Archive for the ‘Blue Dog Democrats’ tag
I realized I haven’t been keeping you fine people up to date with Citizen Radio interviews. Apologies all around. Last week, we interviewed the fantastic Remi Kanazi, a Palestinian poet and activist. We got all shouty about Flotilla, Gaza, and the occupation. You can here Remi (IMHO one of the best and brightest young Palestinian spokespeople in the country) over here.
We also interviewed legendary tattoo artist Guy Aitchison about tattoos, nerds, and the universe. My co-host, Jamie Kilstein, managed to keep his shit together and ask some super interesting questions even though he was getting a half-sleeve from Guy at the time of this taping.
Friday’s episode didn’t have any interviews, but we did discuss corporate blue dogs, the crazy election results, and how Michele Bachmann is – surprise! – a total hypocrite, so if you’d like to hear that stuff, head thisaways.
According to the New York Times, the only way for Democrats to achieve meaningful healthcare reform is to placate the Blue Dogs, a group of 52 moderate and conservative Democratic Party members of the House of Representatives, and the roughly dozen conservative Democrats in the Senate too cowardly to actually call themselves “Blue Dogs.” The Times states that the Democrats “must still reconcile the views of moderate and conservative Democrats worried about the cost and scope of the legislation with those of more liberal lawmakers determined to win a government-run insurance option to compete with private insurers” as though repeating an axiom — some universal truth upon which we can all agree — like the law of gravity or drunk-dialing being a terrible mistake.
This essentially means that a minority faction of the Democrats is taking the entire party hostage. Worse still, this means the Blue Dogs are blurring the distinction between Democrats and Republicans, a supposedly important distinction that has helped keep the political process balanced in this country for over two hundred years.
The Times printed this Blue Dog ransom demand (“Compromise, or the healthcare bill gets it”) because many Americans have accepted the often repeated mantra that Obama can’t exert political pressure on the Blue Dogs to adopt more progressive reform because he needs their votes. This claim fails to acknowledge that Obama is already exerting political pressure on progressive Democrats, who actually represent what the majority of Americans want — a serious pubic option.
This White House-supported, forced subservience isn’t unique to the healthcare debate. In June, the White House threatened freshmen representatives who refused to vote for a war supplemental bill. Lynn Woolsey of California, a leader of the antiwar Democrats, said the White House threatened to withdraw support from freshmen who opposed the bill, saying “you’ll never hear from us again.” Woolsey also stated that House leadership was targeting the freshmen. “It’s really hard for the freshmen,” she said. “Nancy’s pretty powerful.” Once again, Progressives were forced to acquiesce to moderate Democrats’ demands, and it is likely that the White House is exerting the same kind of political pressure on Progressives during the healthcare bill debate.
Additionally, while Progressives are told to toe the line and vote with their more conservative brethren, Blue Dogs are offered protection by the White House, which includes pit bull Rahm Emanuel, who called an attempt by liberal groups to advertise the Blue Dogs’ woeful track records on healthcare “fucking stupid.” I think that watering down healthcare legislation that 72 percent of the populace wants and making back room deals with the pharmaceutical industry is also “stupid,” or worse “devious,” but that belief is one of many reasons I’m not the White House Chief of Staff.
While Emanuel has probably always hated progressive Democrats, Obama claimed to have sympathized with them in the past. Back in 2005, Obama wrote a diary entry over at Daily Kos where he wrote “In order to beat [the Republican Party,] it is necessary for Democrats to get some backbone, give as good as they get, brook no compromise, drive out Democrats who are interested in ‘appeasing’ the right wing, and enforce a more clearly progressive agenda.” Yet, instead of keeping the yapping mongrel Blue Dogs on a short leash, Obama has made them his favored pets.
The most obvious explanation for why President Obama shields the Blue Dogs and bullies Progressives is that conservative Democrats (like Republicans) represent the interests of Big Business. In the case of healthcare reform, Blue Dogs represent Big Pharma and Big Insurance, two gigantic industries that represent millions in campaign donations. By representing Big Money, Blue Dogs have secured the loyalty of the White House, and by working in concert, the White House and Blue Dogs then create the illusion of fair compromise even as a majority of Americans scream that they still want a strong public option. The mainstream media then repeats the lie — that Progressives are extreme, need to be controlled, need to compromise, and toe the party line.
The result will be a watered down public option, or some kind of half-assed attempt at insurance cooperatives that are too small, under-regulated, and not at all the kind of “Change” Americans are looking for.
Several moderate Democrats have decided to drop a central provision of a bill that would have made it easier to organize workers, according to The New York Times. The “card-check” provision would have “required employers to recognize a union as soon as a majority of workers signed cards saying they wanted a union.” Workers will now have to engage in secret-ballot elections, historically a bigger challenge for unions.
While unions managed to secure other victories (shorter unionization campaigns and faster elections,) the card-check provision was a seminal part of the legislation, to the point where it was called “the card-check bill.” Shorter campaigns and faster elections won’t fix the problem of employer harassment, and the Senators have yet to address the issue of allowing employees access to company property to hold meetings. This amalgam of compromises could just ensure employers will have to concentrate their intimidating practices into 10 days instead of rationing their threats over two months.
The Democrats that caved on the provision include Senator Tom Harkin, a senior member of the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, leader of the group of six Democrats who have worked closely with labor to revamp the bill. The other senators are Sherrod Brown, Thomas R. Carper, Mark Pryor, Charles E. Schumer, and Arlen Specter.
Business representatives were also displeased with the provision that calls for a binding arbitration if an employer fails to reach a contract with a new union. “We see it as a hostile act to have arbitrators telling businesses what they have to do,” said Mark McKinnon, a spokesman for the hilariously-named Workforce Fairness Institute, a business group opposing the bill.
Verna Bader knows something about hostile acts at the workplace. The 60-year-old machine operator for Taylor Machine Products, a Detroit-based company, was fired when she tried to join a union that was attempting to win better wages and improve health and safety on the job. At the time, Bader was earning only $5 an hour, and she was the sole breadwinner for her father, her dying sister, and her sister’s children.
Jose Guardado worked at the Nebraska Beef meatpacking plant in Omaha, Nebraska for 8 years. He worked on the kill floor where he slaughtered more than 2500 steers each day. Guardado and his co-workers wanted to unionize as a way to fight back against what he calls the dangerous working conditions, the lack of respect, and abusive treatment. ”We all signed cards showing our support for the UFCW,” says Guardado.
Unfortunately, there were no laws in place to prevent employer harassment.
“The company terrified workers from standing up for their rights. They threatened to fire union supporters, threatened to call immigration and deport the Latinos and threatened to close the plant. They promised to slow the line down and treat everyone better. Nebraska Beef even brought in a bunch of strange workers on the day of the election just to get them to vote against the union. Workers were scared. No one wanted to lose their job. The company won the vote by a small number. The line was sped back up and no one was given what was promised to them.”
And when the voting was done, the company inflicted retribution on the workers that had dared to stand up for their rights.
“Then, Nebraska Beef began firing workers who had supported the union. I knew they were watching and waiting for me to make a mistake, so I was very careful. But the company fired me. My insurance was terminated weeks before they fired me and I had to pay $1,000 out of my own pocket for doctor’s visits and medicine. Meanwhile, they still took $20 out of the last three paychecks for health insurance I didn’t have. This company took away my livelihood and hurt my family just to keep us from organizing a union. Many other workers were fired or quit because they were so afraid.”
The need for employee protection is especially important these days, according to a study by labour expert Kate Bronfenbrenner of Cornell University in Ithaca, New York, which concludes that employers are more than twice as likely to use 10 or more tactics – including threats of firing and actual firings – in their campaigns to thwart workers’ organizing efforts. Furthermore, today’s anti-union activities include a “greater focus than in the past on more coercive and punitive tactics designed to intensely monitor and punish union activity.” (The full study is available here.)
Bronfenbrenner’s study was verified by Chirag Mehta and Nik Theodore from the Center for Urban Economic Development at the University of Illinois. Mehta and Theodore published a separate report that revealed a “majority of employers aggressively use both legal and illegal anti-union tactics during union representation elections, which impedes workers’ ability to form unions.”
Comparatively, when employers respect the rights of their workers to unionize, it creates a healthy workplace environment where workers feel safe and productive, as demonstrated in the case of Sharon Harrison, an employee at AT&T Mobility. The head of the company “came to our call center when we were signing up for union representation and made it clear that under his management, there would be full respect for workers’ rights. That set the tone.”
More than a majority of workers at the call center signed petitions in favor of the union. Harrison added, “All workers deserve to have the same chance I did to join a union if that’s what they want to do. I know firsthand what a big difference it makes when you don’t have to be afraid anymore to stand up for your rights at work.”
In an interview with the Wall Street Journal’s Kimberly Strassel, Congressman Jim Matheson said he has many problems with the global warming bill currently in committee. The bill is Henry Waxman’s creation, and is already under fire from his fellow Democrats.
But it’s no shocker that Matheson is one of the first suits to screech at the bill, since he receives over 20% of his campaign donations from energy, natural resource, transportation, construction, and agribusiness industries. Such industries normally aren’t on the forefront of asking Congress to cap their own emissions.
During opening statements, the Utah Democrat detailed 14 big problems he had with the bill, and told me later that if he hadn’t been limited to five minutes, “I might have had more.”
I’ll bet. Matheson is one of 10 moderate Democrats (see: Blue Dog Democrats, or what they call themselves so people stop confusing them with Republicans) who are all worked up over Waxman’s bill. Strassel calls the bill “liberal overreach.”
Really. Strassel doesn’t bother to then explain why the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s latest climate report states the following:
- “Warming of the climate system is unequivocal, as is now evident from observations of increases in global average air and ocean temperatures, widespread melting of snow and ice and rising global average sea level.”
- Greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions due to human activities has increased by 70% between 1970 and 2004.
- Continued GHG emissions “at or above current rates would cause further warming and induce many changes in the global climate system during the 21st century that would very likely be larger than those observed during the 20th century.”
Considering a bill that would stem these awful trends is “overreaching,” according to Ms. Strassel. Of course, she doesn’t mean “overreaching” in the sense that caring for the planet isn’t important. She means “overreaching” in the sense that it could cost politicians like Mr. Matheson their donors. Strassel writes:
Design a bill that socks it to all those manufacturing, oil-producing, coal-producing, coal-using states, and say goodbye to the very Democrats necessary to pass that bill.
Yes, it could cost poor Mr. Matheson over 20% of his donations. But on the upside, it could save the planet. Strassel taps into a very important issue here. Obviously, most politicians aren’t going to bite the hands of their donors. We’ve seen this trend extend from debate over the financial bailout, which was ripe with cronyism and corruption, to the debate over how to deal with our warming environment.
Corporate money corrupts, absolutely. During the bailout, politicians with close ties to the financial industries were put in charge of the bailouts, including the Senate Banking committee Chairman, Chris Dodd. Dodd receives most of his campaign contributions from the securities and investment industry, and two of his biggest donors are Citigroup and AIG. The problem is systemic as we see in the environment debate with “Democrats” like Mr. Matheson. He won’t be voting against his corporate donors anytime soon. Daddy needs his sweet, sweet corporate cash, or as Strassel puts it, Matheson is “championing energy diversity and his state’s fossil fuels” i.e. tearing up and selling everything that isn’t nailed down.
Other Democrats standing in the way of Waxman’s bill are Baron Hill (IN), Rick Bouche (VA), Gene Green (TX), Charles Gonzalez (TX), Charlie Melancon (LA), Mike Doyle (PA,) many of whom are quite publicly in the pocket of the oil industry. This isn’t some kind of scandalous secret. Most of their corporate donors are visible on public websites like OpenSecrets.org.
The scandal is that writing about such things is considered a platitude, an utterly banal thing to point out. The future of the planet is at stake, and pointing out the dirty money pouring from Washington politicians’ pockets evokes an eye roll from the mainstream press. Journalists like Strassel write about dirty donations as though she were reporting on the weather.
Politicians, who are reliant upon donations from industries that poison the environment, cannot be trusted to then form legislation to protect the planet. At the risk of publishing more liberal “overreach,” such conflicts of interest (the financial bailouts, and now the energy/environment debate,) are both excellent examples of why publicly financed elections are so important. If corporate money isn’t permitted to infect politics, then bills that could potentially save the planet may have a fair chance of surviving committee.
Strassel, Matheson, and company will surely roll their eyes at such a naive statement, but that’s to be expected. If you spend your life swimming in pig shit, after a while, you’ll swear it doesn’t smell.