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Thanks For Fighting Back

Posted on 06 November 2013 by John Johnson

JohnWe should thank all the volunteers who have help Change-Links since the beginning. We have other editors who taught me how to put the newspaper together. All those who have helped distribute Change-Links every month. A mainstay has been Dean who gets them out on the Westside and elsewhere and makes it by for every mailing meeting. Chuck from Orange County. Franco who has helped in the Pasadena area until he had some health problems. Marcielle , Paul and others in the Pasadena area. Woodrow who uses buses to hit downtown, South Central and others places. And many others. Thanks for fighting back.— John Johnson

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It’s Still Class Warfare

Posted on 09 October 2013 by John Johnson

Pretend All You Like, It’s Still Class Warfare

by DAVID MACARAY

It’s an old joke, but it bears repeating: An Oxford professor meets a former student on the street. He asks what he’s been up to lately. The student tells him he’s working on a doctoral thesis about the survival of the class system in the United States. The professor expresses surprise. “I didn’t think there was a class system in the United States,” he says. “Nobody does,” the student replies. “That’s how it survives.”

The growing chasm between the so-called middle-class and the rich, coupled with the on-going, systematic assault on organized labor, isn’t simply the result of some unfortunate decisions. Rather, it’s evidence of a well-oiled drive, led by Wall Street and its minions, to separate and segregate the working class from the rest of the economy. It’s class warfare, plain and simple, fought the way our “real” wars are now fought—heavily muscled and sanitized.

Because there’s no opposition (not the Congress, or the Church, or organized labor, or citizen groups), the timing couldn’t be more perfect. The rich and powerful are actively seizing all they can get, and they’re doing it boldly, audaciously, in broad daylight, in front of our eyes, making it reminiscent of those frontier land-grabs where they took everything they wanted, knowing no one could stop them.

So what can we do about it? Vote for progressives and hope for the best? Write to our congressmen? Write to the president?

Actually, we can write the president. Not that anything meaningful will result from it, but it’s easy to do. Anyone interested in getting an opinion heard, getting a gripe off their chest, presenting a personal manifesto, or simply hurling insults at the Oval Office can write to President Obama at this address:  http://www.whitehouse.gov/contact

It might take a month or two, but unless you’ve issued a death threat or written a particularly vulgar letter, you’ll get a response. Of course, it won’t be President Obama who writes you. Indeed, it’s unlikely he’ll even read your letter. Rather, it will a nameless and faceless intern assigned to mail duty who writes back.

Six or seven weeks ago I wrote the president, grousing about how pitifully little he’s done for working people. Beginning with his abandonment of the EFCA (Employee Free Choice Act, which would’ve made card-check the law of the land), and his appointment of his old Chicago crony, that anti-union shill Arne Duncan, as Secretary of Education, I lamented the fact that he has been a profound disappointment.

Because this was my first letter to the president, and because I had no idea how it would play out, I was more interested in testing the water than in overwhelming the man with a long list of grievances, or coming off as wildly aggressive. After all, isn’t that Ted Cruz’s job?

Accordingly, I avoided ideology. There was no mention of class distinctions, class warfare, class protests, dialectics, or the Democrats’ betrayal of the American worker. Instead, I politely expressed my surprise at his reluctance to use the bully pulpit to promote the virtues of organized labor, and very gingerly accused him of being either insincere or gutless when it came to supporting unions.

The following is his (his intern’s) response, filled with enough platitudes, weasel words, and assorted bullshit to give politicians a bad name. Had he (his intern) said, “Before you start bitching, fella, try dealing with a Congress whose sole goal is to see you fail,” I would’ve respected him. But instead, I got platitudes. And call me nitpicky, but I objected to his (his intern’s) use of the upper case in the word “Nation.”

Dear David:

Thank you for writing.  I have heard from many Americans about the concerns of working men and women, and I appreciate your perspective.

Since our Nation’s founding, we have relied on the firm resolve and commitment of working Americans.  These men and women are the backbone of our communities and power the engine of our economy.

Workers have not always possessed the same rights and benefits many enjoy today.  But throughout our history, hardworking individuals have joined together to exercise their right to a voice in the workplace.  Through these efforts, the labor movement has improved the lives of countless working Americans and their families by representing their views and advocating for better wages and safe, fair working conditions.  Over time, this work has helped lay the cornerstones of middle-class security—the 40-hour workweek and weekends, paid leave and pensions, the minimum wage and health insurance, and Social Security and Medicare.  As we support the groundbreaking contributions of the American workers who have built our country and brightened our tomorrow, we must continue to protect the role and rights of workers in our national life, including their right to collective bargaining.

Every day, hard-working men and women across America prove that, even in difficult times, our Nation is still home to the most innovative, dynamic, and talented workers in the world.  Generations of working people have built our Nation—from our highways and skylines to the goods and services driving us in the 21st century.  My Administration remains committed to supporting their efforts in moving our economy forward.

Thank you, again, for writing.  I encourage you to read more about my Administration’s approach to this complex issue and other critical matters at www.WhiteHouse.gov.

Sincerely,

Barack Obama

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David Macaray, an LA playwright and author (“It’s Never Been Easy:  Essays on Modern Labor,” 2nd edition), is a former union rep.

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PHOTO: http://www.flickr.com/photos/23560963@N03/6228635356/

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Troy Davis Executed

Posted on 01 October 2011 by John Johnson

Troy Davis Executed, While CEO Responsible for Deaths of 29 Miners Sails Free

by Mike Elk

Last night at 11:08, Troy Anthony Davis was executed in the State of Georgia for the 1989 murder of a police officer. Much doubt existed in the case as seven of the nine witnesses recanted their testimony (one even claimed that an eighth murder witness was guilty) and no DNA or other physical evidence linked Davis to the crime. Monica Barrow of California and other protesters outside the Jackson State Prison react to news of the US Supreme Court appeal decision to refuse a stay of execution for Troy Davis on September 21, 2011 in Jackson, Georgia. (Photo by Jessica McGowan/Getty Images)

Former FBI Director William Sessions wrote, “The evidence in this case—consisting almost entirely of conflicting stories, testimonies and statements—is inadequate to the task of convincingly establishing either Davis’ guilt or his innocence.” Davis maintained his innocence up until his death, telling the family of the murdered police officer, “I was not the one who took the life of your father, son, brother.”

Last year on April 5, 29 miners died in a methane explosion caused by poor ventilation at the Upper Big Branch Mine in Raleigh County, W.Va. A report by the Mine Safety and Health Administration ruled that the event that caused the explosion could have easily been prevented by Massey Energy, which was well aware of a long history of safety problems in the mine. In the year leading up to the explosion, the Upper Big Branch Mine was cited 458 times for safety violations, with 50 of those violations being willful violations of the law—nearly five times the national average for citations of a single mine.

An investigation by the Mine Safety and Health Administration also revealed that Massey kept two sets of books—it recorded a clean safety record in one log book, which it provided to mine inspectors, while maintaining a private, internal log of known safety problems and the efforts made to fix them.

Despite this evidence of the willful violation of safety laws that could have prevented the miners’ deaths at Upper Big Branch, and despite evidence of widespread lying to federal investigators by Massey officials, CEO Don Blankenship is a free man allowed to enjoy the splendorous life of a multi-millionaire.

Only two Massey Energy officials, one foreman and one former chief of security, have so far been indicted—not for their responsibility in the deaths, but for lying and concealing documents from federal investigators. Another 18 executives, including longtime Massey Energy CEO Don Blankenship, refused to be interviewed by federal investigators, pleading the Fifth Amendment as protection from self-incrimination.

Even if company officials like Blankenship are prosecuted, it is unlikely that any will do jail time. Since 1970 more than 360,000 workers have died on the job in safety accidents, while only 84 cases have been prosecuted for the willful violation of safety rules that resulted in a worker’s death. Even if convicted, the penalty for wrongfully killing a worker on the job is only 6 months. Quite often company officials are not jailed, but merely fined if found responsible for willfully violating safety laws that lead to a worker’s death. The maximum penalty for a major safety violation is a mere $7,000—a price many companies are willing to pay for the death of a worker on the job. In 2010 alone, 4,547 Americans were killed on the job.

While many right-wing politicians, such as GOP presidential contender Rick Perry, will use the execution of Troy Davis to affirm their support for tough penalties for those convicted of killing people, few will say anything about the workers who are killed by corporations in preventable work accidents every year. But as easy as it would be to say that the issue of innocent men being killed is ignored by Republican politicians, the Democrats aren’t much better.

President Barack Obama refused to issue a statement on the execution of Troy Davis; likewise, he refused to move steadfastly earlier this year to implement a revision to federal law that would prevent children as young as 12 from operating potentially deadly farm equipment. (Minors working in agriculture are six times more likely to be killed in accidents than minors working in other industries.)

After three years of efforts, the Department of Labor, about a year ago, finally issued an internal proposal to revise federal law to prevent minors from working in dangerous farm occupations. Typically, rules like this are supposed to be reviewed within 90 days of their proposal to allow for quick implementation, especially rules related to life-and-death safety rules. But under heavy industry opposition, President Obama’s Office of Management and Budget held up the rules in review for nearly nine months—an “unnecessary delay,” according to Justin Feldman of Public Citizens’ Worker and Public Health Safety Advocate.

While big agriculture was busy unnecessarily delaying these rules, two 14 year old girls were electrocuted to death working on a farm in Illinois. Finally, only after the deaths of these two children and public protest from worker safety advocates, the OMB allowed the Department of Labor to take its next step.

Power and influence have clearly distorted the scales of the justice system when men like Troy Davis are executed in the face of questionable evidence of their guilt, while corporate CEOs like Don Blankenship, who evidence shows clearly and willfully disobeyed safety laws that caused the deaths of 29 workers, are allowed to go about sailing on their yachts.

I only wonder what would have been the Supreme Court’s reaction to a request for stay of execution, had the petitioner been a rich white man named Don Blankenship instead of a poor black man named Troy Davis.

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Corporate Coup d’état

Posted on 01 May 2011 by John Johnson

Corporate Coup d’état Coming Soon

to a City Near You

By Rania Khalek

In her book The Shock Doctrine, Naomi Klein demonstrates how wealthy elites often use times of crisis and chaos to impose unpopular policies that restructure economies and political systems to further advance their interests.  She calls these orchestrated raids on the public sphere in the wake of catastrophic events, combined with the treatment of disasters as exciting market opportunities, “disaster capitalism.”

Disaster capitalism is on display around the country, as legislators use the debt crisis afflicting their states as an opportunity to hollow out the public sector.  In Michigan it’s being packaged as “emergency financial management” by Republican Gov. Rick Snyder, who is looking to exploit an economic crisis that has left his state with a severe budget deficit.  In March, Snyder signed a law granting state-appointed emergency financial managers (EFM) the ability to fire local elected officials, break teachers’ and public workers’ contracts, seize and sell assets, and eliminate services, entire cities or school districts, all without any public input.  He claims these dictatorial restructuring powers will keep Michigan communities out of bankruptcy.

Michigan currently has unelected EFM’s in charge of the schools in Detroit, as well as the cities of Pontiac, Ecorse, and Benton Harbor.  In Benton Harbor, the city’s elected mayor and city commissioners were stripped of all power by unelected EFM, Joseph Harris. Harris issued an order saying the city commissioners have no power beyond calling meetings to order, approving minutes, and adjourning meetings.  This decimation of local democracy is spreading.  Robert Bobb, the EFM that has taken over Detroit’s public school system, sent layoff notices to all of the district’s 5,466 unionized employees.  Bobb says he will exercise his power as EFM to unilaterally modify the district’s collective bargaining agreement with the Federation of Teachers starting May 17, 2011.

ACLU of Michigan Executive Director Kary Moss said the law raises concern about separation of powers, its impact on minority communities, collective-bargaining rights and privatization of services.  She is absolutely correct.  Faced with a deficit, emboldened EFMs can sell off public property to developers, close public schools and authorize charter schools, and void union contracts with literally no recourse for local, tax-paying residents or their elected officials to stop it.

And, it gets worse.  Michigan has joined with the Turnaround Management Association (TMA) to develop a training program for prospective emergency managers.   According to their website,  TMA members are a professional community of turnaround and corporate renewal professionals who share a common interest in strengthening the economy through the restoration of corporate value.  Michigan Treasurer Andy Dillon, while speaking about the new program during a seminar on municipal distress, said that mayors and school superintendents are essentially running big businesses that, in many cases, are more complicated than private companies.  It’s no surprise then, that Wall Street investors are thrilled about the potential impacts of the EFM law.

An estimated 400 accountants, lawyers, school employees, and city workers began classes offered by the program in Lansing, Michigan this week on topics including “Dealing with the Unionized Workforce,” navigating municipal bankruptcy and negotiating contracts for sewer, water and other utilities.  ”Dealing with the Unionized Workforce” is code for destroying unions and has nothing to do with balancing the budget.  Gov. Scott Walker (R-WI) in an appearance before the House Oversight Committee, under questioning from Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-OH), admitted a key provision in his state budget proposal to curb union rights had no fiscal benefit, putting to rest the notion that union-busting governors like Rick Snyder have any intention of actually solving their state’s economic woes.  As for “negotiating contracts for sewer, water, and other utilities”, this is code for privatize, privatize, privatize!

This so-called financial emergency is really a democracy emergency.  Local governments are NOT corporations, nor should they resemble them.  The true purpose of emergency financial management is the conversion of a democratically elected government into a hierarchal business entity through economic “shock therapy”, which would be impossible if workers, elected representatives, and residents had any say.  Michigan has become a laboratory for  Governor Rick Snyder to impose disaster capitalism onto his state.  If we allow what is taking place in Michigan to continue unabated, it won’t be long before disaster capitalism finds its way to a city, town, or school district near you.

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Budget Showdown Aims To Quietly Exempt Pentagon

Posted on 07 April 2011 by John Johnson

Budget Showdown Aims To Quietly Exempt

Pentagon and Focus All Cuts on Social

Programs

David Sirota

http://www.davidsirota.com/

The unwritten and unspoken story of the budget showdown in Washington is the tale of both parties deliberately working to once again exempt the ever-growing Pentagon from America’s larger budget/deficit discussion.

This is the thrust of the new Republican plan to pass a one-week continuing resolution for non-defense spending and at the same time pass a full year’s status-quo Pentagon budget. Even though military spending is the single largest discretionary spending item in the budget, and even though there are blatant examples of Pentagon waste fraud and abuse, the GOP’s proposal nonetheless insists that the Pentagon must be sacrosanct.

Meanwhile, whether deliberately or inadvertently, President Obama’s tactic of citing soldier pay as the main reason to avoid a government shutdown reinforces the same embedded militarist ideology as the GOP budget proposal. It goes without saying, of course, that, delaying troop pay would be regrettable. But citing the military as the primary reason to avoid a government shutdown furthers the notion that somehow the largest discretionary budget item is the only budget item that should be considered Holy and therefore untouchable. (This is a message, by the way, that congressional Democrats have already embraced in recently offering to take yet more money from social programs and pour it into the Pentagon.)

In pursuing this course, the president is adding credence to the logic behind the GOP’s “everything but the Pentagon” proposal. If troop pay is the major reason he opposes a government shutdown, then it stands to reason he would support the GOP’s initiative to pass the status-quo bloated Pentagon budget for the rest of the year, while keeping everything else (read: social programs) on the chopping block.

The tragedy is that if the GOP’s proposal passes, an even larger and more disproportionate amount of budget cuts will be focused almost exclusively on the relatively small portion of the discretionary budget that funds social programs. This is an outcome polls show polls show most Americans strongly oppose. Indeed, just a few weeks ago, the Reuters/Ipsos poll found “a majority of Americans prefer cutting defense spending to reduce the federal deficit rather than taking money” from social programs.

That’s why this move to defy the public will and exempt the Pentagon from the national deficit discussion is being done under the veneer of a larger budget showdown. Both parties know they can’t come out and overtly advocate the Pentagon exemption, so they are working to legislate it under the cover of continuing resolutions and threats of a government shutdown. Their goal is first and foremost protecting the Pentagon’s budget – a long-term goal of a bipartisan Washington establishment now wholly owned and operated by military contractors.

As I show in my new book Back to Our Future, it has been the goal since the 1980s rehabilitated hypermilitarism as a winning political frame, and sadly, it looks like both parties may have finally engineered a budget showdown that delivers the results the military-industrial complex has been waiting for.

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The Tea Party and Us

Posted on 01 March 2011 by John Johnson

THE GREAT TEA PARTY FRAUD

By Carl Boggs

One of the most pathetic charades on the American scene is the shameless media reverence extended to Tea Party crusaders ostensibly dedicated to libertarian values, free markets, and interests of the “little guy”(in Sarah Palin’s oft-repeated parlance). About Palin, Rep. Michele Bachman, Senators Jim DeMint and Rand Paul, the dozens of newly-elected House wingers, and their followers, we are sold narratives of angry “outsiders” storming the bastions of power, ready to transform the Beltway. A quick reality-check, however, reveals a movement shrouded in remarkable deceit and hypocrisy, its partisans lock-step behind every authoritarian power structure within reach: Wall Street, corporate giants, the warfare state, an army of well-funded lobbies, U.S. imperial power, a litany of foreign dictators propped up by Washington.

While Tea Party-backed Senatorial candidates like Sharon Angle, Christine O’Donnell, and Jim Miller were defeated in the 2010 midterm elections, the Republican House takeover was fueled by this rebellious outburst of freedom-loving “populists” taking on the diabolical centers of power and ready to scuttle business-as-usual. DeMint announced that “Tea-Party Republicans were elected to go to Washington to save the country, not be coopted by the club.” Purported champions of small government, lower taxes, and deficit reduction, these nouveau conservatives targeted President Obama for delivering the country to “socialism” or some nightmarish equivalent. The Tea Party Express, founded by longtime Republican hacks Sal Russo and Howard Kaloogian, organized dozens of cross-country bus convoys and town meetings for rightwing candidates organizing to clear out the hornet’s nest of demonic tax-and-spend liberals.

But this insurgency was fraudulent from the very outset, its real interests and goals simply camouflaged by fancy campaign rhetoric. “Outsider” victories were more than anything a blessing for Big Corporations, Big Banking, Big Military, Big Lobbies, and, yes, Big Government with its Big Deficits, cloaked in platitudes about subverting the “establishment” dominated by university-educated elites. In what became the most profligate midterm election in history, with donors facing no campaign limits, plutocratic forces gained new headway. The Tea Party got most of its funding from such “populist” sources as the Chamber of Commerce, Karl Rove’s Crossroads GPS, and Americans for Prosperity – the latter mostly funded by the multibillionaire Koch brothers, desperate to keep their energy and chemical empire away from the tyrannical clutches of federal regulations.

The Tea Partiers agonize over government stifling of (nonexistent) free markets and trampling of the popular will. When it comes to deficit-spending for the Pentagon, hundreds of military bases, wars and foreign occupations, the massive intelligence complex, and the largest prison system in the world, however, the Palins, Bachmans, and DeMints turn steadfastly silent. For them, no weapons system, no military deployment, no space venture, and no war is too ambitious or expensive. A military budget reaching $800 billion when Bush left office in 2009 (now one trillion) that exceeds what the rest of the world spends combined? No problem? New Pentagon allocatons? Ditto. Spend $85 billion yearly on the NSA, CIA, and scattered other intelligence agencies? Vital to “national security”. Public debates over such tax-and-spend, deficit-creating operations? That would be unpatriotic, maybe treasonous.

What troubles the Tea Party is something entirely different – social programs and corporate regulations they see turning the U.S. into Stalinist totalitarianism. So long as Bush stuck to building up the warfare state, there would be no outrage over big government, federal debt, and soaring deficits. To renew freedom and take America back for the “little guy”, the first priority must be to dismantle social security, junk medicare, and jettison unemployment insurance – and, if possible (as Angle and Miller urged) eliminate the wasteful Departments of Energy and Education. In Bachman’s twisted world, such moves would revive the “torch of liberty”. What emerges from this mendacity and hypocrisy is the bizarre specter of a tiny group of super-wealthy elites and their propagandists getting ordinary white voters to support tax breaks for the rich, better opportunities for Wall Street and big corporations to rob the public, and drastic cuts in social services and public infrastructure. This passes for the new populism.

Tea-Partiers love freedom so much they want nothing more than to liberate giant energy companies, like those of the Koch brothers, from having to worry about the environment or global warming. In fact Big Oil is so in need of a free hand that, while passionately hated, the government is lobbied to earmark tens of billions of taxpayers’ subsidies for such giants as ExxonMobil, which netted only $21 billion in profits for three quarters of 2010.

The great libertarian campaign for freedom and democracy came up decidedly short, however, when faced with popular uprisings against Mubarak’s brutal dictatorship in Egypt. On one especially virulent winger site, Kristinn Taylor and Andrea Shea King are taken with the idea that millions of pro-democracy protesters – who they know to be allies of the evil Hamas and kindred “terrorists” – were inspired, possibly manipulated, by Code Pink as some of its leaders visited Cairo just two days before the outbreak. The aim of this subversively pacifist group was nothing other than to tear down the “main bulwark against Islamic radicals”. It’s easy to see how the “torch of liberty” can be forgotten when it conflicts with U.S. global interests.

Palin, Bachman, Russo, the Koch brothers, and their false apostles of small government love to resurrect the legacy of Ronald Reagan, that ultimate enemy of bureaucracy and big spending. The problem is that the Gipper (like the two Bushes after him) kept setting new records for escalating federal budgets, state growth, and federal deficits, having increased taxes no less than eleven times as President. Reagan’s “legacy” is shrouded in myth and deceit, but then no lie is to big or outlandish for these counterfeit populists. While screaming about big government, Reagan and the Republicans elevated spending by 40 percent from $678 billion in 1981 to nearly $1.2 trillion in 1989. Neither Reagan nor the two Bushes – nor later Tea Partiers – ever seemed troubled by the orgy of federal monies spent on the Pentagon, Star Wars, prisons, law enforcement, intelligence, and the failed war on drugs. Nor were tears shed over the hundreds of billions in Reagan bailouts to save the predatory and corrupt Savings and Loan industry.

When Republicans controlled the Presidency and Congress from 2001 to 2006, with celebrated “free marketers” in control, the federal budget grew more than ten percent, thanks to the always-insatiable Pentagon, imperial wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, and the “war on terror”. Bush’s military budget for 2009 reached a staggering $800 billion (one trillion including veterans’ benefits), from $358 billion when “big-spending” Clinton left the White House. As for Iraq, economists Joseph Stiglitz and Linda Bilmes recently wrote that their previous (2008) estimate of a three-trillion dollar price tag was much too conservative. Under Bush, the national debt soared to a record $11 trillion without a murmur of dissent from the wingers, then or now. It was Bush, moreover, who engineered the first $700 billion bailout of Wall Street, not Obama, though none of these patriotic free marketers ever called Bush a “Communist.”

In reality the Tea Party, like its rightwing precursors, favors a gargantuan state apparatus so long as it serves their drive toward an endless accumulation of power and wealth. Surely any future Tea Party system of rule would look quite the opposite of their mendacious proclamations, more like a gang of corporate predators, media shills, and ultramilitarists running an authoritarian state with the fewest possible restraints. It would carry forward the wondrous global pursuits of a truly exceptional and noble nation, bolstered by a full-spectrum security apparatus and monolithic culture steeped in Christian “family values.” Social programs would be gutted as a drain on the ever-burdened government budget, a recycling of “shock therapy.” For many this will appear like a streamlined and updated version of Mussolini’s corporate state, which too was marketed as a tribute to the popolini (little people, or Palin’s “little guys”), the church, the virtues of patriotism, and of course a powerful military.

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