Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Backers of anti-worker legislation use front organization to shill for another front organization run by PR firm

By Marc Jampole

A recent full-page ad in many of the national daily newspapers pictures the newly deceased North Korean dictator Kim Jong-il and his youngest son, who replaced him as supreme ruler, Kim Jong-un. Both are deep in concentration, as if they are planning something grotesquely stupid or painful to perpetrate upon their people.

But the ad isn’t about the North Korean evil empire. It’s about the oppression supposedly felt by American workers in labor unions because they don’t have the right to vote to recertify the union every 3 years, something that the ad sponsors hope to rectify with the proposed Employee Rights Act, a piece of rightwing anti-union legislation percolating in Congress. The ad conflates the lack of real change in political leadership in North Korea with a so-called lack of union rights. The theme line of the ad is “It’s a new labor day.”

The ad talks neither about the rights of workers to organize, nor about the right to negotiate on even terms with management that unionization gains for workers. Nothing is mentioned about the right to make more money and better benefits, which exists only theoretically for most non-unionized nonprofessionals. The only right in which the ad is interested is the right to dismantle an existing union.

The ad sends us to a website called which details the anti-union provisions of the Employee Rights Act, all of which make it harder to organize and easier to decertify a union. The information is all presented in terms of benefits to the working stiff.

As with the American Petroleum Institute’s Vote4Energy website, makes it easy for those to act in favor of its proposed legislative change. The primary call to action in both cases is the same: write an elected official, in this case, your Congressional representative to tell her/him to support the proposed Employee Rights Act. Both websites also have a slew of information, most of it half-baked assertions and carefully-chiseled semi-facts.

But one thing separates these two websites: The American Petroleum Institute tells us what it is and who is supporting it.

By contrast, says that it is a project of the “Center for Union Facts” and sends us to its website.

The Center for Union Facts never really gets around to giving us a formal mission statement, but it seems hell-bent on doing anything to hurt unions. Some of its favorite hobby horses are the aforementioned anti-employee Employee Rights Act and an obsession with union corruption and political influence. It claims that it wants to get the word out to union employees about their rights, but the only right mentioned is the right to decertify.

And who runs Center for Union Facts, you might ask? Here’s all the website says: “The Center for Union Facts is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization supported by foundations, businesses, union members, and the general public.”

I tooled around the Internet looking for information about the organization and discovered that it is operated by a Washington, D.C.-based public relations agency called Berman & Company.

Here’s a direct quote about who funds Berman’s efforts from a Sourcewatch article:

United Press International noted that “the group’s spokesman refused to release the names of its donors or say where its funding came from.” Berman told Bloomberg reporter Kim Bowman that he had raised “about $2.5 million from companies, trade organizations and individuals, whom he declined to identify.” Sarah Longwell, a spokeswoman for the Center for Union Facts, echoed Berman’s groups standard claim for secrecy on who funds their front groups. “The reason we don’t disclose supporters is because unions have a long history of targeting anyone who opposes them, whether it be in a threatening way or by lodging campaigns against them,” she told Detroit Free Press. The paper reported that while Wal-Mart Stores denied funding the group it stated that “it has a relationship in which it exchanges union information with Berman, the group’s head.

As it turns out, Berman & Company runs a number of pro-business websites, none of which ever identifies which organizations and individuals are putting up the money. Here is a partial list of other Berman-run organizations, compiled by "Berman Exposed,” a website dedicated to revealing the deceptive tricks of the company and its founder, Rick Berman:

  • The Center for Consumer Freedom, which attacks anyone who criticizes smoking, fast food or alcohol

  • The Employment Policies Institute, which opposes increasing the minimum wage

  • The American Beverage Institute, which fights laws designed to curb drunk driving

  • First Jobs Institute, which promotes personal finance advice to young people from a pro-business perspective

We’ve gone through a bit of a maze, so let’s review: One or more companies and individuals pay Berman to create a “front” organization to advocate against regulations and laws that constrain business, including laws against drunk driving and smoking. I call the organization a front because it represents companies and individuals who don’t want their names associated with the work of the front. In the case of anti-union activity, Berman’s front creates another front. The front to the front then launches a misleading advertising campaign meant to draw people to the website. And through it all, we never know who it is who is really pulling the strings.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Our vice president is okay, but Obama should ask Hillary Clinton to replace Joe Biden on the Democratic ticket.

By Marc Jampole

I want to join the small band of people who are advocating that Vice President Joe Biden graciously retire so that Hillary Clinton can join President Barack Obama on the 2012 Democratic presidential ticket.

I have no complaints about Joe Biden term as Vice President (his weasel-like behavior in the Clarence Thomas confirmation hearings years ago is another story). But replacing him with our Secretary of State, Hillary Rodham Clinton, would benefit the country in three ways (and please forgive me if I repeat a little of what political consultants Patrick Caddell and Douglas Schoen and New York Times columnist Bill Keller recently have written:

  1. It would virtually ensure the re-election of President Obama and perhaps help to recapture the House of Representatives and keep the Senate. Hillary is regarded by most as a highly successful Secretary of State and has been the most admired woman in the United States 10 years and counting. I have no illusions about President Obama and this current crop of Democrats, including Hillary. They are centrists who lean towards corporate interests, but they are a lot better than the Republican’s virulent right-wingers. We can’t afford to give the Republicans four years to lower taxes on the wealthy even more, gut social programs, take away civil rights and destroy the Environmental Protection Agency, National Labor Relations Board and other important government agencies.

  2. We would have perhaps the most qualified Vice President in our history, with the possible exception of Henry Wallace, who was Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s second VP. Hillary Clinton has served as a corporate attorney, first lady, U.S. Senator and Secretary of State and has distinguished herself in every role. She has shown an uncanny ability to keep growing, as witnessed by the lessons that she obviously learned from her failed attempt to pass healthcare legislation in her husband’s first term. Hillary is also well respected across the globe and has helped to shape President Obama’s mostly successful foreign policy. And like Barack Obama, she is clearly an intelligent person who prefers science-based solutions and analyses to those based primarily on faith.

  3. It would set Hillary up for a successful run for President in 2016, when she will only be 68 years old. With her experience, her popularity in the United States and around the world, her ability to get things done and her essentially compassionate vision, I believe that Hillary would make a lot of headway in rebalancing the distribution of wealth and income and addressing the triple-headed environmental monster of global warming, resource shortages and pollution.

For those who want to create a band wagon for Hillary Clinton, there’s no time to waste. You should write, call or email both President Obama and Secretary Clinton, the sooner the better.
You can find contact information for the President at a website called “Contacting the President.” It’s a little harder to reach Secretary Clinton. I might start by emailing the State Department.

But your activism shouldn’t end there. You should also make sure that you advocate positions to President Obama and every Democratic candidate that drive them further to the left, including:

  • Raising income tax rates on those who make more than $200,000

  • Removing the cap on income that is assessed the Social Security tax

  • Strengthening the NLRB and raising the minimum wage

  • Reducing defense spending

  • Investing more in repairing roads and bridges, increasing mass transit, developing alternative energy and creating a new generation of pollution controls.

Monday, January 9, 2012

Santorum, Gingrich, their defenders want us to believe that only African-Americans take government benefits

By Marc Jampole

Both Santorum and Gingrich played the race card last week, which should serve as a not-so-gentle reminder that much of the appeal of right-wing rhetoric reduces to the seemingly intractable racism that has poisoned the United States since its inception and has been destroying it since the end of World War II.

Their statements are based on false assumptions and manipulated numbers, but they have their effect among racists, the less educated and those who have been kicked around so much these past few decades that they seethe with undirected resentment.

Let’s start with Newt, who said “And so, I’m prepared, if the NAACP invites me, I’ll go to their convention to talk about why the African-American community should demand pay checks and not be satisfied with food stamps.”

The false assumption is that African-Americans are satisfied with food stamps and African-American leaders spend a significant amount of their time and money advocating for higher food stamp allowances. Certainly, African-American leaders see the necessity of food stamps for all poor families, but their agenda is exactly what Newt says it should be: jobs and economic opportunity, which require equal access to education and strict enforcement of civil rights laws.

For example, I perused the NAACP website looking for references to food stamps and found nothing. There could be a mention (the website has no search function), but I found nothing. It was easy, though, to find information on NAACP efforts to foster diversity in the news media, lower the level of obesity among African-Americans, improve our education system, enforce existing civil rights laws and address the fact that pollution and other environmental problems affect areas in which people of color live throughout the world much more than they affect other areas. These are just a few of the projects on which this mainstream organization is working that are featured and easy to find on the website.

Newt was merely channeling the mythic kindly patrician trying to give well-intention advice to the field hands. Rick Santorum’s comments were a bit more odious since he was fomenting racial warfare with his usual “politics of resentment.” Here’s Angry Rick’s quote, in reference to a question about foreign influences on the U.S. economy, which he quickly morphed into a rant against government programs to help the needy, which he, like so many, call “entitlements”: “I don't want to make black people's lives better by giving them somebody else’s money; I want to give them the opportunity to go out and earn the money.”

Singling out blacks implied that African-Americans receive the lion’s share of Medicaid benefits. That’s just not true. Santorum’s defenders immediately cited the misleading statistics that while 12% of the population is African-American, they represent 30% of those receive Medicaid benefits. It’s the wrong comparison, since Medicaid is only available to the poor, about 30% of which are African-American.

Some might make the false statement that it’s their own fault so many African-Americans are poor, but that would ignore the lack of social mobility that exists in the land of the free. Many studies through the years have warned that fewer people move between classes in the United States than in Europe. The latest report—this one by the Organization for Economic Co-Operation and Development (OECD)—finds that there is even less social mobility in the United States than previously thought and that virtually all social mobility involves middle class people gaining wealth or losing it. If you’re poor, it’s statistically extremely difficult, if not impossible, to move up the ladder. Only someone who ignores these statistics can blame the poor for remaining poor, and that goes for both impoverished whites and blacks.

But what makes Santorum’s comments so offensive is that he creates a divide between African-Americans and other Americans. He is saying that it’s wrong for the virtuous “us” to provide free health care to the undeserving “them.” We know that Angry Rick is against Medicaid and other government programs for the needy, but that’s not what he says here. He says that he’s against giving money to blacks.

What does Santorum want exactly: A Medicaid system that only gives benefits to whites? A segregated system in which taxes from white are earmarked for white people and taxes for blacks are earmarked for blacks?

Angry Rick, I think, is going after bigger game: He is employing the old “divide and conquer” tactic. Divide the middle class and poor by creating an underclass that is easily recognizable as different by the color of their skin. He wants whites to believe that blacks are taking money from their pockets, so they never realize that the interests of most blacks and whites coincide and that pro-wealthy tax, anti-union, outsourcing and spending policies have resulted in most Americans losing ground over the past three decades. He seems to want to incite a racial war which divides whites and blacks of the poor and middle class so that we ignore the class war that the wealthy have waged against the rest of us since the ascension of Ronald Reagan.