Friday, June 17, 2011


Breaking with the Democrats?

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


Democratic Sell-Outs

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.