What's this Blog About?

Politics in Wisconsin as they roll up to every level... and some other thoughts that may cross my mind are explored here from my lefty point of view. My values shape my opinions. You'll always find them in here. Let's have some fun exploring why Liberal values are American values!

Your comments are both welcome and encouraged!
(The watercolor is called Magnolia Tree for Momma, by Audrey Crawford)

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

New Blog Link!

I haven't been very active in the past few months, although if you follow me on Facebook, it's not like I don't have a lot to say...  lol.

Anyway, here is a notice to anyone who may find this that my blog address expired and you will need to update all of your links to find me.

You can update to crawfordstake.blogspot.com OR my new URL (and blog name) ReneesTake.com.  Sorry for any inconvenience and hopefully my readers will eventually be able to find me again!


Thursday, May 24, 2012

When "More Speech is Always Better" Complete Breaks Down (and why the media won't tell you this)

I have been a strong proponent of MORE speech is ALWAYS better for most of my life.  I've always been leery of overly strong campaign finance laws and have frequently discussed the problems with them rather than the benefits. Its always been where the progressive movement and I have a minor disagreement.

The basic idea is that the more people talking, the more points of view we are hearing especially in politics, but in all aspects of our lives, the better the conversation, the more informed the voters and the better decisions made by them. Therefore, more money in politics is better than less no matter what because it will spark the conversations needed and raise the profile of elections to a greater number of voters to make it more likely they will exercise their voice and do so well informed.

A point exists however, where there is a tipping point that actually SUPPRESSES speech rather than enhances it.  Here's that point.  Only a limited amount of airtime is available on television and radio in particular.  At some point no more spaces exist for politicians to buy to get out their message.  It is a finite number and in the past there have been SOME minor problems with this, a candidate may have a lot more money around November than their opponent and the opponent gets a last minute infusion of cash, but all the ad spots are gone, so they end up going into election day with cash on hand.  This happened before Citizen's United, but it was rare and largely ignored as an anomaly rather than the rule.

The problem now is that post-CU, this "minor problem" is about to become a major campaign STRATEGY.  Once all the ad space is gone. Its gone.  Today candidates and their SuperPAC's have a new campaign tool because of unlimited funds.  The goal is to buy up ALL the ad space early so your opponent CANNOT go on the air at all prior to the election.  The candidates don't even have to do it.  The S-PACS are now completely capable of buying all the ad space available and in doing so, ELIMINATING the ability of their opponent to get their message out AT ALL.

This is NOT free speech.  This is the SUPPRESSION of speech by one party over the other. 

I first heard media talking about it during the GOP primary.  Kind of as a side note.  As if it happened but wasn't significant.  But it did happen, early on and then again, and then again...  This is the new world we live in.  The hottest new campaign strategy is to just buy up ALL the spots and make sure your opponent can't get their message out at all.

THIS is the truest and most compelling reason I've ever come across for campaign finance reform,   for Congress to act on the Citizen's United decision even if it means rewriting the Constitution by amendment to protect our Bill of Rights.  When so called free speech is eliminated entirely by unlimited cash used nefariously, its time for Congress to step in and protect our Constitution.

Here's the real problem though, the MEDIA is complicit.  They don't care AT ALL who's buying their ad space.  The equal time doctrine was the first to go.  Once that barrier went down the media has NO responsibility to sell their airtime equitably.  They are corporations and they will take as much cash as they can get from the highest bidder.  Shareholder wealth trumps all.  The media has NO incentive to step in and deal with this on their own.  They make money no matter who they sell their ad space to and rarely care about content.  First and highest bidder always wins in business. Our media is laughing all the way to the bank.

As for the candidates they have SOME responsibility to tell the truth, but as we have seen in the past that truth remedy usually is too little too late for the voters to know it was  lie before they walk into a voting booth.  The S-PACS have almost NO responsibility to tell the truth at all.  Their donors are anonymous and they can close out a disappear before anyone can hold them responsible for the content they produce.  In other words, our political process is now full of wealthy liars who have unlimited ability to sway the voting public and no accountability to the truth.

When you see advertising in the next few weeks and as the summer campaign season starts, take them with a grain of salt and do your own research, ESPECIALLY if you're only seeing one candidate's ads.  We are at a tipping point politically and we're about to watch our entire electoral system go up in smoke.

So its going to take everyday people like me and like you to figure out a way to stop this madness.  I don't have a lot of answers to it right now, its up to each voter to sort through the crap to find the truth.  I now see the problem though and its huge and it's going to change our country for the worse unless we all get together on both sides of the aisle and figure out how to make our politicians FIX it.

That's my take.

Wednesday, April 04, 2012

Charlie Sykes, CRG, Ament, Walker and the WTMJ Hypocrisy

Oh am I angry!  WTMJ combed through the Walker recall petitions and guess what?  Some of their employees had signed the recall...  So WTMJ is now suspending them pending further action for "breaking the code of ethics" for journalism.  What a LOAD of crap!!!

This all goes back to 2001-2002 when Charlie Sykes picked up a story about the County Executive Tom Ament signing onto a pension deal no one understood.  Sykes ranted daily for months on his talk radio show about Ament's "irresponsibility".  Then one day, he starts talking about this "new group" of "every day citizens" who have come together to use the recall system in Wisconsin to recall Tom Ament and several other County Executives.  They called themselves Citizens for Responsible Government and they had an open mic for months on Charlie Sykes show pimping the recall effort until they did indeed recall Milwaukee's County Executive and several of it's County Board members.  Charlie Sykes LED this effort with his radio show, his television show and he even HEADLINED Recall Tom Ament rallies with his participation very much "allowed by management of WTMJ" (see that article I just posted from January 23, 2002). Its not a far reach to think that CRG might be or  my have been heavily funded by the Bradley Foundation  (who by the way employs Charlie Sykes' wife as their Director of Communication).

WTMJ never once balked then.  They never once questioned whether this might make their "news station", look politically motivated. A "non-profit", "non-partisan" organization was born.  They have had full and free access to Charlie Sykes' radio show ever since...  .

The Recall of Tom Ament was immediately followed by a heavy campaign for Scott Walker for Milwaukee County Executive that was HEAVILY hyped in the Charlie Sykes machine. 

By 2005, Chris Kliesmet, ED of CRG Network was stating things like "Charlie Sykes is Gold".  Charlie Sykes also is kind enough to repost CRG's press releases directly on his blog

Now known as CRG Network, they claim to be non-partisan watchdogs of government.  As far as I can tell though, they have overwhelmingly supported  Republican candidates and recalled Democrats including twice trying to recall Governor Jim Doyle again efforts heavily promoted on Charlie Sykes radio show.

Charlie Sykes also strongly supported Scott Walker for Governor both in the primary and the general election giving him lots of free air time and talking up his campaign almost daily.

Once Scott Walker was Governor, Charlie Sykes became his biggest cheerleader.  Charlie doesn't think Walker's s**t stinks.  Its Man-Love in its pukiest form.  What does Sykes get out of this symbiotic relationship?  LOTS of radio ads and his third wife has a cush job at the Bradley Foundation the most conservative funder in the nation funding such ultra-conservative organizations as the Heritage Foundation, WPRI, AEI and yes, just because I can, I'll mention here the Bradley Foundation and the Koch Brothers go WAY back to the founders of the John Birch Society....  On the Muckety map below, check the "62 funders" link to get some scope on the Bradley Foundation.


Walker takes all his ideas, marching orders and policies directly from these puppet masters as has been well documented (google Koch and or Bradley Foundation and Scott Walker).  Charlie Sykes spins them and spits them out to the public as "conservative news".  Its a symbiotic relationship that I have just touched on the tip of here.  It goes much deeper, but I'll spare my readers for now the gory details.

So now a few WTMJ employees (four who work directly for Sykes)  have exercised their RIGHT as citizens of Wisconsin to participate in their government by signing a petition to Recall Scott Walker and suddenly out of the blue WTMJ is freaking out about journalistic ethics???????  Seriously????

Seems to me another scenario might be at play here:  What if this happened?  The ultra powerful Sykes, found out a few employees of his signed the recall petition against his boy toy Walker and embarrassed him in front of his puppet masters at Bradley....  He was so outraged, he wanted to fire them, but of course he couldn't do that on his own, so completely FORGETTING the hypocrisy of what might happen next based on everything I just told you about above, he goes to management waiving the station's "code of ethics" and demanding that everyone who signed a recall petition be fired and a public apology be issued to his puppet masters.  Not wanting their loudest big mouth to quit, management caved to Sykes' demands.

Maybe that happened.  Maybe it didn't.  Who knows.  Either way, for WTMJ to suddenly after decades of hosting ONLY conservative talk radio hosts and having NO alternative voices hosting shows on their airwaves SUDDENLY has a problem with a few employees taking a political stand???

Is Sykes going to be on the cutting block too for immediately going on MSNBC TODAY as his co-workers are being publicly shamed and openly talking about how he's endorsed Mitt Romney while his station is out there apologizing for a few employees who participated in their democracy????

Those employee's only sin in my eyes is in forgetting that they work for the GOP's lapdogs and taking a stand against their puppet masters.  God forbid someone in a media outlet have a political opinion that's contrary to their bosses...

Thursday, February 23, 2012

GOP's Disingenuous Anti-Obama Gas Price Ad

So the GOP is running this ad where they play Obama singing Sweet Home Chicago against a chart of gas prices since Obama took office.  I thought there was something "not quite right" about the chart, so I went to the US EIA website and pulled the ACTUAL weekly gas price figures for the past 20 years or so.  Then I charted them in Excel and the above graph is what I came up with.

For years I've posted about how gas prices seem to rise right before a presidential election when a Dem is in office and fall when a GOP is in office.  The chart proves this pretty clearly and in fact, gas prices fell in July 2008 almost $2/gallon just before the Presidential election that year.  What's kind of amazing is that one COULD make the assumption that somehow, the energy companies are in collusion with the GOP to make Dem presidents look bad and GOP presidents look good just before an election.  That would only be an assumption, but I find it interesting that this trap is something of an Election Year anomaly.  While it IS true that gas prices were very low when Obama took office and are creeping up now, what is ALSO true is that gas prices made the largest and steepest climb under the 8 years of Bush in the history of gas prices in this country and peaked at higher than they are now.

This ad is disingenuous at best and targeted towards those with short term memory loss.  Obama could just as easily have run an ad that says on January 15, 2001 when Bush took office gas prices were $1.458 and peaked $4.054 by July 15, 2008 before a pre-election massive plunge that led into the Obama Administration taking office with gas at $1.81.

It seems to me that so far, the Bush administration was FAR WORSE on controlling gas prices and that's what makes the new ad so deceiving.  Gas prices have been out of control since the Bush Administration allowed some rules changes that let this happen.  With energy trading in a derivative futures market, the international whims of investors now directly affect the price of gas. Until this problem is solved, gas prices are fungible and can change with a news article instead of based on the actual price of a barrel of oil like they did before Bush stepped in and changed the game.

The GOP won't tell the whole truth in a 20 second ad, so they ONLY tell the part that might freak people out...  and how stupid to use the video of President Obama, Mick Jagger, BB King and Buddy Guy singing Sweet Home Chicago together?  Our POTUS is just TOO COOL and it's driving them nuts.  LOL

(note:  I have all the data if requested or you can pull it yourself at the link below the chart above and also, you can click on the cart to read it better!)

Friday, October 07, 2011

Resignation and Farewell

As many of you know (and some do not), I resigned from the ACLU of WI as Associate Director, to finish my degree two weeks ago.  Today is my last day with the office and I wanted to express the incredible honor it has been to serve with you in the advancement, protection and promotion of civil liberties and civil rights in Wisconsin.
I expect to focus on these last two semesters intently to complete a long over due personal goal, but expect that my general activist nature will not keep me out of the spotlight too long :).
I feel like I'm moving away from family, but I won't be far and I won't be gone long so I like to think of this as more of a sabbatical for myself.
I wish you all the greatest success in this most important work and I look forward to seeing you soon in the continuing struggle for justice.

Best of luck to you all! 

Check our our Resources and Get Involved pages on our website to find links to social networking, email, and other cool ways you can learn more about our work.

Join the Restore the Vote Wisconsin NOW! Coalition and help us restore fairness to Wisconsin's elections!  Go to http://www.restorethevotewi.org to more information or email me back!

Proud Member of Community Shares of Greater Milwaukee.  Spread the word: you can support ACLU/WI by payroll deduction through a Community Shares campaign in your workplace: www.MilwaukeeShares.org

Friday, July 15, 2011

Social Security, Medicare, Unemployment and Disability are NOT "Entitlement Programs"!

The use of the phrase "Entitlement Programs" for Social Security, Medicare, Unemployment and Disability is driving me nuts!!!  Why do we always buy into our opponents' misnomers?

The word "entitlement" means "the act of giving (a person or thing) a title, right, or claim to something; furnish with grounds for laying claim: His executive position entitled him to certain courtesies rarely accorded others."

These are NOT entitlements that are "given" to Americans.

These programs are INSURANCE programs mandated by the Federal and State Governments that our grandparents, parents, we and our children are PAYING PREMIUMS on to ensure that when we get old, sick, or lose our jobs, we have the financial means to continue to live in our homes, stay alive with decent medical care and live a life of dignity after tragedy.

As a society, 50+ years ago, we made a collective decision to ask our government to pool a small portion of our collective wages to allow us to have that security, the security of basic human dignity in the face of tragedy, no matter our financial position in life when that tragedy hit.

We PAY THE PREMIUMS on this insurance. Now the government is talking about changing the terms of the policy after our premiums were paid...

The wealthy have LOTS of insurance. They have 401K's, stocks and bonds, life and health insurance, disability insurance plans, critical illness insurance and long term care insurance plans, and years of financial stability tied up in financial instruments should they lose their job. These programs are for them as well because anyone can face tragedy at any time in their lives, but they are most effective and critically needed:
  • for the workers who are downsized and whose jobs go overseas, 
  • for the mother who chooses to give birth to or suffers the tragedy of an injured or sick child and cannot afford the medical care or time off of work to care for that child without financial help and medical insurance,
  • for the elderly person who worked all their lives at a low wage job, hard work, with little or no retirement benefits and must retire due to illness or just the inability to work, or their pension was canceled by the closing of their plant or just never had the opportunity to live more than one paycheck from disaster let alone buy insurance or save money for their later years, 
  • for the 20 year old who dives into a swimming pool the wrong way and can never walk again, 
  • for ALL of us to be able to afford some SMALL measure of security in our worst and weakest moments of our lives. 
And I repeat WE PAY THE PREMIUMS on these insurance plans and they WORK AS INTENDED.

It's ludicrous to call them "entitlements" and we need to rethink how we think about and discuss these programs because the wealthy may not think they need them, but they may someday.  And you may not think you need these programs, but you may someday, and the Federal government does not subsidize these programs.  They are ALL SOLVENT.  Just like an insurance company, when the disaster happens or the annuity comes due for payment, the government MUST make the payments on the policies.  If the government has borrowed against that income we gave them or not invested it wisely in the 50 years of working and making payments we each will make in our lifetimes, then the government needs to pony up and pay it's debt to us PERIOD and we need to elect representatives who will promise not to change our insurance policies, but to stop borrowing from them to pay for random wars of aggression and choice.

To discuss changing these programs in ANY way is a default on our contract with our insurance company and anyone who says otherwise is just being dishonest.

When the wealthy buy an insurance policy, the terms are set for the life of the policy and cannot be changed except under the terms set out in advance in the policy.  They get exactly what they pay for and pay for exactly what they get.  As Americans we should expect no less from the medicare insurance, disability insurance, unemployment insurance and social security insurance policies we have purchased from our government throughout our working lives.

The government needs to quit whining about the expense and pay the insurance contracts we have with them without question.  The options to pay are numerous.  They could just print more money.  They could repeal the pre-Bush tax holiday for the wealthy.  They could cut military spending in half (who are we fighting anyway?).  They could invest in our education and in research and technology to grow the worker base and increase revenues that way.  They could eliminate the corporate tax loopholes and subsidies that give Murdoch $4.8 billion in tax rebates over the last 4 years and allow the energy companies to take home trillions in profit quarterly.  Our leaders are so mired in their own ideology and in the language of defeat, they no longer can have a civil intelligent conversation with each other and sit down and do the work to fix these problems.

Here's a few ideas:
  • Energy companies ONLY get tax incentives for investment in clean energy technology and for job growth IN the United States.  
  • Corporations ONLY get tax incentives for new jobs and research and development activities created on American soil.
  • Universal single payer health care (Medicare for all) would remove the burden of health care from the corporations and with the savings allow them to reinvest that money for those new jobs and research and development on American soil.  It would also provide Medicare with a more diverse risk pool and lower the costs for us all without lowering the quality of services.  When a company has to consider paying $20,000 that increases 18% annually on top of the employee's salary for health insurance, it makes a huge difference in that hiring decision.  If instead it was an increase in the Medicare tax of even 7.6% of wages (way higher than estimates), the costs remain fixed to wages and the burden is removed from the company's bottom line.  I currently pay more than 20% of my pre-tax wages for health insurance and my company pays another 50% of my wages for health insurance (you'd think employers would be all over this, but for ideological reasons, they are working against their own self interest).  It's obvious that changing that to 15% and 15% would spur some job growth and fuel a healthy economy.
  • Divest from the military industrial complex and invest in diplomacy and assistance to the global citizenry on a massive scale to raise the standards of living globally.  Less desperation = less war.
  • Privatization = profit margins for a few, higher costs and lowered services for us all.  The citizens of this nation 30 years ago paid for the cost of their energy, children's education and the social safety net of aid to families with dependent children AT COST of those services.  NOW the citizens are increasingly paying for those services with a profit margin attached to them.  Why should our tax dollars go to the bottom line of corporations for critical services?  It's the MOST inefficient use of our dollars possible to pay a CEO some exorbitant unregulated salary to educate our children or hand out piddling amounts of money to the poorest in our society.
  • Finally, this is for my stoner friends...  Legalize and tax marijuana.  This would empty the prisons and gut the prison industrial complex throwing trillions of dollars back into governments at all levels.  It would raise trillions of dollars and could fill our governmental coffers making all of these discussion moot.  The real "reefer madness" is the criminalization of this non-lethal and powerfully useful medical substance that makes people happy, hungry and sleepy...
These are just a few simple ways the government can invest a little and get huge returns. I'm just an average American citizen and I can come up with these off the top of my head.  Why can't our politicians?

STOP calling them "entitlements" and start calling them something else, I suggest "guaranteed insurance policies" or "insurance for everyone".  I call on my readers, the media pundits, politicians, all Americans and most especially my colleagues in this discussion to think of some other interesting or fun ways to reframe how we discuss these programs in a genuine light instead of the disingenuous terms everyone has bought into of something the government is handing out for free.

Tuesday, March 08, 2011

Politics of International Economic Relations

I am taking this class at UWM and it's both really interesting and also really complicated stuff.  I'm getting an A so far, so I guess I must be grasping the concepts I'm reading (over 400 pages in the last two weeks!) fairly well.  I've decided that the topics are a lot of work and writing and I do think through them quite deeply.  So why not post them here?  Sometimes I will reference authors, etc that were part of the required reading.  If you see them and want more on who they are and what articles I'm referencing, please just send me an email.  Otherwise, the professor knows, so I won't have links in these articles to the books and papers I'm referencing and am not going to take the time to put them in unless you really want to know something.  For the most part this is my original work and thoughts.  I generally disagree with most economists because I live in the real world and they do not...  ;).  I get A's anyway I think because I do make my points with facts and in light of the concepts the professors are teaching in these classes, I just tend to come to different conclusions or bring up other facts not considered by the writers...  ;)  Also, these are often my prep notes for the almost weekly essay quizzes and so they are written to answer questions or sometimes, just to get my thoughts and ideas straight before I take the timed quiz each week.He gives us lots of questions to study and only gives us 35 minutes to take the quiz, so I try to write answers to most if not all the questions before the quiz starts and then taylor them during the quiz time to the question he actually asks, in other words, if the topics shift a little half way through, I was probably moving onto another study question.

So here's this week's prep work for the quiz in its entirety.  Hope you enjoy!

A protectionist US industry is the automobile industry.  Prior to the 1970’s the US auto industry was the dominant industry worldwide.  It supported a massive manufacturing labor force in the US and with pressure from labor created a set of labor protection laws that exceeded any known throughout humanity.  The result was a huge middle class and an economic boom in this nation.  In the 1970’s though, the price of fuel skyrocketed due to many international political factors.  OPEC became a dominant force in the setting of prices of fuel and artificially raised them as a result.  This forced the US economy into a downward spiral.  Manufacturing was highly depending on fuel as were the big gas guzzling cars the US manufacturers were building.  At the same time however, investments in education in the US were at a peak and the US workforce was becoming the most educated on the planet.  This led to several diverging factors at the same time as the 1970’s closed.  In Japan and Germany, capital was strong.  They spent little on defense since the US took over the defense of those nations after WWII.  This left many manufacturing companies and scientists focused on emerging industries like computers and automobiles.  They built smaller cars that used less fuel and they employed and invested in educating their workforce to the highest standards possible.  Their middle classes also rose in numbers making it possible for them to purchase their own and US automobiles, but the cars they were producing were of higher quality and more efficient.  They were subsequently not as hard hit by the gas crisis as the US and were able to flood the US market with lower cost, more efficient cars just when the US markets were tanking from the crisis and the US population could no longer afford US cars or afford to drive them. 
By the 1980’s the backlash was misdirected at the US labor force and unions for high wages and benefits when it should have been directed at the US government and manufacturing sector for focusing research on the defense industry instead of the industries that were employing most American’s in the Rust Belt.  The workers were blamed for the crisis instead of the companies that were spending their resources on issues that did not look towards the future.
Technology was on the fast track world wide and had it not been for a strong computer industry built for the space race and the military (and a young kid computer genius named Gates who transformed that technology to be useful for the general public), the entire economy of the US would have tanked for decades instead of just the 1980’s.  The auto industry was slow to realize their mistake.  They struggled with Buy American campaigns, they watched factories close throughout the Midwest and the Japanese developed and perfecting just in time manufacturing to lower their productivity and costs.  During the 1990’s, the auto industry in the US saw a temporary comeback with a well educated US workforce, but the backlash against the “greedy workers” spilled into a growing public that was on government assistance due to the collapse of the auto industry (in conjunction with the collapse of the family farm).  Union membership was decimated and their power to negotiate minimalized with the closing of thousands of factories.  Auto manufacturing’s first adjustment was to utilize the Japanese factories to build their parts and then to assemble them in the US.  Huge tariffs on import autos especially from Germany where quality was high and costs were high as well slowed the import of those cars and put them in reach of only the upper middle class and wealthy, while the Japanese manufacturers continued to focus on small and fuel efficient technology and prices so low that the tariffs still could not touch their value to the American public. When the costs to import cars got too high, Japan adjusted again in the last few decades building Toyota plants in non-unionized areas of the nation like Tennessee.  This boosted economies in those areas somewhat but had another affect on the auto industry in the last decade.  Japanese and US manufacturers were importing parts, so US manufacturers did not heavily argue for protectionist policies on imported parts, only on whole cars.  This led to the complete collapse of the US auto parts industry and cities like Gary, IN and Milwaukee, WI lost nearly all of their part manufacturing companies by the end of the 1990’s.  The myth of the greedy union employee became the myth of the greedy welfare mom and the lower tax base led to fiscal crises in the Midwest.  The same time, the Reagan, Bush and Bush administrations divested in the education of the American public.  Only slightly more investment was made by the Clinton Administration in public and higher education.  Cities like Milwaukee became testing grounds for the privatization of the public education system with dire consequences.  Bush allowed a false housing market with artificially low interest rates and risky credit lending and unregulated credit markets to boost housing sales and refinancing of existing mortgages for people who no longer or could no longer be a part of the middle class.  This gave the American public the false sense that their homes were worth more than they actually were worth and that their money was worth more than it was and the bubble eventually began to crash in late 2007.  Rising gas prices again contributed to the collapse as the cost of gas went from 99cents a gallon in 1999 to $3-5 range throughout most of the 2000’s.  Fuel efficient Japanese cars continued to dominate the market in the US and globally and US manufacturers were again caught behind the curve building huge gas guzzling SUV’s and Hummer’s for an American market delusional as to its own purchasing power.  Mortgage refinancing gave the American public the ability to keep buying cars on income that they were not earning and with loans they increasingly could not afford.  When the bad mortgages maxed out and the ponzi schemes came crashing down, the US auto industry which still had not made the leap to hybrids and smaller efficient cars crashed with it and by late 2008 the Bush administration was writing a trillion dollars in protectionist money to the mortgage and auto industries.  Obama continued this policy and bailed out the financial and auto sectors to keep them afloat and save the spirally recession from becoming a great depression.
The auto industries have begun to come back in the US partly due to the fact that the American public increasingly wants cars that get 50 miles per gallon and partly because the government bailouts require them to increase the competitiveness of their cars with Japan.  They are still behind technology wise however and an increasingly lower educated American public is not prepared to innovate as they were even 20 years ago.  The future looks bleak for the American car industry unless they find ways to compete without relying on protectionist government policies and instead compete on better cars.  Henry Ford once said, “I pay my employees enough to afford to buy my cars.”  The US auto industry is not anywhere near able yet to compete internationally again with its cars and unless the American work force is quickly re-educated to innovate again for the future, the American workforce won’t be able to earn enough to buy American cars.

Obama has continued trade talks with countries such as Columbia, Panama and South Korea recently.  http://www.nytimes.com/2011/02/10/business/10trade.html.  Much of the criticism of NAFTA was that it approved free trade without provisions for the fair treatment of humans and the environment.  The result has been an environmental and human disaster for NAFTA nations.  Obama and the democrats in congress supporting labor have pushed to have these protections built into any new trade agreements.  This seems to have slowed trade discussions down, but countries such as the new government in Columbia are open to these restrictions on manufacturing in their countries being built into the agreements.  This is certainly a labor benefiting protectionist strategy as described by Bhagvati.  The high track administrative protection of the US labor force by building the Voluntary Export Restraints (VER’S) and thereby protectionist policy into the “free trade” agreements is necessary though because while the US labor force has been displaced by the low cost labor force to our south, the US has not yet figured out politically how to increase our investments in high tech workforces and so the race to the bottom for the US middle class worker who used to have a high school education and now must have an advanced degree leaves millions unemployed which in turn puts substantial pressure on the government’s finances.  The US needs time to “catch up” it’s workforce to the changing global economy and labor’s protectionist pressure on both Congress and the Executive Branch are predictable under Bhagvati’s theories.   Conservatives however are taking a purely free trade approach to the agreements arguing that the cheaper labor force in developing NAFTA nations and lack of environmental, labor and safety controls means cheaper products for an increasingly poor US public that needs those products and higher profits for US manufacturers producing products internationally.  They also cynically argue that we should never concern ourselves with the labor policies in other nations that employ child labor, have no wage standards, pollute the environment and poison the populations, and allow workers to produce products in working conditions that are arguably worse than the early 19th century in our own nation.  They “get away” with this rationale because a large portion of the American public is ethnocentrically blind to the inhumanity of the corporations and because the inhumane practices are out of sight of the public since they are in nations Americans rarely visit or even study in depth in school.  I argued a few weeks ago in my personal blog http://www.crawfordstake.com/2011/02/long-term-plan-is-much-much-worse.html that the corporate takeover of the GOP has an awful potential outcome and possibly even goal for the American workforce.  It seems their policies may be directly motivated by a goal of creating a workforce in the US that can compete with the underdeveloped world at the underdeveloped world’s level.    Political power in the US is assumed in economic circles to center on rational economic behavior of the principles.  In other words, people will vote in their own economic self interests.  This is not always the case in the US because of strong ideological forces, money imbalances among the players and Proposals such as eliminating prohibitions on child labor in Missouri certainly never would have passed a referendum by the people, but the legislators proposing them misled the voters using enormous amounts of political donations from the corporate center and distracting them with social issues such as abortion and exploiting the inherent subtle racism that arose in this country with the election of an African American president.  This allowed corporate interests to seize control of the public’s support in states like Wisconsin, for example, in an election with low voter turnout.  What we are seeing in Wisconsin is a wider sector of the public, not only unions or even traditional democrats but also farmers and non-trading sectors realizing that the government they voted for was not in their best interests.  The national attack on labor unions that is front and center here in Wisconsin currently could only be with this goal in mind.  By not investing in the advancement of, and temporarily, at least protecting the US labor force, the temporary solutions of the conservatives will long term lead to the decline of the purchasing power of the US public and eventually one of the largest markets for goods in the world will become one of the poorest populations in the world.  Obama was attempting to do both investment in education and protection of the US labor force, but was stopped by the November elections.  Neither will work without the other and the protectionist policies relative to the short and long term stability of the US economy depend on both happening as quickly as possible in the short term and on the protectionist policies bringing the rest of the world up to the standards the US labor force has fought for over a century in a faster and more efficient way. 
It remains to be seen what will happen next.

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Is Collective Bargaining a Fundmental Human Right?

Sykes to Walker on Sunday Insight this morning: "Is collective bargaining a fundmental human right?"
Walker: "NO!"

Really Governor?  Collective bargaining is NOT a fundamental human right? 
Not according to the ENTIRE WORLD.  Consider just a few of these facts:
  • The right to collectively bargain is recognized through international human rights conventions. Article 23 (4) of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights identifies the ability to organize trade unions as a fundamental human right.  "Everyone has the right to form and to join trade unions for the protection of his interests."  (notice the word EVERYONE). 
  • Item 2(a) of the International Labour Organization's Declaration on Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work defines the "freedom of association and the effective recognition of the right to collective bargaining" as an essential right of workers.
  • In 1930, the Supreme Court, in the case of Texas & N.O.R. Co. v. Brotherhood of Railway Clerks, upheld the act's prohibition of employer interference in the selection of bargaining representatives.
  • In 1962, President Kennedy signed an executive order giving public-employee unions the right to collectively bargain with federal government agencies. 

and then there's that pesky thing called the first amendment (the stuff our founders thought important enough to put FIRST):

  • Amendment 1 - Freedom of Religion, Press, Expression. Ratified 12/15/1791.
  • Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.
What about freedom of speech? Freedom to peaceably assembly? Freedom to petition the government for a redress of grievances? does this governor not understand???
The entire point of a Union is for workers to peaceably assemble and speak (negotiate) their concerns with their management.  In the case of public employees, they are also covered by the freedom to petition the government for a redress of grievances.
Scott Walker has in one word this morning denied 81 years of Federal protections on the right to collectively bargain AND 63 years of international law AND 220 years of the United States Constitution's Bill of Rights.
Walker is fundamentally just WRONG. The right to collectively bargain is ingrained in international, national and state law (which is why they need to CHANGE the law to take the right away) and THIS is why the entire world is hitting the streets to protest his agenda.

EVERYONE seems to know this except for Governor Scott Walker who answered simply and emphatically "NO!"

Thursday, February 24, 2011

GOP: Tax! Tax! Tax! the Poor & Middle Class and Manipulate them to Vote for You to Tax them!

Is kind of feeling like the GOP should just be allowed to have it's way.  Here's the current agenda as I understand it:

  • End all public health care so the poor just start getting sick and spreading things like cholera to everyone.
  • Let the Koch bros buy the power plants and raise gas and electricity so high that all the poor people either die or move south, that worked so well with Enron and California after all.
  • Privatize or eliminate all public transportation, etc so no one can afford to get back and forth to work.
  • Privatize or eliminate social security so old people die earlier and broke.
  • Eliminate Medicare (see previous point).
  • Eliminate the right to vote for everyone who doesn't own property and isn't male and protestant. After all both Bush and Walker have joked that this is an easier job if you're a dictator.
  • Eliminate all public schools so poor children don't ever get an education and compete with the rich kids for the good jobs.
  • Make unionization of workers illegal
  • Eliminate child labor laws (with no public schools what else are our kids going to do during the day).
  • Eliminate all worker, safety and environmental protections (weekends, 8 hr workdays, etc). 
  • Eliminate all racial protections, laws against discrimination, women's rights, etc
  • Make the ability to speak spanish a crime
The GOP has an interesting agenda huh?  A bit more stunning when you see it all in one place huh? 

Tax Tax Tax the poor and now extinct middle class and laugh all the way to their yachts as they have now created a desperately poor, uneducated, sick and plagued, unskilled workforce in the millions.  Let old people die poor and sick.  They live too long these days anyway.  This sound to me much like the good olde days of Europe.  David Copperfield was a good novel afterall we should go back to coal filled air and poverty by the millions in the streets, the black plague, orphaned starving children every where you turn....  Oh yeah, that's a world I want to live in/go back to.  Yes.  That sounds like just the perfect future for my children. 

Let's let these numbskulls have what they want.  The irony of it all is that they are winning this battle by winning the votes of the poorest and least educated of us, the ones using Badgercare and taking the bus and driving on the roads.  The ones who are naive enough to vote for people who want to cut the tax rate for the top 1% because they honestly believe that SOMEDAY they will be in that top 1%.  Do you honestly think you can get in that country club if they keep taxing you now and taking all your extra cash while THEY get the tax breaks?

Not if these guys have any say in it you won't.  You think the Koch Brothers would actually allow YOU in their country club to golf.  They won't even let Walker in...  He's just another sad sack like you who somehow hopes someday he will be rich like them and does whatever they say to try to get there. 

Okay I'll stop now.  The cynicism, hatred, anger and frustration must be getting to me.

Totally disgusted right now.  Can you tell?  Definitely time to stop writing...

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

More on American Labor Unions and International Trade

As some of you may know, I went back to school last fall to finish my bachelor's degree.  Yes, you CAN do that later in life.  I only need a few classes to finish, but I decided that since some of them were staged I would be best served to get an International Certificate on my BBA-Finance at UW-Milwaukee.  I LOVE being back in school.  It can be really hard, I have to study a lot and can't write as much as I'd like to...  The upside is that I'm learning a LOT (it really does matter to finish those last few classes..)!  I should graduate by December of this year.

Below is an essay I wrote last semester in my course Concepts in Global Management (I got an A-, not bad after nearly a decade huh?).  The question the professor asked was (paraphrased):  If you could have gone, would you have protested in 1999 in Seattle at the WTO protests?  Why or why not?  My answer was long (my readers know brevity is not exactly my strength), but I thought with Wisconsin's labor wars, it might help to add to that "bigger picture" I mentioned in my blog earlier this week...  Remember this was written about 8 months ago, long before we knew what was going to happen in Wisconsin.  Rereading it for a class I'm in now, I was amazed at how it is relevant today.


In simple terms and knowing myself, yes, in fact, I was bummed to have missed it. More practically though, I was pregnant at the time and had two other children, so going would not have been an option for me.  I think the bigger question you're asking is why would I have gone?  And the lesser questions are once the violence broke out, would I have stayed and what would I have done?  Contributed to the violence?  Tried to help calm things?  The answers to these questions are complex, so I'll start with the simple parts. The answers are maybe, I'm a peaceful protester, I was not angry enough to participate in violence and if I decided to stay, I would have probably tried in vain to both help calm things and take notes on how the violence was developing and who was participating.  I would have left when the tear gas came out.  I hate tear gas.
I love a good just protest.  I was raised in the civil rights movement in the 1970's, marched for justice for Earnest Lacy in the early 1980's, built shanty towns for divestment in South Africa the 1980's at Cornell University and was a major player in the Win Without War peace movement in Milwaukee in the first half of this decade and my job now partially involves organizing to ensure protesters are not inhibited by government interference.  I was also very informed about the global economic justice movements in the 1990's, so I had an informed opinion at the time that the WTO, IMF and World Back were behaving as a perfect trilogy of disaster.
This does not mean that I am in anyway against globalization.  I believe that both coercion and hegemony are critical to getting bad players in the world to behave on behalf of their populations.  What I am against is unfair trade policies that specifically are designed to both destroy labor movements globally, the power of the people to organize for fair labor practices, and take money out of the developing nations' government's ability to care for the basic infrastructures that bring a developing nation into the developed world.  That's what the trilogy of disaster was doing in the 1990's especially after NAFTA was passed and what they are still doing today.
Baqwhati's piece was very difficult for me to read mostly because his writing style was arrogant, demeaning and sarcastic to the point where I didn't like him at all.  That said, he makes some good points about the benefits of globalization, such as the benefits of cross cultural advancements when two cultures collide, but then ignores the negative effects making his argument very biased.  For example, he discusses (in a very obnoxious way) the spread of the women's rights movement as US Corporations move around the world with female managers, etc ignoring the setbacks of women and their children being forced into slave labor and the sex slave trade as a result of mass migrations from rural areas to large cities to find limited employment and unfair labor practices such as long work days, no right to grievances, unsafe working conditions that lead to work ending injuries, etc...
Social justice movements serve a purpose, but cannot be effective in a vacuum.  Millions of people can march in the streets to not go into Iraq prior to the war for example, but if the political leadership is determined to fight that war for oil, well, we see the results, there’s not much even the people of the United States can do in a short period of time.  With more time though, say about 5-8 years, we can organize and change the leaders in America, in most developing nations, though that requires a revolution.  The social justice movement is really a slow movement for change.  The WTO promotes trade policies that take tax revenue out of developing government’s coffers and forces developing nations to abandon fair labor and environmental standards in a race to the bottom as to who has the will to be the worst actor in order to get the factory in their country.
A divide exists in this world between the very wealthy and the rest of us.  One of the great equalizers in that divide has always been the labor union.  EJ Dionne wrote a great piece on this in the Washington Post this week for Labor Day.  None of those poor working conditions are new to the labor environment.  In fact, what’s new is workers organizing for example, the eight hour workday, the five day work week, OSHA standards and the end of child labor in America.  Dionne argues that America became a world leader because of its labor movement not in spite of it.  A strong educated and happy middle class sparks innovation and entrepreneurship which strengthens the entire economy.  Henry Ford once said, “I pay my workers enough so they can buy my cars.”  Working American’s pay taxes instead of living off public safety nets leaving more money for important infrastructure improvements such as educating the entire population, healthcare, transportation, law enforcement, and housing/food security  That’s a piece of business economics that is lost in today’s corporate environment and at the core of the problem with American’s economy.  It’s also the problem globally though.
As a union organizer in Madison, WI in 2004-2005, I met several chefs, white male, with lower middle class incomes completely unable or unwilling to comprehend the need to unionize and terrified of losing their jobs even if they did, an oxymoron since unions and Federal laws they passed protect workers from unfair firing practices.  However, when I spoke with a man from Honduras who cleaned bedrooms in the same nursing home about the union though, he laughed in my face and said, “So you mean all I have to do is show up and vote yes and we get a union?  And the worst that can happen to me is I lose my job, but the union will help me get a new one or fight the company through the Department of Labor?  Ha!  When I was union organizing for in company in Honduras a few years ago, three men came into my home with semi-machine guns, put my family on the floor and the guns barrels to the backs of our necks and told me that if I continued organizing, they’d come back and shoot them all first and me last so I could watch.  I kept organizing and we got our union.  Where do I sign up?”
That was an American company he worked for behaving like that around the time of the WTO protests in Seattle.  The American people in general have a strange type of amnesia for those days here at home, and often take our worker protections for granted or even disdain thinking the problem is that we ask too much of corporations here at home driving them away from us.  What we could offer the world though an actor such as the perfect trilogy is to skip a step in the economic nation building process.  We could through well thought out and imposed standards utilize the power of organizations such as the WTO, IMF and World Bank to force multinational corporations to behave better.    By imposing rules for example on trade policies or on loans that nations must protect their workers with similar environmental, social, labor and economic laws as exist in developing nations, it would not necessarily level the playing field between the developed and the undeveloped world, but it would give the undeveloped world the opportunity to advance faster, stabilizing economies and therefore, political movements and the people in those countries would find themselves in essentially a 1950’s economic mode in just a few years.  Once they can afford to buy cars, they begin to buy more and a whole new market opens up raising the living standards of all the markets that feed into it.
In Jamaica, the free trade is tourism.  The WTO report from 1998 discusses tourism as its largest trade, but does not actually discuss the true problem with Jamaica and its tourism industry.  In fact, finding information on the true issue is not an easy task.  Even though billions of dollars come physically into Jamaica from tourists all over the globe, the Jamaican dollar is essentially worthless and the nation is dirt poor.  How can this be? It’s actually quite simple:  “Duty free” shopping.  Tourists love to go to other nations and shop in the duty free shops to avoid paying local and national taxes on the goods to the nation.  Something about getting a good without having to pay taxes on that good is too good to pass up for the average tourist.  Most have no idea the devastating affect that has on the local economy. 
In Jamaica, when I was there in 1996, the locals explained to me that the duty free shops sit on international land such as beaches and waterways.  They are owned by foreign investors and the cruise ships actually warn tourists not to shop in local stores, not to change their money to local currency, and only to buy from the duty free shops when they land on the ports by the millions each year.  The duty free shops accept the Euro, US Dollar, Yen, etc.  They do not hire local workers, but instead import workers for these shops in to the country to work in the stores.  It gets worse though.  The workers they import have a gated community where they have their own stores, homes, electrical system, etc and all money they make is deposited not in Jamaican banks, but in banks in their home economy which is much more stable.  Not one Jamaican is hired, not one Jamaican dollar spent, not one Jamaican dollar deposited into their banks, not one dollar spent in Jamaica is available for the government to reinvest in its people and their great potential.  Essentially, from the moment that dollar spent by a tourist hits the Jamaican shore until it leaves, it does not once touch the local economy of Jamaica.  Billions of dollars go in and out of the country like this annually with not a dime left behind to prop up the Jamaican government.  These arrangements were banned by European nations decades ago because of the unfairness of the trade.  This type of trade needs to be reformed in major ways to ensure that a nation such as Jamaica that has the natural resources to be a wealthy nation and the industry to support it, but is trapped in unfair trade policies ignored by the WTO and further aggravated by NAFTA trade agreements that give advantage to Mexican bananas for example over Jamaican ones in a race to the bottom.  The only industry left for the people is the illegal drug trade which operates out in the open and scares tourists right back to the duty free areas of the port.  This drives down the value of their currency, increases the unemployed workforce, and creates the ongoing social and political unrest that led to the wonderful protest music of Bob Marley, “How long shall dey kill our profits while we stand aside and look?”, Redemption Song and so many others great musicians. 
My main issue with the WTO and the rest of the trilogy, is it’s complete and utter lack of acknowledgement of problems such as these, the fact that it’s leadership and decision makers operate in a vacuum to the needs of the majority on this planet in deference to the greed of the few, with no oversight at all and that’s where Seattle came into the picture.    
I believe the Seattle protests at their core were about these concepts or they would have been for me, and so yes, I would have been there.  Not to end all globalization, that would be a foolish endeavor to attempt even for the hard core, protectionists, but using the trilogy to skip the violent, oppressive and brutal methods that do little good but enormous harm to an entire nation and the individuals that make up its population and ultimately the entire world.