Friday, September 26, 2014

Editorial: Rediscover Roosevelts

Ken Burns produced another excellent documentary series for PBS with his seven-part biography of the Roosevelt family which helped mold the government of the modern United States in the first half of the 20th century.

The series, "The Roosevelts: An Intimate History", was not without its flaws — the series focused more on the personal lives of Teddy, Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt (as the title implies), rather than the political environment they were operating in. I would have liked to see more on Teddy Roosevelt’s trust-busting efforts — and perhaps a nod to the Populist movement’s promotion of that issue in the 1890s — and organized labor’s role in helping to elect Franklin D. Roosevelt and support his New Deal, particularly passage of the National Labor Relations Act, which helped labor finally organize industries and provide the foundation for the middle class. The series also gave short shrift to the Four Freedoms (freedom of speech and worship, freedom from want and fear) that FDR articulated in his 1941 as the foundation of our democracy, and the Economic Bill of Rights that FDR proposed in his 1944.

“These were social-democratic initiatives that, as polls showed, an overwhelming majority of Americans wanted to carry out at war’s end, but that were determinedly blocked by conservatives, southern reactionaries, and corporate bosses,” Harvey J. Kaye, professor of Democracy and Justice Studies at the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay, wrote at (9/14).

“After nearly 40 years of concerted class war from above against the memory and legacy of the progressive Age of Roosevelt, we sorely need a history that would serve to remind us how, from the ’30s through the ’60s, Americans carried out an historic revolution that created the first-ever Middle Class nation and help us remember that we might do the same,” Kaye said.

We didn’t quite get that from the Burns series but, to be fair, he packed a lot into 14 hours, as he brought the Roosevelts back to life and shined a light on Eleanor’s role in advancing progressive initiatives at the White House — and also noted their faults, such as Teddy’s imperialism and both presidents’ failure to confront racism.

However, it was good to be reminded that a president not only could get elected, but could get re-elected while taking on the “economic royalists” and calling for things such as a right of workers to organize, small businesses to trade in a market free from unfair competition and domination by monopolies; the right to employment at a living wage that would provide food, clothing and recreation for families; the right to affordable housing, medical care, social security and a good education; and farmers’ rights to a fair income.

President Obama is no Roosevelt, though he led the nation through the most severe economic recession since the Great Depression. We give him more credit than many on the Left allow for getting the Affordable Care Act passed, even with its shortcomings. But Obama has been more inclined to seek compromise than to lead.

Lately, President Obama has disappointed immigration-reform advocates with his decision to delay executive action to provide relief for undocumented immigrants, at least until after the midterm election. But since Republican House Speaker John Boehner has refused to let the House act on the bipartisan immigration reform bill that was passed by the Senate, executive orders may be the only way we’ll see reform as long as the House leadership is intimidated by right-wing Teabaggers.

We recently listened to Ray Marshall, former secretary of labor under Jimmy Carter, talk about immigration. Marshall has been working on labor and immigration policy for more than 50 years, including his tenure on the faculty at the University of Texas at Austin, teaching economics and public affairs. Immigration reform protects all workers, he noted, since employers can and do take advantage of undocumented workers to keep wages low. Real wages for American workers, adjusted for inflation, are lower now than they were in 1970. “You can’t sustain a democracy with declining real wages very long,” he said.

“We need immigrants, but we need value-added immigration,” he said. “If immigrant workers complement your workers, it’s good. If they compete with native workers, they depress wages and displace them.”

He added, “You need the immigrants’ help to enforce the law.” That means that the Department of Labor should enforce the wage and hour law, and undocumented immigrants who complain to the Department of Labor should have protected status while their complaints are processed.

A majority of people support immigration reform, and that includes a majority of Republicans, he said, but the bill is hung up mainly over what happens to the 11.5 million undocumented aliens. A poll conducted for the Brookings Institute in June found 62% of all respondents believe we should legalize undocumented aliens and only 19% said we should deport them. Among the Tea Party, 37% said we should legalize them while 37% would identify and deport all immigrants who are in the US illegally. But 53% of all voters said they would be less likely to vote for a candidate who opposes immigration reform that includes a path to citizenship.

Boehner knows if he brings it to the floor it will pass, and the President will sign it. But he won’t do it because the Tea Party would rebel.

“President Obama tried deporting 400,000 people but you never can satisfy them (Republicans),” Marshall said. “They say ‘There’s still 11.5 million’.”

Marshall recommended that the President do everything he can by executive order. “The President could order ICE to go after criminals instead of otherwise law-abiding immigrants,” he said.

He also noted that high-tech companies have suppressed wages by importing workers with H1B visas. “There’s no evidence of a genuine shortage of college-educated workers in the United States, nor is there a shortage of Science, Technology, Engineering and Math graduates, but the President has been hoodwinked by employers in high-tech industry into believing there is a shortage. But there is a high demand for indentured workers who are willing to work for lower wages,” since H1B visa workers can’t quit their job or they’ll be deported. “They prefer foreign workers for the job because they can’t complain.”

He proposes a foreign workers adjustment commission, with somebody in charge of immigration policy, preferably in the Department of Labor, since Homeland Security, which includes ICE, is mainly interested in enforcing laws.

He added, “We can make labor rights part of international trade agreements, but the World Trade Organization [which enforces the agreements] is run by people who want low wage standards.”

Chinese leaders understand better than Americans do the need for industrial strategy. In a meeting with them, he said, “They told me ‘We’re not after your low-wage jobs. We’re after your high-tech jobs.’” And they got a bunch of them.

The Humphrey-Hawkins Full Employment Act, passed in 1978, nominally requires the government and the Federal Reserve to pursue full employment, but many government economists never believed in full employment, and then-Fed Chairman Paul Volcker believed in massive unemployment, Marshall said.

The New Deal tested the power of full employment, and it saved the nation from the Great Depression and helped the Allies win World War II, the Navy vet noted. Two of the three US destroyers at the Battle of Midway were built by the WPA.

Full employment empowers workers, because it gives them bargaining power — which is why business leaders don’t like it.

Marshall also ridiculed the conservatives who push for more austerity in government spending, which he compared to a physician treating a sickness by bleeding the patient. “We tried Milton Friedman’s way and we got the Great Recession. If we hadn’t interceded it would have been another Great Depression.”

In conclusion, we hope President Obama discovers his inner Roosevelt — whichever Roosevelt is appropriate for the task. — JMC

From The Progressive Populist, October 15, 2014
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Selections from the October 15, 2014 issue

COVER/Heather Digby Parton
Religious right’s warped icon: Mike Huckabee

Rediscover the Roosevelts


Sen. Sanders checks political current in Iowa

RURAL ROUTES/Margot McMillen
Making a difference where you can

Corporate ‘news’ largely ignores climate march;
Carbon tax gains backing;
GOP Senate could cripple Obama;
Obama fights tax 'inversions' with rules;
Obamacare critics lose another talking point;
No help for uninsured in 23 Republican states;
Republican women support pay inequity;
Sen. McCain voters to preserve 'worst decision ever';
Congress doesn't feel student debt pain;
Benghazi PAC seeks to mine attacks for political gains;
Secret GOP records reveal corporate donors;
Quarter of Americans open to secession

Yes, ACA has a tax — and hooray for that

Dems should try organization

The justice system fails (and could help) elders

To save the climate, we need a ban on fracking

Housing trouble: Supply, demand, wage gap

HEALTH CARE/Joan Retsinas
The opioid challenge

Taking care of big government

What do Republicans want?

In search of a 21st century foreign policy

Economic recovery should help workers

Saying no to war: Is it possible anymore?

How to reclaim the American Dream

Empowering parents?

The rise and fall of online civilization

New Year’s Eve; Lenin The Novel; Choice of Evil

Time for GOP to deal with Gohmert

and more ...

Holder may have done some good things, but he also betrayed his country by not prosecuting torturers

By Marc Jampole

It’s fun to see the differences between the mainstream media’s coverage of Eric Holder’s resignation as U.S. Attorney General and that of the right-wing media. The mainstream is praising Holder, in particular for his department’s actions to protect voting rights, decision not to defend the federal law against same-sex marriage, supporting sentencing reform and going after corporate criminals. The right-wing media is glad to see him go, mostly for the same reasons.  I write “fun” and not “illuminating,” because we learn nothing new from how the various media are analyzing Holder’s impact. Most people could have predicted that the New York Times would basically like Holder, while the Wall Street Journal would hate him.

But in the battle to define Holder’s legacy, virtually all the news media are leaving out the disgraceful decision that Holder and his boss, President Barack Obama, made early in their first term: not to pursue criminal cases against the traitors who betrayed American ideals and broke U.S. laws by creating a global gulag of torture chambers. Obama, Holder and their coterie of advisors declared that the past was the past and that it was better for the country to move on.  True, the torture stopped (as far as we know), but those like Dick Cheney, John Yoo, Jay Bybee and David Addington were let off the hook with not even a slap on the wrist. 

Remember what these men ordered others to do: Pushed prisoners’ heads underwater until they were about to drown, pulled them up under and then plunged the heads into water again, multiple times. Made prisoners stand with their hands tied in an uncomfortable position for days on end.  Stripped and blindfolded prisoners. Set vicious dogs on them. Pushed lit cigarettes into their ears. Made them roll over excrement. Humiliated them by making them masturbate then taking photos of it.

Some of these prisoners were hard-boiled terrorists, but others were merely fellow travelers or completely innocent.  None of them received the due process that should be the right of anyone who goes through the U.S. judicial system, citizen or not. Of course, they never had the opportunity to go through the system, but instead were illegally dumped into torture chambers.

What did the torturers and everyone else learn from Holder and Obama’s refusal to prosecute the creators and implementers of the torture policy: That it’s okay to break whatever law and moral code that you like in the United States—as long as you are in power.

Whatever Holder’s legacy, refusing to prosecute the torturers is a blood-red stain on it that can never be expunged. Like Gerald Ford pardoning his former boss, Richard Nixon, it attempts to put a lid on a stinking cesspool which instead should have been drained and cleaned.