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Thursday, January 24, 2013

Ask Your House Rep & Senators to "Be A Leader" on Overturning Citizens United

Coffee Party USA has launched a campaign called "Be A Leader" to get our House Reps and Senators in DC to go on record with their plans for overturning the disastrous Citizens United v FEC ruling.

They even have some very simple suggested text to use:

Dear Representative or Senator,
It has been three years since the disastrous Citizens United decision.  As a legislator, you are in a position to fix this bad decision, but I don't see anything on your web site about your plans to do so.  Will you please be a leader and post your plans on your web site?  
Your constituent,

Below is what Senator Toomey's office sent to me in response to my inquiry. It's clearly a canned response, and it never actually answers the simple question posed.

I've also copied in my reply. I think it's important that our elected leaders hear from us when our questions and concerns go unanswered.

Below the email is additional research and my personal thoughts on Senator Toomey and his position on other issues I feel are important and which influence how I feel about him and his party.

Trust me, I'm not so naive as to believe that he or even a staffer will read my email or feel compelled to respond to it. If they do, I will share it here. I just want the Senator and his staff to know that ordinary citizens are paying attention; very, very close attention.


From: "Senator Pat Toomey"
Sent: Wednesday, January 23, 2013 9:04:01 AM
Subject: Reply from U.S. Senator Pat Toomey

January 23, 2013

Dear Mr. ,
Thank you for contacting me about campaign finance reform. I appreciate hearing from you.
As you may know, the U.S. Supreme Court, in a ruling in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, overturned a federal ban on independent political advocacy by corporations and unions. I understand your concerns regarding this decision and political activities by outside groups and businesses. That said, the Supreme Court has long upheld that political speech, including the funding thereof, is protected by the First Amendment and is an integral part of our constitutional democracy. It is important that Congress be mindful of these constitutional principles, although I understand your concerns about this issue. Please be assured that I will keep your views in mind as Congress continues reviewing changes to campaign finance laws. 
Thank you again for your correspondence. Please do not hesitate to contact me in the future if I can be of assistance.
Pat Toomey
U.S. Senator, Pennsylvania


Dear Senator Toomey:

Thank you for your response.

With all due respect, your attempt to characterize the Citizens United vs FEC ruling as upholding the rights and protections afforded to actual citizens by the First Amendment is insulting and disingenuous. It's insulting because you and those who defend the activism of the conservatives on the Court seem to believe that you can dupe all of us into believing your partisan framing of that ruling. I humbly remind you that we are not all "low information voters."

Those of us who oppose Citizens United know that it is not about free speech. It is not even about political speech. It is about money. It is about "dark money" and the inordinate influence so much of it is having from too few sources on you and your fellow elected leaders who are supposed to be representing all of us, not just wealthy donors and corporations. (Again and with all due respect, please spare me any rhetoric on trickle down economics. We both know that it's a failed economic theory.)

You have chosen not to answer my question directly about publishing your plans for overturning Citizens United. Given your past role as president of The Club for Growth and the $2.7million they spent on your behalf on attack ads to win you your seat 51% to 49%, I can't say that I'm surprised. I'm left to conclude, therefore, that you are in favor of that disastrous Supreme Court ruling. I invite you, of course, to please write back immediately to correct me and to share your plans if I've come to the wrong conclusion. Nothing would please me more.

Once more and only with the greatest respect, it seems to me that you have a choice to make, Senator. You can follow - and even lead - the GOP's steady decline into political oblivion with everyone except the aging white male evangelical demographic (your tea party base), or you can be part of a more modern, thriving, and progressive (it's not a dirty word, by the way, and is considered by most to be the opposite of 'regressive') Republican party.

My humble and sincere recommendation is that you start by taking a stand against the corrupting influence of big and dark money in our political system by publishing your plan to combat and overturn Citizens United. I realize that that may seem antithetical to your past role as leader of a tea party PAC, but that's not who you're supposed to be representing in the Senate.

Who knows? You might even win back registered Non-Partisan voters like me.



While not part of the above email, here's some research and conclusions on why ordinary citizens should oppose Senator Toomey (and similarly positioned Republicans).

Energy (the closest "issue" the Senator lists when it comes the Environment and Climate Change)
  • Senator Toomey wants to further loosen restrictions on an already under-regulated fossil fuel industry, wants to expand mining and drilling of dirty fossil fuels, and is completely silent on renewable energy.

(Affordable) Health Care
  • Senator Toomey co-sponsored S.192, the "Repealing the Job-Killing Health Care Law Act," a petty partisan and Bachmann-esque bill that reveals how much more he values the interests of big money from insurance carriers, pharmaceuticals, health care providers, and corporations than he does the actual health and welfare of poor, unemployed, and under-employed people.

Life, Family and Marriage (Inequality)
  • Senator Toomey seems to have more in common with Rick Santorum than he does with the majority of Americans. Anyone who isn't in support of gay marriage is, in my opinion, a hateful bigot. Period. There is no middle ground and no compromise when it comes to civil liberties, equality, and justice for the LGBTQ community in this country.

The GOP: A Party in Decline
It no longer comes as any surprise to me that the GOP is a party in steep decline. This last election was very telling. Beyond older white religious men, Mr. Romney had weak and diminishing appeal(1). And while the GOP kept control in the House, they lost seats in both houses of Congress, and there were fewer votes for House Republicans than there were for House Democrats(2). The GOP's only real appeal now seems to be with a shrinking older, whiter, and more fundamentalist demographic. Oh, and big money.

GOP's Desperate Measures to Rig Elections and Deny Voters Their Rights
This decline in popularity and appeal is undoubtedly part of the reason why Governor Corbett and Republican state legislators all over the U.S. want to change the Electoral College rules so that under-populated and gerrymandered GOP districts have the same Electoral College weight as the overall voting population.

Isn't it ironic? One would think that Libertarians, Teapublicans, and ordinary Republicans everywhere would be staunch supporters of winner-take-all, right? Instead, it looks like the new mantra is, "Since we can't beat the Democrats fairly, we'll rig the system." To whom does this strategy appeal if it's not the white rural evangelical voter; that subset of the party's base who seems intent on voting against their own economic self interests time and time again?

The voter ID law is, of course, another prime example of a party who refuses to face reality. It's nothing more than empty fear-mongering over a problem that simply does not exist except in the minds of Republican politicians and Fox News commentators. To claim that measures must be taken to stop rampant in-person voter fraud is to insult the intelligence of anyone paying attention to the realities of how rare it is for someone to impersonate anyone on election day(3).

Money in Politics
I cling to the belief that politicians are supposed to work for me. My belief was stronger before the Citizens United ruling.

Now it seems all too clear that Senator Toomey and his colleagues on both sides are far more beholden to the Sheldon Adelsons, Harold Simmonses, Karl Roves, and all the Super PACs(4) than they are to you, me, our fellow Pennsylvanians, and ordinary Americans.

To be fair to Senator Toomey, he's presumably most beholden to his biggest donor, the Tea Party SuperPAC, The Club for Growth, According to OpenSecrets,they have contributed $848,033 to him over the course of his political career(5). They also spent $2.7million in negative ads to help their former president to win his seat 51% to 49%(6).

This is what Democracy looks like?

It will take a long and hard struggle to get Citizens United overturned. It's not impossible, and I believe that it's up to us - ordinary citizens - to be united in our unending and unbending effort to understand which politicians agree with us and which don't. I think it's obvious what we need to then do with that information.

Get involved. It only takes a few minutes to let your elected leaders know what you think.

(1) CNN Politics;
(2) Bloomberg, Republicans Can't Claim Mandate as Democrats Top House Vote;
(3) The Wall Street Journal, Voter Fraud: Hard to Identify;
(4) ProPublica, Who are the Super PACs's Biggest Donors;
(5), Senator Pat Toomey, Top Contributors (Since 1989);
(6) The Boston Globe, Tea Party super PAC pours fund into congressional races;

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Guns and the Future of the GOP

Image found at and credited to source there
History is replete with milestones and turning points. We have arrived at another, for the country and for the GOP.

This one is centered on the Second Amendment. The debate rages about its meaning, intent, and relevancy in a modern world and, in the wake of yet another tragic shooting, what to do about gun violence. The burden and judgement of history, in my opinion, now rests squarely on the shoulders of the Republican party, not the president.
Public consensus seems clear. When polled, Americans say they want more checks in place before guns can be purchased. We also are saying that we want fewer - not more - dangerous weapons in the hands of ordinary civilians.

Ignoring Reality
The leadership of the GOP seems to be ignoring reality yet again. They've done so at nearly every turn since the 2008 election cycle, the short-lived and fading Tea Party movement that disrupted the GOP and elections in 2010 notwithstanding.

On some level, it seems to be getting worse. A party willing to give any consideration at all to the likes of a Donald Trump, Herman Cain, Michele Bachmann, or Rick Santorum is already difficult to take seriously. Mitt Romney, by most accounts, was the least offensive choice they could present.

On the issue of gun violence, Republicans who now insist on adding public concerns and sentiments about guns to the growing list of realities and shifting societal norms and values they choose to ignore do so not only at their own peril, but they put their entire party at peril for the 21st century.

The reelection of President Obama seems not to have taught Republican leaders a thing except that the more extreme the position they take, the more airtime they'll get with Fox. They truly seem intent on listening only to and parroting the most extreme voices. This time those voices belong to Wayne LaPierre and David Keene of the NRA. Republican leaders are choosing them over their rank-and-file members and even over those Republicans who self-identify as NRA members.

So how is it possible in the wake of so many gun-related tragedies that elected leaders from the Republican party are not uniform in their support for ANY proposals from the president to reduce gun violence?

Is there a turning point in the history of the GOP that helps to answer this question, and that helps to inform us about what the question about gun legislation reveals about the underlying beliefs that have guided the party's thinking into the present day and possibly into its future?

First, What the Pubic Is Saying About Guns
As Juan Williams of Fox News pointed out on January 16th (1), polling shows very clear consensus about what Americans think we should do on issues such as background checks and high-capacity magazines.

   "A USA Today/Gallup poll taken last month found that 92 percent of Americans favor a background check for every gun purchase in the United States and only 7 percent opposed it. According to the same poll, 62 percent say the approved of a ban on the sale and possession of high-capacity magazines that hold more than 10 bullets while 35 percent disapprove.

  "A Pew poll from earlier this week found similar results.

  "According to Pew, 85% of Americans, a roughly equal numbers of Democrats and Republicans, favor universal background checks on gun buyers including at gun shows. The survey also found that preventing people with mental illness from buying guns is backed by 80% of Americans, including 86% of Republicans and 78% of Democrats.

  "In opposing these common-sense gun safety measures under consideration by President Obama, the NRA is not only at odds with the general public, it is also at odds with its own membership.

   "After the shooting in Aurora, Colorado this summer, Republican pollster Frank Luntz conducted a nationwide survey of gun owners who are members of the NRA. Luntz found that 74 percent of NRA members and 87 percent of non-NRA gun owners support background checks on every gun sale. The poll also found that 79 percent of NRA members and 80 percent of non-NRA gun owners support requiring gun retailers to perform background checks on all employees."

Given this data, how is it possible that Republicans aren't putting petty partisan politics aside and embracing new regulations and laws to curb gun violence?

Why aren't they distancing themselves from the NRA and their desire to arm even more citizens in more places and with ever more lethal firepower?

What legacy does the GOP want to have on the issue of gun violence?

Perhaps most importantly, what are NRA members and faithful Republicans across the board demanding from their elected officials and party leaders on the question about what to do to reduce gun violence in light of what they're purported to be telling Gallup and Pew?

An Historical Turning Point for the GOP
How did the party of Lincoln turn into a party which, big money and influence aside for the moment (2), become so willing to knuckle under to extremists at the NRA, an organization which, I'm learning, has itself been severally radicalized in recent times (3)?

Is there a milestone in Republican party history that can shed more light on how the GOP has become a party seemingly entrenched in antiquated and unpopular views, and incapable of compromise on any level?

As part of my research, I found an article titled "The Dismal Future of the GOP" published by Forbes in 2009 (4). It's author justifiably laments the lose of moderate voices in the Republican party and, hence, its loss of moderate voters.

It's unreasonable, of course, to expect any single article to cover every single milestone and turning point of history. Still, I think the author, Bruce Bartlett, a domestic policy adviser to President Ronald Reagan, a Treasury official under President George H. W. Bush, and the author of "Reaganomics: Supply-Side Economics in Action" and "Impostor: How George W. Bush Bankrupted America and Betrayed the Reagan Legacy" neglected to cover one of the most critically important factors in the transformation - and, hence, the decline  - of the GOP. That critically important factor was Barry Goldwater and his political calculus in the 1964 presidential campaign (5).

Southern Democrats, still feeling the sting 100 years on of Lincoln, the Emancipation Proclamation, and the defeat in the Civil War were still using violence and intimidation to suppress minorities. This wing of the Democratic party was still insisting on seating all-white delegates at the Democratic National convention. Putting the KKK aside, Southern Democrats were responding favorably to and electing racists like Alabama's Democratic governor and presidential hopeful, George Wallace, who was infamous for statements such as, "segregation today, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever."

Racists not only in the Southern wing of the Democratic party but throughout the country were targeted and pursued by Goldwater as part of his "white backlash" strategy in the 1964 campaign. Goldwater (who, according to accounts, is not thought to have been a racist himself) accomplished nothing except the migration of the South from Democratic to Republican control. This was a turning point for the Republican party, making it the party focused primarily on matters important mostly to whites.

1964, therefore, is a very clear and important milestone in the history of the Republican party and its relevance in American politics. White America, including and especially those in the South who had for the previous 100 years used violence and intimidation to keep minorities subjugated and away from primaries and elections, came to see the GOP as a party whose platform included, besides smaller government (which tends to hurt poor and minorities the most), a clear opposition to civil rights. (A quick search on YouTube reveals interviews of Goldwater talking about his opposition to civil rights legislation. It's almost as easy as finding Ayn Rand videos railing against Christianity.)

For Mr. Bartlett to leave Goldwater and 1964 out of his review of the GOP's history and the role that race still plays now and in the party's future is, in my opinion, inconceivable and could only be deliberate. I guess he was willing to go only so far in his critique of his party.

Guns and the GOP's Golden Opportunity
Which brings me back to the current issue of gun violence, gun control, and why the GOP seems intent on supporting the NRA instead of the general populace.

The undercurrent of racism - real or imagined - has been associated with the Republican party at least as far back as 1964.  One look at the demographics of the 2012 election results reinforces its disconnect outside of white America, and especially white Christian male America. If nothing else, it's mathematically correct to say that the Republican party is the party of white Evangelical men. What ought to be obvious is that relying on that demographic is and will continue to be insufficient to win national elections, and may eventually be insufficient to win elections anywhere of any consequence.

This is why the GOP's future is in peril. They seem intent on disenfranchsing everyone but white conservative Christian men. This seems to be true again on the issue of gun violence.

While I haven't looked for or seen data that makes a definitive and precise connection between their reluctance to distance themselves from the NRA and their dwindling racial diversity, it certainly does raise questions for me about the true motivations behind anything the Republican party is doing these days.

After all, we shouldn't forget that this is the party....
....who refused to distance themselves from the racist birther movement and those who questioned the president's religion, patriotism, and what it meant to be American
 ...who not only allowed our economy to be driven into the 2008 recession, but who continue to make unreasonable and unjustifiable demands for cuts to social programs that benefit the poor and aged (whose ranks, by the way, include more than just minorities) while defending and demanding tax breaks for the wealthy (and we all know who makes up the majority of that group)
....who has as their Senate leader a man who publicly stated the party's number one goal was to deny the president any policy victory, thereby creating perhaps the most ineffective Congress in history and doing incalculable damage to our recovery and to the poor and middle class
...who is responsible for state legislation around the country intended solely to make voting more difficult for minorities.

Can there be any doubt, therefore, that race (and gender) play a part in GOP thinking when it comes to gun violence? Which party is it who wants to increase the Defense budget, defund Planned Parenthood, and nationalize "Stand Your Ground" laws?

The question now about what the GOP will do (or not do) about gun violence is one more in a long line of questions about their relevance to anyone outside of a shrinking and ever more extreme subset of white America.

Cowardice and the Crossroads
The answer so far seems to be that the GOP will side with extremists inside and outside the NRA. These people all talk as if the America of the 21st century is some Hollywood version of the Wild West where good guys - always white guys, by the way - with guns kill bad guys with guns. No one is ever caught in crossfire, mistakes are never made about a suspect's guilt or innocence, and it never seems to take more than a single, well-placed, and calmly delivered shot in the most righteous of fairy tales to bring down the bad guy. (Which does beg the question about the need for extended clips, but then I remember it's to repel invading foreign armies and/or a tyrannical domestic government. I suspect the now-popular zombie apocalypse is on that same list somewhere.)

And just below the surface, there's a disturbing sort of "The Birth of a Nation" feeling to the GOP's fear mongering about Obama. The GOP still refuses to refute birthers, those who talk of "others," and those who question Obama's religion or "understanding of what it means to be American."

The cowardice of Republican leaders is tragic and on stark display. They refuse to face down the radical and extreme elements in their party and in the leadership of the NRA. In fact, they seem to relish in pandering to them. This strategy will, in my opinion, be the downfall of the Republican party in the coming decades; maybe sooner. This crisis over how to deal with the NRA will be one of the many milestones marking the end of the journey for a party whose appeal continues to slide further and further into right-wing extremist oblivion.

It's happened before. Political parties who fell out of touch and out of favor have faded into history. The GOP doesn't have to suffer this fate. They can turn it around. The challenges to the NRA on what to do about gun control would be the perfect pivot point for them. They have a golden opportunity to show Americans that they are capable not only of compromise when the health and safety of citizens is at issue, but also that they are capable of refusing to let any organization - even the NRA - bully them into taking positions that are harmful to Americans. (We can keep hoping that they'll someday do the same with Wall Street and the fossil fuel industry, but that's for another post.)

The question now really is will the Republican party and their members take yet another "hard right" at this milestone and side with the NRA, or will calmer and more rational people within the Republican party prevail?

Any hope I cling to is with regular people and their courage to voice their opposition to the NRA and to vote GOP extremists out of office.

(1) "What everybody needs to know about our Constitution and gun control"

(2) "How the NRA exerts influence over Congress"

(3) "The NRA Once Supported Gun Control"

(4) "The Dismal Future of the GOP"

(5) "LBJ Fights the White Backlash; The Racial Politics of the 1964 Presidential Campaign"

Monday, January 7, 2013

Fear, Uncertainty, and Doubt: Big Business's Tax Code Strategy

Today's New York Times article titled "Major Companies Push the Limits of a Tax Break" strikes me as a microcosm of the challenges with the federal tax code.

It also reveals something else. It's a marketing strategy called FUD - Fear, Uncertainty, and Doubt - and it's being used by the rich and powerful to protect tax codes which benefit them by making the rest of us afraid to support efforts to change or eliminate those tax loopholes.

The article describes a 90-year old tax code modification supposedly meant to be helpful to farmers and small businesses. When discussing tax codes as "helpful" it's important to always remember that that help comes with a price tag. That "help" means that the government isn't taxing a transaction. That, of course, means less tax revenues into the federal treasury and, like it or not, we will not see our federal debt lowered and our federal budget come closer to balance unless both sides of the ledger - expenses AND revenues - are tackled.

Don't get me wrong. I don't oppose every tax code meant to help businesses, especially small businesses. What I vehemently oppose is what seems to have happened here. It appears from this article that this incentive originally intended to benefit farmers and small businesses was eventually expanded and perverted into something that the likes of JPMorgan, Wells Fargo, and GE may have abused.

How does that happen and why aren't we capable of doing something about it?

Perhaps this is one possible answer.

Whenever the topic turns to the economy, business, and taxation, we seem to allow the rich and powerful to control the discussion and to set the framework for what to do next. We allow the to do this by employing a strategy those of us in the sales and marketing profession know as FUD - Fear, Uncertainty, and Doubt. Here's how it works.

We allow them to manipulate and control us by controlling the discussion mostly through fear and with heavy doses of uncertainty and doubt. Too many of us are easily (and to some degree, justifiably) frightened by the threat of the loss of the most basic thing needed to survive in a modern society; namely and for starters, a job which pays enough (but not always enough) just for food and shelter.

The things that used to signal the arrival into the middle class - higher education, vacations, and even a little free time to pursue interests outside of two or three part-time jobs - are now available and affordable to fewer and fewer people. All this at a time when taxes are at historic lows, regulation on businesses of all types has been progressively shredded over the last 30 years, the wealth gap is wider than it's been since the Gilded Age, and the federal debt keeps ballooning.

When it comes to taxes, the rich and powerful use FUD to make the same argument they always make: the beneficial tax treatment of these "...asset exchanges spur investment and help create jobs." They frame the discussion about raising taxes and doing away with loopholes by saying that if they are taken away there will be less investment and fewer jobs. My response to that argument is pretty consistently this: if that's true then why is unemployment still just under 8% and why isn't the economy growing faster? You rich and powerful people are getting what you want and it's still not enough?

This is overly simplistic, I know, but I still believe it's a valid stance to take in this argument. It's still a legitimate way to tear down and take back the framing they want to use when it comes to the tax code. If tax breaks like this are so great, then why are we in the terrible state we're in and why aren't the rich and powerful investing more into a recovery?

And when it comes to changing the tax code as a means for helping to reverse the federal government's mounting debt, the discussion must be first and foremost about the sort of code changes like this one that benefit GE and Wells Fargo long before even thinking about code changes such as eliminating mortgage interest deductions.

It's far past the time to end the corporate welfare system. That must begin with changes to the corporate tax codes. They must pay more, not less. Corporations have already proven they'll adapt and, besides, how much more is left for them to outsource overseas? They've refused to do anything except hold us all hostage through fear of job loss while they sit atop record-setting profits.

It's time to call their bluff.

One of the greatest challenges we face for reversing tax codes that benefit only the strong, the wealthy, and the powerful is our ability and willingness to call them out on their FUD strategy and to tell them that, "We're mad as hell and..."Well, you know the rest.

More than that, our elected officials need to know they can't use FUD on us either. If they have the courage to stand up to big money and the power elite, then they need to know that we will stand with them. We need more people like Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren who seem to actually care about the middle class enough to stand up to Wall Street, big corporations, and the infinitesimally small number of wealthy people in America who already have rigged the system far too long and far too much to their advantage.

The wealthy aren't doing anything much to help the rest of us, so why should we keep kowtowing to them and their interests? Let's close tax loopholes that benefit large and wealthy corporations. It's a better place to start than with my home mortgage interest deduction.

Click here to find your Congressional Representative and tell him/her what you think. It's the only way they'll know.

Click here to learn more about and to get involved with Coffee Party USA and the work they're doing to restore our democracy.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

"Gang Rush" to Conclusions Without Context

A table of illegal firearms confiscated in a large weapons bust in East Harlem are on display at a press conference on October 12, 2012 in New York City. (Mario Tama/Getty)

To anyone ready to jump all over Megan McArdle for suggesting that we teach kids to bum rush shooters:

Caveats: I'm not her fan, friend, follower, or defender.

I just think that it's important that with something as emotionally charged as Newtown and gun violence that we avoid jumping to too many conclusions about what someone else is supposedly suggesting we do about it.

I think that's especially true when all we know about said suggestion is what someone else has decided to dissect and share from it. It's too easy for that someone to then, intentionally or unintentionally, deliver it to us out of context. (Yes, I'm mostly looking at you, Fox News and all the right-wing mouthpieces, but not this time. This time it's Media Matters using this same strategy.)

Without reading the entire post, I think it's impossible to put the presumably worrisome passage into context. I read the entire post. I came away convinced this idea of a "gang rush" was meant to reinforce the message of the rest of her post.

My conclusion is that she's of the opinion that in the America we live in today there is little, if anything, in practical terms that can be done to prevent people from going on shooting sprees short of an outright ban on all guns, and that we all know that that is impossible.

Or, do we?


Friday, December 14, 2012

Right-to-Work and The New Gilded Age

(Credit: AP Photo/Dave Kolpack)
Here's a byproduct of the so called Right-To-Work laws I never knew: besides being a masterful bit of marketing in terms of its labeling, these laws have helped to move jobs from Northern states to Southern states and eventually to cheaper overseas markets.

In fact, the more I learn about them, the more I come to understand that they are anything but a vehicle to ensure anyone's "rights" or that there's work created by them for anyone. At least not work normally associated with what we fancifully recall as a middle class lifestyle.

As the New York Times op-ed piece entitled, "Workers' Paradise Lost" points out, union and non-union workers both benefit when unions are more powerful and influential. Corporations once literally had to compete for labor by offering good wages and benefits.

Anyone happen to notice, recall, or learn in their rapidly-disappearing civics classes about the wealth and prosperity the middle class in America enjoyed after World War II and up to about the late 70s and early 80s? (Bonus points will be awarded for naming the B-movie-actor-turned-president who launched the decline in earnest back then by firing federal union workers and being the willing mouthpiece and marionette at the end of Alan Greenspan's fingertips.)

Here's another new fact I learned from the Times op-ed.

The Taft-Hartley Act was pushed through in 1947 by "pro-business Republicans and Southern Democrats" in the immediate wake of the UAW's rise to prominence. This Act was how states in the South and out West were able to pass right-to-work laws and attract businesses away from their neighbors in northern markets with cheaper labor. I didn't know how it had gotten started and that it went back that far.

And what happened next and when corporations felt that the labor wasn't cheap enough in the South and West? What has been happening since the early 80s and as unions have continued to lose their influence over elected officials, corporations, and thanks to years of vilifying by corporations and the GOP, even the influence unions and their members had with their neighbors? Where did business look for even cheaper labor? It wasn't on these shores. Labor is and was increasingly powerless to fight the flight of manufacturing overseas. It's sad when you consider that they couldn't even get their neighbors to stand with them to defend those jobs, and that those neighbors all too often are still jealous of what they perceive to be the largess of being a union worker.

(To be sure, we as consumers also have ourselves to blame, too, for demanding the Walmartification of America with cheaper and cheaper goods, but that's fodder for its own post.)

All of us owe a debt of gratitude to organized labor for basically forcing corporations to share the wealth. That's not a dirty or even Socialist expression. Labor is what brings into being and delivers to market the creativity and genius of the entrepreneur. One cannot exist without the other. It must be understood, however, that only one side has the "accounts receivables" and, hence, control over how revenues are distributed. CEOs didn't always make hundreds and even thousands of times what they pay their workers, and corporate profits overall in America are at historic highs.

We also owe a debt to unions for things we take for granted today. Things like child labor laws, workplace safety, the 8-hour workday, the 5-day week, and so much more. When examined purely from the economic and business perspective, these changes would probably never have come into being without workers literally dying as part of the labor movement to win them.

These are all things worth thinking about the next time we're tempted to side with trickle down theorists and defenders of capital - as if they needed us to stick up for them.

Actually and come to think of it, maybe they do.

So long as they - and let's be candid, "they" are big money, corporations, and most assuredly the Republican party - are successful at duping so many of the middle class into believing the "us versus them" of non-union versus union, we're likely to see the scales continue to tip away from the middle class and even more toward the wealthy. It's like something I saw recently on Facebook that said (and I'm paraphrasing), "Don't be jealous of my union benefits. Demand your own." I agree with that sentiment.

The scales of labor-management are out of balance. I think it's important to understand whose thumbs are on it and how the scales continue to tip toward the 1-percenters and big business. If we don't bring the scales back to the middle then my advice is that we might want to start thinking up names for this new Gilded Age.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Right To Work... for Less

For the record, I've spent most of my career in management. I have never belonged to a union.

I have, however, become a stronger and stronger supporter of organized labor the more I read and understand the facts about them and how the once mighty American middle class came into being, grew, and prospered primarily and almost exclusively because of organized labor.

We must be clear on facts.

The rise and prosperity of the American middle class had precisely nothing to do with any generosity or leadership principles of management. Without the labor movement, there would have been no middle class because there would have been nothing in it for management and the shareholders to pay workers decent wages, provide for safe working conditions, and for companies to have to negotiate some portion of the wealth generated to be shared back with the workers that made goods and delivered services.

The worker-management relationship is symbiotic, but the movement in this country was been away from organized labor for decades. Many would trace it back to Reagan and his treatment of the air traffic controllers.

Regardless of when it began, the so-called "righ to work" laws are nothing more than well-crafted marketing by Big Money and their puppets in state legislations. It is designed to dupe Americans into believing that such laws - presumably to give workers the "freedom" or "right to work" without paying union dues in unionized shops - is what's best for both companies and workers.

That's absurd. Why should on employee be allowed to benefit from collective bargaining done by his/her co-workers and yet not have to be required to pay their dues to fund the organization that handles the collective bargaining on behalf of all workers. How is that fair?

Right-to-work laws are terrible for the middle class. The only jobs they are likely to create will be those that are lower paying with fewer hours and fewer benefits. They will not be the kind of middle class jobs on which anyone can live or raise a family.

Ask any Walmart worker.

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Note to Christians: Not to Worry, Your Holiday is Safe

Today, December 8, 2012, is Bodhi Day which, according to Wikipedia is, 

"...the Buddhist holiday that commemorates the day that the historical Buddha, Siddhartha Gautauma (Shakyamuni), experienced enlightenment, also known as bodhi in Sanskrit and Pali. According to tradition, Siddhartha had recently forsaken years of extreme ascetic practices and resolved to sit under a peepal tree and simply meditate until he found the root of suffering, and how to liberate oneself from it."

So to Buddhists everywhere, I'd like to send my best to you this day and everyday.

Ok, I admit it. This post and my well-wishes to Buddhists are the result of sheer happenstance. It all started when I read an email from a Christian relative. They are very concerned about the takeover of Christmas by the politically correct apparatchiks hell-bent on taking Christ out of Christmas. The chain email was meant to be sent to everyone, demanding that we stand up to the rest of society and express proudly to everyone (presumably whether they believe in Christ or not) a Merry Christmas. 

That said, and besides not knowing that today is Bodhi Day, I'm supposed to wish everyone a Merry Christmas. Consider this greeting banked for those who believe until December 25th.

What I'm curious about now is how is it possible in the age of smartphones, ubiquitous wi-fi, and the 24-hour news cycle that I didn't know that today is Bodhi Day? (Not to worry. I'll get to Chanukah in a minute.)

How's that possible? How can I miss a religious holiday at this time of year when the volume is turned up to what one of my fellow Coffee Party friends calls "a Spinal Tap 11" over the fears and concerns that America is losing sight of the religious significance of this time of year?

I think I know the answer.

First, it's my fault. I'm an atheist. I don't pay very much attention to religious holidays, and were it not for Facebook I wouldn't know that today is also significant to Jews and the celebration of Chanukah. So, a sincere Happy Chanukah to Jews everywhere!

On top of being an atheist, I was raised by Catholics. These were two of the best and finest people to ever walk the planet, mind you, but they were not of a generation sensitive to multiculturalism. December - and for my father who was raised an Eastern Orthodox Catholic, it was January - meant Christmas and only Christmas. Besides being raised by Catholics, I grew up in an all-white, working class, and, as far as I know to this day, all-Christian enclave in southwestern Pennsylvania.

As for my public school education, and to the best of my recollection, there was absolutely no evidence whatsoever in the curriculum of any other holiday being celebrated in December besides Christmas. To their credit, we didn't have Nativity displays at school, but I also don't recall any lessons about other world cultures and their holidays. (Happily, educators are paying more attention to this issue nowadays. See "The December Dilemma: Acknowledging Religious Holidays in the Classroom")

What else is going on in December and all year and with other religions, you might be asking? 


One look at this Huffington Post piece on religious holidays for 2012 shows just how much religious celebrating is going on throughout the year for nine of the world's major world religions: Baha'i, Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, Judaism, Islam, Paganism, Shinto and Sikhism. (What no Flying Spaghetti Monster?!?) 

One of the takeaways for me was how many Christian religious holidays there are. They beat their next closest competitor, the Hindus, by more than 2 to 1. Who knew?

Besides winning the race to rack up the most religious holidays, Christians are also unmistakably among the largest religions by membership in the world and in America

Given these facts, why do we seem to get treated each year around this same time to so much concern from Christians about their religion and their holiday coming under attack? For me to go merrily along with the chain email and to wish everyone a Merry Christmas may be the statistically correct greeting, but it still might not be right and it does nothing to account for the fact that not everyone is a Christian.

My advice to Christians is to relax. For now, you are the dominant religion in America. Even Gallup says we're telling them we're still a religious people and that we're primarily a Christian nation. Please, stop with all the hand-wringing, wailing, gnashing of teeth and chain emails already. You're the majority, no one is attacking you, and pretty much everyone still calls Christmas Christmas. 

You shouldn't think of "Happy Holidays" as an insult or an attack. I can't for the life of me see how it diminishes or detracts one bit from your holiday. Is it so hard to accept that I simply don't believe as you do and yet still want to wish you and everyone around me happiness? Is that so terrible, and why are you put off by the fact that I want to be as universal in my well-wishing as possible? 

Ask yourself how you would feel as a Christian if I said Happy Chanukah or Merry Yuletide or Kung Hei Fat Choi. If I know you celebrate Christmas, I'm just as likely to say, "Merry Christmas!" If, however, I choose instead to say, "Happy Holidays," it's not a metaphorical slap in the face (although your prophet would tell you to turn the other cheek). 

What's the problem with Happy Holidays? For me, Happy Holidays takes all the risk out possibly insulting or offending the statistically less likely (and seemingly less emotionally troubled) encounters with Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, and even the rare Zoroastrianist. You don't hear them complaining.

Please. Christians. I'm begging you. Take a break this year. At least take a breath. The rest of us in all the minorities who don't believe as you do and who may or may not also be celebrating this time of year are not out to get you or to keep you from celebrating Christmas. All we want to do is wish you happiness.

Besides, all this complaining from the religion that holds the majority in population and in holidays is really tiresome, tedious, disingenuous, and is flat out spoiling the fun in the holidays - whatever holiday we choose to celebrate - for the rest of us.

Happy Holidays, One and ALL!