Monday, May 31, 2010


In this guest essay, Dr. Gary G. Kohls recounts his personal concern about today’s troubling message from Memorial Day:

During my rural Minnesota growing up years, I rarely missed a Memorial Day parade or the traditional civic service honoring the war dead that followed the parade.

The parade was always led by a WWII veteran honor guard with their flags, uniforms, ribbons and rifles and followed by the high school band and a couple of floats.

Immediately following the parade, there was the solemn gathering that always began with one of the town’s clergymen blessing the occasion with the “benediction.” Somewhere in the program we all sang “God Bless America” and/or the “Star-Spangled Banner,” and that was followed by a boring patriotic speech delivered by some politician or retired military officer.

Then the (usually) mercifully short service ended with the pastor praying a prayer for the dead and also for world peace.

Later on during my maturing college years of the 1960s, I was confronted by the harsh reality of the “overwhelming atrocity” that was the Vietnam War. I became aware of the fact that covered-up (and therefore unpunished) international war crimes were being committed by all sides in that war and had been committed in every war in history, no matter which side was fighting the so-called “just war.”

I gradually learned that innumerable conscienceless corporations and members of the wealthy investor class profited greatly from wars.

I found out that wars were decreed by the powerful and wealthy with their saber-rattling; wars were embraced by wrapped-in-the-flag old men; and they were fought by easily indoctrinated, brain-washable macho adolescent boys who would eventually know better – but not until it was too late - than to obey suicidal orders in a pseudo-patriotic war.

I found out that these unaware young men who went through basic training had to be de-spiritualized, brutalized and re-programmed in order to kill without questioning why and to be willing to be killed.

I finally understood what “cannon fodder” meant. I learned that the lowly soldier who pulls the triggers and who suffers the most psychologically, spiritually and physically, never profits from the wars. The benefits go to “chicken hawk” corporate executives and to their friendly politicians.

Later in my medical practice years, I found out from the traumatized veterans of wars and their secondarily traumatized loved ones what were the deadly acute and chronic consequences of participating in homicidal violence, either as a combatant, bystander or innocent civilian victim.

Much later, as I studied the ethical teachings of Jesus and the first few centuries of his followers in the early church, I discovered that war and killing were forbidden for the followers who consistently refused to join Rome’s military in the defense of the Empire.

Despite the suffering they experienced for their faith, the early Christians saw their nonviolent religion gradually grow to be the largest in the Empire, before the Church was ultimately absorbed into Rome’s power structure.

In more recent times, the nonviolent teachings of Jesus also have been lost in America’s increasingly pro-war and militaristic Memorial Day celebrations. The voices of peacemakers are rarely permitted at such events.

Memorial Day was no longer a lament for the past suffering of young men sent off to die for some political miscalculation or some corporation’s profits.

Instead, the various branches of the military often sent impressive weaponry to the parades, which were transformed into recruiting tools for impressionable minds and into propaganda exercises to ensure future political support for war-making.

American military dominance – and the well-hidden goals of American Empire – are now intrinsic parts of every Memorial Day weekend.

So I stopped going. It took me a long time, but I eventually saw through the subterfuge. I could no longer endure the hypocrisy.

My understanding of history had changed my politics and theology, and I couldn’t envision myself being a part of war-mongering activities again.

Two years ago, around Memorial Day 2008, Chris Hedges wrote a long and sobering 11-page essay that will resonate with many open-minded readers who sense that a creeping Friendly American Fascism is coming. Hedges wrote:

“I used to live in a country called America. It was not a perfect country, God knows, especially if you were African-American or Native American or of Japanese descent in World War II or poor or gay or a woman or an immigrant, but it was a country I loved and honored.

“This country gave me hope that it could be better. It paid its workers wages that were envied around the world. It made sure these workers, thanks to labor unions and champions of the working class in the Democratic Party and the press, had health benefits and pensions.

“It offered good public education. It honored basic democratic values and held in regard the rule of law, including international law, and respect for human rights. It had social programs from Head Start to welfare to Social Security to take care of the weakest among us, the mentally ill, the elderly and the destitute.

“It had a system of government that, however flawed, was dedicated to protecting the interests of its citizens.

“It offered the possibility of democratic change. It had a media that was diverse and endowed with the integrity to give a voice to all segments of society, including those beyond our borders, to impart to us unpleasant truths, to challenge the powerful, to explain ourselves to ourselves.

“I am not blind to the imperfections of this America, or the failures to always meet these ideals at home and abroad. I spent 20 years of my life in Latin America, Africa, the Middle East and the Balkans as a foreign correspondent reporting in countries where crimes and injustices were committed in our name, whether during the Contra war in Nicaragua or the brutalization of the Palestinians by Israeli occupation forces.

“But there was much that was good and decent and honorable in our country. And there was hope.

“The country I live in today uses the same words to describe itself, the same patriotic symbols and iconography, the same national myths, but only the shell remains.

“America, the country of my birth, the country that formed and shaped me, the country of my father, my father’s father, and his father’s father, stretching back to the generations of my family that were here for the country’s founding, is so diminished as to be nearly unrecognizable.

“Our nation has been hijacked by oligarchs, corporations and a narrow, selfish political elite, a small and privileged group which governs on behalf of moneyed interests. We are undergoing, as John Ralston Saul wrote, ‘a coup d’etat in slow motion.’

“We are being impoverished-legally, economically, spiritually and politically.

“And unless we soon reverse this tide, unless we wrest the state away from corporate hands, we will be sucked into the dark and turbulent world of globalization where there are only masters and serfs, where the American dream will be no more than that-a dream, where those who work hard for a living can no longer earn a decent wage to sustain themselves or their families, whether in sweat shops in China or the decaying rust belt of Ohio, where democratic dissent is condemned as treason and ruthlessly silenced.

“I single out no party. The Democratic Party has been as guilty as the Republicans. It was Bill Clinton who led the Democratic Party to the corporate watering trough. Clinton argued that the party had to ditch labor unions, no longer a source of votes or power, as a political ally.

“Workers, he insisted, would vote Democratic anyway. They had no choice. It was better, he argued, to take corporate money. By the 1990s, the Democratic Party, under Clinton’s leadership, had virtual fundraising parity with the Republicans. Today the Democrats get more. In political terms, it was a success. In moral terms, it was a betrayal.

“The North American Free Trade Agreement was sold to the country by the Clinton White House as an opportunity to raise the incomes and prosperity of the citizens of the United States, Canada and Mexico.

“But NAFTA, which took effect in 1994, had the curious effect of reversing every one of Clinton’s rosy predictions. Once the Mexican government lifted price supports on corn and beans for Mexican farmers, they had to compete against the huge agribusinesses in the United States.

“The Mexican farmers were swiftly bankrupted. At least 2 million Mexican farmers have been driven off their land since 1994. And guess where many of them went?

“NAFTA was great if you were a corporation. It was a disaster if you were a worker.

“While the Democrats have been very bad, George W. Bush has been even worse. Let’s set aside Iraq - the worst foreign policy blunder in American history. George Bush has also done more to dismantle our Constitution, ignore or revoke our statutes and reverse regulations that protected American citizens from corporate abuse than any other president in recent American history.

“The Bush administration has gutted environmental, food and product safety, and workplace safety standards along with their enforcement. And this is why coal mines collapse, the housing bubble has blown up in our face and we are sold lead-contaminated toys imported from China.

“Bush has done more than any president to hand our government directly over to corporations, which now get 40 percent of federal discretionary spending. Over 800,000 jobs once handled by government employees have been outsourced to corporations, a move that has not only further empowered our shadow corporate government but helped destroy federal workforce unions.

“Everything from federal prisons, the management of regulatory and scientific reviews, the processing or denial of Freedom of Information requests, interrogating prisoners and running the world’s largest mercenary army in Iraq has become corporate.

“The assault on the American working class is nearly complete. The U.S. economy has 3.2 million fewer jobs today than it did when George Bush took office, including 2.5 million fewer manufacturing jobs.

“A total of 15 million U.S. workers are unemployed, underemployed or too discouraged to job hunt, according to the Labor Department. There are whole sections of the United States which now resemble the developing world.

“And the assault on the middle class is now under way. Anything that can be put on software - from finance to architecture to engineering - can and is being outsourced to workers in countries such as India or China who accept a fraction of the pay and work without benefits.

“And both the Republican and Democratic parties, beholden to corporations for money and power, allow this to happen.

“Take a look at our government departments. Who runs the Defense Department? The Department of Interior? The Department of Agriculture? The Food and Drug Administration? Who runs the Department of Labor? Corporations.

“And in an election year where we are numbed by absurdities we hear nothing about this subordinating of the American people to corporate power. The political debates, which have become popularity contests, are ridiculous and empty. They do not confront the real and advanced destruction of our democracy. They do not confront the takeover of our electoral processes.

“Corporate entities dominate, for example, a bloated and wasteful defense industry which has become sacrosanct and beyond the reach of politicians, most of whom are left defending military projects in their districts, no matter how redundant, because they provide jobs.

“This has permitted a military-industrial complex, which contributes lavishly to political campaigns, to spread across the country with virtual impunity. Defense-related spending for fiscal 2008 will exceed $1 trillion for the first time in history. The U.S. has become the largest single seller of arms and munitions on the planet.... More than half of federal discretionary spending goes to defense.

“The defense industry is able to monopolize the best scientific and research talent and squander the nation’s resources and investment capital. These defense industries produce nothing that is useful for society or the national trade account.

“The corporate state, begun under Ronald Reagan and pushed forward by every president since, has destroyed the public and private institutions that protected workers and safeguarded citizens.

“Only 7.8 per cent of workers in the private sector are unionized. This is about the same percentage as in the early 1900s. There are 50 million Americans in real poverty and tens of millions of Americans in a category called ‘near poverty.’ Our health care system is broken.

“But we do not hear these stories of pain and dislocation. News reports do little more than report on trivia and celebrity gossip.

“Our political decline came about because of deregulation, the repeal of antitrust laws, and the radical transformation from a manufacturing economy to a capital economy. This understanding led Franklin Delano Roosevelt on April 29, 1938, wrote:

“ ‘The first truth is that the liberty of democracy is not safe if the people tolerate the growth of power to a point where it becomes stronger than the democratic state itself. That, in its essence, is Fascism-ownership of Government by an individual, by a group, or by any other controlling private power.’

“The rise of the corporate state has grave political consequences, as we saw in Italy and Germany in the early part of the 20th century. …now that we have a state that is run by and on behalf of corporations, we must expect inevitable and perhaps terrifying political consequences.

“As the pressure mounts, as this despair and desperation reaches into larger and larger segments of the American populace, the mechanisms of corporate and government control are being bolstered to prevent civil unrest and instability. It is not accidental that with the rise of the corporate state comes the rise of the security state.

“This is why the Bush White House has pushed through the Patriot Act (and its renewal), the suspension of habeas corpus, the practice of ‘extraordinary rendition,’ the warrantless wiretapping on American citizens and the refusal to ensure free and fair elections with verifiable ballot-counting.

“It is part of a package. It comes together. It is not about terrorism or national security. It is about control. It is about their control of us.

“We are fed lie after lie to mask the destruction the corporate state has wrought in our lives. We are one, maybe two, terrorist attacks away from a police state. Time is running out.

”George Bush lied to us and to the rest of the world. There are tens of thousands, perhaps a few hundred thousand people, who have been killed and maimed in a war that has no legal justification, a war waged in violation of international law, a war that under the post-Nuremberg laws is defined as ‘a criminal war of aggression.’

“We are waging a war that devours lives and capital, and that cannot ultimately be won. We are told we need to give up our rights to be safe, to be protected. In short, we are made afraid.

“We are told to hand over all that is best about our nation to those like George Bush and Dick Cheney who seek to destroy our nation. A state of fear only engenders cruelty; fear, insanity, and then paralysis.

“In the center of Dante’s circle the damned remained motionless. If we do not become angry, if we do not muster within us the courage, indeed the militancy, to challenge those in the Democratic and Republican parties who herd us towards the corporate state, we will have squandered our courage and our integrity when we need it most.

Dr. Kohls is a retired physician who writes about issues of war and peace.

Sunday, May 30, 2010


"When a honest man, honestly mistaken, comes face-to-face with undeniable and irrefutable truth, he is faced with one of two choices, he must either cease being mistaken or cease being honest." - Amicus Solo

"There is no subtler, no surer means of overturning the existing basis of society than to debauch the currency. The process engages all the hidden forces of economic law on the side of destruction, and does it in a manner which not one man in a million is able to diagnose." - John Maynard Keynes, A. D. 1919.

"The fact is that the average man's love of liberty is nine-tenths imaginary, exactly like his love of sense, justice and truth. He is not actually happy when free; he is uncomfortable, a bit alarmed, and intolerably lonely. Liberty is not a thing for the great masses of men. It is the exclusive possession of a small and disreputable minority, like knowledge, courage and honor. It takes a special sort of man to understand and enjoy liberty-- and he is usually an outlaw in democratic societies." -- H.L. Mencken, Baltimore Evening Sun, Feb. 12, A. D. 1923

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

$2 Billion Operating Assistance Bill Introduced

$2 Billion Operating Assistance Bill Introduced
WASHINGTON, DC: Senator Christopher Dodd, D-CT, chair of the Senate Banking Committee, introduced the Public Transportation Preservation Act of 2010 * this afternoon. ATU Legislative Director Jeff Rosenberg is to be commended for helping craft the language in the bill which would provide $2 billion in emergency operating assistance for public transit in the United States.

In a statement released this afternoon, International President Warren S. George urged the public to support the legislation:

Affordable, convenient public transit keeps cars off the road, reduces traffic and congestion and improves the air quality in our communities. Since January 2009, six out of ten public transit systems in the U.S. have cut service, raised fares, or both; thousands of transit workers have been laid off; and millions of commuters have less access to public transportation. Without emergency action, the problem will get worse -- seven out of ten transit systems are facing deficits in the coming year.

Passage of the legislation is far from assured. The ATU Legislative Department is urging ATU members to call their senators immediately.
You can find your senators' telephone number online at:
*This new bill is separate from the Sherrod Brown bill in the Senate and the Carnahan bill in the House which the ATU and TWU have been promoting as part of the Save Our Ride coalition. Those bills would allow all transit systems to use a portion of their federal dollars for operating expenses such as wages, rather than capital expenditures such as buses and transit stations.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Politicians Ignore Keynes at Their Peril

by Dean Baker

John Maynard Keynes explained the dynamics of an economy in a prolonged period of high unemployment more than 70 years ago in The General Theory. Unfortunately, it seems very few people in policymaking positions in the United States or Europe have heard of the book. Otherwise, they would be pushing economic policy in the exact opposite direction than it is currently heading.

Most wealthy countries have now made deficit reduction the primary focus of their economic policy. Even though the US and many eurozone countries are projected to be flirting with double-digit unemployment for years to come, their governments will be focused on cutting deficits rather than boosting the economy and creating jobs.

The outcome of this story is not pretty. Cutting deficits means raising taxes and/or cutting spending. In either case, it means pulling money out of the economy at a time when it is already well below full employment. This can lower deficits, but it also means lower GDP and higher unemployment.

This might be OK if we could show some benefit from lower deficits, but this is a case of pain with no gain. Ostensibly, there will be a lower interest-rate burden in future years, but even this is questionable. First, the contractionary policy being pursued by the deficit hawks will slow growth and lead to lower inflation or possibly even deflation. It is entirely possible that the debt-to-GDP ratio may actually end up higher by following their policies than by pursuing more expansionary policy.

In other words, we may end up with smaller deficits and therefore accumulate less debt, but we may slow GDP growth even more. The burden of the debt depends on the size of the economy and in the scenario where we do more to slow GDP growth than the growth of the debt, then we end up with a higher interest-rate burden, not a lower one.

The other reason why we may not end up with a lower interest rate-burden is that we need not issue debt to finance the budget deficits. Countries such as the United States and the United Kingdom that control their central banks can simply have the central banks buy up the bonds used to finance the deficits. In this story, the interest payments on the bonds are paid to the central bank, which is in turn refunded to the government. This means that there is no interest-burden created by these deficits.

If that sounds impossible, then it's necessary to pick up Keynes again. The economies of Europe and the United States are not suffering from scarcity right now. They are suffering from inadequate demand. This means that if governments run deficits, and thereby expand demand, the economy has the capacity to fill this demand. The decision of central banks to expand the money supply by buying bonds simply leads to an increase in output, not to inflation.

The idea that there is a direct link between the money supply and inflation is absurd. Do any businesses raise their prices because the Fed has put money into circulation? How many businesses even have a clue as to how much money is in circulation? In the real world, prices are set by supply and demand. If any businesses tried to raise their prices just because the Fed has put more money into circulation they would soon find themselves wiped out by the competition - at least as long as we are in this situation of having enormous excess supply.

This story should be old hat to those who have studied Keynes. In a period of high unemployment, like the present, governments can literally just print money. Not only will this put people back to work, this process can also lay the basis for stronger growth in the future by creating better infrastructure, more energy-efficient buildings, supporting research and development of clean energy and improving the education of our children.

Unfortunately, our political leaders don't give a damn about mundane issues such as unemployment and economic growth. It is far easier for them to bandy about silly cliches about fiscal responsibility and generational equity, even though the policies they are pushing are 180 degrees at odds with anything that will help our children or grandchildren. Their main concern is pushing policies that keep the financial industry happy. And 10 million unemployed never bothered anyone at Goldman Sachs, just as Fabulous Fabio.

Dean Baker is the co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research (CEPR). He is the author of The Conservative Nanny State: How the Wealthy Use the Government to Stay Rich and Get Richer ( and the more recently published Plunder and Blunder: The Rise and Fall of The Bubble Economy. He also has a blog, "Beat the Press," where he discusses the media's coverage of economic issues. You can find it at the American Prospect's web site.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Activists Brave Rain, Tell K Street Lobbyists: ‘We’re the Face of Democracy’

Photo credit: Bill Burke/Page One

Under a sea of bobbing umbrellas, some 2,000 union and community activists—clad in a colorful array of T-shirts covered by rain ponchos, many improvised with trash bags—showed K Street lobbyists and Wall Street’s Big Banks “the face of democracy” today in Washington, D.C.

We staged the Showdown on K Street because it’s a notorious avenue of high-priced, influence peddling, Big Bank and corporate lobbyists. Speaking to the crowd, AFL-CIO Secretary-Treasurer Liz Shuler said our presence sent a clear message that Wall Street needs to pay for the jobs its reckless practices destroyed and to stop its $1.4 million a day bid to kill Wall Street reform legislation.

The 11 million jobs lost in this crisis are real jobs. But they weren’t really lost, were they? They were stolen. You might say that these jobs were collateral damage. The casualties of K Street and Wall Street.

We’re not going to stand for that. We need good jobs now. We need to invest in America now. And Wall Street needs to pay.

Photo credit: Bill Burke/Page One
Photo credit: Bill Burke/Page One
AFL-CIO Secretary-Treasurer Liz Shuler: K Street and Wall Street have been bleeding Main Street.
Photo credit: Bill Burke/Page One

At the beginning of the rally on the K Street side of McPherson Square, the Rev. Eugene Barnes, director of National People’s Action, which co-sponsored the event with the AFL-CIO, SEIU and, told the crowd:

“We’re here today to bust up the Big Banks.”

Joel Hirschey, a laid-off junior high school science teacher from North Syracuse, N.Y., said the Big Banks need to be held accountable for economic disaster they created that has rippled across the entire economy. The economic disaster is hitting especially hard on school districts. He said that while some 300,000 teachers have been or are facing layoffs, drastic education budget cuts mean “students end up paying the price,” in the form of crowded classrooms, elimination of vital programs and fewer resources.

With AFT members in the crowd handing out “Pink Hearts, Not Pink Slips” stickers, AFT President Randi Weingarten said:

“We need to save America’s kids. That’s why we need to keep teachers’ jobs.”

As the rally left the park and filled K Street curb to curb, marchers chanted, “Tell me what does democracy look like? This is what democracy looks like,” and “We’re going to beat, we’re going to beat, we’re going to beat, beat back the Big Banks’ attack….”

A massive wheeled float led the march, atop of which stood a 40-foot tall greedy banker pulling the puppet strings of a member of Congress. At the intersections of K and 14th streets, the entire march came to a halt, kneeled and blocked the intersection for more than 30 minutes with the giant banner, “No Bank Is Too Big Jail,” soaring above.

Speaking through a bull horn, Kia Alvarez from American Democracy Project said:

Here in the belly of the beast and we are confronting the power of the Big Banks….Our communities are crumbling and we refuse to be quiet. Banks refuse to reinvest and they are making huge profits.

Undeterred by the steady and sometimes heavy rain, the marchers headed down several more blocks, chanting “Whose street? Our street” and “Bank of America. Bad for America.”

The crowd reached the doors of the Bank of America branch at Pennsylvania Avenue and 15th Street, just across from the U.S. Treasury building, where they shut down traffic again and called out Bank of America as one of the biggest Wall Street culprits and foe of Wall Street reform legislatio

Monday, May 17, 2010

5 Ways to Ensure Mediocrity in Your Organization

5 Ways to Ensure Mediocrity in Your Organization

by Liz Ryan
Monday, May 17, 2010
provided by
The recession is no excuse for ignoring, misusing, or demeaning talent. But hey, if that's what you really want to do, follow these suggestions.
The last time I checked, the U.S. led the world in productivity per employee. That's the good news. The bad news is that much, if not all, of that boost in productivity has come on the backs of workers, especially salaried types viewed by too many management teams as infinitely elastic resources. As one management consultant told me: "The average company takes better care of its copiers than it does its talent."
Many chief executives use the tough competitive environment as a handy excuse to put off salary increases, tighten the screws on performance, and generally drop any pretense of creating a human-centered workplace. But the tough-economy picture has two sides. Only those companies that make the effort to keep their employees productive by treating them decently can expect to see continued productivity gains. Much of the workforce has tuned out, waiting for a more welcoming job market to make career moves. Those organizations that haven't wavered on their commitments to flexibility, recognition of talent, and transparent leadership will keep A-list players on board as the job market improves. Their competitors may be wishing they'd paid a little more attention to employee TLC as employees start peeling off for greener pastures.
Here are five of the most insulting leadership practices, the ones that virtually guarantee a business will end up with the most self-esteem challenged, optionless team members when the dust settles.
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1. If you desire a mediocre workforce, make sure your employees know you don't trust them.
Nothing spells "You're dirt to us" like a corporate culture that screams, "We don't trust you as far as we can throw you." I refer to company policies that require employees to clock in and out for lunch or software that tracks every keystroke and change of URL in case a molecule of nonwork-related activity squeaks into the workday. When employees know they're not trusted, they become experts at "presenteeism"—the physical appearance of working, without anything getting done. Congratulations! Your inability to trust the very people you've selected to join your team has cost you their energy, goodwill, and great ideas.
2. If you want to drive talented people away, don't tell them when they shine.
Fear of a high-self-esteem employee is prevalent among average-grade corporate leadership teams. Look how hard it is for so many managers to say, "Hey Bob, you did a great job today." Maybe it's a fear that the bit of praise will be met with a request for a pay raise. Maybe it's the fear that acknowledging performance will somehow make the manager look weak. Whatever the reason for silence, leaders who can't say, "Thanks—good going!" can plan on bidding farewell to their most able team members in short order.
3. If you prefer a team of C-list players, keep employees in the dark.
Sharp knowledge workers want to know what's going on in their organizations, beyond their departmental silos. They want some visibility into the company's plans and their own career mobility. Leaders who can't stand to shine a light on their firms' goals, strategies, and systems are all but guaranteed to spend a lot of money running ads on Marketable top performers want a seat at the table and won't stand for being left in the dark without the information they need to do their jobs well.
4. If you value docility over ingenuity, shout it from the rooftops.
I heard from a new MBA who had joined a global manufacturer. "They told me during my first week that I need a manager's signature to organize a meeting," he recalled. "They said I'm too low-level to call a meeting on my own, because unauthorized meetings of nonmanagers are against company policy." How fearful of its employees would a leadership team have to be to forbid people to gather together to solve problems? The most desirable value creators won't stick around to be treated like children. They'll hop a bus to the first employer who tells them, "We're hiring you for your talent—now go do something brilliant."
5. If you fear an empowered workforce more than you fear the competition, squash any sign of individualism.
When you go to college, you learn about Economic Man, but in the corporate workplace we see that real people don't always act rationally. Lots of individual managers and plenty of leadership teams fear nothing more than the idea that a self-directed employee might buck authority. That's equivalent to shaking the organizational power structure to its foundation, possibly a fate worse than death. Leaders who want the most docile, sheep-like employees more than the smartest and ablest ones create systems to keep the C players on board and drive the A team out the door. They do it by instituting reams of pointless rules, upbraiding people for miniscule infractions ("What? Twenty minutes late? Sure you worked here until midnight last night, but starting time is starting time.") and generally replacing trust with fear throughout their organizations. Companies that operate in fear mode will never deliver great products and services to the marketplace. Their efforts will be hamstrung by their talent-repelling management practices.
How long will it take these enterprises to figure out they're shooting themselves in the foot? It doesn't matter—you'll be long gone by then.
Liz Ryan is an expert on the new-millennium workplace and a former Fortune 500 HR executive.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Blowback: Why They Try to Bomb Us

By David Sirota

Imagine, if you can, an alternate universe.

Imagine that in this alternate universe, a foreign military power begins flying remote-controlled warplanes over your town, using onboard missiles to kill hundreds of your innocent neighbors.

Now imagine that when you read the newspaper about this ongoing bloodbath, you learn that the foreign nation’s top general is nonchalantly telling reporters that his troops are also killing “an amazing number” of your cultural brethren in an adjacent country. Imagine further learning that this foreign power is expanding the drone attacks on your community despite the attacks’ well-known record of killing innocents. And finally, imagine that when you turn on your television, you see the perpetrator nation’s tuxedo-clad leader cracking stand-up comedy jokes about drone strikes—jokes that prompt guffaws from an audience of that nation’s elite.

Ask yourself: How would you and your fellow citizens respond? Would you call homegrown militias mounting a defense “patriots” or would you call them “terrorists”? Would you agree with your leaders when they angrily tell reporters that violent defiance should be expected?

Fortunately, most Americans don’t have to worry about these queries in their own lives. But how we answer them in a hypothetical thought experiment provides us insight into how Pakistanis are likely to be feeling right now. Why? Because thanks to our continued drone assaults on their country, Pakistanis now confront these issues every day. And if they answer these questions as many of us undoubtedly would in a similar situation—well, that should trouble every American in this age of asymmetrical warfare.


Though we don’t like to call it mass murder, the U.S. government’s undeclared drone war in Pakistan is devolving into just that. As noted by a former counterinsurgency adviser to Gen. David Petraeus and a former Army officer in Afghanistan, the operation has become a haphazard massacre.
“Press reports suggest that over the last three years drone strikes have killed about 14 terrorist leaders,” David Kilcullen and Andrew Exum wrote in 2009. “But, according to Pakistani sources, they have also killed some 700 civilians. This is 50 civilians for every militant killed.”

Making matters worse, Gen. Stanley McChrystal has, indeed, told journalists that in Afghanistan, U.S. troops have “shot an amazing number of people” and “none has proven to have been a real threat.” Meanwhile, President Barack Obama used his internationally televised speech at the White House Correspondents Dinner to jest about drone warfare—and the assembled Washington glitterati did, in fact, reward him with approving laughs.

By eerie coincidence, that latter display of monstrous insouciance occurred on the same night as the failed effort to raze Times Square. Though America reacted to that despicable terrorism attempt with its routine spasms of cartoonish shock (why do they hate us?!), the assailant’s motive was anything but baffling. As law enforcement officials soon reported, the accused bomber was probably trained and inspired by Pakistani groups seeking revenge for U.S. drone strikes.

“This is a blowback,” said Pakistan’s foreign minister, Shah Mehmood Qureshi. “This is a reaction. And you could expect that ... let’s not be naive.”

Obviously, regardless of rationale, a “reaction” that involves trying to incinerate civilians in Manhattan is abhorrent and unacceptable. But so is Obama’s move to intensify drone assaults that we know are regularly incinerating innocent civilians in Pakistan. And while Qureshi’s statement about “expecting” blowback seems radical, he’s merely echoing the CIA’s reminder that “possibilities of blowback” arise when we conduct martial operations abroad.

We might remember that somehow-forgotten warning come the next terrorist assault. No matter how surprised we may feel after that inevitable (and inevitably deplorable) attack, the fact remains that until we halt our own indiscriminately violent actions, we ought to expect equally indiscriminate and equally violent reactions.

David Sirota is the author of the best-selling books “H

Outlawing Latinos’ Heritage

By Eugene Robinson

At least we don’t have to pretend anymore. Arizona’s passing of that mean-spirited new immigration law wasn’t about high-minded principle or the need to maintain public order. Apparently, it was all about putting Latinos in their place.

It’s hard to reach any other conclusion following the state’s latest swipe at Latinos. On Tuesday, Gov. Jan Brewer signed a measure making it illegal for any course in the public schools to “advocate ethnic solidarity.” Arizona’s top education official, Tom Horne, fought for the new law as a weapon against a program in Tucson that teaches Mexican-American students about their history and culture.

Horne claims the Tucson classes teach “ethnic chauvinism.” He has complained that young Mexican-Americans are falsely being led to believe that they belong to an oppressed minority. The way to dispel that notion, it seems, is to pass oppressive new legislation aimed squarely at Mexican-Americans. That’ll teach the kids a lesson, all right: We have power. You don’t.

Arizona is already facing criticism and boycotts over its “breathing while Latino” law, which in essence requires police to identify and jail undocumented immigrants. Now the state adds insult to that injury.

The education bill begins with a bizarre piece of nonsense, making it illegal for public or charter schools to offer courses that “promote the overthrow of the United States government.” Then it shifts from weird to offensive, prohibiting classes that “promote resentment toward a race or class of people,” that “are designed primarily for pupils of a particular ethnic group” and that “advocate ethnic solidarity instead of the treatment of pupils as individuals.” When you try to parse those words, the effect is chilling.


Is it permissible, under the new law, to teach basic history? More than half the students in the Tucson Unified School District are Latino, the great majority of them Mexican-American. The land that is now Arizona once belonged to Mexico. Might teaching that fact “promote resentment” among students of Mexican descent? What about a class that taught students how activists fought to end discrimination against Latinos in Arizona and other Western states? Would that illegally encourage students to resent the way their parents and grandparents were treated?
The legislation has an answer: Mexican-American students, it seems, should not be taught to be proud of their heritage.

This angry anti-Latino spasm in Arizona is only partly about illegal immigration, which has fallen substantially in the past few years. It’s really about fear and denial.

About 30 percent of the state’s population is Latino, and that number continues to rise. This demographic shift has induced culture shock among some Arizonans who see the old Anglo power structure losing control. It is evidently threatening, to some people, that Mexican-Americans would see themselves as a group with common interests and grievances—and even more threatening that they might see themselves as distant heirs to the men and women who lived in Arizona long before the first Anglos arrived.

To counter the threat, solidarity among Mexican-Americans has to be delegitimized. The group itself has to be atomized—has to be taught to see itself as a population of unaffiliated individuals. The social, cultural and historical ties that have united people across the border since long before there was a border must be denied.

Every minority group’s struggle for acceptance is distinctive, but I can’t avoid hearing echoes of the Jim Crow era in the South. Whites went to great lengths to try to keep “agitators” from awakening African-Americans’ sense of pride and injustice. They failed, just as the new Arizona law will fail.

It’s important to distinguish between Arizona officials’ legitimate concerns and their illegitimate ones. The state does have a real problem with illegal immigration, and the federal government has ignored its responsibility to enact comprehensive reform that would make the border more secure. But Arizona is lashing out with measures that will not just punish the undocumented, but also negatively impact Mexican-American citizens whose local roots are generations deep.

The new education law is gratuitous and absurd. Arizona can’t be picked up and moved to the Midwest; it’s next to Mexico. There have always been families and traditions that straddle the two societies, and there always will be. Mexican-Americans are inevitably going to feel proud of who they are and where they came from—even if acknowledging and encouraging such pride in the classroom are against the law.

You know kids. They’ll just learn it in the street.

Eugene Robinson’s e-mail address is eugenerobinson(at)

Beyond Reasonable Suspicion
By Marcia Alesan Dawkins

“You’ve been randomly selected for a search.” These are the words I heard as I was detained by U.S. Customs and Border Protection upon my return from a recent trip to Canada. The hourlong experience was harrowing—I was asked questions about where I was born, whether English was my first language, whether I had credit cards or cash, what I do for a living, why I was traveling, where I had gone, how my traveling companion and I knew each other, and what I was carrying in my pockets, purse and luggage. I was forbidden to stand, place my hands in my pockets, make phone calls and use the restroom without asking for permission. All of this I took in stride because I figured that it was being done in the interest of national security. Certainly, an hour of my time is well spent in helping to ensure the safety of my fellow citizens.

Though this was not how I envisioned I’d be spending a Sunday evening, it became a golden opportunity for me to think about and observe what would become a fiery issue exactly one month later when Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer signed Senate Bill 1070 into law. As written, “the provisions of this act are intended to work together to discourage and deter the unlawful entry and presence of aliens and economic activity by persons unlawfully present in the U.S.”

This law has raised many questions. Some seem straightforward, like who is considered an “alien” and how “unlawful presence” is determined. Some questions are more complex, like what counts as “reasonable suspicion,” a “practicable” situation and “reasonable attempts … to determine immigration status.”

I decided to find some answers by interviewing two recent legal immigrants to Los Angeles, Susan, a 34-year-old from the United Kingdom, and Maria, a 33-year-old from Mexico. The conversation was fascinating. We talked about how Arizona dealt with the MLK holiday; Public Enemy’s now classic “By the Time I Get to Arizona,” performed to make the public aware of Arizona’s troubles with diversity, and the new song they’ve performed in protest against SB 1070 called “Tear Down That Wall”; and the state’s recent abolition of ethnic studies courses from state curricula. We moved on to criticisms they’d heard from the sports and entertainment industries, including how “Family Guy’s” Seth McFarlane is reported to have called the law a “slap in the face,” comparing the legislation to the Nazis’ tradition of requiring people to present their “papers” on demand. We discussed economic implications related to the Major League Baseball Players Association’s opposition to “this law as written” and how it “will consider additional steps necessary to protect the rights and interests of … [its] members.” We questioned whether the protest performed on Cinco de Mayo by the Phoenix Suns pro basketball team, wearing “Los Suns” on their jerseys to show solidarity with Latino communities, was effective. Then there was a heated debate about the violent and viral “Machete Trailer,” filled with A-list actors who oppose the law and its proponents (the clip currently has over 1 million YouTube hits).

More political issues soon arose. While both Susan and Maria agreed that illegal immigration is a growing and important problem for the U.S. economy and security, and both support aspects of the bill that pertain to employers’ responsibility and fines, both are deeply troubled by the ethnic and racial profiling permitted by the law’s ambiguous wording. Susan described herself as a “neutral-looking person that no one’s interested in” because of her physical appearance and British accent. She doesn’t believe she would create “reasonable suspicion” but she fears for the images of all immigrants that the law creates in the minds of law enforcement officers. Maria, who called the law “an exercise in mega-discrimination,” also described herself as “neutral-looking” but definitely felt targeted by the law because of her accent and family name. “If I were in Arizona I just wouldn’t feel safe, even if I were carrying all the appropriate documents,” she said. Then there’s the issue of paperwork backlogs. Both Maria and Susan wondered what might happen when a person who raised “reasonable suspicion” is here legally but government agencies have not fully processed her or his visa paperwork.


Arizona’s SB 1070 also reminded Maria of a law that eventually was declared unconstitutional, California’s 1994 Proposition 187, also known as the “Save Our State” initiative, designed to prohibit illegal immigrants’ access to social services, health care and public education. Maria’s fear is that Arizona’s law will force undocumented immigrants further underground and create a deeper subculture that brings with it just what the law is supposed to eliminate—more conflict and confusion. “Families, governments and communities will be further divided by this kind of law, not just geographically but politically and economically,” she said.
Surprisingly, Susan and Maria disagreed on the power of the proposed boycott of Arizona businesses. Susan was in favor of it; Maria was not. Maria was very concerned that further economic recession in the state would only serve to enhance the racial, ethnic and nationalist conflicts among citizens, legal immigrants and illegal immigrants.

For an expert word on the matter I turned to Dr. Ulli Ryder, a professor at Brown University’s Center for the Study of Race and Ethnicity in America. According to Ryder, “the law is unconscionable and could very well prove to be unconstitutional. It is based on the assumptions of illegality and racial and ethnic profiling.” Ryder also pointed to the nation’s history of requiring people of certain racial and ethnic groups to carry papers that proved they were allowed to move about. “For instance, the enslaved were required to carry passes that showed they had permission to travel when questioned by whites at any time. This is where we get the term passing.” Enslaved persons who looked like they were white were able to “pass” through checkpoints without producing any papers at all. This tradition continued well into the segregation era and “helped to create many divisions among multiracial and African-Americans.” Like Maria, Dr. Ryder is afraid that Latino communities will suffer the same fate in the wake of this law.

So, where do we go from here? Do we grant amnesty to illegal immigrants as we did in 1986 with the Immigration Reform and Control Act? After much conversation I’m not sure that anyone really knows. One thing’s for sure: Arizona has taken a drastic step in attempting to find the answer. Perhaps now that Arizona has taken this step, it can also take Bishop Desmond Tutu’s advice and use the “opportunity to create a new model for dealing with the pitfalls, and help the nation as a whole find its way through the problems of illegal immigration.” A step in this direction might just remind all 50 states of the call sent out to the world: “Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, The wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

Sunday, May 9, 2010

One Case Against BP, Wall Street, and War

by Tom Hayden

The need for greater linkages between the environmental, peace and Wall Street reform movements grow by the day in the face of the epic oil spill caused by British Petroleum, a multinational firm tied to Goldman Sachs and Halliburton in oil wars from the Gulf of Mexico to the Persian Gulf.

Peter Sutherland, chairman of BP’s board for the past decade, had headed Goldman Sachs International and, in the 1990s, was a director of the World Trade Organization.

Last year Sutherland touted BP’s founders as the “cream of Edwardian society” who organized the Anglo-Persian oil company in 1909 with a concession from the Shah of Persia.

Kicked out of Iraq by former president Saddam Hussein in the 1960s, BP recently has been rewarded with the concession to exploit what “could be one of the largest expansions of crude-oil production ever achieved anywhere”, according to the Wall Street Journal.

The BP-Halliburton connection was not only forged in Iraq, but in underwater catastrophes in 2009 in Australia’s sea of Timor and explosion two weeks ago of the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig off the southern US coast. Halliburton performed the concrete work that preceded both spills, and the New York Times reports a Halliburton employee has acknowledged “that he made the problem worse” during the Australian spill. As for the recent disaster, Halliburton officials claim it would be “premature and irresponsible to speculate” on the cause.

The Goldman Sachs connection remains to be investigated, but it appears Sutherland had a conflict of interest in his dual roles at BP and the Wall Street giant. BP and Goldman were involved heavily in the 1990 and in 2000 in achieving deregulation of energy futures trades from the previous oversight of the Commodities Futures and Exchange Commission (CFTC). As most crude oil futures trades became deregulated, the price of oil skyrocketed from $18 per barrel in 1988 to $36 in 2000, to $110 in 2008. BP’s environmental crimes also include the use of Colombian paramilitaries to protect its jungle pipelines and thousands of air pollution violations at its Carson oil refinery in Los Angeles. BP has asserted that the goal of global warming initiatives should be to stabilize emissions at 500-550 ppm, levels considered shocking by most environmental experts.

And yet despite its status as a serial and dangerous polluter, BP has attempted to cultivate a reputation as a “responsible” oil company, famously rebranding itself as BP “Beyond Petroleum” with a $200 million Ogilvy and Mather advertising campaign in 2000, and known for encouraging “dialogues” and “partnerships” with mainstream environmental organizations like the National Wildlife Federation.

The current oil spill invites a coming together of many social movements, including those inspired by the recent indigenous gathering in Bolivia and mainstream groups with a new opportunity for principled battle against the Obama administration’s embarrassing energy legislation which green-lights more off-shore drilling. It remains for progressives to move beyond a single-issue focus to make the connections between Wall Street, war, and environmental destruction.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010


Piece of Obama health plan to launch
By: Jennifer Haberkorn
May 4, 2010 04:59 AM EDT

The Obama administration on Tuesday said it would help employers insure early retirees, the latest in a series of announcements designed to cultivate support of health care reform overhaul among key interest groups.

The Early Retiree Reinsurance Program is designed to help employers cover early retirees who find themselves in a coverage gap, struggling to find affordable insurance coverage in the individual market and not yet eligible for Medicare.

The program, which will be implemented June 1 instead of the June 21 deadline outlined in the health care overhaul law, would provide employers with $5 billion in grants if they insure early retirees. The move won the praise of the Business Roundtable, a group that is skeptical of other parts of the overhaul because, they said, it would increase health costs for employers.

“While health care costs are the number one cost pressure facing our members, we are committed to providing coverage to our more than 35 million employees, retirees and their families,” said John J. Castellani, president of Business Roundtable. “The Early Retiree Reinsurance Program reduces costs and allows many of our member companies to continue providing this critical coverage.”

Employers, including private companies, local governments, nonprofits, unions or religious entities, can apply for reimbursements of up 80 percent of claims costs for health benefits between $15,000 and $90,000.

The Department of Health and Human Services has $5 billion to distribute to employers who apply, but it’s unclear whether the money will be enough to meet demand.

The percentage of large firms providing its retirees with coverage has fallen from 66 percent in 1988 to 31 percent in 2008, according to White House data.

“Rising costs have made it hard for employers to provide quality, affordable health insurance for workers and retirees,” Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said Tuesday. “As a result, many Americans who retire before they are eligible for Medicare are worried about losing health insurance coverage through their former employers, putting them at risk of losing their life savings due to medical costs. This new program will provide much-needed relief so that employers can provide more retirees with quality, affordable insurance, starting this year.”

The program will only be in place until 2014, when the overhaul plan’s insurance exchange will be in place, providing more insurance options to retirees. But it’s widely expected that once the exchanges are in place, fewer employers will provide insurance options to retirees.

A number of popular provisions in the overhaul plan are scheduled to be implemented within the next few months. While the reform plan as a whole did not poll well during the year-long debate on Capitol Hill, individual provisions did. Democrats are hoping that public perception of the overhaul turns in their favor once the public can take advantage of the plan, such as its small business grants, insurance industry regulations or the early retiree funding.

"This is yet another example of how health reform will help people this year," said House Ways and Means Chairman Sander Levin (D-Mich.). "My home state of Michigan, in particular, has been hit hard by the recession and by the economic pressures that threaten retiree coverage, especially for those ages 55 to 64. This fund will help ensure that the coverage workers have earned will remain available for their critical health needs."

The companies that qualify for assistance can use the money to reduce their own health costs or provide the funding directly to the employees, and their spouses and dependents. The plans would only qualify if they prove they can or could generate savings for enrollees with chronic medical problems and high-cost conditions.

Applications will be available by the end of June and benefits could apply retroactively for benefits since the start of their plan year.
© 2010 Capitol News Company, LLC

Saturday, May 1, 2010


credit: Jeff Crosby
Here are those “$70,000-a-year librarians, living off our taxes!” Members of IUE-CWA Local 201 in Saugus, Mass.
In 2008, my local union was approached by librarians in Saugus, Mass. They wanted to form a union. As the only city workers without a union, they were easy targets during budget cuts and hadn’t had a raise in four years. It worked out. But I sure got a taste of the insane ranting against public-sector workers in the newspaper blogs.
Who’s paying the $70,000 salaries for those union librarians?” demanded one anonymous coward. The librarians had no union at the time. A librarian with a master’s degree made about $19 an hour. With a 35-hour workweek, she was missing about half the salary imagined by anonymous.
Public-sector union members are now the majority of the labor movement, 51.5 percent
, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. The destruction of private-sector unions leaves public-sector unions naked in the gun sites of the right. Fresh from a brutal New Jersey state Senate session where Communications Workers of America (CWA)
state employees were under attack, the CWA District 1 political director mused that the biggest problem we have there is that there are no longer 60,000 union auto assembly workers in New Jersey. None.
The howling against public-sector unions has become the dominant theme in mainstream commentary on state and municipal budget issues. ”One dreams of a day when the populace will finally rise up and overthrow the tyranny of organized labor,” an early bloodhound in Boston Magazine bellowed
Last year, the hue and cry grew louder. The “greater good,editorialized
the Boston Globe, requires cutting public-sector workers’ health care benefits. Conservative columnist Jeff Jacoby decried the “myth of the underpaid public employee,” citing a “double-dipping Florida college president” and a corrupt detective in Buffalo. At year’s end, America’s “coddled and spoiled
” public-sector grunts had even drawn the attention of Britain’s Economist.
My favorite comment came from the footloose shape-changer, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, who demanded, “Why should taxpayers pay for health care for public employees that we don’t have ourselves?” The born-with-a-silver-spoon Romney is a bit inexact over what “we” he is talking about, since he has never had to worry about his health care in his pampered life.
But the fact is that we are in deep trouble when the future of the movement depends so much on the public-sector unions. Public-sector workers are trying to hold onto pensions and health care benefits that often have been slashed in the public sector. Even within our own ranks, private-sector members grumble they already have taken the pension hits and wonder why public-sector workers resist doing the same when there is no money in city and state treasuries.
There are no easy answers to all this. But the problem is urgent, so here are some thoughts on how we might protect both public workers’ living standards and public services for the rest of us.
  1. Tell Our Story, Make it Personal
School employees here in Lynn were demonized by our former mayor. If you collected workers’ compensation, you were a thief, etc. Their union responded with heroic and often successful efforts to elect sympathetic folks to the school board. But the story of the hard-working custodians, secretaries and lunch moms remains untold. Custodians deal with all kinds of technical problems in a school, respond to teachers, parents and students and work till they drop in August getting ready for the new school year. One of the local leaders regularly threw a barbecue for his school on his own dime. The square feet covered per custodian has risen dramatically over the past 10 years. But almost no one knows any of this.
When the story is personalized, a lot of the animus against our members disappears. The anonymous librarian makes an easy target, but everyone likes Mary, the librarian, who lives on their block and whose kids go to the same school as theirs.
2. Avoid Abusive Practices
One worker wandering the town while on the clock hurts all the rest who do their job. When I talk about how we deal with drug testing in the private sector, I’m told by city union friends that there is a different “bargaining culture” in the city unions. Perhaps then, it is a culture in need of a change.
Whether it’s fair or not, if I am “off the property, on the clock” while working for General Electric (GE), it’s GE that is losing a couple of bucks worth of my labor. If I’m on the city payroll, everyone out there is thinking about the money that comes out of their pockets to pay your weekly check. As a local union official, I know how that feels! In a sense, we are all building trades members now. Workers in the trades know that any problems in the quality of their work will result in their getting undercut by rat contractors who pay half the wages and cheat on their taxes. At this point, we all need to think that way. If we fail to do so, we make it harder for our most loyal and principled friends in the state legislatures to vote their convictions against some of the savage attacks on state workers that are in the wings.
3. Fight Public Corruption
The last three speakers of the House in Massachusetts have all been indicted—two convicted, and counting. All “our guys” who received union support over the years. Until last year, a single day on the payroll could add a year’s pension benefits. An appointee to a library board with four annual meetings (which she neglected to attend), received pension credits for that rigorous service. In Illinois, the former governor who tried to sell Obama’s Senate seat was last seen on “Celebrity Apprentice.”
These kinds of things almost never involve union workers. State pensions in Massachusetts average less than $26,000. The median state employee’s salary in Texas is about $32,000 a year, and they haven’t had a pension increase for nine years. But the public often sees the unions as in cahoots with corrupt elected officials. Criticism of abuses generally comes from the right-wing tea party cabal, or anti-worker, good government liberals, with predictable results.
Breaking with the “see no evil” approach isn’t easy, since state officials are often the same people the unions have relied on for decades to protect them. The library board appointee I mentioned above was the wife of a former Democratic state representative. A mutual protection pact was never a good strategy, and at this point it obviously doesn’t work.
4. Talking Taxes
There’s no way out of the current public-sector crisis without taking on the tax issue. In 1994, Donald Bartlett and James Steele, authors of America: Who Really Pays Taxes?, wrote:

In 1954, corporations paid seventy-five cents in taxes for every dollar paid by individuals and families. In 1994, they will pay about 20 cents for every dollar….

Some estimates put the current corporate tax load at 8 percent of overall tax revenues
. As Les Leopold points out in The Looting of America, the individual tax shift during the Reagan years from the rich to the working class is even more dramatic:

From 1983 to 1989, the top 0.5 percent of all families saw their combined wealth increase by $1.45 trillion, while the wealth of the bottom 40 percent of families went down by $256 trillion. Remarkably, during those same years the federal debt rose by $1.49 trillion. It was as if the entire federal debt had been awarded directly to the superrich.

It seems like hardly a day goes by without another exposure of corporate tax rip-offs, which create none of the promised jobs
[often next to a story about the state's budget crisis or crumbling infrastructure.
Tennessee state university workers pointed out that we could bring home 64 soldiers from Afghanistan and save enough annually to eliminate the full $64 million proposed to higher education in Tennessee. The blogger Numerian points out
that the
combined deficits of all 50 states last year was around $180 billion—coincidentally about the same amount that the United States has spent bailing out AIG.
In Illinois, AFSCME rallied for a more progressive state tax structure
to save services and jobs. Oregon unions and their allies already won a victory
for increasing business taxes. In Massachusetts, progressive state Sens. Jamie Eldridge and Sonia Chang-Diaz wrote:
"Increasing the income tax by 1 percent would raise approximately $2 billion for the Commonwealth" and that it "relies more heavily on those who can most afford to pay it."
An income tax "recognizes the difference
between who has been laid off and those who still have a job,
" unlike the sales tax
. [They argue for a progressive income tax, as already exists in 34 states. Tax fights will be tough, even savage, especially in the short term. But we cannot cede this ground to ignorance and corporate plunder.]
5. Rely on Our Members and Fight
I hear union leaders complain all the time that the major papers won’t carry their side of the story. No kidding. This is capitalism, with a capitalist-owned press. So you have to do something so dramatic and newsworthy that it cannot be ignored. Or perhaps we still actually have members who are willing to stand in front of a supermarket and leaflet and talk to their neighbors.
Step one in any strategy is to face the facts, to understand the ground on which we stand. And the old model of sending checks to elected officials who will vote our way no longer works, not in this era of state and local budget crises, pension fund losses and surging medical costs.
Several years ago I visited Cali, Colombia, and met with leaders of a public-sector union there, SINTRAEMCALI. Six of their leaders had been assassinated in a campaign to privatize water and electricity. When I stopped a woman in the EMCALI building and asked her why the fight against privatization was so important, she replied, “Because if we lose, the poor will have no water,” citing the situation in Barranquilla. In the slums there, water is sold off a truck, once a week. She didn’t respond, “to save my pension.” And she didn’t say, “to save collective bargaining.” Today 92.8 percent of private-sector workers don’t have collective bargaining, and it doesn’t resonate to make that the principle issue. At least call it “due process”.
Either we change the public perception of government—equating the public sector with the public good with each word we speak—or we lose public jobs and services. And that hurts us all.