Tuesday, July 28, 2009

The Chamber of Commerce War Against Working People

According to the AFL CIO Now blog, the local Findlay Chamber of Commerce, in an outburst of incredible mean spiritedness, pressured the mayor of a small Ohio town, Findlay, into canceling a parade whose sole purpose had been to celebrate the spirit of American commerce and manufacturing and to highlight American made products like Harley Davidson motorcycles. The reason for the cancellation?

The event had been organized by local unions. Featuring the big bikes and also antique cars, the event was to highlight the quality of American made - and Ohio made products, and to encourage residents to buy Ohio. But the Chamber pressured Findlay's mayor, Peter Sehnert into canceling the parade completely. Sadly, politics also reared its ugly head in the decision. Here's the money quote:
“Basically, Findlay’s a non-union, Republican area and mostly what we had were Democratic speakers and union people,” Sehnert said. “It’s not what I had in mind.”
According to the AFL-CIO blog,

Someone could infer from Sehnert’s statement that a pro-America, buy-America celebration isn’t supported by Republicans. Because the Greater Findlay Chamber of Commerce rejected an event that would have opened with a parade of U.S.-made, union-made Harley-Davidsons and classic American autos driving down Main Street, alongside floats showcasing American-made products. Speakers would have included U.S. Reps. Marcy Kaptur and Betty Sutton, the state attorney general and state treasurer. Blatt says Gov. Ted Strickland was thinking of speaking as well.
Look, labor and management have real differences and while there is understandably an adversarial relationship, there should be more things that bring them together than separate them. It's possible to find common ground. For example, no union wants business to fail. No reasonable person wants that, if for no other reason, rational self-interest. Without healthy, thriving businesses, there would be no jobs. So, unions are not out to destroy commerce or manufacturing. And this event was set up precisely to find the common ground and celebrate what businessmen and businesswomen and union men and union women have in common, the desire for a thriving economy and a good business climate.

What they should be fighting about is better wages versus holding down costs, safe working conditions versus efficiency, etc. In other words, there are issues where both sides can and should negotiate. But there is one area where there is no equivalency. Unions do not want to destroy business or chambers of commerce.

But the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and groups like Right to Work in Virginia do want to destroy labor. They are engaged in nothing less than a war against working people.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Creigh Deeds Wins NARAL Endorsement

I just received this press release with very good news, though hardly unexpected. Creigh Deeds, long a defender of a woman's right to choose, just received the NARAL Pro-Choice Virginia PAC endorsement. (Emphasis in third paragraph is mine.)
July 25, 2009


Endorsement highlights organization's dedication to building pro-choice
leadership in the Commonwealth

(Alexandria, VA) - Today, NARAL Pro-Choice Virginia PAC, the Commonwealth's
leading advocate for personal privacy and a woman's right to choose,
announced its endorsement of Senator Creigh Deeds for Governor.

NARAL Pro-Choice Virginia's PAC views this election as critical in
determining the future of reproductive choice for the state of Virginia, and
Senator Deeds is the leader who can help ensure that all Virginians have
comprehensive, affordable, and accessible reproductive healthcare. We have
worked with Senator Deeds over the past five years and know him to be a
thoughtful, consistent, and dedicated pro-choice advocate, invested in
promoting commonsense practices to reduce the number of unintended
pregnancies and the need for abortion, statewide.

Deeds' opponent, Bob McDonnell, has made a life-long career of denying women the reproductive healthcare they need. In his 17 years in elected office, McDonnell has patroned over 30 bills that aimed to limit reproductive freedoms, harming women and families. "For someone who is so opposed to abortion, it's mindboggling that Bob McDonnell has patroned bills to prevent access to birth control and emergency contraception," said Tarina Keene, Executive Director of NARAL Pro-Choice Virginia.

"Bob McDonnell has gone on record stating his belief that abortion should
not be legal, even in cases of rape and incest," Keene continued.
"Virginians cannot afford to have an elected leader confuse political
ideology with medical need. McDonnell has time and time again voted to move
Virginia backwards with regards to healthcare. NARAL Pro-Choice Virginia PAC
is dedicated to supporting Creigh Deeds, and defeating Bob McDonnell's
attempt to control Virginians' reproductive health."

NARAL Pro-Choice Virginia supports candidates who are dedicated to family
planning, preventing unintended pregnancy, and increasing access to
reproductive healthcare for women and families. The organization's powerful
statewide network of activists will mobilize pro-choice voters throughout
Virginia to help elect Senator Deeds and other pro-choice candidates in
For me, the most salient fact is that not only does McDonnell oppose abortion, but he also opposes birth control. That is an extreme position that puts him well outside the mainstream in Virginia and the country. Note carefully, I said, he OPPOSES BIRTH CONTROL.

There is no poll that has ever shown that any state opposes a woman's - or even a man's right to practice birth control. That was a battle that was won back in the 1920s, and should not even have to be refought in the 21st century.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Gerry Connolly On Healthcare Reform

Below is a complete version of CBS News' Nancy Cordes' interview with Gerry Connolly on health care reform. In it, Connolly repeats his opposition to taxing those individuals earning over $280,000 and couples earning $350,000.

Connolly, president of the freshman class, and a handful of his freshmen colleagues, met with both President Obama and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to discuss their concerns.

As has been widely reported, Connolly has stated that 14 percent of his constituents make over those earning levels and "they all vote," in his words.

Connolly expressed his belief that more savings could be wrung out of health care reform, and the insurance industry could do more to contribute to funding and health savings. He pointed out that other countries pay far less for their health care, yet get more services and have better health outcomes. He may be right about that. Part of health care reform should include an exploration of how we can save money and boost good outcomes to match our European and Canadian neighbors, while retaining a uniquely American approach to health care funding and service.

On the other hand, hoping we can do it all without any tax increase may be a siren song, tempting but ultimately what lures us to founder on the rocks of frustration and failure. Often, especially in our profoundly anti-tax society, services have already been cut to the bone. The fat is gone and we are cutting into muscle and sinew to avoid raising taxes. Perhaps the discussion really needs to be about which taxes to raise and who will pay them. After all, back in 1980, when Ronald Reagan's anti-tax philosophy resonated with the public, income tax rates were far higher than now. Back in the eighties, the tax rate of the richest segment of society was 70 percent. Today, because of the Bush tax cuts and the cuts to the capital gains tax, the wealthiest one percent only pay about 17.2 percent of their income tax.

So, unlike Rep. Connolly, I'm not sure they shouldn't pay for some of the health care expenses. After all, these are the people who have benefitted the most from America's successes. I'll have more to say about this after you watch the video.

Watch CBS Videos Online

Although, I disagree with Connolly that we can avoid raising taxes by finding savings, I do agree that every effort should be made to ensure that reform is cost effective and revenue neutral. Then, I would sell any tax increase to the wealthy on the benefits of the health care plan to them and their fellow Americans.

It is an article of faith among the most progressive elements in politics that all the rich are greedy. I don't think that's true. Some are greedy, others are not. But for years, they have been told that tax cuts and supply side economics is good, not just for them but for the country. Indeed, they have been held up as heroes for getting richer. Supply siders have been giving variations of Gordon Gekko's greed is good speech, though not cast so blatantly, for at least 25 years.

But there's mounting evidence that greed is actually bad for a lot of people, including their fellow citizens, employees, and neighbors. Many wealthy people give a lot of money to charity and head philanthropic organizations. But they also are pragmatic business people.

So, what if we show them, complete with charts, graphs, and colorful Power Point demonstrations, just how much supply side economics has hurt the vast middle class, whose wages have stagnated? What if we show the wealthy what a drain our current health system has been on their very own businesses? What if we demonstrate that health care reform, done right, and funded fairly, benefits all of society and, therefore, benefits them too.

Any appeal should be to both their self-interest and their value system. Political scientists have shown us that people do not just vote their self-interest. They also vote their morals and their values. And a lot of rich people go to churches, synagogues, and mosques. They have families and they have as much empathy for a neighbor in distress as anybody else.

Rather than demonizing them and making them the bad guys of the narrative, I think the way to get their support is to include them in the story of everybody working together for the common good because it benefits all Americans, it's fair, and it's patriotic to pay for things that strengthen our country.

Because Gerry Connolly is both progressive and pragmatic, he's one of the people we need to persuade. Connolly, although often thought of as a centrist because of his pragmatic streak, is hardly one of the Blue Dogs. In fact, according to Open Congress, he has voted with Democrats 99 percent of the time and abstained zero times from votes. So, he seems to be taking principled stands, not ducking issues, and is in the mainstream of the Democratic Party.

Frankly, there are bloggers out there demonizing and ridiculing Gerry because they want to keep alive old grudges and fights. That's counter-productive. My friend Bryan Scrafford has the better approach (also here), one that is respectful but doesn't gloss over honest differences of opinion.

Connolly is one of the people we can work with and try to persuade. Like Bryan, I would urge those of my readers who agree that we need health care reform now, and that the wealthiest one percent need to be persuaded to pay their fair share for the common good, to call or email Gerry to show support for health care reform and an adequate funding stream to pay for it.

We need fiscal responsibility as much as reform and that means everybody paying their fair share, including those who have been most blessed in our society. But to get it, we have to also step up and show Congress that this is what the majority of voters want. My favorite political philospher, Aaron Sorkin, once said, "Decisions are made by those who show up."

So, show up and call Connolly's office at (202) 225-1492 or email him. Be polite. Be persuasive. And let him know that this is what you support and you will support him for stepping up.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

A 6 AM Call and a Sad Farewell

Every so often, reality hits you with the bluntness of a hammer on a fragile sheet of glass, smashing your dreams and illusions of safety into a millions shards. That happened this morning at 6 a.m. when my friend, Karen, whom I have known since I first moved here, called to tell me her husband Jeff just died.

This wasn’t totally unexpected. Jeff suffered intermittent infections and complications from diabetes. He was hospitalized several times over the past few months. Yesterday, in the morning, the ambulance rushed him to the hospital and he was placed in ICU. Dan and I spoke to Karen several times during the day and planned to go up to Baltimore to visit. Last night, Karen called to let us know Jeff was transferred to hospice. We told Karen we would come up today after work to see both of them. We knew the situation was dire. But his death came much faster than we all thought. Doesn’t it always?

Dan and I met Karen and Jeff eighteen years ago, when I first moved from Jacksonville, Florida to Northern Virginia. Dan moved here about a year before me to start a new job, while I stayed behind to sell our house.

While Dan was living in Southern Maryland and working at Camp Springs, his old college roommate, Daryl, brought him to meet his cousins Delores and Joe. They were Karen’s parents. Her father, Joe, had just been diagnosed with what would turn out to be a deadly melanoma. But at that point, he was a bluff, hearty man, who loved a good laugh, a beer with friends, and his Fighting Irish. He was a Notre Dame graduate. In fact, at his funeral, they played the Notre Dame fight song to honor him. Since that all happened while I was still in Jacksonville, I never met Joe, but I sure heard a lot about him, most of it funny and endearing. He was missed.

About two weeks after I moved here from Florida, the new widow, Delores, invited Dan and me, along with Daryl, to her home for a cookout. That’s where I first met her daughter, Karen, and Karen’s husband Jeff. That’s also when Dan and Jeff discovered their bitter rivalry - Jeff was from Pittsburgh and a Steelers fan, Dan a Browns fan from Cleveland. Naturally, we became fast friends.

For Delores’ first Christmas as a widow, Daryl, Dan, and I bought her a Christmas tree, set it up, and decorated it for her. In return, she cooked us all a lasagna dinner, with scrumptious deserts. Karen, Jeff, Delores’ sister Frannie, and her daughter all came and helped to decorate Delores' lovely house. A Christmas tradition was born and every December, on the first Saturday, we all descended on Delores with a tree. It became the first party of our holiday season for years.

As so many customs do in our fast and disposable society, the Christmas tradition faded, for various reasons, about five years ago when Delores moved from her private home into a high-rise condo and stopped putting up a tree. But we stayed in touch, and Dan and I helped Karen plot a surprise for Jeff’s 55th birthday last September. At a baseball game in Baltimore, during the seventh inning stretch, Jeff’s name, with the words, “Happy 55th Birthday,” flashed on the scoreboard so that a few thousand of his most intimate friends would know he was getting old. “I’ll get you guys for this,” he promised, as we all laughed at our cleverness at having surprised him - or “gotten him good.”

Secretly, he was pleased to be remembered so publicly. Karen told us that later.

Tonight, Dan and I will go up to Baltimore for the difficult but necessary task of comforting a new widow, saying farewell to an old friend, and remembering and telling each other our stories about Jeff. Through our stories, we keep our loved ones alive and always with us.

Meanwhile, I will be out of pocket for a few days sorting fresh grief.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Why I Want a Wise Latina on the Supreme Court

Republicans have been aggressively fixated on the “wise Latina” phrase that judicial nominee Sonia Sotomayor used in a speech to a group of Hispanic students at Berkley in California, in 2001. And Democrats have been trying to separate themselves and Judge Sotomayor from her own words ever since she was nominated to the Supreme Court. But I think that’s the wrong tactic. Instead, they should be embracing it. It was an appropriate phrase in a speech whose purpose was to inspire young Hispanic women to achieve success and nothing more. It did not reflect her judicial philosophy, which appears to be very much in the mainstream if you judge it by the countless opinions she has rendered from the bench.

But what if it actually had reflected her understanding of her role as a judge? Would that have been a bad thing?

I don’t believe so. I also don’t believe that Judge Sotomayor should be running from the accusation that empathy is a bad trait for a judge. In fact, it’s the Republicans who are arguing on the wrong side of that divide too.

But let’s start with why a wise Latina might be a very good thing to have on the Supreme Court bench.

All judges interpret the law. If there were one cut and dried interpretation of law, we wouldn’t need appeals courts or the Supreme Court. No ruling would ever be overturned. And there would never be split decisions.

Further, every judge brings a mixture of things to his or her judgments, including knowledge of the law, reason, emotion, personal background, and experience. That’s as true of Justices Roberts, Scalia, Alito, and Thomas as it is of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg or her former colleague Sandra Day O’Connor.

All judges also are activists judges. They all make their judicial decisions based on their philosophy and interpretation of law. And their decisions are forged out of their life experience. A perfect example of this was the Supreme Court’s decision in the Lilly Ledbetter (and here) case against Goodyear Tire and Rubber Company in Gadsden, Alabama.

As background, Ms. Ledbetter was one of the few female supervisors in the plant and suffered sexual harassment. Her boss told her he was opposed to women even working there. She suspected that she was being paid less and getting lower raises than her male peers. But she couldn’t prove it because Goodyear, like so many companies, forbade employees to discuss their salaries. When somebody sent her an anonymous letter detailing three male managers’ pay levels, she went to court and won back pay and $3.3 million in compensatory damages. But that decision was reversed by a higher court only because she had failed to file suit within the statute of limitations.

In a five to four decision, authored by Alito, who once held membership in a Princeton alumni association that discouraged the membership of women and minorities, the Supreme Court upheld the Appeals Court for the 11th Circuit in their reversal.

Nobody contested that Ledbetter had suffered discrimination. The reversal was because her timing was bad. The problem with this decision is that Lilly Ledbetter wasn’t sitting around and dawdling. She didn’t fail to bring the case to court sooner because she had a procrastination problem. The delay was caused by her lack of knowledge. It’s dreadfully hard to discover that you are being paid less than your peers are because in most American companies, as in Goodyear, one of the most inviolable taboos is discussing salary. Many people, in fact, never know how much less they may be making than a fellow employee. That taboo protects companies and encourages both unfairness and discrimination.

It’s hard to think that if Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, herself no stranger to discrimination, had been on the bench, she would have found for Goodyear. O’Connor, after graduating at the head of her class from law school, had to work as a legal secretary because no law firm would hire a female attorney. Can anybody honestly argue that such an experience wouldn’t factor into her decision-making process - or even that it shouldn’t factor into it?

Age and gender discrimination are hard enough to prove without having an artificial barrier that raises the bar to impossible levels and gives cover to companies to cheat hardworking people. The courts are there to protect everybody - business people, corporations, and ordinary workers. I think an all male bench, comprised of only the most privileged, does not always get that. Over the many years of our country’s history, they have proven that they don’t get it many times over. So, yes, I want a wise Latina, and one with empathy.

I’m not sure I understand why Republicans object so much to that term. It simply means the ability to put yourself in another’s shoes and to understand what they are going through. Empathy is actually exactly the quality I would want in a judge - Latina, white, male, or female. Empathy, after all, can also put you in the shoes of the victims of crime. And so can growing up in a tough Bronx neighborhood.

According to Sotomayor’s brother, Juan, whom I heard discussing this on NPR, when they were growing up, in the South Bronx, she was the big sister who protected him from neighborhood bullies. Often when the bullies would surround him, she would rush over and state, “If you want to beat up my brother, you have to beat me up too.” Apparently, she was the one in the family who would duke it out with them.

And it seems that Sotomayor continues to duke it out with the bad guys. She became a tough prosecutor who continued to defend the victims of bullies, predators, and gang members, putting them away in jail. Her empathy was for those who, like her, were struggling in crime-ridden communities to raise decent children, to protect their families, and to work hard for a better future. That’s the kind of empathetic, wise Latina I want in my corner and on the Supreme Court.

And if that is being an activist judge - well, good!

Wednesday, July 08, 2009

Perriello Wins Over Morning Joe, Answers Critics

Ok, I sympathize with the fact that the Virginia GOP lost Virgil Goode's seat last November, and that was supposed to be a relatively safe one. They never saw it coming - and heck neither did a lot of the Dems. Maybe we hoped, but we knew that seat was a long shot. Especially since Tom Perriello was not exactly campaigning as a conservative Blue Dog.

And you could perhaps even forgive the Virginia Republican Party for thinking that maybe this guy is a one hit wonder - he won on Obama's incredible coattails in a year when Bush fatigue was palpable. So, it would stand to reason that Perriello, in the very conservative 5th CD, is now one of the most vulnerable members of the freshman class in Congress. There is a target on his back, and Republicans are salivating at the chance to grab that seat back in 2010, which they hope will be a more normal year.

Except, they may have over played their hand too early with their baseless and dishonest attacks. Perriello handles himself so well in this interview with Morning Joe Scarborough, himself no liberal, that Virginia's GOP may need to re-evaluate whether they actually want to be in a pissing match with this guy. Watch the video below and tell me if you agree with me that possibly they ought to search for a more vulnerable freshman to take out.

At the very least, the GOPers are going to have to come up with different tactics. Perhaps running a credible candidate and coming up with fresh new ideas to challenge Perriello would work. After all, lying about him certainly isn't doing the trick.

Jody Wagner Challenges Bolling: Will Sarah Palin Campaign For You?

I received the following press release from the Jody Wagner campaign:
July 8, 2009



RICHMOND - Today, the Wagner campaign called on Bill Bolling to clarify remarks made yesterday regarding his willingness to welcome Alaska Governor Sarah Palin to Virginia.

Elisabeth Pearson, the campaign manager for Virginians for Wagner said: "If Bill Bolling wants to continue aligning himself with failed economic policies-first Jim Gilmore, then George Bush, and now Sarah Palin-he should simply say so. Those policies, which have resulted in economic downturns, job losses, and budget deficits, are the opposite of what Virginia needs. Commonwealth voters have made clear that the way forward for Virginia is to carry on the Warner-Kaine record of fiscal management and economic growth, which started by cleaning up the Gilmore-Bolling mess, and resulted in preserving the state's AAA credit rating, being named the "Best Managed State" twice, and being named the "Best State for Business" six times during the Kaine administration alone. Jody Wagner has helped create nearly 200,000 new jobs in Virginia over the last seven years. After three and a half years of inaction as Lt. Governor, it's a little late for Bill Bolling to be joining the conversation."

In response to questions from the Associated Press on Tuesday, neither Bob McDonnell nor Bill Bolling-both of whom have welcomed Palin's support in past months-would commit to campaigning alongside Palin in Virginia [Associated Press, 7/8/09].

Saturday, July 04, 2009

Sarah Palin Quits - Leaves Questions About Her Future

By now, the speculation about Sarah Palin’s abrupt and startling resignation has been burning up both the Internet and the mainstream media. The conjecture both in newspapers and on the blogs ranges from guesses that she is tired of the public ridicule she and her family have suffered to suspicions that a scandal is about to break. This includes dark mutterings on some of the progressive blogs about possible criminal indictments coming down in Alaska.

Yeah, right. Absent an actual smoking gun, I’m going to go with some more mundane theories about the what and why.

The most common belief is that being governor of a state so far from the mainland – and the main media markets – is limiting to any candidate with presidential aspirations.

If Palin were to finish out her term, it would limit the amount of time she could devote to campaigning for the two gubernatorial races this year – one in Virginia and the other in New Jersey – as well as prevent her from attending prominent party events that would keep her in the national spotlight. It also would curtail her participation in events in early primary states like New Hampshire and Iowa, where candidates have to start laying down their campaign groundwork and building grassroots support early. Time-consuming retail politics is crucial particularly in those two states. Palin may have concluded, correctly, that fulfilling her obligations to Alaska was incompatible with seeking higher office given the vast distance of Alaska to the rest of the nation.

There is a big problem with that line of thought, though. Quitting as governor does not help her build her credentials, even with some conservative Republicans. She already suffers the disadvantage of being viewed by many voters, as well as pundits, as too inexperienced and unprepared to even be vice president. I can’t imagine how quitting before the end of her first term helps her to be taken seriously for national office. It just appears to be too whimsical a move.

But there is another, simpler explanation for her resignation. She may truly no longer be interested in running in 2012. Nevertheless, just because she may no longer be interested in elective office, that doesn’t mean she wants to completely give up the limelight or relinquish her very real influence among Republicans. By leaving the Governor’s Mansion in Alaska, she could easily pick up a spot as a pundit herself. Should she want it, I’m sure Fox News would happily give her a primetime spot and a show of her own. And that could be portable. She could work from a studio up in Alaska. She could take her show on the road and also campaign for other Republicans.

Sarah may no longer crave the presidency, but that doesn’t mean she wants to give up the spotlight. In fact, she could be far more influential, given her popularity with the GOP base, as a talking head and celebrity guest campaigner and fundraiser for other candidates.

Oh, and did anybody mention that she could also make far more money doing so? I’m sure the financial gain is not her main motivator. But it sure does sweeten the pot, if that is what she wants to do anyway.

Friday, July 03, 2009

The Krugman Blues

It's not a secret to those who read my blog that I am a great fan of Nobel Prize-winning economist and New York Times columnist Paul Krugman. But the surest sign that Krugman has entered pop culture is not that prestigious Swedish prize, his bestselling books, like "Conscience of a Liberal" or his frequent appearances on television as a talking head. No, it's that he has a song about him. It's by social satirist and folk singer, Loudon Wainwright:

H/t to Huffington Post.