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Ecuador: Reflections April 4, 2017

Posted by rogerhollander in Ecuador, Health, Latin America, Uncategorized.
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galapagos-islands

Reflection 1) For many years now my mantra has been: no more voting for the “lesser of evils.”  I have dual U.S / Canadian citizenship, and in North American elections I vote Green, but with no illusions that if the Greens ever came to power they wouldn’t act any different than than the existing major parties.  We’ve seen this time and time again where Social Democratic parties that call themselves Socialists form governments, they soon don’t smell any different than the others.  Why is this inevitable?  Because governments of capitalist democracies are basically there to protect the interests of capital over people; and the parties that win elections are basically tasked with administrating those interests.

 Anything different would be, in fact, revolutionary.  Fidel Castro understood this, which is why the Cuban Revolution didn’t devolve into wishy-washy social democracy.

So my Green vote is basically a protest vote.

But I digress.  Back to the lesser of evils.  As a Canadian / American it has become painfully obvious over many decades of observation and participation that when it comes to the big ticket items (military, finance, commerce, labor, etc.) there really is no substantial difference between the established parties.  The Democrats in the U.S. and the New Democrats in Canada can only attempt to create the illusion that there is indeed such a difference.

Well I suppose mantras are made to be broken.  Because the minute Trump was elected (no, the mini-second), which I never believed could happen, I was sorry I hadn’t voted for Clinton (whose policies on major issues I detest).  The lesser of evils.

Which brings me to Ecuador.  Sunday’s presidential election pitted the government supported candidate against a far right ex-banker (which the former won with a slim two percent advantage).  While I do not support the Correa government’s actions with respect to environmental protection (its expansion of oil and metal extraction in sensitive areas) or its aggressive repression of protest; unlike any government before it, going back to the end of the dictatorship in 1979, it has invested heavily in health, education, housing and infrastructure and considerably reduced the level of poverty in the country.

On the other hand, the election of the ultra-right ex-banker Guillermo Lasso, who has ties with rightest governments across the hemisphere, the quasi-facist Opus Dei, and almost certainly our friendly CIA, would have signalled a return to the neo-Liberal economic policies so inimical to workers and the poor.  The Lasso campaign played on the manufactured-in-the-USA fear that electing the government candidate would be turning Ecuador into Venezuela.

If I had a vote in Ecuador it would have been for the government candidate, so much for my mantra.  The name of the president-elect, by the way,  is Lenin Moreno (I would have preferred Vladimir, but you take what you can get).

(On a side note, you may remember that Wikileaks founder Julian Assange has been living for several years in the Ecuadorian Embassy in London, where he was given asylum by the Ecuadorian government.  Well, Lasso had commented before the election that, if he won the presidency, he would cordially give Assange 30 days to leave the Embassy.  Yesterday, upon receiving the election results, i.e., Lasso’s defeat, Assange made a statement calling for Lasso to cordially leave Ecuador in 30 days!)

Reflection 2) My friend, David, who is a professor at a state university in the States, vacations every year in the Galapagos Islands, which is a province of Ecuador.  This year, a week prior to his scheduled return home, he had a nasty bike accident and seriously injured his leg.  He was carried back to his hotel, where he remained bed-ridden and unable to stand up.  This was on the distant and less populated island of Isabella, which has a small under-supplied medical clinic and one doctor, who examined David and thought there might be a fracture.  David was hoping that it was only severe ligament or muscle damage that would ease up in days so that he could rest up and return home on schedule.

On the Sunday prior to his scheduled departure on Tuesday, things still didn’t look good.  The doctor suggested that they get him to the central island of Santa Cruz, where there is a hospital with an X-ray facility.  The idea was that if there were no fracture, he could fly home Tuesday on schedule; but if it was serious, then he would probably have to remain in Ecuador for surgery.

On Monday, David flew to Santa Cruz, where his X-ray showed that he had indeed fractured his femur.  However, in spite of this finding, David decided he would tough it out and fly home the following day loaded up with pain killers and have his operation in the States.  This he did and is now resting post-surgery in a New Jersey hospital.

The point of my story?  Here are the medical services that David received.  The doctor who attended him on Isabella provided pain killers and spent an hour with him every day at his hotel.  On Monday, an ambulance met him at the hotel and took him to the small Isabella airport, where he boarded for the island of Santa Cruz.  At Santa Cruz and ambulance and a crew were waiting for him to take him to the hospital.  When he decided, in spite of the X-ray result, to return home on Tuesday, he had to be taken from the hospital in Santa Cruz by boat to the Island of Baltra, where he would catch his flight to Guayaquil (Ecuador’s largest city) from whence he would take his American Airlines flight home to the States.

All these services: the doctor’s fees, the medication, the X-ray, the overnight hospital stay in Santa Cruz and the ambulance services were paid for by the government of Ecuador.  And when David was informed that policy did not allow him to use an ambulance to get from Santa Cruz to his flight to Guayaquil because he was not being transported to an Ecuadorian hospital, David contacted his best friend and chess rival on the Galapagos, whose brother was the head of tourism there, it was arranged for an exception be made for him.  Otherwise he could not have made it home.

This entire episode did not cost David a red cent!

Now I want you to imagine an Ecuadorian tourist to the United States experiencing a similar traumatic accident and what they would have gone through and what it would have cost them.  And tell me, which country is the Banana Republic and which the “civilized” nation.

I experienced something similar in Cuba many years ago, but I will save that for another time.

When America Interfered in a Russian Election March 22, 2017

Posted by rogerhollander in Democracy, History, Russia, Uncategorized.
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Roger’s note: those of us who love irony will appreciate the fact that the Russian regime that is accused of influencing the 2016 U.S. election is the direct heir of the Yeltsin government which in turn came to power largely as a result of Clinton administration interference.  What goes around …

Hillary Clinton’s hawkishness on Russia, backed by much of her party, the Republicans and the lap dog corporate media, was cause for great concern to some of during the election campaign and created the illusion that a Trump presidency might in fact be less likely to bring on World War III.  This remains to be seen.  It is of no comfort that the Democrats and the media continue to demonize Russia (which is not to say that Putin is any thing less than an oligarch who rules with an iron fist in his homeland).

Ever since the fall of the former Soviet Union, I have been fascinated by process of the transition of the so-called socialist Russia (it was functionally not socialist, rather state capitalist) to free market capitalism.  The monumental change in the world’s second largest country did not happen “automatically” or in a single moment.  Since all major production was owned by the State, ending this monopoly meant that all billions upon billions of capital had to go somewhere.  

In an article I wrote a few years ago (https://www.opednews.com/populum/page.php?f=Putin-it-to-Putin-the-Ru-by-roger-hollander-Capital_Capitalism_Capitalism-Failures_Class-140503-466.html) I posited the notion that the destruction of Soviet State Capitalism provided the opportunity to democratize production and thereby create the kind of genuine socialism envisioned by Karl Marx.  We know, of course, that this didn’t happen, that, rather all Russian enterprise was stolen by former Soviety high level bureaucrats (Putin himself was head of  the Soviet KGB at the time); and Russia lost most of its social programs as it sank into a pure capitalist swamp.

 

by BAR editor and senior columnist Margaret Kimberley

The U.S. is the unchallenged champion of hijacking, fixing and subverting elections around the world. On every inhabitable continent – from Italy to Iran to Accra to Tegucigalpa — Washington has stolen people’s rights to elected leaders of their choice. Only two decades ago, Bill Clinton and his operatives were busy stealing Russia’s first post-Soviet elections. But, U.S. corporate media seem to have forgotten such inconvenient facts.

All of the news is fake when corporate media connive with the powerful to produce their desired ends.”

There is still no evidence of Russian interference in the 2016 election. What substitutes for proof is nothing but an endless loop of corporate media repetition. The Democratic Party has plenty of reason to whip up hysteria in an effort to divert attention from its endless electoral debacles.

What no one mentions is that the United States government has a very long history of interfering in elections around the world. Since World War II American presidents have used electoral dirty tricks, fraud and violence to upend the will of people in Italy, Iran, Guatemala, Vietnam and Honduras to name but a few nations. If possible brute force and murder are used to depose elected leaders as in Haiti and Chile.

Amid all the hoopla about Russia’s supposed influence in the election or with Donald Trump directly, there is little mention of a successful American effort to intervene in that country. In 1996 American political consultants and the Bill Clinton administration made certain that Boris Yeltsin remained in the Russian presidency.

There is no need for conjecture in this case. The story was discussed quite openly at the time and included a Time magazine cover story with the guilty parties going on record about their role in subverting democracy.

“In 1996 American political consultants and the Bill Clinton administration made certain that Boris Yeltsin remained in the Russian presidency.”

Polls showed that Yeltsin was in danger of losing to the Communist Party candidate Gennadi Zhuganov. The collapse of the Soviet Union had created an economic and political catastrophe for the Russian people. Oligarchs openly stole public funds while government workers went without pay. Russians lost the safety net they had enjoyed and the disaster resulted in a precipitous decline in life expectancy and birth rates.

The United States didn’t care about the suffering of ordinary Russians. Its only concern was making sure that the once socialist country never turned in that direction again. When Yeltsin looked like a loser the Clinton administration pressed the International Monetary Fund to send quick cash and bolster Yeltsin’s government with a $10 billion loan.

Clinton had an even more direct involvement. Led by a team connected to his adviser Dick Morris, a group of political consultants went to work in Moscow, but kept their existence a secret. One of the conspirators put the case succinctly. “Everyone realized that if the Communists knew about this before the election, they would attack Yeltsin as an American tool.” Of course Yeltsin was an American tool, and that was precisely the desired outcome.

The Time magazine article wasn’t the only corporate media expose of the American power grab. The story was also made into a film called “Spinning Boris.” One would think that this well known and documented account would be brought to attention now, but just the opposite has happened. The tale of Clinton administration conniving has instead been disappeared down the memory hole as if it never took place.

When Yeltsin looked like a loser the Clinton administration pressed the International Monetary Fund to send quick cash and bolster Yeltsin’s government with a $10 billion loan.”

The supposedly free media in this country march in lock step with presidents. After Obama and his secretary of state Hillary Clinton made Russia bashing a national pastime the media followed suit. The reason for the hostility is very simple. Russia is an enormous country spanning Europe and Asia and has huge amounts of energy resources which European countries depend on. Its gas and oil reserves make it a player and therefore a target for sanctions and war by other means.

The American impulse to control or crush the rest of the world is thwarted by an independent Russia. While Americans are fed an endless diet of xenophobia Russia and China continue their New Silk Road economic partnership. Of course this alliance is born of the necessity to protect against American threats but no one reading the New York Times or Washington Post knows anything about it. Nor do they know that Vladimir Putin’s mentor stayed in power because of Bill Clinton’s meddling.

All of the news is fake when corporate media connive with the powerful to produce their desired ends. If they want to make Yeltsin a hero, they make him a hero. If they want his successor to be cast as the villain then he becomes the villain. If the United States wants to play the victim it is turned into the hapless target of Russian espionage. If its history of thwarting the sovereignty of other countries becomes an inconvenient truth, then the truth is disappeared.

It is difficult to know what is true and what is not. But it usually a safe bet to assume that this government and its media hand maidens are covering up criminality of various kinds. The story of the 1996 manipulation of Russian voters is but one example.

Margaret Kimberley’s Freedom Rider column appears weekly in BAR, and is widely reprinted elsewhere. She maintains a frequently updated blog as well as athttp://freedomrider.blogspot.com. Ms. Kimberley lives in New York City, and can be reached via e-Mail at Margaret.Kimberley(at)BlackAgendaReport.com.

The nature of democracy in our capitalist world: Satirized August 4, 2016

Posted by rogerhollander in Capitalism, Democracy, Humor, Political Commentary, Uncategorized, War.
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Roger’s note: what I have put together here is a little photo essay on the subject of democracy in our capitalist world.  

 

A

Many say that in a democracy you get what you deserve.  As if there were meaningful choice.

B

I had an emotional response when I saw this picture.  It is our children who will inherit a world permanently at war.  This symbolizes their basic nee for a world free of institutionalized violence.

bb

Those with a cynical outlook along with those who profit from our oligarchy would have us believe that there is nothing better.

L

The corporate reality.

M

As feudalism was based upon serf labor, capitalism relies on wage slavery.  In both cases those who create value do not share the wealth democratically.  Not only capitalists but many on the left refuse to recognize that there is a world beyond capitalism, a world of worker democracy.

P

The fetishism of elections in capitalist democracy.  

S

 

There are a few meaningful differences between the two major parties, but on the essentials of war and the economy they are virtually indistinguishable.

2016: The Year the Americans Found out Our Elections Are Rigged May 15, 2016

Posted by rogerhollander in 2016 election, bernie sanders, Democracy, donald trump, Hillary Clinton, Uncategorized.
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Roger’s note: this may be the year that Americans found out, but of course, in the sense of capital in the form of corporations and military limiting and controlling candidacies and choices, US elections have always been rigged.  The Trump and Sanders phenomena are somewhat unique challenges to the two-party oligarchy (Republicrats), with the difference being that the Republicans did not have the degree of entrenchment that the Democrats have in Hillary Clinton (although I admit that at first I was almost sure that Jeb Bush would in the nomination), thereby allowing the tide of populist support for Trump to sweep away the Republican establishment.  Probably only the indictment of Clinton for her blatant email security breaches would give Sanders a fighting chance to win the Democratic nomination in spite of his overwhelming grass roots popularity, the negatives about Clinton, garden variety misogyny, and polls hat show him dong better against Trump (I surf Instagram and find literally dozens of pro Bernie sites, a handful of right wingers, and absolutely not one Hillary Clinton supporter).

And by all means don’t miss George Carlin’s video at the end of this piece.  It is brilliant.

march_of_tyranny

“Now it’s just an oligarchy, with unlimited political bribery being the essence of getting the nominations for president or to elect the president. And the same thing applies to governors, and U.S. senators and congress members.” – Former President Jimmy Carter

By Nick Bernabe

Source: AntiMedia

The 2016 election has been a wild ride, with two insurgent grassroots campaigns literally giving the political establishment a run for its money. But as the events of this presidential primary season play out, it’s becoming clear the U.S. election — and even more so, the presidential race — is a big scam being perpetrated on the American people.

Events from the last week have exposed the system as an illusion of choice and a farce. They have reinforced at least one study showing the U.S. is an oligarchy rather than a democratic republic.

The Wyoming democratic caucus took place on Saturday, purportedly to allow voters to have their voices heard in the race between Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton. Sanders lost the Wyoming caucus by winning it with a 12 percent margin.

Wait, what?

How does one lose by winning 56 percent of the votes? This happens when the political process is, according to the New York Post, “rigged” by superdelegates. The Postsummed up this “strange” phenomenon:

“[U]nder the Democratic Party’s oddball delegate system, Sanders’ winning streak — he has won seven out of the past eight contests — counts for little.

“In fact, despite his win, he splits Wyoming’s 14 pledged delegates 7 to 7 under the caucus calculus.

“Clinton, meanwhile, also gets the state’s four superdelegates — who had already pledged their allegiance to her in January. So despite ‘losing,’ she triumphs 11-7 in the delegate tally.”

Even media pundits on MSNBC openly called the process rigged:

The superdelegate process is complicated, as we’ve noted before, but they have one essential function: to prevent candidates like Bernie Sanders from winning the Democratic nomination.

Don’t believe me? Here’s a video of Democratic National Committee chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz explaining superdelegates:

Adding insult to injury, even when Sanders does win states (despite Hillary’s advantage in superdelegates), the media can be reliably counted on to discount Sanders’s wins asnothing more than prolonging the electoral process, which will inevitably elect the presumptive nominee, Hillary Clinton. This pervasive commentary continues despite the fact Sanders only trails her by several hundred pledged delegates.

Meanwhile, according to the same media, the non-establishment Trump campaign is threatened every time Ted Cruz beats him — even though Trump leads by a larger percentage of pledged delegates than Clinton does. When Clinton loses, it doesn’t matter because she already has the nomination locked up. When Trump loses, his campaign is in big trouble. Starting to see the problem with the media coverage?

When you examine these media narratives, a troubling pattern emerges that goes beyond the political establishment’s self-interest. You begin to see that American corporate media also functions as an arm of the political machine, protecting establishment candidates while attacking — or dismissing — candidates who seem non-establishment.

This brings us to the events that transpired during the Republican nomination process in Colorado on Saturday. The Republican Party of Colorado didn’t even bother letting people vote before using arcane rules to strip the democratic process of its democracy. According to the Denver Post:

“Colorado GOP leaders canceled the party’s presidential straw poll in August to avoid binding its delegates to a candidate who may not survive until the Republican National Convention in July.

“Instead, Republicans selected national delegates through the caucus process, a move that put the election of national delegates in the hands of party insiders and activists — leaving roughly 90 percent of the more than 1 million Republican voters on the sidelines.”

Unsurprisingly, Trump’s non-establishment campaign walked away with zero delegates. They were all “awarded” to Ted Cruz.

“How is it possible that the people of the great State of Colorado never got to vote in the Republican Primary? Great anger — totally unfair!” Trump said on Twitter. “The people of Colorado had their vote taken away from them by the phony politicians. Biggest story in politics. This will not be allowed!”

In an interview on Monday, Trump was even more frank. “The system is rigged, it’s crooked,” he said.

The Colorado GOP didn’t even bother hiding its intentions, tweeting — then quickly removing — what was possibly the most honest insight into the back-door dealing so far this election season:

colorado-gop

The Republican party chooses the nominee, not the voting public. Still in disbelief? Watch a Republican National Committee member explain it better than I can:

What we are witnessing — for the first time on a large scale — is the political establishment’s true role in selecting the president of the United States. The illusion of choice has become apparent. The establishment anoints their two picks for president, and the country proceeds to argue vehemently over the two candidates they are spoon-fed. This dynamic is reminiscent of a prophetic 1998 quote from philosopher Noam Chomsky:

“The smart way to keep people passive and obedient is to strictly limit the spectrum of acceptable opinion, but allow very lively debate within that spectrum.”

Ahh, the illusion of choice. Sure, in reality there are third party candidates who should be given a fair shake, but in our mainstream media-augmented reality, third parties do not exist. They aren’t mentioned. They aren’t even included in presidential debates. This is another way the media stifles healthy debate, stamps out dissenting opinions, and preserves the status-quo.

We The People don’t choose our presidents; they are hand-picked by a powerful group of political party insiders — parties that have long since sold out to the highest bidders. What we have on our hands in America is a rigged oligarchy, and that’s not a conspiracy theory — it’s fact. Now, however, millions of Americans are becoming aware of it thanks to the populist campaigns of Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump. America’s elections are controlled by a big club, but unfortunately, “you ain’t in it!”

Class War??? Elect “Progressive” Democrats??? November 7, 2013

Posted by rogerhollander in Democracy, Political Commentary, Revolution.
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THE FIRS WEB SITE I GO TO EVERY DAY IS COMMON DREAMS.  I DON’T READ EVERYTHING BECAUSE I HAVE OTHER WEB SITES TO CHECK OUT, BUT I TRY TO FIND WHAT SPEAKS TO THE CRISES IN OUR WORLD TODAY AND WILL HAVE A UNIVERSAL AND HUMANISTIC APPEAL TO THE READERS OF MY BLOG.  AS HAPPENED TODAY, SOMETIMES I READ WHAT I HAVE A FEELING  WILL BE SOMETHING I CANNOT AGREE WITH.  AS WITH THESE KINDS OF ARTICLES, AS WELL AS THOSE WHICH FOR ME ARE RIGHT ON, MORE OFTEN THAN NOT THE COMMENTS AT THE END OF THE ARTICLE FOR THE MOST PART CONTAIN AS MUCH OR MORE WISDOM AS THE ARTICLE ITSELF.  THIS GIVES ME LOTS OF HOPE BECAUSE THESE ARE NOT OPINIONS OF THE SO-CALLED EXPERTS, BUT RATHER ORDINARY JANES AND JOES LIKE YOU AND ME.

I AM NOT GOING TO POST THESE TWO ARTICLES, RATHER GIVE YOU THE LINKS AND SUGGEST YOU DO AS I DID AND TAKE THE TIME TO READ ALL THE COMMENTS.  JUST READING THE TITLES OF THESE TWO ARTICLES GOT MY DANDER UP: “Bill de Blasio: Harbinger of a New Populist Left in America” AND “Class War is a Bad Strategy for Progressive Politics.”

JUST CLICK ON THESE TITLES TO READ THE ARTICLES AND I PROMISE YOU IT WILL BE WORTH YOUR WHILE TO READ ALL THE COMMENTS (THE GREAT PERCENTAGE OF WHICH I CONSIDER TO BE WELL STATED).  THERE IS A QUOTE IN THE COMMENTS OF THE SECOND ARTICLE BY FREDERICK DOUGLAS, WHICH I GIVE YOU HERE AS AN APPETIZER:

“The whole history of the progress of human liberty shows that all concessions yet made to her august claims have been born of earnest struggle. … If there is no struggle, there is no progress. Those who profess to favor freedom, and yet deprecate agitation, are men who want crops without plowing up the ground. They want rain without thunder and lightning. They want the ocean without the awful roar of its many waters. This struggle may be a moral one; or it may be a physical one; or it may be both moral and physical; but it must be a struggle. Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will. Find out just what any people will submit to, and you have found out the exact amount of injustice and wrong which will be imposed upon them; and these will continue till they are resisted with either words or blows, or with both. The limits of tyrants are prescribed by the endurance of those whom they oppress.” – Fredrick Douglas – 1857

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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.”

Where’s the Outrage Over Workers Getting the Shaft? March 31, 2009

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By Marie Cocco

www.truthdig.com, Posted on Mar 30, 2009

    No cable television rants. No congressional hearing staged to publicly whip those responsible for so transparent a betrayal. Not a pitchfork in sight.

    You would be hard-pressed to know that American workers suffered a cruel defeat last week when Pennsylvania Sen. Arlen Specter—the lone Republican to have once supported a measure that would make it easier for workers to form unions and more likely that employers would negotiate in good faith—effectively killed the effort for this year.

    A Specter vote for the proposed Employee Free Choice Act, organized labor’s top legislative goal, was needed to break the expected filibuster by his fellow Republicans.

    The immediate cause of his flip-flop was a primary challenge that Specter is expected to face from former Rep. Pat Toomey, a card-carrying member of the vast right-wing conglomerate. Toomey, who came within a breath of toppling Specter in the 2004 primary, is president of the Club for Growth, an organization of conservatives that has as its guiding principle a fealty to pretty much every economic precept that has gotten us where we are today.

    The club’s view of sound economics is to make permanent the Bush tax cuts, which drain $2.2 trillion from the treasury over a decade and which, according to the nonpartisan Tax Policy Center, bestow the largest benefits on the top one-tenth of 1 percent of households—those with incomes of $3 million or more. The club also wants to permanently repeal the estate tax. This year, the Tax Policy Center found, about two-thirds of this tax will be paid by about 700 estates. The inheritors of these estates represent 0.03 percent of all anticipated heirs in 2009.

    Indirectly but indisputably, Toomey and the ideological brain trust that has given us such skewed policies have also managed to kill the most significant chance American workers had to push back against decades of job losses, benefit cuts and stagnant wages.

    But neither Toomey nor Specter did this alone. Business made defeat of the pro-union measure its top priority. It argued, deceptively, that it was ardently in favor of workers maintaining the right to vote for or against unions in secret-ballot elections when, in truth, such elections under current law are called not by workers but by employers who refuse to accept initial results of card check-offs that favor unionization. 

    Nonetheless, the economic downturn swiftly shredded the cloak of rhetoric about democracy. Business reverted to arguing that allowing workers to bargain for decent wages and benefits is a cost they should not bear. Even Specter took up this cant, arguing against “adding a burden” to business at the wrong time.

    So here is the essence of it: Largely unencumbered by unions, which now represent only about 7 percent of private-sector workers, American businesses have shipped jobs overseas, unilaterally cut benefits, kept wages stagnant or falling for most of the decade and laid off millions. The doctrine of nonintervention in the marketplace that is now the central argument against the proposed Employee Free Choice Act is the very same dogma that led us into the current financial crisis and the worst recession in at least three decades.

    Workers who did nothing to create the current economic crisis must now be kept powerless lest they create some future economic crisis we cannot yet imagine.

    The public—Pennsylvanians among them—voted against this sort of illogic just four short months ago. The AFL-CIO spent $250 million in last year’s elections on behalf of Barack Obama and many other Democrats it believed would be sympathetic to labor. But Obama, who endorsed the free choice act as a candidate, began obscuring his position almost as soon as he took office. And though Specter’s about-face is the most visible backstabbing, a handful of Senate Democrats worried about their own re-elections also were uncertain in their support and almost hostile in their public statements. It is unclear whether the measure would have passed the Senate even if Specter had voted to break his party’s filibuster and allowed a vote.

    American workers do not need friends whose subservience to the politics of self-preservation makes them indistinguishable from enemies. Remember this the next time these same so-called leaders join the frenzy over an irresponsibly greedy corporate culture—and then act decisively to keep it in place.

    Marie Cocco’s e-mail address is mariecocco(at)washpost.com.

© 2009, Washington Post Writers Group