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Bradley Manning is Off Limits at SF Gay Pride Parade, but Corporate Sleaze is Embraced April 27, 2013

Posted by rogerhollander in Civil Liberties, Criminal Justice, LGBT, San Francisco.
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A seemingly trivial controversy reveals quite a bit about pervasive political values

News reports yesterday indicated that Bradley Manning, widely known to be gay, had been selected to be one of the Grand Marshals of the annual San Francisco gay pride parade, named by the LGBT Pride Celebration Committee. When the predictable backlash instantly ensued, the president of the Board of SF Pride, Lisa L Williams, quickly capitulated, issuing a cowardly, imperious statement that has to be read to be believed.

(Photo: Jim Watson/AFP/Getty Images)

Williams proclaimed that “Manning will not be a grand marshal in this year’s San Francisco Pride celebration” and termed his selection “a mistake”. She blamed it all on a “staff person” who prematurely made the announcement based on a preliminary vote, and she assures us all that the culprit “has been disciplined”: disciplined. She then accuses Manning of “actions which placed in harms way the lives of our men and women in uniform”: a substance-free falsehood originally spread by top US military officials which has since been decisively and extensively debunked, even by some government officials (indeed, it’s the US government itself, not Manning, that is guilty of “actions which placed in harms way the lives of our men and women in uniform”). And then, in my favorite part of her statement, Williams decreed to all organization members that “even the hint of support” for Manning’s action – even the hint – “will not be tolerated by the leadership of San Francisco Pride”. Will not be tolerated.

I originally had no intention of writing about this episode, but the more I discovered about it, the more revealing it became. So let’s just consider a few of the points raised by all of this.

First, while even a hint of support for Manning will not be tolerated, there is a long roster of large corporations serving as the event’s sponsors who are welcomed with open arms. The list is here. It includes AT&T and Verizon, the telecom giants that enabled the illegal warrantless eavesdropping on US citizens by the Bush administration and its NSA, only to get retroactively immunized from Congress and thus shielded from all criminal and civil liability (including a lawsuit brought in San Francisco against those corporations by their customers who were illegally spied on). Last month, AT&T was fined by OSHA for failing to protect one of its employees who was attacked, was found by the FCC last year to have overcharged customers by secretly switching them to plans they didn’t want, and is now being sued by the US government for “allegedly bill[ing] the government improperly for services designed for the deaf and hard-of-hearing who place calls by typing messages over the web.”

sf pride

The list of SF Pride sponsors also includes Bank of America, now being sued for $1 billion by the US government for allegedly engaging in a systematic scheme of mortgage fraud which the US Attorney called “spectacularly brazen in scope”. Just last month, the same SF Pride sponsor received a record fine for ignoring a court order and instead trying to collect mortgage payments from bankrupt homeowners to which it was not entitled. Earlier this month, SF-Pride-sponsoring Bank of America paid $2.4 billion to settle shareholder allegations that Bank executives “failed to disclose information about losses at Merrill Lynch and bonuses paid to Merrill Lynch employees before the brokerage was acquired by Bank of America in January 2009 for $18.5 billion.”

Another beloved SF Pride sponsor, Wells Fargo, is also being “sued by the US for hundreds of millions of dollars in damages over claims the bank made reckless mortgage loans that caused losses for a federal insurance program when they defaulted”. Last year, Wells Fargo was fined $3.1 million by a federal judge for engaging in conduct that court called “highly reprehensible” relating to its persecution of a struggling homeowner. In 2011, the bank was fined by the US government “for allegedly pushing borrowers with good credit into expensive mortgages and falsifying loan applications.”

Also in Good Standing with the SF Pride board: Clear Channel, the media outlet owned by Bain Capital that broadcasts the radio programs of Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity and Glenn Beck; a pension fund is suing this SF Pride sponsor for making cheap, below-market loans to its struggling parent company. The health care giant Kaiser Permanente, another proud SF Pride sponsor, is currently under investigation by California officials for alleged massive privacy violations in the form of recklessly disclosing 300,000 patient records.

SF pride

So apparently, the very high-minded ethical standards of Lisa L Williams and the SF Pride Board apply only to young and powerless Army Privates who engage in an act of conscience against the US war machine, but instantly disappear for large corporations and banks that hand over cash. What we really see here is how the largest and most corrupt corporations own not just the government but also the culture. Even at the San Francisco Gay Pride Parade, once an iconic symbol of cultural dissent and disregard for stifling peities, nothing can happen that might offend AT&T and the Bank of America. The minute something even a bit deviant takes place (as defined by standards imposed by America’s political and corporate class), even the SF Gay Pride Parade must scamper, capitulate, apologize, and take an oath of fealty to their orthodoxies (we adore the military, the state, and your laws). And, as usual, the largest corporate factions are completely exempt from the strictures and standards applied to the marginalized and powerless. Thus, while Bradley Manning is persona non grata at SF Pride, illegal eavesdropping telecoms, scheming banks, and hedge-fund purveryors of the nation’s worst right-wing agitprop are more than welcome.

Second, the authoritarian, state-and-military-revering mentality pervading Williams’ statement is striking. It isn’t just the imperious decree that “even a hint of support” for Manning “will not be tolerated”, though that is certainly creepy. Nor is it the weird announcement that the wrongdoer “has been disciplined”. Even worse is the mindless embrace of the baseless claims of US military officials (that Manning “placed in harms way the lives of our men and women in uniform”) along with the supremely authoritarian view that any actions barred by the state are, ipso facto, ignoble and wrong. Conduct can be illegal and yet still be noble and commendable: see, for instance, Daniel Ellsberg, or most of the leaders of the civil rights movement in the US. Indeed, acts of civil disobedience and conscience by people who risk their own interests to battle injustices are often the most commendable acts. Equating illegal behavior with ignominious behavior is the defining mentality of an authoritarian – and is particularly notable coming from what was once viewed as a bastion of liberal dissent.

But the more one learns about the parties involved here, the less surprising it becomes. According to her biography, Williams “organized satellite offices for the Obama campaign” and also works for various Democratic politicians. It was President Obama, of course, who so notoriously decreed Bradley Manning guilty in public before his trial by military officers serving under Obama even began, and whose administration was found by the UN’s top torture investigator to have abused him and is now so harshly prosecuting him. It’s anything but surprising that a person who was a loyal Obama campaign aide finds Bradley Manning anathema while adoring big corporations and banks (which funded the Obama campaign and who, in the case of telecoms, Obama voted to immunize).

What we see here is how even many of the most liberal precincts in America are now the leading spokespeople for and loyalists to state power as a result of their loyalty to President Obama. Thus do we have the President of the San Francisco Gay Pride Parade sounding exactly like the Chairman of the Joints Chief, or Sarah Palin, or gay war-loving neocons, in depicting any meaningful opposition to the National Security State as the supreme sin. I’d be willing to bet large amounts of money that Williams has never condemned the Obama administration’s abuse of Manning in detention or its dangerously radical prosecution of him for “aiding the enemy”. I have no doubt that the people who did all of that would be showered with gratitude by Parade officials if they attended. In so many liberal precincts in the Age of Obama – even now including the SF Gay Pride parade – the federal government, its military, and its federal prosecutors are to be revered and celebrated but not criticized; only those who oppose them are villains.

Third, when I wrote several weeks ago about the remarkable shift in public opinion on gay equality, I noted that this development is less significant than it seems because the cause of gay equality poses no real threat to elite factions or to how political and economic power in the US are distributed. If anything, it bolsters those power structures because it completely and harmlessly assimilates a previously excluded group into existing institutions and thus incentivizes them to accommodate those institutions and adopt their mindset. This event illustrates exactly what I meant.

While some of the nation’s most corrupt corporations are welcome to fly their flag over the parade, consider what Manning – for whom “even a hint of support will not be tolerated” – actually did. His leak revealed all sorts of corruption, deceit and illegality on the part of the world’s most powerful corporations. They led to numerous journalism awards for WikiLeaks. Even Bill Keller, the former Executive Editor of the New York Times who is a harsh WikiLeaks critic, credited those leaks with helping to spark the Arab Spring, the greatest democratic revolution the world has seen in decades. Multiple media accounts describe how the cables documenting atrocities committed by US troops in Iraq prevented the Malaki government from allowing US troops to stay beyond the agreed-to deadline: i.e., helped end the Iraq war by thwarting Obama’s attempts to prolong it. For all of that, Manning was selected by Guardian readers as the 2012 Person of the Year, while former Army Lt. Dan Choi said yesterday:

As we move forward as a country, we need truth in order to gain justice, you can’t have justice without the whole truth . . . So what [Manning did as a gay American, as a gay soldier, he stood for integrity, I am proud of him.”

But none of those vital benefits matter to authoritarians. That’s because authoritarians, by definition, believe in the overarching Goodness of institutions of power, and believe the only bad acts come from those who challenge or subvert that power. Bad acts aren’t committed by the National Security State or Surveillance State; they are only committed by those who oppose them. If a person’s actions threaten power factions or are deemed prohibited by them, then Good Authoritarians will reflexively view the person as evil and will be eager to publicly disassociate themselves from such individuals. Or, as Williams put it, “even the hint of support” for Manning “will not be tolerated”, and those who deviate from this decree will be “disciplined”.

sf pride

Even the SF Gay Pride Parade is now owned by and beholden to the nation’s largest corporations, subject to their dictates. Those who run the event are functionaries of, loyalists to, the nation’s most powerful political officials. That’s how this parade was so seamlessly transformed from orthodoxy-challenging, individualistic and creative cultural icon into yet another pile of obedient apparatchiks that spout banal slogans doled out by the state while viciously scorning those who challenge them. Yes, there will undoubtedly still be exotically-dressed drag queens, lesbian motorcycle clubs, and groups proudly defined by their unusual sexual proclivities participating in the parade, but they’ll be marching under a Bank of America banner and behind flag-waving fans of the National Security State, the US President, and the political party that dominates American politics and its political and military institutions. Yet another edgy, interesting, creative, independent event has been degraded and neutered into a meek and subservient ritual that must pay homage to the nation’s most powerful entities and at all costs avoid offending them in any way.

It’s hardly surprising that someone who so boldly and courageously opposes the US war machine is demonized and scorned this way. Daniel Ellsberg was subjected to the same attacks before he was transformed many years later into a liberal hero (though Ellsberg had the good fortune to be persecuted by a Republican rather than Democratic President and thus, even back then, had some substantial support; come to think of it, Ellsberg lives in San Francisco: would expressions of support for him be tolerated?). But the fact that such lock-step, heel-clicking, military-mimicking behavior is now coming from the SF Gay Pride Parade of all places is indeed noteworthy: it reflects just how pervasive this authoritarian rot has become.

Corporate corruption and sleaze

For a bit more on the dominance of corporate sleaze and corruption in our political culture, see the first few paragraphs of this extraordinary Politico article on a new book about DC culture, and this Washington Post article detailing the supreme annual convergence of political, media and corporate sleaze called “the White House Correspondents’ Dinner”, to be held this weekend.

Glenn Greenwald

Glenn Greenwald is a columnist on civil liberties and US national security issues for the Guardian. A former constitutional lawyer, he was until 2012 a contributing writer at Salon.  His most recent book is, With Liberty and Justice for Some: How the Law Is Used to Destroy Equality and Protect the Powerful. His other books include: Great American Hypocrites: Toppling the Big Myths of Republican PoliticsA Tragic Legacy: How a Good vs. Evil Mentality Destroyed the Bush Presidency, and How Would a Patriot Act? Defending American Values from a President Run Amok. He is the recipient of the first annual I.F. Stone Award for Independent Journalism.

Declaration of the Occupation of New York City October 5, 2011

Posted by rogerhollander in Democracy, Economic Crisis, Environment, Foreign Policy, Human Rights, Poverty, War.
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www.nationofchange.org

What follows is the first official, collective
statement of the protesters in Zuccotti Park:

As we gather together in solidarity to express a
feeling of mass injustice, we must not lose sight of what brought us together.
We write so that all people who feel wronged by the corporate forces of the
world can know that we are your allies.

As one people, united, we acknowledge the reality:
that the future of the human race requires the cooperation of its members; that
our system must protect our rights, and upon corruption of that system, it is up
to the individuals to protect their own rights, and those of their neighbors;
that a democratic government derives its just power from the people, but
corporations do not seek consent to extract wealth from the people and the
Earth; and that no true democracy is attainable when the process is determined
by economic power. We come to you at a time when corporations, which place
profit over people, self-interest over justice, and oppression over equality,
run our governments. We have peaceably assembled here, as is our right, to let
these facts be known.

 

  • They have taken our houses through an illegal foreclosure process, despite
    not having the original mortgage.
  • They have taken bailouts from taxpayers with impunity, and continue to give
    Executives exorbitant bonuses.
  • They have perpetuated inequality and discrimination in the workplace based
    on age, the color of one’s skin, sex, gender identity and sexual orientation.
  • They have poisoned the food supply through negligence, and undermined the
    farming system through monopolization.
  • They have profited off of the torture, confinement, and cruel treatment of
    countless animals, and actively hide these practices.
  • They have continuously sought to strip employees of the right to negotiate
    for better pay and safer working conditions.
  • They have held students hostage with tens of thousands of dollars of debt on
    education, which is itself a human right.
  • They have consistently outsourced labor and used that outsourcing as
    leverage to cut workers’ healthcare and pay.
  • They have influenced the courts to achieve the same rights as people, with
    none of the culpability or responsibility.
  • They have spent millions of dollars on legal teams that look for ways to get
    them out of contracts in regards to health insurance.
  • They have sold our privacy as a commodity.
  • They have used the military and police force to prevent freedom of the
    press.
  • They have deliberately declined to recall faulty products endangering lives
    in pursuit of profit.
  • They determine economic policy, despite the catastrophic failures their
    policies have produced and continue to produce.
  • They have donated large sums of money to politicians, who are responsible
    for regulating them.
  • They continue to block alternate forms of energy to keep us dependent on
    oil.
  • They continue to block generic forms of medicine that could save people’s
    lives or provide relief in order to protect investments that have already turned
    a substantial profit.
  • They have purposely covered up oil spills, accidents, faulty bookkeeping,
    and inactive ingredients in pursuit of profit.
  • They purposefully keep people misinformed and fearful through their control
    of the media.
  • They have accepted private contracts to murder prisoners even when presented
    with serious doubts about their guilt.
  • They have perpetuated colonialism at home and abroad.
  • They have participated in the torture and murder of innocent civilians
    overseas.
  • They continue to create weapons of mass destruction in order to receive
    government ontracts.*

 

To the people of the world, We, the New York City
General Assembly occupying Wall Street in Liberty Square, urge you to assert
your power.

Exercise your right to peaceably assemble; occupy
public space; create a process to address the problems we face, and generate
solutions accessible to everyone.

To all communities that take action and form
groups in the spirit of direct democracy, we offer support, documentation, and
all of the resources at our disposal.

Join us and make your voices heard!

NationofChange has been an unfiltered media
resource for the Occupy Wall Street movement even while the mainstream media has
ignored, censored, and undermined the progress of the people.

I refuse to believe that corporations are people until Texas executes one September 20, 2011

Posted by rogerhollander in Criminal Justice, Democracy, Humor.
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How the Corporations Broke Ralph Nader and America, Too April 6, 2010

Posted by rogerhollander in Democracy, Media, Right Wing.
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Posted on Apr 5, 2010, www.truthdig.com
Ralph Nader
AP / Carolyn Kaster
 

By Chris Hedges

Ralph Nader’s descent from being one of the most respected and powerful men in the country to being a pariah illustrates the totality of the corporate coup. Nader’s marginalization was not accidental. It was orchestrated to thwart the legislation that Nader and his allies—who once consisted of many in the Democratic Party—enacted to prevent corporate abuse, fraud and control. He was targeted to be destroyed. And by the time he was shut out of the political process with the election of Ronald Reagan, the government was in the hands of corporations. Nader’s fate mirrors our own.

“The press discovered citizen investigators around the mid-1960s,” Nader told me when we spoke a few days ago. “I was one of them. I would go down with the press releases, the findings, the story suggestions and the internal documents and give it to a variety of reporters. I would go to Congress and generate hearings. Oftentimes I would be the lead witness. What was interesting was the novelty; the press gravitates to novelty. They achieved great things. There was collaboration. We provided the newsworthy material. They covered it. The legislation passed. Regulations were issued. Lives were saved. Other civic movements began to flower.”

Nader was singled out for destruction, as Henriette Mantel and Stephen Skrovan point out in their engaging documentary movie on Nader, “An Unreasonable Man.” General Motors had him followed in an attempt to blackmail him. It sent an attractive woman to his neighborhood Safeway supermarket in a bid to meet him while he was shopping and then seduce him; the attempt failed, and GM, when exposed, had to issue a public apology. 

But far from ending their effort to destroy Nader, corporations unleashed a much more sophisticated and well-funded attack. In 1971, the corporate lawyer and future U.S. Supreme Court Justice Lewis Powell wrote an eight-page memo, titled “Attack on American Free Enterprise System,” in which he named Nader as the chief nemesis of corporations. It became the blueprint for corporate resurgence. Powell’s memo led to the establishment of the Business Roundtable, which amassed enough money and power to direct government policy and mold public opinion. The Powell memo outlined ways corporations could shut out those who, in “the college campus, the pulpit, the media, the intellectual and literary journals,” were hostile to corporate interests. Powell called for the establishment of lavishly funded think tanks and conservative institutes to churn out ideological tracts that attacked government regulation and environmental protection. His memo led to the successful effort to place corporate-friendly academics and economists in universities and on the airwaves, as well as drive out those in the public sphere who questioned the rise of unchecked corporate power and deregulation. It saw the establishment of organizations to monitor and pressure the media to report favorably on issues that furthered corporate interests. And it led to the building of legal organizations to promote corporate interests in the courts and appointment of sympathetic judges to the bench. 

“It was off to the races,” Nader said. “You could hardly keep count of the number of right-wing corporate-funded think tanks. These think tanks specialized, especially against the tort system. We struggled through the Nixon and early Ford years, when inflation was a big issue. Nixon did things that horrified conservatives. He signed into law OSHA, the Environmental Protection Agency and air and water pollution acts because he was afraid of the people from the rumble that came out of the 1960s. He was the last Republican president to be afraid of liberals.”

The corporations carefully studied and emulated the tactics of the consumer advocate they wanted to destroy. “Ralph Nader came along and did serious journalism; that is what his early stuff was, such as ‘Unsafe at Any Speed,’ ” the investigative journalist David Cay Johnston told me. “The big books they [Nader and associates] put out were serious, first-rate journalism. Corporate America was terrified by this. They went to school on Nader. They said, ‘We see how you do this.’ You gather material, you get people who are articulate, you hone how you present this and the corporations copy-catted him with one big difference—they had no regard for the truth. Nader may have had a consumer ideology, but he was not trying to sell you a product. He is trying to tell the truth as best as he can determine it. It does not mean it is the truth. It means it is the truth as best as he and his people can determine the truth. And he told you where he was coming from.”

The Congress, between 1966 and 1973, passed 25 pieces of consumer legislation, nearly all of which Nader had a hand in authoring. The auto and highway safety laws, the meat and poultry inspection laws, the oil pipeline safety laws, the product safety laws, the update on flammable fabric laws, the air pollution control act, the water pollution control act, the EPA, OSHA and the Environmental Council in the White House transformed the political landscape. Nader by 1973 was named the fourth most influential person in the country after Richard Nixon, Supreme Court Justice Earl Warren and the labor leader George Meany.

“Then something very interesting happened,” Nader said. “The pressure of these meetings by the corporations like General Motors, the oil companies and the drug companies with the editorial people, and probably with the publishers, coincided with the emergence of the most destructive force to the citizen movement—Abe Rosenthal, the editor of The New York Times. Rosenthal was a right-winger from Canada who hated communism, came here and hated progressivism. The Times was not doing that well at the time. Rosenthal was commissioned to expand his suburban sections, which required a lot of advertising. He was very receptive to the entreaties of corporations, and he did not like me. I would give material to Jack Morris in the Washington bureau and it would not get in the paper.”

Rosenthal, who banned social critics such as Noam Chomsky from being quoted in the paper and met frequently for lunch with conservative icon William F. Buckley, demanded that no story built around Nader’s research could be published unless there was a corporate response. Corporations, informed of Rosenthal’s dictate, refused to comment on Nader’s research. This tactic meant the stories were never published. The authority of the Times set the agenda for national news coverage. Once Nader disappeared from the Times, other major papers and the networks did not feel compelled to report on his investigations. It was harder and harder to be heard.

“There was, before we were silenced, a brief, golden age of journalism,” Nader lamented. “We worked with the press to expose corporate abuse on behalf of the public. We saved lives. This is what journalism should be about; it should be about making the world a better and safer place for our families and our children, but then it ended and we were shut out.”

“We were thrown on the defensive, and once we were on the defensive it was difficult to recover,” Nader said. “The break came in 1979 when they deregulated natural gas. Our last national stand was for the Consumer Protection Agency. We put everything we had on that. We would pass it during the 1970s in the House on one year, then the Senate during the next session, then the House later on. It ping-ponged. Each time we would lose ground. We lost it because Carter, although he campaigned on it, did not lift a finger compared to what he did to deregulate natural gas. We lost it by 20 votes in the House, although we had a two-thirds majority in the Senate waiting for it. That was the real beginning of the decline. Then Reagan was elected. We tried to be the watchdog. We put out investigative reports. They would not be covered.” 

“The press in the 1980s would say ‘why should we cover you?’ ” Nader went on. “ ‘Who is your base in Congress?’ I used to be known as someone who could trigger a congressional hearing pretty fast in the House and Senate. They started looking towards the neoliberals and neocons and the deregulation mania. We put out two reports on the benefits of regulation and they too disappeared. They did not get covered at all. This was about the same the time that [former U.S. Rep.] Tony Coelho taught the Democrats, starting in 1979 when he was head of the House Campaign Finance Committee, to start raising big-time money from corporate interests. And they did. It had a magical influence. It is the best example I have of the impact of money. The more money they raised the less interested they were in any of these popular issues. They made more money when they screwed up the tax system. There were a few little gains here and there; we got the Freedom of Information law through in 1974. And even in the 1980s we would get some things done, GSA, buying air bag-equipped cars, the drive for standardized air bags. We would defeat some things here and there, block a tax loophole and defeat a deregulatory move. We were successful in staunching some of the deregulatory efforts.”

Nader, locked out of the legislative process, decided to send a message to the Democrats. He went to New Hampshire and Massachusetts during the 1992 primaries and ran as “none of the above.” In 1996 he allowed the Green Party to put his name on the ballot before running hard in 2000 in an effort that spooked the Democratic Party. The Democrats, fearful of his grass-roots campaign, blamed him for the election of George W. Bush, an absurdity that found fertile ground among those who had abandoned rational inquiry for the thought-terminating clichés of television.

Nader’s status as a pariah corresponded with an unchecked assault by corporations on the working class. The long-term unemployment rate, which in reality is close to 20 percent, the millions of foreclosures, the crippling personal debts that plague households, the personal bankruptcies, Wall Street’s looting of the U.S. Treasury, the evaporation of savings and retirement accounts and the crumbling of the country’s vital infrastructure are taking place as billions in taxpayer subsidies, obscene profits, bonuses and compensation are enjoyed by the corporate overlords. We will soon be forced to buy the defective products of the government-subsidized drug and health insurance companies, which will remain free to raise co-payments and premiums, especially if policyholders get seriously ill. The oil, gas, coal and nuclear power companies have made a mockery of Barack Obama’s promises to promote clean, renewal energy. And we are rapidly becoming a third-world country, cannibalized by corporations, with two-thirds of the population facing financial difficulty and poverty. 

The system is broken. And the consumer advocate who represented the best of our democracy was broken with it. As Nader pointed out after he published “Unsafe at Any Speed” in 1965, it took nine months to federally regulate the auto industry for safety and fuel efficiency. Two years after the collapse of Bear Stearns there is still no financial reform. The large hedge funds and banks are using billions in taxpayer subsidies to once again engage in the speculative games that triggered the first financial crisis and will almost certainly trigger a second. The corporate press, which abets our vast historical amnesia, does nothing to remind us how we got here. It speaks in the hollow and empty slogans handed to it by public relations firms, its corporate paymasters and the sound-bite society.

“If you organize 1 percent of the people in this country along progressive lines you can turn the country around, as long as you give them infrastructure,” Nader said. “They represent a large percentage of the population. Take all the conservatives who work in Wal-Mart: How many would be against a living wage? Take all the conservatives who have pre-existing conditions: How many would be for single-payer not-for-profit health insurance? When you get down to the concrete, when you have an active movement that is visible and media-savvy, when you have a community, a lot of people will join. And lots more will support it. The problem is that most liberals are estranged from the working class. They largely have the good jobs. They are not hurting.”

“The real tragedy is that citizens’ movements should not have to rely on the commercial media, and public television and radio are disgraceful—if anything they are worse,” Nader said. “In 30-some years [Bill] Moyers has had me on [only] twice. We can’t rely on the public media. We do what we can with Amy [Goodman] on “Democracy Now!” and Pacifica stations. When I go to local areas I get very good press, TV and newspapers, but that doesn’t have the impact, even locally. The national press has enormous impact on the issues. It is not pleasant having to say this. You don’t want to telegraph that you have been blacked out, but on the other hand you can’t keep it quiet. The right wing has won through intimidation.”

Democracy in America Is a Useful Fiction January 25, 2010

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Published on Monday, January 25, 2010 by TruthDig.comby Chris Hedges

Corporate forces, long before the Supreme Court’s decision in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, carried out a coup d’état in slow motion. The coup is over. We lost. The ruling is one more judicial effort to streamline mechanisms for corporate control. It exposes the myth of a functioning democracy and the triumph of corporate power. But it does not significantly alter the political landscape. The corporate state is firmly cemented in place.

The fiction of democracy remains useful, not only for corporations, but for our bankrupt liberal class. If the fiction is seriously challenged, liberals will be forced to consider actual resistance, which will be neither pleasant nor easy. As long as a democratic facade exists, liberals can engage in an empty moral posturing that requires little sacrifice or commitment. They can be the self-appointed scolds of the Democratic Party, acting as if they are part of the debate and feel vindicated by their cries of protest.

Much of the outrage expressed about the court’s ruling is the outrage of those who prefer this choreographed charade. As long as the charade is played, they do not have to consider how to combat what the political philosopher Sheldon Wolin calls our system of “inverted totalitarianism.”

Inverted totalitarianism represents “the political coming of age of corporate power and the political demobilization of the citizenry,” Wolin writes in “Democracy Incorporated.” Inverted totalitarianism differs from classical forms of totalitarianism, which revolve around a demagogue or charismatic leader, and finds its expression in the anonymity of the corporate state. The corporate forces behind inverted totalitarianism do not, as classical totalitarian movements do, boast of replacing decaying structures with a new, revolutionary structure. They purport to honor electoral politics, freedom and the Constitution. But they so corrupt and manipulate the levers of power as to make democracy impossible.

Inverted totalitarianism is not conceptualized as an ideology or objectified in public policy. It is furthered by “power-holders and citizens who often seem unaware of the deeper consequences of their actions or inactions,” Wolin writes. But it is as dangerous as classical forms of totalitarianism. In a system of inverted totalitarianism, as this court ruling illustrates, it is not necessary to rewrite the Constitution, as fascist and communist regimes do. It is enough to exploit legitimate power by means of judicial and legislative interpretation. This exploitation ensures that huge corporate campaign contributions are protected speech under the First Amendment. It ensures that heavily financed and organized lobbying by large corporations is interpreted as an application of the people’s right to petition the government. The court again ratified the concept that corporations are persons, except in those cases where the “persons” agree to a “settlement.” Those within corporations who commit crimes can avoid going to prison by paying large sums of money to the government while, according to this twisted judicial reasoning, not “admitting any wrongdoing.” There is a word for this. It is called corruption.

Corporations have 35,000 lobbyists in Washington and thousands more in state capitals that dole out corporate money to shape and write legislation. They use their political action committees to solicit employees and shareholders for donations to fund pliable candidates. The financial sector, for example, spent more than $5 billion on political campaigns, influence peddling and lobbying during the past decade, which resulted in sweeping deregulation, the gouging of consumers, our global financial meltdown and the subsequent looting of the U.S. Treasury. The Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America spent $26 million last year and drug companies such as Pfizer, Amgen and Eli Lilly kicked in tens of millions more to buy off the two parties. These corporations have made sure our so-called health reform bill will force us to buy their predatory and defective products. The oil and gas industry, the coal industry, defense contractors and telecommunications companies have thwarted the drive for sustainable energy and orchestrated the steady erosion of civil liberties. Politicians do corporate bidding and stage hollow acts of political theater to keep the fiction of the democratic state alive.

There is no national institution left that can accurately be described as democratic. Citizens, rather than participate in power, are allowed to have virtual opinions to preordained questions, a kind of participatory fascism as meaningless as voting on “American Idol.” Mass emotions are directed toward the raging culture wars. This allows us to take emotional stands on issues that are inconsequential to the power elite.

Our transformation into an empire, as happened in ancient Athens and Rome, has seen the tyranny we practice abroad become the tyranny we practice at home. We, like all empires, have been eviscerated by our own expansionism. We utilize weapons of horrific destructive power, subsidize their development with billions in taxpayer dollars, and are the world’s largest arms dealer. And the Constitution, as Wolin notes, is “conscripted to serve as power’s apprentice rather than its conscience.”

“Inverted totalitarianism reverses things,” Wolin writes. “It is politics all of the time but a politics largely untempered by the political. Party squabbles are occasionally on public display, and there is a frantic and continuous politics among factions of the party, interest groups, competing corporate powers, and rival media concerns. And there is, of course, the culminating moment of national elections when the attention of the nation is required to make a choice of personalities rather than a choice between alternatives. What is absent is the political, the commitment to finding where the common good lies amidst the welter of well-financed, highly organized, single-minded interests rabidly seeking governmental favors and overwhelming the practices of representative government and public administration by a sea of cash.” 

Hollywood, the news industry and television, all corporate controlled, have become instruments of inverted totalitarianism. They censor or ridicule those who critique or challenge corporate structures and assumptions. They saturate the airwaves with manufactured controversy, whether it is Tiger Woods or the dispute between Jay Leno and Conan O’Brien. They manipulate images to make us confuse how we are made to feel with knowledge, which is how Barack Obama became president. And the draconian internal control employed by the Department of Homeland Security, the military and the police over any form of popular dissent, coupled with the corporate media’s censorship, does for inverted totalitarianism what thugs and bonfires of books do in classical totalitarian regimes.

“It seems a replay of historical experience that the bias displayed by today’s media should be aimed consistently at the shredded remains of liberalism,” Wolin writes. “Recall that an element common to most 20th century totalitarianism, whether Fascist or Stalinist, was hostility towards the left. In the United States, the left is assumed to consist solely of liberals, occasionally of ‘the left wing of the Democratic Party,’ never of democrats.”

Liberals, socialists, trade unionists, independent journalists and intellectuals, many of whom were once important voices in our society, have been silenced or targeted for elimination within corporate-controlled academia, the media and government. Wolin, who taught at Berkeley and later at Princeton, is arguably the country’s foremost political philosopher. And yet his book was virtually ignored. This is also why Ralph Nader, Dennis Kucinich and Cynthia McKinney, along with intellectuals like Noam Chomsky, are not given a part in our national discourse.

The uniformity of opinion is reinforced by the skillfully orchestrated mass emotions of nationalism and patriotism, which paints all dissidents as “soft” or “unpatriotic.” The “patriotic” citizen, plagued by fear of job losses and possible terrorist attacks, unfailingly supports widespread surveillance and the militarized state. This means no questioning of the $1 trillion in defense-related spending. It means that the military and intelligence agencies are held above government, as if somehow they are not part of government. The most powerful instruments of state power and control are effectively removed from public discussion. We, as imperial citizens, are taught to be contemptuous of government bureaucracy, yet we stand like sheep before Homeland Security agents in airports and are mute when Congress permits our private correspondence and conversations to be monitored and archived. We endure more state control than at any time in American history. 

The civic, patriotic and political language we use to describe ourselves remains unchanged. We pay fealty to the same national symbols and iconography. We find our collective identity in the same national myths. We continue to deify the Founding Fathers. But the America we celebrate is an illusion. It does not exist. Our government and judiciary have no real sovereignty. Our press provides diversion, not information. Our organs of security and power keep us as domesticated and as fearful as most Iraqis. Capitalism, as Karl Marx understood, when it emasculates government, becomes a revolutionary force. And this revolutionary force, best described as inverted totalitarianism, is plunging us into a state of neo-feudalism, perpetual war and severe repression. The Supreme Court decision is part of our transformation by the corporate state from citizens to prisoners.

© 2010 TruthDig.com

Chris Hedges writes a regular column for Truthdig.com. Hedges graduated from Harvard Divinity School and was for nearly two decades a foreign correspondent for The New York Times. He is the author of many books, including: War Is A Force That Gives Us Meaning, What Every Person Should Know About War, and American Fascists: The Christian Right and the War on America.  His most recent book is Empire of Illusion: The End of Literacy and the Triumph of Spectacle

Supreme Act Of Judicial Treason Against The People Of The United States, And What We Can And Must Do About It January 24, 2010

Posted by rogerhollander in Democracy, Political Commentary.
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Because of the gravity of the crime against the Constitution committed by a gang of 5 right wing judicial outlaws on our Supreme Court yesterday, we are launching two critical action pages at once

Action Page: Corporations Are NOT The People http://www.peaceteam.net/action/pnum1029.php

Action Page: Impeach The Supreme Court 5 http://www.peaceteam.net/action/pnum1030.php

By any fair legal definition, the decision yesterday by The Supreme Court 5 constitutes nothing less than an act of TREASON against the people of the United States. Having read and analyzed the entire 183 page decision and all of its concurring and dissenting opinions ourselves, we are fully prepared to support this accusatory conclusion.

Having so grossly abused its jurisdiction by presuming to decide a question expressly WAIVED by the petitioner in the Court below (p 12), this rogue Supreme Court ruled for the FIRST time that NO corporation can be constrained from unlimited influence over our elections. And even assuming that the Court intended the decision to only apply to American corporations, the Court expressly DECLINED (pp 46-47) to reach the question of whether foreign ownership stakes in American corporations should likewise be given carte blanche to put their thumbs on the scales of our democracy.

Thus, until Congress FURTHER acts (and it must, though it could not have escaped the attention of The Supreme Court 5 that the current Republican minority has vowed to obstruct ANYTHING of consequence that Congress might try to pass), there is now nothing to constrain foreign nationals, even our most sworn enemies, from usurping what even the most die hard Tea Bagger takes as an article of faith, that the rights of citizenship of this country are ONLY for Americans. This must be construed, within the four corners of our Constitution, as deliberately and knowingly exposing the United States of America to harm in the interim, by giving “aid and comfort” to our enemies (Constitution Article 3, section 3), should our enemies now wish to take advantage of this unprecedented and rash decision. In simple Constitutional terms . . treason!!

The fact is that we now live in a world of giant transnational corporations, with allegiance to NO sovereign government, let alone our own, sworn only to exploit the most vulnerable and desperate workers they can find in any country of the world. How does The Supreme Court 5 propose parsing which of these extra-national legal artificialities should be allowed to corrupt our democratic election process? Apparently in their minds, all of them.

Action Page: Corporations Are NOT The People http://www.peaceteam.net/action/pnum1029.php

So what is it that we can and MUST do? The first and most prominent proposal we heard yesterday, and which we of course support, was to amend the Constitution to clarify that corporations have no such rights as people (which is to say U.S. citizens). While this certainly could not hurt, and would obviously help (assuming such a proposed amendment could garner 67 votes in a Senate already stalemated by obstructionism, let alone be ratified by 3/4 of the states, including many “red” ones), what we must first assert is that there is nothing WRONG with our Constitution, and demand that Congress do whatever it can to protect it.

Action Page: Impeach The Supreme Court 5 http://www.peaceteam.net/action/pnum1030.php

Because just as importantly, we are on ominous and clear notice that there is no further outrage these 5 gangsters in black robes are not gleefully and arrogantly capable of. Indeed, in his dissenting opinion (that the majority did not go far ENOUGH), Clarence Thomas characterized the decision as only a “first step” (Thomas opinion p. 1). It is worth noting that the authorship of the majority opinion is claimed by Anthony M. Kennedy, heretofore generally considered the LEAST wing nutty of the 5. Therefore, the immediate and unavoidably necessary recourse must be impeachment for all five, treason already being a high crime, otherwise the horrors yet to issue from their treacherous minds is too terrible to contemplate.

NEW FOUR COLOR BUMPER STICKERS

We will have much more to say on all this in subsequent alerts to follow shortly, but for now we are making available for no charge (not even shipping) your choice of one of two absolutely gorgeous full 4 color process bumper stickers. Take a “Corporations Are NOT The People” bumper sticker, OR a “Impeach The Supreme Court 5″ bumper sticker for free. Of course if you can make a contribution (or if you want both), please DO contribute what you can, which is what allows us to send these out for free to anyone who cannot make a donation right now.

You can request your bumper sticker from the return page after you submit either of the action pages above. Or you can do directly to this page and get them there.

Bumper Stickers for no charge: http://www.peaceteam.net/bumper_stickers.php

Facebook participants can also submit the action pages at

Corporations Are Not The People: http://apps.facebook.com/fb_voices/action.php?qnum=pnum1029

Impeach The Supreme Court 5: http://apps.facebook.com/fb_voices/action.php?qnum=pnum1030

And on Twitter, just send the following Twitter reply for the Corporations Are Not The People action

@cxs #p1029

And this Twitter reply for the Impeach The Supreme Court 5 action

@cxs #p1030

Please take action NOW, so we can win all victories that are supposed to be ours, and forward this alert as widely as possible.

If you would like to get alerts like these, you can do so at http://www.millionfaxmarch.com/in.htm

Supreme Court’s “Radical and Destructive” Decision Hands Over Democracy to the Corporations January 21, 2010

Posted by rogerhollander in Democracy.
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One expert calls the Citizens United decision “the most radical and destructive campaign finance decision in the history of the Supreme Court.”

By Liliana Segura, AlterNet. Posted January 21, 2010.

The Supreme Court has just predicted the winners of the next November election,” Sen. Chuck Schumer announced this morning. “It won’t be Republicans. It won’t be Democrats. It will be Corporate America.”

Indeed, in a momentous 5 to 4 decision that the New York Times has called a “doctrinal earthquake,” the U.S. Supreme Court handed down an unprecedented ruling today that gives new significance to the phrase “corporate personhood.” In it, the Roberts Court overturned the federal ban on corporate contributions to political campaigns, ruling that forbidding corporations from spending money to support or undermine political candidates amounts to censorship. Corporations, the Court ruled, should enjoy the same First Amendment rights as individuals.

Writing for the majority, Justice Anthony Kennedy said that the Supreme Court rejects “the argument that political speech of corporations or other associations should be treated differently under the First Amendment simply because such associations are not ‘natural persons.'”

In other words, as Stephen Colbert put it last year, “Corporations are people too.”

On a conference call with reporters following the decision, critics could not overemphasize the enormity of the ruling, whose implications will be visible as early as the upcoming midterm elections. Bob Edgar, head of the watchdog group Common Cause, called it “the SuperBowl of really bad decisions.” Nick Nyhart of Public Campaign called it an “immoral decision” that will make an already untenable mix of money and politics even worse.

“This is the most radical and destructive campaign finance decision in the history of the Supreme Court,” said Fred Wertheimer, President of Democracy 21. “With a stroke of the pen, five justices wiped out a century of American history devoted to preventing corporate corruption of our democracy.”

Writing about the ruling, Lisa Graves, Executive Director of the Center for Media and Democracy described it as “a revolution in the law,” one that has been in the works for years thanks to conservative activism.

“Today’s decision is a huge gift to corporations from a Supreme Court that has been radicalized by right-wing ideology, whose political agenda was made obvious in the Bush v. Gore case and whose very political decision today only makes things worse.”

Of course, corporate cash has long had a corrupting influence on our politics, but never before has this been seen as some sort of fundamental freedom. “This court has said its the constitutional right of a corporation to spend as much money as it wants to influence an election,” said Wertheimer. The potential “fear factor” for politicians when it comes to the way they vote is huge. Members of Congress, who already spend a disproportionate amount of time fundraising to stay in office, now have reason to worry that their re-election chances will be derailed by corporations whose limitless funds can be aggressively used to protect their interests.

Writing for AlterNet last month, Greg Palast, author of The Best Democracy Money Can Buy, argued that President Obama may never have been elected with these new rules on the books:

Candidate Barack Obama was one sharp speaker, but he would not have been heard, and certainly would not have won, without the astonishing outpouring of donations from two million Americans. It was an unprecedented uprising-by-PayPal, overwhelming the old fat-cat sources of funding.

Well, kiss that small-donor revolution goodbye. If the Supreme Court votes as expected, progressive list serves won’t stand a chance against the resources of new ‘citizens’ such as CNOOC, the China National Offshore Oil Corporation. Maybe UBS (United Bank of Switzerland), which faces U.S. criminal prosecution and a billion-dollar fine for fraud, might be tempted to invest in a few Senate seats.”

The case before the Court, Citizens United v. Federal Elections Commission, centered around a rabidly anti-Hillary Clinton documentary produced by the right-wing group Citizens United. In a statement, Citizens United called the riling “a tremendous victory, not only for Citizens United but for every American who desires to participate in the political process.”

Meanwhile, President Obama, whose critics on the left have accused him of being himself beholden to Wall Street, has called upon Congress to “develop a forceful response to this decision.”

“With its ruling today,” he said, “the Supreme Court has given a green light to a new stampede of special interest money in our politics. It is a major victory for big oil, Wall Street banks, health insurance companies and the other powerful interests that marshal their power every day in Washington to drown out the voices of everyday Americans.”

Obama’s Betrayal of Public Education? Arne Duncan and the Corporate Model of Schooling December 17, 2008

Posted by rogerhollander in Barack Obama, Education.
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duncan-and-obamaPresident-elect Barack Obama with his nominee for secretary of education, Arne Duncan. (Photo: Reuters) MORE “PLUS CA CHANGE …” YOU CAN BELIEVE IN (RH)www.truthout.org 17 December 2008

 

 

 Since the 1980s, but particularly under the Bush administration, certain elements of the religious right, corporate culture and Republican right wing have argued that free public education represents either a massive fraud or a contemptuous failure. Far from a genuine call for reform, these attacks largely stem from an attempt to transform schools from a public investment to a private good, answerable not to the demands and values of a democratic society but to the imperatives of the marketplace. As the educational historian David Labaree rightly argues, public schools have been under attack in the last decade “not just because they are deemed ineffective but because they are public.”[1] Right-wing efforts to disinvest in public schools as critical sites of teaching and learning and govern them according to corporate interests is obvious in the emphasis on standardized testing, the use of top-down curricular mandates, the influx of advertising in schools, the use of profit motives to “encourage” student performance, the attack on teacher unions and modes of pedagogy that stress rote learning and memorization. For the Bush administration, testing has become the ultimate accountability measure, belying the complex mechanisms of teaching and learning.

The hidden curriculum is that testing be used as a ploy to de-skill teachers by reducing them to mere technicians, that students be similarly reduced to customers in the marketplace rather than as engaged, critical learners and that always underfunded public schools fail so that they can eventually be privatized. But there is an even darker side to the reforms initiated under the Bush administration and now used in a number of school systems throughout the country. As the logic of the market and “the crime complex”[2] frame the field of social relations in schools, students are subjected to three particularly offensive policies, defended by school authorities and politicians under the rubric of school safety. First, students are increasingly subjected to zero-tolerance policies that are used primarily to punish, repress and exclude them. Second, they are increasingly absorbed into a “crime complex” in which security staff, using harsh disciplinary practices, now displace the normative functions teachers once provided both in and outside of the classroom.[3] Third, more and more schools are breaking down the space between education and juvenile delinquency, substituting penal pedagogies for critical learning and replacing a school culture that fosters a discourse of possibility with a culture of fear and social control. Consequently, many youth of color in urban school systems, because of harsh zero-tolerance polices, are not just being suspended or expelled from school. They are being ushered into the dark precincts of juvenile detention centers, adult courts and prison. Surely, the dismantling of this corporatized and militarized model of schooling should be a top priority under the Obama administration. Unfortunately, Obama has appointed as his secretary of education someone who actually embodies this utterly punitive, anti-intellectual, corporatized and test-driven model of schooling.

    Barack Obama’s selection of Arne Duncan for secretary of education does not bode well either for the political direction of his administration nor for the future of public education. Obama’s call for change falls flat with this appointment, not only because Duncan largely defines schools within a market-based and penal model of pedagogy, but also because he does not have the slightest understanding of schools as something other than adjuncts of the corporation at best or the prison at worse. The first casualty in this scenario is a language of social and political responsibility capable of defending those vital institutions that expand the rights, public goods and services central to a meaningful democracy. This is especially true with respect to the issue of public schooling and the ensuing debate over the purpose of education, the role of teachers as critical intellectuals, the politics of the curriculum and the centrality of pedagogy as a moral and political practice.

    Duncan, CEO of the Chicago Public Schools, presided over the implementation and expansion of an agenda that militarized and corporatized the third largest school system in the nation, one that is about 90 percent poor and nonwhite. Under Duncan, Chicago took the lead in creating public schools run as military academies, vastly expanded draconian student expulsions, instituted sweeping surveillance practices, advocated a growing police presence in the schools, arbitrarily shut down entire schools and fired entire school staffs. A recent report, “Education on Lockdown,” claimed that partly under Duncan’s leadership “Chicago Public Schools (CPS) has become infamous for its harsh zero tolerance policies. Although there is no verified positive impact on safety, these policies have resulted in tens of thousands of student suspensions and an exorbitant number of expulsions.”[4] Duncan’s neoliberal ideology is on full display in the various connections he has established with the ruling political and business elite in Chicago.[5] He led the Renaissance 2010 plan, which was created for Mayor Daley by the Commercial Club of Chicago – an organization representing the largest businesses in the city. The purpose of Renaissance 2010 was to increase the number of high quality schools that would be subject to new standards of accountability – a code word for legitimating more charter schools and high stakes testing in the guise of hard-nosed empiricism. Chicago’s 2010 plan targets 15 percent of the city district’s alleged underachieving schools in order to dismantle them and open 100 new experimental schools in areas slated for gentrification.

Most of the new experimental schools have eliminated the teacher union. The Commercial Club hired corporate consulting firm A.T. Kearney to write Ren2010, which called for the closing of 100 public schools and the reopening of privatized charter schools, contract schools (more charters to circumvent state limits) and “performance” schools. Kearney’s web site is unapologetic about its business-oriented notion of leadership, one that John Dewey thought should be avoided at all costs. It states, “Drawing on our program-management skills and our knowledge of best practices used across industries, we provided a private-sector perspective on how to address many of the complex issues that challenge other large urban education transformations.”[6]

    Duncan’s advocacy of the Renaissance 2010 plan alone should have immediately disqualified him for the Obama appointment. At the heart of this plan is a privatization scheme for creating a “market” in public education by urging public schools to compete against each other for scarce resources and by introducing “choice” initiatives so that parents and students will think of themselves as private consumers of educational services.[7] As a result of his support of the plan, Duncan came under attack by community organizations, parents, education scholars and students. These diverse critics have denounced it as a scheme less designed to improve the quality of schooling than as a plan for privatization, union busting and the dismantling of democratically-elected local school councils. They also describe it as part of neighborhood gentrification schemes involving the privatization of public housing projects through mixed finance developments.[8] (Tony Rezko, an Obama and Blagojevich campaign supporter, made a fortune from these developments along with many corporate investors.) Some of the dimensions of public school privatization involve Renaissance schools being run by subcontracted for-profit companies – a shift in school governance from teachers and elected community councils to appointed administrators coming disproportionately from the ranks of business. It also establishes corporate control over the selection and model of new schools, giving the business elite and their foundations increasing influence over educational policy. No wonder that Duncan had the support of David Brooks, the conservative op-ed writer for The New York Times.

    One particularly egregious example of Duncan’s vision of education can be seen in the conference he organized with the Renaissance Schools Fund. In May 2008, the Renaissance Schools Fund, the financial wing of the Renaissance 2010 plan operating under the auspices of the Commercial Club, held a symposium, “Free to Choose, Free to Succeed: The New Market in Public Education,” at the exclusive private club atop the Aon Center. The event was held largely by and for the business sector, school privatization advocates, and others already involved in Renaissance 2010, such as corporate foundations and conservative think tanks. Significantly, no education scholars were invited to participate in the proceedings, although it was heavily attended by fellows from the pro-privatization Fordham Foundation and featured speakers from various school choice organizations and the leadership of corporations. Speakers clearly assumed the audience shared their views.

    Without irony, Arne Duncan characterized the goal of Renaissance 2010 creating the new market in public education as a “movement for social justice.” He invoked corporate investment terms to describe reforms explaining that the 100 new schools would leverage influence on the other 500 schools in Chicago. Redefining schools as stock investments he said, “I am not a manager of 600 schools. I’m a portfolio manager of 600 schools and I’m trying to improve the portfolio.” He claimed that education can end poverty. He explained that having a sense of altruism is important, but that creating good workers is a prime goal of educational reform and that the business sector has to embrace public education. “We’re trying to blur the lines between the public and the private,” he said. He argued that a primary goal of educational reform is to get the private sector to play a huge role in school change in terms of both money and intellectual capital. He also attacked the Chicago Teachers Union (CTU), positioning it as an obstacle to business-led reform. He also insisted that the CTU opposes charter schools (and, hence, change itself), despite the fact that the CTU runs ten such schools under Renaissance 2010. Despite the representation in the popular press of Duncan as conciliatory to the unions, his statements and those of others at the symposium belied a deep hostility to teachers unions and a desire to end them (all of the charters created under Ren2010 are deunionized). Thus, in Duncan’s attempts to close and transform low-performing schools, he not only reinvents them as entrepreneurial schools, but, in many cases, frees “them from union contracts and some state regulations.”[9] Duncan effusively praised one speaker, Michael Milkie, the founder of the Nobel Street charter schools, who openly called for the closing and reopening of every school in the district precisely to get rid of the unions. What became clear is that Duncan views Renaissance 2010 as a national blueprint for educational reform, but what is at stake in this vision is the end of schooling as a public good and a return to the discredited and tired neoliberal model of reform that conservatives love to embrace.

    In spite of the corporate rhetoric of accountability, efficiency and excellence, there is to date no evidence that the radical reforms under Duncan’s tenure as the “CEO” of Chicago Public Schools have created any significant improvement. In part, this is because the Chicago Public Schools and the Renaissance Schools Fund report data in obscurantist ways to make traditional comparisons difficult if not impossible.[10] And, in part, examples of educational claims to school improvement are being made about schools embedded in communities that suffered dislocation and removal through coordinated housing privatization and gentrification policies. For example, the city has decimated public housing in coveted real estate enclaves, dispossessing thousands of residents of their communities. Once the poor are removed, the urban cleansing provides an opportunity for Duncan to open a number of Renaissance Schools, catering to those socio-economically empowered families whose children would surely improve the city’s overall test scores. What are alleged to be school improvements under Ren2010, rest on an increase in the city’s overall test scores and other performance measures that parodies the financial shell game corporations used to inflate profit margins – and prospects for future catastrophes are as inevitable. In the end, all Duncan leaves us with is a Renaissance 2010 model of education that is celebrated as business designed “to save kids” from a failed public system. In fact, it condemns public schooling, administrators, teachers and students to a now outmoded and discredited economic model of reform that can only imagine education as a business, teachers as entrepreneurs and students as customers.[11]

    It is difficult to understand how Barack Obama can reconcile his vision of change with Duncan’s history of supporting a corporate vision for school reform and a penchant for extreme zero-tolerance polices – both of which are much closer to the retrograde policies hatched in conservative think tanks as Heritage Foundation, Cato Institution, Fordham Foundation, American Enterprise Institute, than to the values of the many millions who voted for the democratic change he promised. As is well known, these think tanks share an agenda not for strengthening public schooling, but for dismantling it and replacing it with a private market in consumable educational services. At the heart of Duncan’s vision of school reform is a corporatized model of education that cancels out the democratic impulses and practices of civil society by either devaluing or absorbing them within the logic of the market or the prison. No longer a space for relating schools to the obligations of public life, social responsibility to the demands of critical and engaged citizenship, schools in this dystopian vision legitimate an all-encompassing horizon for producing market identities, values and those privatizing and penal pedagogies that both inflate the importance of individualized competition and punish those who do not fit into its logic of pedagogical Darwinism.[12]

    In spite of what Duncan argues, the greatest threat to our children does not come from lowered standards, the absence of privatized choice schemes or the lack of rigid testing measures that offer the aura of accountability. On the contrary, it comes from a society that refuses to view children as a social investment, consigns 13 million children to live in poverty, reduces critical learning to massive testing programs, promotes policies that eliminate most crucial health and public services and defines rugged individualism through the degrading celebration of a gun culture, extreme sports and the spectacles of violence that permeate corporate controlled media industries. Students are not at risk because of the absence of market incentives in the schools. Young people are under siege in American schools because, in the absence of funding, equal opportunity and real accountability, far too many of them have increasingly become institutional breeding grounds for racism, right-wing paramilitary cultures, social intolerance and sexism.[13] We live in a society in which a culture of testing, punishment and intolerance has replaced a culture of social responsibility and compassion. Within such a climate of harsh discipline and disdain for critical teaching and learning, it is easier to subject young people to a culture of faux accountability or put them in jail rather than to provide the education, services and care they need to face problems of a complex and demanding society.[14]

 What Duncan and other neoliberal economic advocates refuse to address is what it would mean for a viable educational policy to provide reasonable support services for all students and viable alternatives for the troubled ones. The notion that children should be viewed as a crucial social resource – one that represents, for any healthy society, important ethical and political considerations about the quality of public life, the allocation of social provisions and the role of the state as a guardian of public interests – appears to be lost in a society that refuses to invest in its youth as part of a broader commitment to a fully realized democracy. As the social order becomes more privatized and militarized, we increasingly face the problem of losing a generation of young people to a system of increasing intolerance, repression and moral indifference. It is difficult to understand why Obama would appoint as secretary of education someone who believes in a market-driven model that has not only failed young people, but given the current financial crisis has been thoroughly discredited. Unless Duncan is willing to reinvent himself, the national agenda he will develop for education embodies and exacerbates these problems and, as such, it will leave a lot more kids behind than it helps.

    ——–

    [1] Cited in Alfie Kohn, “The Real Threat to American Schools,” Tikkun (March-April 2001), p. 25. For an interesting commentary on Obama and his possible pick to head the education department and the struggle over school reform, see Alfie Kohn, “Beware School ‘Reformers’,” The Nation (December 29, 2008). Online: www.thenation.com/doc/20081229/kohn/print.

    [2] This term comes form: David Garland, “The Culture of Control: Crime and Social Order in Contemporary Society” (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2002).

    [3] For a brilliant analysis of the “governing through crime” complex, see Jonathan Simon, “Governing Through Crime: How the War on Crime Transformed American Democracy and Created a Culture of Fear,” (New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 2007).

    [4] Advancement Project in partnership with Padres and Jovenes Unidos, Southwest Youth Collaborative, “Education on Lockdown: The Schoolhouse to Jailhouse Track,” (New York: Children & Family Justice Center of Northwestern University School of Law, March 24, 2005), p.31. On the broader issue of the effect of racialized zero tolerance policies on public education, see Christopher G. Robbins, “Expelling Hope: The Assault on Youth and the Militarization of Schooling” (Albany: SUNY Press, 2008). See also, Henry A. Giroux, “The Abandoned Generation” (New York: Palgrave, 2004).

    [5] David Hursh and Pauline Lipman, “Chapter 8: Renaissance 2010: The Reassertion of Ruling-Class Power through Neoliberal Policies in Chicago” in David Hursh, “High-Stakes Testing and the Decline of Teaching and Learning” (Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 2008).

    [6] See: www.atkearney.com

    [7] “Creating a New Market of Public Education: The Renaissance Schools Fund 2008 Progress Report,” The Renaissance Schools Fund www.rsfchicago.org

    [8] Kenneth J. Saltman, “Chapter 3: Renaissance 2010 and No Child Left Behind Capitalizing on Disaster: Taking and Breaking Public Schools” (Boulder: Paradigm Publishers, 2007).

    [9] Sarah Karp and Joyn Myers, “Duncan’s Track Record,” Catalyst Chicago (December 15, 2008). Online: www.catalyst-chicago.org/news/index.php?item=2514&cat=5&tr=y&auid=4336549

    [10] (See Chicago Public Schools Office of New Schools 2006/2007 Charter School Performance Report Executive Summary)

    [11] See Dorothy Shipps, “School Reform, Corporate Style: Chicago 1880-2000,” (Lawrence: University of Kansas Press, 2006).

    [12] See, for example, Summary Report, “America’s Cradle to Prison Pipeline,” Children’s Defense Fund. Online at: www.childrensdefense.org/site/DocServer/CPP_report_2007_summary.pdf?docID=6001; also see, Elora Mukherjee, “Criminalizing the Classroom: The Over-Policing of New York City Schools,” (New York: American Civil Liberties Union and New York Civil Liberties, March 2008), pp. 1-36.

    [13] Donna Gaines, “How Schools Teach Our Kids to Hate,” Newsday (Sunday, April 25, 1999), p. B5.

    [14] As has been widely, reported, the prison industry has become big business with many states spending more on prison construction than on university construction. Jennifer Warren, “One in 100: Behind Bars in America 2008,” (Washington, DC: The PEW Center on the States, 2007). Online at: www.pewcenteronthestates.org/news_room_detail.aspx?id=35912

    ——–

    Henry A. Giroux holds the Global TV Network chair in English and Cultural Studies at McMaster University in Canada. His most recent books include: “Take Back Higher Education” (co-authored with Susan Searls Giroux, 2006), “The University in Chains: Confronting the Military-Industrial-Academic Complex,” (2007), and “Against the Terror of Neoliberalism: Politics Beyond the Age of Greed,” (2008). His newest book, “Youth in a Suspect Society: Democracy or Disposability?,” will be published by Palgrave Macmillan in 2009.  

    Kenneth Saltman is associate professor in the department of Educational Policy Studies and Research at DePaul University in Chicago. He is the author, most recently, of “Capitalizing on Disaster: Taking and Breaking Public Schools,” (Paradigm Publishers 2007), and editor of Schooling and the Politics of Disaster (Routledge 2007).

 

A Recipe for Corporate Success in Tough Times? SaladShooters, Adult Diapers and Tactical Ammo December 16, 2008

Posted by rogerhollander in War.
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housing-propagandaWhile many companies have moved away from arms production, the line between civilian industry and military contracting continues to shift. (Photo: State Museum of Pennsylvania)

www.truthout.org

15 December 2008

by: Nick Turse, TomDispatch.com

Is it possible that one of the Pentagon’s contractors has a tripartite business model for our tough economic times: one division that specializes in crock-pots, another in adult diapers, and a third in medium caliber tactical ammunition? Can the maker of the SaladShooter, a hand-held electric shredder/dicer that hacks up and fires out sliced veggies, really be a tops arms manufacturer? Could a company that produces the Pizzazz Pizza Oven also be a merchant of death? And could this company be a model for success in an economy heading for the bottom?

Once upon a time, the military-industrial complex was loaded with household-name companies like General Motors, Ford, and Dow Chemical, that produced weapons systems and what arms expert Eric Prokosch has called, “the technology of killing.” Over the years, for economic as well as public relations reasons, many of these firms got out of the business of creating lethal technologies, even while remaining Department of Defense (DoD) contractors.

The military-corporate complex of today is still filled with familiar names from our consumer culture, including defense contractors like iPod-maker Apple, cocoa giant Nestle, ketchup producer Heinz, and chocolate bar maker Hershey, not to speak of Tyson Foods, Procter & Gamble, and the Walt Disney Company. But while they may provide the everyday products that allow the military to function, make war, and carry out foreign occupations, most such civilian firms no longer dabble in actual arms manufacture.

Whirlpool: Then and Now

Take the Whirlpool Corporation, which bills itself as “the world’s leading manufacturer and marketer of major home appliances” and boasts annual sales of more than $19 billion to consumers in more than 170 countries. Whirlpool was recently recognized as “one of the World’s Most Ethical Companies by the Ethisphere Institute.” The company also professes a “strong” belief in “ethical values” that dates back almost 100 years to founders who believed “there is no right way to do a wrong thing.”

In the middle of the last century, however — as Prokosch has documented — Whirlpool was engaged in what many might deem a wrong thing. In 1957, Whirlpool took over work on flechettes — razor-sharp darts with fins at the blunt end — for the U.S. military. While International Harvester, the prior Pentagon contractor producing them, had managed to pack only 6,265 of these deadly darts into a 90mm canister round, Whirlpool set to work figuring out a way to cram almost 10,000 flechettes into the same delivery vehicle. Its goal: to “improve the lethality of the canisters.” (In addition, Whirlpool also reportedly worked on “Sting Ray” — an Army project involving a projectile filled with flechettes coated in a still-undisclosed chemical agent.)

In 1967, an Associated Press report noted that U.S. troops were using new flechette artillery rounds to “spray thousands of dart-shaped steel shafts over broad areas of the jungle or open territory” in Vietnam. “I’ve seen reports of enemy soldiers actually being nailed to trees by these things,” commented one Army officer.

On a recent trip to Vietnam, I spoke to a Vietnamese witness who had seen such “pin bullets” employed by U.S. forces many times in those years. In one case, Bui Van Bac recalled that a woman from his village, spotted by U.S. aircraft while she was walking in a rice paddy, was gravely wounded by them. Local guerillas came to the woman’s aid and brought her to a hospital where a surgeon found a number of extremely sharp, three centimeter long “pins” inside her body. Medically, it was all but hopeless and the woman died.

A top player in lethal technologies back then, Whirlpool is now among the tiniest defense contractors. While, in recent years, the company has ignored requests for information from TomDispatch.com on their dealings with the Pentagon, records indicate that last year, for example, it received just over $105,000 from the Department of Defense, most of which apparently went towards the purchase of kitchen appliances and household furnishings.

Similarly, Whirlpool’s predecessor in the flechette game, International Harvester, is now Navistar International Corporation. Navistar Defense, a division of the company,
remains one of the Pentagon’s stealth “billion dollar babies.” But while it did more than $1 billion in business with the DoD last year, Navistar appears to have been building vehicles for the Pentagon, not creating anti-personnel weaponry. There are, however, companies that can’t seem to say goodbye to lethal technologies.

National Presto Industries

National Presto Industries traces its history to the 1905 founding of the Northwestern Iron and Steel Works in Eau Claire, Wisconsin, according to the Business & Company Resource Center. By 1908, the company was making industrial steam pressure cookers and, in 1915, began making models for home use. On the eve of the U.S. entry into World War II, the company entered the arms game when it scored a multi-million dollar contract to produce artillery fuses. Even with that deal in hand, it was reportedly on the verge of bankruptcy when its new president, Lewis Phillips, landed a series of other lucrative military contracts.

In the early years of the Cold War, about the time Whirlpool was getting into the flechette business, National Presto Industries had just introduced “a revolutionary new concept in electric cooking… a complete line of fully immersible electric cooking appliances employing a removable heat control” — and was about to launch “the world’s first automatic, submersible stainless steel coffee maker.” The company was also still churning out war materiel.

In 1953, National Presto announced plans to build a multi-million dollar plant to produce 105mm artillery shells. In 1955, it was awarded millions to make howitzer shells for the Army, and the next year, millions from the Air Force for fighter-bomber parts. By 1958, company President Lewis Phillips would declare, “The future of this company in Eau Claire and hence the security of our jobs here is now almost wholly dependent upon defense contracts awarded by the U.S. Government.” When the Army cancelled its contracts with Presto in 1959, Phillips lamented, “With little or no notice, this Government decision has forced us completely out of the manufacturing business here in Eau Claire.”

The tough times didn’t last. Soon enough, National Presto returned to the fray, benefiting from the disastrous American war in Vietnam. From 1966 to 1975, the company manufactured more than two million eight-inch howitzer shells and more than 92 million 105mm artillery shells. In Vietnam, 105mm shells would kill or maim untold numbers of civilians, but it was a boom time for National Presto, which took in at least $163 million in Pentagon contracts in 1970-1971 alone for artillery shell parts. Finally shuttered in 1980, the company defense plant was kept on government “stand-by” into the 1990s, a sweetheart deal that earned Presto $2.5 million annually for producing nothing at all.

As the Vietnam War wound down, National Presto turned back to the civilian market with a series of new kitchen gadgets: in 1974, the PrestoBurger, an electric, single-serving fast broiler for hamburgers; in 1975, the Hot Dogger; and in 1976, the Fry Baby deep fat fryer. In 1988, the company introduced its wildly popular SaladShooter, followed in 1991 by its Tater Twister potato peeler. When sales of its SaladShooters, corn poppers, pressure cookers, deep fryers, and griddles became sluggish, however, weaponry again proved a savior.

In 2001, National Presto decided to get back into the arms game. Months before 9/11, the company’s chairman Melvin Cohen expressed fears that a future war might mean ruin for the company’s kitchen appliance business. As a result, Presto purchased munitions manufacturer Amtec. In the years since, according to Securities and Exchange Commission filings, Presto has also “made other complementary acquisitions in the defense industry.” These have included Amron, a manufacturer of medium caliber ammunition (20-40mm) cartridge cases and Spectra Technologies, which is “engaged in the manufacture, distribution, and delivery of munitions and ordnance-related products for the DOD and DOD prime contractors.” Such types of ammunition are extremely versatile and are fired from ground vehicles, naval ships, and various types of aircraft — both helicopters and fixed-wing models.

Additionally, in the months after 9/11, National Presto entered the diapers trade, setting up that business in its old munitions plant. In 2004, with Melvin Cohen’s daughter MaryJo now at the helm, the company further expanded into the business of adult-incontinence products. “I spent a couple of days wearing them,” the younger Cohen told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel at the time. “They’re very comfortable.”

In 2005, Presto’s Amtec was awarded a five-year deal by the Pentagon for its 40mm family of ammunition rounds. By the end of last year, it had already received $454 million and was expecting the sum to top out, at contract’s end, above $550 million.

Just as 105mm shells of the sort produced by Presto were a nightmare for the people of Vietnam, so too has 40mm ammunition spelled doom for civilians in Iraq and Afghanistan. Earlier this year, the BBC reported on a typical joint U.S./U.K. attack on a home in Iraq in which insurgents had taken shelter. After exchanging ground fire, coalition forces called in an airstrike. According to the BBC, “The aircraft fired 40mm cannon rounds at the two houses, finally dropping a bomb on one of them. It collapsed. The other house was set on fire. The two insurgents in the house were buried but so were a number of women and children.” Similarly, in August, news reports tell us, U.S. troops called in an airstrike by an AC-130 — which packs 40mm cannons — that helped kill approximately 90 civilians in the village of Azizabad in Afghanistan, according to investigations by the Afghan government and the United Nations.

As in the past, war time has been a boom-time for Presto. In 2000, before the start of the Global War on Terror, National Presto’s annual sales clocked in at $116.6 million. In 2007, they totaled $420.7 million, with more than 50% of that coming from arms manufacturing. Earlier this year, Presto nabbed another 40mm ammunition contract (a $97.5 million supplemental award) set to be delivered in 2009 and 2010. According to official DoD figures, from 2001 through 2008 National Presto received more than $531 million, while Amtec has taken home another $171 million-plus. Their combined grand total, while hardly putting Presto in the top tier of Pentagon weapons contractors, is still a relatively staggering $702.8 million — not bad for a company known for slicing and dicing vegetables.

Death is Our Business and Business is Good

These days, most civilian defense contractors aren’t like Presto. General Tire and Rubber Company, for example, once lorded it over a business empire that produced not only car tires, but antipersonnel mines and deadly cluster bombs. Today, the company seems to have left its days of supplying the U.S. military with lethal technologies behind.

Dow Chemical classically drew ire from protestors during the Vietnam War for making the incendiary agent napalm that clung to and burned off the flesh of Vietnamese
victims. Dow got out of the napalm business long before the war ended, but, due to widespread protests at the time, the company is still living down the legacy today.

At a 2006 Ethics and Compliance Conference, Dow’s President, CEO, and Chairman Andrew Liveris recalled, “Believe me, we have had our share of ethical challenges, most of them very public… starting with the manufacture of Napalm during the Vietnam War… when suddenly we went from being a company that made Saran Wrap to keep food fresh to a kind of war machine… at least, according the characterizations of the time.” While Dow is still a defense contractor, its DoD contracts appear not to include the manufacture of weapons of any type. Instead, such companies have largely ceded the field to dedicated “merchants of death” — weapons-industry giants like Alliant Techsystems (ATK), Lockheed Martin, and Boeing.

Right now, National Presto Industries may look like a throw-back to an earlier era when companies regularly made both innocuous household items and heavy weapons. In a new hard-times economy, however, in which taxpayer dollars are likely to continue to pour into the Pentagon, could it instead be a harbinger of the future? Having proved that outfitting real shooters is even more lucrative than making SaladShooters, Presto has gotten rich in the Bush war years. It has, in fact, greatly outperformed the big guns of the weapons business. While the stocks of top defense contractors Lockheed Martin, Boeing, and Northrop Grumman have all lost significant value in the last year — down 29.3%, 55.3%, and 50.1%, respectively — National Presto’s stock price was up 28.1% as of mid-December.

It isn’t hard to imagine more civilian firms, especially ones which are already Pentagon contractors, getting into (or back into) the weapons game. After all, when the Big Three Detroit automakers were scrounging around for a bailout just a few weeks ago, they used America’s persistent involvement in armed conflict as one argument in their favor. For example, Robert Nardelli, Chrysler’s chief executive, told the Senate that the failure of the auto industry “would undermine our nation’s ability to respond to military challenges and would threaten our national security.” While that argument was roundly dismissed by retired Army Lt. Gen. John Caldwell, chairman of the National Defense Industrial Association’s combat vehicles division, it probably wouldn’t have been if the automakers made more weapons systems.

Will Presto be the back-to-the-future model for Pentagon contractors in the lean times ahead? Only time will tell. At the very least, it seems that, as long as Americans allow the country to wage wars abroad, require their salads to be shot, and have bladder issues, National Presto Industries has a future.

Copyright 2008 Nick Turse

“This Agreement Has Incredible Importance for Our Movement”–Immokalee Workers Win Agreement with Subway over Tomato Prices in Florida December 10, 2008

Posted by rogerhollander in Labor.
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www.democracynow.org

December 10, 2008

The Coalition of Immokalee Workers reached an agreement last week with Subway, the third largest fast-food chain in the world and the biggest fast-food buyer of Florida tomatoes. Subway now joins other fast-food giants, McDonald’s, Taco Bell and Burger King, that have all agreed to pay farm workers at least another penny per pound of tomatoes they harvest and improve working conditions.

Guests:

Marc Rodrigues, Co-coordinator of Student/Farmworker Alliance. That’s the national network of students in partnership with the Coalition of Immokalee Workers.

Gerardo Reyes, Farmworker and member of Coalition of Immokalee Workers

SHARIF ABDEL KOUDDOUS: In our final segment, we turn to an important victory for one of the most impoverished group of workers in this country, the migrant farm workers who harvest tomatoes in Florida. The Coalition of Immokalee Workers reached an agreement last week with Subway, the third largest fast-food chain in the world and the biggest fast-food buyer of Florida tomatoes. Subway now joins other fast-food giants—McDonald’s, Taco Bell and Burger King—that have all agreed to pay farm workers at least another penny per pound of tomatoes they harvest and improve working conditions.

Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders hailed the agreement with Subway, describing it as “yet another blow to the scourge of slavery that continues to exist in the tomato fields of Florida.”

Coalition members are in New York this week for their Northeast Fair Food tour and will be honored tonight by the Small Planet Fund on the sixtieth anniversary of the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights.

We’re joined in the studio by Gerardo Reyes from the Coalition of Immokalee Workers and Marc Rodrigues from the Student/Farmworker Alliance, that’s in partnership with the coalition.

We welcome you both to Democracy Now!

MARC RODRIGUES: Thanks. Thanks for having us.

GERARDO REYES: Thanks.

SHARIF ABDEL KOUDDOUS: Gerardo, let’s begin with you. Talk about the significance of this new deal with Subway.

GERARDO REYES: Well, this agreement has an incredible importance for our movement, because it started as an idea to bring the biggest fast-food corporations to the table in order to improve the conditions that we face in the fields every day, conditions that go from stagnant wages to slavery, in the most extreme conditions. And right now, with this agreement with Subway, we could say that the most important representatives of the fast-food industry have already given their position on the situation, and they are in favor of a change. So now the question is for the supermarket industry and the providers of food to schools, like Aramark and Sodexo, that continue to benefit from the misery of communities like ours.

SHARIF ABDEL KOUDDOUS: And you spoke about these conditions. Can you describe them a little more in more detail for our audience?

GERARDO REYES: Basically, today, a farm worker has to pick two-and-a-half tons of tomatoes in order to make only the equivalent to the minimum wage of Florida. But that’s picking by piece. The tomato bucket of thirty-two pounds gets paid from forty to forty-five cents. That’s without any type of benefits nor protections. We work from ten to fourteen hours in a normal day, seven days a week, if there’s work, without receiving overtime pay.

Workers—farm workers in most of the states of this country are excluded from the National Labor Relations Act that gives workers a right to organize. That’s why the agricultural industry have not paid attention to the demands that we had in the past. And that’s why we’re asking, like, who’s benefiting the most from our poverty? How could we change the way that the agricultural industry, the corporate agricultural industrial, exists today in the United States? And it was by focusing on the big buyers, that are the ones who get more profit than anybody else.

ANJALI KAMAT: I want to bring Marc Rodrigues into the conversation, and I want to ask you about the role of the Florida Tomato Growers Exchange. They seemed to be a stumbling block in this process. Can you explain who they are and what their position is on this deal that the Coalition has won with all of these fast-food chains?

MARC RODRIGUES: Yeah. Basically, the Tomato Growers Exchange is an entity that represents about 90 percent of the growers in Florida and goes to Tallahassee or D.C. to lobby on their behalf.

And what has happened ever since, more or less, we reached the agreement with McDonald’s is that the Growers Exchange has come out strongly opposing these agreements, first saying that they were un-American or saying that they’re possibly illegal, just saying that they didn’t want their members to participate in them. And so, they actually implemented a $100,000 fine against any of their own member growers who would be willing to fully participate in these agreements and allow the extra penny per pound to get through to the workers.

We know that there are growers who are willing to do that, because for a couple of years after we reached our agreement with Taco Bell in 2005, the penny per pound passed through was working completely fine. It wasn’t until the growers put up this resistance that that was halted.

Today, one of the major corporations that we have agreements with remain fully committed to carrying out those agreements. They’re still paying the extra penny per pound, but it’s going into a sort of neutral escrow account instead of getting to the workers. And we hope that the money from that account will be disbursed to the workers very soon, possibly starting with this season.

What we know is that this resistance on the part of the growers is a sign that our campaign is having an effect and that we are starting to make the change that we want to make, because, you know, just as the civil rights movement had its Bull Connors, we have the Growers Exchange. And they say that a candle burns the brightest when it’s about to go out, and it appears that that’s what’s happening now.

The important thing here is that, ironically, the resistance on the part of the growers has also attracted new allies to our cause, which might help us more in the long run. For example, we have four prominent US senators—

SHARIF ABDEL KOUDDOUS: We just have ten seconds.

MARC RODRIGUES: —who are supporting us. And so, we’re going to see if we can work out the situation soon.

SHARIF ABDEL KOUDDOUS: Well, that’s all we have time for. I want to thank you very much for being with us. Marc Rodrigues is a co-coordinator of the Student/Farmworker Alliance. And Gerardo Reyes is a farm worker and member of the Coalition of Immokalee Workers.

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