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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, September 25, 2016

Mega-livestock farms stranger than fiction, still a threat

Bill Knight column for Thursday, Friday or Saturday, Sept. 22, 23 or 24

The pipeline protests near North Dakota’s Standing Rock reservation are finally getting media attention for efforts to prevent the Missouri River, as well as sacred sites, from being spoiled. There and in more than 100 demonstrations nationwide, people are objecting to Dakota Access’s $3.8 billion, 30-inch pipeline planned to run 1,100 miles from North Dakota through Illinois to link up with pipelines carrying the oil to Texas refineries to ship overseas.

But in Illinois, a different “spoilage” threatens residents, the environment, and the future: huge livestock farms.

This month, the issue was made more real at the 2016 Factory Farm Summit: “Demanding Accountability in Animal Agriculture.” Held in Green Bay, Wis., the get-together reinforced those working to conserve land and property, to protect rural areas and a way of life at risk, and to encourage the thousands of people affected by factory farms to resist unwelcome intruders.
The issue isn’t new. Eighteen years ago I edited and wrote a chapter for the round-robin murder mystery “Naked Came the Farmer,” a group novel that touched on the troubling trend. Author Bill Brashler (“The Bingo Long Traveling All-Stars and Motor Kings”) commented, “treachery, debauchery and sly innuendo ooze through the narrative like waste from a hog farm.”

And through the years, disputes have continued throughout the state.

“Unfortunately, Big Ag – which includes Big Hog, Big Chicken and Big Cattle – would have you believe that despoiling our land, air and water with animal waste is just another part of country living,” commented radio host Mike Nowak, who covered the two-day event. “They just don’t understand why regular folks can’t stand the stench or the dead fish in the rivers or the plummeting property values of those homes unfortunate enough to be in the way of a factory farm.”

Illinois’ law covering these mega-farms is a joke. The Livestock Management Facilities Act is one of the nation’s worst, failing to address what was explained to an aide in Gov. Jim Edgar’s office in the 1990s: S.W.I.N.E.

That acronym stood for factory farms’ Smell, Water in jeopardy, Indemnification making polluters pay for damages their mega-farms cause, Nutrient overloading dangers from animal waste damaging soil and acreage, and Enforcement of whatever regulations the legislature can muster.

Citizen groups such as the Illinois Citizens for Clean Air and Water (ICCAW) are demanding reforms like these:

* Require all concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs) to register with the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency so IEPA has an accurate location database. Now, the agency has little idea how many mega-farms exist or here they are.

* Require large CAFOs to get permits from the IEPA to operate – and prevent pollution. (Today, little happens until after pollution has occurred.)

* Close the loophole in the state Department of Agriculture’s regulations letting facilities more than double their size every two years – with no public informational meetings.

* Allow county boards to convene public hearings and issue binding recommendations to the Illinois Department of Ag about siting and construction of large-scale livestock confinement operations. Currently, an elected county board can reject a proposed CAFO, but the Ag department can override local decisions.

* Give adjoining landowners, neighbors and others affected by proposed or expanding mega-farms the legal standing to call for public hearings on applications – and the right to appeal decisions by the Ag department.

* Create setbacks from surface waters and increase setbacks from homes and towns for large facilities.

* Require all such livestock facilities to submit waste-management plans with spill controls and prevention plans to be approved by the state before siting and construction approvals, and mandate such plans be subject to public review and comment as part of the application process.

The dangers from factory farms are horrific, but they aren’t fiction. As “Naked Came the Farmer” noted in its 1998 disclaimer, “Names, characters, places and incidents either are products of the authors’ imaginations or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events or locales, or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental. [But] the mega-farm trend [is] real. Very real.”

[PICTURED: 'Naked Came the Farmer' cover, by Roland Millington.]

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

‘Everything’s Jake’

Bill Knight column for Mon., Tues. or Wed., Sept. 19, 20 or 21

It was a good day.

A breezy, sunny Sunday – hours before a 16-foot-wide, centuries-old oak tree shading the hike was toppled by a windstorm – the day started by sharing breakfast with 6-year-old Jake, who’d loved the trip, and it ended with a leisurely walk through a park.

“Everything’s Jake,” was the thought, the 100-year-old slang for “everything’s fine.”

But it wasn’t really. There were threatening “clouds”: inexplicable kidney failure, anemia and mounting dread approached.
The loss of a dog is like few sorrows. Many folks suffer profound troubles and tragedies, but animals’ special innocence makes their passing almost unique. There are questions and confusion, a growing, gripping grief, and appreciation – even inspiration.

Maybe it’s like losing a limb or a sense, like feeling or smelling. Merely remembering what it’s like to throw a baseball or write with a pen, to touch an infant or smell lilacs or popcorn aren’t the same.

When these friends pass, aches reveal voids, vacuums. The pain of separation will never be less empty, never easy. Now, here, the wound is too fresh to imagine the emotional scab, much less the lifelong scar. It’s difficult to focus on a task or conversation, a story or page or word.

The time seems bleak, brightened some by thoughtful friends offering perspective and helping fight off self-pity and instead reach for the awareness of a gift to have shared the presence, and suffer the absence, of a furry pal.

Over 10 weeks of Jake’s illness, a nagging feeling of failure sometimes arose, especially when the four-legged friend looked on as if to plead for help. Over months, questions arose, asked in panic: What’s it mean when Jake’s breath is sulfuric, when he stops going upstairs? When he eats grass and craves dirt, and his appetite diminishes and his weight drops and his energy ebbs? And he still snuggles?

When prayers seem for naught?

Life’s mysteries may be meant to remain unsolved.

Urgent measures to fight Jake’s organ failure and increasing distress ranged from prescription food and a variety of vitamins and minerals to alternating hot- and cold-packs and increasingly desperate attempts to get him to eat: Fried chicken thighs, grilled turkey burgers, ground pork, vanilla wafers, salt-free chips, his favorite pizza, and spooned ice cream all worked occasionally, until nothing did except licking med-laced peanut butter off fingertips.

As the daily liter of saline dripped into Jake’s hide, music drifted in from another room: Van Morrison’s “Baby, Please Don’t Go,” then Sonny & Cher’s “Baby Don’t Go,” and it was impossible not to weep as hands massaged him.

Despite the burden of longing, Jake was a blessing, too. Neighbors noticed his energy, greeting sidewalk strolls with “Who’s walking who?” He was even-handed and scrupulously fair, sharing games and toys with everyone in the room: canine kindness. A smart, bright-eyed shelter-dog buddy, Jake wasn’t just an eager-to-please lab. He was jubilant, sometimes wagging his tail as he slept as well as in greeting. In fact, in the misery of his final hours, he wagged as someone approached, put his paw on an arm, and licked hands that tried to soothe him.

Sadness and bliss needn’t be “either/or,” it’s said, it’s “both/and.” Further, people could be better because they’d had such companions for a time. A favorite t-shirt says, “Lord, help me be the person my dog thinks I am.”

Indeed, Jake might be a role model of sorts: a being that was forgiving and accepting, alert and vigilant, excited to watch TV or sit in the gazebo, enthusiastic to roll in snow or romp with stuffed animals, patient and happy to ride in the car, and always joyful and loving without condition.

What great goals – along with taking naps (and, OK, without lunging toward trucks towing trailers or leaving nose marks on windows).

Jake lives in our hearts and heads. And Heaven.

He was a good boy.

Sunday, September 18, 2016

Politicians take the credit but not the blame

Bill Knight column for Thursday, Friday or Saturday, Sept. 15, 16 or 17

Elected officials are notorious for showing up at ribbon-cuttings – especially during campaign seasons – and not every photo op is at a new road or hospital wing. (A great newspaper editor I worked for once quipped about an area state lawmaker, “He’d show up at the opening of an envelope!”)

A question: When it comes to the flip side of accountability – will they accept blame as well as credit?

Crickets.

That’s becoming increasingly apparent as more details and analysis come out about how Illinois got into its current fiscal mess.

Economist Thomas Walstrum from the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago examined more than two decades’ of finances by Illinois government, and he confirmed what most everyday Illinoisans know instinctively. Lawmakers spent more revenue than was generated, and they kept at it in a bipartisan frenzy of short-sighted selfishness or cowardice: giving the public what they wanted to get re-elected, but not risking voters’ ire by proposing taxes to actually pay for it.

Walstrum’s sober study – “The Illinois budget crisis in context: A history of poor fiscal performance” – finds plenty of blame to go around in Springfield by Republicans and Democrats alike – since 1989. That means it’s lasted from the administrations of Republicans Jim Thompson, Jim Edgar and George Ryan as well as Democrats Rod Blagojevich and Pat Quinn before GOP Gov. Bruce Rauner took office.

Walstrum shows that while most states across the country spent an average of 5.7 percent more than they had over that time, Illinois governments together spent 15.9 percent more than the treasury could pay for.

During those decades of foolishness, they counted on high investment returns to continue indefinitely, borrowed money outright or indirectly by underfunding required pension obligations, conveniently overlooked increasing interest payments, slowed down paying bills to the point of absurdity, and avoided talk of a tax hike like Donald Trump would meeting a Hispanic Muslim woman veteran.

“Over the years, lawmakers used a variety of techniques to put off paying the bills,” Walstrum said. “Such techniques can work for only so long, and Illinois is now coming to terms with over 20 years of poor fiscal performance.”

Now, millionaire politicians such as Rauner mimic their private-sector peers in laying claim to creating wealth but warning Illinoisans we should be prepared to “share the pain” to come. But did such powerful figures really create wealth, or buildings, or jobs – or problems?

They certainly seemed willing and eager to take the credit or the gains, but they’ve avoided the risks and definitely don’t share society’s pains. With their riches came power – power that lets them influence policy and manipulate media (and those susceptible to soothing, if wacky, messages), but to what end? For another reelection? For enough booty to retire to some other state with an infrastructure, humane social programs and a balanced budget? For a legacy they’ll try to draft, regardless of reality?

What of us, those who work and produce, and, yes, pay taxes to provide decent schools, roads,, protections for neighborhoods, the needy, the aged or infirm?

The situation is reminiscent of a poem, “A Worker Reads History,” by Bertolt Brecht (“The Threepenny Opera,” “Mother Courage and Her Children”).

Brecht wrote, “Who built the seven gates of Thebes? The books are filled with names of kings./ Was it the kings who hauled the craggy blocks of stone?/ … Young Alexander conquered India./ He alone?/ Caesar beat the Gauls./ Was there not even a cook in his army?/ … So many particulars./ So many questions.”

[PICTURED: Walstrum (top) and Brecht.]

Thursday, September 15, 2016

Non-union workers hurt by anti-labor policies, too: study

Bill Knight column for Mon., Tues. or Wed., Sept., 12, 13 or 14

Decades of attacks on organized labor have hurt all workers, union and non-union, according to a study released late last month, days before a new book offered signs of hope for regular working people.

If union memberships had stayed at a level comparable to 1979’s numbers, non-union workers in the private sector would have earned an annual average of 5 percent more (about $2,700 a year), according to a new study by the labor-backed Economic Policy Institute (EPI), “Union decline lowers wages of non-union workers.”

EPI shows the decline in union membership costs non-union workers together about $133 billion per year. That translates to the average non-unionized male worker without a college degree failing to earn an additional $3,016, EPI reports, and those with only a high school diploma or less sacrificing more: $3,172.

“In the debates over the causes of wage stagnation, the decline in union power has not received nearly as much attention as globalization, technological change, and the slowdown in Americans’ educational attainment,” write EPI’s Patrick Denice, Jennifer Laird and Jake Rosenfeld. “Unions, especially in industries and regions where they are strong, help boost the wages of all workers by establishing pay and benefit standards that many nonunion firms adopt. But this union boost to nonunion pay has weakened as the share of private-sector workers in a union has fallen from 1 in 3 in the 1950s to about 1 in 20 today.”

Unions, of course, improve working conditions and pay for members, but their efforts also affect all workers. Unions’ mere presence achieves this by employers competing with decent wages, hours and working conditions to discourage organizing by non-union employees; by politicking for overall workplace gains through legislation; and through larger social influences promoting a fair share for everyday workers.

“Something changed,” writes Richard Eskow of Campaign for America’s Future. “Popular culture in the 1980s glamorized greedy Wall Streeters and celebrated the Gilded Age excesses of a tiny but highly visible ultra-wealthy class. (Remember Gordon Gekko, and ‘Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous’?) Then tech entrepreneurs hijacked our national mythos with an Internet-fueled ideological fantasy: that anybody with a great idea could become a billionaire on the Web.

“Working people lost their place in the national pantheon,” Eskow adds. “How could the rights of ‘ordinary’ men and women compete with the jet-piloting or turtleneck-wearing star power of billionaire CEOs, those temperamental tyrants whose collective passage from nerdy losers to corporate predators had forged a new Hero’s Journey for our soul-sick age?”

However, politics at state and national levels changed dramatically. The Eisenhower-era Republican Party was far different that today’s GOP. Ike – whose first-term Secretary of Labor, Martin Patrick Durkin, was a plumber – publicly boasted of the growth of organized labor. Meanwhile, the Democratic Party and its “New Democrats” in the 1980s and ’90s moved closer to Wall Street and the technology boom, dismissing unions like a pumpkin in a punch bowl. Plus, a trend has been increasingly accepted as the New Normal: the so-called sharing economy, promoting “flexible” contingent jobs such as part-time teachers and Uber drivers.

But among unions’ rank and file, labor unrest in the United States last year was more frequent and widespread, according to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, which noted that strikes involved about 47,000 workers. That was the first year since 2011 that saw the number of work stoppages increase, and the first year since 2012 to see the number of workers involved in industrial disputes rise.

That’s an early insight in the new book “Necessary Trouble: Americans in Revolt,” by Sarah Jaffe, who notes recent good news in progressive mass movements and grassroots actions including Occupy Wall Street, the sit-down strike and ultimate takeover of the Republic Windows and Doors factory in Chicago, the teachers’ strike there, and the nationwide OUR Walmart and Fight for 15 struggles.

One strength of such revivals of job actions and emerging movements is what’s called “intersectionality,” the circumstance where people experience various types of oppression such as job discrimination, racism and sexism) as “intertwined, overlapping experiences.”

Such actions often are “analyzed as if they had each happened in a vacuum,” Jaffe continues. “In fact, as I followed them through the years, I would find similar patterns and even direct connections between them.”

As always, organizing is key, Jaffe writes.

“The next challenge for the movements will be creating organizations that last, that suit the needs of 21st-century troublemakers, that can be flexible and still enduring, that can overlap and connect up with one another and create more long-term plans for the future they want to see,” she says.

[PICTURED: Photo from uaw.org.]

Sunday, September 11, 2016

Saluting or sitting for the National Anthem

Bill Knight column for Thursday, Friday or Saturday, Sept. 8, 9 or 10

As attacks persist against San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick declining to stand during the National Anthem, maybe critics of the athlete should step back. Rather than trying to put him in his place, they should put themselves in his place.

As an African-American (albeit raised by a white couple), Kaepernick, 28, understandably empathizes with victims of violence from his greater community, and recognizes that as a affluent public figure he has status to express outrage with a measure of safety.

Of course, there are consequences to taking a public stand.

Protesting racism in general and police killings of African-Americans in particular, Kaepernick said, “I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color … There are bodies in the street and people getting paid leave and getting away with murder.

“There is police brutality,” he continued. “People of color have been targeted by police. So that’s a large part of it and they’re government officials. They are put in place by the government. So that’s something that this country has to change.”

The team issued a statement, saying, “We recognize the right of an individual to choose and participate, or not, in our celebration of the National Anthem,” but there’s been a firestorm of anger and some racism at Kaepernick.

His demonstration sparked a level of scorn missing from too many people about too many shootings. The backlash now includes the Santa Clara police union threatening to withdraw protection for the team’s Levi’s Stadium – a reaction virtually proving Kaepernick’s point that some police misuse their power.

But he’s received support from some unusual places. Facts about unjustified shootings “don’t lie,” wrote sports editor Al Saracevic of the team’s hometown paper, the San Francisco Chronicle. “Nor do the videos.” On football fields, Kaepernick last week was joined by teammate Eric Reid in kneeling during the “Star Spangled Banner” before a game at San Diego, where the crowd mostly ignored it. Elsewhere, Seattle Seahawks cornerback before a game at Oakland also sat in solidarity. And some veterans also back the protest, posting comments on Twitter under the hashtag “#Veteransfor Kaepernick.”

Veterans’ comments include: “I serve to protect your freedoms, not a song” (“Marco”); “We’re actually not all self-centered racists” (Ed Beck); “Everyone should be speaking out on this. Fascism is not welcome here.” (Charles Clymer); “I didn’t volunteer to defend a country where police brutality is swept under the rug” (“Baltic Avenue”).

Kaepernick – who’s said the demonstration is not anti-military, adding that he has "great respect for the men and women who have fought for this country” – also pledged to donate $1 million to community organizations working for social-justice.

“I've been very blessed to be in this position and make the kind of money I do, and I have to help these people. I have to help these communities," said Kaepernick, who earns $19 million a year as an NFL player. “We have a lot of issues in this country that we have to deal with. Police brutality is a huge thing that needs to be addressed.”

Kaepernick hasn’t mentioned objections to the National Anthem’s lyrics, but that complaint would have merit, too. Penned by slave owner Francis Scott Key during the War of 1812 against the British – who freed escaping slaves when possible – “The Star Spangled Banner” has a startling reference to workers and black Americans in the third of its four original verses: “… Their blood has washed out their foul footsteps' pollution./ No refuge could save the hireling and slave/ From the terror of flight, or the gloom of the grave…”

One of the most perceptive observations came from NBA all-time leading scorer Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, a former U.S. cultural ambassador and author. He wrote, “What makes an act truly patriotic and not just lip-service is when it involves personal risk or sacrifice. Kaepernick’s choice not to stand during the National Anthem could create a public backlash that might cost him millions in future endorsements and affect his value as a player.

“We should admire those who risk personal gain in the service of promoting the values of their country,” Abdul-Jabbar continued. “What should horrify Americans is not Kaepernick’s choice to remain seated during the National Anthem. Failure to fix this problem is what’s really un-American.”

Instead of blasting Kaepernick, his critics might wonder why the national hasn’t lived up to the Pledge of Allegiance: “with liberty and justice for all.”

Respected baseball great Jackie Robinson saw that, writing in his 1972 memoir, “I cannot stand and sing the anthem. I cannot salute the flag. I know that I am a black man in a white world.”

[PICTURED: Former Army Ranger Rory Fanning at Wrigley Field, declining to stand for "The Star Spangled Banner" in support of Kaepernick. Photo from blacksportsonline.com.]

Thursday, September 8, 2016

Trump’s white working-class support overstated

Bill Knight column for Mon., Tues. or Wed., Sept., 5, 6 or 7

The dominant media narrative and the prominent conventional wisdom is that Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump has won over workers – at least the white working class.

Trump may have successfully changed the cause célèbre of the Republican Party from the champion of Big Business to one purportedly representing regular working people. But Trump is no friend of workers – and the working class apparently knows this, maybe instinctively – despite news stories.

Polls show that Trump is less popular with the white working class than Mitt Romney was in 2012, when the Republican candidate won 62 percent of non-college-educated white voters. A recent NBC-Wall Street Journal poll showed that Trump has just 49 percent backing him, and a McClatchy/Marist poll has Trump at only 46 percent.

Instead, what Trump did do during the primaries was attract support from a segment of the white working class – working people who vote Republican.

And many white working people don’t.

“One third of white working-class voters planning to vote in a GOP primary is not that many people,” said Atlanta, Ga., journalist Zaid Jilani. “Trump got about 13 million primary votes, total. Even if half of those were from white working-class voters, that’s still less than 3 percent of the 226 million eligible voters in 2016.

“And as a group, one of the most defining attributes of the white working class is that fewer of them are voting each year,” Jilani continued. “RealClearPolitics noted that there were more than 6 million fewer white voters in 2012 than there were in 2008, accounting for population growth.”

Besides, Trump is about as contradictory or vague as imaginable, from labor relations and Right To Work to the minimum wage and union rights.

“Trump has failed to articulate substantive policy positions regarding labor issues, other than generic railing against foreign competition and bad trade deals,” commented Raymond Hogler, author of “The End of American Labor Unions: The Right-to-Work Movement and the Erosion of Collective Bargaining.”

Actually, some of those Trump primary supporters have a point, and it’s not on the top of their heads.

Trump did manage to expose the idea that the economic system no longer serves everyday people.

After all, neither major political party has really advocated for meaningful policies to help workers. Manufacturing is gutted from 20 years ago, and the proposed Trans Pacific Partnership promises more of the same shutdown regrets. It’s been bipartisan treachery, barely disguised by Republicans’ discredited trickle-down economics or Democrats’ agonizing pleas for patience.

The power structure most effective in fighting the white working class is made up of an Unholy Trinity of tactics:
* institutions ranging from right-wing talk-radio and Fox News mouthpieces to conservative think tanks,
* phony grassroots groups that are really controlled by political insiders, and
* legal and political maneuvers that challenge social programs and worker-friendly laws, empower campaign contributors, and enable strategies to gerrymander “safe” districts and suppress voting rights.

Sometimes, the onslaught of propaganda, misinformation and divide-and-conquer strategies can have an effect.

“The Tea Party took the deep popular resentment against economic and political elites in the wake of the 2008 economic collapse and channeled it into attacks on the very regulations designed to keep those elites in check,” commented historian Tim Kelly, a professor at St. Vincent College in Pennsylvania. “Just as economic elites had effectively marginalized the Republican Party in the selection of its candidates and the positions that they took in the run-up to elections, the candidates who became senators and representatives worked against the common good in service to their economic sponsors. They attacked environmental and other regulations that impinged on corporate profits, curtailed worker rights, created special tax reductions for various industries and elites, and threatened to shut down the federal government and cause it to default on its loans.”

For the short term, it’s up to white working-class Americans to demand genuine advocates, and to organize to achieve results after winning candidates take office.

Long-term, apart from November’s balloting, there’s a danger that if Democrats don’t restore the party’s roots in and improvements for the working class, Trump’s wacky campaign would pave the way for a different strongman, and a demagogue with real campaigning skills and a less self-absorbed personality could emerge.

[PICTURED: Graphic from aflcio.org.]

Sunday, September 4, 2016

This Labor Day, unions must commit to grinding it out like ballplayers

Bill Knight column for Thursday, Friday or Saturday, Sept. 1, 2 or 3

It’s almost synchronicity this week: Thursday is when MLB teams expand from 25 to 40 players, and on Monday, the nation celebrates Labor Day.

Comparing social movements to sports isn’t always apt, but when looking at labor’s prospects in the foreseeable future, a baseball metaphor seems effective.

In the National Pastime, pitchers don’t just rear back and throw. They anticipate where they’ll move to back up a play if the ball is bunted or hit deep in the outfield. Outfielders look at any runners on base and plan where their cut-off throws will go. Infielders consider situations and know whether they’ll try for a double play or head off a lead runner. Batters survey the number of outs and anyone in scoring position and weigh whether to bunt or try to hit a sacrifice fly or a drive to the opposite field.

Likewise, unionists’ approach today should be to start a play and prepare to respond to reactions by the “opponents”: employers. We aren’t sure where the play will lead; we can only be as ready as possible and try to shape the outcome. To do that – like ballplayers – we imagine possibilities and make choices, like people with free will deciding to be faithful, to be coached and organized, to have hope.

This Labor Day, choose hope. There are signs of optimism, like progressive leadership in strong unions such as the Steelworkers and Communications Workers, labor unions working for reform with allies in community, religious, environmental and Civil Rights organizations.

That said, the opposition is formidable, and labor is the underdog. The more successes we have in organizing, bargaining and enforcing contracts, the tougher contests can be.

However, unions’ great strengths are members’ skills, commitment and perseverance.

“That painstaking approach to organizing is another specialty of the labor movement,” says Pennsylvania political scientist Adolph Reed, author of Class Notes: Posing as Politics and Other Thoughts on the American Scene, “– the pattern of broadening, then consolidating, then broadening some more.”

Progress – winning – can be as difficult as facing an offensive juggernaut fielding a stellar defense and a league-leading pitcher. But it’s possible if we compete as a team, using our whole squad, being creative, and grinding out efforts.

This long election-year campaign has had additional positives, such as the Labor for Bernie venture bringing together disparate interests with a common goal. But for unionists preparing for November, it’s necessary to ask what it means when Democrat Hillary Clinton says she’s a “progressive who likes to get things done.” And it’s doubtful that Clinton defeating Donald Trump will be a “mandate,” given the influence of rich campaign contributors, powerful Wall Street interests, and dominating corporations and lobbyists. So a new administration isn’t certain to be a reliable “teammate.” Still, past victories point to paths to a labor “pennant.”

Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal shows the effectiveness of structural reforms: creating “countervailing power” to help “level the playing field.” Balancing giant business interests were small businesses, political activists at state and local levels, community banks, and especially labor unions. Together, they helped public education grow, infrastructure developments like the Interstates, social programs like Medicare, and reasonable taxes on the wealthy (the marginal income tax rate for top incomes during Eisenhower’s Republican administrations was 91 percent).

Since then, the deregulated financial sector was allowed to gamble with assets and hurt many hometown banks; gerrymandering, campaign finance and voter suppression weakened civic engagement; local retailers lost to the likes of Wal-Mart; funding for state-assisted schools was gutted; roads went unrepaired; social programs were targeted for privatization; and organized labor was devastated.

The 1950s was a high point for a strong working class and growing middle class, a time when more than 30 percent of the U.S. work force belonged to unions, and – according to researchers Frank Levy and Peter Temin’s 2007 study Inequality and Institutions in 20th Century America – that shared success relied on institutional supports drawing on the power of organized labor.

So, we must be hopeful – and prepared – to revive countervailing factors in the economy and nation, with many Americans displacing the dependence on huge donations and restoring involvement at the grassroots level. Already, Bernie Sanders has initiated an organization, “Our Revolution,” to press for progressive change, and a related endeavor, “Brand New Congress,” wants to recruit and run 400 progressive candidates for Congress by 2018. (That’s like a ball club investing in a plan to dramatically improve and invigorating a scouting staff to sign hot prospects.)

Organized labor must build a deep bench, be ready to use the abilities at hand, and commit to grind out every pitch, every at-bat, every play.

And instill in ourselves the hope to keep on.

[PICTURED: Photo illustration from zazzle.com.]

Thursday, September 1, 2016

Woody Guthrie saw Trump legacy in 1950

Bill Knight column for Mon., Tues. or Wed., Aug. 29, 30 or 31

Days ahead of Labor Day 2016, it’s revealing to remember that longtime labor supporter and legendary singer-songwriter Woody Guthrie crossed paths with the Trump clan, and he nothing good to say – or sing – about it.

Sixty-six years ago, the progressive Guthrie had to deal with Donald Trump’s father, real-estate baron Fred Trump, when Guthrie rented an apartment in the elder Trump’s Beach Haven complex near Coney Island, where African-Americans weren’t welcome, according to Will Kaufman, author of the book “Woody Guthrie, American Radical.”

Researching at the Woody Guthrie Center in Tulsa, Okla., Kaufman uncovered Guthrie’s lyrical rewrite of his own song about a homeless worker, “I Ain’t Got No Home.” It expressed Guthrie’s outrage at what the musician/activist saw as Trump’s bigotry:

Beach Haven ain’t my home!/ I just can’t pay this rent!/ My money’s down the drain!/ And my soul is badly bent!

Beach Haven looks like heaven/ Where no black ones come to roam!/ No, no, no! Old Man Trump!/ Old Beach Haven ain’t my home!


Guthrie died at age 55 of Huntington's Disease in 1967, and a few years later, the Nixon administration’s Justice Department sued the Trumps, accusing them of discriminating against African-Americans at Fred and Donald Trump’s housing developments in Queens and Brooklyn. An eventual settlement was reached – a decree the federal investigators called “one of the most far-reaching ever negotiated” – and Trump Management complied but didn’t admit guilt in violating the Fair Housing Act.

This January, Kaufman told the New York Times, “Woody was always championing those who didn’t have a voice, who didn’t have any money, who didn’t have any power.

“There’s no doubt that he would have had maximum contempt for Donald Trump – even without the issue of race,” he said.

Indeed, Guthrie’s perspective might be best expressed in his classic “This Land Is Your Land.” Written in 1940 as a people-oriented response to Irving Berlin’s jingoistic “God Bless America,” it’s still the inspiring anthem Robert F. Kennedy once suggested as an alternative to “The Star Spangled Banner.” Its complete lyrics, as recorded in 1944 and archived in the Smithsonian are:

This land is your land, this land is my land/ From the California to the New York Island,/ From the Redwood Forest, to the Gulf stream waters,/ This land was made for you and me.

As I went walking that ribbon of highway/ And saw above me that endless skyway,/ And saw below me the golden valley, I said:/ “This land was made for you and me.”

I roamed and rambled and followed my footsteps/ To the sparkling sands of her diamond deserts,/ And all around me, a voice was sounding:/ “God blessed America for me.”/ This land was made for you and me.

There was a big high wall there that tried to stop me;/ Sign was painted, it said private property;/ But on the back side it didn't say nothing;/ This land was made for you and me.

When the sun come shining, then I was strolling/ In wheat fields waving and dust clouds rolling;/ The voice was chanting as the fog was lifting:/ “This land was made for you and me.”

One bright sunny morning in the shadow of the steeple/ By the Relief Office I saw my people —/ As they stood hungry, I stood there wondering if/ This land was made for you and me.

Nobody living can ever stop me,/ As I go walking that freedom highway;/ Nobody living can ever make me turn back./ This land was made for you and me.


[PICTURED: Photo from the Woody Guthrie Center.]