Archive for January 22nd, 2012
John Nichols on January 21, 2012 – 12:45pm ET
The American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees has entered the Republican presidential race, and the public-employee union could be a serious contender.
AFSCME, which has been a key player in the struggle to defend state and local workers against the anti-union juggernaut launched by newly elected Republican governors and legislators, has long been at odds with Newt Gingrich. When the former House Speaker decided that the fundamental challenge facing the American economic system was the persistence of child-labor laws, AFSCME pushed back with a muscular campaign that asked: “Really, Newt?”
Challenging the speaker’s proposal that school janitors be replaced with “poor children,” AFSCME launched a national campaign that got thousands of Americans to sign a statement that said:
The US outlawed child labor because it denied children the chance at a real education and allowed employers to exploit children—and because children were often injured or killed on the job. That’s why labor unions fought to pass laws outlawing child labor and protecting all workers.
And the people you want to fire and replace with kids? A lot of them are parents. That job puts a roof over kids’ heads, food on the table, and provides them with health care and the chance to get an education. That job is the only thing between a kid and poverty. Firing someone’s mom and hiring the kid for less money isn’t exactly the “process of rising.” It is, in fact, the process of falling. It is the process of exploiting and destroying working families.
The fact that you don’t get that makes you not only out of touch, but utterly unqualified to serve in any elected position, let alone President of the United States. Newt, “You’re Fired!”
But it turned out that Gingrich’s anti-labor zealotry did not make him an outlier in the Republican race. If anything, the man with whom the former Speaker is now locked in an intense struggle for the party’s presidential nomination, Mitt Romney, is just as bad. In fact, it was Romney, not Gingrich, who was the first candidate to air advertisements supporting union-bashing “right-to-work (for less)” laws and promising to go after “union stooges” on the National Labor Relations Board.
So, now, AFSCME has waded into the fight, with the purchase of almost $1 million in advertising time on Florida television stations. The advertising will air in the week running up to the January 31 Republican primary—where Romney and Gingrich are in the fight of their lives.
The advertising, which will make AFSCME a major player in the final week before what could be a definitional Republican primary, targets Romney. And appropriately so. While AFSCME’s got a gripe with Gingrich, the union has just as much reason to be angry with Romney. And the AFSCME ad explains why: Romney’s been engaged with corporations that have gotten in big trouble for Medicare fraud, an issue that is of particular importance to a union whose members provide frontline medical care and assistance to the elderly and the poor.
Citing a devastating Boston Globe exposé of Romney’s creepiest business activities, the ad (which features imagery so stark that it raises the question of whether Romney is one of the undead) asks: “What kind of a businessman is Mitt Romney? While Romney was a director of the Damon Corporation, the company was defrauding Medicare of millions.”
The AFSCME ad also links Romney with Florida Governor Rick Scott, an antilabor Republican who stands accused of engaging in similar business practices, and whose approval rating of 38 percent rivals those of fellow GOP zealots Scott Walker in Wisconsin and John Kasich in Ohio. Among Floridians who think the state’s economy has gotten worse over the past year, Scott is blamed for the circumstance by an almost two-to-one margin over Democratic President Barack Obama.
It is no secret that AFSCME favors Obama, the unions endorsed candidate in 2008 and again in 2012.
Nor is it any secret that AFSCME is looking to weaken Romney, who until the last week or so appeared to be the “inevitable” GOP nominee.
But the union has taken the lead in calling out both Gingrich and Romney. And union leaders tell me they are likely to continue to “play” in what is starting to look like a long Republican primary process.
Polling confirms that the overwhelming majority of Americans oppose Republican attacks on unions—especially the attacks on the collective bargaining rights of public employees. But it is not just Democrats and independents driving those numbers, According to a USA Today/Gallup Poll, which produced similar results to other recent surveys on the issue, 41 percent of Republicans opposed attacks on collective bargaining rights.
That’s more support than any Republican got in Iowa, or in New Hampshire.
So AFSCME has a constituency within the GOP: two of every five Republicans are on the side of the union on its most fundamental issue.
This raises a question. Since AFSCME has a clear constituency for its views within the Grand Old Party, since the union is making big ad buys in GOP primary states, and since it is doing so openly (not with front groups like the Koch brothers–funded Americans for Prosperity) and transparently (not using the Super PAC deceptions employed by Romney, Gingrich and the other contenders), maybe this is the alternative that Republicans—who polling suggests are deeply dissatisfied with their options—need at this point.
Maybe its time to pass over Newt, Mitt, Ron, Rick and whatever hangers-on may remain and find the open space at the bottom of the ballot. Maybe it’s time to write in AFSCME.
Yes, yes, we are all aware that election laws are inflexible; just ask Gingrich about the trouble he’s having getting write-in votes counted in Virginia.
And yes, yes, even if the election laws were more flexible, there might still be some grumbling about the little detail that AFSCME is not, officially, a person. Rather, it is a union of 1.4 million persons.
But this technicality ought not be overblown. Romney says that ”corporations are people.” If we take him at his word, then surely unions are people too.
So there can’t be much objection to counting votes for the union that maintains a position on union issues that attracts more support from Republicans than Mitt Romney or Newt Gingrich is getting: AFSCME.
© 2012, agentleman.
Paterno was great man, but flawed
There are no easy answers in contemplating and grappling with death, and there certainly are no easy answers in doing the same with Joe Paterno’s legacy after he passed away Sunday at age 85 following a battle with lung cancer.
The former Penn State football coach turned the Nittany Lions into a football force. He championed education and ethics as integral parts of a football program rather than turning those things into smoke screens for its shadier aspects. He touched people, reached them with his courtesy and grace — he embodied, to those in Happy Valley and those who knew him, all the power of good you can channel from athletics, success and fame.
And those qualities almost certainly empowered and allowed his former assistant Jerry Sandusky to use those same things —– to use JoePa’s brand and reputation itself and the power of fame and sports and success — to set up a world in which Sandusky allegedly sexually abused numerous children in ways so horrific they remain difficult to stomach or process without flashes of anger and horror.
Both things are true.
Joe Paterno was a great man.
And Joe Paterno failed at the most important thing ever entrusted to him — the knowledge that should have made it possible to stop Sandusky before someone else finally did.
Sandusky’s alleged actions reached out and destroyed not just the victims but Paterno, too. It would be easy for those angry, as I am angry, at what allegedly happened to those children to say: “Good. Paterno deserved it.”
But Joe Paterno did not deserve this. To be fired? Yes. To be questioned? Certainly. To be expected to answer for his apparent moral failing and horrendous error in judgment? No doubt.
But what happened Sunday, I believe truly, is that a good man who made an egregious mistake died of a broken heart. Cancer is a terrible disease, and it, like life and death and the morality tales that make up much of our time here, is a fickle thing all too difficult to understand.
The great man’s death was one of the last transgressions that Jerry Sandusky had a hand in.
I know Paterno was diagnosed with lung cancer right after he was fired, and that this disease does not care who you are, what you do for a living or what you have or haven’t done with your life.
I also know cancer is a disease that, at times, has been fought as much with the mind as with modern medicine. And I know and believe, from my own experiences and that of others, that human beings who have something to live for can fight past what later turned out to be certain death, and that men who have nothing left to live for often, then, do not.
It is also true that Paterno’s cancer was thought treatable, and that it took a turn for the worse that cost him his life. It is true that two months after being fired over the Sandusky scandal, Joe Paterno is dead.
You see, Joe Paterno lived for football. He loved it. He loved his university. He loved his players and those fans and everything he committed his life to make Penn State stand for. And certainly, in his apparent moral failing at the end, and in Sandusky’s ultimate betrayal, his heart was broken.
Life, death and legacy are complicated things, but they are also important enough that they should demand our candor rather than our knee-jerk need to concede hard truths.
Joe Paterno was a great man.
Joe Paterno, at the end and during a key moment for so many, was a moral weakling who ceded the safety of our most vulnerable and paid dearly for it.
Joe Paterno died of a broken heart — of a struggle and sadness and perhaps a guilt that quite literally sapped the life out of him.
It is a complicated world we inhabit, and few famous men in sports have encapsulated just how complicated it is more than JoePa.
Paterno’s legacy will, and should be, stained forever by Sandusky. And yet his actions and history before that epic failure are not rendered meaningless. They just remind us that as human beings we are capable of great good and great failure, we must always be on guard against ourselves and our successes — and, most important, we must try desperately to hold on to a sense of perspective no matter how celebrated, content or comfortable we become.
Joe Paterno did much, much good. And Joe Paterno allowed something awful to continue, something that deserves to be described as real evil — and some of the blame for that evil does and should fall to him.
But on this day, despite the very real flaws that will shape how we remember him, I choose to remember this: Joe Paterno, in the end, was a good man who, like all of us, was also all too human.
You can follow Bill Reiter on Twitter or email him at email@example.com.
© 2012, agentleman.
1: You’re irate over the president taking so many vacation days on the taxpayer’s dime (61 thus far), but you thought George W. Bush earned every minute of his leisure time (196 days at the same point in his presidency).
2: You’re happy with your 40 hour work week, paid vacations and company-provided healthcare, but you’re strongly anti-union, because those commies haven’t done anything for you lately.
3: You strongly support the First Amendment and its guarantee of religious freedom to all, but you don’t think Muslims have a right to build an Islamic Community Center in Manhattan.
4: You believe Ronald Reagan was a devout Christian, even though he hated going to church, but any president who spends twenty years going to the same Trinity United Church in Chicago must be a Muslim.
5: You believe when a Republican governor creates a healthcare package with an individual mandate for everyone in his state, that’s a good idea. But when a Democratic president does it, suddenly it’s unconstitutional.
6: You’re so enthused about demonstrating your Second Amendment rights, you can think of no finer place to brandish your pistol in public than at a presidential rally.
7: You believe Bill Clinton was responsible for Osama bin Laden’s escape ten years ago, but thankfully George W. Bush caught up with him and killed him in Pakistan.
8: You believe in putting American jobs first, except when president Obama rescued 1.5 million GM and Chrysler autoworkers, because that was socialism.
9: It angers you that you can’t communicate with the Mexican busboy at your local Olive Garden, but when you took a vacation to San Francisco’s Chinatown, you thought it’s quaint that so many Chinese-Americans are holding fast to their traditional language. Because that’s America!
10: You deny that the lunatic who tried to murder Gaby Giffords was a conservative, even though he targeted a Jewish, pro-choice, pro gay rights, Democratic Congresswoman.
11: You thought it was perfectly normal that every president in history had an untethered right to raise the debt ceiling when warranted, but when Obama asked the GOP held congress to do it, you thought it only natural that it be tied to cutting Social Security and Medicare.
12: When the new 112th Congress was sworn in, you swooned as they promised to focus on “Jobs, jobs, jobs.” But when they pivoted, and went after NPR, Planned Parenthood and gay rights, you cheered.
13: You accuse president Obama of raising your taxes to the highest point ever, even though they’re lower today than at any time since 1950.
14: You believe the wealthiest Americans are “job creators,” and they are — but it doesn’t bother you that all the workers in those positions are in India, China and Malaysia, and they’re doing the jobs that our fathers once did.
15: You believe gays are anti-American, because their lifestyle is a threat to the children… unless they’re married to Tea Party-backed presidential candidates from Minnesota.
16: You strongly defend individual freedom, but that freedom doesn’t include a woman’s right to decide her own healthcare needs.
17: You believe corporations are people too, and are deserving of the same rights as the rest of us. Just not the same obligations to pay personal income tax free of corporate loopholes, or penalties for massive criminal behavior and tax evasion. In these matters, corporations are deserving of special rights.
18: And since corporations are now people too, you must believe in their right to a driver’s license, the right to marry, to adopt children, etc. These rights shall not be denied to Exxon, Halliburton and BP (but still immune from the right of the People to try, convict and sentence to death any corporation that conspires to commit a felony… because at that point, they’re suddenly not people again.)
19: You still believe Climate Change is a myth, and the recent record highs, lows, floods and droughts around the world coinciding with climate scientist’s predictions are all an amazing coincidence. Oh, and Al Gore is FAT!
20: You believe when George W. Bush took the national debt from $5 trillion to $11 trillion, it was necessary for him to do so to keep America safe. But when Barack Obama added to it by trying to rescue the country from a second Great Depression, he was deliberately trying to destroy America!
21: You believe America is a God fearing country, and that the Almighty protects those who believe just as you do. But it’s never crossed your mind that the majority of tornados, hurricanes and floods all occur in the Bible Belt.
22: You believe that no matter who’s in the White House, the office, if not the man himself is deserving of your respect. The only exceptions to this rule, are if his middle name sounds Muslim, and if he’s not at least as white as that black guy who works down in the mailroom at the office.
© 2012, agentleman.