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A few days after print publication, Knight's syndicated newspaper column, which moves twice a week, will be posted. The most recent will appear at the top.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Election means battle for Senate, working people

Bill Knight column for Mon., Tues. or Wed., Oct. 13, 14 or 15

Among the U.S. Senate’s almost unique powers of conducting impeachment trials, ratifying treaties, and voting on appointments as ambassadors and Supreme Court Justices, it can decide whether to confirm Presidential nominations to high-level positions in federal departments and agencies, including the Attorney General and the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB).

AG Eric Holder is resigning, so a fight over confirming President Obama’s pick to replace him looms. And if the GOP wins control of the Senate in three weeks, U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) signaled that conservative lawmakers will attack the National Labor Relations Board, escalating their “war on workers."

On November 4 – in this 100th year of the direct election of U.S. Senators – voters will decide on 33 of the 100 seats in the Senate, where Democrats now have a 53-45 majority, with two Independents (Bernie Sanders of Vermont and Joe Lieberman of Connecticut caucus with Democrats).

Seats in play are 23 Democrats, 8 Republicans and both Independents. The GOP needs to hold on to its seats and win six of the others to dominate the Senate.

If they do, conservatives wouldn’t have to pass anti-union laws to further hurt regular working Americans. The budget and appropriations processes could slow government even if Obama vetoes anti-labor bills. Like Tea Partied House Republicans, a GOP Senate could just pester the NLRB or kill labor-friendly measures; NLRB nominations would be stymied; further weakening a slow, ineffective NLRB would start.

Alexander, the Senate Labor Committee’s ranking Republican, made the NLRB part of his successful campaign against a Tea Party challenger in August, saying, “The NLRB is pursuing some of the most intrusive and misguided policies under this administration.”

Republicans could try to overturn a few recent NLRB actions, including a “fast-track” election ruling that could speed up union-representation voting to discourage employers from illegally threatening workers.

The NLRB’s makeup will change. Democratic board member Nancy Schiffer’s term expires in December, and a GOP-controlled Senate would probably block any replacement Obama nominates, so Schiffer’s exit would leave the board with two Republican (Philip Miscimarra and Harry Johnson, III) and two Democrats (Mark Gaston Pearce and Kent Hirozawa).

“I think what they really want to do is shut down the inner workings of the NLRB and keep them from doing their job,” said Lawrence Mishel, president of the Economic Policy Institute.

Already, the NLRB is in the process of reissuing hundreds of decisions invalidated by a Supreme Court ruling that Obama didn’t have the authority to make recess appointments.

Such a corporate-cozy battle plan isn’t exactly news – or new.

A related conspiracy of sorts was hatched 43 years ago by future Supreme Court Justice Lewis F. Powell, Jr., a corporate lawyer and Big Tobacco lobbyist who issued a confidential memo for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce that provided a blueprint for corporate supremacy.

Issued August 8, 1971, Powell’s manifesto, “The Attack on the American Free Enterprise System,” said the nation still embraced New Deal values (that government should help remedy inequality, injustice and other problems), and corporate America should change that by reasserting its influence.

Powell said Business must counter workers’ power by dominating government policy by investing in more lobbyists, conservative “think tanks,” Political Action Committee campaign contributions, bolstered public relations, and commercial support for Right-Wing causes and voices.

The memo also urged “constant surveillance” of textbook and TV content, and purging progressive perspectives from books and other media.

Today, some corporations already defy the law, whether it’s labor law, financial regulations, or pollution protections. They bust unions, off-shore operations and profits, misclassify workers to engage in “wage theft,” and – through groups such as the Koch brothers’ American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) and Super PACs such as Karl Roves’ Crossroad GPS – draft legislation and elect their candidates.

So: Tax burdens are lifted from corporations and shouldered by everyday people; retirement benefits are weakened; wealth is dramatically transferred to the 1 percent; and so on.

But that’s not enough for extremists aiming to take over Capitol Hill.

If it’s a war these corporate conservatives declare, the response should be that once expressed by voting-rights pioneer Susan B. Anthony, who said, “ ‘Organize, agitate, educate’ must be our war cry.”

[PICTURED: Matt Wuerker cartoon from hightowerlowdown.org]

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Business-gov’t group ALEC seeing defections

Bill Knight column for Thurs., Fri., or Sat., Oct. 16, 17 or 18

Organizing can achieve results, and collective strength sometimes overcomes powerful interests.

For example, days after progressive groups, led by the Teachers union, cited the American Legislative Exchange Council’s secretive, extremist opposition to Internet neutrality, clean energy and labor rights, and wrote Google executives to ask them dump its membership in ALEC, Google quit the group, which is backed by the Koch brothers.

Co-signers of the letter included the AFL-CIO, AFSCME, the Alliance for Retired Americans, the Communications Workers, Good Jobs First, the Service Employees, the Steelworkers, the Teamsters, the United Food and Commercial Workers, and Working America.

In an interview on National Public Radio’s “Diane Rehm Show,” Google chairman Eric Schmidt said his company was dropping its ALEC membership over the group’s environmental policies, commenting, “[Google] has a very strong view that we should make decisions in politics based on facts. What a shock! And the facts of climate change are not in question. The people who oppose it are really hurting our children and our grandchildren and making the world a much worse place. They’re just literally lying.”

ALEC is notorious for its Radical Right agenda, from anti-worker laws to the “Stand Your Ground” measure passed by the GOP-run Florida legislature. That law let a neighborhood watch “volunteer” in 2012 go free after fatally shooting unarmed African-American teen Trayvon Martin. The incident sparked nationwide protests and was cited by dozens of companies who left ALEC.

ALEC, based in Alexandria, Va., maintains a library of “model” state legislation and connects businesses with a network of lawmakers – sort of acting as a pimp for elected officials selling their services. But offering corporate members a voice in policymaking when that means extremist-conservative policies have caused labor unions, civic organizations, nonprofits and shareholder-activist groups to pressure companies – who pay thousands for ALEC membership – to quit.

Google’s departure came after Microsoft left ALEC in July, and it was followed by Facebook, YELP, Yahoo, Uber and Lyft. Also, the American Sustainable Business Council, which says it represents more than 200,000 businesses in the United States, issued a statement praising companies who’ve canceled their ALEC memberships “over ALEC’s obstruction of America’s transition to a renewable energy economy,” said David Levine, co-founder and CEO of the business group.

The impact on ALEC as a result of the desertion of large corporations could weaken it as an entity that sponsors and passes destructive legislation, and it could snowball to encourage other responsible businesses to flee the Right-wing consortium. Already, Walden Asset Management, which manages $3 billion in investor money, has asked dozens of companies – including Comcast, eBay, Exxon-Mobil and UPS – to reassess their involvement with ALEC, according to Senior Vice President Tim Smith, who said, “We think that the company’s reputation is hurt by the relationship. We think that they’re supporting a very, very partisan political agenda and it is actually an unwise use of shareholder money.”

Almost 100 companies have left ALEC since 2011, when the Center for Media and Democracy, Common Cause and other groups focused on campaign finance reform, environmental issues, and labor rights all started to pressure companies to leave ALEC.

Jay Riestenberg, a Common Cause policy analyst, said, “These companies have decided it’s just not worth it anymore. I think with the departure of Google, Facebook, Yahoo, Yelp … people aren’t going to take ALEC seriously.”

Activists are now moving to pressure eBay and AOL to drop their involvement with ALEC.

MoveOn.org’s Marisol Garcia, whose effort, “AOL: If you’re in ALEC, you’ve got fail,” is online, said, “We need to tell AOL that, like dial-up Internet users in an age of broadband, continuing their ALEC membership means they’ll only fall further behind.”

She added, “Sign our petition and tell AOL to take a stand against ALEC’s dirty politicians and backroom deals.”

[PICTURED: Graphic from "Big Education Ape (A Parent Engaged)."]

Sunday, October 12, 2014

People, troops polls apart on military escalation?

Bill Knight column for Thurs., Fri., or Sat., Oct. 9, 10 or 11

Despite more than a decade of war and the immeasurable cost in treasure and lives lost and hurt, about one-third of those responding to an Associated Press/GfK poll support going beyond air strikes against the ISIS terrorist group and putting U.S. military “boots on the ground” in Iraq or Syria.

Of course, that means about 70 percent did not voice support for such an escalation.

The poll – which also concluded that 53 percent now think there’s a high risk of a terrorist attack inside the United States – showed that the country is split about evenly on how President Obama is handling the crisis.

Other recent polls by Washington Post-ABC News and Wall Street Journal/NBC News have suggested rising public support for stepped-up air strikes. Since such assertions contrast with polling this summer that suggested significant opposition to any expanded military operations abroad, reasonable people may conclude that officials and media alarmists are influencing people’s shifting opinions.

In fact, according to Gallup, a majority of Americans continues to say that the country shouldn’t have invaded Iraq in 2003 and shouldn’t conduct direct military action again to support the Iraqi government in the fight against ISIS. Past opinion polls also have shown that the U.S. public has been consistently wary about military intervention in the Syrian civil war.

“At this point it remains unclear if American public opinion is changing more generally on military and foreign policy issues, or if recent shifts are unique to the challenge posed by the Islamic State,” writes Leighton Walter Kille of the Shorenstein Center on Media, Politics and Public Policy at Harvard University. “After all, public sentiment is often unpredictable on matters of war and peace, as history shows.”

Indeed, through the decades, many “armchair soldiers” in the comfort of their homes have voiced support for military action, according to Gallup:

* 47% backed the U.S. effort to enforce a U.N. “no fly” zone in Libya in March 2011;
* 37% supported a “surge” of deployed troops to Afghanistan in November 2009;
* 66% approved of President Bush’s 2003 demand that dictator Saddam Hussein leave Iraq in 48 hours;
* 88% agreed with invading Afghanistan in October 2011, a month after 9/11;
* 42% approved President Clinton’s use of air strikes against Serbian forced is Kosovo in October 1998;
* 49% supported sending troops to Bosnia in May 1993;
* 49% also backed deploying troops to Kuwait and Iraq in December 1990;
* about 75% thought it was justified to launch air strikes against Libya in March 1986 in retaliation for dictator Muammar Qaddafi firing missiles at U.S. assets;
* more than 40% approved President Johnson continuing U.S. involvement in Vietnam in February 1965; and
* 54% endorsed going to war with China in July 1950 if that country sent troops to help North Korean forces.

That all might seem to indicate somewhat of a civilian willingness to go to war, but look again: Often the majority does NOT support military intervention. And what about those with real, on-the-ground, close-up experiences? What do they think about the current Middle East crisis?

About 70 percent of the military rank and file are opposed to expanding the military mission to Iraq and Syria, according to a Military Times newspaper survey of active-duty personnel.

(Yes, that roughly corresponds to the civilians in the AP/GfK poll who did not voice support for “boots on the ground.”)

Some members of the military conceded that there can be a lingering feeling that the nation doesn’t want its fallen servicemen and -women to have died for nothing. But that reasoning is flawed, according to Marine 2nd Lt. Christopher Fox, who deployed twice to Iraq.

He told Military Times, published by Gannett, “A lot of people have that ‘sunken cost’ mentality – ‘Since we put so much into it, we can’t pull out right now,’ ” he said. “That is not a good argument for anything.”

So the argument now may be fear – fear stoked, if not contrived, by military leaders, weapons manufacturers, Congressional cheerleaders, and ratings-hungry (or anti-Obama) media mouthpieces.

Shouldn’t we try to tune them out and instead listen to our children in the military?

[PICTURED: "Boots on the Ground" display at the Charleston (W. Va.) Civic Center a decade ago, organized by the West Virginia Patriots for Peace and the American Friends Service Committee to protest hundreds of U.S. fatalities at that point in the invasion and occupation off Iraq. Photo from wvpatriotsforpeace.org.]

Thursday, October 9, 2014

G-O-T-V drives seek to counter indifference, suppression

Bill Knight column for Mon., Tues. or Wed., Oct. 6, 7 or 8

Many Americans are worried about the influence that for-profit corporations and the rich have on elections, but will that concern translate unto a healthy turnout November 4?

The nonpartisan public-interest organization Public Citizen recently announced that more than 1 million U.S. citizens had either signed a petition to bring transparency to corporations contributing shareholder-owned funds to elections, or sent formal comments to the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC).

Public Citizen and the Corporate Reform Coalition – including the League of Women Voters, the Business Ethics Network, the League of Conservation Voters, and the Union of Concerned Scientists – urge the SEC “to require all publicly traded companies to disclose political spending information to their shareholders.

“The rulemaking petition has garnered historic support from investors and the general public,” said Lisa Gilbert, director of Public Citizen's Congress Watch division. However, “the rule was placed on the [SEC’s] agenda … in 2013 but was removed by Chair Mary Jo White earlier this year. Its removal sparked outrage among its advocates, who contend that White is not taking into account the changing needs of investors since the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in ‘Citizens United.’ That ruling gave corporations and the wealthy the green light to spend unlimited sums to influence elections.”

To counter “Citizens United” and the apathy too many Americans have in midterm elections, church, union and other groups are stepping up Get Out The Vote efforts to get people ready, willing and able to vote.

“We have 6 to 10 people staffing our phone banks every night,” said the Illinois Federation of Labor’s Jason Keller, who’s coordinating one program. “It’s not difficult to get volunteers, even though a lot of them work 8 to 5, then come in here and work 5 to 8. Everyone knows it’s important.”

Also important is preparing to vote: getting information about the issues and candidates, and registering (which is quick and easy online via turbovote.org).

After a voter registration event last month, Illinois NAACP leader Don Jackson said, “It can be a real challenge. The process is slow, but we’ll keep going.”

Technology helps such activities. Social media and email as well as radio spots and outreach all can offer details on polling places, early voting and especially absentee voting, which can be done for any reason.

Besides fighting indifference in off-year elections, civic activists are battling a concerted attempt to make voting more difficult. On Nov. 4, almost half of America’s voters will face voting restrictions not in place in 2010, according to the AFL-CIO.

Poll taxes and literacy tests are history, but many people are worried about voter suppression – attempted by means of new limits justified by right-wing interests as answering “voter fraud” – a false premise. (Voter fraud is so rare as to be nonexistent, according to the non-partisan Brennan Center for Justice and even the conservative American Enterprise Institute, which said, “The evidence of significant voter fraud is zero.”)

As far as the influence of money, the Corporate Reform Coalition will continue its long-range work to shed sunshine on campaign contributions despite setbacks.

A majority of the U.S. Senate in September voted for a Constitutional amendment to restore the ability of Congress and the states to set rules on campaign fund raising and spending to help prevent the rich and powerful from buying elections. However, 42 Republicans voted against the measure, able to “filibuster this measure and instead choose to support a broken system that prioritizes corporations and billionaires over regular voters,” commented U.S. Sen. Morris Udall (D-N.M.), who sponsored the bill. Still, “today was a historic day for campaign finance reform, with more than half of the Senate voting on a constitutional amendment to make it clear that the American people have the right to regulate campaign finance.”

Without grassroots Get Out The Vote and registration drives, Mark Karlin of Buzzflash wrote, “What we end up with is a spectacle of faux-democracy in which voters are marionettes. Their strings are pulled by ads, corporate media and propaganda financed by corporations and 1%-ers, [and] voters do not get a crumb of information on which corporations are manipulating them.”

[PICTURED: Graphic from the American Democracy Project at UNK.edu.]

Sunday, October 5, 2014

Solidarity with the Browns, Ferguson and unarmed youths

Bill Knight column for Thurs., Fri., or Sat., Oct. 2, 3 or 4

Ferguson, Mo., Police Chief Tom Jackson last week publicly apologized to the family of unarmed African-American teen Michael Brown, fatally shot by a local police officer in August, saying he was sorry for their loss, for taking hours to remove his body from the street, and for interfering with demonstrators’ rights, but a grand jury there is still deliberating and the FBI still investigating.

Besides such a crawl toward justice, Brown’s killing may reveal the results of economic disparity and political disenfranchisement, and the challenge to and response by labor and progressive groups. However, complaints that unions haven’t weighed in on the tragedy – or aren’t doing enough to demand that cops must stop killing unarmed people – overlook labor’s engagement (although the criticism has some merit for the Left).

After all, AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka and Missouri AFL-CIO President Mike Louis both have spoken forcefully about the situation, as has the St. Louis Labor Council, plus the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Council 72, the American Federation of Government Employees, the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 1, and others.

This horrendous act is not the same as the case of Trayvon Martin, another unarmed African-American teen gunned down. There, the shooter was a violent vigilante who wasn’t even going to be arrested, much less tried, if not for an organized outcry. Instead, the Ferguson killing was by a policeman – a union member, Trumka noted – and it exemplifies an entrenched set of questionable practices by law enforcement and the consequences of an eroding middle class.

Ferguson, North St. Louis County and all its communities have suffered decades of economic disinvestment, loss of manufacturing jobs, and massive disruption by highway construction and airport expansion, the St. Louis American newspaper editorialized, writing, “The mortgage bubble really burst in these areas, with rampant home foreclosures. Large retail areas have been abandoned. Disillusionment, resentment and tension set in where economic opportunities, recreation and thriving businesses once flourished.”

Communications Workers of America Local 6355 President Bradley Harmon told Press Associates, Inc. that unemployment among young black men in the St. Louis area is extraordinarily high – 47 percent – and Brown was a Normandy High School graduate in a struggling school district taken over by the state and in the process of being privatized. Harmon said, “These are issues that are at the heart of the labor movement.”

Civil rights groups have been active, as have clergy. For instance, a group of about 100 religious leaders marched from Clayton, Mo., to the office of St. Louis County Prosecutor Bob McCullough to demand an expedited grand jury hearing and the arrest of the shooter, Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson. En route, Protestant ministers, Catholic priests and representatives of various faiths demonstrated, repeating the episode’s stark phrase, “Hands up, don’t shoot!” But rather than asking, “Where is labor?” in almost an accusatory way, critics might legitimately wonder where the National Organization for Women is, or MoveOn.org, Amnesty International, reproductive rights activists, the Occupy movement, climate justice people, or even public figures such as Major League Baseball players and “Cardinal Nation.”

Writing about demands on athletes to publicly insist on stopping such tragedies, Nation magazine sports editor Dave Zirin said, “We need the full weight of [all] these organizations. We need them using their reservoirs of power, money and influence to demilitarize police departments, demand civilian review boards for the police, and stop the violence. We need them showing the true meaning of solidarity; the idea that injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere, and our struggles are conjoined.”

The Rev. Martin Rafanan -- co-chair of the St. Louis Workers Rights Board of Jobs with Justice and community director for Show Me $15, the fast-food workers advocacy group -- linked the killing to economic inequality. Such injustice, Rafanan said, is “held in place by structural oppression based on race, class and human identities. Without the ability to have the resources to meet basic human needs, take care of families, and create opportunity and dignity in our neighborhoods, Ferguson will happen over and over again. The wealth in the nation is going to capital rather than workers, and that must change.”

Labor is involved, as it must be – as must all progressives.

[PICTURED: St. Louis Labor Tribune photo of AFL-CIO president Richard Trumka addressing the Missouri AFL-CIO convention Sept. 15, when he said the labor movement must stand up for everyone, regardless of race, religion or sexual orientation. "An attack on one is an attack on all," he said.]

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Optimism vs. pessimism on climate change

Bill Knight column for Mon., Tues. or Wed., Sept. 29, or 30 or Oct. 1

Many Americans are old enough to remember living with coal-fired furnaces belching sooty smoke throughout neighborhoods, emptying bleach into wells or cisterns to make water drinkable, and witnessing lakes depleted due to droughts. But as fond as some memories may be of the not-unpleasant smell of that smoke, of surviving questionable drinking water, and of lakes eventually becoming replenished, most concede that life is better because of less pollution.

But the stakes are higher now.

Fortunately, there is hope, although the pessimists range from the right-wing Koch Brothers to progressives such as author Naomi Klein.

On the upside, about 400,000 demonstrators last week marched through New York City, plus other world cities, demanding that government leaders take action to stop climate change, before a United Nations summit, followed a day later by Flood Wall Street, where protestors conducted sit-ins on the financial district.

The actions weren’t just the Usual Suspects either. Sure, there was former Vice President Al Gore and actor-activists Mark Ruffalo and Leonardo DiCaprio, but also marching were U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon and U.S. labor unions, students and veterans, nuns and farmers and more – all recognizing that even on a planet facing crises such as Ebola, ISIS and the Ukraine, there is no threat as great as Earth’s climate change, tied to human activities.

Within days, President Obama and China’s Vice Premier Zhang Gaoli at that summit committed to cut greenhouse-gas emissions by the planet’s two biggest economies; more than 100 governments, companies and Non-Governmental Organizations publicly backed a move to limit deforestation, and Obama expanded the Pacific Remote Islands Marine National Monument to some 490,000 square miles, the world’s biggest marine preserve.

Nobel-winning economist Paul Krugman expressed some confidence, citing reports from the International Monetary Fund and the New Climate Economy Project that show that measures to reduce carbon emissions won’t have the dire impact on economies as feared. Further, such action could stimulate growth and result in related benefits such as lower health-care costs.

“Saving the planet would be cheap and maybe even come free,” wrote Krugman, who nevertheless conceded that “prophets of climate despair … wave away all this analysis and declare that the only way to limit carbon emissions is to bring an end to economic growth.”

Klein, in her new book, “This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. the Climate,” asserts that massive transformation is needed.

“Either we embrace radical change, or radical changes will be violently visited upon us,” she writes. “Status quo is no longer an option.”

Indeed, the challenge is formidable. For all of the progress in the last few decades, carbon dioxide levels last year, worldwide, were up faster than any time in 30 years. And climate negotiations in Congress are stalled, thanks to what the League of Conservation Voters’ “2013 National Environmental Scorecard” sees as the most anti-environment House of Representatives ever.

However, the private sector is starting to step up. More than 700 investors, including the coal- and oil-rooted Rockefeller Foundation, last week pledged to divest their holdings from fossil-fuel companies. Even the Union of Concerned Scientists and the Sierra Club are cautiously optimistic.

A remaining hurdle is informing and educating the millions of everyday people who haven’t yet marched, and the media is missing their opportunity – and obligation.

The press watchdog group Fairness and Accuracy In Reporting (FAIR) noted that despite marchers within blocks of news studios, “the highest-profile discussion shows in the corporate media – ABC's ‘This Week,’ NBC's ‘Meet the Press,’ ‘Fox News Sunday’ and ‘Face the Nation’ on CBS – either did not know it was happening or didn't think it was important.”

Only The Nation magazin’s Katrina vanden Heuvel on “The Week” mentioned it, referring to “real security challenges … a catastrophic climate crisis which the Pentagon has called a clear and emerging danger.”

Charles P. Pierce on esquire.com scolded the media for their absence, writing, “So they weren't there. So it didn't happen. But climate change did, and does, and will continue to happen.”

FAIR acknowledged other news, but its report asked, “If a day of massive international climate marches – right ahead of a major United Nations conference – is the wrong time to cover a global climate emergency, when will the right time be?

[PICTURED: Craig Ruttle's photo from Sept. 21's People's Climate March shows a bearded Leonardo DiCaprio, fellow actor Mark Ruffalo (right), and (left) Oren Lyons, an Onondaga Nation faithkeeper demonstrating, from kentucky.com]

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Is the Constitution for African-Americans, too?

Bill Knight column for Thurs., Fri., or Sat., Sept. 25, 26 or 27

Teenager Steve Lohner on July 27 was stopped by local police in Aurora, Colo. (yes, THAT Aurora, Colo.), where they’d been called to the scene because Lohner was walking around carrying a loaded Stoeger P-350 12-gauge shotgun.

Lohner, who’s white, was ticketed – for misdemeanor obstruction for refusing to show identification.

About a week later, 22-year-old John Crawford was browsing in a Beavercreek, Ohio, Wal-Mart when shoppers called police when they saw him carrying what looked like a gun. That was identified as a MK-177 BB gun – after police shouted at him, Crawford said “It’s not real!” and they shot him.

He died at a nearby hospital.

A white guy is a Second-Amendment patriot, but a black man is shot first, before questioned?

The hypocrisy is real, deep and not new.

Now: Picture not one young African-American in a store, but hundreds of black demonstrators, protesting across the Potomac River from Washington, D.C., and armed with AK-47s hanging from their shoulders and pistols in holsters, calling for armed struggle if Congress passed legislation they opposed. Would police – or the National Rifle Association! – see them as peaceful, if dramatic, dissenters expressing their First Amendment right to voice a grievance and Second Amendment right to bear arms?

White Tea Party demonstrators did that in April, 2010.

Better: In the 1960s, the Black Panther Party started patrolling the streets of Oakland, Calif., to follow police officers who they said were harassing and hurting members of the black community. The Panthers were armed, legally. That is, until then-Gov. Ronald Reagan, the conservative Republican, in 1967 signed the Mulford Act, a California measure outlawing carrying loaded firearms in public.

See a pattern?

How about the 2009 Belleville, Ill., incident in which an African-American youth got into a fist-fight with a white boy on a school bus, causing the Drudge Report and Rush Limbaugh to blame the President?

Mainstream conservative Andrew Sullivan in Atlantic Monthly wrote, “The story was a classic school-bus bully incident; it could happen anywhere any time and has happened everywhere at all times with kids of all races, backgrounds and religions. To infer both that it was racially motivated and that this is somehow connected to having a black president is repulsive. Limbaugh … is spewing incendiary racial hatred.”

Indeed, if a black kid was beaten by a white tough on a bus during the Bush presidency, would that somehow have been laid at the door of the White House?

If Tavis Smiley, Cornell West or another prominent African-American voice labeled Jenna or Barbara Pierce, George W. Bush’s twin daughters, a “hillbilly whore” or “trailer trash,” what do you think the outcry would have been? Yet what was the reaction when a conservative web site’s comments about a photo of President Obama’s daughter Malia talking with First Lady Michelle Obama included "Ghetto street trash,” “street whore" and "a bunch of ghetto thugs”?

From the Oval Office to Ferguson, Mo., from the Bill of Rights to the presumption of innocence, different rules apply to different races, classes, genders, and so on. Whether 1%-ers or white southerners persuaded to vote against their own economic interests by prejudice, it’s “white privilege,” says white anti-racist writer Tim Wise, who describes it as “The ability to threaten others, to engage in violent and incendiary rhetoric without consequence, to be viewed as patriotic and normal no matter what you do, and never to be feared and despised as people of color would be, if they tried to get away with half the [stuff] we do.”

If Americans in the 21st century seriously expect individuals to respect laws, they must be part of the solution: ensuring disparities disappear and law enforcement and criminal justice systems apply equally.

Otherwise, troubles and tragedies, dissolution and death could continue.

[PICTURED: Graaphic from criminalizeconservatism.com.]

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Gridlock helped sour voters’ mood

Bill Knight column for Mon., Tues. or Wed., Sept. 22, 23 or 24

Americans’ mood on the economy and politics is sour, and much of it stems from Capitol Hill gridlock organized by Republican leaders and some for-profit corporations’ “war” on workers.

One can’t help but picture a conniving villain rubbing his hands together and cackling, “This is all going according to plan!”

That’s not far from the truth. Conservative William Kristol in The Weekly Standard in July wrote, “If the GOP does nothing, and if Republicans explain that there’s no point acting due to the recalcitrance of the President to deal with the policies that are causing the crisis, the focus will be on the President. Republican incumbents won’t have problematic legislation to defend or questions to answer about what further compromises they’ll make. Republican challengers won’t have to defend or attack GOP legislation. Instead, the focus can be on the President.”

Kristol was addressing the border crisis of thousands of immigrant children, but it echoes the strategy expressed early in Obama’s first term, when Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said, “The single most important thing we want to achieve is for President Obama to be a one-term President.”

Obama concedes that too many people remain too close to poverty and calls for raising the federal minimum wage, but he also claims solid, if slow, economic progress.

However, a Federal Reserve report out last month shows how regular people’s outlook on their financial situation is dismal. The Fed’s “Survey of Household Economics and Decision Making” reveals long-term consequences of the deepest economic downturn in decades. More than 40 percent of respondents say they’d delayed big purchases and 18 percent said they postponed major life decision like buying a home or getting married because of the economy.

The report says, "More than half of those surveyed said they had dipped into their savings as a result of the recession, and more than a third reported 'going without some form of medical care' for financial reasons."

Elsewhere, a survey by Rutgers University’s John J. Heldrich Center for Workforce Development shows only 16 percent of people believe things will improve for the next generation (compared to 56 percent in 1999). Also, 78 percent say they have "not much" or "no confidence at all" that government would make things better (more than 59 percent in 2009).

Just as Congressional gridlock ignores what many people would consider important priorities – from infrastructure and education to defense and “domestic tranquility,” that strategy victimizes all Americans touched by Congress’ contemptible action – or lack of action.

But it’s had an effect. Voters are sick and tired of politics, feeling powerless more than angry.

“The preferences of the average American appear to have only a miniscule, near-zero, statistically non-significant impact upon public policy,” according to a new report from Benjamin Page from Northwestern and Martin Gilens from Princeton, who analyzed about 1,800 policy issues in detail, determining the relative influence that the 1%, Big Business, mass-constituency groups, and everyday people have on them.

Their material comes from feedback gathered between 1981 and 2002 – before the financial meltdown and bailout of Wall Street, before Supreme Court decisions like “Citizens United,” and before the worst “do-nothing” Congress in U.S. history. But it points to a decades-long attack on the middle class that, combined with stagnating wages, moving jobs overseas, and union-busting, has resulted in families having less time and fewer groups to which people belong.

Whether union locals or church associations, Kiwanis clubs or neighborhood groups, such organizations with mass constituencies used to make up a countervailing force politicians listened to.

However, “political parties stopped representing the views of most constituents,” writes former Labor Secretary Robert Reich. “As the costs of campaigns escalated, parties morphed from state- and local-membership organizations into national fund-raising machines. We entered a vicious cycle in which political power became more concentrated in monied interests that used the power to their advantage – getting tax cuts, expanding tax loopholes, benefiting from corporate welfare and free-trade agreements, slicing safety nets, enacting anti-union legislation, and reducing public investments.”

Still, accepting a “you can’t fight City Hall” mentality or surrendering to the “inevitability” of economic or political doom won’t help our standard of living or economic justice, a responsive republic or responsible elected officials.

“The monied interests are doing what they do best – making money,” Reich said. “The rest of us need to do what we can do best – use our voices, our vigor and our votes. If we give up on politics, we’re done for. Powerlessness is a self-fulfilling prophecy.”

[PICTURED: Republican Senate Leader McConnell depicted as if Congress had sponsor logos like NASCAR drivers. Graphic from laborspains.blogspot.com]