Saturday, March 31, 2012
Friday, March 30, 2012
Below is a recap of the successful campaign launched by a broad coalition of every day Georgians to stop SB469.
February 22nd, 2012. Word got out about the frontal assault of SB469 on the people of Georgia.February 29th, 2012. Community allies and Occupy Atlanta held a rally with about 75 in attendance at the capitol to highlight SB469, Senator Balfour (introduced the bill) and the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC-they crafted the bill- ).March 2nd, 2012. Jobs with Justice exposes Senator Balfour as a Vice President of Waffle House. 7 Waffle House locations are targeted in Metro Atlanta and Snellville (Balfour's District) with fliers informing customers that Waffle House Execs are attacking Georgians right to free speech (http://www.atlantajwj.org/2012/03/senator-don-balfour-sb469-freedom.html). It was noted during this outreach that Georgians of all stripes -- including tea party folks -- were against this bill.March 5th, 2012. Georgia AFL-CIO, local unions and community partners organize a rally at the GA capitol against SB469. About 300-400 were in attendance. The rally spontaneously marched to the closest Waffle House and held a huge picket in Balfour's honor. Servers inside the Waffle House were tipped heavily so they know that no community angst was directed towards them.March 13th, 2012. 1st Mass Community Meeting was held to discuss collective strategy to stop SB469. Over 75 folks came to this meeting and almost 40 organizations were represented. The infrastructure for a large act of civil disobedience including bail funds and civil disobedience trainings began at this meeting. This meeting helped to build the largest Labor/Community mobilization we have seen in Atlanta in years.March 17th, 2012. Mass Mobilization with 2,000+ in attendance. Labor came out big as well as the Georgia Latino Alliance for Human Rights and other community allies. It was great to see an undocumented student sharing her story with thousands of trade unionists. This is when we broke through the media bubble and took control of the narrative around SB469. It was critical to change the perception from a "bill that would stop union thugs from targeting private residences" to "a broad coalition of Georgians standing up for our 1st amendment rights and for working families." Community members contributed over $1,700.00 to bail funds and authorities started to get nervous about our plans moving forward.March 20th, 2012. Unions and community members pack the Industrial Relations Committee meeting to give compelling testimony from union members, grandmothers, civil rights leaders, Occupy Atlanta, legal experts the tea party and more. Media coverage is amplified through the novel alliance of the tea party, labor and Occupy. Collective action occurred while leaving the committee hearing with participants putting free speech stickers over their mouths ().March 26, 2012. Georgia labor organizes "Welcoming Party" for anti-worker governor Scott Walker (also backed by ALEC) who paid a visit to Georgia on this date. Interesting that Walker came to town while the union killing SB469 was on the agenda in this state. (http://www.facebook.com/events/165850633535427/)March 29th, 2012. This was the last day of the legislature and last opportunity to pass SB469. A community prayer took place in the morning followed by a press conference that garnered significant media attention. The commitment from our coalition was huge, we had strong numbers from 9:00 am until 12:00 pm midnight. The day/night were chaotic to say the least... The multiple amendments and committee meetings called to discuss SB469 revealed the cracks among the ranks of those pushing the corporate agenda. There was constant communication between tour "inside strategy" which included lobbying our representatives and getting inside information on the status of the bills/votes and the "external strategy" that was mobilizing to commit non-violent civil disobedience if needed to garner national media attention and public backlash against the bill. Over 45 police officers were present with zip ties in the house gallery while our internal allies were furiously organizing representatives against the bill. The discipline and communication between all of our forces was significant and an example of community/labor power focused on a pragmatic and unified goal: killing the bill. The bill was never brought to the house floor before the clock struck 12:00 midnight. We stopped this bill. We stopped some of the most powerful political and social players including Senators Balfour, Hamrick, Cowsert and Tolleson all of whom are members of ALEC. We stopped them in Georgia. Georgia was to be the test case for the rest of the nation.There was much more work that went in to stopping this bill and I apologize for what I did not highlight. We need to claim this clear victory and continue to build so that next year we can mobilize our forces to fight back against the assault on women, immigrants and the un and underemployed in this state. With our unified victory against SB469, we have the tools and the beginnings of a strong and broad coalition to do so.A note on the bail funds that have not been used. We plan to hold this money in reserve to be used for future acts of non-violent civil disobedience in our state. There is currently about $3,500 of funds. A deep thank you to all of our community members that helped to build these much needed reserves and latent power.Much love y'all!!!!! Let's claim this victory and continue to build moving forward.
Wednesday, March 28, 2012
Monday, March 26, 2012
Republicans For Mandating Coverage (RMC) — a 51-member coalition representing Republicans who supported a federal health care mandate before President Barack Obama endorsed it — urged the Supreme Court on Monday to uphold the constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act’s individual mandate:
Thursday, March 22, 2012
Monday, March 19, 2012
The fact is that individual health insurance, as currently constituted, just doesn’t work. If insurers are left free to deny coverage at will — as they are in, say, California — they offer cheap policies to the young and healthy (and try to yank coverage if you get sick) but refuse to cover anyone likely to need expensive care. Yet simply requiring that insurers cover people with pre-existing conditions, as in New York, doesn’t work either: premiums are sky-high because only the sick buy insurance.
The solution — originally proposed, believe it or not, by analysts at the ultra-right-wing Heritage Foundation — is a three-legged stool of regulation and subsidies. As in New York, insurers are required to cover everyone; in return, everyone is required to buy insurance, so that healthy as well as sick people are in the risk pool. Finally, subsidies make those mandated insurance purchases affordable for lower-income families.
Can such a system work? It’s already working! Massachusetts enacted a very similar reform six years ago — yes, while Mitt Romney was governor. Jonathan Gruber of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, who played a key role in developing both the local and the national reforms (and has published an illustrated guide to reform) has surveyed the results — and finds that Romneycare is working pretty much as advertised. The number of people without insurance has dropped sharply, the quality of care hasn’t suffered, and the program’s cost has been very close to initial projections.
Oh, and the budgetary cost per newly insured resident of Massachusetts was actually lower than the projected cost per American insured by the Affordable Care Act.
Given this evidence, what’s a virulent opponent of reform to do? The answer is, make stuff up.
We all know how the act’s proposal that Medicare evaluate medical procedures for effectiveness became, in the fevered imagination of the right, an evil plan to create death panels. And rest assured, this lie will be back in force once the general election campaign is in full swing.
For now, however, most of the disinformation involves claims about costs. Each new report from the Congressional Budget Office is touted as proof that the true cost of Obamacare is exploding, even when — as was the case with the latest report — the document says on its very first page that projected costs have actually fallen slightly. Nor are we talking about random pundits making these false claims. We are, instead, talking about people like the chairman of the House Republican Policy Committee, who issued a completely fraudulent press release after the latest budget office report.
Because the truth does not, sad to say, always prevail, there is a real chance that these lies will succeed in killing health reform before it really gets started. And that would be an immense tragedy for America, because this health reform is coming just in time.
As I said, the reform is mainly aimed at Americans who fall through the cracks in our current system — an important goal in its own right. But what makes reform truly urgent is the fact that the cracks are rapidly getting wider, because fewer and fewer jobs come with health benefits; employment-based coverage actually declined even during the “Bush boom” of 2003 to 2007, and has plunged since.
What this means is that the Affordable Care Act is the only thing protecting us from an imminent surge in the number of Americans who can’t afford essential care. So this reform had better survive — because if it doesn’t, many Americans who need health care won’t.
The centerpiece of US policy is the building up of the Afghanistan National Army, with a target set by President Obama of 260,000. This troop level cannot be sustained by the Afghan government budget, and so guarantees that foreign sources will be necessary to fund the army for years and perhaps decades to come. Is that course really plausible?
What is the current troop strength? How much of the country is the ANA responsible for now (the US and NATO have been turning provinces over to it one by one)? How many tanks does the ANA now have? How many helicopter gunships? What is the ethnic composition of the officer corps now? How loyal are they to Karzai? Who is the army chief of staff and how good is he?
Well, the easy part is that the army chief of staff is General Sher Mohammad Karimi, who is a very worried man. He was graduated from Britain’s prestigious Sandhurst military academy, but also studied in Egypt and Russia. He is worried about US hamfistedness, as with the scandal over the burning of the Qur’an, or the video of US troops pissing on fallen Taliban warriors’ bodies, and the way the Taliban are taking full propaganda advantage. He is worried about presiding over hundreds of thousands of largely illiterate, poorly trained troops (Afghanistan’s literacy rate is 28%, the troops’ literacy rate is about 10%).
Karimi is also concerned about the scaling down of US and NATO plans for support of his military, with recent maximum troop strength now being pegged at 230,000. He wants a bigger army and wants ongoing artillery and close air support. If I were Karimi, I’d get NATO to buy me as many tanks and artillery pieces as they would right now, and train the men on them like crazy. Afghanistan in 2016 may not be a budget priority. And the country cannot hope to support this enormous military establishment all by itself. It would swallow up the whole national budget.
The recruitment drive for the army had stalled out at 170,000 by last September. There were enormous numbers of troops going AWOL in 2010.
Reporting on the ANA performance on the ground is sketchy. Karimi alleges that 60% of military operations are now carried out by the ANA independently of NATO, but I doubt very many important battles are pursued without Western support. It is being alleged that an operation led by ANA forces and supported by Afghanistan National Security Forces and a British unit against Taliban in Gereshk, Helmand, went well, with the fundamentalist guerrillas scattering before the ANA advance. If this report is true, and if it is representative, it would indicate progress in ANA capabilities, but obviously they still needed British backup.
It is the cohesiveness, efficiency, and counter-insurgency capabilities of the Afghanistan National Army that will go a long way toward determining the future of the country. We need more good reporting about what exactly is going on with the ANA.
What I can find out on the web suggests to me that the troops need more education. Why not a University of Maryland type educational program for them such as US GIs have access to? They need better armor and training on it. They need better esprit de corps.
The US public is uninterested in or tired of Afghanistan. Obama should give up on a US-led attempt at counter-insurgency (winning hearts and minds, indeed) and instead put all its eggs in the basket of ensuring that the ANA and the national police have the capacity to do their jobs.
Saturday, March 17, 2012
Like many progressives I had hopes that President Obama could push the Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA) through Congress. There was no doubt that it would be difficult to get it through a Senate filibuster, but the support of a few moderate Republicans did not seem impossible. Passage seemed close enough that a bit of horse trading and arm-twisting could pull the bill over the line.
In reality, it turned out that it was not close. In spite of the best efforts of the labor movement and its supporters, the bill had nowhere near the votes needed to get through a filibuster. The issue was not just getting the few Republicans that would be needed to end a filibuster; the problem was that many Democrats in the Senate would not go near a bill that would make unionization easier.
In an environment of unrelenting employer hostility to unions, there can be little doubt that there needs to be some change in the rules if workers in the private sector are going to have chance of being able to organize successfully. As it stands, it is standard practice for employers to fire workers who are engaged in an organizing drive.
While such firing is against the law, the penalties are trivial. When it gets around to hearing the case, which could take years, the National Labor Relations Board can order that a worker wrongly fired be rehired. Workers wrongfully fired are also entitled to the difference between the wages that they would have earned on the job from which they were fired, and the wages they actually earned. This is often little or nothing. Imagine being fired from a job at Walmart that paid little more than the minimum wage.
Meanwhile, the firing is great strategy from the employers' standpoint. The troublemakers are gone. The union is shown to be impotent and the rest of the workforce conceals any possible interest in the union in order to avoid the same fate. It doesn't help much if the organizers get rehired a year or two later. Imagine that President Obama got to jail his opponent's campaign workers for the two months prior to the election, but had to release them the month after. That is the roughly the state of union elections in America today.
But EFCA got nowhere and it is not likely to get anywhere any time soon. There was very little public understanding of the issues involved. And one of the key demands, that workers could organize through majority sign-up rather than a secret ballot election (a situation that already exists at the discretion of the employer but not the workers), seemed undemocratic to many people who might have otherwise been sympathetic. If labor is to again be able to organize in the private sector, it clearly needs a new path forward.
This is where Why Labor Organizing Should be a Civil Right by Richard Kahlenberg and Moshe Marvit (Century Foundation) takes off. This book is written from the perspective of two lawyers who recognize the importance of the labor movement to progressive change in the United States over the last 8 decades.
The book's key proposal is that workers who are trying to organize should be given the same sort of legal protection that African Americans or women enjoy against discrimination based on race or gender. This means that workers who are fired would get to sue in real court (not the NLRB) for real damages. As in civil rights cases, they would be entitled to collect attorney's fees from employers if they won their case.
Attorneys' fees are a huge deal, since it means that workers could afford to get lawyers in cases where it otherwise would probably not pay to hire a lawyer. As part of their suit, workers would also have the opportunity to engage in discovery, forcing employers to turn over documents about hiring union-busting consultants and to reveal discussions that might have led workers to exercise their right to seek union representation.
This is the sort of huge rethinking that is needed if labor and progressive politics more generally are going to have a chance to advance in the decades ahead. The current situation of labor is striking because the laws are incredibly tilted against workers in a way that even many progressives do not recognize. If workers violate the law, for example with a wildcat strike or secondary boycott, employees can go to court and get an injunction in hours.
Unlike the situation where employers fire organizers, the penalties for the workers in these cases are hardly a wrist slap. Leaders of the action face imprisonment if they defy an injunction. Any assets of the union can be seized, which could include any strike fund, bank accounts, even office equipment. Imagine if Jeffrey Immelt, the CEO of GE, faced jail time every time the company violated a labor law?
If it ever was passed into law, Kahlenberg and Marvit's proposal would likely have substantially more impact on unionization rates than the EFCA, but more importantly the proposal has a greater prospect of gaining the sort of popular support needed for passage. The issues that motivated the EFCA required a knowledge of the specifics of union organizing that few people have. As a result, even people sympathetic to labor often did not support the bill. By contrast, the Kalhlenberg-Marvit proposal is rooted in a rights-based approach that should be more intuitive to the public.
The authors are not naïve in thinking that this reframing will cause a bill to magically sail through Congress and land on the president's desk. Employers will be every bit as forceful in opposing a bill that seeks to give workers this right to sue as they were in opposing ECFA. However, the big difference is that labor and its supporters are far more likely to be able to gain the popular support to overcome this opposition going the civil rights route.
This argument also helps to pull the argument away from a sort of loser liberalism story where the government is reaching over to help labor by letting them go to children's court (the NLRB) because it feels sorry for them. Instead, labor is seeking symmetry in the relationship with management. Employers get to take their grievances to real court; workers should have the same opportunity.
While Kahlenberg and Marvit did not invent the proposal that is the centerpiece of the book, they deserve credit for bringing it back to public attention in a forceful manner at a time when labor and the progressive movement more generally are desperately in need of new directions forward. This is a book worth reading and argument worth taking seriously.
Thursday, March 15, 2012
Daybreak Book IV Aphorism: 210
Friedrich Nietzsche wrote his second book, Daybreak: Thoughts on the Prejudices of Morality, to his “patient friends” in order to help set the ground work resolve tensions blocking intellectuals as they struggle towards the, “days that have not yet broken,” as the Rig Veda epigraph to Daybreak notes will be plentiful in the days ahead. Nietzsche wants us to recognize that an individual’s redemption--one’s own daybreak--is a solitary affair, but one worth the endeavor if one is able to sustain the solitude and perils along the way:
For he who proceeds on his own path in this fashion encounters no one: that is inherent in ‘proceeding on one’s own path.’ No one comes along to help him: all the perils, accidents, malice, and bad weather which assail him he has to tackle by himself. (pg. 1 Daybreak Cambridge University Press 1997 Ed. Clark and Leiter)
In book IV, aphorism 210 stands out as pivotal and worth spending a great deal of time with because it can give form to what is going on throughout book IV as Nietzsche flows through a spectrum of seemingly disparate issues, topics, and subjects. This paper will argue that aphorism 210 is a thread that can give structure to book IV and place the book clearly within the project of Daybreak—which is to undermine our faith in morality.
Human beings are animals, and we are not even very special animals. One of the challenges we must overcome, in Nietzsche’s eyes, is to not see and infuse our actions and behaviors with greater motives of grandeur and meaning than they actually deserve. Such misplaced egoism on our part leads us on a path where we are bound to take wrong turns, creating misinterpretations which churn out sloppy diagnoses of the challenge and problems we face. As Clarke and Leiter note in their introduction to Daybreak, “[i]n Human, All Too Human… Nietzsche began a long effort to free morality from the metaphysical world to which Kant and Schopenhauer had connected it,” with Daybreak Nietzsche continues this effort, “to explain ‘higher’ things in terms of the ‘lower,” the merely human” (p.xx).
Aphorism 210 is a perfect example of this pursuit to have us reframe our approach in a ways that highlight the lower--rather than get us caught up in confusions of grandeur about “good” or “evil” motives we have which coming from “higher” questions; he does so in this aphorism by way of looking at the question of laughter. “Formerly,” Nietzsche notes, ‘we asked: what is the laughable? As though there were things external to us to which the laughable adhered as a quality, and we exhausted ourselves in suggestions… Now we ask: what is laughter? How does laugher originate?” Why did we change our question? Because it solves an issue of clarity saving us the headache of wrong turns and detours which, Nietzsche often points out Kant and Schopenhauer quite often led us on:
[T]here is nothing good , nothing beautiful, nothing sublime, nothing evil in itself, but that there are states of soul in which we impose such words upon things external to and within us. We have again taken back the predicates of things, or at least remembered that it was we who lent them to them:--let us take care that this insight does not deprive us of the capacity to lend, and that we have not become at the same time richer and greedier(p133).
Nietzsche is just using laughter here as his example of how we can misconstrue the “in itself” and that our questions can lead us to answer questions other than the ones we are truly trying to grasp and flesh out. As a philologist, Nietzsche is by training always working to parse our language and framing of such language usage to cut through and highlight confusions. I would even claim that Nietzsche is working dialectically (at least in a naturalistic way that does not get us lost in Hegelian Idealism) starting with ancient Greek ethics as his thesis, taking Martin Luther and the reformation as his antithesis to work out a synthesis which for the free spirit culminates personally and emotionally as a psychological “daybreak.”
 I have stolen this line from Prof. Jessica Berry Nietzsche lectures Spring of 2012 Georgia State University
 I am using the term dialectic here as purely a method of argument and am not intending to bring in any references or nuances that Hegelians and others use--which I still and quite frankly utterly clueless about. I simple mean that Nietzsche starts with Greek Rationalism, directs us to look at the ideas of Martin Luther/Reformation/modernism and the tensions which are created. “Daybreak” arrives for free spirits when they reach the other end of the tensions created by paralleling and thinking through these approaches.