So Long, Joe

 

The Democratic Party establishment is in a panic after Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders’s convincing victory in the Nevada presidential primary on February 22. An easy way to gauge the reaction of the Democratic Party old guard is to watch their mouthpieces spout off on MSNBC, the network that pretends to be at the forefront of liberal politics but in reality protects the interests of corporate Democrats like Hillary Clinton and Joe Biden. MSNBC is, with some reservations due to being more grounded in the real world, the opinion molder for many Democrats in a similar fashion to how Fox News affects Republicans.

 

This year the Democratic Party establishment had the fix in for former vice president Joe Biden the same way they had the fix in for former secretary of state Hillary Clinton in 2016. She lost the election, but hey, she won the popular vote! So what? So a surplus of a few million people, mostly in California and New York, voted for Hillary Clinton. It didn’t matter because their votes didn’t count as much as the votes of a few tens of thousands of people in Rust Belt states such as Wisconsin, Michigan, and Pennsylvania. So the Democratic Party establishment had decided to do it all over again, this time with Joe Biden as their old guard hack.

CTU Strike 'Democratic Party, Where Are You?'
A banner displayed by striking Chicago teachers in September 2012 questioning the real interests of Chicago Mayor Rahm Emmanuel and his Democratic Party colleagues. Photo by Flickr user Groupuscule.

The old guard claims their anointed one is the most electable in the general election, a higher priority than ever now that everyone has had nearly four years experience of the alternative, the current president. Everyone, progressive and corporate Democrat alike, agrees four more years of that will destroy the republic as well as the Democratic Party. The old guard deploys fear of four more years of the current president to maintain themselves in power at whatever cost in lies and money. Claiming that only their front person has electability in the general election didn’t work in 2016, and it won’t work in 2020.

The reason is lack of broad appeal to potential voters who are inclined to sit on the sidelines instead of getting behind a corporate Democrat like Joe Biden. The Democratic Party establishment persists in under counting and under cutting the progressive, Socialist portion of the party because it scares off their backers on Wall Street and in corporate boardrooms. The country, and the Democratic Party in particular, are more liberal than the establishment and the corporate media will admit.

Woody Guthrie wrote and performed “So Long, It’s Been Good to Know Yuh (Dusty Old Dust)” in 1935. The policies and appeal of the president at the time, Franklin Roosevelt, would not look out of place today in the campaign of Bernie Sanders, yet conservative corporate interests in politics and in the media persist in portraying Senator Sanders and his supporters as fringe radicals.

The resulting propaganda from outlets like MSNBC convinces some voters that a presidential candidate such as Bernie Sanders would represent only a fringe of the Democratic Party, while Joe Biden or Michael Bloomberg or Pete Buttigieg would represent the mainstream of the Party, and therefore would be the only electable choice for the more conservative general populace. That’s not true. Look at the results in Nevada.
— Ed.

 

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Turnout, Turnout, Turnout

 


Like the mantra “location, location, location” in real estate, there may be an operative phrase in political elections, and it is “turnout, turnout, turnout”. One year away from the 2020 presidential election, centrist, party-line Democrats are most concerned with “electability”, and before the primary season has begun they have anointed Joe Biden as the most “electable” candidate. Their overriding concern for electability is understandable considering the crucial importance of the 2020 presidential election. What they don’t seem to account for is how their idea of an electable candidate may depress turnout, an outcome that tends to favor Republican candidates.


Democratic voters outnumber Republican voters, and therefore high turnout elections tend to favor Democratic candidates. The reason low turnout elections favor Republicans is because the percentage of eligible Republican voters who turn up at the polls does not vary as much as the percentage of eligible Democratic voters who actually vote. One can get deeply into the weeds on the demographics behind this behavior, but it is sufficient to note here that it is a long standing trend and will likely continue on Election Day in 2020.


2008 voting line in Brooklyn
A line of people turned out to vote in Brooklyn, New York, in the November 2008 election. Photo by Flickr user April Sikorski.


In the 2016 election, the Democratic Party establishment crammed down the throats of Democratic voters a candidate who did not generate widespread enthusiasm. The Democratic Party since the days of Franklin Roosevelt has included a more diverse coalition of voters than the Republican Party, and Democrats as a result are less interested in toeing the Party line for the sake of an election than are Republicans. Some Democrats who were lukewarm on Hillary Clinton either defected to third party candidates or did not vote at all. That she nonetheless won the popular vote by nearly 3 million votes was not a statement for her popularity as much as it was a statement about the unpopularity of her Republican opponent.


Voting machine lever
Voting machine lever, pictured in January 2008. Photo by Pauljoffe. The last of the old lever voting machines were used in the midterm elections in New York state in 2010.


The erroneous polls leading up to Election Day in 2016 also were a factor in Ms. Clinton’s loss in the real decider of presidential elections, the Electoral College. Polls predicting not only a Clinton victory, but a possible landslide, were perhaps a factor in depressing Democratic turnout around the country enough that it made a difference in the outcomes in Wisconsin, Michigan, and Pennsylvania, swing states that the Republican candidate won by a total of less than 100,000 votes, tipping the Electoral College in his favor. The demographics of Democratic voters are such that they are more likely than Republican voters to skip voting for a variety of reasons, among them being the appearance from polls that their candidate already has the election in the bag.


Overconfidence will likely not be a stumbling block this time around since everyone who has been paying attention even a little bit to developments in this country since January 20, 2017, should be well aware by now of the high stakes involved in the next presidential election. It is not hyperbole to state there has not been as crucial an election for the continuance of our democracy since the election of 1860. The corporate, centrist minority of the Democratic Party is determined to trot out yet another corporate, centrist Democratic candidate in the 2020 election, whether that be Joe Biden or, in case he falters in the primaries, Pete Buttigieg. The Democratic Party establishment keeps hammering away on “electability”, even more now than in 2016 because the mental case currently despoiling the country from the Oval Office is a known quantity after three years and for the sake of the country must not be allowed to continue in power past January 20, 2021.



“Do It Again” by Steely Dan, from their 1972 album Can’t Buy a Thrill.

 


The Democratic Party establishment refuses to see a move to the left as an opportunity in the coming election. Why would they, since that is not where the corporate masters want them to go? Voter demographics, however, are leaving behind the Democratic Party establishment as currently constituted, as well as leaving behind the Republican Party more generally. Whether that will have an enough of an effect at the polls on Election Day 2020 to make a difference depends on turnout, and that depends on enthusiasm for a Democratic candidate as much as it does disgust about what the presumptive Republican candidate has done to the country and will continue to do if re-elected. Demographic changes won’t make a bit of difference in moving the nation to the left or in booting out of the Oval Office the cancerous tumor currently infesting it if the people representing those changes don’t show up at the polls and vote.
— Ed.

 

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The Family Dinner

 

Political centrists such as Bill Maher, the television talk show host, firmly believe that in order for Democrats to defeat the current president in the 2020 election they must choose a centrist candidate. In a recent debate on his show with documentary filmmaker Michael Moore, Mr. Maher, among his other claims promoting his view, stated that President Barack Obama ran as a centrist in his 2008 campaign and that is why he won. Mr. Moore disputed this, stating that Mr. Obama ran as a progressive populist and had the courage to list his middle name “Hussein” on the ballot. The two bet the cost of a trip to Hawaii on the resolution of their dispute.

Norman Rockwell Mural (Marion County, Oregon scenic images) (marDA0166)
A mural replica in Silverton, Oregon, of Norman Rockwell’s Freedom From Want painting, one of a series he did in 1943 illustrating the Four Freedoms articulated by President Franklin Delano Roosevelt. Photo from the Oregon State Archives. While Mr. Rockwell was depicting an ideal promulgated by a liberal Democratic president, his choice of models and their placement in a hierarchy at the family dinner table fits in well with the current conservative mythos of how Americans should look and comport themselves.

 

It’s not clear who was right about the middle name issue and therefore who won the bet, but in any event it hardly matters since the important point is that Mr. Obama ran his campaign from the left of center and then governed from the center. In national defense matters, such as expanding his predecessor’s drone attacks around the world and vindictively pursuing whistleblowers like Chelsea Manning and Edward Snowden, Mr. Obama was to the right of center. His stance toward governing should have been clear early on from his appointments of Wall Street insiders like Timothy Geithner and Lawrence Summers to oversee the economy.

Barack Obama was never a fire-breathing liberal and never claimed to be one, though he did allow a lot of wishful thinking from liberal Democrats who wanted to believe he was more liberal then he was. They projected their wishes and hopes onto him, and being a politician he naturally turned that to his advantage. That wishful thinking can be glimpsed in the awarding of the Nobel Peace Prize to Mr. Obama in 2009 after he had done hardly anything to merit the award other than not being President George W. Bush. Members of the Norwegian Nobel Committee do not vote in American elections, of course, but like liberal American voters weary of the belligerence and disregard for human rights of the George W. Bush administration, they were eager to project their hopes onto Mr. Obama.

Bill Maher has similarly profited from the projections of many liberals, who seem to think a person who is for the legalization of marijuana and against the policies and tenure of the current president cannot possibly be as reactionary as he really is in many ways. He is reactionary in his statements about Muslims and about gender politics and about how he believes political correctness is more corrosive to our democratic republic than the rapaciousness of capitalist exploitation. Most of all he is reactionary in his repeated assertions that no one to the left of himself among the Democrats can defeat the current president in 2020 because he believes most Americans are firmly in his, Bill Maher’s, camp on most everything that matters.



From Woody Allen’s 1977 film Annie Hall, a diversity of viewpoints and attitudes, some more subdued than others.

 

Mr. Maher is wrong about the politics of most Americans, as he is wrong about his other more distastefully retrograde beliefs. Michael Moore pointed out in their debate how Mr. Maher’s assessment of where most Americans reside on the political scale was wrong, and that they are more liberal within the Democratic Party than the Party establishment cares to acknowledge. None of Bill Maher’s views would matter if it weren’t for how they are often cited by conservative media and politicians as supporting their agenda and given extra weight by them because they are supposedly expressed by a liberal. It suits their cause to have a “house liberal” of sorts.

The fiction of Mr. Maher’s liberalism is propped up also by uncritical viewers on the left who give his pontifications on Democratic politics more respect than they deserve. Reactionary centrists such as Mr. Maher are uncomfortable with the infighting that always prevails among Democrats, and they see it as giving aid and comfort to the other side while weakening their own. People like Bill Maher may as well decry the spots on a leopard. Dissension is in the nature of liberal Democratic Party politics; it’s what differentiates them from the other side, too many members of which fall obediently into line like good little authoritarians.

Journalist Glenn Greenwald in a December 2016 appearance on The Jimmy Dore Show. Warning: one naughty word.

Bill Maher is like the brother-in-law at a large family dinner where all the members are squabbling in a free wheeling manner, and he sits there with a slight smirk, believing he’s smarter than he really is and eager to toss out a snarky remark to show he’s superior to what’s going on around him at the table. He and people like him, with an authoritarian streak in their character despite the liberality of some of their views, cannot understand how argument and dissension strengthen, not weaken, Democratic Party politics, and ultimately democracy itself. Falling in line without questioning is for autocrats and their followers. The ancient Athenians were not without their fair share of faults, but today most people recognize their society, noisy and argumentative as the scenes at their family dinner tables might have been, as more worth honoring and emulating than the authoritarian society of the Spartans, who fell in line and did as they were told by their “betters”.
— Ed.

 

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Alternative Ethics

 

“Let me know when the jail sentence starts.”
— Kellyanne Conway’s contemptuous response to a reporter asking about her repeated violations of the Hatch Act.

Of course White House counselor Kellyanne Conway knows perfectly well there are no criminal penalties for violating the Hatch Act since it is purely an administrative prohibition. Government employees can be reprimanded or fired for violating the Hatch Act, or assessed a fine up to $1,000. There are other disciplinary penalties that the Office of the Special Counsel (OSC) can recommend as well, but none of them include filing criminal charges. The difficulty in disciplining Ms. Conway, however, is that the Hatch Act as currently constituted only allows the OSC to recommend to the president that he fire her, and can do nothing on its own to remove her because she is a political appointee. As applied to Ms. Conway then, the Hatch Act is toothless as long as the president backs her, and she is also very well aware of that fact.


The Hatch Act was pushed forward in 1939 by New Mexico Senator Carl Hatch in response to overt politicking on the job by employees of the Works Progress Administration (WPA) under the Democratic presidential administration of Franklin Roosevelt. It is interesting to note Senator Hatch was a Democrat. Apparently the sentiment at the time was that putting a stop to politicking by federal employees on the taxpayers’ dime was worth bipartisan support. Congress has amended the Hatch Act twice since 1939, though always the toothless nature of the penalties for higher ranking government officials has stood, and as a result presidents have often refused to abide by disciplinary recommendations left up to their discretion.

Kellyanne Conway Speaks to the Press (47751382671)
Kellyanne Conway speaks to the press outside the West Wing of the White House in May 2019. Official White House photo by Tia Dufour.

It’s no surprise the current president has dismissed the recommendation by the OSC that he fire Kellyanne Conway for her repeated violations of the Hatch Act and her disdain of ethics restraints. She is the kind of person he likes best – loyal to him and, when speaking for the administration, a bullsh*t artist, for lack of a more polite phrase which adequately describes her role and abilities. “Spin doctor” doesn’t quite convey her proficiency at spewing outlandish lies, a talent for which her only rival is her boss, the current president. The Oval Office occupant has couched his objection to the OSC recommendation as a violation of Ms. Conway’s free speech right, a dubious argument the Supreme Court has shot down numerous times before in regard to enforcement of the Hatch Act. Government employees are free as always to speak their minds on their own time, but in their official capacity they work for everyone in the country, not merely one political faction.

The people staffing the current presidential administration have little regard for the rule of law as applied to them, and certainly not for an Act dealing with professional ethics that has no legal bite to it. This attitude and tone is set by the current president, for whom laws and ethics and the truth are malleable when applied to him and those he likes. Past presidents and their staffs had at least some little sense of shame, which is apparently what Congress hoped for in 1939 when they passed the original Hatch Act in 1939. Congress must have hoped for voluntary compliance under the pressure of public shame and political calculations. They did not foresee an administration that behaved utterly without shame and invented alternative facts.

Michelle Wolf comments on Kellyanne Conway in this clip from a February 2017 episode of The Daily Show, hosted by Trevor Noah. Warning: foul language.

The worst actors in the current administration, such as Kellyanne Conway, have nothing but contempt for any rules that cannot threaten them with prison if they don’t comply. She and the president she serves are going to do the right thing only when it suits them to do so, not if it only serves the interests of the country. Recently some Democrats in Congress have put forward a bill to amend the Hatch Act in order to redress the lack of enforcement power of the OSC when pursuing complaints against senior political appointees. If the bill passes, presidents will no longer be sole arbiters in such cases. If the bill passes and Kellyanne Conway continues violating the Hatch Act by advocating partisan political issues in her official capacity, she still won’t end up in jail, but she and her boss may have to pay some real political consequences, which is the only thing they understand . . . maybe.
— Vita

 

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The Generation Gap

 

“Climate is what we expect, weather is what we get.”
— Mark Twain (1835-1910)

Some sociologists have disproved the widely held notion that people become more conservative as they get older, and while that may be the case, and therefore old does not necessarily equal conservative, statistics verify there is still a generation gap between the percentages of older and younger people who vote. Old people turn out to vote in a higher percentage for their age group than young people do in their age group. Old for our purpose here is over 50, which encompasses Baby Boomers, the Silent Generation, and the Greatest Generation. Young is under 50, which includes Generation X, Millennials, and Generation Z.

 

The two largest demographic groups of voting age are Baby Boomers and Millennials. In this year, Millennials will surpass Baby Boomers in numbers as Baby Boomers continue dying out. For all that, the voice of Baby Boomers at voting time remains louder than that of Millennials, because the percentage of Baby Boomers who vote remains higher than the percentage of Millennials who vote. Baby Boomers remain in control of the leadership and apparatus of both major political parties, and that led to the debacle of the 2016 presidential election.

March for Our Lives Fox News
The March for Our Lives protest took place on 24 March 2018 in Washington, D.C., and other cities, when hundreds of thousands of students and others marched to demand common sense gun control in the wake of deadly school shootings in the United States. Photo by Mobilus In Mobili.

In the Democratic Party, leadership foisted Hillary Clinton on everyone, and she turned out to be a candidate with little appeal to voters outside of the Coasts and the big cities, a fact that polling consistently pointed out heading into the election, but which the Democratic leadership chose to ignore. For the Republican Party, the crowded field of candidates in the early primaries allowed the demagogue who eventually overtook the field to win with vote percentages only in the teens and twenties, and with that he was able to pick off his rivals one by one, aided by high amounts of free media coverage for his outrageous comments and behavior.

In the end, we got the president we deserved, we meaning all of us, voters and non-voters alike. A dismal statement, but one we need to come to terms with by election day in November 2020. It seems we have all overestimated the liberal leanings of Baby Boomers as a group, and perhaps popular culture is responsible. News coverage of Vietnam War protests in the 1960s and ’70s, the enormous changes in fashion and entertainment, the weekly confrontations on television’s All in the Family between Baby Boomer Mike “Meathead” Stivic and his Greatest Generation father-in-law, Archie Bunker, all may have contributed to a perception of Baby Boomers as liberal overall.

Looking at national Democratic Party leadership since Baby Boomers took over with the election of Bill Clinton as president in 1992, it’s difficult to deny they are in most ways more conservative than their predecessors of the Greatest Generation and particularly going back to Franklin Roosevelt (FDR) a generation earlier. Presidents Kennedy and Johnson were certainly more liberal than Bill Clinton. FDR’s policies would be considered dangerous socialism today, which is why candidates like Senators Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, whose policy proposals are in line with what FDR might have done, are considered too far left by Democratic Party leadership, and therefore unelectable.

Enumerating goals can be difficult, as demonstrated here in a television skit by Monty Python’s Flying Circus.

In the Republican Party, attitudes have shifted so far right since Baby Boomers took over with leaders like Newt Gingrich and Dick Cheney that even Richard Nixon, in whose administration Mr. Cheney first took part, might not have a chance to be elected president these days as a Republican. Too liberal! Dwight Eisenhower, in whose administration Mr. Nixon served as Vice President in the 1950s, would be considered by today’s Republican Party leadership, and assuredly by the MAGA (Make America Great Again) crowd, as a RINO (Republican In Name Only), despite the era he presided over being the one they pine for.

There is no evidence to suggest Millennials are overall more liberal than Baby Boomers, but unlike Baby Boomers they do appear willing to act on the most pressing concerns for humanity, starting with climate change. Unless we take action on climate change now, nothing else matters. Next is growing wealth inequity, because that leads to many other problems, among them being affordability of health care for all. Population growth also needs to be addressed, because Earth’s resources are not infinite, much as delusional capitalist economic modelers like to pretend otherwise.



A satirical public service announcement from the Knock the Vote project. Warning: foul language.

 

Down the list but hanging over every creature on Earth is the bugaboo of all generations alive since 1945 – nuclear weapons. Nuclear weapons are down the list because while they are obviously capable of ending everything quickly, they may be the hardest nut to crack on account of their continued proliferation being due to human nature. Addressing these problems requires becoming informed, and voting as well as activism, and it is up to Millennials to rise to the challenges their forebears have been reluctant to grasp. It’s time for Baby Boomers to let go of power if they cannot or will not contribute to battling the world’s most pressing problems, though we know it’s human nature to cling to power, and usually the grave provides the only means of separation.
— Ed.

 

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Bury the Hatchet

 

White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer resigned this week, originally stating his intent to stay on until August. Apparently new White House Communications Director Anthony Scaramucci decided August was too long to wait for Spicer to leave and, as Spicer’s immediate boss, took the opportunity to name Spicer’s deputy, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, the new press secretary, effective immediately. Mr. Spicer will most likely not be missed by anyone either inside the administration or in the press corps, though the satirists on the Saturday Night Live television show may miss him. They still have plenty of targets for satire in the current administration, starting with the Man with a Daily Message himself, the Tweeter-in-Chief.

 

The current administration has made no secret of its disdain for most of the press corps, certain favorites excluded, and may try to end daily briefings of White House reporters. It seems the briefings have been a White House ritual for so long that there was never a time they were not part of the scene. That is not the case. They are a fairly recent phenomenon in American history, and were not recognizable in their present form until the Eisenhower Administration. Even then the briefings were not conducted daily. It wasn’t until Dwight Eisenhower’s vice president, Richard Nixon, was elected president at the end of the 1960s that press briefings became a daily occurrence. Nixon also had the Press Briefing Room moved to its current location in the West Wing when he ordered the indoor swimming pool covered over and converted to that purpose.
Spiro Agnew by Edmund S. Valtman ppmsc.07953
A 1970 caricature by Edmund S. Valtman of Vice President Spiro T. Agnew, who was widely recognized as President Nixon’s “hatchet man” in dealing with the press.
Strange that President Nixon should have been the one to increase the frequency of press briefings, considering his often contentious relationship with the Fourth Estate. Nixon was not alone among presidents in feeling vilified by the press, and vilifying the press in turn. Most presidents have kept the press at arm’s length at best, viewing them as a necessary evil and trying when they could to control the tone and substance of their reporting about the administration. “Spin control” has always been a concern of presidents and their aides, though that particular phrase for it didn’t catch on until the Reagan Administration.

A scene from the 1983 film The Right Stuff, directed by Philip Kaufman, in which the 7 Mercury astronauts assert their priorities over those of NASA scientists by pointing out their leverage with the press.

Theodore Roosevelt was a rarity in that he cultivated a cordial relationship with the press, all the more to get them on his side when he used the Bully Pulpit to push his favored policies through Congress. His distant cousin, Franklin Roosevelt, went even further in developing good relations with the press, personally conducting twice weekly off the record briefings in the Oval Office. As briefings and presidential press conferences became more common through the twentieth century, people came to accept them as an indication of openness and a window into the executive branch, however distorted and murky the view might be. At least there was communication, and official positions could be known by the press and public.

Now this administration wants to pull down the shades on its workings. It makes no difference that Mr. Spicer is being replaced by Ms. Sanders. It hardly makes any difference that briefings are fewer and characterized by disrespect for the press, since this administration has demonstrated openly its contempt for norms of civil political discourse. When you know you will be lied to and treated shabbily, why stand there and continue to take it? Sooner or later, even the most profit hungry of the media outlets may abandon the White House press briefing as a source of anything other than insubstantial blathering worthwhile only as a target for satire. This administration may then find out, if the people in it are capable of learning anything at all, that if no one is taking seriously their side of any story or even listening, then there is no more spin control. With a little self control, the press may even stop giving undue attention to the daily distraction of outrageous tweets issuing from the Oval Office, and start paying attention to the important issues affecting this country.
― Vita

 

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We the People

Tuesday the nation celebrates independence from the British Crown and eventual establishment of a democratic republic. That’s the story, at least. Of the independence part there is no doubt, because that is pretty straightforward. It’s the democratic republic part that doesn’t quite coincide with historical reality, and certainly not with what the United States of America has become today. Today it is an oligarchy, and looking back over the history of the country it becomes clear the inclination was always present.

 

The Founding Fathers were never for a broadly based democracy, instead leaning toward governance by a limited set of people – white males with property. Some Founding Fathers, Jefferson, Madison, Adams, and Washington among them, believed the democratic republic would be stronger if more people owned property, or capital, and therefore had a say and a stake in governance. Though they were rather wealthy men themselves, they would probably be horrified at the current state of income inequality in this country and how that has wrought havoc on the democratic republic they established.

Sprit of '76.2
Originally entitled Yankee Doodle, this is one of several versions of a scene painted by Archibald Willard (1836-1918) in the late nineteenth century that came to be known as The Spirit of ’76.

Suffrage has broadened greatly since the eighteenth century, but a vote for candidate A over candidate B makes little difference when both candidates are backed by the same small clique of financiers and corporate boards. Once the candidate is in office, he or she tunes in the oligarchy and tunes out the voters, at least until the next election. Of what use then is a vote when the person voted for doesn’t represent your interests when in office, will often in fact work against your interests? Strangely, people will vote for that person again two, four, or six years later.

Franklin Delano Roosevelt understood there is no real political power without economic power. Enactment of his proposed Second Bill of Rights is long overdue.

To regain political power, the people need to take back wealth; to regain wealth, the people need to take back political power. Hand in hand. Remember the capitalist credo: Money talks. We have the honesty of the Supreme Court to thank for enshrining in the 2010 Citizens United decision what everyone has always known, going back to the days of the Founding Fathers, it’s just that Washington, Adams, Madison, and Jefferson had the wisdom to understand the money should be spread around a lot more in order for the government to listen to we the people.
― Vita

 

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All Honest Work Has Dignity

“No business which depends for existence on paying less than living wages to its workers has any right to continue in this country.” ― President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, 1933.

 

Ms. magazine Cover - Fall 2013
Ms. magazine cover – Fall 2013. Cover by Liberty Media for Women, LLC.

 

Whether a person works at a computer in an office or scrubs floors in an office building, all honest work has dignity and deserves respect and the worker deserves a just, living wage. This concept, noted in ethical and religious teachings throughout history, and codified in legal and humanitarian documents in the United States and other countries, has been honored more in the breach lately because of growing income inequality which exalts the obscenely overpaid executive over the line worker on whose back the executive rides. The Fight for $15 movement has shaken up the situation over the past few years, but in the current political climate it appears that raising the minimum wage to a living wage will be left entirely up to the states. It’s similar to the situation of addressing human-induced climate change or greed-induced health care reform, where the federal government is paralyzed by ideologues and corporate shills, and if meaningful action is to be taken at all it has to be taken by the states.

It was in the 1980s that we first started to see many adults, and even some retirees, working in fast food joints on the line, rather than just in management. At the time it was jarring to see the retirees working in that environment, wearing the hideous uniforms and taking orders from people less than half their age. We have since gotten used to the sight as another token of the diminished expectations of the new service economy. The statistics on fast food workers show the average age has increased to 29, up from the 1950s and 1960s when the majority of workers were indeed teenagers. Nevertheless the perception clings of awkward youths working behind the counter temporarily for spending money while they lived with their parents before moving on to maturity in the pursuit of a higher wage American Dream. Nowhere is there a mention in law or religion that a worker’s wages are an unimportant, trifling matter because they are not needed for basic support, but that is the justification service sector companies, and fast food companies particularly, use to explain why they pay a majority of their workers the stingy federally mandated minimum wage, or a tiny bit more.

Fast food workers on strike for higher minimum wage and better benefits (26162729410)
Fast food workers on strike for higher minimum wage and better benefits. Minneapolis, Minnesota, April 14, 2016. Photo by Flickr user Fibonacci Blue.

Charles Wilson at GM
Charles Wilson at GM, 1948. Wilson was the head of General Motors from 1941 to 1953, when President Eisenhower selected him to be Secretary of Defense, a post in which he served until 1957. In 1950, at the height of American economic power, Wilson was the highest paid chief executive in the country at $586,100, or about $5.6 million in modern terms. He paid 73 percent of that income in taxes – $430,350. General Motors in 1950 was a major driver of American prosperity, and its workforce was highly unionized.

What might have been a fair wage for a teenager in the 1950s and 1960s, one who was decidedly uninterested in joining a collective action to seek a higher wage for his or her temporary job, is not a fair wage for an adult supporting an adult’s responsibilities over the long term in 2017. If fast food executives are going to engage in moral relativism regarding the wage scale for their workers, then they need to apply it even after the demographics have changed and no longer work in their favor. They also need to explain how it is they can’t afford to pay their workers more, yet they can pay the typical CEO at a rate 1,200 times that of the average worker, a rate which outstrips the ballooning income inequality throughout the rest of the American economy. It wasn’t like that back in the Good Old Days, back when America was Great. But of course they haven’t addressed those questions. Instead they’ve claimed they’ll have to raise prices, which will drive away customers, which will cause them to drop workers and turn to automation where possible. Is it honest, dignified work then to cheat your employees, to cut corners on your customers, to chisel on your taxes, all so that you can present an attractive financial statement to your shareholders and stuff your own already overflowing pockets with more money?
― Ed.

 

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The Bully’s Pulpit

 

Audio of FDR’s first Fireside Chat on March 12, 1933. The respectful, civil discourse of a leader speaking as an adult to adults. Listening to this does take a little over thirteen minutes, however, while reading a tweet takes less than a minute.

 

Last Sunday, March 12, marked the 84th anniversary of Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s first Fireside Chat, as the series of thirty evening radio programs he did over the twelve years of his presidency came to be known. It was one week after his first inauguration (inaugurations up through 1933 took place on March 4), and he spoke on the banking crisis. He spoke in calm, even tones, with the intent of calming down a populace which had lost confidence in the banking system and withdrawn their funds in a panic. FDR’s fifth cousin, Theodore Roosevelt, had famously touted the use of the Bully Pulpit when he was president at the beginning of the twentieth century, and now that radio had come into widespread use, FDR found himself with a Bully Pulpit that enabled him to speak directly to millions of his fellow Americans at a time, without the filter of the national press. FDR, to his credit, used the privilege of his Bully Pulpit to explain his policies in plain, respectful language, and to garner direct support for those policies from the populace.
FDR-Exiting-Car-1932
FDR exiting car with assistance during a campaign trip to Hollywood, California, on September 24, 1932. Photographs like this are rare because press and official photographers avoided showing FDR’s debility out of consideration for the man.

Reminding us of all we have lost and may still lose. A poignant scene from Out of Africa, a 1985 film starring Meryl Streep and Robert Redford, who by all accounts are good people as well as fine actors.
Now we have found ourselves in an age where a new technology enables the president to use the Bully Pulpit in a new way, but sadly we don’t have a TR or an FDR available to make the best use of it. This is our own fault. This is the culmination of a sequence of bad cultural and political choices by all of us over the past forty years or more. Now a reality television bully of no intellectual or humanitarian distinction whatsoever occupies the Oval Office and has the Bully Pulpit, both technologically from his tweets and personally from his rallies, and his ugly pronouncements echo through a press that eagerly pursues the latest noisy distraction as if chasing a fire engine, all while his deputies commit atrocities on the economy, on the environment, on the very working and middle class people who voted him in, on everything and everybody that isn’t part of the Club. If you have to ask, “What Club?” then obviously you don’t belong. Look at Rex Tillerson, aka Wayne Tracker, formerly head of Exxon Mobil and now Secretary of State, and you will be looking at a member in good standing with the Club.
There’s little point and less fun in belaboring the obvious that the current president abuses the Bully Pulpit to air personal grievances and distract the press and the populace from his administration’s shortcomings, and to gloss over policies that take away from the many, who have little enough, in order to give to the few, who already have more than enough. Here’s a recommendation on how to deal with that: as much as possible considering the position of preeminence granted by the office he holds, ignore his Bully Pulpit abuses. Take a lesson from the actress Meryl Streep and don’t refer to him by name. Deny him the satisfactions of power that he seeks. Yes, it is that childish; yes, it is that schoolyard. He has given evidence of that himself. In all other matters political, do as your conscience dictates, of course, but in this matter of the Bully Pulpit recall past experience with schoolyard bullies by denying him the attention and deference he craves.
― Vita

A fuller rendition of the same theme, by the Chamber Orchestra of New York, Salvatore Di Vittorio, Music Director, based on the great John Barry‘s original arrangement.

 

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A Plague on Both Your Houses

Romeo:

Courage, man; the hurt cannot be much.

Mercutio:

No, ’tis not so deep as a well, nor so wide as a
church-door; but ’tis enough, ’twill serve: ask for
me to-morrow, and you shall find me a grave man. I
am peppered, I warrant, for this world. A plague o’
both your houses! ‘Zounds, a dog, a rat, a mouse, a
cat, to scratch a man to death! a braggart, a
rogue, a villain, that fights by the book of
arithmetic! Why the devil came you between us? I
was hurt under your arm.

Romeo:

I thought all for the best.

William Shakespeare, Romeo and Juliet (Act III, Scene i).

 

From February 23rd to the 26th, the 447 members of the Democratic National Committee will meet to elect a new chairperson to replace Donna Brazile, who has served as interim chair since Debbie Wasserman Schultz resigned. The two leading candidates are Minnesota Representative Keith Ellison and former Labor Secretary Thomas Perez. Ellison is backed by Senators Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, while Perez is backed by more of the Party establishment. It’s anyone’s guess at this point whether the election of a new chairperson will serve to correct the faults within the Party that led to the 2016 election debacle, but the signs are dubious at best.

DNC chair candidate Sally Boynton Brown of Idaho garnered a lot of publicity for her remarks about serving as a voice for minorities, even if that means suppressing the voices of white people. She no doubt meant well, but her ill-chosen phrasing has only stirred the embers from the last election, when the Clinton campaign’s reliance on identity politics and neglect of working class voters, mostly white, in the Rust Belt states led to a decisive turnout for the opposition. It is now almost three months since the election, and the Democratic Party establishment still has not come to terms with their own complicity in losing a very winnable election. They still seek to blame others, such as the Russians for meddling in the election, for which they have negligible evidence, and the Rust Belt voters who upset their apple cart. The continuing denigration of white working class voters by Democratic Party elitists as ignorant, misogynistic, racist “deplorables” shows they are still  incapable of accepting any blame themselves.

According to psychologists, the five stages of grief are 1) Denial, 2) Anger, 3) Bargaining, 4) Depression, and 5) Acceptance. It’s clear from both public and private rhetoric that many Democrats are still in stages 1 and 2. They have every right to feel that way for a time, though in many cases their anger is misdirected. They should be directing their anger at their leaders rather than the working people those leaders have abandoned and ignored over the last forty years while they courted corporate money and the academic and professional classes. In the past, many so-called deplorables were a part of the Franklin D. Roosevelt coalition that ensured a solidly Democratic Party majority in this country through the middle years of the Twentieth Century, before the Democrats lost their way and decided to mimic Republicans in becoming bedfellows with Wall Street plutocrats, while cynically attempting to retain credibility with a portion of their base by throwing them identity politics sops.

Unfortunately, being mired in denial and anger obstructs recovery, which begins with acknowledging there is a problem, as any twelve step program informs us. Until Democratic Party leaders demonstrate a willingness to stop blaming the Russians and others for their own failings, and thereafter attempt to reform the Party by returning it to the left of center FDR coalition that served the majority of its members well for many years, Progressives will need to look outside the Democratic Party and begin working earnestly to make a third Party a force to be reckoned with. Progressives – and maybe some disgusted Republicans, too – will, like the wounded Mercutio, have to say to the two major Parties, “A plague o’ both your houses!” Let’s hope in the meantime that, unlike Mercutio’s wound, the new era of Supreme Leader doesn’t prove fatal.
― Ed. 

 

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