Friday, June 12, 2015

No Time for Political Posturing



By Reginald Johnson

    BRIDGEPORT ---- It was about 12 hours after the horrific act of violence on Thursday morning, in which nine people were shot, one fatally, at the Trumbull Gardens low-income housing project.

   I had heard about the shooting after I got up on Thursday, and was watching Channel 12 for updates. I saw Mayor Bill Finch at the scene expressing his sympathy for the victims and their families and talking about what steps he was taking to curb crime.  Police Chief Joseph Gaudett was also on hand to give a statement, and housing officials gave comments as well.

   This is all entirely understandable that the chief elected official of the city, his police chief and other key officials would show up on the scene after such a terrible incident had occurred.

   This is one of the worst cases of violence in Bridgeport in a while, and the mayor in particular had to reassure people about what was happening to stop further violence. I thought Finch was good, although he went on a bit too long about the value of one of the the violence prevention programs he set up, the “Street-Safe” program whereby older men, some reformed convicts, work with young men in the neighborhood, counsel them, and steer them away from crime. I thought, if this program is so good, it sure as heck didn’t work in this case.

The Trumbull Gardens housing project in Bridgeport. One person was killed and eight people wounded in a mass shooting last week outside one of the buildings.

   But what really threw me off was what I saw when I decided to ride up to Trumbull Gardens a couple of hours later and take a look around.

  Driving down Trumbull Avenue through the center the complex, I saw a crowd with TV cameras all around. There was a guy in the middle, white shirt and tie, waving his hands and talking as if he was holding a press conference. Then I felt sick to my stomach. It was Joe Ganim, former mayor Bridgeport.

   This is the same Joe Ganim who about 15 years ago was engaging in a variety of corrupt schemes, making deals with friendly developers at the expense of people in the neighborhoods, tearing down acres of affordable housing and running a very secretive administration throughout.

   Fortunately, the feds were onto Ganim’s antics, he was nailed for his crimes, and went to prison. Served a good long term, I think about eight years.

  Now, a la Buddy Cianci down in Providence, Ganim wants to make a comeback. He’s running for mayor again. A disbarred lawyer, he tried to get his law license back after leaving prison, and was most appropriately turned down. (The idea of a lawyer turned felon being given his license back after serving time is truly absurd).

 But now lots of years have gone by, and I suppose Ganim is counting on the people of Bridgeport forgetting his bad deeds, and remembering some of the successes --- including the construction of the baseball stadium and the arena -- and also on a certain amount of anti-Finch sentiment out there.

  Ganim certainly has a right to run. He has paid for his crimes, and by all accounts, serving time in prison is a miserable experience. I’m not questioning his right to run or to have a decent livelihood. But I am questioning whether he has changed.

  I didn’t like what I saw yesterday. It seemed like classic Ganim, while the cameras are rolling, you make a splash. The mayor of the city had just been there, the crime was still only 12 hours old, and all the press was there.

   It wasn’t as if Ganim said, ‘after this has settled down, maybe in a couple of days, I’ll come out and talk to people about possible ideas for combating crime.’ I would have respected that. The problem is, there would have been no cameras.

  Ganim told the Connecticut Post he knew some of the victims, and wanted to set up a vigil that day. Really. Two hours after the mayor was there.

  There were vigils at St. Vincent’s Hospital and Bridgeport Hospital, and I don’t have a problem with Ganim attending them.

  But for candidate Ganim to set up a vigil at Trumbull Gardens not long after his rival the mayor had been there --- only 12 hours after a terrible tragedy --- struck me as not sincere, politically expedient and inappropriate.

  I’m particularly skeptical about Ganim’s intentions, since he did so precious little for low-income neighborhoods like Trumbull Gardens when he was mayor. I know it’s said some black leaders liked him, but I knew some community activists who didn’t like him and felt he didn’t listen to them. As said, he razed hundreds of low-income units to build projects that quite frankly, the public had little say in.

  But now he’s got religion.

 I’ll conclude by saying I am not a great fan of Bill Finch as mayor, although he’s a decent guy in person. I am open about who to like for mayor, and could support an independent or even a Republican.

   But unless Joe Ganim starts making people walk on water, I know that’s one person I won’t cast a ballot for.


Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Himes Faulted for Stance on Fast Track

By Reginald Johnson

            As a vote in Congress on “Fast Track” legislation draws near,  Rep. Jim Himes’ decision to back the controversial trade bill is being criticized by union officials and progressive activists.

           After months of sitting on the fence about which way he would vote,  Himes, a Democrat representing much of Fairfield County, came out last week and said he will vote yes on a bill granting Trade Promotion Authority to President Obama. The bill, nicknamed Fast Track because it speeds up the process for approving trade treaties, empowers the president to force Congress to vote on a trade treaty within 60-90 days, limit debate and prohibit any amendments.

    If Fast Track passes --- and a vote could come as soon as Friday --- it will set the stage for approval of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), a trade agreement between the U.S. and 11 other Pacific Rim countries. The agreement is supported strongly by big corporations, most Republicans, and Obama.

   After meeting with supporters of TPP and critics, including labor and environmental groups, the Fourth District congressman said he came down on the side of supporting Fast Track in good part because of Connecticut’s export-driven economy.

   “TPP offers the potential for rich export opportunities, and many high-paying export-oriented jobs,” Himes said.

   “Make no mistake, Connecticut is an export economy, and growing global trade and markets will help strengthen our middle class,” he said. “In 2013, there were $16.4 billion in Connecticut exports. $11.9 billion, or 67.5% of that, came from the Bridgeport-Stamford-Norwalk metro area. To say that trade is important to our district is an understatement.”

  Himes, who said he had read the whole TPP agreement, said that so far, it appears Obama is making sure that the trade agreement is addressing environmental, labor and consumer concerns.

   But opponents of the trade bills took the congressman to task on a number of counts.

  Lori Pelletier, executive secretary treasurer of the Connecticut State AFL-CIO said Himes has come down on the side of corporations and not workers.

  “Rep. Himes decision …to support Wall Street profits over Main Street jobs will live long in the memory of 4th District working men and women,” she said.

   “If Rep. Himes is sincere about creating jobs and revitalizing manufacturing, he needs to use his leverage as a member of Congress to reshape the Trans-Pacific Partnership to help rather than hurt workers in his district. Unfortunately, by supporting Fast Track, Himes is surrendering his ability to offer any amendments to improve this trade agreement or any other future agreements up for six years,” Pelletier said.

   One of the leaders of a grassroots group fighting against Fast Track and TPP said she was skeptical about Himes’ claim that he had read and understood the full text of the TPP.

  Margaret Flowers, from the group Popular Resistance, said that “the text is filled with legalese that could not possibly be fully understood by going into a room and reading it without the ability to analyze its impacts. If Himes is so supportive after reading it, I would urge him to write out the specific areas that he agrees with and the areas of concern that he has. I doubt that he could.”

  Flowers emphasized what other critics have charged, that the whole process for negotiating the TPP has been secretive and behind closed doors, with members of Congress only being given limited access to reading the text. The public has been given no access, despite the huge impact the treaty will have on the U.S. economy and all levels of government here. But corporate lawyers --- hundreds of them --- have been involved in negotiations on the wording of the treaty.

   “If Himes thinks TPP is so great, why does he support a secret and undemocratic process of passing it? Why doesn’t he allow the public to have full review of what is in the text and a debate about how it will impact our economy and our communities,” she asked.

Opponents of Fast Track rally recently in Bridgeport.

   Himes said in a letter to constituents explaining his decision on Fast Track that he did not think the closed-door negotiations were a problem and pointed out that when the TPP agreement is finalized, the text will be accessible to the public.

   “Most sensitive negotiations --- collective bargaining by unions or the purchase of a home for example --- happen behind closed doors.  In the case of TPP, after negotiators reach agreement, the deal will be made fully public online for 60 days before the President can sign it, followed by several months of review and consideration before Congress votes on it,” he said.

  In general, critics claim that the TPP is a corporate giveaway, giving corporations both in the U.S. and overseas the legal ability to thwart national and state laws set up to protect consumers, workers and the environment.

  That raises the issue of sovereignty, and whether the TPP and other trade treaties that are planned, don’t undermine the role of nations in making their own laws, and in the process, transfer power to multi-national corporations.

  Instead of sovereign nations making their own laws, people will be under a form of “corporate governance.”

   A majority of Democrats in the House of Representatives are opposed to Fast Track. Most Republicans favor the bill as well as the TPP, but some GOP members are opposed, due to concerns over the threat to sovereignty.

  Most analysts see the House vote on Fast Track as too close to call. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif. --- who publicly has not taken stand on which way she will vote --- is reportedly behind the scenes trying to line up “yes” votes for President Obama and Fast Track.


Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Pressuring Himes on Trade Deal

By Reginald Johnson

                      BRIDGEPORT --- As the vote draws near on legislation establishing a Transpacific Trade Partnership, activists are increasing the pressure on Fairfield County Congressman Jim Himes to take a stand against the controversial trade treaty and a companion bill called “Fast Track.”.

                   Members of a coalition of groups working to defeat the trade measures gathered on McLevy Green last weekend to denounce the legislation as a corporate giveaway and urge Himes to join the rest of his colleagues in the Connecticut congressional delegation in opposing both Fast Track and TPP, as now written.

      The fast track bill would give President Obama the authority to demand that Congress vote on the trade treaty within 60-90 days, and with only limited debate and with no allowance for amendments.

          Doug Sutherland, chairman of the Fairfield County chapter of Democracy for America, a liberal advocacy group, said the granting of trade promotion authority would speed the passage of TPP, an agreement which he said “could be very bad for American workers, workers around the world, bad for the environment and bad for the sovereignty of our democracy.”

   Sutherland added that “Our mission today is a very simple one. We’re asking our elected representative in Congress, Jim Himes, to vote ‘no’ on fast track.”

   Himes, a centrist Democrat who lives in Stamford and has served six years in Congress after working on Wall Street,  has been under pressure from both sides in the trade treaty battle. Obama, whose election victory in Connecticut in 2008 certainly helped Himes win the congressional seat in the 4th District --- which has often sent Republicans to Congress --- has been pressing Himes to vote yes. But people from labor, environmental and consumer groups have been urging him to oppose the bills.

  The U.S. Senate recently approved fast track. Now it comes down to the House, where the vote is expected to be close.

  Some of the same people who gathered in Bridgeport last Saturday had rallied against TPP and fast track last February. That rally drew about 50 people. Last weekend’s press conference, however, only drew a handful of people, and no one showed up from the local paper, the Connnecticut Post, to cover it. Sutherland said the sunny weather might have been the reason for the low turnout.

  Nonetheless, members of the coalition got up and made their case against the trade bills.
  Several of the speakers said the TPP, as now written, will broadly expand the power of corporations to get around regulations designed to protect workers rights, the environment, consumer rights and food safety. The trade treaty is being negotiated in secret with 11 other nations bordering the Pacific Ocean.

Activists opposing the Transpacific Trade Partnership and the fast track bills make their case in Bridgeport.

  Provisions dealing with investor rights are being written into the trade bill which will give the power to corporations to challenge a nation’s regulations, if the companies believe that the laws are hurting their profits. Those legal challenges would be heard by special tribunals --- separate from a national court system. Decisions by the tribunals would not be reviewable.

  This means regulations set forth in the U.S. on the federal and state level covering environmental safeguards, workplace safety guidelines, food safety, could all be challenged by foreign investors as damaging to their profits. If the tribunal rules in their favor, there would be no room for appeal. Case closed.

  Pam Lupfer, a representative of the Presbyterian Church in New York, which has been working on trade issues, said laws aimed at controlling climate change would be threatened. “Multi-national fossil fuel companies could sue member countries who take action on climate change,” she said, mentioning rules restricting natural gas or coal extraction.

   Jennifer Siskind, Connecticut Coordinator of the organization Food and Water Watch, said food safety rules could be undermined if TPP is passed.

  “If the TPP is fast tracked, even GMO food labels are illegal trade barriers….There is a national grassroots effort pushing for GMO labeling laws, and Connecticut’s law grew out of efforts started by Congressman Himes’ constituents. But this trade deal just throws the movement for GMO labels under the TPP bus,” she said.

  A number of speakers blasted the secret manner in which the TPP is being worked out. The text of the draft agreements is not being released, and even members of Congress have limited access to see the text. Lobbyists for corporations, meanwhile, are directly participating in the trade talks with different nations.

Diane McKenna of Stratford states her oppostion to TPP

  Jim Dean, the national chairman of Democracy for America --- an organization begun by his brother, former Vermont Governor Howard Dean --- implored Himes to vote no on fast track and TPP.

   “Support the will of the people of the United States of America, not the United States of Morgan Stanley, not the United States of Goldman Sachs, Exxon, or any sovereign wealth fund of the eleven countries we’re negotiating with,” he said. 

  Other speakers said past trade treaties, such as NAFTA, have really hurt workers, and they don’t want a repeat.  Some 96,000 manufacturing jobs have been lost in Connecticut since 1994, when NAFTA (standing for the North American Free Trade Agreement) and the World Trade Organization agreements were passed, according to a graph passed out at the press conference.

   “So many of us, Democrats in the labor movement, have been burned so many times in the past by these agreements, we’ve finally said, enough is enough. O.K.,” said Tom Moore of the Carpenters Union.