates, will see no increases right now.
The no taxes provision was another key part of the package that Obama and the Democrats conceded to the GOP, during weeks of negotiations with the Republicans over what it would take to pass a debt ceiling increase. Republicans, particularly the Tea party faction, had threatened to block the increase if they didn’t get their way.
The cuts in government programs will result in over 300,000 jobs lost, according to the Economic Policy Institute. These job losses will add to the total of 14 million people already out of work in the U.S.
It was an extremely high price to pay for winning the support of the GOP for the debt hike. Obama and the Democrats did not put up much of the fight in the face of the absurd demands by the Republicans.
This right-wing attack was basically an assault on the New Deal and the whole concept that government should play an important role in helping people in need and also act as a stimulant for the economy when times are tough.
New Deal programs like Social Security and others that came later in the 1960s like Medicare, have worked well for this country and been very popular. I believe Obama could have beaten back the attack by the right and really put the Republicans on the defensive if he had used his bully pulpit as president, gone to the people and spoke passionately in defense of government programs like Medicare. He also could easily have debunked the Republican mantra the simply cutting taxes for the rich rejuvenates a weak economy. Trickle-down economics has never worked, and the record is clear.
But Obama didn’t go to the people, and didn’t speak passionately in defense of government’s role in helping people. Instead he went along, at least in part, with the idea that government debt was out of control, and social spending was a key factor in that, not the lack of revenue from a depressed economy, excessive spending on wars and from a tax system skewed in favor of the rich and corporations.
Unbelievable as it may seem, Obama appears to agree with the view --- held by both the GOP and big business --- that debt is a huge problem and the nation's economic health depends on reducing it.
Maybe that's the reason why Obama didn't stop the whole charade about whether to raise the debt ceiling, by invoking his powers under the 14th amendment and unilaterally raising the limit. He wanted major spending reductions to go through, so there was no point in ending the debate and enacting a debt ceiling increase without conditions.
When the dust settled, the right-wingers had won big time. Tea Party darling Congressman Paul Ryan of Wisconsin --- whose slash and burn budget proposal earlier this year set the tone for the debt ceiling talks --- said he got “two-thirds” of what he wanted.
So now comes the bitter fruit of this debt deal. The first part of the agreement calls for $1 trillion in discretionary spending cuts over 10 years, with no new taxes and safety net programs like Medicare and Medicaid left out. But in the second phase, a special “super committee” composed evenly of Republicans and Democrats will come up with another $1.5 trillion in deficit reductions, and those will take in cuts to entitlement programs and tax hikes. The committee will make a report to Congress by November, with legislative recommendations.
Should the committee deadlock or Congress fail to approve the proposals, automatic “trigger cuts” in spending will kick in.
While assurances are being made that the process will not entail cuts in Medicare and Medicaid benefits (nor Social Security), those programs are still likely to be hurt. The cost cutters reportedly will look to reduce reimbursement rates for providers enrolled in the programs. Doctors are already dropping out of Medicare due to low rates, and further rate cuts will drive out more. The elderly and poor will have a harder time finding doctors.
This becomes a back door way of undermining and eventually eliminating Medicare and Medicaid.
Speaking on WBAI the night after Obama signed the debt bill, Congressman Dennis Kucinich (who voted against the deal) summed up the significance of the agreement: “We’ve seen a turning of a chapter here in American history. A turning away from New Deal economics to a punitive approach, which in a sense denies the legitimacy of government itself by attacking public investment, public employees and public services.”
One other point. Mainstream media coverage of the debt deal talks and battle in Congress was predictably weak and in some cases biased. Few reports got down to the nitty gritty and showed how the spending cuts would hurt people. And few media outlets really explored how the huge debt came about, i.e., the wars, low taxes on business and the wealthy, the housing slump, etc. Instead you heard a lot of cheerleading about the need to cut social spending and so-called entitlements.
Friday, June 17, 2011
By Reginald Johnson
June 17, 2011
It was a hopeful sign the other day when AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka said the federation may drive a harder bargain with Democrats if they want labor’s backing.
Trumka took a militant tone when he addressed a convention of the United Nurses in Washington, saying that union members are tired of working hard to get Democrats elected every election cycle and then being disappointed in the results.
“For too long, we’ve been left after Election Day holding a canceled check, waving it about—‘Remember us? Remember us? Remember us?’—asking someone to pay a little attention to us,” said Trumka, according to an article by John Nichols in The Nation.
Trumka and other union leaders have been frustrated with the failure of the Obama administration and Democrats in Congress to pass the Employee Free Choice Act (card check) and other needed labor law reforms as well as caving in to the GOP on tax issues.
“…I don’t know about you, but I’ve had a snootful of that shit!” Trumka shouted.
The AFL-CIO leader said the country needs an “independent labor movement strong enough to return balance to our economy, fairness to our tax system, security to our families and moral and economic standing to our nation.”
Nichols further wrote that Trumka has recently “been repositioning the AFL-CIO as a force that will hold Republicans and Democrats to what he describes as “a simple standard: ‘Are they helping or hurting working families?’ ”
It is very refreshing news indeed if the AFL-CIO --- which represents 13 million workers --- is going to take a more independent position on national political issues, and not just be a lapdog for the Democrats, as they have been for too too long. The Democratic Party in recent years has been drifting to the right --- with President Barack Obama and leaders of the U.S. Senate taking centrist or even conservative postitions on key issues of government spending, taxes, social programs, labor needs, civil liberties and war policies. Caving in to the Republicans has become the norm for Democrats, not the exception.
You get the sense now that people in labor and many progressives have had it with the Democrats and are ready to make a move away from the party. This move could be to create a new umbrella organization that would work to achieve a clear set of progressive goals. In turn that group would in effect tell all political candidates seeking their support --- ‘endorse our goals or we don’t support you.’ Period, and no compromise. If no candidate meets the test, the group simply announces, ‘OK guys, we’re sitting out the election.’
Or there could be a move to form a third party altogether.
I know this has been talked about ad infinitum, the idea of breaking away and forming a new party. In the past progressives and people in labor have always rejected this idea in the end, and stayed with the Democrats, seeing that, while not perfect, the Democratic candidate for president in any given national election was always more palatable than whoever the Republicans put up.
This syndrome was, as Ralph Nader puts it, opting for ‘the least worst.’
But has ‘least worst’ run its course?
Think about it. How much difference is there between Obama, and say, Mitt Romney? Obama has been lousy on labor, lousy on the environment, lousy on civil liberties, and a total sell-out on tax and spending issues. Where’s the big difference?
I think more than ever this year, people, including those in labor, are showing disgust with the performance of both the Democrats and Republicans. I think there’s wider recognition among people today that the leaders of both parties are really not interested in the welfare of workers and consumers and are just kow-towing to the interests of the corporate elite --- because in the end that helps them stay in power and continue to enjoy their privileged status.
I do hope that the stirrings of setting up new political formations will come to something. The country desperately needs it.
Tuesday, June 7, 2011
By Reginald Johnson
June 7, 2011
Get ready for another betrayal by the “party of the people.”
Despite overwhelming public opposition to Medicare cuts and the recent surprise victory of a pro-Medicare Democrat in New York’s 26th congressional district against a cost-cutting Republican, mainstream Democrats ---- led by President Barack Obama --- appear ready to make a deal with the GOP’s right-wing leaders to make significant cuts to Medicare, Medicaid and other social programs.
For weeks now, top Democrats have been in negotiations with GOP leaders over what cuts could be made to reduce the nation’s budget deficit. House Republicans have been insisting that unless the Democrats agree to massive cuts in spending --- including ax chopping Medicare --- they will vote to stop the government from raising the debt ceiling.
Without the debt ceiling being raised, the nation will be unable to borrow the money needed to fund basic government services --- including payments for Social Security, Medicare benefits and military salaries. Should the U.S. government default on payments, it could have a severe effect on bond markets, and set the country back into another economic tailspin.
The Republicans in effect are holding the nation hostage. They’re saying ‘make massive cuts, or we’ll burn the house down.’
It should be noted that GOP leaders almost certainly would not in the end push the country into default. Even they know this would be a very dumb idea. So they’re posturing today, posturing for the far-right fringe and Tea Party yahoos who really do believe that wiping out all government programs, except the military, is a great idea.
But even if most Republicans don’t really mean their threats about blocking a debt ceiling increase, this is the public position they’re taking, and the Democratic response has been pathetic. The GOP’s wild demands for draconian cuts could be attacked, and fairly easily, if we had the right kind of Democrat at the top. Just think if Lyndon Johnson, Harry Truman or Franklin Roosevelt were president --- given the public opposition to social cuts --- they’d rip the Republicans to shreds and turn the whole thing into a huge Democratic advantage.
I can just hear a speech attacking the Republicans from one of those Democrats from yesteryear. It might go like this:
‘They want to take away your Medicare and Social Security, and fund more tax breaks for the rich! They want to take away your benefits, but give more tax breaks to corporations who are already making hefty profits while paying little or no taxes. Just whose side are they on?’
But we don’t have a Truman, Johnson or Jack Kennedy leading this country. We have Barack Obama --- a conservative Democrat, and not a liberal as he led so many people to believe. Like Bill Clinton before him, he’s very mindful of what big business wants. The business elites don’t like spending on social programs, because they want government to spend less, so there will be more tax cuts for them. A reduced safety net also means more desperate workers, willing to work for less.
The Obama-Clinton type of Democrat is basically Republican-lite.
So Obama is not hitting the hustings and blasting away at the shameful Republican position on the budget. He’s not trying to rally the American people. He’s not trying to tell them how harmful it will be if the proposed cuts go through. No, he’s staying silent. He’s sent out his top lieutenants like Vice President Joe Biden (Grinnin’ Joe) and some leading senators to ‘talk turkey’ with the GOP about how to reach a “compromise.”
Biden reported the meetings have been going well. “Our Republican friends and the Democrats think we’re making progress…I think we’re in a position where we’ll be able to get well above a trillion dollars pretty quick,” Biden said.
Only spending reductions are being talked about here as a way to eliminate the deficit. Tax increases on the wealthy and big business are off the table, at the Republicans’ insistence.
As the GOP postures, so too, do the Democrats. The Democrats staged a well-publicized vote in the Senate recently in which they voted down the much-criticized ‘Ryan budget,’ which would have voucherized Medicare, effectively ending the program.
The Democrats came out as the ‘defenders of Medicare,’ and that theme can be used effectively in next year’s congressional and presidential election races.
But quietly, behind closed doors, the Democrats are showing willingness to make significant cutbacks in Medicare and Medicaid and other vital programs. While these likely cuts would not wipe out the programs, they would further erode their strength. Increasing premiums for future enrollees and reducing payments to Medicare providers are some of the things being discussed. Also on the table are cuts to Medicaid, which 69 million poor people rely on, and cuts in federal pensions.
After a meeting with Obama recently at the White House, House Republican Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy told reporters that Obama agreed that spending cuts and “entitlement reform” will be addressed in any debt ceiling deal.
Dean Baker, co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research, had it right in assessing what’s going on, and Obama’s willingness to let the Republicans set the table.
“The failure of President Obama to play any role in shaping this debate is so massive that it must be deliberate. They have all the cards, especially after NY-26, and are playing none of them,” Baker said in a recent interview published in The Nation. “I think it’s wrong to assume that Obama is pushing to defend programs like Social Security and Medicare here. All the evidence points in the other direction.”
As noted, I believe Obama thinks much like Bill Clinton ---- and that view is close to what Wall Street thinks. After the Senate voted down the Ryan plan on Medicare, Clinton made an interesting comment. He said the rejection should not mean that we should stop talking about controlling Medicare costs.
Clinton has been an avid fan of Peter G. Peterson, the one time head of the huge investment firm the Blackstone Group, and now a billionaire in retirement.
For years Peterson has been advocating reducing the costs of entitlement programs like Social Security and Medicare, through his foundation the Peter G. Peterson Foundation. Peterson maintains that unless entitlements are cut, federal deficits can’t be brought under control and the future of the country is threatened.
Clinton has spoken at conferences sponsored by the foundation.
So with the Wall Street view permeating the thinking of both Democratic leaders and Republicans, trouble lies ahead for the American people. The benefits they’ve worked hard for and come to expect, are under the knife.
Progressive Democrats (who are in a distinct minority) are criticizing the policy of making concessions, as are progressives outside the party like Sen. Bernie Sanders and Ralph Nader. But they need help.
The only way to stop the cave-in trend is for people en masse to speak out about it, denounce the sell-outs and demand that the rich and large corporations pay their fair share in creating a balanced budget, which addresses the needs of all Americans.
Monday, May 9, 2011
By Reginald Johnson
May 9, 2011
Everywhere they look, union workers see their middle class lifestyle being threatened.
Quality jobs are lost as manufacturing firms send work overseas. Governors in several states try to cut the pay and pensions of unionized public employees and take their bargaining rights away. Members of Congress set their sights on Medicare and Social Security as a way of reducing federal spending.
Increasingly, at rallies and protests around the nation, union workers are expressing their anger over this turn of events and their determination to do something about it.
On May Day, Connecticut’s unions joined in the fightback. Several hundred union workers and union officials rallied at the state capital, where Gov. Dannel Malloy is trying to force state employee unions to give up $2 billion in concessions to close a budget gap.
Speaker after speaker denounced the greed of corporations and the wealthy, who they said, are not doing their fair share to pay for government operations. They also attacked politicians who are looking to cut social benefit programs --- directing most of their fire at Republicans and not specifically criticizing Malloy or other Democrats.
The theme of the rally, appropriately, was “Enough is Enough.”
“So far all the answers to our problems is we have to give back. Well, why do we have to give back? “ asked State AFL-CIO President John Olsen. “So that corporations don’t have to pay taxes and they can get rebates? So that the rich can take all the wealth and hoard it?”
Olsen went on, “You know we in labor are always accused of waging class war. Well, let me tell you something brothers and sisters. There is a class war going on and it’s against the middle class. They’re trying to exterminate us!”
Ed Reilly, business manager of Local 15 of the Ironworkers said union workers are tired of being pushed around by corporate owners and their right-wing allies and are ready to take a more militant approach.
“Today we say no. We’re going to fight you on every corner. We’ll fight you in the legislatures and we’ll fight you in Congress. If necessary, we’ll fight you in the streets!” Reilly shouted as the crowd cheered.
Reilly also said, referring to those in the state legislature, “We put you in those offices, and we’ll take you out if necessary!”
Many of those at the rally were in the construction trades, including sheet metal workers and ironworkers. Also present in large numbers were members of the Teamsters union, including truck drivers and employees of Sikorsky Aircraft in Stratford, which makes helicopters for the military.
State and municipal workers who are members of AFSCME were also on hand. Municipal workers around the state are under the gun as cities strapped for cash look at possible layoffs as a means of cutting costs.
Many of the protesters wore T-shirts saying “Stop War on Workers.”
Speakers at the event and those in the audience stayed away from criticizing Malloy, even though the concessions being demanded from unions are substantial. News reports indicate there is a possibility of 4,700 layoffs if an agreement is not reached between unions and state officials.
Even Lt. Gov. Nancy Wyman got up to say a few words at the rally, assuring the crowd that the administration supports unions. “We’re not like Wisconsin or Massachusetts,” she said, referring to anti-union bills that passed under a Republican governor in Wisconsin and some surprisingly anti-union legislation that is now being considered in heavily-Democratic Massachusetts.
Luke J. Ford, a representative of the Sheet Metal Workers, Local 40, said the recession and bad government policies are really creating tough times for many members.
“There’s too much off-shoring going on. We’re losing jobs,” he said. “We need more manufacturing.”
Ford said companies should only be allowed to move operations overseas if they can only sell their products those countries. He said firms are playing a double game --- running away from the U.S. to benefit from cheap labor in China and other countries, and then turning around and selling their products back here, where consumers have more money.
Ford also called for more government funding to create jobs.
June Pinkin, a retired school teacher from Manchester, who wore a sign saying “Jobs Not War,” said the state needs a more progressive income tax so that wealthier citizens pay a greater amount.
“The U.S.A. and Connecticut cannot afford low taxes on the rich,” she said.
Tuesday, May 3, 2011
By Reginald Johnson
May 3, 2011
So Osama Bin Laden is dead, reportedly killed by U.S. special forces in a commando raid on a compound in a city not far from Islamabad, Pakistan.
If this is true, that the alleged perpetrator of the 911 terror attacks on the U.S. is gone, then it is a time to breath a sigh of relief, close the chapter on this book and declare victory over al-Qaeda.
We can now say our mission in Afghanistan is over, we won, time to pack our bags. We can stop bombing the heck out of civilians, losing our own soldiers, and spending billions in the process. We can bring the troops home and start spending money not for war, but for addressing many domestic needs --- rebuilding our infrastructure, building new schools, building a better energy system, and widening health care opportunities.
I do hope the death of Bin Laden will be used by President Obama in a positive way to change American foreign policy and pull back from our massive involvement in both Afghanistan and Iraq. I think it would do our country --- and the world --- tremendous good.
But something tells me, it won’t happen that way. A couple of reasons for skepticism. First, history. Remember the “peace dividend?” That was the money that was supposed to be freed up when the old Soviet Union and communist countries in eastern Europe collapsed. That was the end of the Cold War, and the near elimination of communism --- after a 50-year struggle.
There was talk of substantial cutbacks in military spending and reducing our military presence around the globe. Not needed now.
Wrong. There were some modest cuts in defense spending, but nothing huge. In a few years, there was talk of new threats, this time from world-wide terrorism and new enemy states. By the end of the 1990s, we were hectoring Iraq over alleged weapons of mass destruction, expressing fear over Iran and sending missiles into Afghanistan to knock out a previous ally and now Islamic terrorist, Osama Bin Laden. And defense spending was back to the old clip.
Based on what happened then, you can expect right-wing politicians and many wormy Democrats to sound the alarm now that "the threat's not over" and "there's still enemies out there," and we can't pull back. These calls will create political pressure on Obama to "not pull out precipitously."
The other more subtle reason why the U.S. will remain parked in Afghanistan and Iraq --- albeit at a somewhat lower profile, but still with a substantial presence --- is oil. Iraq has lots of it, and Afghanistan is a key location for access to the vast oil and gas reserves of Central Asia. The U.S. does not want to lose out on its ability to tap this area and bring oil out via pipelines through Afghanistan. Chinese interests are involved in Central Asia to gain oil, and this is seen as a threat.
I never believed terrorism was the only reason for the American invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan. It was a lot about energy --- particularly in the case of Iraq --- and this fact has been covered up, even to this day. Revenge for 911 was the other part of it. There certainly was good reason to believe al-Qaeda and Bin Laden --- based in Afghanistan --- were the perpetrators of the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks, given previous terrorist incidents and public statements. American officials, including former President George W. Bush, claim they had enough information to justify the October 2001 attack on Afghanistan. ( It must be noted, however, that charges were never brought against Bin Laden, and the FBI said they had “no concrete evidence” linking him to 911).
I’m hoping against hope that there will be a page turning now. Let’s get back to focusing on our own country and providing jobs for everyone and rebuilding our economy.
By Reginald Johnson
May 2, 2011
As the world marked the 25th anniversary of the Chernobyl nuclear accident last week, you had to wonder whether our leaders have learned anything at all about the perils of nuclear power.
The Chernobyl disaster should have been enough to end the whole concept of developing energy through nuclear fission. The plant in the Ukraine exploded on April 26th, 1986, sending a cloud of radiation over much of the old Soviet Union and Europe. Dozens of firefighters died as a result of fighting the fire and getting acute radiation sickness.
Some 800,000 liquidators were brought in to clean up the wreckage and bury the radioactive waste at the plant and nearby towns. Thousands of them have died as a result of the radiation exposure. Children of liquidators have been born with deformities.
Some 150,000 to 200,000 people had to be permanently evacuated from the land around Chernobyl and huge areas are now uninhabitable because radioactivity remains in the soil.
Estimates range on how many people who lived in the area of the old Soviet Union and eastern Europe died as a result of radiation-induced cancers. Conservative estimates put the figure at 4500 while a Greenpeace study points to 200,000 deaths or expected deaths. But a more recent study by the New York Academy of Sciences said close to 1 million people have already died from the Chernobyl disaster.
Even in the early years after Chernobyl, it was clear the impact would be deadly and wide ranging. You would think government leaders in the U.S. and around the world might have paused and thought, ‘hey, maybe we better phase these nuclear plants out, or at least crack down on the facilities that have a history of safety problems.’ No, the nuclear industry was allowed to keep running their plants pretty much unfettered. This, despite the fact that some power stations had a pattern of safety violations while others sit precariously near earthquake fault lines.
It was just a matter of time before another disaster occurred, and so it did in Japan on March 11 of this year. A 9.0 earthquake hit the Asian nation and a resulting massive tsunami came crashing in on the Fukishima Daiichi power plant, which has six nuclear reactors. The cooling systems at the complex --- which are vital to prevent the radioactive fuel rods and spent fuel from overheating and exploding ---were knocked out with the loss of power. Hydrogen explosions then occurred, causing extensive damage.
A tremendous amount of water was dumped on the reactors to keep them cool. Eventually, power was restored, but due to the high level of radiation in the plant, workers have been unable to make the needed repairs to the cooling systems and the situation remains unstable.
Dr. Michio Kaku, a professor of theoretical physics at the City College of New York called the situation at Fukishima a “ticking time bomb” in an interview with Amy Goodman on the show Democracy Now!
As workers try feverishly to clear up the problems, the plant is emitting radiation into the air and soil, and dumping thousands of tons of radioactive waste water into the ocean.
Strontium 90 and plutonium, both lethal elements, have been found in the soil outside the plant. The tap water in Tokyo, 136 miles away, is now contaminated.
Winds have now carried radioactive particles around the world. Elements such as Iodine 131 ---- which is linked to thyroid cancer --- has shown up in the U.S. in municipal drinking water in Los Angeles, Phoenix and other cities. Cesium 137 has shown up in milk samples in Vermont.
Government officials in Japan and in the U.S. maintain the radioactive pollution is “within allowable limits” and not hazardous to humans. But this claim is debunked by nuclear critics.
Harvey Wasserman, a long-time anti-nuclear activist and writer, said there is no “safe” level of radiation exposure. “Anyone who tells you otherwise is either ill-informed or deliberately deceiving you. If it’s detectable, it’s dangerous. If iodine shows up in any quantity in milk, it should not be drunk,” Wasserman said during an interview with Scott Harris on the Between the Lines radio show.
Leaders Oblivious to Hazards
Despite the horror of Chernobyl and the ongoing crisis in Japan, world leaders support the continuation of nuclear energy.
With the exception of Germany, which will now phase out atomic plants (thank you to them), other countries stubbornly stick with the nuclear program.
President Barack Obama recently restated his support, saying developing nuclear was one major step in avoiding the use of carbon-based fuels, which create global warming. He never mentioned that a crash program to develop renewables, such as wind and solar, would get us away from fossil fuels and also avoid the huge risks inherent in nuclear power.
And despite Chernobyl still fresh in the memory of so many who lived in the Soviet Union, Russian President Dmtry Medvedev continues to back nuclear power. The Russians plan to help Turkey build new plants.
I must be missing something. The logic escapes me. Here you have two terrible disasters connected with nuclear power plants, fatal cancers left and right, a pretty bad accident at the Three Mile Island plant in Pennsylvania in 1979, and national leaders still back nuclear power. Huh?
There are so many risks that go with running nuclear power plants --- so many chances for things to go wrong, and so much potential for the worst kind of health catastrophe.
Chernobyl showed what can happen when there is operator error; Fukishima is showing what can happen when a natural disaster strikes and cooling systems are knocked out.
Every nuke plant, as far as I am concerned, is fraught with danger. But I want to mention one in particular because it is near the nerve center of this country and the biggest population center of this country.
The Indian Point nuclear power station sits 19 miles from New York City --- with 7 million people, and millions more in the immediate environs. The plant also lies close to an earthquake fault! What happens if an earthquake knocks out power at the plant? Indian Point, like other U.S. plants, has no back-up power capability. You could have a partial meltdown or full meltdown and deadly radiation would shower the New York area.
Talk about an awful scenario.
It’s time to get real about nuclear power. It is simply not worth the risks.
We have alternatives.
Let’s move to close all these plants now and end nuclear power.
Wednesday, March 16, 2011
By Reginald Johnson
March 16, 2011
At a rally last weekend in New York on behalf of the embattled public workers in Wisconsin, one of the most popular tunes sung by the protesters was “Which Side Are You On?”
It’s an old union song, made famous during a bitter strike by workers in the 1940s against coal mine operators in Harlan County, Kentucky.
Today, a lot of people have to be wondering which side President Obama is on --- the side of unions and workers, or big corporations and their right-wing allies.
You would think that a Democratic president who owes his election in good part to the hard work of union members and contributions by organized workers, would be out there fighting against blatant attempts to eviscerate public sector unions. But Obama has failed to do that.
While he’s made a couple of statements in support of unions under attack in Wisconsin and other states, they’ve been mild in tone --- not the firey, passionate speeches Obama is fully capable of making.
He’s also refused to go directly to Wisconsin and speak, and refused to allow any top people in his administration, such as Vice President Joe Biden, from going.
Obama is showing once again he’s not very progressive, and really not much of a labor supporter either, despite the union support he’s gotten for his campaigns. Recall in his first year in office, he never really campaigned for the “card check” bill which would have aided union organizing and which the AFL-CIO so desperately wanted. Then last year he stunned the labor community when he praised school district officials in Rhode Island for firing all the union teachers at a low performing high school.
National politics is also at work here. Obama seems to be playing a game of not being too spirited in supporting unions in Wisconsin and Ohio, lest he be open to a Republican charge of being a ‘tool of union bosses’ and blocking budget reform.
This is all very troubling. The labor movement’s very survival may be on the line right now as the right-wing attack on workers continues, and the leader of the Democratic Party doesn’t think it’s in his interest to get out and really fight for working people.
I can’t think of any Democratic president in the past who would have been this low-key when unions were under such a vicious attack.
In the meantime, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker has gotten his way, at least for now, ramming through the bill that curbs bargaining rights for public workers. Other right-wing governors in Ohio, Idaho and Florida are also working to gut the power of public employee unions.
Obama, and many leading Democratic members of Congress as well, better realize that the progressive-liberal base has woken up during this Wisconsin-Ohio labor battle, and people are not in the mood for the usual political fence-sitting and game-playing. They want answers and they want leaders who will stand by them.
Hundreds of thousands of workers, activists and supporters have been rallying for weeks in Wisconsin and Ohio, refusing to cave in to the demand that public employees give up their rights.
Last weekend, over 100,000 people rallied in the Wisconsin capital of Madison to again protest Walker’s bill and voiced their support for a recall drive directed at all the Republican state senators who backed the measure. They also welcomed back like conquering heroes the 14 Democratic senators who had fled the state for weeks, to prevent the GOP from getting the quorum needed to act on the bill. The Republicans nonetheless staged a last minute legislative maneuver to get the bill through without the Democrats.
Other demonstrations broke out spontaneously around the country in support of the Wisconsin workers.
In Union Square in New York, about 70 people gathered in an impromptu rally, carrying signs denouncing Walker, singing along with a pick-up band and shouting pro-worker chants.
While the rally wasn’t big, it wasn’t bad for a protest thrown together on short notice, just a day after Walker signed the union-killing law.
Bill Linville, a Bronx school teacher who helped organize the protest, said it was important to show solidarity with workers in Wisconsin.
“What happened in Wisconsin could happen here,” said Linville, noting that New York leaders like Mayor Michael Bloomberg are threatening huge teacher layoffs, despite a budget surplus.
“This is our PATCO moment,” said Linville, referring to the time 30 years ago when then President Ronald Reagan fired members of the air traffic contollers union, when employees walked off the job in a dispute over working conditions.
Many observers feel that labor as a whole did too little to oppose the firings, and unions have been in retreat ever since.
“I’m behind the Wisconsin workers a kuzillion percent,” said Rosemarie, a retiree who was visiting New York from her home in Pennsylvania. She saw the rally and decided to jump in.
“If that kind of thing can be done out there to workers, it could happen all over, and our whole quality of life will be worse, she said.
Thursday, March 10, 2011
By Reginald Johnson
March 10, 2011
What can be said. Outrageous. Shameful. The Republicans continued their assault on the working people of this country and on labor unions, with GOP members of the Wisconsin state senate pulling a legislative trick Wednesday, ramming through a bill which strips public employees of their right to collectively bargain.
The state assembly is expected to approve the bill today and Gov. Scott Walker to sign it.
Hopefully the legality of the maneuver in the senate can be challenged. Some Democrats are charging that certain guidelines, such as open meeting laws, were violated along the way before the senate vote, and a court appeal could overturn the new bill. I’m really not clear about the details of what happened so I don’t know about the viability of any appeal.
But something tells me this will be like filing a challenge to an election after the votes are in. They usually don’t work. Sadly, Wisconsin’s Tea Party governor and his conservative cohorts may have won this battle.
And even worse, the right-wing blitzkrieg around the country against unions and the rights of working people appears to be succeeding. In Michigan, the state senate just passed a bill which will give emergency financial managers the power to break union contracts; in Ohio, a bill progresses that will limit public employee collective bargaining; and in Idaho, the legislature passed a bill which will curb the rights of teachers to negotiate contracts.
This thing is getting really big. It’s going to take a mass social movement complete with general strikes to stop it.
Get on board.
Monday, February 28, 2011
By Reginald Johnson
February 28, 2011
HARTFORD ---- More than 400 union members, retired state employees, activists and concerned citizens converged on the State Capitol Saturday to raise their voices on behalf of state workers in Wisconsin, whose bargaining rights, pensions and benefits are under attack by the state’s Republican’s governor, Scott Walker.
Normally it would be difficult to get a sizeable crowd of people out on a day with biting cold weather to rally in support of union workers locked in a struggle 1500 miles away.
But the Wisconsin battle is not your typical labor fight. The struggle in Madison has come to symbolize a wider attack by the right-wing and big corporations to tear down all unions and reduce the rights of American workers in general.
That attack, if successful, will further erode the power of the middle class and people’s ability to earn a decent living, those at the rally said.
“What we’re seeing in Wisconsin is the ultimate manifestation of corporate capitalism,” Edward Vargas, former president of the Hartford Federation of Teachers, told the crowd. “Corporate capitalism is trying not just to destroy the unions, but the very fabric of democracy. I have friends who are retired in Florida. Everytime I visit, I see the future of America. There are no 40-hour jobs anymore down there. You gotta work 20 hours for this guy, and then 20 hours for that guy, just to get by. And no benefits.”
Vargas thundered, “Is that the future we want for our children?”
“No!” the crowd roared back.
“Then we have to stand up and fight for Wisconsin,” he said, finishing his speech by shouting “Somos Uno!” (‘We are One’ in Spanish)
Speaker after speaker denounced the effort in Wisconsin as well as other states to weaken unions and demanded that the rich and big business pay their fair share in taxes and stop making workers shoulder the burden of funding government budgets. Speeches were often interrupted by chants like “Make the rich pay!” “Make the rich pay!” and “Fair Share! Fair Share!”
The Connecticut rally was one of dozens around the country on Saturday organized by Moveon.org and affiliated groups aimed at showing solidarity with the Wisconsin workers. State employee unions have been warring with Governor Walker for over two weeks over his demand that they not only agree to pay more for pensions and health benefits, but that they give up their power to negotiate collectively for contracts. Walker has maintained that the changes are needed to bring the state’s deficit under control.
The unions have agreed to kick in more for pensions and health care. But they have refused to accept the demand to give up collective bargaining, seeing that as an existential issue. Thousands of workers have been sitting in at the Wisconsin state capital in protest.
Union supporters claim that the battle is not really over the deficit, otherwise Walker would accept the union concessions, settle the budget issue and go home. But they say the governor’s aim is more than that --- break the unions.
Republican governors in other states, such as Ohio and Indiana, are trying similar hardball tactics in dealing with public employees. And they sound a similar refrain: bring union costs under control, because they’re breaking the bank. No mention is ever made of tax cuts for the wealthy and big business as being a factor in the deficits.
Connecticut’s Gov. Dannel Malloy --- though elected with strong union support --- has also talked of “sacrifices” to erase a state budget gap. He says he needs $2 billion worth of concessions from unions, although no specifics have been laid out yet.
No one at the rally criticized Malloy, but the perceived double standard about who is being made to suffer through difficult economic times, was clearly on the minds of many.
David Burke, a member of the theatrical workers union, said that the middle class is being made to sacrifice a lot in today’s economy --- whether through contract concessions or in paying higher prices for goods and services ---- while big corporations raise prices without restraint and enjoy high profits.
“I demand to know why it’s easier to have us pay more for health insurance than it is for the legislature to regulate health insurance costs?” he said.
Some of the nation’s biggest insurance companies, like Aetna, are based in Hartford. Their rates in Connecticut are supposed to be controlled by the state.
“Aetna made $1.7 billion in profit in 2010. That was up from $1.5 billion in 2009. Where the hell is Aetna’s sacrifice?” Burke shouted.
Burke a moment later said “We will not bow to these corporate-sponsored political hacks. We will never let our rights be taken away easily. Let’s stop these bastards now!”
Union activist Deborah Ellerman also commented on the point that Republican policies, such as the Bush tax cuts, have created large deficits which working people are supposed to pay for. But at the same time, she noted, the many people in wealthy Connecticut who earn over $400,000 a year “will enjoy a 3.7 percent tax cut.”
Bob Kingsley, director of organizing for the United Electrical, Radio and Machine Workers (UE), said his union is fully behind the Wisconsin workers.
“The barons of big business have wrecked the economy and now they’re trying to blame us for it,” he said. “The folks who teach our kids and clean our streets are not to blame for the current crisis.”
He noted that the average public worker pension in the U.S. is only $20,000 a year.
Kingsley urged people to keep the battle going, either by sending financial support to the Wisconsin unions, getting their towns or cities to pass resolutions expressing support for the workers or “get on a bus and go to Wisconsin.”
The UE official said the union’s northeast council had just agreed to back the idea supported by some unions in Wisconsin for a nationwide general strike.
As the rally wound down, a chant erupted of “Obama show some guts! Obama show some guts!” There’s been disappointment on the part of progressives with President Obama, since he’s only spoken once on the Wisconsin battle, saying two weeks ago Governor Walker shouldn’t bust the unions.
Felipe Flores attended the rally with his wife, Suzanne. He is a retired community college teacher, while she is a retired high school teacher.
“What’s happening in Wisconsin is important. If they can take away union rights there, it will spread everywhere,” he said.
Despite the size of the rally, mainstream media coverage of the Hartford demonstration was poor. Channel 3 did cover the rally and ran a short report. But other TV channels like WTNH, sent no reporters. The Hartford Courant, supposedly the state's paper of record, didn't cover the rally in its backyard. The Courant did run an AP piece about the nationwide rallies, but failed to mention the Connecticut protest. The Courant ran a front-page story Sunday on what it means for Connecticut to be "business-friendly."
Tuesday, February 22, 2011
By Reginald Johnson
February 22, 2011
Just over a week ago, in my last blog, I lamented the fact that the American people seemed so unwilling to protest the many ills of our society --- the lack of jobs, a deplorable health care system, crumbling schools and government service cuts.
This was in sharp contrast, I said, to what we’ve seen in Egypt and across the Middle East, where thousands have taken to the streets to demand the removal of corrupt dictators and the establishment of fairer economic systems.
Well, maybe I spoke too soon. Maybe the sleeping giant in America is waking up.
In Wisconsin and now in Ohio and Indiana, throngs of workers are out every day demonstrating against the outrageous moves by new Republican governors to reduce the benefits of public employees and strip their unions of bargaining rights.
In Wisconsin, tens of thousands of workers --- teachers, nurses, firefighters, sanitation empoyees and others, together with school students --- have rallied at the state capital in Madison against the plan by Gov. Scott Walker and the Republican-dominated legislature. The governor says the public employees must pay substantially more for their pensions and health care, in order to erase a claimed $3.6 billion budget deficit and avoid layoffs.
But Walker and the Republicans are lying about the reason for the draconian measures: the deficit came about only after GOP lawmakers in January rammed through a series of costly tax giveaways for the rich and big corporations. Before that, according to the Wisconsin Fiscal Bureau, the budget was balanced.
What’s happening in Wisconsin is part of a broad, national effort by the right-wing to smash public employee unions --- a major source of strength for both the Democratic Party and progressives in general. Anti-union forces must also figure that if public worker unions are badly hurt, it would be a mortal blow for the labor movement in general, since private sector unions have been steadily declining in recent years.
The union workers and their allies don’t buy the blather about the budget and see what’s really going on. It’s been inspiring to see the size of the crowds and the spirit of the protesters, day after day, in Madison.
Maybe this is the start of something. As Noam Chomsky commented on “Democracy Now” recently, the Wisconsin protests may be heralding the beginning of a “democracy uprising” in America.
Let’s hope so.
MSNBC Commentator Ed Shultz has done a terrific job covering the protests. He devoted his show every night last week to the rallies, offering strong progressive commentary and getting good interviews with people like John Nichols of The Nation. I just hope his passionate pro-worker stance doesn’t ruffle too many feathers at management (the channel’s new owners are Comcast) and he’s shown the door the way Keith Olbermann and Phil Donahue were.
Friday, February 11, 2011
By Reginald Johnson
Feb. 11, 2011
For nearly three weeks the Egyptian people put on an incredible display of courage. Despite attacks by pro-government thugs and police --- which resulted in over 300 deaths and widespread injuries --- they continued to demonstrate day after day by the hundreds of thousands, demanding a more just economic system, a more democratic government and the removal of long-time dictator Hosni Mubarak.
Now it looks like the rebellion has succeeded, with Mubarak stepping down and ceding power to the military and the vice president.
The Egyptian uprising followed the protests in January in Tunisia, where people rallied by the thousands to demand the ouster of long-time despot, Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali. Eventually, the massive protests forced Ben Ali to flee the country.
Last year millions demonstrated across Europe, protesting austerity plans calling for pay cuts and pension reductions. In Greece alone, two million workers ---- a full 20 percent of the nation’s population --- protested on one day alone.
I’m wondering. Just when are the American people going to rise up and demand changes from their government? When is there going to be a mass movement and fightback against the financial-military-media elite of this country to bring about a fairer economic system?
It just seems that as other countries boil over, it’s so quiet here. You would think people would be really steamed over the worsening quality of life in the U.S, and that so little is being done to stop the decline.
What do we have? More than 9 percent unemployed ---- 22 million people looking for work; health care costs climbing steadily, eating away at family budgets and driving more people into bankruptcy; foreclosures still happening everywhere, with banks and the government doing little or nothing to stanch the flow; millions of Americans worried about their ability to retire, due to losses in retirement accounts in the stock market crash of two years ago as well as pension reductions.
But instead of taking the position that government should play an active role in helping people weather these difficult times, we have a President and a Congress who keep insisting on cutting safety net programs.
Despite the crisis in health care, proposals are being floated to slash Medicare and Medicaid. Many in Congress and people around President Barack Obama also think Social Security should be cut. Obama is also asking for a freeze on vital domestic programs such as education and housing.
Obama and other leaders say Americans have to sacrifice so the nation can pull itself out of massive debt --- a debt they didn’t create. The debt was created by the cost of bank bailouts, overseas wars and a recession triggered by Wall Street speculation.
But only working people are being told to sacrifice in this effort.
A bill signed by Obama in December gives tax breaks to billionaires and big corporations. This will just add to the debt burden on everyone else.
The wars and occupations in Iraq and Afghanistan continue, siphoning money away from social programs.
So Americans are getting screwed. The middle class is being battered --- to the point where soon, there will be no middle class. Increasingly our society is becoming two strata --- the rich and the near rich, and everybody else.
You would think that this situation would get people fired up, fired up to the point where they want to get out and demonstrate, wave flags, hold signs, shout and demand better --- just like in the Middle East and Europe. But it’s not happening. There have been local protests, for instance, in California and New York, over budget cuts. That’s good. But where are the broad coalitions forming for a general fightback against what’s happening in Washington? I don’t see it.
I looked up some websites for different liberal and progressive groups to find out what’s going on. AFL-CIO, Progressive Democrats for America, United for Peace and Justice, Moveon.org, etc. They’re all working on good things, economic issues, social issues, environmental issues. But I saw no signs of coalition building for a wider struggle.
There was nothing about big demonstrations planned, or rallies to fight the growing inequities in our society and the central problem of corporate power.
I don’t know the reason for this. Is it a weakened labor movement that no longer can lead the way? Is it that people and groups are being too insular, working on their own agendas, and refusing to join forces?
Or are people still clinging to the faint hope that Obama will change course and do something good? That he will suddenly adopt a progressive agenda? Fat chance. He keeps talking about working with business to get them to invest more, and boost the economy. Recently, he appointed former GE CEO Jeffrey Immelt as an advisor. Hey, that will help working people.
Then he visited the Chamber of Commerce, and said to the business leaders, ‘pretty please, can you invest some of the more than a trillion dollars you’re sitting on?’ He was met with stoney slience. Then he offered to soften some regulations to help them. This is the road to nowhere.
Forget about Obama. There has to be a strong, grassroots movement in this country to bring about change. This has to be hitched to issues, not a party or candidate. Organizations of all stripes ---- labor, political, community, civil rights, religious and environmental --- have to come together for a wider fightback.
As evidenced by the accomplishments in the 1930s and 1960s --- it’s only through strong social movements that anything will be achieved.
Sunday, January 23, 2011
By Reginald Johnson
January 23, 2011
The next few months may be a turning point for this country.
What’s at stake is whether America maintains a social compact between the government and the people or whether that compact is destroyed.
The compact is what was created in the New Deal in the 1930s --- in the form of Social Security ---- and in the 1960s in the form of Medicare and Medicaid. There’s other parts of the compact, such as the commitment to provide support for housing and education programs, but Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid are the main ones.
These programs, while not perfect, have provided vital services and support for hundreds of millions of people. Social Security provides retirement income which many people would not otherwise have. Medicare and Medicaid provide health insurance coverage for millions of people who similarly would not have any coverage if these programs didn’t exist.
If you research back newspaper and magazine articles you would find horror stories about what old people in this country used to go through when there was no income support for the elderly, or government-funded medical services. Or what poor people endured without subsidized medical care.
A lot of folks suffered mightily and died early.
So these programs, such as Social Security, represented an advance for our society.
But now the social compact is under attack. Conservatives, who have never liked the New Deal and Kennedy-Johnson-era social programs and have tried to dismantle them before, are barking at the door again. Backed by big business, the right insists the programs cost too much and add to our debt. They also claim that the government shouldn’t be helping people; everything should be done by the private sector. This of course, is an absurd and backwards notion.
Unfortunately, the right wing has a chance to reach its goal this time. That’s because we have a weak president who --- despite his prior claims about wanting to defend Social Security and Medicare --- is willing to consider changes that will begin the process of undoing these programs. Some of the proposed changes involve raising the retirement age and slashing cost of living increases in Social Security as well as cutting benefits in Medicare and Medicaid. This is all being contemplated in the name of reducing our national debt, which is up around $14 trillion or something.
Raising the retirement age to say, 70, (which is being talked about) would effectively put Social Security benefits out of reach for many, since a good number of the potential beneficiaries will die before being able to collect. Reducing benefits and funding for Medicare and Medicaid would also be disastrous, since these programs are already underfunded. Many doctors right now are rejecting Medicare because the reimbursement rates are too low.
Some of the cost-cutting proposals were discussed by Obama’s deficit reduction commission last fall. Though that commission failed to reach a consensus on recommendations for spending cuts, word is Obama will go ahead anyway and call for entitlement cuts in his State of the Union address Tuesday night.
After that, who knows?
Republicans control the House. Many in the GOP, along with centrist Democrats, might support Social Security/Medicare cuts, amid scare mongering in the media about how big deficits threaten the economy. Ditto for the Senate.
So there could be support for this. That is, unless there is a very strong public reaction against it. Here’s the good news: polls indicate that while people are concerned about deficit reduction, they really don’t want cuts in Social Security and Medicare.
A recent New York Times/CBS poll show that a majority of Americans said they’re against the program cuts, and instead would like to see rollbacks in the military budget. A poll of Democracy Corps/Campaign for America’s Future also showed that while there was some support for deficit reduction, people don’t like the social cuts and want more emphasis on job creation and economic growth.
In an article in the Huffington Post, RJ Eskow of The Campaign for America’s Future said if Obama tacks to the political right and stresses deficit reduction for the rest of his term, it will be harmful for many Americans and politically dangerous. “The president’s in danger of moving in a direction that will lose everybody he needs,” he said, commenting on the poll. Pointing to a loss of support from youth and union households, among other groups, Eskow said that “Literally every demographic group he and his party needs will be alienated by a right-leaning set of policies.”
While the news is bleak on Obama’s direction on programs like Social Security, there’s also a moment of opportunity for the left. This is a time when progressives can jump on this issue and rally not only many Democrats, but independents and even some Tea Party people ( I know that will require a lot of work, but it can be done) to a wider fightback. There’s potential for a broad new political coalition.
A key part of building that coalition will be to educate people as to the real causes of the deficit. It’s not spending on social programs like Medicare and certainly not Social Security, which is funded entirely by workers and employers. Instead the debt is driven by the trillions being spent on the military budget, wars overseas and Wall Street bailouts together with revenue shortfalls caused by lavish tax breaks for the rich and big corporations.
Wednesday, January 19, 2011
By Reginald Johnson
Jan. 19, 2011
Following the horrific shootings in Arizona of Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords and several others, there’s been calls that both the left and the right need to tamp down harsh and “extremist” rhetoric.
President Obama and others say that we need a more civil public discourse, and “make sure that we are talking to each other in a way that heals, not a way that wounds.”
Some have said the angry rhetoric from politicians and pundits in recent years has fueled an atmosphere of hate, and may have helped push unstable individuals, such as the accused Arizona gunman Jared Loughner, over the edge to act in a violent manner. Loughner had reportedly been targeting Giffords for political reasons, though it isn’t entirely clear.
I agree that extremist and hate-filled rhetoric has an effect on people, and has to be condemned.
But I reject the false equivalency of saying that both the left and right are equally to blame for today’s poisoned political atmosphere. Not so.
In recent years it’s clear politicians and pundits on the right have been engaging in hate speech --- through their demonizing and scapegoating of liberals, gays, immigrants, intellectuals and doctors who provide abortions. In many instances, right-wingers have, either explicitly or implicitly, urged their followers to engage in acts of violence towards those they don’t like.
I haven’t seen anything from pundits or politicos on the left that compares with this pattern of irresponsible language and hate rhetoric on the right.
Let’s look at just a few examples concerning actions or comments by right-wingers. Last year, Republican Sarah Palin had her website put up a map with gunsight crosshairs over the districts with congress members she wanted removed. One of those was that of Giffords, a Democratic congresswoman from the Tucson area of Arizona.
Moreover, on a Twitter posting last year, Palin had urged her followers, “Don’t retreat, Instead, RELOAD!”
Or consider Glenn Beck, the wild commentator of the right who has a nightly show on FOX network, a show which reaches millions of people. This man is truly scary. He spends his time every night demonizing people on the left --- “progressives” --- for being a threat to the nation. They’re evil and subversive, he says, and you gotta watch ‘em. He seems to be taking a playbook from the 1950s demagogue, Senator Joe McCarthy, who made a career of labeling anyone left of center a “communist,” and destroyed hundreds of lives in the process.
Recently, Beck has taken to repeatedly accusing noted political science professor, Frances Fox Piven, of trying to bring down the American economic system through her writings about mobilizing the poor and strengthening welfare rights. He even held Piven in part responsible for the Arizona killings. Bizarre. But unfortunately, people listen to this junk or read it in his on-line column, “The Blaze.”
Beck’s rants usually stop short of openly advocating violence against opponents but his constant vilification of individuals clearly engenders anger and resentment among his followers, to the point where they threaten violence. Recently some readers writing comments in “The Blaze” said they would shoot Piven or blow up her house, according to a report on Democracy Now. The messages were not removed from the site.
In some cases, Beck himself has been explicit in calling for violence. “Drive a stake through the heart of the bloodsuckers,” was one comment reported in a book by Dana Millbank of the Washington Post.
There’s many other examples of right-wing pundits and politicos, particularly on FOX, who use the language of violence and vilification. Bill O’Reilly recently said that Millbank should be “decapitated” due to the reporter’s criticism of FOX’s election night coverage. O’Reilly said later that he was, ha ha, only joking. But then he said Millbank should be beaten up anyway. Liberal-hating Ann Coulter a few years ago said she wouldn’t care if the New York Times building got blown up. Later she said that that too, was only a joke. Hilarious.
Right-wing shock jock Michael Savage, as well as other rightist commentators, have called for violence to deal with illegal immigrants. According to the media watch dog group FAIR, in 2008, Savage called for troops to be brought back from Iraq to protect Americans from “the scourge of illegal immigrants who are running rampant across America, killing police for sport, raping, murdering like a scythe across America.”
As noted from letters that come in to Beck, the hate rhetoric whips up anger and appears to fuel a desire to carry out violent acts.
In one confirmed case, a man who said he was influenced by
Beck, set out to kill people at two liberal organizations in
San Francisco. Byron Williams, the man who plotted to assassinate people at the ACLU and the Tides Foundation and who was arrested by police before he got there --- following a shootout --- told an interviewer with Media Matters for America that he was inspired by Glenn Beck.
Those who charge that the left has used a similar language of violence and hate that the right has, have an obligation to provide the evidence. Yes, I’m sure you can find some anarchist somewhere who said we should “destroy the system.” But you’re not going to find much of anything among left pundits or politicians --- who have media stature --- who’ve engaged in a pattern of hate talk or used the language of violence.
FOX, owned by Rupert Murdoch, is heavily responsible for allowing the hate talk to go on. I’m with those who think it’s time to contemplate boycott actions against FOX and have regular protests.
The group Jewish Funds for Justice recently picketed FOX headquarters in New York and submitted a petition with 10,000 signatures of people demanding the cancellation of Beck’s show. They accused Beck of “unchecked hate mongering and public incitement.”
That’s a good start.
Chip Berlet, senior analyst with Political Research Associates, which tracks right-wing movements, told Scott Harris of the Between the Lines radio show that it was time for a campaign to get advertisers to drop their sponsorship of the Glenn Beck program. He said such a campaign had been successful in getting Lou Dobbs removed from CNN, in light of Dobb’s perpetual bashing and unfair portrayal of immigrants.