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“Like Pandas At The Zoo”: Such a Curiosity, Those White Working-Class Voters

The headline: “Millions of ordinary Americans support Donald Trump.” Immediately, I bristled.

Here we go again.

“Ordinary” Americans. We know what that’s supposed to mean. Plain people. Malleable people. Nothing-exceptional-about-them people. Every four years, these white working-class voters become objects of curiosity like pandas at the zoo.

These are the people I come from. Many of their children grew up to do the same kind of work their parents did — but for less money and benefits and with fewer job protections. Make that no job protection — unless they’re in a union, which is increasingly unlikely. As NPR reported last year, nearly a third of American workers belonged to a union 50 years ago. Today 1 in 10 are union members.

I wonder how many of my fellow liberals in the pundit class have ever stepped foot in a union hall. We all talk about the importance of organized labor, but how many of us union kids are left? It matters, I think, in telling this story. If you don’t know any working-class voters, then it’s much easier to portray them as angry, racist and xenophobic — lemmings slogging their way toward the cliff’s edge, dragging their expired lives behind them.

Earlier this week, I shared on Facebook a photo of an abandoned union hall tweeted by MSNBC reporter Tony Dokoupil. “It’s like touring the Titanic,” he wrote.

The room was dark and still, but folding chairs still circled a dozen or so round tabletops, as if the union’s annual Christmas party were just around the corner. My father was a utility worker, and the union hall was the one place where I could always count on seeing my parents relaxed and happy. They danced and laughed and let us kids eat as much dessert as we wanted. We were a boisterous collection of families celebrating our bigger family. Even as children, we understood why we were sticking with the union.

This Trump phenomenon has made me testy, I fear. “Why start off angry?” my mother would say if she were alive. “There’s already enough of that in the world.” She was your typical working-class mom, believing each of us had the power to change the world with kindness.

That headline I hated topped a Guardian story I appreciated by Thomas Frank, the author of “What’s the Matter With Kansas?” In the story, which is gaining traction on social media, Frank takes to task the many liberals who cast white working-class Trump voters as mere reflections of his darkest inclinations.

The problem, Frank writes, is that too few of us are actually asking these voters what is on their minds.

“When people talk to white, working-class Trump supporters, instead of simply imagining what they might say, they find that what most concerns these people is the economy and their place in it,” Frank writes. “I am referring to a study just published by Working America, a political-action auxiliary of the AFL-CIO, which interviewed some 1,600 white working-class voters in the suburbs of Cleveland and Pittsburgh in December and January.

“Support for Donald Trump, the group found, ran strong among these people, even among self-identified Democrats, but not because they are all pining for a racist in the White House. Their favorite aspect of Trump was his ‘attitude’, the blunt and forthright way he talks. As far as issues are concerned, ‘immigration’ placed third among the matters such voters care about, far behind their number one concern: ‘good jobs/the economy’.”

This is not to say that many of them are not also racist, sexist and xenophobic. Just as with any other demographic group, there is the worst among them, and we have seen too many of them at their ugliest.

But most of them know that their current appeal to presidential candidates and the gawking media is as fleeting as it is intense. They know what’s coming.

Win or lose, Trump will continue to enjoy a privileged, high-profile life, leaving behind the ordinary Americans who thought he meant it when he said, “I love you people.”

They will return to the same stack of bills and low-paying jobs and the stress that is unraveling their lives. They will keep their prayers simple: May the car last another season; may the baby’s cough not turn into a prescription for antibiotics; may love prevail.

Forgotten again by the media, the ordinary Americans will say goodbye to loved ones and bury their dead. They will bow their heads, maybe recite the prayers of their childhood. They will close their eyes tight and try not to think about how broken dreams have a way of sucking the life out of you long before you die.

 

By: Connie Schultz, Pulitzer Prize-Winning Columnist and Professional in Residence at Kent State University’s School of Journalism; The National Memo, March 10, 2016

March 12, 2016 Posted by | Donald Trump, Unions, White Working Class | , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Speaking To Our Anxieties”: The Pissed-Off Primary; Bernie Sanders Vs. Donald Trump

Apart from surprising popularity, weird hair, and zero chance at actually becoming president, Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders could hardly seem more different. One’s a socialist-hating billionaire and the other is a billionaire-hating socialist, right? Yet there they are, delivering boffo poll numbers long after everyone in the smart set had written them off as flashes in the pan.

Perhaps, like Austin Powers and Dr. Evil, they’re not so different after all. Indeed, the unanticipated appeal of Trump and Sanders to Republican and Democratic primary voters comes from the same psychological wellspring. They represent, in the words of Pittsburgh Tribune-Review columnist Salena Zito, “populism born of frustration.” They are angry candidates, bitching and moaning about the sorry shape of the United States and they are unabashedly protectionist. Each identifies immigrants and overseas competition as the root cause of most if not all of our problems. They both believe that if only we can wall off the country—literally in The Donald’s case and figuratively in Sanders’—we could “Make America Great Again!” (as Trump puts it in his campaign slogan).

Trump notoriously looks at Mexicans sneaking across the border and sees crime lords, drug dealers, and rapists, though he has magnamiously granted that “some, I assume, are good people.” Sanders, for his part, looks at the same hard cases and sees a reserve army of future wages slaves for the Koch brothers.

In an interview with Vox, Sanders was asked what he thought about increasing immigration in order to help poor foreigners increase their standard of living. “That’s a Koch brothers proposal,” he huffed, “That’s a right-wing proposal, which says essentially there is no United States.” So much for the internationalism and universal brotherhood on which socialism once prided itself.

Being anti-immigrant isn’t a new position for Sanders. As Politico noted earlier this year, Sanders’s loyalty to the AFL-CIO and other labor unions undergirds his consistent opposition to opening up borders and his contempt for free-trade agreements.

In regularly complaining about China, Sanders sounds just like…Donald Trump. Riffing in post-industrial Michigan on August 11, Trump noted China’s currency devaluation and announced, “Devalue means, suck the blood out of the United States!

For good measure, Trump also attacked Sanders as a weakling even as he saluted him as a brother in spirit. Commenting on how the Vermont senator lost the microphone to Black Lives Matter activist at a recent event in Seattle, Trump said, “I felt badly for him, but it showed that he was weak. You know what? He’s getting the biggest crowds, and we’re getting the biggest crowds. We’re the ones getting the crowds.”

Indeed, they are. Even after gracelessly implying Fox News moderator Megyn Kelly suffered from PMS during the first Republican candidates’ debate, Trump leads among GOP voters with 23 percent and Sanders has “surged” ahead of Hillary Clinton in New Hampshire polls.

Despite this, there’s no chance either will win his party’s nomination, much less become president. As Jack Shafer has noted, they are less candidates and more demagogues, who trade in “anger and resentment to attract supporters.” Such intensity can get you a hard-core band of supporters—just ask George Wallace or Ross Perot—but it also ultimately limits the broad-based support necessary to pull enough votes even in hotly contested three-way elections.

Which isn’t to say that Trump and Sanders haven’t already had a major impact. In the early stages of the campaign, they are tapping into immense voter dissatisfaction with not just the Republican and Democratic Party establishments but a 21st-century status quo that is in many ways genuinely depressing and disappointing. Trump and Sanders offer seemingly authentic responses to and truly simplistic solutions for what ails us. Close the borders! Fuck the Chinese!

What’s most worrisome is that other candidates who are more likely to actually succeed in 2016 will try to win over Trump’s or Sanders’s supporters by co-opting their Fortress America mentality. All of the GOP contenders except Jeb Bush have called for some type of impenetrable border with Mexico as a precondition for discussing any changes in immigration numbers. By and large, they have also signed on to mandatory use of E-Verify, a national database that would effectively turn work into a government-granted privilege while increasing the reach of the surveillance state.

Though she pushed for President Obama’s Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal while secretary of state, Hillary Clinton has flip-flopped and now is a critic of the deal. If Sanders continues to eat her lunch or even nibble around its edges through the end of the year, look for her to rethink her generally positive position on immigration too.

Trump’s and Sanders’s appeal isn’t hard to dope out.Twice as many of us—60 percent—think the country is headed in the wrong direction as think it’s going in the right direction. Trust in government has been skidding since the 1960s and the general loss of faith has accelerated since the 9/11 attacks. Trump and Sanders speak to our anxieties with a mix of shouty slogans, moral certitude, and magical policies on everything from health care to the minimum wage to ISIS.

In the current moment, it’s the billionaire and the socialist who feel our pain. But if their Republican and Democratic opponents adopt their xenophobia and protectionist ideas, they will have helped increase our pain long after they’ve inevitability sunk in the polls.

 

By: Nick Gillespie, The Daily Beast, August 13, 2015

August 14, 2015 Posted by | Bernie Sanders, Donald Trump, Immigration | , , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

“Usurping The Will Of The People”: The Dirty Tricks That Rushed Detroit Into Bankruptcy

Governor Rick Snyder (R-MI) was so desperate to make Detroit the largest American city to declare bankruptcy that his lawyers apparently used deception to make sure their filing was in before a judge could block it.

Ronald King, an attorney for Detroit’s General Retirement System and the Detroit Police and Fire Retirement System, said that he agreed to delay a hearing on an injunction that would have prevented the city from filing for bankruptcy for five minutes at the request of Snyder’s lawyers. In that five minutes, attorneys filed papers to put Detroit under bankruptcy protection, placing all legal action against the city in a temporary stay.

“It was my intention to grant your request,” Ingham County Judge Rosemarie Aquilina told the pensioners’ attorneys.

“There’s no denying this was a race to the courthouse this afternoon and yet another example of usurping the will of the people,” King said.

Pensions are protected under Michigan’s constitution, but this protection has not been tested in federal court. The city has about $18 billion in debt.

The Michigan Republican Party’s eager embrace of emergency manager powers has left about half of the state’s African-Americans without elected local representatives.

When voters repealed the emergency manager law in 2012 by 53 to 47 percent, the state’s Republican-dominated legislature quickly restored it, including a provision that made it impossible for votes to repeal the law again.

Part of the argument for these laws, which allow state officials to replace all elected city officials in municipalities deemed to be in “emergency” with an unelected bureaucrat, was that this process would prevent bankruptcy, which would be too disruptive.

When Snyder selected bankruptcy expert Kevin Orr to be Detroit’s emergency manager, however, it became clear what path the governor, who faces re-election in 2014, had in mind for the Motor City. Orr  – who has already hinted at his intention to cut pensions – will manage the bankruptcy, carrying out the governor’s wishes.

Unions who have seen Snyder and a lame-duck legislature rush in a law designed to weaken unions along with tax increases on pensioners are not hopeful about  the bankruptcy process.

“Every step of the way, the citizens of Detroit were told that they had to give up their right to democratic representation in order to avoid bankruptcy,” Metro Detroit AFL-CIO president Chris Michalakis and Michigan State AFL-CIO president Karla Swift said in a joint statement. “Now that this filing has come anyway, it is clear that either state control has failed or that Governor Snyder and his emergency manager appointee were not honest about their intentions in the first place.”

As the city’s debts are discharged, the question is who will be asked to pay: workers — who were promised a retirement and have already offered concessions — or investors — who knew they were taking a risk?

UPDATE: Judge Rosemarie Aquilina has ruled the Detroit bankruptcy filing violates Michigan’s state Constitution and must be withdrawn, noting that the there had been a “rush” to bankruptcy.

 

By: Jason Sattler, The National Memo, July 19, 2013

July 22, 2013 Posted by | Bankruptcy, Detroit | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Watchdog Or Lapdog”: Big Corporations And Wall Street Still Hiding CEO Pay Ratios

Corporations are obligated to disclose how much their CEOs earn compared to the average worker, thanks to Section 953(b) of the financial reforms of 2010 known as Dodd-Frank.

However, three years after that bill became law, some of the nation’s largest corporations are battling regulators to prevent such disclosure, according to Bloomberg.

“The fact that corporate executives wouldn’t want to display the number speaks volumes,” said Phil Angelides, who was the chairman of the Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission, which investigated the collapse that led to the Great Recession.

Angelides says that the attempt to block this provision is just one example of the “street-by-street, block-by-block fight” that corporations and Wall Street are waging against implementation of the modest reform package that passed only after it was weakened to garner Republican support in the Senate.

Groups including the American Insurance Association, Business Roundtable, National Investor Relations Institute, and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce have petitioned the Security and Exchange Commission (SEC), making the argument that “it is unclear how the pay ratio disclosure will be material for the reasonable investor when making investment decisions.” They claim that calculating such ratios is time consuming and almost impossible for multinational corporations.

Without obligated disclosure, there’s no clear way to assess CEO-to-worker ratio. In 2010, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported large-company CEO compensation was 319 times the median worker’s pay. Currently the average multiple of CEOs to a typical worker is 204 — up 20 percent since 2009, according to statistics collected from workers’ compensation estimates.

Bloomberg‘s Elliot Blair Smith and Phil Kuntz point to Ron Johnson, the recently ousted CEO of J.C. Penney, who earned a whopping 1,795 times what a typical $8.30-an-hour JCP salesperson took home.

The AFL-CIO has been attempting to counter the corporate lobbying with an effort to make the SEC put in place what is already law.

“The impact of high levels of CEO pay on employee morale is particularly important in today’s weak economy, when workers are being asked to do more for less,” suggests an online petition it is circulating to pass on to the government regulators.

“Estimates by academics and trade-union groups put the number at 20-to-1 in the 1950s, rising to 42-to-1 in 1980 and 120-to-1 by 2000,” Smith and Kuntz write.

Even if corporations are forced to disclose how much their top executive is paid, there are a variety of ways for them to cloak compensation.

Still the Campaign for America’s future calls enforcing Section 953(b) a crucial test for new SEC chair Mary Jo White to find out if she’ll be a “watchdog or a lap dog for Wall Street.”

 

By: Jason Sattler, The National Memo, May 2, 2013

May 3, 2013 Posted by | Corporations | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Democracy Loses”: Michigan Passes “Right To Work” Law With Support Of Koch Brothers

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.”

Outside the Capitol, thousands of union supporters protested and several were hit with pepper spray, including former congressman Mark Schauer.

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

 

 

December 12, 2012 Posted by | Politics | , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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