Friday, November 21, 2008

One Big Union

Next bail-out: The Auto Industry. Chief Executives of the big three flew to Washington on their private jets to beg Congress for money, a scene likened by one commentator to a man in a tuxedo and top hat stepping out of his limo at the front door of a soup kitchen. While most of the blame for Detroit’s problems can be laid square at the feet of the corporate boardrooms of GM and Ford (Chrysler is a private company) , the auto industry lobbyists have been working overtime trying to blame the UAW and other unions for the sorry state of the industry.

Clearly there are forces are lined up attempting to put the death nail in organized labor's coffin. Unfortunately, they have a lot of support among non-unionized Americans who think that the average GM line worker is a coddled relic of history. Does it ever occur to people who argue that Unions “had their place in American history but aren’t necessary now” that one of the reasons why real wages have declined over the last 25 years is a lack of worker’s ability to collectively bargain?

Why is it that the general public doesn’t demand better working conditions, fair pay, health care and pensions for all workers rather than begrudge the workers who actually have them? There is plenty of money out there. Look at CEO pay as a ratio to the average worker’s salary, for one example. Look at how much of the country’s money has been concentrated in the hands of 5% of the population for another.

The reason we somehow find it easier to blame the UAW member rather than the greedy bastard in the corner office is that we have been subjected to capitalist propaganda of the worst sort, since around the end of WWII. Think about your most closely held beliefs about the social structure of this Country. Chances are you consider yourself middle-class. You are encouraged to think this way so that the playing field appears much more level than it is. What is middle class? 25k per year in income? 50? 150?

Who do you resent more, the “poor” who take around 2% of the federal budget or the rich, whose tax breaks and financial chicanery cost the government billions more? Do you believe that income redistribution is un-American? Why? Isn’t social security income redistribution? How about we take all the money from the richest 3% of the population and hand it out to everyone equally?

Unfortunately the dirty little secret of globalization is that rather than raising all boats, the global movement of capitol is creating a race to the bottom for wages. The auto industries that are now coming to Congress with hat in hand have exported millions of jobs overseas in the last 20 years while at the same time lobbying against labor protections for the remainder of their workforce. All this at a time when GM and Ford were making record profits.

What good will bailing out Detroit do if no one has the means to buy more vehicles? If the big 3 get any money at all it should come with hefty strings attached, including a complete re-tooling of the manufacturing process to plug-in hybrids, a strengthening of the UAW and a cap on executive pay at 8:1 the average line worker. If that is too draconian for Congress to swallow, why not raise the cafe standards to 50 mph and let the industry sort it out on its own?

My personal belief is that the current capitalist system is unsustainable without massive government regulation-and not by this current crop of lobbyists currently posing as legislators. If things start to get really bad over the next year or two we could face the specter of an enraged citizenry dragging the rich out of their fancy homes and redistributing the wealth at the point of a gun.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Lieberman Redux

Joe Lieberman drives me up a fucking tree. Let’s take a look at Joe’s career over the last few years. In 2004 the guy does an end-run around his own party to run as an independent even though the Connecticut Democrats voted for a staunch anti-war candidate, Ned Lamott, in the primaries. He goes on to win the general election while continuing to act as a shill for Bush on the Iraq war. Because of the general spinelessness of the Congressional Democrats, Lieberman is allowed to retain his committee chairs, even though he is no longer a Democrat. While the Democrats make much of the fact that the reason for rewarding the traitor was the single-vote majority in the Senate, one could plausibly argue that the Democrats never really needed the vote anyway because they passed most of Bush’s agenda by wide margins and failed to exhibit any real leadership on a single issue. (As The Washington Post's Dan Froomkin observed at the end of last year: "Historians looking back on the Bush presidency may well wonder if Congress actually existed.") Fast-forward to 2008 when Lieberman actively campaigned for John McCain in the presidential race. Surely, one would think, now that the Democrats have taken the White House and both houses of Congress, Lieberman would finally be taken to the wood-shed and receive his much-deserved comeuppance. Think again.

The vote to keep Lieberman in his Chair was hardly a nail-biter -- 42-13. Everyone involved in the process tacitly acknowledges that it was Obama's desire that Lieberman retain his chairmanship of the powerful Homeland Security Committee-which doesn’t bode well for Congressional independence in the new administration, although I suspect Congress has simply forgotten how to say no to the President.
I can’t out it better than Glen Greenwald in Salon today: “Senate Democrats believe it's important to reward someone with a powerful Chairmanship who has been a vehement supporter of George Bush, the war in Iraq, the full panoply of anti-constitutional abuses, and an amplifier of the most toxic right-wing toxic points. At the same time, they consider it a good thing to scorn their supporters on what they consider to be "the Left." For anyone willing to hear it, they've made as clear and resounding a statement -- again -- about who they are and who they do and don't listen to.”
Is that Change We Can Believe In? I have my doubts.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Yes We Can

Remarkable. People dancing in the streets, Times Square filled with cheering people, the Empire State building lit up a bright blue while people weep in the streets at the sheer joy of seeing Barack Obama elected the first African-American president of the United States. I will be the first to admit that after the last eight years I never thought I would see a day where Americans could be brought together so cohesively around one thing. After all, the Bush administration at its rotten, stinking core was all about fear. Fear of the terrorists, fear of your neighbor, fear of anyone or anything that was somehow different. This fear showed up in the McCain campaign with its divisive talk about the “real America” and McCain’s reference to Obama as “that one.” In the dark days after 9/11 the Republican Party learned to manipulate people’s fear and turn it in to an ugly, divisive force that could be brought to bear against anyone it considered a threat to it’s plans for a perpetual right-wing oligarchy. The strategy was so successful in 2000 and 2004 that I fully expected it to work again in 2008. I was wrong. Last night Americans proved that they have the ability to rise above the cesspool of hate and venom and coalesce around something far greater than a set of political beliefs. Last night Americans showed the world that our “great experiment” with Democracy still has some life left in it; that it couldn’t be killed by the fear mongers and haters presently occupying 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. The most noteworthy, and uplifting thing about Obama's success is that he assumed that Americans are capable of going beyond self-interest. To borrow from Gary Kamiya on Salon today ,"[t]he America envisioned by Obama is one in which the privileged care about the plight of the less fortunate because that care, that solidarity, is an inseparable part of who we are as Americans." When was the last time you heard THAT from a politician?

The import of this election cannot be overstated. Sure, Obama may end up being a centrist and frankly, I don’t see how he could possibly live up to the lofty expectations everyone has of him, but how he governs is much less important than what he represents. 40 years ago, when I was born, African-Americans were still relegated to separate bathrooms and water fountains. Lyndon Johnson had to expend almost all of his political capital ramming a civil rights bill through a reluctant Congress. Today, a scant ½ lifetime later, a black man is the president-elect of the United States. Watching Jesse Jackson weep last night on television I realized, quite viscerally, that we have come a long way. My son, who is now almost two years old, will grow up in a country without ever thinking it strange that the president of the United States is an African American. All of his friends, and all of the children who will learn about the Presidents in school for the next 50 years will see Barack Obama’s face and not think it strange that he resided in the White House. That, my friends is the real impact of this election. As Tom Friedman put it in the Times today, the Civil War is finally over.

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Here We Go

Looks like Obama is ahead, at least at 9:30pm EST. While I am no strong believer in the ability of the Democrats to affect real change, I am amazed that when we wake up tomorrow, a black man, a "community organizer" from Chicago, may be the next president of the United States. This is truly an election of historic proportions. Hopefully Obama's political instinct to run from the center will morph into a true leftist government. I have my doubts, but I am cautiously optimistic. A Democratic victory in this election will go a long way towards restoring confidence in the rule of law. The reason I say this is because the next president will have two, possibly three, Supreme Court appointments. I know the kind of judges John McCain would appoint were he to pull out a last minute miracle, and they would evince the same disregard for the Constitution as the Bush appointees. Obama, being a lawyer and community organizer, will no doubt appoint judges who will decide the cases before them based on the principle of stare decisis rather than on the somewhat dubious political doctrine of hocus pocus. (Thanks to EMW for the analogy)

More later.

Monday, November 03, 2008

Might As Well Go And Vote Tomorrow

You all know what tomorrow is, and you all know what to do. As my friend the late great Jerry Garcia said, “Choosing the lesser of two evils is still choosing evil”. Unfortunately, this time around the stakes are too high to allow the Republican nutbags another four years to loot the treasury and polish off the rest of our civil liberties. So, I’m voting for Obama, even though I agree with Nader’s analysis that the two party system has been co-opted by special interests and cannot take a principled stand on any issue without the consent of its corporate masters.

I had the pleasure of shaking Congressman Gary Ackerman’s hand this morning at the Great Neck train station and telling him in no uncertain terms that his vote for the bailout came at the expense of my vote in the election. That was satisfying. If there is no 3rd party candidate running for that seat I’ll simply not pull any lever for that slot. Congress is full of whores and thieves and has pretty much rubber stamped its own irrelevancy by failing to confront any of the Bush administration’s clearly unconstitutional power grabs while at the same time handing the banks billions of dollars of taxpayer money with no preconditions on how it’s to be spent. Rock the vote.