Letters to the Editor

Fundamental Changes for Democracy

A suggestion: Item 12, “Strengthen Democracy,” in Roger Hickey’s cover article in your 4/15/14 issue (“The New Populist Movement to Restore Democracy”), might better have been the first item. Unless the engine that runs our form of government is fixed, our government’s machinery will remain unable to properly deal with our nation’s needs.

And strengthening our democracy requires more than just tweaking. Fundamental changes are necessary, notwithstanding determined opposition, often by both major political parties. Such changes would include the following:

1. A Constitutional amendment is needed to protects the right to vote and to have votes fairly counted. The amendment should also include an absolute ban on gerrymandering.

2. Congress should, for the first time in its history, install a stringent ban on conflicts of interest under which a member of Congress who, as a member or as a candidate for office, accepts donations from any donor or affiliated group in excess of a specified annual limit (pick an amount; I suggest $24,000), would be barred from voting in committee or on the floor on any measure that would materially benefit such donor or donor group. A non-partisan commission would be needed to police compliance. The measure no doubt would necessitate a companion measure providing some form of public funding for Congressional election campaigns.

3. Congress should publish daily on the internet a detailed account of each day’s action in both Houses, plus a weekly account of each member’s activities, based on daily time sheets, showing in detail what each member did during each day, including an identification of all non-public contacts with registered lobbyists.  If members of Congress are “servants of the people,” the people should know how they are being served.

4. A blue ribbon committee should modernize Congressional procedures to increase efficiency and speed, enabling Congress to keep pace with the nation’s needs.

5. The rules for recusal that now apply to all judges in all lower federal courts should be made applicable to the justices of the Supreme Court, thereby avoiding a repetition of previous failures to recuse, e.g., Justice Thomas (and possibly others) sitting in judgment on the Affordable Care Act despite an apparent disabling conflict.

6. A blue ribbon committee should identify organizational improvements in the Executive branch and changes in the laws it administers, aimed at improving efficiency and eliminating subsidies, redundancies and ineffective programs, with the Pentagon, the Department of Homeland Security and our Intelligence agencies deserving special attention.

The foregoing items may not be all that we need (even while exceeding what is possible), but those six steps would take us a long way toward where we need to be.

James Van Vliet
Oswego, Ill.

Cesar Chavez Protected the Exploited

Re: “The Journey of Farm Workers” [Movie Review, 5/15/14 TPP]. Sometimes we have to be thankful to popular culture for making us aware of significant historical leaders who are seldom mentioned in our grammar or high school history textbooks.

Cesar Chavez is one of them.

During a recent guided tour of Salinas Valley (often referred to as the “salad bowl of the nation”), our guide mentioned to us more than once that the farm owners paid their field hands good wages.

His intention, of course, was to convince us that the kindhearted farm owners were forever concerned about the welfare of their workers.

Nothing could be further from the truth.

In reality, it was only through the efforts of Cesar Chavez to organize farm laborers that they finally received living wages for their exhausting work.

Before Chavez emerged as a champion of the laboring class, farm workers were among the most exploited members of our society.

Much yet needs to be done, of course, but Cesar Chavez was the first to shine a bright light on the suffering of farm workers to persuade the more privileged to be compassionate towards them, and no longer ignore their plight.

David Quintero
Monrovia, Calif.

No Pink in Piketty

Wayne O’Leary in his “Beware the Ides of March” [5/15/14 TPP] consistently and I’m sure inadvertently misspells Thomas Piketty’s name as “Pinketty.”

This reminded me of the late, great Patsy Mink, long-time congresswoman from Hawaii who was often referred to as Patsy “Pink” by her conservative detractors for her long-time support of progressive social legislation.

O’Leary may have unwittingly given conservative scribes a moniker to hang on Piketty as the nervous nabobs try to ridicule and demean his brilliant, Capital in the Twenty-First Century.

Donald Miller
Los Angeles, Calif.

Better Organizing Needed

The following is my reaction to “Unions Need To Know Workers” piece by Bill Johnston [4/15/14 TPP]. The only job I ever lost (as opposed to left-geologist, YMCA youth director, pharmaceutical salesman, priest, Naval Officer, R.N. (retired) was as an organizer for 1199P National Hospital Union back in the 1980s. I was told that my job depended on our winning the campaign to wrest control of thousands of Pennsylvania State nurses from the Pennsylvania State Nurses Association. The campaign consisted of making phone calls four times to every nurse in the association. The prospects were 1) not interested, 2) slightly, 3) somewhat and 4) very interested. This campaign was the brainchild of an organizer who had had great success in organizing in Pittsburgh. The calls were made from a phone bank in State College, Pa. The message consisted of a canned presentation made to every prospective member. One day the “leader” was listening to my call and berated me for not sticking to the script. I had the delusion that, having been a nurse (at that point in time) for 10 years, I might have some things to share with the prospective person on the other end of the line. No way! I told him my comments were in the spirit of the campaign, and he told me to take a walk (literally). I stayed on for the rest of the campaign, but on numerous calls (during the 4th call to the “likely” prospect) heard complaints that their husbands were getting p.o.’d with the calls. Finally, at the count of the vote in Harrisburg after the campaign was over, the State Nurses won the election over 1199P by not much.  A nurse came up to me and asked, “Why didn’t 1199P get off the goddamned phone?!”

I had, prior to working for 1199P, tried to get a union into Warren Hospital, in Phillipsburg, N.J., which, at the time (1970s) was considered by some to be the local  alternative to capital punishment. I had 58 signatures on cards, until the N.J. State Nurses Rep made his presentation before a huge crowd of nurses. It was so bad that afterward all but a handful requested their signed cards back. So I went to work for the N.J. State Prison in Clinton, as a nurse. We were represented by CWA, which we referred to as Company Wins Again. One year I sent Christmas Cards to each inmate unit in the prison. It had Eugene V. Debs’ quote “... While there is a lower class ... etc.. While there is a soul in prison ... etc.” and when the card was opened there was a photo of the D-Yard brothers from Attica,wrapped in blankets and holding clubs. The next year I sent a card to a prisoner on her birthday (at her request). The next year, at her reminder, I sent another card offering to buy her a drink  if she ever got out. She was a lifer. This mailing was intercepted and sent to Internal Affairs. After being represented by CWA, I received a 20-day suspension without pay.

My point being that I think Johnston’s article makes excellent points but could have been concretized better with some examples from his own experience. Make it concrete, Bill, like when I asked an 1199 boss how to enforce picket lines, and he replied “With tire irons.”

Bernard J. Berg
Easton, Pa.

Johnston replied: I can certainly relate to Bernard Berg’s letter and could give him several examples from my own 30-year career, as he suggested I might have done in my article.

To do so would require a book — not an article — something I have been attempting to push myself into doing for the last 10 years.

The main point of my article was to point out the apparent lack of competent organizing by the UAW at the VW plant. Mr. Berg’s 1199 example is just another example by another union of incompetent organizing style. Plus it was not really an organizing program but a raid on another labor organization.

Thanks for the comments!

First Victims of Interventions

Vern Turner (“What Are We Defending?” 4/1/14 TPP) says in invading Iraq we invaded the wrong country, implying that invading Afghanistan was the right country.

It was a bit ludicrous to justify invading Afghanistan that had nothing to do with 9/11. Fifteen Saudi Arabians were implicated in 9/11 yet we did not invade Saudi Arabia. The other ludicrous justification for invading Iraq was that it had weapons of mass destruction. Under this definition we should be invading half the world’s countries, including our own.

The first victims of our invasions for which we are now criticizing the Russia are innocent civilians. Not only do civilians and our soldiers die but we leave a legacy of poisoned lands and destruction of cultural artifacts. But thankfully Vern Turner ends his essay on a peaceful note by questioning whether our national ideals are being adequately attended to while we make more war.

Denise D’Anne
San Francisco, Calif.

From The Progressive Populist, June 1, 2014


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