Rush Limbaugh offered on Saturday and again today a half-hearted "apology" to try to stave off further defections by advertisers (hat tip to Political Carnival) over the contraception furor:
I personally do not agree that American citizens should pay for these social activities. What happened to personal responsibility and accountability?...My choice of words was not the best, and in the attempt to be humorous, I created a national stir. I sincerely apologize to Ms. Fluke for the insulting word choices.
Yet in protesting the vulgar and offensive language used to tar Flake as a "slut" and "prostitute," liberals haven't been effectively headlining the false premises and fabricated "news" stories behind his rant  -- and most mainstream media outlets have ignored that side of the story. Now that Andrew Breitbart has passed away, other right-wingers, including Rush, are stepping up to carry out his legacy of creating false news stories and promoting phony narratives. Taxpayers have nothing to do with the coverage for contraception Sandra Flake was testifying about, nor did she ask for more contraception for herself so she could have more sex. CNN continues to hype those claims,  while other news organizations have left them unchallenged and right-wing pundits keep selling those lies. It's been up to a handful of progressive blogs, including Firedoglake, to  point out just how false such arguments really have been. In fact, there's another scandal that the Rush contraception controversy underscores: how the right-wing media too often fabricates the news they want the the public to believe, and the way the mainstream news outlets serve as enablers for those lies.  Think Progress has done perhaps the best job deconstructing this fabrication about taxpayer funding that seems to have been accepted uncritically in most mainstream coverage, with the media focus having been almost entirely on the slurs, not the false arguments. As Think Progress first noted, the lies stem from an article on the website, part of the Media Research Center network of right-wing media "watchdogs" founded by Brent Bozell. In short, a hard-right organization dedicated to sniffing out "bias" in mainstream and liberal news outlets supports a crackpot publication that apparently doesn't just spin the news -- but also fabricates news out of whole cloth to make its point. In this case, the story was headlined, apparently inspired by the old Weekly World News: Sex-Crazed Co-Eds Going Broke Buying Birth Control, Student Tells Pelosi Hearing Touting Freebie Mandate The article led by concocting this eye-catching scenario:
A Georgetown co-ed told Rep. Nancy Pelosi's hearing that the women in her law school program are having so much sex that they're going broke, so you and I should pay for their birth control.Speaking at a hearing held by Pelosi to tout Pres. Obama's mandate that virtually every health insurance plan cover the full cost of contraception and abortion-inducing products, Georgetown law student Sandra Fluke said that it's too expensive to have sex in law school without mandated insurance coverage.
As Think Progress and others have pointed out, her testimony actually was about "insurance companies paying for contraception as part of their health coverage, the way they pay for any other medication, such as Viagra. Morevoer, Fluke's testimony was not about herself, but about a friend who needed contraception to fight cancer and [about] other fellow law students." Yet in the right-wing media ecosystem, the GOP-fueled notion gets traction that a pro-contraception student would actually testify before Congress along these lines: "I'm going broke having so much sex I need hard-working taxpayers to pay for my sex life. I want to while away my nights in my elite East Coast university having sex orgies paid for by farmers in Iowa and struggling factory workers in Ohio. What's wrong with that?" Of course, even the author of the article, Craig Bannister, didn't go so far as to make up such fake quotes, he just used the device of fabricating her statements in paraphrase. He wasn't some novice intern who took poor notes at the hearing, but the director of communications for and executive editor of its "The Right View, Right Now" blog. So in deliberately faking the main thrust of the article and the headline, Bannister carefully omitted using any direct quotes that supported his incendiary paraphrased account of her testimony. The only quotes attributed to her followed his made-up lead paragraphs about the sex-crazed co-ed seeking government funding for her wild sex life. One of the few direct, genuine quotes that seized Rush's imagination was this: "Forty percent of the female students at Georgetown Law reported to us that they struggled financially as a result of this policy [Georgetown student insurance not covering contraception]," Fluke reported. On the third day of his rants targeting Fluke about the contraception policy, Limbaugh built on this deliberately faked story with his own embellishments:
This woman comes forth with this frankly hilarious claim that she's having so much sex, and her buddies with her, that she can't afford it. And not one person says, did you ever think about maybe backing off the amount of sex that you have? ... And amazingly, when there is the slightest bit of opposition to this new welfare entitlement to be created, that all of a sudden, we hate women, we want them barefoot and pregnant in the kitchen, all of these other things.
As of Monday, the faked "news" story about Fluke's testimony remains on the front page of the media watchdog's website, And while Limbaugh, conservative pundits, Rick Santorum and other dittoheads may start distancing themselves from the overt misogynist slurs that Santorum has dubbed merely "absurd," their false, inflammatory arguments about taxpayer-funded birth control continue unimpeded. UPDATE: Bill O'Riley has doubled down on the Big Lie that Fluke and feminists in this contraception debate want to force American taxpayers to foot the bill for their sex lives.
It's been less than two weeks since a<a href="" target="_hplink"> guerilla campaign by local activists</a> managed to restore about 20 percent from $131 million in budget cuts targeting Washington, D.C.'s neediest residents  -- with little help  from the mainstream media, which <a href="" target="_hplink">essentially ignored</a> a looming shutdown of the city's shelter and disabled aid services that could have thrown thousands into the street. The city's reluctant Democratic leadership only bowed at the last minute to under-the-radar pressure to reverse some of the most obvious, draconian cuts with $27 million in restorations, especially services to the homeless.
Andy Silver, an attorney and organizer with the <a href="" target="_hplink">Washington Legal Clinic for the Homeless</a>, has an optimistic perspective on the shelter crisis that was averted: "People need to be creative. You can still win without mainstream media attention."
Other sources familiar with the lobbying to restore homeless funding point out that some leaders in the local downtown business community were concerned about the impact on the city's image and tourism. There was a real prospect of a PR nightmare if <a href="" target="_hplink">1<a href="" target="_hplink">500 homeless single adults</a> and 300 families wandered the streets after shelters closed down</a>. So, they pressured city leaders to save the shelter system in the same week that liberal activists stepped up protest at the District's city hall, the Wilson building, with a <a href="" target="_hplink">"Reality Tour</a>." One influential voice was developer Benjamin Miller, who wrote in the <em>Washington Business Journal</em>:
<blockquote>"It is unacceptable to cast 1,500 homeless people out on the streets of the District, but that is surely what will happen if the D.C. Council fails to restore year-round operation of shelters for single homeless adults. I am asking my colleagues in the business community to reach out this week to D.C. Council members and urge full funding for homeless services. This is one of those rare opportunities for the council to do right by business, by the taxpayers and by our most vulnerable residents."</blockquote>
Yet a Democratic mayor and a Democratic city council were on the verge of shutting down the entire shelter system and cutting of a mere $250 a month in aid to the disabled waiting for their Social Security claims to be processed. But then a small-scale grass-roots revolt prompted them to reconsider. Yet, on top of all that, the Council rejected any income tax increase on the city's wealthiest residents, including a mild proposals from the Mayor which would have added $35 million in revenues, even though<a href="" target="_hplink"> 85% and more of the public in a poll</a> -- including those earning over $100,000 -- wanted taxes on the wealthy raised to save city services.
Keshini Ladduwahetty of DC for Democracy asks, "Who are they listening to? Who are we fighting? How can we fight forces we can't even see?"
But it's really only a partial win, because other vital programs and even affordable housing services are being jettisoned altogether or slashed to the bone, including children's mental health in a city where <a href="" target="_hplink">three clinics serving the poor already closed </a>in the last  six months. "They made a bad budget worse," says  Ladduwahetty, the activist with DC for Democracy, a DFA affiliate, that's organized a last-minute attempt to stave off <a href="" target="_hplink">yet another tax giveaway </a>to mostly rich residents with the nation's only tax exemption for out-of-state funds.
The Council voted by a slim majority two weeks ago to end that exemption, but powerful city figures, including the corruption-plagued chairman of the City Council,<a href="" target="_hplink"> Kwame "Fully Loaded " Brow</a>n, are moving to take away the revenue gains by extending the tax loophole to current bond holders.
And on Tuesday, leading members of  the DC City Council are threatening to give away that $13 million in <a href="" target="_hplink">potential tax revenues to the city's wealthiest residents</a> by grandfathering those who receive the exemption.      That's why groups like <a href="" target="_hplink">Save our Safety Net </a>and <a href="" target="_hplink">DC for Democracy</a> are urging liberals to call their councilmembers  -- especially those at-large members who may reverse previous votes for ending the exemption, including Marion Barry, Harry Thomas an Marion Barry -- to ensure the revenues from ending that exemption remain.
A majority of the City Council voted to add funds to some of the most vital programs for the poor only if a hoped-for windfall of $33 million in tax revenue becomes available. It's the GOP-style Democrats' version of voodoo economics.  But as DC for Democracy pointed out in an alert issued Sunday, blaming the "fiscal irresponsibility" of the council for rejecting any tax increases on the wealthy, this economic move:
...relied on $33.5M in hoped for funding contingent on updated revenue forecasts from the Chief Financial Officer to fund critical human services, including homeless services, affordable housing, children's mental health, libraries, and childcare subsidies. Even assuming they materialize, these funds would most likely be available for one year only. CFO Natwar  Gandhi  has warned against using this kind of "contingent budgeting".
All told, though, the deep cuts and the apathy of most mainstream media organizations to the impact  on  the poor should be a wake-up call for progressives everywhere: "This can happen in a Democratic city," says Ladduwahetty, so, she contends, you can't count on the Democratic Party to stand up for a progressive agenda in upcoming state and local budget fights.
<strong>UPDATE</strong>: You can keep up with breaking news on this topic at the #dcfy12 Twitter feed:     <a href="!/search?q=%23dcfy12" target="_hplink">!/search?q=%23dcfy12</a>      And by following the individual reporters and activists who post there: <a href="!/who_to_follow/search/dcfy12" target="_hplink">!/who_to_follow/search/dcfy12</a>, as well as <em>The Washington Post's</em> Mike DeBonis: <a href="!/mikedebonis" target="_hplink">!/mikedebonis</a>
This article was adapted from a piece originally published on <a href="" target="_hplink"></a>.

It's been less than two weeks since a guerilla campaign by local activists managed to restore about 20 percent from $131 million in budget cuts targeting Washington, D.C.'s neediest residents -- with little help from the mainstream media, which essentially ignored a looming shutdown of the city's shelter and disabled aid services that could have thrown thousands into the street. The city's reluctant Democratic leadership only bowed at the last minute to under-the-radar pressure to reverse some of the most obvious, draconian cuts with $27 million in restorations, especially services to the homeless.

Andy Silver, an attorney and organizer with theWashington Legal Clinic for the Homeless, has an optimistic perspective on the shelter crisis that was averted: "People need to be creative. You can still win without mainstream media attention."

Other sources familiar with the lobbying to restore homeless funding point out that some leaders in the local downtown business community were concerned about the impact on the city's image and tourism. There was a real prospect of a PR nightmare if 1500 homeless single adults and 300 families wandered the streets after shelters closed down. So, they pressured city leaders to save the shelter system in the same week that liberal activists stepped up protest at the District's city hall, the Wilson building, with a "Reality Tour." One influential voice was developer Benjamin Miller, who wrote in the Washington Business Journal:

"It is unacceptable to cast 1,500 homeless people out on the streets of the District, but that is surely what will happen if the D.C. Council fails to restore year-round operation of shelters for single homeless adults. I am asking my colleagues in the business community to reach out this week to D.C. Council members and urge full funding for homeless services. This is one of those rare opportunities for the council to do right by business, by the taxpayers and by our most vulnerable residents."

Yet a Democratic mayor and a Democratic city council were on the verge of shutting down the entire shelter system and cutting of a mere $250 a month in aid to the disabled waiting for their Social Security claims to be processed. But then a small-scale grass-roots revolt prompted them to reconsider. Yet, on top of all that, the Council rejected any income tax increase on the city's wealthiest residents, including a mild proposals from the Mayor which would have added $35 million in revenues, even though 85% and more of the public in a poll -- including those earning over $100,000 -- wanted taxes on the wealthy raised to save city services.

Keshini Ladduwahetty of DC for Democracy asks, "Who are they listening to? Who are we fighting? How can we fight forces we can't even see?"

But it's really only a partial win, because other vital programs and even affordable housing services are being jettisoned altogether or slashed to the bone, including children's mental health in a city where three clinics serving the poor already closed in the last six months. Homeless services have  already been so starved for funds  that during the winter months, some homeless mothers  with infants and newborns were turned away from shelters during cold nights -- and instead given bus fare to ride city buses all night to keep warm. "They made a bad budget worse," says Ladduwahetty, the activist with DC for Democracy, a DFA affiliate, that's organized a last-minute attempt to stave off yet another tax giveaway to mostly rich residents with the nation's only tax exemption for out-of-state funds.

The Council voted by a slim majority two weeks ago to end that exemption, but powerful city figures, including the corruption-plagued chairman of the City Council, Kwame "Fully Loaded " Brown, are moving to take away the revenue gains by extending the tax loophole to current bond holders.

And today, this Tuesday, leading members of the DC City Council are threatening to give away that $13 million in potential tax revenues to the city's wealthiest residents by grandfathering those who receive the exemption. That's why groups like Save our Safety Net and DC for Democracy are urging liberals to call their councilmembers -- especially those at-large members who may reverse previous votes for ending the exemption, including Marion Barry, Harry Thomas an Marion Barry -- to ensure the revenues from ending that exemption remain.

A majority of the City Council voted to add funds to some of the most vital programs for the poor only if a hoped-for windfall of $33 million in tax revenue becomes available. It's the GOP-style Democrats' version of voodoo economics. But as DC for Democracy pointed out in an alert issued Sunday, blaming the "fiscal irresponsibility" of the council for rejecting any tax increases on the wealthy, this economic move:

...relied on $33.5M in hoped for funding contingent on updated revenue forecasts from the Chief Financial Officer to fund critical human services, including homeless services, affordable housing, children's mental health, libraries, and childcare subsidies. Even assuming they materialize, these funds would most likely be available for one year only. CFO Natwar Gandhi has warned against using this kind of "contingent budgeting".

All told, though, the deep cuts and the apathy of most mainstream media organizations to the impact on the poor should be a wake-up call for progressives everywhere: "This can happen in a Democratic city," says Ladduwahetty, so, she contends, you can't count on the Democratic Party to stand up for a progressive agenda in upcoming state and local budget fights.

UPDATE: You can keep up with breaking news on this topic at the #dcfy12 Twitter feed:!/search?q=%23dcfy12 And by following the individual reporters and activists who post there:!/who_to_follow/search/dcfy12, as well as The Washington Post's Mike DeBonis:!/mikedebonis

This article was adapted from a piece originally published on

The tax deal that passed  Congress doesn't just cost the federal government $850 billion in lost revenues. It also pushes state governments closer to defaulting on loans by failing to extend a federal subsidy program for states that has allowed them to raise billions and avoid bankruptcy. Cash-strapped state such as California and Illinois could indeed default on their loans, which would also cause the vital market in municipal bonds to plummet, a trend already underway. So with states across the country facing a $140 billion shortfall next year, some experts and union advocates also see the GOP opposition to extending the bonds subsidy --despite its support from even some Republican mayors and governors -- as part of a broader scheme to bust public employee unions and wipe out pensions. "We've got a huge bulls-eye on us," one union advocate told In These Times.  "I find it profoundly ironic that [GOP] people on the Hill who say they support states rights can undermine the ability to function of all states that are facing massive fiscal crises." Union officials hope that even with a Republican-run House, the support of Republican governors and mayors joining with unions could help pass the measure next year. But don't hold your breath waiting for fiscal reality and support for more federal spending to take hold of a Tea Party-fueled GOP. The severity of the threat was underscored by the centrist business columnist for Reuters, James Pethokukis, who wrote a blistering piece last week headlined: "Secret GOP plan: Push states to declare bankruptcy and smash unions." No, that wasn't a headline from The Militant or a blogger at Democratic Underground, but from a sober-minded news organization. As Pethokoukis explained (hat tip to Naked Capitalism):
Congressional Republicans appear to be quietly but methodically executing a plan that would a) avoid a federal bailout of spendthrift states and b) cripple public employee unions by pushing cash-strapped states such as California and Illinois to declare bankruptcy. This may be the biggest political battle in Washington, my Capitol Hill sources tell me, of 2011. That’s why the most intriguing aspect of President Barack Obama’s tax deal with Republicans is what the compromise fails to include — a provision to continue the Build America Bonds program. BABs now account for more than 20 percent of new debt sold by states and local governments thanks to a federal rebate equal to 35 percent of interest costs on the bonds. The subsidy program ends on Dec. 31. And my Reuters colleagues report that a GOP congressional aide said Republicans “have a very firm line on BABS — we are not going to allow them to be included.” In short, the lack of a BAB program would make it harder for states to borrow to cover a $140 billion budgetary shortfall next year, as estimated by the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities. The long-term numbers are even scarier. Estimates of states’ unfunded liabilities to pay for retiree benefits range from $750 billion to more than $3 trillion.
The program, which expires December 31,  has subsidized both investors and the states, allowing the governments to offer competitive lower rates  -- and, as part of the original stimulus program, enabled state and localities to finance bridges, roads and other public works, as Bloomberg noted. To some Republicans, forcing the states  to stay within their statutory requirements to keep a balanced budget, even if it means leading some to default on loans, will have valuable side effects -- even if it risks plunging some states into bankruptcy.  To Republicans, the bonds subsidy program was just another part of what they see as the wasteful and useless original  stimulus package, despite the nearly three million jobs saved or created by that broader Recovery Act. Case in point: one GOP Congressional aide told In These Times, “We face enormous challenges, and the federal government will have to tighten its belt just like families and businesses have.  The fact that you’re asking about additional money proves that the stimulus bill didn’t work.  And extending stimulus spending that was originally billed as 'temporary' (as well as 'timely and targeted') will amount to throwing good money after bad.” Underlying this view is a philosophy that sees state bankruptcy  as positively virtuous. Reuters pointed to commentary in the influential The Weekly Standard and, for Republicans, the broader political benefits of bankrupting states with a few upsides: busting unions and avoiding a federal bailout. Of course,  Republican-led states could also be hurt -- but that's just collateral damage in the partisan budget wars. As Pethokoukis observes:
Some Republicans hope the shock of the newly revealed debt totals will grease the way towards explicitly permitting states to declare bankruptcy. Indeed, legislation  amending federal bankruptcy law is currently being prepared by congressional Republicans. Local municipalities do declare bankruptcy from time to time, most famously California’s Orange County in 1994. But states can’t. Allowing them the same ability to renegotiate obligations could enable them to slash public employees’ lavish benefits, a big factor in their financial woes. In a recent issue of the The Weekly Standard, bankruptcy expert David Skeel of the University of Pennsylvania walks through the implications: "With liquidation off the table, the effectiveness of state bankruptcy would depend a great deal on the state’s willingness to play hardball with its creditors. The principal candidates for restructuring in states like California or Illinois are the state’s bonds and its contracts with public employees. Ideally, bondholders would vote to approve a restructuring... "The bankruptcy law should give debtor states even more power to rewrite union contracts, if the court approves. Interestingly, it is easier to renegotiate a burdensome union contract in municipal bankruptcy than in a corporate bankruptcy... It is possible that a state could even renegotiate existing pension benefits in bankruptcy, although this is much less clear and less likely than the power to renegotiate an ongoing contract." It wouldn’t be easy to change the law. Public employee unions have traditionally carried great influence with Democrats, even if President Barack Obama’s willingness to freeze their pay on the federal level suggests their clout may be waning.  From the Republican perspective, the fiscal crisis on the state level provides a golden opportunity to defund a key Democratic interest group. For the GOP, it’s an economic and political win.
Yet given the current political weakness of unions and the latest willingness of the Obama and Democrats to sacrifice government revenues and programs on the altar of tax cuts, no austerity measure is off the table in the new GOP-driven Washington. As the Atlantic Online business writer Daniel Indiviglio points out:
How would public employee unions be affected? Providing states the ability to declare bankruptcy would allow them to renegotiate state employee salaries and benefits. Of course, the renegotiation would more likely take the form of slashing, as some of lavish compensation packages are part of the reason why these states are in such a mess. Yet could Republicans really make this happen? It's extremely hard to believe that Democrats would allow it. As we saw with the automaker bailouts, they have a very strong allegiance to the unions. It's difficult to imagine President Obama signing a bill that would result in a bloodbath for public employee unions. But then, until recently, it was also pretty hard to imagine him going along with tax cuts for the rich. So if compromise really is his new game, nothing is impossible. Inaction could be enough for Republicans to accomplish their goal, however. Even without the ability to declare bankruptcy, if they are unable to issue enough debt to cover their costs, then they'll have to slash costs somehow. Democrats and the President will then be left with the choice of higher unemployment if contracts can't be renegotiated or lower wages and fewer benefits for state workers if they can.
As Indiviglio explains their importance:
Build America Bonds are essentially a special type of municipal bond issued by state or local government entities. There are actually two kinds of these bonds. One sort provides bondholders a tax credit from the federal government for 35% of the interest. The other sort provides bond issuers (a troubled state, for example) a subsidy that allows them to issue bonds at a lower interest rate, competitive with high-grade corporate debt. The latter form has proven to be more popular. In short, it provides state and local governments the ability to fund their deficits more cheaply, thanks to a handout from the federal government...
In measured tones, he and other critics underscore how significant the failure to extend the subsidy could be to states already reeling from deficits so severe some are dropping Medicaid programs and services altogether:
The fate of the states and municipalities that relied on these bonds for funding, however, is even more serious. The tax receipts that these governments rely on have shrunk since the recession began. Without the ability to issue cheap debt, they will have to cut programs, initiatives, and probably jobs. That is, if they can avoid bankruptcy...
As the well-informed Naked Capitalism economics blog says: It isn’t hard to recognize this move as part of an effort to push America further into banana republic land, with a small and wealthy elite controlling the government and a greatly disproportionate share of the wealth. As we’ve indicated, those sorts of societies are unhealthy, even for those at the very top, but that does not seem to deter anyone behind this campaign. Notice that the objective here is not to do the responsible thing, which is to figure out the fairest and least destructive way out of the states’ budget woes; it’s instead to push this festering problem to a crisis to achieve another goal, namely, break unions, with the objective of transferring even more to the rentier class. UPDATE: A new political magazine, Remapping Debate, highlights the ways this new tax deal represents an end on a few key fronts  to additional new assistance to the states:
The package appears to mark a definitive end to an important element of stimulus policy: relief to strapped state governments. While states are expected to continue shedding workers and cutting services for the next several years even as the economy recovers, a continuation of spending assistance to states was apparently not considered during the negotiations that led to a tentative agreement between Obama and the GOP. The fate of a much smaller measure [the Build America Bonds program ] designed to lower state borrowing costs, meanwhile, hangs on further talks. And, in its emphasis on tax cuts over other forms of stimulus, the package may in some cases worsen the state fiscal crisis, according to an analysis by leading state budget observers. ****************************************************** This article originally appeared on the Working In These Times blog, a resource for news and analysis on issues affecting working Americans and the labor movement.
This week, the taut but surprisingly emotional thriller, "Fair Game," hits selected theaters. It's about the Bush administration's retaliation against CIA operative Valerie Plame and former Ambassador Joseph Wilson because he exposed the administration's lies about Iraq buying uranium "yellow cake" from Niger. But although Wilson and his wife recently returned in triumph to the AFI Theater in Silver Spring for its Washington-area premiere, the event served as a reminder that the damage inflicted on Wilson and Plame continues - both in the form of continuing right-wing smears about them and, some critics say, an Obama presidency that is even worse than the Bush administration in punishing whistleblowers. As Jesselyn Radack of the Government Accountability Project (GAP) told Truthout about the Bush approach compared to now:
"It's the same or worse: the politics of personal destruction, vengefulness, is still there. Obama [i.e., the administration] has indicted four people for leaking, more than the last three administrations [George Bush's and Clinton's terms] combined. 'No Drama' Obama is driven to distraction by leaks, he seethes and is tormented by it." As she pointed out in a blog post recently: "The reality is, Obama - not Bush - has criminalized whistleblowing."
At the same time, the administration ostensibly supports reforms that aim to tighten the near toothless safeguards for whistleblowers - including those involved in the intelligence community, who have virtually no protection for exposing wrongdoing - that are now stalled in the Senate. As Angela Canterbury, the policy director of the Project on Government Oversight, which co-sponsored the film's screening, points out, "There are no more protections now than when Wilson spoke out." Worse, the prosecutions are "deeply disappointing" to her group that has helped organize a coalition of over 400 organizations supporting passage; indeed, Obama's prosecutions aim to send a clear message: "Be silent - or look out." In retelling the story of Plame and Wilson, the movie emphasizes an element of getting caught in an orchestrated attack campaign that's never been made so clear before: the destructive impact on family life, marriages and on one's career when the smear machine goes into overdrive. While the real-life Wilson and Plame watched from the rear of the theater, Naomi Watts and Sean Penn re-enacted the nightmare of being hounded by the press and the toll it took on their marriage for a while when Wilson chose to fight back publicly. In a question period after the screening, the blunt-spoken Wilson, joined by Plame, director Douglas Liman and NPR's Neal Conan, said of the smear campaign: "It's real important to understand what happened in that period: it's a real assault on democracy." Those scenes had a special resonance for Thomas Drake, the former National Security Agency (NSA) officer who was indicted in April, 2010  for allegedly retaining classified information and obstructing justice. That's because, in 2006, he and others leaked to the Baltimore Sun - after he sought to alert superiors, Congress and the inspector general - about the waste, ineffectiveness and potential illegality of a $5 billion digital monitoring program, Trailblazer, that never actually launched. Essentially, the Defense Department's inspector general and the Baltimore Sun confirmed that Trailblazer became what Radack calls a "cash cow" used, in part, to pay for various off-the-books and privacy-invading surveillance programs. He was sitting next to Radack, whose cause GAP has championed. She, too, knows something about being targeted for speaking out. After all, she is the former Justice Department attorney who was singled out by Bush officials who then sought to get her disbarred by state bar agencies and fired from her new job after she was forced out of the government because of her warnings about the illegal FBI torture of John Walker Lindh. While Plame and Wilson were vilified as traitors and opportunists by the Bush administration and its media allies, Drake suffered another sort of degradation in November 2007: he faced a 12-man squad of FBI agents invading his home with a search warrant, SWAT-style with TV cameras outside, while his wife and his 12-year-old son were still inside. As Radack notes, another half-dozen agents raided his office at the NSA's National Defense University and FBI agents later interviewed his wife while she was at work. The FBI also hauled away numerous personal possessions, including family pictures, which have never been returned. It turns out that Drake became a criminal target after two years of fruitless federal investigations of a major 2005 New York Times story about widespread illegal spying on Americans. So then, the Bush Justice Department began investigating anyone who had ever complained to the NSA, even though such whistleblower complaints are supposed to be protected. Here's what happened: Although Drake played no role in that 2005 New York Times leak, he and four other former NSA officials had filed a complaint in 2002 with the Defense Department's inspector general (IG) office, which has an NSA oversight role, about the Trailblazer mess. They favored, in part, a more cost-effective and privacy-protecting program, ThinThread and exposed alleged fraud, civil-liberties violations and waste. Even so, a few months before the 2007 raid on Drake, the FBI conducted simultaneous raids on the homes of the four named Department of Defense IG complainants. No matter that Drake's and their allegations dating from 2002 were ultimately confirmed by the Department of Defense in 2004, Radack says. But they were hardly treated as concerned patriots safeguarding the public from wasteful spending. In fact, one of those complainants, William Binney, "had a gun held to his face as he stepped naked from the shower," Radack notes. That should certainly encourage more whistleblowers to come forward with well-documented examples of waste, fraud and abuse amid a mounting federal budget deficit. So, let's recap for a moment the Kafkaesque absurdities at work here. Instead of investigating the widespread illegal wiretapping of countless innocent Americans exposed by The New York Times in 2005 (for which the reporters won the Pulitzer Prize), the Justice Department chose instead to investigate the leak itself. The sprawling investigation included five full-time prosecutors and 25 FBI agents, cost millions of dollars and is still ongoing, Radack points out. When that investigation flopped, the FBI then turned to investigating theoretically protected NSA whistleblowers trying to save the government billions of dollars wasted on a still-born surveillance program - and to protect Americans' rights from unconstitutional invasions of privacy. As the Washington Post reported:
The [four named whistleblowers] charged that NSA ineptly sidelined ThinThread to pursue Trailblazer, a budget-padding program that cost 10 times as much and was less effective.
The four did not ask Drake to sign the complaint because they did not want him, as an NSA employee, to face retaliation, but they named him as a key source. For the next 2 1/2 years, Drake provided information to Defense investigators, friends said. That probe spawned two criminal fraud inquiries, they said. The inspector general's office said it does not confirm or deny investigations.
But instead of pursuing their allegations and giving them, say, a medal for seeking to save the government billions, the Bush and Obama Justice Departments pursued them as possible criminal suspects. Ultimately, out of the five original NSA complainants, Drake was charged by the Obama administration under the little-used Espionage Act for mishandling classified information in connection with his leak to the Baltimore Sun - after the NSA had already let Trailblazer spin out of control. "They could have dropped it any point," Radack says of the Obama administration's approach to Drake, "instead they continued it by indicting him." That stands in contrast to the promises President-elect Obama's transition team made about the reforms he'd bring to this critical issue:
Protect Whistleblowers: Often the best source of information about waste, fraud and abuse in government is an existing government employee committed to public integrity and willing to speak out. Such acts of courage and patriotism, which can sometimes save lives and often save taxpayer dollars, should be encouraged rather than stifled. We need to empower federal employees as watchdogs of wrongdoing and partners in performance. Barack Obama will strengthen whistleblower laws to protect federal workers who expose waste, fraud and abuse of authority in government ...
There seems, though, to be a slight exception to this noble reform agenda: that's when Obama and his underlings are approving prosecutions of those same whistleblowers. Contrary to Obama's promises of offering a more transparent government, the prosecution of Drake and others actually underscores what critics see as his administration's hypocrisy. Critics, such as Glenn Greenwald and some mainstream editorial writers, also point to the prosecutions of the Army soldier who provided the damaging truth about corruption and violence in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars to WikiLeaks; and a State Department consultant and scholar, Steven Kim, who speculated to Fox News about possible North Korean responses to sanctions. Even Wilson didn't face the imminent prospect of going to prison for exposing the Bush administration's wrongdoing. So, although Drake isn't giving interviews as he waits for a trial that could put him behind bars for 35 years, Radack says they were both powerfully struck while watching "Fair Game" with the human impact of being on the wrong side of a White House determined to crush dissent: "We both know what it's like to be doing your day-to-day job and then suddenly you are a public figure and your entire privacy is compromised. Your friends don't talk to you, or they say they quietly support you, but then please don't contact them at work. And you lose your career and your income is cut in half if it's a two-income family." She points out, "You have the full force of the executive branch against you and you're only one person." Indeed, in the wake of his arrest, Drake has worked selling iPods in an Apple store after a distinguished intelligence career, and he's already burnt through $100,000 in legal bills and now depends on a federal public defender to keep him out of prison in his upcoming trial. There won't be any wily Roy Black or Brendan Sullivan to save this white-collar defendant. Yet, amazingly enough, the Justice Department prosecutor in his case, William Welch II, was forced out of his position as the chief of the Public Integrity Section and is still under criminal investigation for the alleged prosecutorial misconduct that led to the dismissal of the corruption charges against former Alaska Sen. Ted Stevens. In Drake's case, she adds, the tough-guy SWAT overkill back in 2007 had another purpose beyond mere law enforcement: "It's done more to intimidate and to make a spectacle." All this has only been compounded, critics say, by this administration's indictment of whistleblowers. As The Los Angeles Times pointed out in an editorial in August (via
It is a popular conservative myth to suggest that the "mainstream media" is a liberal lapdog to the Obama administration, that reporters favor the president and that he returns the admiration. In fact, this administration has pursued a quiet but malicious campaign against the news media and their sources, more aggressively attacking those who ferret out confidential information than even the George W. Bush administration did ... It is understandable that the administration has secrets and wants to keep them. But this campaign to flush out sources has the feel of chest-thumping and intimidation. It is one thing to protect information that might put Americans in danger or undermine national security; it is another to bring cases against whistle-blowers and others who divulge information to spur debate and raise questions about public policy.
Salon's Glenn Greenwald also focused on the administration's willingness to "turn the page" on past wrongdoing by high-ranking administration officials, but not so much for those trying to shine a light on criminal conduct, waste and abuse. Commenting on the Drake case, among others, he observed:
Here you have the Obama DOJ in all its glory: no prosecutions (but rather full-scale immunity extended) for war crimes, torture and illegal spying. For those crimes, we must Look Forward, Not Backward. But for those poor individuals who courageously blow the whistle on oozing corruption, waste and illegal surveillance by the omnipotent public-private Surveillance State: the full weight of the "justice system" comes crashing down upon them with threats of many years in prison.
More recently, Michael Isikoff, NBC News's investigative correspondent, pointed out over a week ago in a blistering column headlined: "Obama administration cracks down on mid-level leakers, despite high-level officials dishing far more sensitive secrets to Bob Woodward." As Radack summarized the issue in her own pointed blog post:
Compare, as Isikoff does, the massive disclosures of high-value national security information in Bob Woodward's new book (Obama's Wars) with the relatively minor disclosures of former State Department contractor Steven Kim and lawful disclosures of former National Security Agency (NSA) official Thomas Drake. Obama's quest to plug the leaks is only intended to stop those leaks without express or implied government approval or, worse, only a war on whistleblowing disclosures that expose embarrassing or illegal government conduct ... Woodward's book includes disclosures such as: ... the code names of previously unknown National Security Agency programs, the existence of a clandestine paramilitary Army run by the CIA in Afghanistan and details of a secret Chinese cyberpenetration of Obama and John McCain campaign computers. Meanwhile, the Obama administration indicted Kim for allegedly disclosing North Korea's nuclear intentions to a Fox News reporter, a disclosure of public interest to be sure, but hardly a ground breaking revelation ... Thomas Drake is facing decades in prison for legally blowing the whistle on a failed and wasteful (multibillion dollar) NSA spy program that compromised Americans' privacy ...
The legacy of such efforts to squelch embarrassing revelations continues even after an administration leaves office. During audience questioning at the end of the film, a man pretending to be an open-minded observer asked some pointed but polite questions of Wilson and Plame that echoed the continuing right-wing talking points targeting them. Among the claims: there was, the questioner insisted, no White House conspiracy to "out" Plame as an operative; and the Iraqis were actually seeking yellow cake uranium in a trade mission to Niger - so, he implied, there was enough of a reasonable government fear of Saddam Hussein having WMDs to justify the invasion. He first attempted to lull Wilson by telling him, "It was a very powerful film." He then said, citing a line from the film, "Mr. Wilson, I have one sentence I have a question about: You said 'people at the highest office sought to discredit a covert agent because I told the truth,' but it was actually someone at the State Department, not at the White House " - a reference to Richard Armitage's initial role of leaking Plame's name to Woodward for his book. Quickly dropping any pretense of fair-minded inquiry, the interrogator began ticking off more well-rehearsed points: Plame had already been "outed" years earlier by the CIA itself, "so she was no longer covert." On top of that, he claimed, "On his trip to Niger, Ambassador Wilson found that the Iraqis had sent a delegation to Niger to expand commercial ties. The only export Iraq was interested in was yellow cake and that [means], in fact, Iraq did try to get yellow cake [uranium]." But now, Wilson and Plame, joined by director Doug Liman, could speak for themselves without the filter of Fox News and media-fed assaults on the couple's character and integrity. Wilson, with his mop of gray hair and bluff manner, took the mike first in response, relishing the opportunity to demolish the questioner. "My name is Joe Wilson and I'd like to know your name and who you represent. I'm happy to answer that question even if you're not willing to tell me," he barked. "I'm Stan Krock," the man said in a meek voice after returning to his seat. "I interviewed you." Although he didn't disclose his full identity, Krock is actually a former diplomatic correspondent for Business Week - and a close friend of Scooter Libby from their prep school days together at Exeter. He wrote an impassioned plea for leniency to the judge in Libby's trial, at which Libby was convicted of making false statements and obstruction of justice, before Libby's sentence was commuted by President Bush. Krock wrote to the judge in May, 2007 (see page 62 of the pdf file here):
I find nothing more troubling than the prospect that top-flight public servants such as Scooter and Harriet [Libby's wife] pay such a heavy price for their service to their country. I fear for the country if such bright lights decide it simply is not worth serving in government. I hope and pray that you can see your way to avoid making the price of service for Scooter, Harriet and their young children any higher than the far too high price they already have paid.
Unaware of Krock's close personal ties to Libby, Plame, Wilson and Liman had a markedly different view of the convicted felon and took a tag-team approach to knocking down Krock's right-wing canards. For progressives who too often see right-wing talking points go unchallenged, there was something almost thrilling for the audience about watching a conservative shill get so thoroughly demolished. Wilson handed off the microphone to Liman, whose research team had carefully vetted countless documents, books and transcripts and interviewed those familiar with the case, before the scriptwriters went to work telling the couple's story. Liman said effortlessly, "It started with Armitage, but the White House actually leaked Valerie's name through multiple sources. As a Republican Justice Department investigation found, Libby and Rove leaked her name to five separate journalists." He added that while interviewing Washington Post reporter Walter Pincus, who was one of the first reporters to break Wilson's findings, he learned that press secretary Ari Fleischer had called Pincus from Air Force One to tell him, "You know, Wilson was sent by his wife." Liman added sharply, "It went way beyond [Robert] Novak and all the trails lead back to the White House" - with former Vice President Dick Cheney widely believed to have played a major role. Then Plame, taller but just as glamorous in pearls and a light dress as her onscreen counterpart, Naomi Watts, took the microphone with a special verve. "I'm so very, very glad you brought this up," she said, her voice laced with sarcastic glee, "so I can put this to rest once and for all." She quickly took apart Krock's smears about her not being a covert agent with the verbal equivalent of a stiletto: "This was a meme throughout, sort of why does this really matter, she was just an overt employee, she was just a glorified secretary," she said, waving her hands with an air of mock dismissal. "It all means nothing - just go back to talking among yourselves." (In fact, earlier in the panel discussion, she conceded that, as the film portrays, some of her confidential Iraqi informants about Saddam's weapons programs lost their lives after she was "betrayed," as she puts it, by her government's leaders.) She then zeroed in for the kill. "Don't take my word for it: You can take the word of the former DCI [director of central intelligence] Gen. Michael Hayden who in fact testified before Congress that I was indeed covert at the time of the leak of my name," she said. "It [her covert status] was introduced in the Libby trial. There was no doubt about it.... You can count on one hand the people outside the CIA who knew who I truly was.... There's no question I was [covert]." In addition, her own Congressional testimony revealing her covert status was cleared by the CIA. Wilson finally got his chance on the panel to rebut the charges and, as usual, he didn't mince words. "There are only two salient facts," he said. "The president said in the State of the Union speech in 2003: 'The British Government has learned that Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa.' I wrote an article in July, 2003 that said that was bullshit and I thought the administration skewed the intelligence to fit those 'facts.'" He added, after noting that even Fleischer admitted two days after the speech that the claim didn't merit being included in the State of the Union, "Nothing else was salient. They manufactured everything you talked about." His voice rising with passion, he said, "If they had only stopped there and said to the Washington press corps, the President has moved on, they would have moved on." He added, "But this assault, this character assassination campaign, went on for several years." Yet, before this audience, after seeing a film portraying them as American heroes, he continued with a tone of genuine satisfaction and a bit of sweet revenge aimed at those who tried to destroy him and his wife: "The good side is we were able to publish our story in two books which were well received by the American public and resulted in this film." Lifting his hand in a mocking gesture, he added with gradually mounting fury, "Every now and then, I raise my glass to Karl Rove, because if it had not been for his treasonous action, his action as a TRAITOR to his country, I would not be sitting here!" "In some ways, I am a creation of Karl Rove and thank you very much," he said, glaring triumphantly down from the stage at the now-silenced Libby crony in the theater seats below him, "you have perpetuated that, Mr. Krock." It was like a true Hollywood ending for Wilson and Plame, even though the Obama administration's script isn't finished yet for whistleblowers like Drake who don't have the Wilsons' connections and wealth and glamor. "We don't have their power and prestige," says Radack, speaking with some trepidation for all those dissidents who remain fair game for any powerful presidency - past, current or in the future - determined to silence them. ********************** Watch Jason Leopold's 2007 interview with former CIA operative Valerie Plame:Truthout interviews Plame in 2007 -- Part 1 Truthout interviews Plame in 2007 -- Part 2 This article originally appeared at Creative Commons License
Yesterday, the battle for the future of the Democratic Party really began. The opening volleys focused around the wildly conflicting narratives and lessons about the meaning of the GOP drubbing of Democrats. AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka offered his strong views that union vote drives were the firewall that saved Democratic seats while he also denied there was a Republican mandate for victory. At the same time, President Obama infuriated some liberal pundits and activists for offering, in their view, a too conciliatory approach to Republicans, vowing to work with Republicans on measures ranging from immigration and taxes to green energy jobs. But the president's olive branch was offered to a party that's already succeeded in regaining the House and sees little reason to change its "no compromise" position—especially when driven by Tea Party activists. Obama's mild approach is the wrong lesson to take away from the election, progressives are arguing with little apparent success beyond the left wing of the Democratic Party. Meanwhile mainstream media outlets such as The New York Times, are contending, "Mr. Obama may have to give ground and agree to at least a temporary extension of expiring tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans, not just the middle class as he favors. He will be pressured to show that he is serious about reining in government spending." Both Trumka and activists like Adam Green of the Progressive Change Campaign Committee are trying to shape the narrative about why Democrats failed so they can push the Democrats in power to take tougher stances, even in this darker political climate. Green said in a statement that summed up a widely held progressive view (via CNN):

"What the average voter saw of Democrats was weak, watered-down change - and weak Democratic leaders who cut deals with the very Wall Street banks and insurance companies they are supposed to be fighting," Adam Green, the co-founder of the Progressive Change Campaign Committee said in a statement.

Green said Wisconsin Sen. Russ Feingold, who lost his re-election bid Tuesday, was "dragged down in a national rejection of Democratic Party weakness."

"Progressives will be stepping up and insisting that the Democratic Party be bolder, not weaker," Green added, saying his group's mission is now to "save the Democratic Party from its own incredible weakness that savaged Democratic candidates in 2010."

Trumka made the case for continuing the fight for stronger jobs programs and opposing draconian cuts by, in part, emphasizing the AFL-CIO's commissioned poll results showing that most voters -- and even many Republicans -- reject key elements of the Republican platform when it's explained to them. Unfortunately, in the real world of politics, the public doesn't receive neutral, fair-minded presentation of policy positions for their reasoned deliberation. Instead, they are bombarded by a non-stop barrage of Fox News-driven misinformation and fear-mongering, coupled with millions in corporate-funded attack ads defining Democrats as treasonous big spenders determined to saddle our kids with debt -- and promoting Republicans as champions for jobs and the average tax-payer. And that message hasn't been effectively refuted by progressives in a way that reaches voters yet. So these poll results may not really reflect the unpopularity of some Democratic proposals -- especially health care reform, which nearly 50% of the public now favors repealing (although you wouldn't know it from most liberal commentary) -- or the success of GOP messaging on tax cuts. Even so, as the AFL-CIO press release pointed out:
The AFL-CIO poll, conducted in the top 100 swing congressional districts, shows that voters overwhelmingly reject privatizing Social Security and raising the Social Security retirement age; they oppose tax cuts for the top 2 percent who make more than $250,000 a year; they reject abolishing the Department of Education; and they oppose reducing or eliminating the minimum wage.
The report by Hart Associates pointed out, "Voters strongly oppose key economic policies embraced by GOP candidates in this election, and even Republican voters express less than 50% support.  This suggests major governing challenges ahead for the new House majority." But are the shrewd Republican leaders, who successfully completed a two-year battle plan to take back Congress and nearly won the Senate, openly arguing that they just favor tax cuts for the wealthy? Don't count on it. Indeed, just as progressive groups, the Democratic leadership and the White House failed to successfully define the healthcare debate or the successes of the (weakend) stimulus law, liberals in the Democratic Party are now having trouble convincing others that moving towards the center and compromising with Republicans only reinforces the strategic errors of the Obama administration. Yet even in Trumka's conference call with reporters, though, he said he was going to making fighting for jobs his top priority, but he also pointed to arenas where he thought Republicans might be open to compromise. "Realistically, both Democrats and Obama and the new House majority want to see job creation," he contends. One arena for common ground is "infrastructure -- we need  $2.2 trillion worth of work on infrastructure and it's making us  less competitive -- and we also need it for long term jobs creation," he said. He added that the nation needs to more forward on the Clean Water Act, clean energy (even if a broader climate bill is dead), and the surface transportation bill. "We ought to be able to work together," Trumka said on these issues, despite the hard-line "no compromise" stance taken just today by incoming Speaker John Boehner. At the same time, Trumka says, "Now Republicans have to govern, so they have to move forward on creating jobs. If they do, we will stand with them, if they don't, we'll fight against them." This may sound, at first, almost idealistic about Republicans' willingness to have a positive impact on the economy, but it appears, in fact, to be more of a rhetorical device to portray Republicans as intransigent. Robert Borosage, co-director of the Campaign for America's Future, points yet another way for progressives to try recover from the "shellacking" they took on Tuesday and push the Democrats away from even more weak compromises. Even if seeking stronger measures face an uphill battle, it's one worth making, progressives like Borosage say. He argues:
This election was overwhelmingly about one thing—the lousy economy. Democrats paid the price as voters expressed their discontent. Conservatives in both parties are simply wrong to claim that the vote represents an ideological shift to the right. It wasn't because President Obama tried to do too much or was too liberal. If anything, it was because he did too little. The recovery act is a case in point: it was too small and the White House didn't fight aggressively for more. Democrats suffered because the economy hasn’t been producing jobs—and the president failed to convince voters he was on a course that would produce them. And the absence of a forceful and sustained explanation of how conservative policies have failed and will continue to fail allowed a right-wing narrative riddled with empty slogans, fear-mongering and outright falsehood to gain traction in the debate... In order to regain the trust of the majority of voters, Democrats and the president have to lay out a bold plan to get the economy going and fight for it against those standing in the way. Joining the Republican embrace of cuts to Social Security and harsh budget austerity would be bad policy and bad politics.
But it's not clear the White House or the Democratic leadership are really listening. Even though most members of the House Progressive Caucus got re-elected (from overwhelmingly safe seats), who will be willing in the new Congress to push back against continuing Democratic centrism after liberal stalwarts such as Russ Feingold and  Alan Grayson were booted out of office in the GOP tidal wave? UPDATE: The Washington Post's Greg Sargent is reporting that centrists and liberals are debating the meaning of the lost independent vote emerging from new polls; the Obama-voting independents from 2008 didn't show up in enough numbers to help Democrats this time. Adam Green argues, citing the poll of independents his group commissioned:
Contrary to conventional wisdom that Dems "lost" Independents by "going too far" -- in reality, Obama-voting Independents weren't inspired enough to show up. Meanwhile, McCain-voting Independents did...skewing the "Independent vote" this year by a whopping 17% with a bunch of McCain voters. The solution for Dems: Be bolder. Fight harder. Re-inspire 2008 Obama voters to show up in 2012.
************* This article originally appeared in the Working In These Times blog.

On Wednesday, President Obama used the platform of the AFL-CIO Executive Council to emphasize reviving American manufacturing and keeping jobs in America as his administration's new economic priority. After having failed to aggressively push for large-scale jobs creation in the face of Washington's deficit mania, Obama has unveiled new economic promises to appeal to the labor constituency he needs for the 2010 and 2012 elections -- especially with his plunging approval ratings.

He even insisted that his administration would "keep on fighting" for the Employee Free Choice Act -- although it's been perfectly obvious to most sentient beings that his administration did virtually nothing to promote one of labor's top legislative priorities. A few progressive bloggers attacked the hypocrisy of the comments, such as Firedoglake's Michael Whitney:

For Obama to even mention the Employee Free Choice Act as anything but a deader-than-dead failure of his administration is an insult to the intelligence of every working person in America. Obama had the opportunity to push through the Employee Free Choice Act between February and April 2009. He let it linger, then let Democrats start sniping at it, and then the ship sailed with Scott Brown's election. Unions dismantled their Employee Free Choice Act campaign teams in January 2010. It is no longer even close to an option.

Still, his broader economic message was welcomed by labor, despite the disappointment that labor has periodically expressed over centrist compromises over health reform and inaction on the Employee Free Choice Act. "The message I want to deliver to our [foreign] competitors -- and to those in Washington who've tried to block our progress at every step of the way -- is that we are going to rebuild this economy stronger than before, and at the heart of it are going to be three powerful words: Made in America," Obama said to union leaders' applause. As the AFL-CIO Now blog noted, the president made clear how this upcoming election would be a choice between "polices that encourage job creation here in America or encourage jobs to go elsewhere...The choice is whether we want to go forward or we want to go backwards to the same policies that got us into this mess in the first place."

In truth, the ambitious pro-manufacturing agenda doesn't seem likely to be enough -- even if it managed to overcome GOP opposition and a politically nervous Democratic leadership -- to dramatically reduce the high unemployment and underemployment of roughly 20 percent. Or win over skeptical labor members and liberal activists. As Leo Hindery Jr. of the New America Foundation observed about this new initiative, it's been promised before by then-candidate Obama:

All the way back in July 2008, then Candidate Obama told the United Steel Workers that, "Change is ending tax breaks for companies that ship jobs overseas and giving them to companies that create good paying jobs here in America; it's putting people to work...making the materials we need to rebuild America; it's...creating millions of new jobs - jobs that we want to be good union jobs - and giving our workers the skills to do them."

So there you have it: 24 months after Obama's speech to the Steelworkers and 18 months after his Inauguration, we hear from Mr. Emanuel that "Made in America" and "ending overseas tax breaks" are finally to be the President's upcoming themes for the Fall 2010 Congressional campaigns.

And political commentators and pollsters wonder why so many of us on the progressive, pro-worker side of American politics are so frustrated and cynical.

Even so, the scope of proposed Congressional action is potentially helpful, but not enough to transform current economic trends. As The Washington Posrecapped:

President Obama and congressional Democrats -- out of options for another quick shot of stimulus spending to revive the sluggish economy -- are shifting toward a longer-term strategy that promises to tackle persistently high unemployment by engineering a renaissance in American manufacturing.

That approach, heralded by Obama last week in Detroit and sketched out in a memo to House Democrats as they headed home for the August break, is still evolving and so far focuses primarily on raising taxes on multinational corporations that Democrats accuse of shipping jobs overseas.

The strategy also repackages policies long pursued by the White House -- such as investing in clean energy, roads, bridges and broadband service -- with more than two dozen legislative proposals aimed at developing a plan for promoting domestic manufacturing...

Senior Democrats acknowledge that the strategy emerged after the issue of off-shoring jobs figured prominently in a Pennsylvania special election earlier this year and a recent poll.

Some independent analysts are also skeptical. U.S. manufacturing jobs have been disappearing since 1979, in part because of the heightened productivity of American workers but also because of cheaper labor abroad. During the past decade, the sector lost a third of its workers, falling to 11.7 million last year from 17.3 million people in 1999, according to the most recent figures from the Bureau of Labor Statistics...

All this comes when union leaders are working hard to overcome potential apathy by some union workers over the Obama administration. As the Washington Independent noted:

The Democrats know that having the unions on board and excited will be crucial to driving good voter turn out for the party during midterms, but they also realize it'll be a bit of a tall order:

"AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka, ever mindful of the differences his union has had with the White House over issues like health care reform, told his organization's leaders and political organizers Tuesday that though progress may be plodding, the labor lobby is slowly getting what they want from this White House. `We need to tell our union brothers and sisters: We know you're angry. We know you're frustrated. We know we haven't achieved everything we worked for. But we've made progress and we have to keep it going.'"

Some union officials are walking away from Trumpka's call to stand by the president, though. Many union members disappointed by the "cadillac tax" on generous health benefits that found its way into Obama's health care reform bill. And there has been virtually no movement in Congress on unions' pet issue, the Employee Free Choice Act

But if ideological purity and anger at the Obama administration on the left trump the fear of a GOP take-over of Congress, then an economic revival and a progressive agenda could both be imperiled for years to come.

This article originally appeared in the Working In These Times blog.

Labor groups, including the AFL-CIO, are joining with House Democrats to back an ambitious bill that could save or create one million jobs while raising taxes on Wall Street investment fund managers -- and close loopholes that promote outsourcing. Bill Samuel, the AFL-CIO legislative director, told In These Times: "The Speaker is working as hard on this as she's done on any legislation." But corporate lobbyists seeking to preserve tax giveaways and concerns about costs from moderate Democrats have threatened passage of the legislation. As Reuters reports today:
Congressional Democrats on Thursday scrambled to shore up support for a package of tax breaks and safety-net spending amid concerns about its $84 billion cost and doubts about a tax hike on fund managers. The House of Representatives was scheduled to vote on what Democrats called a job-creation measure after slashing its costs by nearly a third, but prospects for passage appeared uncertain as centrist "Blue Dog" Democrats still believe it would add too much to the deficit. Representative Stephanie Herseth Sandlin, a Blue Dog leader, said she did not think Democrats yet had the votes to pass the bill. "Leadership is experiencing a lot of cross pressures within the caucus," Herseth Sandlin said. Further cuts could anger liberals who want to spend more on construction and other programs to reduce the 9.9 percent unemployment rate
. But labor leaders and progressives argue that with 27 million workers unemployed or under-employed, Congress should be doing far more. As Politco reported, "Right now, jobs matter more than deficits," growled American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees President Gerald McEntee, taking a poke at "corporate CEOs who ship our jobs overseas and stick American taxpayers with the bill." The final scope of the bill was still being finalized before today's expected vote that still hasn't been held. In its current form, it will cost nearly $100 billion, down from $190 billion a few days ago, and it faces a right-wing onslaught for adding to the deficit and "raising taxes," even though on billionaires. But AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka highlighted the bill's key benefits:
This jobs bill will put Americans back to work by repairing crumbling infrastructure; stemming public sector layoffs in states; encouraging more bank loans to small business; extending unemployment benefits and health benefits for the unemployed through the end of this year; and providing over 300,000 summer jobs for unemployed youth.
He added, "If you're not for this bill, you're not for jobs. Period. And please, no more excuses about budget deficits unless and you're willing to make Wall Street pay its fair share to bring it down." The legislation, which will face an uphill battle in the Senate, also extends COBRA and unemployment benefits through 2010. If it's not passed before the recess, millions of jobless workers will lose their benefits on June 2, when the current short-term extension expires. The Economic Policy Institute highlighted other job-related provisions in a policy brief, and, if it passes, it will be the first time since the Wall Street-created collapse the financial wheeler-dealers have been taxed to help pay for jobs programs and incentives:
While H.R. 4213 [The Promoting American Jobs, Closing Tax Loopholes and Preventing Outsourcing Act of 2010] should be enacted just for the enormous good it will do in terms of economic growth and job creation, the bill also closes a host of tax loopholes that have allowed many of the wealthiest Americans to pay a lower income tax rate than the average steel worker, encouraged businesses to move their operations overseas to escape U.S. taxes, and allowed some professionals to forego paying their share of Medicare and Social Security taxes. These provisions will raise well over $40 billion, helping to pay for the bill's job creation provisions and to make the tax code much fairer.
As even the pro-business MarketWatch reports:
The bill aims to generate revenue by closing some loopholes. Almost $14.5 billion of foreign tax credit loopholes would be eliminated over 10 years. Another money-raiser: Charging income-tax rates on investment fund managers' "carried interest," as opposed to the capital-gains rates they pay currently on those earnings. That provision would raise about $18.6 billion over 10 years.
It also offers direct benefits to working families and the poor:
  • $24 billion in additional funding to help states pay for Medicaid, without which there will be significant layoffs in state governments across the nation;
  • $5 billion to renew individual tax cuts;
  • $2.6 billion for a one-year extension of the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) emergency jobs fund, which has created almost 200,000 jobs; and
  • 1 billion to create 300,000 jobs for young people this summer.
The AFL-CIO Now Blog aptly expressed the urgency labor and progressives feel about passage of the bill, given how limited jobs creation bills have been so far:
In a separate analysis, EPI estimates the legislation, which extends UI payments through the end of 2010, will provide an estimated 5 million unemployed workers with support, while ensuring access to affordable health care. But, "without this extension, over 8 million Americans will run out of unemployment insurance benefits by the end of this year. The extension will ensure that 5 million of these workers continue receiving support until the end of 2010." Take a minute and call 877-442-6801 and urge your representative to vote for H.R. 4213 to create and save jobs and make Wall Street pay.
********* This article is updated from a piece at the Working In These Times blog.
The revolt across the political landscape on Tuesday against incumbents wasn't just an attack against the Washington establishment, but an outpouring of rage against political elites of all stripes who haven't realized the economic crisis still gripping American workers. As Katrina vanden Heuvel, editor of The Nation, asks sensibly enough, "Why isn't our government doing more to put people back to work? " Despite some positive news last week with 290,000 new jobs added, unemployment still remains near 10% -- and will continue to do so for years. But there's little sign that either Congressional leaders or the Obama administration will take any major actions -- outside of spending $23 billion to save teachers' jobs -- to provide full time work for the 27 million people who are either unemployed or under-employed. At the same time, Congress is dithering about offering a short-term extension to those whose unemployment is about to run out on June 2. And there's little interest in either a new law extending unemployment beyond the currently allowed 99 weeks, or adopting an aggressive job creations package, such as Rep. George Miller's Local Jobs for America Act.That bill, relatively modest compared to the more ambitious $400 billion program labor unions had favored, would spend $100 billion over two years to create one million new jobs. Alan Charney, the campaign manager for Jobs for America Now, told In These Times, " We can't understand why this isn't a political slam dunk: it creates a lot of jobs, and and every member of Congress who votes for it will be able to say exactly how many jobs it creates in his state or district." Economic need, though, is colliding with the new mantra in Washington about deficit-reduction, the latest political craze that offers a patina of bipartisanship but overlooks the need for short-term spending to recover from the recession. The GOP, by opposing virtually all major jobs programs, is adding to the chorus of deficit hawks in Washington. Last week, GOP leaders scuttled a Democratic bill to promote science and research jobs by forcing the bill back to committee by adding a rider that demanded that Democrats vote to support pornography. As TPMDC described the maneuver: " In an example of Republican obstructionism rendered beautiful by its simplicity, the GOP yesterday killed a House bill that would increase funding for scientific research and math and science education by forcing Democrats to vote in favor of federal employees viewing pornography." Underlying Democratic inaction and Republican obstructionism is the Washington cult of seeking deficit reduction even at the expense of current jobs and long-term economic stability. Robert Kuttner of The American Prospect puts the issue bluntly:
The economy needs a half million new jobs every month for the next four years, just to return to the prerecession unemployment rate of 2006. And that economy was nothing to brag about, with average wage growth lagging behind inflation since 2001. Perversely, austerity has become the cure du jour. Top administration officials say there will be no new jobs initiative, because deficit reduction is needed to reassure the bond market. President Obama's new fiscal commission is expected to recommend cutting services and raising taxes. You have to wonder if the Obama economic team is talking to the political team. If the Democrats suffer a blowout in the November midterm elections and Obama risks being a one-term president, the biggest reason will be persistently high unemployment. The issue of jobs has simply dropped off the radar screen. Obama tackled health care, and now he is focused on banking reform, immigration, and nuclear proliferation, which are all necessary causes -- but he will live or die politically based on whether he can get more jobs and more good jobs created, with some measurable gains by November.
And as Christine Owens, Executive Director of the National Employment Law Project, observes,"There remains a dark underbelly of long-term joblessness that puts genuine recovery still very far off. Between the jobs we have lost since the recession began and growth in the working age population, we have a deficit of roughly 11 million jobs--a hole it will take many more months and years of strong job growth to fill. [This week's] jobs report is an encouraging one, but the story remains a tale of two cities - even as jobs return for some, the picture is growing more grim for many who remain unemployed." How grim? As Isaiah Poole of Campaign for America's Future pointed out recently, an important, but little-noticed, new report from Rutgers University, "No End In Sight: The Agony of Prolonged Unemployment," shows just how severe the impact has been on the long-term unemployed:
There's a new study today that shows once again how insanely wrong conservatives are when they say that extending unemployment benefits in today's economy only discourages people from finding work... The report summary says it best: "No End in Sight underscores the fact that positive growth in the nation's economyhas done little to reach millions of skilled workers still adrift in the most severe period of prolonged joblessness in decades. While the worst phase of the Great Recession may be behind us, the vast majority of jobless Americans have not found new jobs. When they did find work, all but a few took pay cuts and lost benefits. Among those still searching for work -- many for more than a year -- are millions who have never been without a job and who have at least a college education." This report comes as Congress faces two decisions. One is a one-year continuation of extended unemployment benefits; the current extended unemployment benefits program is authorized to run through June 2. The second is whether to lift the cap on regular and extended unemployment benefits beyond 99 weeks, the current maximum. While there is a will among Democratic leaders in the Senate to push the one-year extension, there is little enthusiasm for changing the 99-week ceiling. Without an extension of the 99-week cap, there are an estimated 100,000 California residents who have exhausted all of the unemployment benefits available to them, the Los Angeles Times reported last week. That same article quotes private-sector employment experts as estimating that as many as 1 million people nationally have exhausted their 99 weeks of unemployment benefits.
The disconnect between what progressives and labor say is needed compared to what Washington insiders are actually doing -- in this case, about jobs -- has never been greater. It's small wonder that bloggers, liberal journalists and activists are getting increasingly frustrated at the upbeat commentary and hype about an economy that still leaves millions of people behind -- even as the organizational clout needed to push through a far-reaching jobs bill has so far missed the mark. As David Johnson, a Campaign for America's Future fellow observes, in a near-hysterical headline, "It's The JOBS, Stupid! Why DC Elites Don't See This." Shuttling among cable chat shows, suburban homes, think tanks, lobbying firms and Congress, there's little for them to be alarmed about. But Johnson points to the rising anger in Washington that threatens the elites in power -- and why they don't get it:
People care about jobs. They still care about jobs. And politicians who don't care about jobs will lose their jobs, because that is what motivates voters. Polling at proves that people are much more concerned about jobs than deficits. (Note there are some polls that show equal concern, no polls that show deficit with a higher concern) * FOX News/Opinion Dynamics Poll. May 4-5 Economy and jobs 47% Deficit, spending %15 * BS News/New York Times Poll. April 5-12 Economy/Jobs 49% Budget deficit/National debt 5%.... DC is a manufactured information environment People in DC see things differently because there is a manufactured environment there. The one time when lobbyists do care about manufacturing is when they are manufacturing the appearance of public support for their issue. If you are trying to influence national policy you influence DC. You spend a lot of money to make the DC opinion leaders think that your issue is urgent and the public is demanding action. You create "astroturf" which is a name for a lobbyist-manufactured appearance of grassroots support. You get your stories into the morning Politico, which every DC staffer reads on the train into the capital, but no one outside of DC cares about. You get the cable news show producers to book your talking heads. You wine and dine (and get lucrative speaking engagements for) the DC punditocracy so they'll talk urgently about your issue. You put ads on the DC radio stations. After a while everyone in the DC area thinks your issue is the only thing voters are concerned about, while outside of DC everyone wonders why DC people are talking about something so idiotic and unimportant to regular people.
A political tsunami is heading towards Washington in November, threatening incumbents of either party while independents desert the Democrats, but few inside Washington are listening. That's why bloggers like Johnson are reduced to shouting in print: "Lesson: It's the jobs, stupid. JOBS FOR MAIN STREET!" ************* This post was adapted from an article that originally appeared in the Working In These Times blog.
In the wake of last week's disaster at Massey Energy Company's Upper Big Branch Mine in West Virginia, it's become increasingly clear that CEO Don Blankenship has gamed the loophole-laden mine safety enforcement system. Despite a supposedly tougher federal law that passed in 2006 after the Sago, W. Va. mine explosion killed a dozen miners, Massey and other companies have been able to use the law as a shield to avoid tougher enforcement measures by appealing safety citations -- and overwhelming the weak Mine Safety and Health Administration with a backlog of appeals.
Even though Massey has faced proposed fines nearing $2 million since 2005 and been cited over 1,300 times, it's paid only a fraction -- one-sixth -- of the proposed fines. All told, according to the United Mine Workers of America, nearly 50 people have been killed at Massey mines in the last 10 years. In March alone, it was cited over 50 times for violations, many directly related to ventilation violations that allowed the build-up of explosive methane gas that played a major role in the killing of the 29 miners. As the Washington Post observed, "'It's a profession that's not without risks and danger, and the workers and their families know that,' Mr. Obama said of the coal industry Friday. 'But their government and their employers know that they owe it to these families to do everything possible to ensure their safety when they go to work each day.' A good place to start would be to ensure that the regulations on the books are vigorously enforced." Yet despite such expected calls for stronger regulation and enforcement from leading editorial pages and news organizations, including the New York Times, most mainstream media outlets have essentially downplayed or ignored the role of Massey-led union-busting. And, in a perverse way, political leaders and media outlets that morbidly romanticize the courage of rural mine workers for working in an industry known for its risks are also in some ways promoting the view that mine disasters are as unavoidable as natural disasters. As USA Today proclaimed in a recent headline: "In mine country, risks a 'way of life.'" The feature article concluded by quoting former miner Randy Cox, who had observed that deep in a coal mine, "bad things can happen fast, without warning." The article noted "that it will take a long time for this area to mourn and heal, Cox said. "'It's all in God's hands now.'" But the explosion that tore through the Upper Branch Mine, leaving rail lines twisted and bodies scattered, was, like all mine explosions, "preventable," says Mine Safety and Health Administration official Kevin Stricklin -- not divinely pre-ordained. Yet union-busting's role in enabling such disasters to continue just isn't part of the official discourse in Washington now. After all, Massey's anti-union campaign in the 1980s helped lead to the weakening of the United Mine Workers, which once was one of the nation's strongest, most effective unions, representing nearly 90% of the nation's 400,000 mine workers in the 1960s, but now represents less than a third of the remaining 10,000 or so coal miners. With the union weakened by closed mines and the rise of untrammeled union-busting, unsafe, deadly conditions were allowed to continue unchallenged at the growing percentage of non-union mines that put profits above safety. In contrast, "what unions, particularly in dangerous profession like mining, mean is that they give workers protection and the leverage of a working group with management to vocalize and bring forward concerns about safety without fear of retribution," says Kimberly Freeman Brown, executive director of American Rights at Work, a champion of the now-stalled Employee Free Choice Act . She adds, "In the absence of a union, in hard economic times, workers feel more vulnerable about losing their jobs and less confident about expressing their concerns about safety." In fact, according to United Steelworkers President Leo Gerard, whose union represents hard rock miners rather than coal miners (via Firedoglake), "I can absolutely say that if these miners were members of a union, they would have been able to refuse unsafe work... and would not have been subjected to that kind of atrocious conditions," said Gerard. "In some places like in Australia and Canada, this kind of negligence would result in criminal negligence [charges] being brought against the management and the CEO." Indeed, "While three out of ten [coal] miners is a [UMW] union miner, about one of every ten fatalities involves a union miner," says United Mine Workers of America (UMWA) communications director Philip Smith. (Only about 20 percent of all miners are in any union.) And he notes that the fatalities involving union miners generally involve individual accidents, not mine-wide disasters like fires and explosions that periodically shock the country and, it seems, are soon forgotten by the federal government's generally lackluster regulators. It's unquestionably true that union mines have better safety records, especially when it comes to fatalities. But the exact scope of what might be called the "safety gap" between union and non-union mines varies based on what statistics are used. The UMW, as noted by Daily Kos and others, has pointed out that in 2007-2009, there were 45 underground coal-mining fatalities; six of these were in union mines. David Moberg of In These Times also found that between 2006 and 2009, "unionized miners appear to have been one-fourth to one-half as likely to be killed in mine incidents as their non-union peers," given that unions represented about 20 percent of miners. In the mid-1980s, Blankenship, then a division manager for Massey, helped run a successful, aggressive campaign -- aided, critics say, by company "goons" and a pro-Massey state police force -- to destroy the union's role in the company's mines in Appalachia. That industry victory is chronicled in a short documentary called "The Mine War on Blackberry Creek." As The Wonk Room noted, Don Blankenship was blunt about the profit motive driving the company's goal to drive out the union: "What that means is that non-union competitors have a tremendous advantage and therefore they sell coal cheaper and drive union coal operations out of business." He added, "Unions and communities are going to have to learn that from a business viewpoint, capitalism is survival of the most productive." Blankenship was also willing to adopt a soft-sell approach to winning workers over. As ABC News reported, quoting Michael Shnayerson, author of Coal River, a look at Massey's destructive mountaintop mining :
When Blankenship first took control of the mine, he spent more than a year trying to woo the miners to abandon their allegiance to the labor union that had represented them. "Don made it his own personal campaign. He began flying in every week in his helicopter. He gave pep talks. He took a whole bunch of them on trips to Dollywood, where they went to concerts. He went with them and bonded with them. New cars started turning up in their driveways," Shnayerson said. But as soon as the union was gone, Shnayerson said Blankenship shifted gears. Work hours increased from eight hours to 12 hours. Bonuses were cut. If they got injured, their jobs were at risk.
The union tried three times to organize the Upper Big Branch mine, but even with getting nearly 70% of workers to sign cards saying they wanted to vote for a union, Blankenship personally met with workers to threaten them with closing down the mine and losing their jobs if they voted for a union. So for Massey, supplemented by intimidation of workers, the "productivity" that Blankenship extolled has, critics say, long come ahead of the safety and survival of its workers. As recapped by Think Progress:
In 2008, Massey's Aracoma Coal Co. agreed to "plead guilty to 10 criminal charges, including one felony, and pay $2.5 million in criminal fines" after two workers died in a 2006 fire at the Aracoma Alma No. 1 Mine in Melville, West Virginia. Massey also paid $1.7 million in civil fines. The mine "had 25 violations of mandatory health and safety laws" before the fire on January 19, 2006, but Blankenship passed off the events that caused the deaths as "statistically insignificant." Days before fire broke out in the Aracoma mine, a federal mine inspector tried to close down that section of the mine, but "was told by his superior to back off and let them run coal, that there was too much demand for coal." Massey failed to notify authorities of the fire until two hours after the disaster. Three months before the Aracoma mine fire, Blankenship sent managers a memo saying, "If any of you have been asked by your group presidents, your supervisors, engineers or anyone else to do anything other than run need to ignore them and run coal. This memo is necessary only because we seem not to understand that the coal pays the bills." A week later, however, Blankenship sent a follow-up memo, saying that safety is the first responsibility.
To mine workers and safety experts, at Massey's Upper Big Branch mine -- as with its other operations -- the company is willing to skirt rules and avoid fixing serious, life-threatening violations, emboldened by its power as a non-union mine. As Reuters reported:
Jimmy Platt, 54, a former miner who worked briefly for Massey during his 17-year career, said that the explosion at the Upper Big Branch mine on Monday, which killed 25 workers and left four missing [later found dead], was "an accident waiting to happen." Platt said he and other miners were sometimes required to put in 18 to 20-hour days and were told to work what he said was "unminable coal," which opened wide cracks in the mine ceiling, making a roof collapse more likely. Platt, who is now a chef, said the main difference between working for the non-unionized Massey and other mining companies that have union representation was "the right to say no."
Union bargaining clout is the key factor that can make such a major difference in on-the-ground safety, says labor journalist Philip M. Dine, author of State of the Unions. He told Truthout., "A strong union can make sure that the company isn't saving money by gambling with with miners' lives." The vehicle for that protection is the safety committee, or what Freeman Brown dubbed a "working group," written into each contract to give real-world protection, regardless of ineffective regulation coming from Washington. As Dine says, "In theory, in a non-union mine, a workers doesn't have to go down into an unsafe area. But that's not what happens in practice: in a non-union mine, if he goes to the foreman [to stay out of a dangerous section], he's told: 'Go down that shaft or you're going home.' With mine safety handled by a separate agency within the Department of Labor, Dine adds, "only the mine union is watching out for miners," as opposed to the pressure that the broader labor movement can bring on OSHA. But all labor safety enforcement was gutted during the Bush era, and rebuilding weakened enforcement agencies once headed and too often staffed by pro-industry hacks has taken time under the progressive leadership of Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis. As The Nation's Esther Kaplan observed, focusing in part of on Solis's appointment of the pro-union Joe Main to fix the Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA), she's the "new sheriff," but the mine safety agency is still facing training and oversight failings. Don Blankenship, Massey's anti-union CEO, could ironically revive and strengthen the efforts to crack down on unsafe mines -- and even, despite long odds, revive political interest in some form of the Employee Free Choice Act that aims to level the playing field for union organizing rights. Philip Dine points out that effectively communicating the value of unions to the broader economy and working people is still a challenge that faces the labor movement: "People don't know that labor is relevant. People haven't connected the dots about what is happening to normal people and the economy, that corporations are getting stronger, and the decline of labor." Don Blankenship and Massey, described by the Washington Post's Dylan Matthews as "cartoonishly villainous in the way they approach everything from the environment to union rights to media scrutiny" could become the new face of corporate evil for a dispirited American labor movement. Blankenship, if unions and progressives can somehow capitalize on his horrifically poor PR, could become, like Sheriff "Bull" Connor did for the civil rights movement, the perfect villain to tar the anti-union forces of the GOP and corporate America that now dominate the messaging about labor. For right now, though, as one labor lobbyist told Truthout, the labor movement doesn't want to appear to "exploit" the mining tragedy for political purposes. But others on the left, including MSNBC's Ed Schulz, seem ready to seize on Massey's abuses to drive home the connection between unfettered corporate power, the death of workers and union rights. In the same week that he interviewed Steelworkers President Gerard, Schultz angrily proclaimed:
But here's the point. Unions not only -- this is just -- I can't believe we're having this discussion in this country as if we have to vilify collective bargaining, where a family can be protected from dangers in the workplace and there won't be the man on the neck of that worker, the neck of that family and those kids who are now missing a loved one. Criminal negligence, homicide, you name it. The Congress has to get into this once and for all. President Obama, you need to get involved in this. This is what the Employee Free Choice Act is all about. Where there's not going to be intimidation, where there's not going to be retribution against employees who just think about organizing in the workplace because they'd like to go down into a workplace where they're not going to lose their lives. Where it will just increase the safety in their area. Is that asking too much? Is it all for the dollar bill in America? This is morally wrong. There is absolutely no difference between what these guys did in the front office at this Massey Energy Company than what these guys did down the street on Wall Street to folks who were ripped off. This is a matter of life and death. That's what this is.
But it doesn't seem likely now that the rest of the mainstream media -- or the Democratic leadership -- will take up this call for a renewed drive to obtain union rights, even if it's portrayed as essential to protecting workers' lives.
This article was originally published at
Even as Senators skipped town last Friday before a two-week break without extending unemployment insurance and COBRA health subsidies, hopes are rising among congressional liberals and unions that stronger job creation measures could win the backing of emboldened Democratic leaders and President Obama. (Some state-based officials also expect state agencies to tide over workers at risk of losing their benefits before the Senate takes action in mid-April, while advocates for the unemployed are far more alarmed.)

But will progressives be willing to mount the strong campaign needed to overcome conservative and centrist resistance to major jobs spending? That's the political challenge, especially after the first stimulus bill last year was effectively smeared as a waste of money although it saved or created nearly two million jobs. As George Packer notes in his devastating New Yorker article, "Obama's Lost Year," 94 percent of Americans don't think it created jobs in their areas. The AFL-CIO has launched a "Make Wall Street Pay" campaign asking for taxing financial transactions and returned TARP money to spend on jobs programs, but it seems that Congress has not really felt the heat from the public to push for dramatic jobs programs.

Yet despite relatively weak efforts so far by Congress to create anywhere near the 11 million jobs needed to return to pre-recession employment levels, a targeted $75 billion bill co-sponsored by Rep. George Miller (D-CA) to save or create nearly a million local jobs is gaining traction on the Hill. "As long as the jobs picture looks like this [nearly 10% officially unemployed], pressure continues to build," the AFL-CIO's legislative director, Bill Samuel, recent told In These Times.

George Miller's bill—developed with mayors, county officials and others—will provide $75 billion over two years to local communities to hold off planned cuts or to hire back workers for local services who have been laid-off because of tight budgets. Funding would go directly to eligible local communities and nonprofit community organizations to decide how best to use the funds, as outlined by Rep. Miller. Yet even that legislation isn't anywhere near the scope of the $400 billion or so labor unions and its allies have proposed spending to create millions of jobs.  That's the sort of legislation New York Times columnist Bob Herbert had in mind when he observed in his last op-ed:

You can’t get back to a robust economy without putting Americans back to work. The economy needs to be rebuilt on a solid foundation of good jobs at good pay, and many of those jobs will have to come from thriving new industries. This is a long-term project that demands big-time government involvement. It will require the kind of commitment — over an even longer period of time — that President Obama and the Democrats in Congress gave to their health care initiative. Franklin Roosevelt had it right in his first Inaugural Address when he declared, “Our greatest primary task is to put people to work.” He underscored the urgency of the task when he said it should be treated “as we would treat the emergency of a war.” The administration and Congressional leaders have been touting some recent legislation as “jobs bills,” but they are small-bore initiatives that will accomplish little. What is needed are bold new initiatives on several fronts. The federal government needs to do much more to help state and local governments that are in desperate fiscal straits because of falling tax revenues and are responding by laying off workers and cutting essential services.A long-term program to rebuild the nation’s infrastructure (which was only made worse by the harsh winter) would create jobs and establish a sound industrial platform for 21st-century industries. The transformation to a greener economy needs to be accelerated, and most of the manufacturing associated with that newer, greener economy should take place in the United States. And some new variation of the Works Progress Administration and the Civilian Conservation Corps should be developed to put economically distressed young people to work.

Even lacking the scope of such proposals, what makes Miller's important bill different than most of the contentious other reform legislation introduced in this Congress is that it's winning bipartisan local support that could help build a groundswell for the bill.

As Miller's press spokesman, Aaron Albright, told In These Times, "We're building support, but you can already count the Congressional Black Caucus, the Progressive Caucus, the League of Cities, the U.S. Conference of Mayors and more [including the National Association of Counties]." He points out that at the press conference for the bill, the legislation won the support of the liberal firebrand vice-chair of the Progressive Caucus, Rep. Keith Ellison (D-Minn.), and a suburban Republican mayor, Elizabeth Kautz, who is chairman of the U.S. Conference of Mayors. "How often does that happen?" Albright asks.

Indeed, Rep. Ellison is making a special plea to progressives to get behind this legislation, which he helped craft. As reported by the Campaign for America's Future:

Progressive Caucus member Rep. Keith Ellison, D-Minn., has an Easter recess assignment for activists: Get 216 cosponsors for the Local Jobs for America bill, perhaps the most important action Congress can take this year to help lower the unemployment rate and jump-start the economy. The legislation, HR 4812, already has 92 cosponsors in the House, and Ellison, working with the bill's sponsor, Rep. George Miller, D-Calif., is working to build momentum for the legislation in the coming weeks. The bill would authorize $75 billion, which would be distributed through state and local governments to create or save from 750,000 to 1 million jobs over two years. Ellison said if supporters succeed in getting 216 cosponsors, "that makes it pretty much a slam-dunk to pass the bill," he said. This week, Ellison and Miller met with members of the National League of Cities, the National Association of Counties and members of the Jobs for America Now coalition. In addition to cosponsor support, the coalition is working on getting endorsements for the legislation from mayors and other elected officials from both parties. That bipartisan grassroots support may prove particularly important in the Senate, where conservatives have been working to block previous jobs measures on the grounds that they are not "paid for."
Here's his video appeal, as shown in an interview with CAF's Isaiah Poole: Buoyed by their healthcare win, Democrats and the president, who showed a new willingness to buck Republicans by making 15 recess appointments, including a pro-union attorney to the National Labor Relations Board, are signalling a confident new willingness to push ahead on their agenda without Republican support. But it's not at all clear these measure can get through a Senate reluctant to support any further "deficit spending" to create jobs.

Even so, "it will be paid for," notes Ellison, if not immediately, because of the increased revenue government-spurred employment generates in a recession. Moreover, he and other reformers point out, it's less expensive to spur job creation for the unemployed and gain tax revenues than to pay for unemployment insurance and ER care when they lose health insurance. He also cites the long-term benefits of ensuring that communities are protected because firemen and the police still have jobs, and children are educated because their teachers aren't laid off.

At the press conference in early March, Rep. Miller and his allies made a strong case for targeted, quick job creation measures -- rather than the tax giveaways that have marked much of the relatively smaller-scale jobs legislation that have either passed Congress or passed either House. The Senate bills have especially favored tax breaks for businesses over direct job creation measures.

Yet even one little-noted $17 billion "jobs" bill that passed the House last Wednesday offered still more tax breaks to small businesses and promoted long-term infrastructure programs through added funding for bonds that can be issued by local governments. As The New York Times reported.

This relatively modest legislation fits in with a strategy shaped by Majority Leader Harry Reid and accepted by Majority Leader Nancy Pelosi to push through a series of smaller bills that promote jobs creation, rather than one massive bill that could become an easy target for Republicans. But it's questionable, progressive economists and experts say, whether such strategies can deliver the needed jobs this recovery requires.

Compare that indirect, smaller-scale measure to the vision of what Rep. Miller and his allies are proposing, and the challenge facing progressives in this Congress becomes even more stark.

"Job cuts by local communities threaten to derail America's economic recovery," Miller, chairman of the House Education and Labor Committee, proclaimed on March 10, when introducing the bill. "Local communities are having to choose between raising taxes to sustain essential services or firing more workers."

Here's an in-depth look, as described by Rep. Miller's office, at what this relatively ambitious legislation would do:

$75 billion for 750,000 jobs providing needed local services $52.5 billion directly to communities with at least 50,000 residents - Mayors, County Officials and Governors would submit a statement to the need for the specific positions to the Department of Labor. The department would then distribute funding to communities based on the Community Development Block Grant formula. Half of the funding will go to positions that would be eliminated due to ongoing budget shortfalls. Up to 25 percent of the funding can go to non-profit community organizations that provide services not customarily provided by local government employees. The remaining 25 percent may be used for creation of new jobs in local government. $22.5 billion directly to governors to distribute to communities with fewer than 50,000 residents - Job creation funding will sent to towns, counties, or private non-profits outside of those communities eligible for the funding above. Local governments will apply to the governor for the funding. Like support to larger communities, half of the funding may be spent on retention of positions slated for elimination, up to 25 percent of the funding can go to non-profit community organizations that provide services not customarily provided by local government employees. The remaining 25 percent may be used for creation of new jobs in local government. The governor must fairly distribute the funding among congressional districts, in proportion to each district's rural population. Funds may only be used for compensation of full-time, full-year positions. "Full-year" defined to include school year positions. Local governments may expand existing services or restore services cut in the past five years. Positions are federally funded for two years. Jobs are regular government or local community organization jobs....

It's small wonder that this approach has also been embraced by a common-sense Republican mayor, Elizabeth Kaust. "Mayors are pleased to partner with Chairman Miller to push this important legislation," she said at the March press conference.

The still-unanswered question is whether Republicans in Congress will listen to such appeals in the hyper-partisan political climate in Washington before the November election -- and whether liberals will be strong enough to win support for the measure and be able to put incumbent Republicans on the defensive over jobs, when the administration in power will be the likely target of public wrath.

As the Associated Press observed:
Losers in a brutal struggle with President Barack Obama, Republicans now hope voter anger over newly enacted health care legislation will propel them to victory in midterm elections this fall. Forget about it. No matter the impact of health care, the economy still matters most -- unemployment in particular -- in a country struggling to emerge from the deepest recession in decades. In poll after poll, it isn't even close. A CBS/New York Times poll taken last month, when the health care debate was in a lull, showed 52 percent of those surveyed identified the economy as their top priority. Health care was a distant second at 13 percent... "There is still one number that matters most on Election Day, and that is the unemployment number," said David Winston, a Republican pollster. "If unemployment is where it is now (9.7 percent nationally), people are going to be very unhappy and looking for a change.
But it isn't finger-pointing over who is to blame over unemployment that will decide the election—but real results. Can Congress and the White House be prodded into taking the strong measures that are really needed to create jobs and bring down unemployment? What unions and liberals do over the next few weeks could decide the answer. ********************** The article is updated from a piece that originally appeared on the Working In These Times blog.