Bobby Jindal, Meet Pope Francis

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       By all accounts, Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal is an extremely well-educated person who was once considered to be an up-and-coming star of the Republican Party.

 

        Before he became involved in politics, Jindal received a Bachelor of Science in biology and public policy from Brown University thereafter earned a Master of Letters in political science from New College, Oxford, as a Rhodes Scholar.  In 1996, Governor Murphy Foster appointed Jindal Secretary of the Louisiana Department of Health and Hospitals, and in 1999, he was appointed President of the University of Louisiana System. In 2001, Jindal was appointed as the principal adviser to Tommy Thompson, the United States Secretary of Health and Human Services by President George W. Bush.

 


 

        In 2004, Mr. Jindal was elected as to the United States House of Representatives, reelected in 2006 and in 2007, he became the very first Indian-American to ever be elected as a governor.

 

       It's been all downhill since. In February of 2014, Jindal accused President Obama of appeasement and poor stewardship of the economy.  "What I worry about is that this president and the White House seem to be waving the white flag of surrender after five years under this administration," Jindal announced to reporters. "The Obama economy is now the minimum wage economy. I think we can do better than that. I think America can do better than that."

 

        More recently, New York Times columnist Charles Blow reminded readers that, in January of this year, Jindal repeated a preposterous claim that parts of Europe were "no-go" zones because of Muslim extremists and recalled British Prime Minister David Cameron reply to that claim: "When I heard this, frankly, I choked on my porridge and I thought it must be April Fools' Day. This guy is clearly a complete idiot."

 

       Blow also noted that on March 19th of this year Jindal appeared on Fox News to defend his statement that America "shouldn't tolerate those who want to come and try to impose some variant, or some version, of Shariah law." Jindal added that, "In America we want people who want to be Americans. We want people who want to come here. We don't say, 'You have to adopt our creed, or any particular creed,' but we do say, 'If you come here, you need to believe in American exceptionalism.'"        

 

       In a letter to the editor, Jindal took umbrage at Blow's comments and at recent New York Times' editorial that criticized him and other GOP governors for their failures as chief executives of their states. With regard to Jindal, the editors observed, "Mr. Jindal is blithely dealing with a looming budget gap by proposing draconian cuts of $1.2 billion. Even Louisiana Republicans were decrying a 40 percent cut for the state university until Mr. Jindal on Friday reduced that to a 6 percent cut by adjusting certain tax break programs to increase revenues. Mr. Jindal, in a recent interview with Politico, said he was proud that he had slashed the budget by a quarter and the state work force by almost a third. Mr. Walker seems no less proud of the way his new budget

avoids tax increases by relying on borrowing and spending cuts, particularly for state universities."          

 

        Jindal's reply tends to confirm Blow's conclusion that, "The smart-on-paper Jindal increasingly comes across as nuttier than a piece of praline." Jindal first raised the usual right-wing canard about the alleged ideological bias of the newspaper and its reporters: " Mr. Blow's column and your editorial critical of my record as governor provide good examples of how liberals at The New York Times and I have a different opinion on how to measure successful governance and what it looks like in practice."

 

       Jindal continued, "When I campaigned for governor seven years ago, I promised to make the government smaller and the economy larger. That's exactly what I have done. We cut taxes and reduced the size of government. In fact, the government is smaller by more than $9 billion and 30,000 workers. This fiscal responsibility resulted in eight straight upgrades by the major credit agencies. And what did lower taxes do for our economy? They spurred growth. Louisiana now has higher incomes, a larger gross domestic product, more exports, more jobs and more people than we've ever had in the history of our state. That's a record of which I am proud. I measure success not in the prosperity of government, but in the prosperity of citizens."

 

       Left unexplained by Jindal was how cutting $9 billion dollars in public spending improved the quality of life and public service for the average citizen of his state, nor did he explain how eliminating 30,000 public jobs reduced the overall unemployment rate in Louisiana.

 

       Jindal presides over a state that is, by almost all measures, a rural, third-world, low-wage state. The economy of  Louisiana, aside from tourism, some ship building and commercial fishing, is still largely dominated by oil, gas and extractive mining interests  - i.e. the production of minerals, oil and natural gas, sulfur, lime, salt, lignite; petroleum refining; chemical and petrochemical manufacturing - and agriculture. 

 

        According the U.S. Census Bureau data, Louisiana has fewer high school graduates than almost all other states in the union, and the number of adults who have earned a bachelor's degree or better is well below the national average, as is the number of residents who have ever served in the Armed Forces of the United States. In addition, between 2008-and 2012, Louisiana's median household income lagged almost $10,000 below the national median while the number of persons living in poverty between 2008-2012 - 18.7% or almost one fifth of the states' population - was the second largest recorded number among the 50 states.

 

       A Gallup study reported in USA Today, February 27, 2014, descried Louisiana as the "tenth most miserable state" in the union based upon its misery index. The report summarized its findings: "Louisiana residents suffered from limited access to basic needs. Last year, nearly 9% of those surveyed in the state noted they did not have easy access to clean and safe drinking water, while nearly 12% of residents lacked easy access to medicine, both among the worst rates in the nation. Just 61.4% of respondents felt safe walking home alone at night, the lowest rate in the U.S., and significantly lower than the national rate of more than 70% who felt safe in the same circumstances. Louisiana also ranked among the lowest in healthy behaviors because of its residents' high smoking rate and limited healthy eating. As of 2010, there were 229.4 deaths due to heart disease per 100,000 people in the state, fourth-highest nationally. That same year, life expectancy at birth in the state was just 75.7 years, one of the worst figures in the nation."

 

       Although Jindal claims to be a conservative, to the contrary he is, in fact, an exemplar of a virulent and discredited strain of 19th century classical liberalism that still insists, all evidence to the contrary, that a competitive marketplace with minimal government regulation somehow promotes economic growth and protects personal freedom.

 

       Jindal is unable to reconcile this professed belief with his unwavering support for Louisiana's "right-to-work" laws. Those laws - which epitomize government inference in the most basic unit of economic organization - the work place - impair the ability of employees to organize unions and to bargain freely and collectively with management over wages and working conditions. Those laws also make it virtually impossible for agricultural workers - who are often among the most vulnerable and exploited - to ever be able to improve their standard of living through mutual, collective action.

           

       Gov. Bobby Jindal is also unable to explain how, given his rejection of Medicaid expansion under the Affordable Health Care Act, the "free-for-profit - market" is a more efficient way and effective to improve access to health care, when U.S. Census Bureau data showed that in 2011, 886,000 residents -or roughly 20% of the population of Louisiana-  were uninsured.

 

       Jindal's defense of minimalism and unfettered capital is is utterly alien to the authentic conservative political tradition that traces its lineage from the Greeks and Romans  through Thomas Aquinas to contemporary Catholic thinkers.  In his Apostolic Exhortation, Evangelii Gaudium ("Joy of the Gospel"), Pope Francis restated the historic essence of Catholic social philosophy as he called upon people of good will everywhere, believers  and non-believers alike, to work for a better, more just world.

 

       In unequivocal terms, the pope condemned the free market ideology that has become the conventional wisdom in today's GOP: "Just as the commandment 'Thou shalt not kill' sets a clear limit in order to safeguard the value of human life, today we also have to say 'thou shalt not' to an economy of exclusion and inequality. Such an economy kills. How can it be that it is not a news item when an elderly homeless person dies of exposure, but it is news when the stock market loses two points? This is a case of exclusion. Can we continue to stand by when food is thrown away while people are starving? This is a case of inequality. Today everything comes under the laws of competition and the survival of the fittest, where the powerful feed upon the powerless. As a consequence, masses of people find themselves excluded and marginalized: without work, without possibilities, without any means of escape."

 

       The pope lamented that, "Human beings are themselves considered consumer goods to be used and then discarded. We have created a 'disposable' culture which is now spreading. It is no longer simply about exploitation and oppression, but something new. Exclusion ultimately has to do with what it means to be a part of the society in which we live; those excluded are no longer society's underside or its fringes or its disenfranchised - they are no longer even a part of it. The excluded are not the 'exploited' but the outcast, the 'leftovers.'"

 

        Pope Francis concluded that the status quo is no longer acceptable because it is incompatible with human dignity. Passionate defenders of the status quo who are enamored of conventional wisdom - such as Governor Jindal - counter that the pope's call social justice is far too radical and that our economic needs are best served when decisions about the resources of the public are made in private, behind closed doors. 

 

        One would not expect Governor Jindal to agree with Pope Francis, nor would he understand the import of Anatole France's observation that "The law, in its majestic equality, forbids the rich as well as the poor to sleep under bridges, to beg in the streets, and to steal bread." But perhaps he might heed the advice of one sage, Neapolitan political thinker whose writings Jindal possibly read at Oxford - Niccolò Machiavelli: "He who blinded by ambition, raises himself to a position whence he cannot mount higher, must fall with the greatest loss."

 

 

A Death Spiral for the Middle Class

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       This past Monday, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker on Monday signed into law a measure that prohibits requiring a worker to pay union dues, striking another blow against organized labor four years after the state effectively ended collective bargaining for public-sector employees.


 

            As The New York Times reported the new law, effective immediately, made Wisconsin the 25th right-to-work state and the first to do it since Michigan and Indiana in 2012. Mark Mix, president of the National Right to Work Committee, claimed the action now puts pressure on other Midwest states to follow suit.  "Every worker deserves freedom of choice when it comes to union membership and dues payment, and if states like Michigan and Wisconsin can pass Right to Work then Illinois, Minnesota, Missouri and Ohio can too," Mix stated.

 

            Mix's professed concern for the freedom of workers is little less than disingenuous propaganda since the economic evidence and historical record show that "right-to-work laws" have significantly weakened unions, and that the decline of a viable labor movement is  inextricably linked to rising economic inequality among Americans. As employers inevitably engage in a collective "race to the bottom" the ability of employees to negotiate and demand higher wages and better conditions for work declines. 

 

              The labor history of the United States in the nineteenth century and the first three decades of the twentieth century was often violent and bloody. Most state courts treated labor unions and strikes as illegal conspiracies in restraint of trade and labor organizers and striking union members were regularly arrested, imprisoned and often shot by Pinkerton detectives, private militias raised by employers, and National Guard soldiers who were mustered into service by business-friendly governors in many states.

 

              Ever so slowly, the tide began to turn. In the 1930s, as the effects of the Great Depression became pronounced, industrial unionism, organized under the auspices of the Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO), emerged. With the enactment of the National Labor Relations Act in 1935, the right of all workers "to organize and bargain collectively through representatives of their own choosing" was pronounced for the first time to be national public policy. Other New Deal legislation included the Walsh-Healey Government Contracts Act, which required the payment of prevailing wages on government contracts in excess of $10,000; the Railroad Retirement Act; and the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938, which provided for the first time, with certain exceptions, a nationwide minimum wage floor and maximum workweek of 40 hours per week within three years of its enactment date.

 

            Courageous individuals such a Bill Haywood, Mother Jones, Eugene Debbs, John L. Lewis, and Walter and Victor Reuther, among thousands of others, struggled to secure social and economic justice for American workers. Organized labor brought to America the right to grieve mistreatment in the workplace, "just cause" termination standards, the eight hour day, weekends off, overtime and rest break regulations, workers' compensation, unemployment insurance and pensions. 

 

            Sadly, however, since the 1940s, the American labor movement has been forced into retreat. After the death of Franklin Roosevelt and the election of a Republican Congress in 1946, right-wing liberalism and laissez-faire economics one again became resurgent. The first great success of New Deal critics was achieved with the enactment of the Taft-Hartley Act in 1947, which was passed over President Truman's veto. The effect of this legislation was to outlaw "closed shops" and to permit individual states to allow "open shops"--i.e. shops in which elected unions could not require all of the employees to belong to the unions, irrespective of whether the non-union employees also received and enjoyed the benefits of collective bargaining.

 

            As a result of that legislation, corporations began an inevitable migration to the South where welcoming state legislatures hastily enacted "right-to-work" laws. The migration of these manufacturing companies away from the unionized urban centers of the Midwest and North left hundreds of mill towns impoverished and desolate, and the union movement, over time, has been effectively eviscerated.


            By 2010, according to the U.S Department of Labor,  only 12.3 per cent of employed wage and salary workers were union members. Not surprisingly, many of the same non-union employees did not seem to understand that their ability to influence working conditions and wages, as solitary individuals who lacked comparable bargaining power with managers and owners of business, was virtually nil. Apparently, however, the myth of the autonomous, self-made individual who can receive recognition, remuneration and advancement solely by dint of one's own hard work continues to resonate in the workplace to the present, notwithstanding all of the evidence to the contrary.


            Even among the few unionized workers still employed in manufacturing, downward economic pressures have forced many unions to acquiesce to a two-tier pay system imposed by management: younger workers now make substantially less per hour than more senior employees who perform the same work. The effect of this two-tier system denies younger workers upward mobility and divides workers based solely upon dates of hire: "The changing job market is undercutting entry-level wages for those who do not go to college. In the 1960s and 1970s, you saw high school graduates getting good jobs at Ford and AT&T, jobs that in inflation-adjusted terms were paying $20 or $25 in today's wages," said Sheldon Danziger, a professor of public policy at the University of Michigan. "Nowadays most kids with just high school degrees will work in service-sector jobs for $10 or less..."

           

            Perhaps as worrisome are the long-term trends which suggest that, absent substantive structural reform, unemployment will remain even more intractable long after the economic meltdown that began in 2008.  Between 1975 and 2005, entry-level wages for male high school graduates who did not graduate from college declined 19 percent after adjustment for inflation while the incomes of their female counterparts fell 9 percent. Lastly, men who were in their thirties in 2004 are reported to have had a median income of 12 percent less, after adjusting for inflation, than did their fathers' generation when the latter were in their thirties.

 

            Robert H. Frank, a  Cornell University economist reported in a New York Times op ed column in 2010 that during the decades after World War II, incomes in the United States rose rapidly and at about the same rate - approximately 3 percent a year - for employees at all income levels. As a consequence, America had an economically dynamic middle class; its roads and bridges were well maintained; and Americans as a whole were optimistic as investments in infrastructure and public goods increased. In that era of relative economic equality, Frank noted, that public support for infrastructure - paid for by taxes - enjoyed wide support.

 

            By contrast, Frank notes that, from 1980 to 2010, as the economy has grown much more slowly, America's infrastructure has fallen into grave disrepair. Simultaneously, all significant income growth has been concentrated at the top of the scale with the largest share of total income going to that top 1 percent of earners.

           

            Harold Meyerson has described the correlation between union membership and economic equality in article in the American Prospect in 2012. He observed that "From 1947 through 1972, productivity in the United States rose by 102 percent, and median household income rose by an identical 102 percent. In recent decades, as economists Robert Gordon and Ian Dew-Becker have shown, all productivity gains have accrued to the wealthiest 10%. In 1955, near the apogee of union strength, the wealthiest 10 percent received 33 percent of the nation's income. In 2007, they received 50 percent."   

 

            Colin Gordon, a Professor of History at the University of Iowa, has argued that "One hallmark of the first 30 years after World War II was the "countervailing power" of labor unions (not just at the bargaining table but in local, state, and national politics) and their ability to raise wages and working standards for members and non-members alike. There were stark limits to union power--which was concentrated in some sectors of the economy and in some regions of the country--but the basic logic of the postwar accord was clear: Into the early 1970s, both median compensation and labor productivity roughly doubled. Labor unions both sustained prosperity, and ensured that it was shared."

            

            As the labor movement declines, the American workplace will increasingly be governed, once again, by the nineteenth century doctrine of employment-at-will, a legal fiction  created by state courts in the United States during this country's First Gilded Age and one that that embodies an ideological worldview informed by Social Darwinism. That legal fiction - which posits some kind of equality of bargaining power between individual workers and employers - further circumscribes the ability of most Americans to protect their livelihoods or to improve their conditions of work.

 

            The mythology behind "right-to-work" laws and companion efforts have largely succeeded in gutting this country's labor laws but they have produced have produced results quite different from the economic theory their proponents endorse. As Isaiah Berlin sagely noted, "Freedom for the wolves has often meant death to the sheep." In a world of unrestrained competition, only the few, the wealthier, the more powerful, the more resourceful, the better educated, the more mobile, will be able to maximize their opportunities; everyone else gets left behind or becomes "road kill."

 

The GOP's Newest Candidate for Court Jester

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            This past Wednesday, Rudolph Giuliani, former New York mayor and one-time GOP presidential candidate, appeared at the "21" Club in Manhattan to attend a fund-rasing event that featured Gov. Scott Walker of Wisconsin. According The New York Post ("Giuliani: Obama doesn't 'love America'" by Geoff Earle, February 19, 2015), Giuliani told about 60 conservative business leaders gathered at the 21 Club that, "I do not believe, and I know this is a horrible thing to say, but I do not believe that the president loves America. "He doesn't love you. And he doesn't love me. He wasn't brought up the way you were brought up and I was brought up, through love of this country."

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            A front page article by Alexander Burns and Maggie Haberman in the February 21,2015 edition of The New York Times reports that earlier that same evening Giuliani expressed indignation with President Obama at another fund-raising event in Manhattan where he took issue with the president's comments that compared the present Islamic extremist terrorism to the depredations that occurred during the Crusades.

 

           The Times' reporters state that a week before, at a realtors' conference in Las Vegas, Mr. Giuliani also criticized the president's irresolute stance toward President Bashar al-Assad of Syria, and on February13, 2015, he told an Iranian-American group in Arizona that Mr. Obama was not "a man who loves his people."       

            Giuliani's intemperate outbursts and his questioning of President Obama's loyalty represent a new low in GOP demagoguery, but his comments need to be remembered in the context of Samuel Johnson's observation that "Patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel."

   

        Giuliani's twists and turns from a youthful supporter of Robert Kennedy, to one who voted for George McGovern, to one who cavalierly changed his politics once he was received an appointment in a Republican administration raise troublesome questions about his own loyalty, his core values and the sincerity of his political convictions. Giuliani's behavior, similar to that of so many other spokesmen for today's GOP, suggests that he will do and say anything that advances his own political agenda and financial interests. 


           Giuliani is also an unmitigated hypocrite. Given his background, he is hardly in a position to question anyone else's loyalty. He was raised in a first generation Italian-American family as Roman Catholic. Prior to John Kennedy's election, Catholics in the United States were viewed by many "red, white and blue patriots" - today's GOP constituency - as agents of a foreign potentate - the pope.


             Giuliani also avoided military service during the Vietnam War. As a student at Manhattan College and NYU Law, he received student deferments from conscription. Upon graduation from the NYU Law School in 1968, he was classified by the Selective Service System as 1-A-  i.e., available for military service. Although he applied for a deferment, he was rejected.


            In 1969, Federal Judge Lloyd MacMahon, for whom Giuliani  was clerking, wrote a letter on his behalf  to

Giuliani's draft board and requested that he be reclassified as 2-A - i.e., that he be given a civilian occupational

deferment as an essential employee. That  deferment was granted at a time when thousands of other ordinary

young men in New York City and elsewhere across the country- young  men who lacked Giuliani's influential

sponsor - were conscripted and  became potential cannon fodder in the jungles of Vietnam.

 

            The following year - for some mysterious reason - Giuiliani was not called up for service, although by that

time  he had been reclassified 1-A. His favorable treatment was similar to the  experiences of two other 

prominent, present-day GOP defense hawks and draft evaders, Dick Cheney and Donald Trump.


           Giuliani is not unique among GOP "movers and shakers" and before he can be anointed as the official court jester and resident buffoon of the Republican Party, he will need to overcome stiff competition from the likes of former GOP Congresswoman Michele Bachman, Iowa Congressman Steve King, Texas Congressman Louie Gohmert,  Kentucky Senator Rand Paul, Texas Senator Ted Cruz,  Ben Carson and a legion of other lunatics and clowns. All of his competitors revel in their anti-intellectualism, their unwavering support for the 1%, their advocacy of unlicensed gun-ownership, their abysmal ignorance of history, xenophobic fear of other cultures and people who speak different languages, and their abhorrence of science and the empirically-driven evidence that informs its hypothesis and findings.   


             Once upon a time, the Republican Party was a progressive political party with big ideas about the future of the United States. Abraham Lincoln endorsed a broad vision of policies and programs designed to promote the general welfare. Lincoln defeated the forces of disunion and persuaded the country to abolish slavery and to guarantee equal rights to all male citizens with the passage of the 13th and 14th Amendments to the U.S. Constitution.


           Lincoln also signed into law the Homestead Act in 1862 that made available millions of acres of government-owned land in the West for purchase by settlers at substantially reduced costs. That same year, he also signed into law the Morrill Land-Grant Colleges Act, which provided government grants for creation of agricultural colleges in every state in the union. In addition, the Pacific Railway Acts of 1862 and 1864 provided federal support for the construction of the United States' First Transcontinental Railroad which, upon its completion in 1869, linked all the United States from coast to coast.


             During the First Gilded Age, Theodore Roosevelt pursued policies designed to curb the excessive economic power wielded by the Robber Barons and their trusts, condemned predatory practices by corporations, and spoke out in support of organized labor.Roosevelt also successfully lobbied Congress to pass the Meat Inspection Act of 1906 and The Pure Food and Drug Act. Perhaps his greatest accomplishment was the expansion of the national park system and the subsequent transfer of the administration of the park system from the Agriculture Department to the Department of the Interior. As his successor, Republican President Howard Taft continued Roosevelt's progressive domestic policies and vigorously enforced antitrust legislation.


             In the early decades of the twentieth century also, Wisconsin Governor and later U.S. Senator Robert LaFollette, Sr. enjoyed the loyal support of unionized workers and farmers as a populist. An elected Republican office-holder, he condemned laissez-faire and emphasized the need for government to serve as an advocate for ordinary citizens, as opposed to corporations and other moneyed interests.


             Former Congressman and New York City Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia burnished his credentials as a reform politician and as a progressive who, appalled by the excesses of the 1920s and the misery spawned by the Great Depression, championed the policies of Franklin Roosevelt's New Deal. At the beginning of the Roosevelt administration, he and Nebraska Republican Senator George Norris successfully co-sponsored the Norris-LaGuardia Act. That act declared yellow-dog contracts illegal, forbade the federal courts from issuing injunctions against unions in non-violent labor disputes, and prohibited interference by employers against workers trying to organize trade unions.        

 

             Unfortunately, the success of Franklin Roosevelt and New Deal subsequently changed the direction of the GOP. Beginning with the passage of the Taft-Hartley Act in 1947, the GOP, prodded by reactionary interests committed to undoing the legacy of the New Deal, became increasingly hostile to unions and supportive of business interests and Wall Street.    


              After the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, a new Republican agenda was cobbled together. Nixon's cynical and craven decision to adopt a "Southern Strategy" required that the GOP abandon its historic commitment to civil rights to attract the support of hard-scrabble, disaffected white Southerners who felt threatened by the elimination of Jim Crow.


              The rest is history. Within a decade, the "Solid South" became the preserve of the GOP, whose rank and file members, despite their increasingly challenged economic circumstances, have become unabashedly anti-intellectual, anti-science, and hostile to unions, minorities, women, public-sector employees, and to the idea that government should be used as a positive instrument to promote the public good.

 

              Ronald Reagan delivered the coup de grâce. He successfully refined a winning political strategy for the GOP by intentionally appealing to the most base instincts of Americans. With his attacks on welfare queens and "'strapping young bucks"' who used public assistance to buy T-Bone steaks," Reagan further stirred the pot of racial animosity. His insistence that government was the problem, not the solution, and his endorsement of trickle-down economics was a repudiation of the GOP's venerable heritage as an opponent of Social Darwinism; and his policies repudiated the observation Republican jurist Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. that "Taxes are what we pay for civilized society."


              Lee Atwater, who was Reagan's campaign strategist, described how and why Reagna;s strategy worked: "In the 1980s campaign, we were able to make the establishment, in so far as it is bad, the government, in other words, big government was the enemy, not big business. If the people think the problem is that taxes are too high, and government interferes too much, then we are doing our job. But, if they get to the point where they say that the real problem is that rich people aren't paying taxes...then the Democrats are going to be in good shape. Traditionally, the Republican Party has been elitist, but one of the things that has happened is that the Democratic Party has become a party of [rival] elites."


             Reagan's divisive rhetoric appealed to an increasingly distracted, unsophisticated base of white males and females, and enabled him to attract "Reagan Democrats" and other low-information voters. They did not understand that the policies that Reagan set in motion - the destruction of traditional  pension plans, the privatization of pension risks through the creation of defined contribution plans -aka 401K plans - with the enactment of the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA) - and the out-sourcing of jibs to the third-world were inimical to their own best interests. Reagan also successfully waged war against public unions with his destruction of the Professional Air Traffic Controllers Organization (PATCO) during their strike in 1981.

 

             Since the Reagan era, the template has remained the same. But, with the advent  of Roger Ailes and Izvestia-like propaganda outlets such Fox News, as well as the onslaught  of private, undisclosed 501C interests unleashed by Justice Scalia's 5-4 decision in the Citizens United case, the GOP strategists have become vastly more sophisticated and cynical.


              In his Politics, Aristotle insisted that man is by nature a political animal and that one's participation in the life of a democratic state was the highest form of human activity.  Leo Strauss, a political philosopher in the European conservative tradition, observed that the proper object of political theory and inquiry is to discover the Truth of the human condition. Measured by the standards of Aristotle and Strauss, what passes for a discussion of serious issues and ideas in American politics is woefully deficient. Our politics has been reduced to the equivalent of a food fight in which the superficial - who's up? who's down?  who's loyal? who's a real American? - has become the standard by which our leaders are evaluated and chosen.


             Sadly, the GOP alone is not responsible for the trivialization of American politics. Undoubtedly media and the enormous infusion of money from corporations - with their legions of lobbyists and super PACs sanctioned by the Citizens United case - have played a large role in the decline of meaningful political discourse, but they also are not alone.


              Who else bears responsibility? We all do. By our apathy, our lack of active participation in the political system, our unwillingness to challenge the lunatic fringe, and our tolerance of political lies, we have allowed the democracy to which we claim allegiance to be gamed and stolen.


            Howard Zinn once warned that, "If those in charge of our society - politicians, corporate executives, and owners of press and television - can dominate our ideas, they will be secure in their power. They will not need soldiers patrolling the streets. We will control ourselves." His fear is now becoming our nightmare.   

 

 

When Lies and False Narratives Shape Public Opinion

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  It is a truism that elites, as Karl Marx noted, shape public opinion. A century later, another German, Joseph Goebbels, remarked "If you tell a lie big enough and keep repeating it, people will eventually come to believe it." It was another Marx who asked, "Who are you going to believe, me or your lying eyes?"
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    It is also a truism that when elites feel threatened, whether from external or internal threats, truth too often becomes a casualty. All too often the defenders of the status quo  seek to persuade the public at large that those who are entrusted to protect their safety should be given wide berth and the benefit of the doubt.

    The events surrounding the murder of the two New York Police officers and the earlier refusal of a Staten Island Grand Jury to indict NYPD Officer Daniel Pantaleo for the death of Eric Garner have brought to the fore once again concerns about truth, equality of treatment and the purpose of public service. The other day, during CNN's coverage of the funeral of NYPD Officer Wenjian Liu, these concerns were brought into sharp focus.

    Dana Bash of CNN was interviewing Tom Verni. Mr. Verni, an outspoken critic of Mayor deBlasio, describes himself as a "Law Enforcement & Safety Consultant. Retired NYPD Detective, Police Academy Instructor, Community Affairs & Crime Prevention Specialist."

    Mr. Verni was given free rein to emote by Dana Bash. He insisted that Mayor de Blasio had somehow disrespected the NYPD by his failure to negotiate a collective bargaining agreement with the New York Patrolmen's Benevolent Association, by calling into question their policing tactics, by offering support to the demonstrators who were outraged by the death of Eric Garner, and because the mayor had the audacity to admit that he counseled his bi-racial son on the need to react politely and obsequiously in presence of police. Not content with those calumnies, Verni, echoing the nonsense uttered by BPA President Patrick Lynch, contended that all of mayor's actions had made attacks upon the police inevitable.

    Missing from Mr. Verni's narrative of NYPD victimization and unchallenged by Dana Bash was any acknowledgment of the possibility that Verni was playing fast and loose with the truth. Unacknowledged were the facts that Mayor de Blasio had been in office for a year and that his predecessor, Michael Bloomberg, had failed to negotiate a collective bargaining agreement with the Patrolmen's Benevolent Association for four years.

    Verni also neglected to mention that Mayor de Blasio had been elected by more than 72% of New York City voters on a platform that explicitly proposed the need for reform of police tactics, particularly after a federal judge found that the "stop and frisk" tactics -  as applied by the NYPD - violated the constitutional rights of minorities. Verni was also unwilling to concede that the overwhelming majority of protestors, in the exercise of their first amendment rights, were aggrieved by the refusal of the Staten Island District Attorney, Dan Donovan, secure an indictment against New York City police officer Daniel Pantaleo and that they did not harbor any personal animus against the NYPD.
 
    In point of fact, it was District Attorney Donovan's failure to properly charge the grand jury that precipitated the subsequent events about which Verni and the police union's leaders now complain. Although a New York City coroner had ruled that Eric Garner's death was a homicide, and there was compelling video footage of the police using an illegal choke hold, DA Donovan allowed the grand jury to ignore the explicit instructions of the New York Grand Juror's Handbook, issued by the Unified Trial Court, that emphasizes, "The grand jury is an arm of the court. It is not an agent of the prosecutor or the police. A grand jury docs not decide whether or not a person has been proven guilty. That is the trial jury's job. The grand jury decides whether or not a person should be formally charged with a crime or other offense. The grand jury makes that decision based on evidence presented to it by the prosecutor, who also instructs the grand jury on the law. The grand jury's decision must be based on the evidence and on the law."
  
    Unacknowledged by Verni, and left unchallenged by Dana Bash, was even a grudging concession  by Verni that the NYPD, as a para-military force, owed a duty of respect to their civilian commander-in-chief, or  that the present "work slowdown" by certain NYPD officers imperiled  public safety and violated the oaths taht they took upon their appointments. Verni further chose to ignore the evidence suggested that Ismaaiyl Brinsley's murder of the two NYPD officers was motivated more by the latter's personal failures and his mental instability.

     Left unsaid also was any expression of concern by Verni about the ease with which Brinsley, despite his extensive criminal record, was able to secure a gun and ammunition. Rebecca Leber reported in The New Republic (December 24, 2014, "How Did NYPD Killer Get his Hands on a Gun from Georgia? Because Our Laws are Insane")  that investigators were able to trace the gun Brinsley used to a Georgia strip mall 900 miles away that describes itself as a "family-owned business dedicated to good prices, good customer service and good vibes." Leber noted that, as of 2010, that single store was the fifth largest source of guns used in crimes across the country, and the number one source for all out-of-state guns seized by the New York Police Department.
 
      As John Adams observed, "Facts are stubborn things; and whatever may be our wishes, ur inclinations, or the dictates of our passion, they cannot alter the state of facts and evidence."
 
    The notion that police and other law enforcement officials should be treated differently from ordinary citizens is toxic in a democratic society and anathema to principle of equal justice under the law. Equally corrosive are the factual distortions that are propagated through the media by well-educated individuals who surely must know better.
   
 

Christmas and Pope Francis

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        This Christmas, many parts of the world are rent by violence, mayhem, and increasing religious fanaticism and intolerance. Across the globe, the gap between the few who are privileged and the many who struggle to meet most basic needs grows ever wider.

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         Here in the United States, our political institutions are paralyzed by gridlock and dysfunction. Because of that, we are unable to address a host of persistent problems including high unemployment and underemployment, stagnant wages, a hallowed-out middle class, crumbling infrastructure, gun violence and environmental degradation. Simultaneously, our judicial institutions are increasingly unwilling to ensure of the equality of treatment under the law or access to justice by those who are not numbered among the 1%. 

           In the midst of these profound problems, the Christmas Season summons to put our aside despair, cynicism and pessimism over the present course of events and to embrace a message of hope and the possibility of radical change. The Christmas narrative describes the birth of a child to a humble carpenter and a loving mother who, by the singular power of his example and his message, was able to craft a demand for universal justice encompassing all of humanity that resonates to the present.     

          In this Christmas Season in particular, we should also be inspired by the example of a humble Argentine Jesuit who has no army and no political power, but who is able to lead by the power of his moral example. From his demand for unconditional love to his insistence upon peace and religious toleration, the Pope Francis has sought to reach out to all people of good will.

             In a meeting with journalists on March 16, 2013, Pope Francis announced that he would bless them silently, "Given that many of you do not belong to the Catholic Church, and others are not believers." In a papal address a week later, while he decried the "attempt to eliminate God and the Divine from the horizon of humanity," he offered this comment about nonbelievers: "[W]e also sense our closeness to all those men and women who, although not identifying themselves as followers of any religious tradition, are nonetheless searching for truth, goodness and beauty, the truth, goodness and beauty of God. They are our valued allies in the commitment to defending human dignity, in building a peaceful coexistence between peoples and in safeguarding and caring for creation."

           On December 13, 2013, in his Apostolic Exhortation, Evangelii Gaudium ("Joy of the Gospel"), Pope Francis restated the historic essence of Catholic social philosophy as he called upon people of good will everywhere, believers  and non-believers alike, to work for a better, more just world. The Pope proclaimed that "The great danger in today's world, pervaded as it is by consumerism, is the desolation and anguish born of a complacent yet covetous heart, the feverish pursuit of frivolous pleasures, and a blunted conscience. Whenever our interior life becomes caught up in its own interests and concerns, there is no longer room for others, no place for the poor. God's voice is no longer heard, the quiet joy of his love is no longer felt, and the desire to do good fades."

          In unequivocal terms, the pope condemned the free market ideology that has become the conventional wisdom of this post-modern world: "Just as the commandment 'Thou shalt not kill' sets a clear limit in order to safeguard the value of human life, today we also have to say 'thou shalt not' to an economy of exclusion and inequality. Such an economy kills. How can it be that it is not a news item when an elderly homeless person dies of exposure, but it is news when the stock market loses two points? This is a case of exclusion. Can we continue to stand by when food is thrown away while people are starving? This is a case of inequality. Today everything comes under the laws of competition and the survival of the fittest, where the powerful feed upon the powerless. As a consequence, masses of people find themselves excluded and marginalized: without work, without possibilities, without any means of escape." 

         The pope continued his lament that, "Human beings are themselves considered consumer goods to be used and then discarded. We have created a 'disposable' culture which is now spreading. It is no longer simply about exploitation and oppression, but something new. Exclusion ultimately has to do with what it means to be a part of the society in which we live; those excluded are no longer society's underside or its fringes or its disenfranchised - they are no longer even a part of it. The excluded are not the 'exploited' but the outcast, the 'leftovers.'"

          Pope Francis' call for social justice is profoundly conservative, but to the tone deaf, it sounds far too radical. He has reminded all of us that the status quo is no longer acceptable because it is incompatible with human dignity. Those who seek to know the truth of the human condition will acknowledge this basic proposition. By contrast, the clamor and indignation of the critics and naysayers are solely calculated to vindicate the status-quo irrespective of the suffering and misery it has spawned.         

          The Gospel of Matthew admonishes us, "To whom much is given, much is expected in return" and "What you did for the least of my brothers, you did for me."

          This Christmas, people of good will everywhere might commit themselves to the message of Pope Francis who insists that our collective capacity to promote social justice is greater than the sum of reckless individuals and feckless, unresponsive institutions that all too often pursue only their own short-term, selfish objectives. An added but equally important imperative is his insistence that we need to understand that we ourselves are the only instruments who can bring about the change that is so urgently needed.   

 

 


SCOTUS Strikes Another Blow Against Workers

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          The unanimous decision of the United States Supreme Court in the matter of Integrity Staffing Solutions, Inc. v. Busk, et al (No. 13-433, December 9, 2014) is further evidence that the alleged commitment of the American legal system to equal justice is little more than a sham and a platitude.

 

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           The question before the court was whether the employees - warehouse workers who retrieved inventory and packaged it for shipment to Amazon customers - were entitled, as hourly, non-exempt  employees to be paid for time that they were required to undergo antitheft security screenings before they were allowed to leave the warehouse in which they worked each day.


          The record before the court showed that the class of employees who brought suit under the federal Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938  (FLSA) were routinely required to submit  to security inspections  and screenings that amounted to "roughly  25 minutes per day" after they had checked out but before they could go home. The employees alleged that the screenings were conducted "to prevent employee theft" and they were intended solely "for the benefit of the employers and their customers." The additional uncompensated time, based upon a five day work week, amounted to an additional 6.8 hours at the workplace each week.


             In proceedings below, the U.S. District Court for Nevada dismissed the complaint of the employees for a purported failure to state a claim under Fed. Rule Civ. Procedure 12. The court held that "the time spent waiting for and undergoing security screenings was not compensable under FLSA" because the employees could not show that the screenings were an indispensable and principal part of the activities that the employees were required to perform."


          The United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit reversed the district court's decision, finding that "postshift activities that would ordinarily be classified as noncompensable postliminary activities are nevertheless compensable as integral and indispensable to an employee's principle activities if postshift activities are necessary to the principal work performed and done for the benefit of the employer," as the record before the court showed.


             Inexcusably, the Obama administration - despite the consistent support that it has received from organized labor - supported the employer's appeal and urged that the decision of the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals be reversed.


               Writing on behalf of court, Justice Thomas disagreed with the Court of Appeals. In an extensive and tortured exegesis of the language of the Portal-to-Portal amendments to the Fair Labor Standards Act that were passed by a Republican-controlled Congress in 1947 to exempt employers from liability for future claims for "activities which are preliminary to or postliminary to said activities or principles." Thomas insisted that question was the sole issue before the court.


             Not surprisingly, given his narrow definition of what he and the other eight judges agreed was the sole issue before the court, Thomas opined that "the security screenings at issue here are noncompensable postliminary activities" because "Integrity Staffing did not employ its workers to undergo screenings" and that the "screenings were not integral and indispensable"' to the employees' duties as warehouse workers.  Left unanswered were the obvious questions: What would have happened if the employees refused to wait for the screenings and insisted upon their right to go home immediately after they finished work? Would they still be employed the next day?


              The American legal system has long been a captive of the powerful, the wealthy and the well-connected, and almost uniformly hostile to unions and to the rights of workers. Throughout the nineteenth century most state courts treated labor unions and strikes as illegal conspiracies in restraint of trade.


             With the enactment of the National Labor Relations Act in 1935, the right of all workers "to organize and bargain collectively through representatives of their own choosing" was pronounced for the first time to be national public policy. Other New Deal legislation included the Walsh-Healey Government Contracts Act, which required the payment of prevailing wages on government contracts in excess of $10,000; the Railroad Retirement Act; and the Fair Labor Standards Act, which provided for the first time, with certain exceptions, a nationwide minimum wage floor and maximum workweek of 40 hours per week within three years of its enactment date.


             Since the 1940s, however, the American labor movement has been forced into retreat. After the death of Franklin Roosevelt and the election of a Republican Congress in 1946, the rights of workers have been continuously under siege. The first great success of New Deal critics was achieved with the enactment of the Taft-Hartley Act in 1947, an act that was passed over President Truman's veto. The effect of that legislation was to outlaw "closed shops" and to permit individual states to allow "open shops" - i.e. shops in which elected unions could not require all of the employees to belong to the unions, irrespective of whether the non-union employees also received and enjoyed the benefits of collective bargaining.


             As a result of that Taft-Hartley Act, corporations began an inevitable migration to the South where welcoming state legislatures hastily enacted "right-to-work" laws. The migration of these manufacturing companies away from the unionized urban centers of the Midwest and North left hundreds of mill towns impoverished and desolate, and the union movement was effectively eviscerated. Thereafter, it did not take long for the owners of corporations to discover that, once they had escaped from the threat of unionization, they could also escape almost all government regulation by moving their businesses and manufacturing operations out of the United States to low-wage countries in the Third World.


             Since the advent of the Reagan administration, the assault upon the rights of unions and employees has accelerated. The Democratic administrations of Bill Clinton and Barack Obama have been equally culpable as reflected in the former's support for NAFTA and the latter's endorsement of the proposed TransPacific Partnership Agreement. They, too, have been uncritical supporters of the myth that "free trade" is somehow a positive good for the economy, despite all of the evidence that shows that out-sourcing has been an unmitigated disaster for American workers and has created soaring trade deficits that converted the United States from an exporting country to a net importer increasingly dependent upon foreign goods.   


            Because of pervasive hostility to unions and the demise of organized labor as a movement, the American workplace is increasingly governed by the nineteenth century doctrine of employment-at-will. The doctrine of at-will employment is a legal fiction that was created by state courts during this country's first Gilded Age in an era. The doctrine repudiated the long-standing presumption set down by Blackstone in his Commentaries that any indefinite employment contract was for one year. Forty-nine states - with the exception of Montana (which has abolished at-will employment by statute) - still subscribe to that legal concept.


             The legal fiction of at-will employment essentially posits an equality of bargaining power between individual employers and employees: Each is free to accept or reject employment, resign or be fired without cause or restriction. However, since employers in "union-free" environments are legally permitted to unilaterally impose, almost without restriction, whatever conditions of work they require as to hours, compensation, and often restrictions on re-employment after discharge in the form of non-competition agreements, the relationship is most often one of inequality in which the employees are burdened and the employers benefited.


              The market-based paradigm upon which at-will employment is based continues to inform and control public policy decisions. It has also further exacerbated the increasing economic inequality, destroyed the livelihoods of American employees and made the American Dream to a cruel hoax for everyone except the1%.

             Historically, those nominated as justices to the Supreme Court, with precious few exceptions, have had little experience litigating cases on behalf of employees or fighting for the rights of the downtrodden. With one or two exceptions, this is true of the current court. In addition, as graduates of elite law schools, with successful prior careers in the private and public sectors, Supreme Court justices have cultivated scores of influential and well-heeled friends and acquaintances over the years whose values they share. One also suspects that they have never forced to stand in a line to purchase concert tickets or have ever shopped at Wall-Mart. 


             For their efforts, the eight associate justices are paid $213,000 per annum; the chief justice receives a salary $223,500. The justices enjoy life tenure for good behavior; their pensions will never be lower than their exiting salary should they choose to retire; they enjoy the same generous healthcare available to all federal employees; they have opportunities to travel to all judicial districts throughout the United States and its overseas territories at taxpayer expense; and they enjoy a minimum of 3 full months of vacation each year. For those reasons, the chasm between the nine judges in the court and the hard-scrabble hourly employees who toil for Amazon in its warehouses is vast, but is it asking too much to expect a little empathy? 


              Sadly, the unanimous decision of the United States Supreme Court in this case is further evidence that all nine of the judges are tone deaf, oblivious to the existence of economic and legal inequality, and unable to articulate a vision of justice that does more than comfort the already comfortable and afflict the already sorely afflicted. 


             Merry Christmas from the Supreme Court. 

 

Thanksgiving and Immigration

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In 1863, President Abraham Lincoln issued a proclamation for the first national celebration of Thanksgiving. Over the years, Thanksgiving has increasingly become a time for families and friends to gather together and to collectively express their gratitude for the friendships that they enjoy and the bounties that they have received. This year's Thanksgiving presents a special challenge to us as citizens and as human beings because it raises two important question that each of us should answer: who precisely are our neighbors and should they be given a place at our collective table?

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           courtesy of the New Yorker magazine


            The current debate - or rather hysteria - over immigration and President's Obama's administrative decisions concerning undocumented aliens illustrates how profoundly divisive the issue remains.

  

          House Speaker John Boehner accused President Obama of ignoring the will of the American people and opined," President Obama has cemented his legacy of lawlessness and squandered what little credibility he had left." Rep. Mo Brooks ( R, AL) said there is a federal statute that made it a felony to aid, abet, or entice a foreigner to illegally enter the U.S.  "At some point, you have to evaluate whether the president's conduct aids or abets, encourages, or entices foreigners to unlawfully cross into the United States of America," and he added,  "That has a five-year in-jail penalty associated with it."         

   

        Not to be outdone, Oklahoma Senator Tom Coburn insisted, "The country's going to go nuts," he predicted, "because they're going to see it as a move outside the authority of the president and it's going to be a very serious situation." "You're going to see -- hopefully not -- but you could see instances of anarchy ... You could see violence."  Senator Ted Cruz urged congressional Republicans to fight back against President Barack Obama's executive action on immigration, by refusing to confirm the president's nominees until he reverses course.  "If the president announces executive amnesty, the new Senate majority leader who takes over in January should announce that the 114th Congress will not confirm a single nominee -- executive or judicial -- outside of vital national security positions, so long as the illegal amnesty persists," Cruz wrote in a recent Politico Magazine op-ed.

 

            Once upon a time every American school child could recite from memory Emma Lazarus's poem, "The New Colossus:"

               Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.
"Keep ancient lands, your storied pomp!" cries she
With silent lips. "Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!
"

 Although her words restated the official American mythology, the reality has always been quite different.                   

            From the very beginning, the earliest English settlers - Pilgrims and Puritans- waged war against the aboriginal population and appropriated the lands that the Indians had always believed that the "Great Spirit" had given to all men in common. Early Colonial legislation restricted the rights of Catholics, Jews, Quakers and dissenters to express their religious convictions and were intended to make them feel unwelcome. 

    

       In the 1840s, the Native American Party - the Know-Nothings -  emerged in the Northeastern United States in response to a climate of intolerance and fear that had been preceded by the burning and sacking of an Ursuline convent in Charlestown, Massachusetts in 1834, and by frequent attacks upon Irish and other Catholic immigrants. The Chinese Exclusion Act was a United States federal law signed by President Chester A. Arthur on May 6, 1882prohibited all immigration of Chinese laborers. Although the legislation was intended to last for 10 only years, it was renewed in 1892, made permanent in 1902, and was only finally repealed in 1943.

 

            Still later, the Immigration Act of 1924 limited the annual number of immigrants who could be admitted from any country to 2% of the number of people from that country who were already living in the United States in 1890, which was reduced from a 3% cap set by the  prior Immigration Restriction Act of 1921, according to the Census of 1890. The law was enacted to restrict the immigration of Southern Europeans, Eastern Europeans, and Jews. In addition, it restricted the immigration of Africans and prohibited the immigration of Arabs, East Asians, and Indians. According to the U.S. Department of State Office of the Historian, the purpose of the act was "to preserve the ideal of American homogeneity."


             Depending upon whose statistics one wishes to accept, before the financial meltdown that began in 2008, there were anywhere from 12 million to 20 million illegal immigrants present in the United States. Although these individuals violated American immigration law, their crimes were compounded by the thousands upon thousands of American employers who illegally employed and exploited them while feigning ignorance of their status as ineligible employees.


            There are at least three proposals that would reduce the influx of illegal immigrants into the U.S., enabled those who have met all immigration criteria to quickly receive green cards, and enable this country to control its borders without thousands of additional border patrol agents, a even more militarized border, and the expenditure of billions of additional dollars of taxpayer money.  

   

         First, current federal laws require that prospective employees present proof of citizenship or show that they are lawful alien residents. However, the fear of government control along with purported concerns about privacy and individual rights by privacy absolutists on the right and left have stymied the adoption of a very simple mechanism to ascertain citizenship status and to control immigration--a national identification card, which virtually all policy analysts concede would be effective. As an additional benefit, a national identification card would also quickly resolve all of the political posturing about alleged illegal voting.

  

          By way of contrast, the European democracies - with the exception of the U.K., Denmark, Iceland, Ireland, Norway  - have all embraced the use of national ID cards with little difficulty or divisive political debate. In the United States, however, the debate focuses almost entirely upon concerns about alleged government intrusion and threats to privacy and individual liberty. Ironically,, the enormous and intrusive amount of personal financial information and data that Equifax, Transamerica and Expirian--three unelected, private, for-profit credit reporting agencies--currently compile and maintain on almost every American citizen barely elicits a critical comment.

 

           A second simple legislative fix would be to require all employees to use the U.S. Department of Labor's E-Verify Program to ascertain the status of all recent immigrants.  Sadly, however, this proposal is rejected by so many business owners who would no longer be able to employ - and exploit - undocumented aliens and claim ignorance as to their status.


             A third proposal - that might assuage concerns about continued out-sourcing by multi-national corporations - would be to restrict the number of H1B visas granted to foreign workers. Contrary to the claims of many IT executives, for example, there is no shortage of educated Americans able to perform IT jobs. Rather, there is an unwillingness by corporations in the Silicon Valley to pay competitive wages. Why should they need to, when H1B visas provide an endless supply of cheap, unquestioning workers whose legal status is little better than indentured servants?  

 

            The endless whining about a purported lack of skilled workers in the U.S. is a brazen effort to rewrite economic history and persuade a gullible public and policy-makers to ignore the fact that the jobs of 162,000 U.S. architects and engineers were shipped to third-world counties between 2000 and 2009, according to Bureau of Labor Statistics; and the 180,000 computer IT and programming professionals who, according to Yale University's Jacob Hacker, lost their jobs between 2000 and 2004. Where documented needs can be shown to actually exist, offering immediate green cards and eventual citizenship to educated aliens with identifiable skills that are in short-supply would benefit the long-term interests of the country, rather than the short-term interests of some employers.       

          Pervasive economic insecurity, stagnant wages, fear of the unknown and, yes, racism have all stocked the flames of resentment and made a rational debate about immigration infinitely more difficult. However, if this is a season to give thanks, it is also a time in which each of us should reflect upon the struggles and tribulations of our forebears. Whether they came her freely, in shackles on galley ships, or were dispatched by covetous landlords and consigned to the steerage of a ship, after great perseverance, they were able to carve out a life in this New World and improve the lives of their descendants.

     

 

Veterans Day, 2014

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        On this Veterans Day, it is important to honor all of our veterans for their service and sacrifices. Many young people will not know that, prior to World War II, this day was called Armistice Day - in honor of the "war to end all wars" - World War I. Obviously, that designation was a misnomer.

 

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           As we sit in our comfortable offices and homes today, we should also reflect upon the terrible toll that wars inflict upon a country and its citizens. Since the founding of this Republic, more than 1,300,000 military have perished in all of the wars, here and abroad, in which this country has been involved.  In addition, the lives of the loved ones and those who have been left behind have been forever profoundly diminished and saddened.

  

        Since the events of September 11, 2001, this country has been continuously involved in two major misbegotten foreign adventures and a series of other counter-productive and disasterous incursions in the Middle East in which we are viewed as the invaders and in which we had little prospect of  achieving "favorable outcomes." In addition to the 6700 military whose lives were lost, thousands more have been physically injured or traumatized, and hundreds of thousands of innocents in Iraq and Afghanistan have been killed and maimed.

  

      When all of the accounts have been tallied and reconciled,the U.S. wars in Afghanistan and Iraq will cost taxpayers $4 trillion to $6 trillion, including medical care for wounded veterans and expensive repairs to a military depleted by more than a decade of fighting, according to a study by a Harvard University professor Linda J. Bilmes, in a report that was released in March of 2013.

   

    According to a another recent report prepared by the Peter G. Peterson Foundation, the United States today spends more on defense than the next 8 countries combined. "Defense spending accounts for about 20 percent of all federal spending - nearly as much as Social Security, or the combined spending for Medicare and Medicaid. The sheer size of the defense budget suggests that it should be part of any serious effort to address America's long-term fiscal challenges." The report quotes Admiral Mike Mullen, the past Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, "The single greatest threat to our national security is our debt."

     

        As of August 2013, despite the putative end of U.S. involvement in Iraq and the winding down of the of U.S. military presence in Afghanistan, there were approximately 1.43 million active-duty military personnel on duty in the armed forces of the U.S. States and more than 850,000 in the active duty reserves of all branches.

      

      For the fiscal year 2015, the U.S. Department of Defense and military-related budget is $756.4 billion. That sum includes $495.6 billion for the base budget of the Department of Defense; $85.4 billion for Overseas Contingency Funds for the wind-down of the War in Afghanistan;  $175.4 billion for defense-related agencies and functions; $65.3 for the Veterans Administration ; $42.6 billion for the State Department; 38.2 billion for  Homeland Security; $17.6 billion for FBI and Cybersecurity in the Department of Justice; and $11.7 billion for the National Nuclear Security Administration in the Department of Energy. Because of the newly announced initiative to confront ISIL, that estimate is likely to be far too conservative.

    

        Further, a recent "Base Structure Report" of the Department of Defense stated that "the Department's physical assets consist of As one of the Federal government's larger holders of real estate, the DOD manages a global real property portfolio hat consists of more than 557,000facilities (buildings, structures, and linear structures), located on over 5,000 sites worldwide and covering over 27.7 million acres." Most of these locations listed are within the continental United States, but 96 of them are located in U.S. territories around the globe, and 702  are situated in foreign countries.

 

           Currently also, the United States has active duty personnel stationed in more than 150 countries. While many of these deployments involve assignments to American embassies and special training projects overseas, the presence of U.S. active duty military personnel throughout Europe, and in Japan and Korea remains significant, sixty-nine years after the end of World War II in Europe and sixty-one years after an armistice was declared in Korea. 

     

    More than 100,000 active-duty American military are presently assigned to these three regions, the cost of which is still largely borne by U.S. taxpayers. Because of the U.S. military shield,  the European countries, especially Germany, and Japan and South Korea have been able to invest in the modernization of their manufacturing sectors and to increase the number of their exports to the United States at a time when American manufacturing has been increasingly out-sourced to third world countries. Japan and Korea, in particular, have adopted onerous, restrictive trade policies that make it almost impossible for American automobile companies and heavy equipment manufacturers to compete successfully in those countries.

    

        Since conscription was ended as a result of the Vietnam War protests, and the idea of an "all-volunteer" military gained enthusiastic favor among military planners and defense contractors, ever fewer Americans have been forced to decide, from a very personal perspective, their support for foreign military adventures.


As our professional officer corps has increasingly become composed of the children of previous officers, and the ranks of enlisted troops increasingly beckon to men and women to whom our country has extended few other options, the concept of the citizen-soldier has receded from the consciousness of most Americans. "Out-of-sight" has become "out-of-mind." For that reason, President Eisenhower's prophetic warning about the growth of the military-industrial complex has metamorphosed into our collective nightmare and has become a detriment to our ability to address urgent domestic needs.  

 

         War exacts a terrible toll on its perpetrators as well as its victims. We are all diminished as citizens and as human beings because of our indifference in the face of such horror. The best pledge that we can make to one another on this Veterans Day is to demand an end to our "welfare through-warfare" economy. We need to bring our troops home and support international institutions that will promote ways to create a more peaceful future for all of God's creation.


Spec 4 Paul Nevins, conscript                                                  

United Sates Army, 1968-1970

 

Should Politics and the Marketplace Trump Public Health?

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    The current Ebola crisis raises profound questions about whether the public health system of the U.S. and our political institutions are equipped to cope with contagious diseases and related, potential health emergencies. The answers to these questions are likely to become more pressing in the wake of global climate change and the significant ecological changes and population shifts that are likely to occur as a result, along with the migration of new and dangerous pathogens. The existing evidence is not reassuring.


Public-Health-Funding
    First of all, our public health system is hopelessly fragmented. Because the federal system of the U.S. is based upon vertical and horizontal distributions of power, the responsibility  for public health in the United States, under the Tenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, has been delegated to state and local government, many of which have inefficient and inadequately trained personnel who are ill-equipped to deal with pandemics and other medical emergencies that are not local in origin but that require a coordinated national or international response.

     Larry Copeland, reporting for USA Today ("U.S. lacks a single standard for Ebola esponse," October 13, 2014) asked the question "Who is in charge of the response to Ebola?" Copeland was reminded by Michael Osterholm, the director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota, that "One of the things we have to understand is the federal, state and local public health relationships. Public health is inherently a state issue. The state really is in charge of public health at the state and local level. It's a constitutional issue. The CDC can't just walk in on these cases. They have to be invited in."

    Copeland noted that the Emergency Operations Center which was set up to address the Ebola outbreak at Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital was comprised of officials from Dallas County, the city of Dallas, the Center for Disease Control, as well as county and state health departments and the Dallas County Sheriff's Department and that "This was the team that made decisions on matters such as isolating people who had been in direct contact with Duncan, including his fiancée, Louise Troh, her teenage son and two other male relatives."

     Robert Murphy, director of the Center for Global Health at Northwestern University's Feinberg School of Medicine, expressed his opinion to Copeland, "In Texas, they really were slow to the plate. Texas is going to be the example of what not to do. The question is, who's in charge?" Murphy stated. "The states can follow all the guidelines and take the advice, which they usually do, but they don't have to. It's not a legal requirement. So there really is no one entity that's controlling things."

     Secondly, the public health system in the U.S. is severely underfunded. In large part, this is because of austerity measures insisted upon by the GOP's Congressional caucus and their ideological antipathy to government in general. Joan McCarter expressed an opinion in the Daily Kos ("Republican budget cutting nearly halved CDC's emergency preparedness since 2006", October 16, 2014)  that "The Republican fetish with starving government has helped land West Africa in an Ebola crisis. The director of the National Institutes of Health made that clear when he told Huffington Post that steep budget cuts by Congress has set back the institute's work on both prevention and treatment for the disease and that if it hadn't been for a decade's worth of cuts, "we probably would have had a vaccine in time for this that would've gone through clinical trials and would have been ready."

    McCarter reported that the emergency preparedness budget of the Center for Disease Control had been cut almost in half during the past seven years. The CDC's discretionary funding was reduced by $585 million during the 2010-2104 fiscal years, and  the annual funding for the CDC's public health preparedness and response efforts were $1 billion lower in 2013 fiscal year than in fiscal year 2002. As a result of these ill-considered measures, the funding decreases resulted in the loss of more than 45,700 job in state and local health departments during the past six years.

    Third, partisan politics has exacerbated the response to Ebola. Intense opposition from the National Rifle Association caused GOP Senators and "pro-gun" Democratic Senators to put an indefinite hold on a vote to approve the appointment of Dr. Vivek Murthy as President Obama's nominee for surgeon general. For that reason, the United States lacks a  recognized medical spokesman with the gravitas necessary to assuage public concerns and to provide accurate and unbiased medical information.

    GOP politicians and professional right-wing fear mongers  - who thrive in the current environment of scientific illiteracy and denial  - have also enthusiastically stoked the flames of public hysteria. Rebecca Kaplan of CBS News (October 15, 2014 ) reported that New Hampshire Senate candidate Scott Brown became the most recent Republican to claim that a "porous" southern border could cause to Ebola-stricken immigrants or terrorists to spread the disease from Mexico into the United States. Not to be outdone, Texas Congressman Louie Gohmert, a certifiable lunatic, lambasted President Barack Obama for dispatching troops to Africa to fight an Ebola outbreak, and he prophesied that they would bring the disease back to infect American citizens.

     Further, as public anxiety has risen, a number of  GOP legislators willingly sacrificed ideological consistency for political expediency. House Speaker John Boehner issued a statement that called for "a temporary ban on travel to the United States from countries afflicted with the virus is something that the president should absolutely consider."

    Meredith Shiner, writing in Yahoo News ("GOP senators who opposed Obama 'czars' now want one for Ebola" October 15, 2014), observed the irony that "Republican Senator Jerry Moran of Kansas was one of the first lawmakers to call on the Obama administration to appoint a czar to help coordinate the U.S. response to the Ebola crisis in Africa, along with a cluster of cases at home. The problem? Almost five years earlier to the day, Moran introduced legislation urging Obama to cease the practice of appointing czars. Moran, who was then a congressman running for the U.S. Senate, also sponsored a bill that would prohibit the federal government from using taxpayer money to pay the salaries of such unconfirmed administration officials -- which would have effectively ended the practice of appointing them."

    Fourth, there is ample evidence that this country's reliance upon a largely private hospital system and private medical insurance, driven as they are by cost-considerations and bottom-line accounting concerns, are not conducive to best medical practices. The Associated Press reported on October 15, 2014 that Thomas E. Duncan, the Liberian Ebola patient, was not placed in isolation after his second visit to the emergency room at Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital, but was allowed to remain in an open area of a Dallas emergency room for hours, while the nurses who treated treating him for days were not  provided with proper protective gear and faced constantly changing protocols, according to a statement released by the country's largest U.S. nurses' union.

     Deborah Burger of National Nurses United said that she had received complaints that nurses at the hospital who said they were forced to use medical tape to secure openings over their flimsy garments, and they and were concerned because their necks and heads were exposed as they cared for a patient with explosive diarrhea and projectile vomiting. The nurses also alleged that other patients who may have been exposed to Duncan were kept in isolation only for a day before being moved to areas where there were other patients; that the nurses treating Duncan simultaneously cared for other patients in the hospital; that, other than one optional seminar for staff, there was no preparation for Ebola at the hospital; and that, in the face of constantly shifting guidelines, nurses were allowed to follow whichever ones they chose. Ms. Burger concluded, "There was no advance preparedness on what to do with the patient, there was no protocol, there was no system."

    Other news reports stated that, when a nurse supervisor insisted that Duncan be removed to a isolation unit, a hospital administrator challenged her decision.

    One suspects that a subsequent post-mortem will show that, despite the hospital's tax-exempt status and its putative obligation as a charity to give back to the community, Duncan was refused admission the first time that he reported to the hospital because he did not have health insurance, and that the reluctance of the hospital to place Duncan in an isolation unit and to assign specialty nurses to him was also driven by cost considerations.

    The Word Bank reports that, as of 2012, the United States spent 17.9% of its GDP on a health care system that still excludes millions of Americans because of the premiums assessed by profit-driven insurance companies.  These uninsured Americans are among the most vulnerable in the event of an epidemic because they lack access to primary care physicians and preventive medical treatment, and they are the least likely to receive immediate treatment for contagious diseases.

     By contrast, the French medical system - which is viewed as the best in the world - consumes only 11.7 % of that country's GDP. Canada - which has a single-payer system - spent 10.9% of its GDP on health care in 2012, while the U.K. and Spain - both of which have socialized, single-provider systems - devoted 9.4% and 9.6% respectively of their GAPS to provide free and accessible health care for all of their citizens.

    Further anecdotal evidence that suggests that high costs do not guarantee good outcomes is provided by Kevin Sack of the New York Times ("Downfall for Hospital Where Ebola Spread," Oct. 15, 2014). He reports that the most recent 2012 tax filings for Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital revealed that the hospital received $613 million in revenue and had $1.1 billion in net assets. Further, the president of the hospital at the time was paid $1.1 million.

    In his important book, What Money Can't Buy, Harvard Government Professor Michael Sandel warns that the values of the market place are continuing to encroach upon and are displacing all other values and measures of worth in our society. If everything and everyone is for sale to highest bidder, and money is the sole arbiter, justice, decency, compassion, empathy and what we owe to one another as fellow human beings become casualties of the marketplace.  

      Lastly, our culture apotheosizes individualism, as David Brooks grudgingly notes in the New York Times ("The Quality of Fear," October 21, 2014). That pervasive worldview  - which provides the ideological rationale for our federal system of limited, largely unaccountable and increasingly gridlocked political institutions as well as for market capitalism  - increases social isolation and fuels suspicions of government, of science and in our capacity to cooperate to address common concerns.

    Erich Fromm observed in Escape From Freedom that, "Once the primary bonds which gave security to the individual are severed, once the individual faces the world outside of himself as a completely separate entity, two courses are open to him since he has to overcome the unbearable stage of powerlessness and aloneness. By one course he can progress to 'positive freedom;' he can relate himself spontaneously to the world in love and work...he can thus become one again with man, nature and himself, without giving up the independence and integrity of his individual self. The other course is to fall back, to give up his freedom, to try to overcome his aloneness by trying to eliminate the gap which has arisen between his individual self and the world."

    Sadly, it appears that far too many Americans today are increasingly willing to surrender their true autonomy and sense of confidence to irrational fears, and to permit non-elected, private, and, more often than not, profit-driven entities to make decisions on their behalf to our collective detriment.
 


Netanyahu's Settler Policy Perverts U.S. Values

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           Is it in best interests of the United States to continue to arm and bankroll Israel with billions of dollars of taxpayer money, while Israel pursues policies that are inimical to the  peace process in the Middle East and, if unchecked, will inevitably draw the U.S. into further conflicts in that region?  

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             On Oct. 1, 2014, President Barack Obama met with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington.  The meeting followed on the heels of Israel's announcement that its government had approved the building of 2,610 new housing units in East Jerusalem for Jewish settlers. The Israeli announcement had been criticized by the Obama administration's spokesman Josh Earnest who warned that the move would "distance Israel from even its closest allies."

 

            The morning before Netanyahu's scheduled meeting with President Obama, the Associated Press reported that Arab residents of Silwan neighborhood of East Jerusalem awakened to find that Israeli security guards and young male volunteers were protecting 25 apartment units in their hard-scrabble neighborhood and in an adjacent area. The surreptitious  purchase of those units represented the largest incursion by settlers since since rightwing Israeli Jews began to buy properties through straws in that overwhelmingly Arab neighborhood  two decades ago.


             The organization that orchestrated the purchases of those units, the Elad Foundation, described the acquisitions as perfectly legal and said it had settled hundreds of Israeli Jews among an estimated Arab population estimated of 30,000 in an area it calls the City of David - a place where Jewish tradition holds King David established Jerusalem as Judaism's central holy city.  Consistent with the President Obama's foreign policy objectives, Josh Earnest also condemned the occupation of the properties "by individuals who are associated with an organization whose agenda, by definition, stokes tensions between Israelis and Palestinians."

  

          During his meeting at the White House, Netanyahu guardedly expressed his support for a two-state solution and the establishment of a Palestinian state at some future date, a commitment that he had studiously avoided making at his UN General Assembly speech earlier. "I remain committed to the vision of peace for two states for two peoples based on mutual recognition and rock solid security arrangements. We should make use of the new opportunities think outside of the box and see how we can include the Arab countries to advance this very hopeful agenda," Netanyahu declared.  

 

            During that meeting, as reported by the Israeli media and the Islam Times, Netanyahu  expressed annoyance with the Obama's administration's criticisms of his support for the expansion  of settlers into Abab neighborhoods in East Jerusalem and in the West Bank after he had once again presented the President Obama with a two fait accompli that would only further stock the indignation of the Israeli Arab and Palestinian populations and render a two state solution as virtually impossible. Public radio quoted the ever petulant Netanyahu as urging US President Barack Obama to "study the facts and details before making statements" about the settlement plan.

 

           In an interview on "Face The Nation" the following day, Netanyahu characterized the administration's continued criticism of his party's support for settler expansion as "baffling" and as "against the American values." And it doesn't bode well for peace," he contended. "The idea that we'd have this ethnic purification as a condition for peace, I think it's anti-peace."

 

            Ever since the 1967 Six-Day war, Israeli settlements have continued to expand throughout the West Bank, into East Jerusalem, and in the Golan Heights that was seized from Syria despite. These expansions have continued, notwithstanding condemnation by the United Nations which has repeatedly stated that Israel's construction of settlements constitutes a violation of the Fourth Geneva Convention. The International Court of Justice has also stated in a 2004 advisory opinion that these settlements are illegal and, in April 2012, UN secretary general Ban Ki-Moon emphasized that the illegal expansion of the settlers in the occupied territories "runs contrary to Israel's obligations under the Road Map and repeated Quartet calls for the parties to refrain from provocations."

 

            Within  Israel, the settlers -  with the support of religious and secular rightwing nationalists - are determined to "reclaim" all of  "Greater Israel" - i.e. the lands of ancient Judea and Samaria that they claim Yahweh granted to them in perpetuity. The fact that many of these rightwing zealots may have recently immigrated to Israel from Brooklyn or Odessa, or that Christians and Muslims have populated the lands of greater Israel for more the past 1900 years are irrelevant to these religious fanatics.

     

       The continued expansion of the settler movement and the  intransigence of Prime Minister Netanyahu and his coalition government would be impossible were it not for the largely uncritical  support that Israel has enjoyed from the U.S. political establishment - including every presidential  administration since Harry Truman and an overwhelming majority of past and present U.S. Senators and Representatives. Beating the drums for the Israeli lobby are prominent mainstream Jewish organizations such as American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), as well as various evangelical Protestant organizations such as Christians United for Israel, and rightwing billionaires such as Sheldon Adelson.


             As a result of the efforts of the Israeli lobby in the U.S., and a timid political elite who are fearful of criticizing the policies of the current Israeli government lest they be accused of ant-Semitism, Israel has received more than 130 billion dollars of U.S. assistance since its founding. Today, Israel has a GDP of over $130 billion yet the U.S. continues to pay for 23-25% of Israel's military budget annually.

 

            President Obama's criticism of the settler encroachments in East Jerusalem and throughout the West Bank do reflect the best of American values. Sadly, the kind of territorial expansion that Prime Minister Netanyahu and his extremist government endorse are, in fact, the antithesis: They are reminiscent of the worst of this country's past  - when this country's westward expansion was justified on the basis of an equally messianic fantasy that went by the name of Manifest Destiny.  It led to the virtual extermination of the indigenous aboriginal population.

 

        The difference today is that, while the Indians lacked firepower and modern technology, Israel, the Arab countries of the Middle East and Iran could easily ignite that region and the world in a conflagration from which there will be no opportunity to offer subsequent mea culpas.