Richard Trumka, the AFL-CIO’s secretary-treasurer, is expected to be elected president to succeed John Sweeney at the labor federation’s convention in Pittsburgh (9/17). Trumka played a key role in keeping union members in line to elect Barack Obama president last November after questions about whether white unionists would balk at voting for a black man. But in a speech that “went viral” over the Internet, Trumka, a third-generation coal miner, lawyer and former president of the United Mine Workers of America, told steelworkers in Las Vegas about a woman in his hometown of Nemacolin, Pa., who confided to him that she couldn’t vote for Obama.

“I said, ‘Why’s that?’ And she said, ‘Well, he’s Muslim,’ and I said, ‘Actually he’s Christian just like you and I, but so what if he’s Muslim?’ Then she shook her head and said, ‘Well, he won’t wear that American flag pin on his lapel.’ I looked at my lapel and said, ‘I don’t have one and, by the way, you don’t have one on either.’ ... ‘Well, I don’t trust him.’ I said, ‘Why’s that?’ She dropped her voice a bit and said, ‘Because he’s black.’ I said, ‘Look around this town. Nemacolin’s a dying town. There’s no jobs here. Our kids are moving away because there’s no future here. And here’s a man, Barack Obama, who’s going to fight for people like us and you’re telling me you’re not going to vote for him because of the color of his skin? Are you out of your ever-loving mind, lady?’”

Election-night polling for the AFL-CIO showed that 67% of union members voted for Obama, while 30% voted for McCain (compared with a 51-47 Obama advantage among non-union voters). That union advantage was especially important in battleground states. .

Alec MacGillis noted in a Washington Post profile (9/7) that Trumka was a coal miner who attended Penn State and law school at Villanova to become a labor lawyer. After four years as a lawyer for the United Mine Workers of America, he returned to mine work in 1979, rose quickly through the ranks of his local and as a member of the International Executive Board. He was elected president of the international leading a reform slate in 1982. He led the union during the 10-month strike against Pittston Co. in 1989-90, which helped revive labor’s spirits after the union-busting Reagan era. The union not only won a new contract but the victory also led to the federal Coal Act of 1992, which protected the health benefits of thousands of retired coal miners and their spouses. Trumka was elected secretary-treasurer of the AFL-CIO, the No. 2 position, in 1995 with President John Sweeney.

MacGillis noted that Trumka is comfortable with activists and academics and keeps a well-thumbed copy of anti-globalization polemicist Naomi Klein’s The Shock Doctrine in his office. He is expected to usher in a more muscular leadership style than the avuncular Sweeney, MacGillis wrote.

Jake McIntyre wrote at DailyKos (9/7) that Sweeney’s legacy as AFL-CIO president is complicated, but “I suspect that history will view his tenure as a key transitional period between the sclerosis and overseas/anti-communist focus of late-era George Meany and Lane Kirkland on one hand, and a better-focused, more militant, and worker-centered Trumka administration on the other. Sweeney receives a fair amount of criticism for his inability to oversee substantial growth in union membership and density over the past 14 years, and he was unable to keep [the Service Employees International Union] — his own union — and a handful of other AFL affiliates from leaving the federation in 2005, but it’s hard to imagine how difficult his job was when he assumed the presidency in 1995. After all, Sweeney inherited a federation which was decaying at home, yet which had an unhealthy obsession with ‘assisting’ overseas unionists. Changing the culture and priorities of the AFL-CIO was not easy, and was never going to happen overnight, despite Sweeney’s continuing emphasis on organizing. Moreover, Sweeney had to deal with a phenomenally anti-labor Bush administration for over half his presidency.”

In addition to labor’s success in getting out the vote in 2008, McIntyre noted, Sweeney oversaw the growth of the Organizing Institute and establishment of programs like Union Summer to get young workers involved. Although a number of unions did leave the AFL-CIO in 2005, most seem prepared to rejoin in the near future. “And perhaps most importantly, Sweeney’s presidency brought America’s labor movement back to basics — a focus on organizing here in the US, and on building worker strength.”

Trumka laid out the strategy in a recent speech to the Center for American Progress, where he said the federation would do more to reach out to struggling younger workers, and would view its mission more in terms of speaking up for working-class Americans as a whole than merely for its 11 mln members, who represent 7.5% of the nation’s workforce. Trumka also said the federation would expect more from Democratic congressmen and others who take labor’s support for granted — including those willing to compromise away key elements of health-care reform for the sake of token bipartisanship. “More than ever, we need to be a labor movement that stands by our friends, punishes its enemies and challenges those who, well, can’t seem to decide which side they’re on,” he said. “I’m talking about the politicians who always want us to turn out our members to vote for them, but who somehow always seem to forget workers after the votes are counted.”

Asked by the Post’s MacGillis if such threats just empty bluster, considering that the federation has been trying for years to keep Democrats in line, he told MacGillis, “We’ll see ... We’ll see.”

OPEN SENATE RACE IN MASS.? The decision of former US Rep. Joseph P. Kennedy II, the oldest son of Robert F. Kennedy, not to seek his uncle Ted’s Senate seat (9/7) appears to open up the race for the Democratic nomination to non-Kennedys for the first time in nearly 50 years. The only declared candidate was state Atty. Gen. Martha Coakley (D) but other potential candidates who waited until the Kennedy family cleared the deck included US Reps. Michael Capuano, Edward J. Markey, John Tierney and Stephen Lynch. Several Republicans as well as independent Curt Schilling, a former Red Sox pitcher, have expressed interest in running. The primary election will be 12/8 with the general election 1/19. The legislature is considering changing the law to allow Gov. Deval Patrick (D) to name an interim senator until the election.

WINGERS CHASE OUT ‘GREEN JOBS CZAR.’ Van Jones was only beginning to settle in as President Obama’s point man on creating green jobs as part of the Clean Energy Bill when his past as an activist caught up with him. Right wingers pounced on him for having signed a petition in 2004 seeking a review of the 9/11 Commission’s findings (the resolution suggested that the Bush II administration had foreknowledge of the attack), as well as calling Republicans a**holes. Jones quit his White House job as President Obama’s special adviser for green jobs at the White House Council on Environmental Quality (9/6), saying he did not want to be a distraction to the president’s agenda.

Among those leading the attack on Jones were Americans for Prosperity, a pro-Big Business group funded by right wingers such as oilman David Koch, and Glenn Beck of Fox “News,” Adele Stan reported at Alternet.org (9/8). Beck and Americans for Prosperity also played a leading role in organizing the disruption of town-hall meetings across the country where Democratic Congress members tried to discuss health reform. But Stan noted that the top priority of Americans for Prosperity is the derailment of energy reform, especially the cap-and-trade formula for reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Naming defeat of clean-energy legislation his “number one legislative priority,” AFP policy director Phil Kerpen, in his Fox “News” column, details his role in demonizing Jones in the right-wing echo-chamber from which Jones, as an Obama aide, could not escape.

David Weigel noted at WashingtonIndependent.com (9/4) that Beck’s next targets are likely to be Cass Sunstein, nominee to head the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs; Mark Lloyd, associate general counsel and chief diversity officer of the Federal Communication Commission; and Carol Browner, assistant to the president for energy and climate change. Beck has told his followers on Twitter to find out everything they can on the three Obama appointees.

Meanwhile, Baratunde Thurston wondered at JackAndJillPolitics.com (9/6), “When will this White House learn you cannot negotiate with terrorists?”

And Mark Kleiman noted at SameFacts.com (9/5): “There’s an important general lesson here: If you want to say ... crazy stuff and still be treated as a respectable participant in the national debate, you’d better be a Republican. Suggesting that President Bush invited the 9/11 attacks in order to start a war is really no crazier than suggesting that President Obama wants to let terrorists loose in the United States, or that he plans to kill old people and disabled children, or that there’s something sinister about his encouraging schoolkids to study hard.”

COURT MULLS CORPORATE POWER GRANT. The Supreme Court on Sept. 9 was to hear a case that could provide the biggest transfer of power from individuals to corporations since the 1886 ruling that first gave corporations civil rights under the 14th Amendment. Citizens United, a right-wing group, produced a 90-minute movie that it sought to show on TV during the 2008 campaign to trash Hillary Clinton. The Federal Election Commission ruled that it was a campaign ad and that it was illegal to use corporate funds to pay for broadcast messages that advocate the election or defeat of a candidate for federal office under the 2002 McCain-Feingold campaign finance law. Citizens United argued that it should not have to disclose who financed the film, but the court, led by Chief Justice John Roberts, declined to rule on that narrow point and instead invited Citizens United to broaden its lawsuit to overturn laws dating back a century that ban direct contributions and spending by corporations in federal election campaigns. As E.J. Dionne Jr. noted in the Washington Post (Sept. 7), if the court overturns longstanding bans on corporate money in campaigns that date back to the Tillman Act of 1907, it “could surrender control of our democracy to corporate interests.”

QUOTE OF THE WEEK. “If you talk about helping the poor, they call you a Christian, but if you actually try to do something to help the poor, they call you a socialist.” — Presbyterian Rev. Jim Rigby at a forum organized by MoveOn.org (8/29) that filled First United Methodist Church in Austin with 2,000 health reform advocates, while another thousand demonstrated support outside, facing off 200 “teabaggers” in opposition.

CATHOLIC BISHOPS DISAGREE ON HEALTH REFORM. The US Conference of Catholic Bishops has been lobbying for three decades for the federal government to provide universal health insurance, especially for the poor. Now, as President Obama tries to rally religious voters around his proposals to do just that, David D. Kirkpatrick noted in the New York Times (8/27) that a growing number of bishops are speaking out against it.

As recently as July, the bishops’ conference had largely embraced the president’s goals, although with the caveat that any health care overhaul avoid new federal financing of abortions. But since then some leaders of the conference, like Cardinal Justin Rigali of Philadelphia, head of the bishops’ anti-abortion efforts, have concluded that Democrats’ efforts to carve out abortion coverage are so inadequate that lawmakers should block the entire effort.

Bishop William F. Murphy of Rockville Centre, N.Y., chairman of the US Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development, wrote in a 7/17 letter to Congress that the bishops advocate “comprehensive health care reform that leads to health care for all, including the weakest and most vulnerable,” as long as it excludes abortion coverage “or any other provisions that threaten the sanctity of life.” Bishops also want legal protection for healthcare workers who feel they cannot participate in abortion services. Catholic Charities and the Catholic Health Association have supported Obama’s overall approach, but they also have said they would oppose any legislation that used federal funds to pay for elective abortions or required health care workers to participate in abortions over their objections.

Some bishops have strayed from the official line, which is based on the Gospel admonition to care for the sick, and have adopted more partisan Republican talking points about government interference in the healthcare market. Bishop Walter Nickless of Sioux City, Iowa, warned that health care should not be subject to “federal monopolization.” Bishop Thomas Doran of Rockford, Ill., wrote, “Our federal bureaucracy is a vast wasteland strewn with the carcasses of absurd federal programs which proved infinitely worse than the problems they were established to correct.”

Archbishop Joseph Naumann of Kansas City, Kan., and Bishop Robert Finn of Kansas City-St. Joseph, Mo., in a pastoral letter to their dioceses, warned of a dangers of “excessive centralization” and “government socialization” of medicine.

In a column in the liberal National Catholic Reporter (9/3), Duquesne University law professor and canon lawyer Nicholas Cafardi criticized those bishops using the strongest rhetoric about government involvement in health care that made them sound like “Republican ward heelers.” He wrote they are “espousing political positions, not moral ones” and practicing politics that “would warm Rush Limbaugh’s conservative Republican heart.” They also depart from papal encyclicals as well as the determination of the Second Vatican Council that private property and private enterprise had to yield to the common good. Cafardi said in an interview with AP that stances that differ from the main message of the bishops’ conference are counterproductive. “The Catholic bishops in the US have consistently taught that health care is a basic human right, and finally we have an administration willing to tackle that,” said Cafardi, an abortion opponent who endorsed Obama. “To mischaracterize its proposal as socialism really doesn’t advance the debate.”

DEMS HOLD ONTO SEATS. For all the gloomy forecasts for Democrats in the 2010 election, according to the D.C. pundit class who warn that the Dems could lose their House majority, Steve Singiser noted at DailyKos (9/6) that Dems still have a 10-point lead in the generic ballot and have one four recent special elections:

• Curt Hanson (D) held onto a swing legislative seat in southeastern Iowa (9/1), despite the fact that the Democrat was outspent by a 3-to-2 margin and an outside group (the National Organization for Marriage, which seeks to overturn same-sex marriage) may well have spent more than either candidate trying to link the Democrat to the gay marriage issue.

• Norbert Chabert (D) held onto a state Senate seat with 54.3% of the vote in a South Louisiana district (8/29) where Obama got less than 30% of the vote last November.

• Robin Webb (D) picked up a previously Republican state Senate seat in northern Kentucky (8/25), in a district that went nearly 3-to-2 Republican in last year’s presidential election.

• Finally, in a special primary election in California’s 10th District (Eastbay), five Democratic candidates got a total of 65%, while six Republicans got a total of 34%. The remaining 1% went to other party candidates. “It was worth noting that the total vote in the special primary election to replace Ellen Tauscher in CA-10 broke down almost identically to both the Presidential and House partisan breakdown from 2008,” Singiser noted.

“In other words, if there is a nascent Republican wave in America, it hasn’t been apparent the past few weeks.”

MESSAGE: WE DON’T CARE! Bob Somerby can’t understand why this isn’t a Golden Age of Democratic and liberal messaging. “In the past few decades, we’ve seen an endless succession of incidents in which Big Interests loot average citizens, in ways the robber barons would surely have envied,” Somerby wrote at DailyHowler.com (9/3). “Big Interests will still loot average people — unless Big Government makes them stop,” he wrote. But he noted, “In the past few months, we have seen the other side churn their messages about the failures of ‘big government,’ driving the fear of a ‘government take-over,’ of ‘government-run health care.’” The US spent an average of $7,290 on health care per person in 2007, more than twice as much as Great Britain’s $2,992 and Japan’s $2,581 while the average of developed nations was $2,964. “You almost have to twist a mustachio as you read such ridiculous data. But Democrats refuse to discuss those data — refuse to say what they so plainly mean. The other side rails against Big Government. Our side is mostly silent about the Big Interests which have produced those comical data — at the people’s expense.”

What would FDR have said? Somerby noted Jean Edward Smith, a professor at Marshall University and author of the Roosevelt biography FDR, wrote in a New York Times op-ed (9/3): “Roosevelt relished the opposition of vested interests. He fashioned his governing majority by deliberately attacking those who favored the status quo. His opponents hated him — and he profited from their hatred. ‘Never before in all our history have these forces been so united against one candidate as they stand today,’ he told a national radio audience on the eve of the 1936 election. ‘They are unanimous in their hatred for me — and I welcome their hatred.’...

“For Roosevelt was a divider, not a uniter, and he unabashedly waged class war. At the Democratic Convention in 1936, again speaking to a national radio audience, Roosevelt lambasted the ‘economic royalists’ who had gained control of the nation’s wealth. To Congress he boasted of having ‘earned the hatred of entrenched greed.’ In another speech he mocked ‘the gentlemen in well-warmed and well-stocked clubs’ who criticized the government’s relief efforts.

“Roosevelt hived off the nation’s economic elite to win the support of the rest of the country. ... Roosevelt understood that governing involved choice and that choice engendered dissent. He accepted opposition as part of the process. It is time for the Obama administration to step up to the plate and make some hard choices.”

RICH PEOPLE ALREADY HAVE DOCS. One often-repeated comment in the healthcare debate is that doctors and hospitals can’t get by on Medicare’s compensation rates, Dean Baker noted at Prospect.org (8/30). “They argue, as reported in the Washington Post (8/30), that if a large public plan offered Medicare-type reimbursement rates, they would be forced to just abandon public sector programs and work for rich people. That should be a serious concern in the health care debate, if there were a lot of rich people who do not currently enjoy access to medical care,” Baker noted. “However, that does not seem likely. All the rich people I know are able to get all the health care they want.”

If doctors in large numbers were to abandon their current hospitals to serve the rich, most would find themselves unemployed, he added. “While some doctors may have the connections or skills to find employment providing boutique treatment to the rich, for the most part they would be displacing doctors who already serve the rich. These displaced doctors would then have no choice but to work for inadequate pay in hospitals serving the public health care plans.”

TROUBLE IN LIB ‘VEAL PEN’? Jane Hamsher wondered at FireDogLake.com (9/6) whether any liberal interest group would have the courage to criticize the White House for letting Van Jones go. She said the White House has corralled the big liberal interest groups into a “virtual veal pen,” where they can be controlled and disciplined. She noted that White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel showed up (8/4) at “Common Purpose,” a weekly meeting of liberal groups in D.C., to rebuke and humiliate groups that were going after conservative “Blue Dog” Dems with ads and grassroots actions seeking to promote the public option as an integral part of health reform. He ordered them to stop bothering the Blue Dogs, Hamsher noted, and since then, she said, they had complied.

Similarly, she said, “When the White House met with bankers after the AIG scandal and they said they didn’t want to be criticized for getting huge bonuses paid for by taxpayers, the White House complied and ‘cooled their rhetoric.’” The House passed a bill to claw back those bonuses, but it died in the Senate. “You remember all those campaigns by the unions, by the online groups, by liberal economics and finance organizations pushing the Senate to take it up? Yeah, me either.”

She added, “Which means that the teabaggers were in perfect position to harvest all of the discontent over the bank bailout, and no coherent liberal critique was offered.”

Liberals are told that pushing the public option threatens a repeat of the 54-seat swing to the GOP after health reform failed in 1994, she wrote. But she noted that election came on the heels of NAFTA, which demoralized the liberal base and depressed turnout. “Even as the GOP works hard to rile up their teabaggers base and push turnout numbers up for the 2010 midterm, Democrats are watching the public option die and seeing Van Jones thrown into the meat grinder so Blue Cross and the Blue Dogs can get a room,” Hamsher wrote. “Telling progressives to go Cheney themselves to save the Blue Dogs could have horrendous consequences on downticket races across the country.”

She added, “If there is going to be a serious progressive movement in this country capable of standing up for health care against an industry that spends $1.4 million a day on lobbying, we can’t just look to the members of the Progressive Caucus and say ‘hey, you, get something done.’ They need cover. They need to know that they will be supported. And people like Van Jones who have given their lives to causes we say we value like prison reform and environmental advocacy need to know that they will be defended, and not handed over to Glenn Beck as an acceptable casualty in the battle for K-Street dollars.”

John Podesta (who is close to the White House qualifies as a member of the “veal pen” as president and CEO of the Center for American Progress Action Fund) didn’t criticize the White House, but he released this statement following the resignation of Van Jones:

“Van Jones is an exceptional and inspired leader who has fought to bring economic and environmental justice to communities across our country. He has chosen to resign because he believed he was serving as a distraction to the president’s agenda. I respect that decision...

“Clearly, Van was the subject of a right-wing smear campaign shrouded in hypocrisy. Van’s chief tormentor Glenn Beck, who spent weeks engaged in vicious name-calling, retains his perch at Fox News after calling the president a racist who has ‘a deep-seated hatred for white people.’ Van has set a standard that Beck would never impose upon himself.

“I look forward to working with Van to move our country towards a clean energy economy that empowers and lifts up all Americans.”

TAXPAYERS FUND TALIBAN? The US Agency for International Development has opened an investigation into allegations that its funds for road and bridge construction in Afghanistan are ending up in the hands of the Taliban, through a protection racket for contractors, Jean MacKenzie reported at GlobalPost.com (9/2). US officials confirmed that the preliminary investigation and the proposed hearings were sparked by a GlobalPost special report on the funding of the Taliban in August that uncovered a process that has been an open secret in Afghanistan for years among those in international aid organizations. One source, with direct knowledge of such payments, estimated the Taliban can take upwards of 20% from many contracts awarded in unstable areas, which would include about half of the country. When the money is not paid out, bridges get blown up, engineers get kidnapped and projects tend to stall, according to sources. House Foreign Affairs Committee member, Rep. Bill Delahunt (D-Mass.) vowed to hold hearings on the issue in the fall, saying: “The idea that American taxpayer dollars are ending up with the Taliban is a case for grave concern.”

FRUITS OF SEG SCHOOLS IN THE SOUTH. Republicans have shamefully and cynically fanned the sparks of malcontents who question the legitimacy of the first black president and are trying to reverse the results of last year’s election. When right-wing preachers pray for the president’s death and “Teabaggers” show up at presidential rallies with automatic weapons, with the tacit approval of Republican leaders, they are playing with fire. Republican leaders need to take a deep, cleansing breath, and censure their right-wing fellows who are edging towards violent confrontation.

Perhaps we are seeing the fruits of 50 years of degradation of public schools, particularly in the South. Recall that when the federal government moved to desegregate public schools in the late 1950s and ’60s, many “Christian academies” were set up to avoid mixing white children with blacks and support for public schools has never recovered in many of those places. Some counties in Virginia closed their public schools in 1959 rather than integrate them and the state authorized “tuition grants” to allow students to attend private schools of their choice. By 1984, 3,500 racially segregated academies — many of uncertain quality — enrolled more than 750,000 students.

Now some of the alumni of these segregation academies are nearing retirement age, so perhaps it shouldn’t be a surprise that many of them don’t realize that Hawaii was a state when Obama was born there, or that Medicare is an effective government program, or that setting up a public insurance option to compete with private insurance companies does not amount to a Communist takeover.

BIRTHERS JUST WON’T QUIT. Orly Taitz, the lawyer/dentist has pursued the claim that President Obama was not born in the United States, despite the birth certificate that Obama has produced, which Hawaii officials have certified as proof of his birth in that state. Taitz in August produced a birth certificate, purporting that Obama was born in Mombasa, Kenya, but it was quickly exposed as a fake, drawn from an Australian birth certificate. Now Taitz has another certificate purporting to show that he was born in Mombasa, but there are also a number of problems:

For example, the hospital of birth is listed as “Coast Province General Hospital, Mombasa, British Protectorate of Kenya.” Jerome Corsi of World Net Daily, one of the chief promoters of the Birthers and their myths, debunked Taitz’s latest entry, noting that Kenyan sources questioned the use of “Coast Province” as the name of the general hospital in Mombasa, which was a part of Zanzibar, not Kenya, in 1961. Also, there is no documentation that the attending physician named in the document ever delivered babies at the hospital, though he was affiliated with a nearby tuberculosis hospital. And the document uses the US style of dates, listing in order the month, day and year, rather than the British format of day, month and year. And, as has previously been noted, it has never been explained why Obama, whose father’s home village was near Lake Victoria, would have been born in Mombasa, which was hundreds of miles away and didn’t have an international airport until 1979. Details, details.


From The Progressive Populist, October 1, 2009


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