Amid all the suffocating claptrap celebrating Margaret Thatcher in the media, only the British themselves seem able to provide a refreshing hit of brisk reality. Over here, she is the paragon of principle known as the “Iron Lady,” devoted to freedom, democracy, and traditional values who bolstered the West against encroaching darkness. Over there, she is seen clearly as a class warrior, whose chief accomplishments involved busting unions and breaking the post-war social contract.
Promoting the economic doctrines of the far right – whose eager acolytes in the Tea Party today revere her – Thatcher helped to hasten the decline of the venerable English village whose values she claimed to represent. “There is no better course for understanding free-market economics than life in a corner shop,” she once wrote, recalling her upbringing in the little grocery store that her father operated in the town of Grantham. But as a left-leaning British writer observed acidly, her “free-market” policies “led to the domination of small-town life by supermarkets and other powerful corporations.”
In the hometown she left behind, factories were shuttered and coal mines closed, owing to her policies – which may be why not so long ago, the vast majority of the town’s residents expressed opposition to erecting a bronze statue of her.
Indeed, much as she emphasized her humble roots – a theme echoed constantly in the American media – the less romantic fact is that Thatcher’s path to 10 Downing Street was paved with the fortune of her husband Denis, a millionaire businessman. It was not an image that matched her self-portrait as a hardworking grocer’s daughter, but it turned out to be the template for the policies she pursued as prime minister – cracking down hard on unruly workers; cutting aid to the poor, even milk for children; and privatizing public services for better or worse, but always to the benefit of the financial class.
At the same time that she and her ideological companion Ronald Reagan were smashing labor on both sides of the Atlantic, with lasting consequences for equality and democracy, they voiced support for workers in Eastern Europe, where unions rose up against Stalinism and Soviet domination. Workers’ rights were to be defended in the East, and abrogated in the West.
Three decades later, her ideological heirs continue to prosecute class warfare against public and private sector workers, seeking to deprive them of the same rights that she and Reagan supposedly held sacrosanct in communist Poland. Seeking to complete the Thatcherite crusade against organized labor, America’s Tea Party governors are now trying to undermine and virtually abolish the right to unionize in their states.
The justification for this sustained assault on working families, then and now, was to prevent inflation and promote economic growth. Yet the result of Thatcher’s policies was unemployment that hovered around 10 percent during most of her rule, and inflation that remained around 5 percent. Hardly a roaring success, even when measured against the current weak recovery.
In a statement released by the White House, President Obama said that her death meant the loss of “one of the world’s great champions of freedom and liberty” – a peculiar tribute from the first black U.S. president, considering that Thatcher, like Reagan, defended the apartheid regime in South Africa from its Western critics.
She opposed the release from prison of Nelson Mandela, the leader of the African National Congress who later became South Africa’s first democratically elected president, referring to him as a “terrorist.” In 1984, she reversed longstanding British foreign policy by hosting a state visit by white South African president P.W. Botha. And although she defeated Argentina’s military junta in the Falklands war, Thatcher befriended the Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet – even inviting him to her home in England when he was under investigation for human rights atrocities.
Here in America, at least, the pap mythology surrounding Thatcherism – its putative successes and purity of purpose – contrasts with the reality of a cruel and contradictory ideology whose malignant impact lives on without its namesake.
By: Joe Conason, The National Memo, April 9, 2013
From Rick Perry to Rick Santorum, many Republican sparklies say they reject the science of evolution, favoring instead the “science” of the Bible, including some of its interpreters who claim the Earth is not 4.5 billion years old, but has been around only about 6,000 years. Georgia Rep. Paul Broun (who ironically serves on the House Science Committee) even calls evolution “lies straight from the pit of hell.”
But while they dis Charles Darwin and the evidence of evolutionary progression, the GOP as a whole seems firmly committed to “devolution” as its own operating principle. Webster’s Dictionary explains that to devolve is to “degenerate through a gradual change” — synonyms include to crumble, decline, regress, sink … worsen.
The party’s leaders are presently in an intramural tussle over how they should cope with last year’s electoral drubbing they took from women, Latinos and young voters. Tea Party Republicans argue for going deeper into the right-wing weeds by promoting a new McCarthyism focused on the bugaboo of a United Nations takeover of America. Others insist the party simply has a packaging problem, so they’re seeking softer ways to say “kill Medicare” and studying how to say “cut taxes for the rich” in Spanish.
But now here’s some unexpected news!
It comes from what purports to be an official document of the National Republican Party. And — wow! — the policy positions it contains show that top thinkers and strategists really are serious about coming to their senses and rejecting the plutocratic extremism and far-right wackiness that has stained their recent presidential, congressional and gubernatorial campaigns.
Right at the top, this 18-page manifesto proclaims that, “Our government was created by the people for all the people, and it must serve no less a purpose.” ALL the people!
Forget last year’s ridiculous pontifications by Mitt Romney and others dividing America into virtuous “creators” (like themselves and their billionaire backers) and worthless “moochers” (like you and me) — this document abounds with commitments to the common good. “America does not prosper,” it proudly proclaims on page three, “unless all Americans prosper.” Shazam — that’s downright democratic!
And then there’s this: “Government must have a heart as well as a head.” And this: We must conserve and safeguard “our natural resources for the greatest good of all, now and in the future.” And this: “The purpose of the Republican Party is to (build) a dynamic prosperity in which every citizen fairly shares.”
And how’s this for a complete turnaround: “Labor is the United States. The men and women, who with their minds, their hearts and hands, create the wealth that is shared in this country — they are America.” Holy Koch brothers, share the wealth?
Yes, and how about this: “The protection of the right of workers to organize into unions and to bargain collectively is the firm and permanent policy of the (Republican Party).” Eat your heart out Scott Walker, Rick Snyder, John Kasich and you other labor-bashing GOP governors!
The document also offers unequivocal support for (of all things) the United Nations, as well as for the U.S. Postal Service and such progressive-minded policies as equal rights for women, expanding our national parks, “vigorous enforcement of anti-trust laws” and raising the minimum wage. New enlightenment in the Grand Old Party. Hallelujah!
Can all this be true? Yes — except it’s not new. This document is the Republican Party platform … of 1956. Fifty-seven years ago, under the presidency of Dwight Eisenhower, Republicans not only said sensible things like that, they put them in their national party platform as pledges to the American people. How far they’ve devolved, huh?
Of course, the last thing Republican leaders want is advice from someone like me, but I’m happy to give it anyway, free of charge. Here it is: If you ever hope to evolve politically, ponder going back to the future. You’re welcome.
By: Jim Hightower, The National Memo, March 6, 2013
“Overpaid And Underperforming”: Gov. Scott Walker Trusts Teachers With Guns, But Not With Collective Bargaining
Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker, who became nationally known for severely limiting the union rights of teachers and other public employees, has indicated support for arming those same school officials who apparently cannot be trusted to collectively bargain.
As Americans search for answers and policy solutions in the wake of the tragic school shooting in Newtown, Connecticut, Gov. Walker has apparently decided that the problem is not too many guns — it is that there are not enough.
Giving guns to teachers should be “part of the discussion,” he said on December 19. Walker refused to endorse an assault weapons ban or other limits on the types of guns or ammunition that can be sold.
Teachers Need Guns, Not Unions?
Walker’s infamous Act 10 legislation drastically curtailed the collective bargaining rights of most public employees in the state, prompting months of historic protests and a recall effort. The governor justified the harsh legislation — which he never mentioned during the campaign that installed him in office — largely by demonizing unionized teachers as overpaid and underperforming.
The six teachers killed in the Newtown massacre, all members of an American Federation of Teachers (AFT) union chapter, have been widely praised for their heroism, with many shot while trying to shield their students.
“This has kind of pulled the curtain away to show who teachers really are,” AFT President Randi Weingarten told In These Times’ Mike Elk. “Teachers’ instinct is to serve, to protect and to love. And you saw that in full view in Newtown this week.”
For Weingarten, the way to prevent additional mass shootings is not through arming teachers. Unions have historically not taken a position on gun issues, but in the wake of the Newtown massacre, AFT is now taking up support for gun control.
“Teachers lost their lives protecting their kids, lunging at a gunman with an assault weapon. We should be getting guns out of society,” she said.
Wisconsin Site of Two Mass Shootings in 2012, Walker Given NRA Award
Two of the last six mass shootings in the United States have occurred in Wisconsin.
On August 5, a white supremacist killed six people and wounded four others at a Sikh Temple in Oak Creek, then killed himself during a shootout with police.
On October 21, a man entered a day spa in Brookfield and murdered three women, one of whom was his wife, and wounded four others before taking his own life. The killer had a domestic violence restraining order against him, and despite Wisconsin law prohibiting domestic abusers from purchasing guns, he avoided a background check by purchasing the gun from a private dealer.
But the state’s Republican Attorney General does not think Wisconsin has a gun problem, and Walker and the Republican-controlled state legislature have marched lockstep with the gun manufacturer’s lobby.
In 2011, Walker signed into law a version of the Florida-style “Stand Your Ground” bill implicated in the Trayvon Martin tragedy as well as a new concealed-carry law that allows the public to carry guns inside the State Capitol, even while restrictive access rules prohibit cameras or signs. Legislators are now allowed to bring guns onto the Assembly and Senate floors.
In April, the National Rifle Association (NRA) gave Walker the Harlon B. Carter Legislative Achievement Award, honoring him for passing the “Stand Your Ground” and concealed carry laws. As the Center for Media and Democracy has reported, both laws echo American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) “model” legislation, and ALEC has been one of the key avenues by which the NRA has exerted its influence over state law and policy.
ALEC is also an organization through which corporate interests have pushed anti-union legislation, most recently in Michigan, where legislators copied the ALEC Right to Work Act almost word-for-word.
But with the latest school shooting prompting unions like AFT to put their weight behind gun control, ALEC now is not the only place where union rights and gun issues intersect.
And unions will not be the only ones to note the absurdity of responding to gun violence with more guns, particularly by putting them in the hands of the same teachers who some public officials believe cannot be allowed to collectively bargain.
By: Brendan Fischer, Center for Media and Democracy, December 21, 2012
Without one hearing or any public comment in the midst of a lame-duck session after an election where Republicans lost five seats in the State House and their presidential candidate lost the state by 9.5 percent, Republicans in both Michigan’s House and Senate have passed so-called ‘right to work’ legislation.
Republican governor Rick Snyder, who campaigned as a moderate and continually said that ‘right to work’ was not on his agenda now, says he will sign the legislation.
Thus Michigan will become the 24th state in the union to pass legislation that bars unions from automatically collecting dues from all employees covered under a collective bargaining agreement. This highly symbolic move to strike at the heart of unions in the state where unionized auto workers helped create the middle class would not be possible without the support of multi-billionaires, specifically the Koch brothers and Rich DeVos, founder of Amway.
The bill that Snyder will sign is nearly identical to model legislation written by Koch-funded group American Legislative Exchange Council. Another Koch-funded group, Americans for Prosperity, has been advocating for the legislation, reportedly pressuring lawmakers including Senate Majority Leader Randy Richardville, who had previously refused to support the anti-union measure. For the Kochs, the intent of the bill is to clearly to diminish the power of the group that fuels the progressive movement–organized labor.
A group calling itself “Freedom To Work” has deluged Michigan’s TV airwaves in support of the legislation, arguing that the bill would both create jobs and “protect collective bargaining.”
According to state rep. Brandon Dillon, Freedom To Work is funded by Amway’s DeVos, a Michigan resident who ran for governor against Jennifer Granholm in 2006 and lost.
Longtime Michigan political advisor Dana Houle insists that this bill isn’t about making Michigan more competitive, as Governor Snyder suggests. It’s a about enacting a vast scope of right-wing legislation.
“Don’t anyone think that passing ‘right to work’ in Michigan is about economics, about jobs, about business,” Houle said. “It’s about wiping out the political and electoral power of unions so they can’t stand in the way of Dick DeVos electing apparatchiks who will enact his radical religious-right and anti-public schools agenda.”
Unions are considering their options to undo the bills, which were designed so they cannot be overturned by a popular vote.
For those still wondering how ‘right to work’ or ‘right to work for less’ or ‘freedom to freeload’ could happen in a union stronghold like Michigan, take a look at this helpful breakdown of where the AFL-CIO thought the votes would come from. It turns out they were right.
Photo: AP Photo/Carlos Osorio; Chart: AFL-CIO
By: Jason Sattler, The National Memo, December 11, 2012
The American economy is still, by most measures, deeply depressed. But corporate profits are at a record high. How is that possible? It’s simple: profits have surged as a share of national income, while wages and other labor compensation are down. The pie isn’t growing the way it should — but capital is doing fine by grabbing an ever-larger slice, at labor’s expense.
Wait — are we really back to talking about capital versus labor? Isn’t that an old-fashioned, almost Marxist sort of discussion, out of date in our modern information economy? Well, that’s what many people thought; for the past generation discussions of inequality have focused overwhelmingly not on capital versus labor but on distributional issues between workers, either on the gap between more- and less-educated workers or on the soaring incomes of a handful of superstars in finance and other fields. But that may be yesterday’s story.
More specifically, while it’s true that the finance guys are still making out like bandits — in part because, as we now know, some of them actually are bandits — the wage gap between workers with a college education and those without, which grew a lot in the 1980s and early 1990s, hasn’t changed much since then. Indeed, recent college graduates had stagnant incomes even before the financial crisis struck. Increasingly, profits have been rising at the expense of workers in general, including workers with the skills that were supposed to lead to success in today’s economy.
Why is this happening? As best as I can tell, there are two plausible explanations, both of which could be true to some extent. One is that technology has taken a turn that places labor at a disadvantage; the other is that we’re looking at the effects of a sharp increase in monopoly power. Think of these two stories as emphasizing robots on one side, robber barons on the other.
About the robots: there’s no question that in some high-profile industries, technology is displacing workers of all, or almost all, kinds. For example, one of the reasons some high-technology manufacturing has lately been moving back to the United States is that these days the most valuable piece of a computer, the motherboard, is basically made by robots, so cheap Asian labor is no longer a reason to produce them abroad.
In a recent book, “Race Against the Machine,” M.I.T.’s Erik Brynjolfsson and Andrew McAfee argue that similar stories are playing out in many fields, including services like translation and legal research. What’s striking about their examples is that many of the jobs being displaced are high-skill and high-wage; the downside of technology isn’t limited to menial workers.
Still, can innovation and progress really hurt large numbers of workers, maybe even workers in general? I often encounter assertions that this can’t happen. But the truth is that it can, and serious economists have been aware of this possibility for almost two centuries. The early-19th-century economist David Ricardo is best known for the theory of comparative advantage, which makes the case for free trade; but the same 1817 book in which he presented that theory also included a chapter on how the new, capital-intensive technologies of the Industrial Revolution could actually make workers worse off, at least for a while — which modern scholarship suggests may indeed have happened for several decades.
What about robber barons? We don’t talk much about monopoly power these days; antitrust enforcement largely collapsed during the Reagan years and has never really recovered. Yet Barry Lynn and Phillip Longman of the New America Foundation argue, persuasively in my view, that increasing business concentration could be an important factor in stagnating demand for labor, as corporations use their growing monopoly power to raise prices without passing the gains on to their employees.
I don’t know how much of the devaluation of labor either technology or monopoly explains, in part because there has been so little discussion of what’s going on. I think it’s fair to say that the shift of income from labor to capital has not yet made it into our national discourse.
Yet that shift is happening — and it has major implications. For example, there is a big, lavishly financed push to reduce corporate tax rates; is this really what we want to be doing at a time when profits are surging at workers’ expense? Or what about the push to reduce or eliminate inheritance taxes; if we’re moving back to a world in which financial capital, not skill or education, determines income, do we really want to make it even easier to inherit wealth?
As I said, this is a discussion that has barely begun — but it’s time to get started, before the robots and the robber barons turn our society into something unrecognizable.
By: Paul Krugman, Op-Ed Columnist, The New York Times, December 9, 2012