Category Archives: Affordable Care Act

The Coming Fall of Humpty Trumpty: Republicans Can’t Put Him Back Together Again


Humpty_Trumpty

Trump’s disastrous presidency is not only undermining the legitimacy of the US government, but also fracturing the Republican political coalition. His second Muslim travel ban has been blocked by federal judges in Hawaii and Maryland, and while he is forging ahead with budget plans that increase military spending and slash the social safety net, he is provoking resistance at every level of civil society.

Congressional Republicans are in disarray over their pledge to repeal the Affordable Care Act (aka Obamacare). Hardline tea-partiers in the House, with gerrymandered constituencies guaranteed to give them a comfortable reelection, have a visceral ideological opposition to any law offering subsidies to the low-paid. More moderate Republicans in the Senate, however, do not want to lose the expansion of Medicaid that House Speaker Paul Ryan wants so badly to cut.

Greg Sargent writes: “By embracing Paul Ryan’s plan, which would dramatically slash taxes on the richest Americans while massively rolling back coverage for the poorest Americans, [Trump] is losing touch with the ‘populist’ message and ideological heterodoxy that helped drive his appeal to working-class voters. … But we are now learning that to cover as many people as Obamacare does, you have to spend far more money than the priorities of congressional Republicans will permit. Indeed, as the CBO report showed, the GOP plan gets a big chunk of its savings by cutting Medicaid spending by over $800 billion, resulting in 14 million fewer people benefiting from it — thus allowing an enormous tax cut for the rich. These are the priorities that Trump has now fully embraced, and his conservative populist allies understand the political danger of it.”

If Trump supports Ryan’s plan he will have openly betrayed those who voted for him believing his promises for bigger and better healthcare. If he doesn’t, he faces losing the legislative support of the tea-partiers. Either way, his administration’s first major piece of legislation is breaking apart on the ideological divisions in his party. Trump shows little ability or inclination to use his position to force the two sides together, and his disdain for mastering the details of complex legislation hobbles his desire for a quick and easy legislative win.

The Washington Post reports that the possibility Trump will sell out his base by going along with congressional Republicans has opened up a split among Trump advisers. “Some of them appear to be balking at such a course of action — and it’s telling that one of them is Stephen Bannon, because he is the keeper of the eternal flame of Trump ‘populism’,” it said. Republican strategists are also influenced by the vociferous protests at town hall meetings that have impacted the terms of political discourse. While Republicans have dismissed them as the work of paid liberal activists, they know that their core constituencies will punish them if they support legislation that will take away benefits the public depends on.

Arkansas Senator Tom Cotton, for example, was unprepared for the depth of anger from his town hall attendees. According to the Huffington Post: “a 25-year-old constituent pressed the senator on whether he intends to preserve the Affordable Care Act’s treatment protections for people with preexisting conditions. She then explained she suffers from Ehlers-Danlos syndrome, a condition that affects the body’s connective tissues and blood vessels. ‘Without coverage for preexisting conditions, I will die,’ she said. ‘Will you commit today to replacement protections for those Arkansans like me who will die or lose their quality of life or otherwise be unable to be participating citizens, trying to get their part of the American dream? Will you commit to replacement in the same way that you’ve committed to repeal?’ The auditorium erupted in cheers as the crowd gave her a standing ovation.”

This may be why Cotton suggested last week that the push by his fellow Republicans to pass a healthcare reform bill was risking the GOP’s House majority. Don’t “walk the plank and vote for a bill that cannot pass the Senate,” he warned.

The healthcare issue would seem to offer a perfect opportunity for the Democratic party to make political gains. But while party activists were involved in organizing protests at Republican town halls, the Democratic establishment is hanging on tightly to the control of leadership positions. Obama personally intervened to persuade Tom Perez to run for DNC chair in order to prevent Keith Ellison, who is associated with the populist surge within the party, from gaining the position. However, as the Washington Post pointed out: “In 2016, Sanders won the support of just 39 of the DNC’s 447 voting members — all of whom, infamously, were superdelegates to the party’s convention. Nine months after Sanders’s defeat, Ellison won the votes of 200 DNC members. Some, like the AFT’s Randi Weingarten, had been Clinton supporters, but plenty had been brought into the party by Sanders. … But in states where Sanders performed strongly in 2016, just as many activists were already in the middle of a takeover. It just didn’t happen in time for Ellison.”

Although Perez had to acknowledge this change by making Ellison his deputy, the Democratic party’s ability to head a grassroots movement is hindered by its corporate character. Struggles outside the party structure, such as the fight for union recognition at Nissan in Mississippi, are creating new coalitions of protest groups that are the main basis of changing the political climate.

Alternet reports that organizers across the country are working to build large popular assemblies to empower and connect communities targeted by Trump’s assaults. “With roots in the U.S. Black Freedom movement, Latin American encuentro and left formations across the globe, such forums appear to be gaining steam, as growing crowds cram into packed community meetings to plot out strategies for resistance. … While some popular assemblies are connected to regional organizations like the Atlanta-based Project South, others are springing up independently. ‘People are building new mechanisms of community power,’ David Abud, regional organizer from the National Day Laborer Organizing Network, told AlterNet.”

“Ayako Maruyama and Kenneth Bailey work with the Design Studio for Social Intervention in Boston. Since November, their organization has created a ‘Social Emergency Response Center,’ modeled after natural disaster emergency response centers, but designed to respond to the current political crisis. … Akuno underscored that ‘it is a constant struggle to build popular assemblies, keep them functioning, keep them vibrant, keep them responsive to the issues of the day and keep them from being sectarian vehicles. When done right, when done at its best, I think assemblies are the most profound tools of bottom-up, participatory democracy that holds the interests of the communities, unlike any other vehicle I have ever worked with’.”

Naturally not much of this reaches the mainstream media, obsessed as it is with Trump’s twisted tweets. However, the resurgence of civic activism is creating a new politics that will overcome the divisions within the 99 percent and bring together coalitions that will carry out a vital defense of pluralist democracy.

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Filed under Affordable Care Act, Black Lives Matter, Democratic Party, donald trump, political analysis, Trump, Uncategorized, white working class

Americans Expose Trump’s Quackery, Demand Affordable Health Care


Trump’s increasingly aggressive presidency has created widespread resistance in places not previously reached by American progressives and has enraged the Democratic party’s rank and file who are pushing their own representatives to ensure non-cooperation in Congress and impeachment as soon as possible.

But Trump’s supporters are unmoved and remain convinced he is carrying out his promises to shake up the establishment. They are just not concerned about the particulars of policy and cheer on his dysfunctional press conferences – which are performances especially for their benefit – and his characterization of the media as the “enemy.”

According to the Washington Post: “Those who journeyed to Trump’s Saturday evening event on Florida’s Space Coast said that since the election, they have unfriended some of their liberal relatives or friends on Facebook. They don’t understand why major media outlets don’t see the same successful administration they have been cheering on. … Many acknowledged that the president’s first month could have been smoother, especially with the rollout of the travel ban, but they said the media has overblown those hiccups — and they’re glad to see the president fight back.” Tony Lopez, 28, a car dealer who drove to the rally from Orlando, told the Post: “The media’s problem is that they keep wanting to make up stories so that he looks bad. It doesn’t work. He’s talking right through you guys.”

The danger for the American public in Trump’s presidency is both the empowerment of the security state to suppress immigrants and democratic rights, and his supporters’ unquestioning acceptance of Trump’s authoritarian rule with its alternative take on empirical reality. Trumpistas imagine him as a strongman who will sort out the Washington swamp in a way that will improve their lives. A Trump voter in Pennsylvania, Lee Snover, described him as enforcing “medicine for the American people,” a deeply troubling image evoking Mussolini’s blackshirts. But the Republican drive to cut social programs will hit these voters hard and bring them into opposition to Trump and his quack prescriptions for the body politic. The safety net is especially critical for Trump voters in states like Wisconsin, Iowa and Ohio that flipped to Trump in 2016, giving him a small majority from those who believed his promises of restoring jobs.

If there is one issue in particular that will divide moderate Republican voters from diehard Trumpistas it is the affordability of healthcare, not allegations of ties with Russia or Trump’s business interests. Republicans in Congress have made virtually no progress on their election pledges to repeal the Affordable Care Act. They are deeply divided between Tea Party radicals, who want to eliminate the law no matter what, and those who fear the reaction from constituents if Medicaid expansion under the ACA is removed. The Washington Post reported: “Republican senators who represent states that expanded Medicaid — including Bill Cassidy (La.), Rob Portman (Ohio) and Lisa Murkowski (Alaska) — huddled last week to discuss concerns that a House GOP repeal bill could leave millions of their constituents without insurance. While no consensus emerged, many lawmakers said they could not support an aggressive repeal bill that could harm so many of their constituents.”

Although Trump and his spokesmen dismiss the growing grass-roots protests over ACA repeal as the actions of “paid demonstrators” or “sore losers,” the New York Times points out that Democratic party organizers are struggling to keep up with the groundswell of activism “that has bubbled up from street protests and the small groups that have swelled into crowds outside local congressional offices. …  Some of the most creative activity is coming from people who are new to political activism. In Plymouth, Minn., Kelly Guncheon, a financial planner who described himself as an independent, has organized a ‘With Him or Without Him’ meeting for Representative Erik Paulsen, a Republican who has not scheduled any of his own. … Mr. Guncheon, like other new activists, said he was not looking to traditional political groups for guidance. ‘In this new culture, this new era, we have to figure out new ways to do things,’ he said. ‘There’s certainly no leadership at the head of the Democratic Party, or the state party’.”

Democratic representatives are also feeling the heat. In New Jersey, Josh Gottheimer faced an unexpected crowd of his constituents “concerned that the Democrat would not be an effective bulwark against the president, and others said they had become politically active for the first time since Trump’s election. …  ‘A lot of us are new to this type of activist movement. I’ve never done anything like this before,’ said Jennifer Russo, 44. Her advice to the congressman: ‘My stance is that now is not the time to be conciliatory’.”

Republicans, though, are facing greater opposition from their own voters, who are finding Obamacare more attractive now the possibility of repeal is real. And the growing popularity of single-payer is reaching the Republican base. Pew Research found that the idea that government should be responsible for ensuring health coverage has risen strikingly among lower- and middle-income Republicans since last year, increasing 20 percentage points among those earning under $75,000 per year. Moreover, it is finding justification within the Christian ideology that many of them share. An emotional speech by a constituent of Republican representative Diane Black at a town hall meeting in Murfeesburo, Tennessee, is worth quoting in full:

“My name is Jessi Bohon and I’m in your district. It’s from my understanding the ACA mandate requires everybody to have insurance because the healthy people pull up the sick people, right? And as a Christian, my whole philosophy on life is pull up the unfortunate. So the individual mandate, that’s what it does. The healthy people pull up the sick. If we take those people and put them in high-risk insurance pools, they’re costlier and there’s less coverage for them. That’s the way it’s been in the past, and that’s the way it will be again. So we are effectively punishing our sickest people. And I want to know why not, instead of fix what’s wrong with Obamacare, make companies like Aetna that pulled out and lied to their consumers about why they pulled out, and said they pulled out because Obamacare was too expensive, but they really pulled out because of a merger. Why don’t we expand Medicaid and have everybody have insurance?”

CNN’s video of her speech went viral – but the news agency eliminated the last sentence about expanding Medicaid (see the full video here). The Atlantic magazine saw in it a political possibility: “Were they to take the plunge, Democratic candidates could run as challengers in upcoming elections on a third way of health reform: neither extending unpopular pieces of a program nor rolling back coverage, but giving everyone Medicare. And if the Democratic Party were to support universal health care, that might put pressure on Republicans, who wouldn’t want to lose voters who fear loss of coverage or doctors under a massive repeal.”

The left should not miss the implications of this political shift. While Democrats in Congress can do little against the Republican majority, their angry rank and file are in a position to insist on policies that will unite Americans across party lines and expose Trump as the quack he is.

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Filed under Affordable Care Act, Democratic Party, donald trump, health care, Obamacare, social justice, Uncategorized, white working class

Confounder in Chief Trump Cons America into Republican Repeal-and-Run of Obamacare


As the inauguration of Donald J. Trump as US president approaches, it’s still uncertain how exactly he is going to govern, since his actions before and after the election show his total disregard of accepted political norms.

He has surrounded himself with a billionaire cabinet whose members have political views that conflict with each other and himself; but this may in fact be how he intends to rule, elevating himself above clashing voices like a Mafia Godfather. The Washington Post comments: “A number of people have been given the highest level of White House jobs without a clear indication of who is in charge. By some accounts, Trump likes this sort of management chaos around him. But it is not conducive to policy creation.”

Trump specializes in creating political confusion while promoting his next “big reveal,” such as a “beautiful” health care plan with “insurance for all.” But regardless of these promises, the ultimate outcome of the chaos and corruption within his cabinet can only be the Republican agenda of dismantling state regulations and agencies on behalf of corporations and the plutocracy.

Healthcare is a concrete example of policy confusion that eventually defaults to the position of the Republican right. On the campaign trail, Trump vowed to repeal Obama’s Affordable Care Act but at the same time save Medicare and Medicaid. He repeated his promise last weekend, telling the Washington Post he would unveil a nearly finished plan that would guarantee “insurance for everybody.” This conflicted with Republican rhetoric that they would focus on lower costs to ensure “access” to insurance, rather than universal coverage.

But Wednesday, the day of the confirmation hearing for Tom Price, his nominee to lead Health and Human Services, Trump backtracked on the promise in two separate interviews. The Washington Post’s Greg Sargent comments: “While he reiterated that people without money will get coverage, he clarified that he’s considering a mechanism to do this: Medicaid block grants. … Progressives tend to oppose Medicaid block grants because they are all but certain to get cut, and because states would restrict eligibility requirements. … Thus, this idea – which seems likely to be at the center of the Trump/GOP replacement plan – would dilute the guarantee of coverage that Obamacare is striving to make universal. … Republicans just don’t believe health reform should guarantee coverage in the manner that the ACA does. … But the point is that Trump and his advisers are trying to obscure this. Trump does not want to be the guy who kicked millions off insurance. But it appears congressional Republicans philosophically cannot support anything that does not do this.”

In the confirmation hearings, Price himself twisted and turned to avoid answering a question from Elizabeth Warren if Medicare or Medicaid would be cut. Asked point-blank if dollars would not be cut, he replied: “We should put forward the resources to take care of the patient.” Earlier, he repeated the Republican line that individuals should have the opportunity to “gain access” to coverage, as opposed to “insurance for everybody.”

Trump’s role in this scenario is to create public uncertainty about what his administration is actually going to do about healthcare, a smokescreen for what Republican legislators like Price are preparing. This is a big deal because the deindustrialization of America has eliminated most unionized jobs with health benefits. The Republican rush to repeal the Affordable Care Act and remove coverage from up to 32 million Americans will affect many Trump voters who believed his promises of a better healthcare plan. But since the Republican strategy is to repeal the funding for Obamacare before a new plan takes effect – described by Elizabeth Warren on Sunday as “repeal and run” – it will be politically impossible to restore the taxes that will pay for any of the things he or his spokespeople have promised.

Many people who voted for Trump believed he would stop short of removing the coverage they were already receiving under the ACA. Greg Sargent reports a CNN feature about “people who live in Eastern Kentucky coal country and backed Trump because he promised to bring back coal jobs. Now, however, they worry that a provision in the ACA that makes it easier for longtime coal miners with black lung disease to get disability benefits could get eliminated along with the law. That provision shifted the burden of proving that the disability was directly caused by work in the mines away from the victim” and placed it on the owners.

Sargent argues that “while Trump did repeatedly vow repeal, these voters were absolutely right to conclude that he would not leave them without the sort of federal protections they enjoy under Obamacare. That’s because Trump did, in fact, clearly signal to them that this would not happen. … Yes, Trump said endlessly that he’d do away with the ACA instantly. Yes, his own replacement plan would leave millions without coverage. But here’s the rub: Trump also went to great lengths to portray himself as ideologically different from most other Republicans on fundamental questions about the proper role of governmental intervention to help poor and sick people without sufficient access to medical care. … Trump also repeatedly vowed not to touch Medicare, explicitly holding this up as proof he is not ideologically aligned with Paul Ryan on the safety net.”

Now the reality of Trump’s plans is not only causing extreme emotional distress but also imperiling the health of people currently covered by the law. Although under-reported, Bernie Sanders’ “Our Revolution” organized a day of action against ACA repeal on Sunday. At least 40 rallies took place in different cities, the highest profile one in Macomb County just outside of Detroit, Michigan, drew up to 10,000 in below-freezing weather to hear Sanders call for the defense of the ACA and the creation of a Medicare-for-all, single-payer system. Some in the crowd were Trump supporters now scared of losing their coverage. Elizabeth Warren spoke to 6,000 people at the historic Faneuil Hall in Boston – the rally was intended to be inside the hall, but had to be moved outside because of the size of the crowd.

In Price’s confirmation hearing, Democratic Senator Patty Murray told him: “My constituents are coming up to me with tears in their eyes, wondering what the future holds for their health care given the chaos Republican efforts could cause.” And in local meetings, Republican legislators are confronting angry constituents demanding answers on Obamacare repeal. The Houston Chronicle reported that far-right Ways and Means chair Rep. Kevin Brady, a vocal critic of the law, encountered 50 people at a meeting where he expected them to share “experiences with rising costs and loss of coverage and choice.” Instead they grilled him about his support for repeal without a replacement. “Don’t lie!” shouted Emily Hoppel, a 39-year-old with her 2-year-old son perched on her hip, when Brady moved from one goal of dismantling ACA to another of defunding Planned Parenthood, which he said used taxpayer money for abortion. “The Hyde Amendment,” she sputtered, incredulously, as Brady continued to talk over her. In Grand Rapids, Michigan, Rep. Justin Amash was repeatedly interrupted by constituents concerned about the repeal of the Act during a packed town hall meeting. After Amash referred to the healthcare law as “Obamacare,” a number of audience members interrupted to insist that he call it the “Affordable Care Act” instead.

The left needs to cut through the smoke-and-mirrors rhetoric that Trump, the Confounder in Chief, uses to dominate the media and work to build support for Sanders’ and Warren’s defense of the ACA, together with other movements of mass resistance to corporate hegemony. This means developing an organized opposition to the Democratic leadership which failed to mobilize the party’s voters in the 2016 election.

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Filed under Affordable Care Act, Bernie Sanders, donald trump, Elizabeth Warren, Medicare, Obama, Obamacare, Stand Your Ground law, Uncategorized

The Kochs Can’t Slam Dunk Even After Buying an Election


America’s purplest plutocrats, the multi-billionaire Koch brothers, stand to reap the fruits of the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision this November in the US mid-term elections. They are determined to manipulate the democratic processand overturn the Democratic majority in the Senate, preparing to outspend both Republicans and Democrats to the tune of $125 million. But as the Kochs flaunt their power to buy airtime, fund think-tanks, and pocket pundits, they are coming up against a different reality. It turns out that buying an election doesn’t mean a slam dunk, and that Americans will fight for fair play and a fair society.

The brothers’ ideological work is cut out for them, since the electorate across both parties is overwhelmingly wedded to ideas like the state taking care of the sick and elderly. A memo issued by the Koch-funded Americans for Prosperity explained they needed to undermine the importance Americans place on “taking care of those in need and avoiding harm to the weak.” They have funded a barrage of TV ads attacking Obamacare, featuring a mother talking directly to camera musing over its disadvantages, which has as its ultimate motive discrediting the idea of government as an agent of positive economic change for struggling Americans.

While targeted at unseating Democrats, much of their spending is also intended to consolidate their influence in the Republican party through the leverage of an intransigent minority of Tea-Party legislators. Espousing a libertarian ideology, the brothers have a deep, vested interest in preventing state regulation of their huge investments in energy, transportation, and manufacturing. Growth of green energy technologies like solar and wind threatens to devalue their capital, and they have been instrumental through ALEC in blocking state legislation favoring the new technology.

Although the declining white vote is being eclipsed by the multiracial reality of America today, the brothers’ political strategy is to arouse the Republican base and encourage the disenfranchisement of Democratic voters. The Obamacare ads are clearly targeted at married women at home with kids, who along with old white men, are reliably Republican voters.

The first result of the Kochs’ efforts was seen in the North Carolina Republican primary. Over $2 million poured into the primary to ensure the plutocrats’ candidate of choice, Thom Tillis, was selected to run against sitting Democrat Kay Hagan. According to Chris Kromm on Democracy Now, “We saw two big players coming into the primary. One, nationally, was [Koch-funded] Americans for Prosperity. …They have spent more money attacking Kay Hagan than any other candidate across the country. And that started last fall. I mean, they’ve just been blanketing, a carpet bombing of the state of these attack ads, kind of trying to soften up support for Kay Hagan. Then, on the other side, you saw millions of dollars’ worth of ads supporting Tillis to really make sure he could survive this primary challenge from the tea party right.”

Although the Republican establishment-backed candidate, Tillis himself is so far to the right he is indistinguishable from his tea party challengers. As speaker of the North Carolina House, he pushed through a tax bill that cut income taxes on the rich, shifting the tax burden to an increased sales tax that affected the majority of people. He passed a bill to prevent the state from accepting Medicaid expansion funds under Obamacare – preventing hundreds of thousands of North Carolinians from access to health coverage and increasing their risk of death from illness. The legislature also passed a series of voter restriction changes that disproportionately affect poor and minority voters.

Tillis was able to do this because North Carolina, like many other states in the South and some in the mid-West, saw a virtually complete takeover of the legislature by right-wing Republicans in 2010, followed by the election of Republican Pat McCrory as governor in 2012. Since then, a state once known as one of the most moderate in the South has become a virtual laboratory for Tea Party-style policies.

Yet despite the Kochs’ propaganda onslaught and Tillis victory, there is mounting opposition to the legislature’s extremism. The growing “Moral Monday” movement has intercepted and directly challenged the Koch’s social Darwinism. One Monday in April 2013, a group of advocates for workers, civil rights and other issues entered the state capitol and refused to leave. Several members of the group, led by Rev. William Barber, head of North Carolina’s NAACP, were arrested that day, but each Monday since then the protesters returned. A rally in February this year drew more than 80,000 people, and public approval ratings for the governor and state assembly have tanked.

The protests in North Carolina have the advantage that the state house is located in Raleigh, at the apex of the “Triangle Area,” an urban and industrialized region that is considerably more moderate than the rural areas of the state. Significantly, however, the movement has spread rapidly from North Carolina to South Carolina, Georgia, Florida, Alabama, and some mid-Western states, becoming a rallying point for resistance to the Republican political elite. Although they have campaigned on a variety of issues, from voting rights to public education, events have created a focus on supporting Medicaid expansion in states where governors have refused the Obamacare provision for federal subsidy.

Atlanta, Georgia, is another site of resistance. Nearly 40 people were arrested protesting a bill that would bar the expansion of Medicaid. Rev. Raphael Warnock, who led the protests, told Democracy Now: “This was an effort to provide Medicaid, to provide health insurance, to some 650,000 Georgians. Georgia has the fifth-highest level of uninsured persons in the nation. We are witnessing, in this very moment, the closing of a number of rural hospitals. And so, while this issue is tragically and unfortunately racialized, often by those who are pushing against the Affordable Care Act, the fact is, it crosses racial lines. It moves from urban to rural issues. There are a lot of people who are suffering as a result of this.”

The South has been historically a bastion of reaction: Southern Democrats blocked the New Deal for African-Americans and resisted desegregation until federal intervention enforced Civil Rights Laws. As is well known, these led to a mass transfer of white Democratic voters to Republicans through Nixon’s Southern strategy. But in 2014 the American South is undergoing important changes. While Republicans have been able to leverage the deep strain of antigovernment sentiment, especially virulent in the South, and exploit racism, the growing fight over Medicaid expansion and a higher minimum wage is undermining its traditional conservatism and the racial divisions that have divided workers.

Not only did last Thursday’s one-day strike of workers in the fast-food industry mobilize workers in major cities like Chicago, Boston, New York, Washington DC, and Seattle for a $15 hourly wage and the right to form unions, but it also spread to towns in the deep South like Opelika, Alabama, West Memphis, Arkansas, and Southhaven, Mississippi, as well as cities in Florida, Texas, Missouri and the Carolinas. In all, workers in 158 US cities and 30 countries took part in the challenge to mega-corporations that are suffocating large swathes of the working population.

This growing movement defies the culture of intimidation and low-wage economics prevalent in the Southern states. No matter what the Kochs do, if the Democrats project a clear message of opposition to inequality, they can stem the Republican tide.

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Filed under Affordable Care Act, fast-food workers, low-waged, Medicare, Obamacare, political analysis, strikes

UAW may have lost the vote at Volkswagen, but Republican fear of unions is exposed


The Union of Auto Workers’ bid for recognition at the Volkswagen plant in Chattanooga, Tennessee, was narrowly defeated last week by 712 votes to 626, a difference of 6.5% of the vote – hardly the stunning defeat reported by the mainstream media. Volkswagen management, under pressure from its corporate headquarters, had agreed to remain neutral in the campaign, unlike most US corporations who attempt to prevent unionization at all costs. If the UAW had succeeded, VW would have been the first foreign auto plant in the South to be unionized.

What was noteworthy about the election was the unprecedented high-profile intervention by Republican politicians, who pulled out all the stops to defeat the bid. Their panic over the possibility of a pro-union vote signifies the erosion of the Republican party’s southern strategy of using racism to suppress unionization and the social safety net while keeping workers voting against their economic interests.

Economic expansion in the South has led to increased support for unions and worker self-confidence. As Steven Pearlstein commented in the Washington Post, “incomes in the region still lag those of the North and West, while unemployment rates in many states are higher than the national average. And those once-grateful and -docile workers are beginning to notice – even in right-to-work states such as Tennessee, Georgia, Alabama and South Carolina, where union membership grew by 19 percent or more last year – the fastest rates in the country.”

Not only did right-wing billionaire Grover Norquist post billboards in the town depicting the UAW as having destroyed Detroit, Republican senator Bob Corker called a press conference on the eve of the vote specifically to claim that VW would manufacture a new mid-size SUV in the Chattanooga facility if the UAW was defeated – tying the possibility of jobs to rejecting the union. VW immediately denied any connection between the vote and the decision where to build the new model. Tennessee state legislators attacked VW as promoting an “un-American” labor campaign and threatened to withhold tax incentives for the company’s expansion if the union was recognized.

Obama was moved to retort that the Tennessee politicians were “more concerned about German shareholders than American workers,” according to Reuters. But that is a cheap piece of xenophobia: VW itself was in favor of union recognition, since that would have enabled it to set up a “works council” similar to those at their other factories. What the politicians wanted to buttress was the cheap labor strategy of the Southern elite – which is why they are also so opposed to affordable health care, expansion of Medicaid, and a living wage in the region.

Union leaders bitterly denounced Republican interference, but statements by anti-union workers in the factory showed that right-wing depictions of the UAW as an outside group coming in to impose bureaucratic control over the workforce and jeopardize their jobs had resonated with sections of the workforce and plant management. Union activists in the plant told labor correspondent Mike Elk of In These Times that they had seen “multiple low-level supervisors and salaried employees at the plant wearing ‘Vote No’ T-shirts in the days leading up to the union election,” even though they were not eligible to join.

Mike Jarvis, an hourly worker and member of the anti-union “No 2 UAW” campaign, told the Washington Post that many workers had been persuaded to vote against the deal by the terms of a neutrality agreement negotiated between VW and the UAW, which they understood as the union brokering a deal not to bargain for wages above what was offered by VW’s competitors in the United States. “We got people to realize they had already negotiated a deal behind their backs—[workers] didn’t get to have a say-so,” he told reporters.

Mike Burton, an hourly worker who created the website for No 2 UAW, said many workers objected to the UAW having initially sought unionization based on what it said was having a majority of cards signed favoring a union. “We were only given one choice [of a union],” he told Mike Elk. “When you are only given one choice, it’s BS. It would be nice if we had a union that came in here and forthright said, ‘Here is what we can offer.’  I am not anti-union, I am anti-UAW,” he said. “There are great unions out there, and we just weren’t offered any of them.”

Elk points out that the neutrality agreement may have weakened the UAW’s campaign by preventing one-on-one meetings with workers at their homes, a standard organizing tactic used to build trust with workers and answer questions about individual needs and concerns. Moreover, as he reports, “Many activists I spoke with during my two trips to Chattanooga said that when they saw the UAW being continually blasted on local talk radio, newspapers and billboards, they wanted to get involved to help build community support. However, they say that the UAW was lukewarm in partnering with them. … Community activists said they had a hard time finding ways to coordinate solidarity efforts with the UAW, whose campaign they saw as insular rather than community-based.”

The successes of the movement against low pay in the fast-food industry and at Walmart have all been based on alliances between unions and community groups. By eschewing such partnerships, and failing to engage the broader community, the UAW may have facilitated the right’s portrayal of them as outsiders. As one community organizer told Mike Elk: “There’s no way to win in the South without everyone that supports you fighting with you. Because the South is one giant anti-union campaign.”

But the Republican intervention has raised many questions about the politicians’ role. The Washington Post commented: “many of the plant’s workers are themselves conservatives – and have started to wonder why the politicians who represent them oppose their right to organize.” The report quotes John Wright, a test driver at the plant who identifies as a right-leaning independent, who said he was puzzled when Corker came back to Nashville to voice opposition to the UAW. “I can’t for the life of me understand why the Republicans and big money are coming against us so bad. To me, they’re attacking the average worker,” he said. “To have politicians think that there’s nothing more important than coming down and picking on the little guy because he wants a union, there’s a national debt we’ve got to control, we have foreign policy things that we elect them to go up there to do, but you have to fly home for an emergency meeting because I want a union?”

Republican politicians’ fear of unions will not go unnoticed as Southern workers join the minimum wage struggle. They have had a valuable lesson about the contradictions in Republican rhetoric and the vulnerability of the political elite to worker organization and political independence.

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Filed under Affordable Care Act, low-waged, Obama, political analysis, Republicans, Southern strategy, UAW

Take Note, Plutocrats: Populism is Not Just a Spectre – It’s Rule by the People, for the People.


A spectre is haunting the world’s plutocracy – the spectre of populism. According to Politico, “Economists, advisers to the wealthy and the wealthy themselves describe a deep-seated anxiety that the national – and even global – mood is turning against the super-rich in ways that ultimately could prove dangerous and hard to control.”

Their fears are well justified. The billionaire elite in the U.S. is virulently opposed to Obamacare and the expansion of Medicaid, it is incensed by calls to increase the minimum wage, and through its proxies in Congress it has stopped an extension of long-term unemployment benefits. Anything that retards its wholesale looting of society’s wealth is anathema to it, including the Obama administration’s attempts to alleviate the worst effects of the economic downturn.

The plutocrats can maintain their hold on power only through their ideological grip on a large section of the American public – and challenges to that grip make them increasingly nervous.

Venture capitalist Tom Perkins, who made his money from Hewlett-Packard defense contracts, wrote in the Wall Street Journal: “Writing from the epicenter of progressive thought, San Francisco, I would call attention to the parallels of fascist Nazi Germany to its war on its ‘one percent,’ namely its Jews, to the progressive war on the American one percent, namely the ‘rich’.” He was echoed by real estate mogul Sam Zell: “The one percent are getting pummeled because it’s politically convenient to do so,” he said, adding that the one percent simply “work harder” than everyone else.

Juan Cole points out how their outlook and that of congressional Republicans is totally out of step with the U.S. public: “What is odd, and damning of the current American political system, is that the Republican Party’s major platform positions are roundly rejected by the American people. That is, they are ideologically a minority party. And yet they manage to win elections. … We are a center-left country and the majority of Americans takes the same stance as I on most controversial issues. It is the House of Representatives that is extreme, far more right wing than the country it says it represents.”

They are so far to the right that a Coca-Cola ad aired during the Superbowl featuring “America the Beautiful” sung in different languages evoked howls of outrage from tea-party politicians who posted racist comments on Twitter.

Within the Republican party itself there are fractures over immigration that reveal tensions between this kind of xenophobic rhetoric and corporate interests; the party’s difficulties stem from its need to use racist messages to preserve a declining white electoral base that itself depends on state support, while advocating cuts in state spending that would benefit only the super-rich.

Popular resistance to cuts in education, healthcare, and benefits is what is worrying the plutocrats. Whether Republican or Democrat, the public is determined not to lose social security benefits or other entitlements, and the low-waged have embarked on a popular campaign to increase the minimum wage to a living wage.

This mood of resistance was reflected in Obama’s fifth State of the Union address. What was remarkable about it was the contrast between the grand themes of hope and change that characterized his election campaigns, and the limited nature of his proposals for executive action rather than legislation to address social issues. He maintained a difficult balancing act between corporate and public sentiment, acknowledging unsustainable inequality in America but advocating a neoliberal prescription for economic growth through the fast-tracking of the Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement that can only lead to the loss of more jobs.

Obama’s executive order raising the minimum wage to $10.10 an hour for federal contractors clearly aimed to contain a vigorous movement within an electoral framework. However, his speech also serves to encourage a growing trend of lightning strikes and walkouts, inspired by the ideal of a $15 minimum that is closer to a living wage.Josh Eidelson has been reporting in Salon about the series of one-day strikes organized by the union-backed “Good Jobs Nation” campaign to force Obama’s hand on the issue. “As recently as this month, the co-chairs of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, who’ve rallied repeatedly with the strikers, told Salon the White House had been unresponsive to their pleas. ‘If we had never done this,’ said [Smithsonian McDonald’s worker] Alexis Vasquez, ‘we would have continued making $8.25 for the rest of our lives’. But the move announced today falls short of what Demos and Change to Win have urged. … Given that ‘the issues are still there,’ said Joseph Geevarghese [deputy director of the Change to Win union federation], including contractors’ alleged failure to follow the wage laws already on the books, ‘I think we’re going to see continued worker unrest going forward’.”

Obama’s plan for a “grand bargain” to rationalize state expenditure in which he could trade cuts in social security for token increased taxes on the rich was stymied by the grip of the tea-party Republicans on Congress. As the Washington Post reported, his address attempted to restore confidence in his presidency, as he faced “a tricky task: winning over a nation that has grown less trustful of his leadership after a year in which the federal government was partially shuttered for 16 days and the administration botched the rollout of Obama’s health-care law.”

Juan Cole assessed his presidency as politically passive, accepting the international role bequeathed him by the Bush administration and the Pentagon. “In the end, Obama seems to see himself as primarily a domestic president. That position is remarkable because the Tea Party Congress won’t actually let him do much domestically. … He says the right things about conventional uses of the military, but in his actions he is a Covert War hawk.” He said little about NSA spying apart from a throwaway statement about reform – and even that was forced on him by Edward Snowden’s revelations.

While Snowden is undoubtedly the person who changed the political dialog in 2013, this year’s heroes will be those like 22-year-old fast food worker Naquasia LeGrand who are fighting to change the lives of those at the cutting edge of poverty wages. She gave a spirited interview to comedian Stephen Colbert where she voiced the determination of the low-waged to get a better deal from the billionaires: “It’s not just me who is going through this. It’s all of us going through this. That’s what makes a union. Americans coming together to make a difference and have a voice together. … there is no reason why I should have a second job when these multi-billion dollar companies have the money to pay me in the work that I do.”

This is the kind of talk that has the plutocracy losing sleep at night. It is fueling more and more campaigns at the state level, such as in Oakland, CA, where a union-community coalition aims to put a measure on the ballot in November 2014 that would increase Oakland’s minimum wage from $8 an hour to $12.25, with future increases tied to inflation, and at least five annual sick days for all workers.

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Filed under Affordable Care Act, austerity measures, debt limit impasse, Edward Snowden, fast-food workers, National Security Agency, Neoliberalism, Obama, Obamacare, populism, Republicans, Tea Party movement

Taking the Pulse of Struggle: Americans Ready to Battle the Corporate Attack on Living Standards


Last week’s overwhelming vote by 31,000 Boeing workers to reject a contract making cuts in pension and healthcare benefits is a signal that the tide is turning against the neoliberal strategy of using the threat of outsourced production to intimidate Americans into giving up their social safety net.

Boeing floated a promise of job security for the next eight years by committing to produce its newest aircraft in Seattle and offered a $10,000 bonus for agreeing to the deal. However, the current contract would be terminated, a defined-benefit pension plan replaced with a 401k, and healthcare costs increased.

Jeffrey Johnson of the Washington State Labor Council writes in the Seattle Times: “Machinists were presented with a unilateral proposal that would have frozen the pension system that they had bargained for over the last several decades — it would have also ended the pension system for new hires. …  It would have been unthinkable for grandparents or parents to sell out younger workers and future workers, many of whom are sons and daughters or nieces and nephews, and prevent them from earning a secure retirement future.”

According to the Washington Post, “Dian Lord, a toolmaker at Boeing’s facility in Renton who is nearing retirement, said Wednesday morning she believed the company was extorting its workers by pushing a swift contract vote while threatening to place 777X operations elsewhere if machinists don’t oblige. Still, Lord said she felt intense pressure to vote for the contract, especially considering that it could impact a variety of other Boeing workers and vendors should the company move elsewhere.”

The union leadership made no recommendation on the proposal until a packed meeting made clear that the membership overwhelmingly opposed it.

Reuters reports: “A crowd of more than 100 people erupted in cheers when the vote was announced amid a charged atmosphere at the union’s main hall in Seattle. … Even though the union’s 31,000 workers gave up their chance for [777X production] jobs, they considered the giveaways in the contract too grave to accept. … Voter turnout was high. Workers began lining up in predawn darkness on Wednesday outside the union hall in Everett, Washington and elsewhere in the Seattle area and in Oregon. … ‘It goes against everything that we’ve fought for over the years,’ said John Orcutt, 42, a 17-year union member and hydraulic tube bender.”

Boeing anticipated it could increase profits through confining wage increases to 1% annually for the life of the 777X project, reducing liabilities to retirees, and eliminating collective bargaining from the implementation of next-generation technology.

After the Boeing workers’ union was provoked into a 52-day strike in 2008, the company retaliated by moving work to South Carolina. The union dropped its complaint to the National Labor Relations Board about this illegal tactic when Boeing threatened to move production of another aircraft, the 737MAX, and demanded wage concessions in exchange for a guarantee that the plane would be built in unionized facilities around Puget Sound.

Jenny Brown of Labor Notes explains: “That contract saw a 70 percent yes vote and a generational split, with the over-50 workers voting no and the newer workers making only $15 an hour voting yes. The difference now is that, with the exception of those prepared to retire before 2016, everyone in the union is getting hit, hard. The younger workers lose out on a real pension, period. Anyone midway through their working years will lose a huge amount of the retirement income they anticipated. Medical costs will double or triple over the life of the extension, more than eating up the 1 percent raises. And the union membership will have no leverage against Boeing for 11 more years.”

The Boeing vote parallels Americans’ deep concerns about retirement and health coverage. This is why the reaction to the rollout of the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) is complex: despite the mismanaged launch of the website, the public is not moved by Republican attempts to repeal the law. Its advantage for the uninsured and low-paid is security in their coverage: it disconnects insurance from employment, removing the obligation to stay in an exploitative job in order to keep healthcare; it eliminates annual and lifetime benefit maximums, and prevents insurers refusing coverage because of pre-existing conditions. This is why politicians in Republican controlled states, organized by ALEC, are planning to undermine the law at the state level. They want to promote insecurity and intensify dependence on employers while cutting the social wage.

Obamacare attempts to rationalize healthcare while preserving the dominance of insurance companies by rearranging risk pools while mandating individual coverage. The health insurance industry is now positioned to extract premiums from a much larger base, creating a division of right-wing opinion between ALEC-backed governors like Scott Walker in Wisconsin and states where Republicans receive major campaign contributions from health insurers. In Florida, for example, the industry is pushing the state to reverse its stance on Medicaid. The federal government is offering billions of dollars to finance Medicaid’s expansion, and insurance companies want a piece of that action. Florida Blue executive Patrick Geraghty told journalists: “We believe strongly that we ought to be taking that funding.”

Obama has lost credibility with the public, however, because of the hopes raised by his optimistic statements about his administration’s signature legislation and their contradiction with the cack-handed implementation of the website, together with his promises about keeping existing plans (and, by implication, doctors with knowledge of people’s medical history). That is why the website debacle has eroded the trust Obama was able to leverage in two elections.

It also illustrates the bankruptcy of market-based solutions to social problems. The political decision to expand health coverage by relying on a mix of incentives and regulations for entrenched insurance companies, rather than instituting a single-payer system, has multiplied the law’s complexity exponentially. A physician writes that “administrative costs make up more than 30 percent of our national health care bill, most of it unnecessary. The waste in this area alone is equivalent to around $400 billion annually. That is more than enough to provide health care to every uninsured person living in our country. Some of these costs result from the slicing and dicing of Americans into ever-tinier and more confusing categories, the inevitable result of applying the principles of insurance to health care.” The Affordable Care Act will only increase this administrative complexity. It is “far too complicated and therefore too expensive to manage, full of holes, will be applied unevenly and unfairly, be full of unintended consequences, and be easily exploited by those looking to make a quick buck.”

While the problems with the Obamacare website will eventually be fixed, the need for adequate healthcare and an assurance that the old will not starve in retirement remains as acute as ever. The Boeing Union action is another example of the increased resistance to attempts to roll back Social Security and Medicare as well as to the assault on public workers’ pensions. This battle will undoubtedly intensify as the plutocracy and its political servants seek to lower the living standard of Americans.

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Filed under Affordable Care Act, health care, Medicare, Obama, Obamacare, political analysis, Republicans