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More Inaugural Sermons From Anti-Gay Preachers

[ 120 ] January 10, 2013 |

Why, Obama, why?

The Presidential Inauguration Committee announced Tuesday that the President Obama has selected Pastor Louie Giglio of the Georgia-based Passion City Church to deliver the benediction for his second inauguration. In a mid-1990s sermon identified as Giglio’s, available online on a Christian training website, he preached rabidly anti-LGBT views. The 54-minute sermon, entitled “In Search of a Standard – Christian Response to Homosexuality,” advocates for dangerous “ex-gay” therapy for gay and lesbian people, references a biblical passage often interpreted to require gay people be executed, and impels Christians to “firmly respond to the aggressive agenda” and prevent the “homosexual lifestyle” from becoming accepted in society. Below are some of the most disturbing views in the sermon.

First, it’d be nice to have one of these sermons be by a non-Christian. Everyone who would be outraged by that didn’t vote for Obama anyway. Second, is it really that hard to find a minister to give a sermon who isn’t a gay-basher? First Rick Warren and now this guy. How about a nice Unitarian? Or a progressive-minded Lutheran? Or just someone who is nice and non-controversial on the matter?

Really unacceptable.

Labor Notes

[ 44 ] January 9, 2013 |

A few labor items of note.

1. Hilda Solis is resigning as Secretary of Labor. Hard to blame her given the isolation of the Department of Labor during the Obama Administration. Obama’s statement included the following:

Over the last four years, Secretary Solis has been a critical member of my economic team as we have worked to recover from the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression and strengthen the economy for the middle class.

Yeah, no. It’s been clear from Day One that Obama had little interest in centering the Labor Department on the major financial matters of the day. Ideally, the Secretary of Labor would represent labor’s voice not only in the creation of work regulations, but in the entire financial makeup of the country. The Obama inner circle of financial advisers included Geithner, Lew, Summers, and a whole lot of other Wall Street connected elites, but has anyone heard Obama ever mention Solis as an important player? That’s not necessarily to say that Obama has done a bad job on labor issues when he hasn’t had to extend any political capital. I think his record is mixed. But let’s be realistic about where Solis stood in his administration: way down at the other end of the Cabinet table.

2. A well-deserved Sidney award for Leslie Patton. Her story on how workers at McDonald’s have generated massive profits for executives while receiving virtually no benefits themselves is an excellent window into the nation’s class divide. McDonald’s CEO Jim Skinner pulled in $8.75 million last year. McDonald’s employee Tyree Johnson, who makes the Illinois minimum wage of $8.25 an hour, would need to work more than 1 million hours in a year in order to match that salary. That is class warfare right there. Depressing stuff.

3. Speaking of corporations committing class warfare against the poor, Wal-Mart is at least under some pressure to name its clothing suppliers after the fire in Bangladesh that killed over 100 people in November. Given that its labor practices are some of the worst in America, it’s hard to think they will hand over the information. On the other hand, outside pressure has made some difference in pressuring Nike and now Apple to improve conditions. So it can help.

4. With Democrats like Claire McCaskill, it’s hard to call the war on organized labor a Republican war.

5. A Taco Bell franchise in Oklahoma is the latest fast food company to strip workers of money while blaming it on Obamacare costs they don’t even have to pay yet. I’m sure all that money is going into some kind of fund for future healthcare expenses……

There Are Blue States and Then There Are Blue States

[ 46 ] January 9, 2013 |

Rhode Island and Oregon are two of the most reliable states for Democrats each election cycle. If anything, Rhode Island is even more a sure thing than Oregon. But the reality of public policy in the two states shows some pretty large differences. Admittedly, the following is anecdotal, but it also provides more evidence for my thoughts after a lifetime of following Oregon and the last 18 months in Rhode Island.

Rhode Island is the last state in New England to have no form of marriage equality. A bill will be proposed in the next legislative section. Hopefully it passes. I suspect it will be pretty close, despite gigantic Democratic majorities in the legislature. One big reason why is the influence of the Catholic Church over public policy in the state. So when the Bishop of Providence rails against same-sex marriage in offensive ways that deny that gays and lesbians actually exist, it actually matters. Although I probably shouldn’t overstate his influence, it’s arguably a greater influence over state policy than any other bishop in the country.

Meanwhile, Oregon has now outlawed insurance company discrimination against transgender people.


[ 48 ] January 9, 2013 |

Since all the important people are now in love with Chris Christie for attacking his own party, let’s not forget that the man is the purveyor of awful, awful policies. No doubt the real solution for struggling school districts in New Jersey is to deny them money. I understand that poverty combined with substandard and underfunded schools is quite the recipe for future success.

At least the New Jersey Supreme Court is holding Christie to the letter of the law.

Climate Change

[ 84 ] January 9, 2013 |

Yeah, I’m sure the United States having its hottest recorded year in history in 2012 by a full degree and Australia’s Bureau of Meterology having to come up with new colors for its temperature maps because of the hottest temperatures in the history of the continent is just anecdotal evidence of climate change. Nothing to see here. After all, there’s 3 inches of snow on the ground in the northeast!

The NRA Vision of the American Future: Guatemala

[ 58 ] January 8, 2013 |

The NRA argues that if only the good guys all had guns, they would shoot the bad guys and magically we wouldn’t have any gun violence. Or something strange like that. Never mind that time last year when the New York cops shot and wounded nine bystanders taking down an armed gunman at the Empire State Building. Or any other amount of evidence. Luckily, we can see in other countries what happens when everyone is armed. And it’s not good:

THOUGH many of these countries have restrictions on gun ownership, enforcement is lax. According to research by Flacso, the Guatemalan Social Science Academy, illegal guns far outnumber legal weapons in Central America.

All that has spawned a thriving security industry — the good guys with guns that grace every street corner — though experts say it is often unclear if their presence is making crime better or worse. In many countries, the armed guards have only six weeks of training.

Guatemala, with approximately 20,000 police officers, has 41,000 registered private security guards and an estimated 80,000 who are working without authorization. “To put people with guns who are not accountable or trained in places where there are lots of innocent people is just dangerous,” Ms. Peters said, noting that lethal force is used to deter minor crimes like shoplifting.

Indeed, even as some Americans propose expanding our gun culture into elementary schools, some Latin American cities are trying to rein in theirs. Bogotá’s new mayor, Gustavo Petro, has forbidden residents to carry weapons on streets, in cars or in any public space since last February, and the murder rate has dropped 50 percent to a 27-year low. He said, “Guns are not a defense, they are a risk.”

William Godnick, coordinator of the Public Security Program at the United Nations Regional Center for Peace, Disarmament and Development in Latin America and the Caribbean, said that United Nations studies in Central America showed that people who used a gun to defend against an armed assault were far more likely to be injured or killed than if they had no weapon.

I’ve traveled throughout Central America. Everyone is armed. And I’ll tell you, it scared me. An armed society is an unsafe society. The “good guys” aren’t always so good and they most certainly aren’t always good shots. Arming everyone is a response to not investing in a social safety net and giving people hope for a better life. It’s not a good idea and as the evidence shows, it doesn’t make people safe.

Now I’m sure the NRA would be outraged by the comparison to Guatemala. The real reason for that of course is that those are Guatemalans and we are Americans. So somehow we’re better. Such a racialized response would hardly be surprising from an organization that took on its modern form as a result of the white backlash of the 1970s. The “good guys” the NRA wants armed are usually white in the American vision, the “bad guys” black and brown.

Anti-Union Hack of the Day

[ 20 ] January 8, 2013 |

Michael Bloomberg for a) comparing teachers unions to the NRA and b) fabricating the idea that like the NRA, members of teachers unions don’t agree with the leadership. I’m sure that for a billionaire like Bloomberg, Randi Weingarten and her American Federation of Teachers are just as evil as Wayne LaPierre’s agenda of accepting an apparently endless number of mass murders in exchange for the right to play with shiny toys, what with organized labor’s desire for decent pay and classrooms with air conditioning and teaching something other than how to take a standardized test and such. The horror.

Museum Review: Confederate Memorial Hall Museum, New Orleans, Louisiana

[ 33 ] January 8, 2013 |

Having never actually been to a museum dedicated to the Confederacy before, I had to go to the Confederate Memorial Hall Museum in New Orleans while attending the American Historical Association meeting last weekend.

What can one say about such a place? The building was erected in 1891. It’s an old Gilded Age mansion that I don’t think has even been renovated on the inside since construction. That’s appropriate because I think the people making up the core visitors hold the social values of 1891. It turns out that not only was the Civil War not about slavery, but that there’s no reason to even mention that black people exist. Literally, there’s not one mention of a black person, even as a supposedly loyal servant or something. It turns out that guns and swords are far, far more important. As was that big bad man Benjamin “Beast” Butler. And when you combine the fact that your coolest artifact outside of some battle flags is Benjamin Butler’s chamber pot with the fact that you don’t allow pictures to of anything, meaning I can’t add it to my collection of pictures of American historical toilets (I recommend the 3-seater at the home of Hudson River School artist Thomas Cole), it shows that not only does the museum lack any positive social value, but it can’t even provide the expected negative social value that I was hoping to get by going to one of the United States’ worst museums. Essentially, I see no reason for this museum to exist.

And yes, I was incredibly fearful that someone I know would see me enter or exit the museum.

Jerry Tucker

[ 31 ] January 7, 2013 |

Alec MacGillis’ profile of the recently deceased union activist Jerry Tucker has led to a lot of discussion in labor circles over the last week. Tucker was an activist for a different kind of union, one that eschewed the board room and the lawyers for direct action, worker empowerment, and union democracy. In other words, MacGillis wonders if Tucker is “The Man Who Could Have Saved Organized Labor.”

Tucker himself was quite an amazing individual. A committed anti-racist, Tucker led what was seen as an impossible but successful campaign to defeat a right to work law in Missouri in 1978. He promoted work-to-rule tactics, which are ways workers can slow down production or otherwise drive employers crazy without breaking the contract or the law. He won struggle after struggle, becoming a hero for those wanting a rejuvenated and active labor movement. For all of this, Tucker was loathed by many leaders of the United Auto Workers, his home union, because work-to-rule and direct democracy challenged bureaucratic union structures and the AFL-CIO’s preferred strategy of working out issues with lawyers in Washington and the state capitals.

As MacGillis states, what Tucker recognized is that the corporation is always the enemy of the worker. When union leadership wanted to be chummy with politicians and corporate bosses, Tucker understood that the only real bulwark for long-term union success was the kind of mass mobilization and individual empowerment for the collective good that spawned the great period of American unionization in the 1930s, 40s, and 50s.

That lesson is just as strong today. Union executives, even of so-called progressive and organizing-centric unions like SEIU, are as wary of grassroots organizing and union democracy as they were in the George Meany and Lane Kirkland eras. It’s hardly surprising that the big union stories of 2012 have followed a track of success for grassroots movements and failure for institutionalized structures. The Chicago Teachers Union was the big win last year precisely because of its extremely democratic nature. The Madison protests showed the power of militant grassroots protests. The decision to channel those protests into the recall Scott Walker campaign was a giant mistake, especially when the Democratic candidate to replace him wasn’t even strongly pro-union. Meanwhile, the AFL-CIO found itself completely taken aback by the Michigan right to work law and from what I can tell, nothing on the ground is happening there to challenge this.

In short, for American labor to revive itself, we need more Jerry Tuckers and less Andy Sterns.


[ 37 ] January 7, 2013 |

It’s useful that the bipartisan patina Michelle Rhee gave Students First has worn off and her organization is increasingly being shown for what is is–an anti-union Republican front group with an agenda to destroy teachers’ rights.

Rhee purported to be the face of a bipartisan movement to “transform education,” while simultaneously battling Democratic teachers unions and appearing chummy in photo ops with conservative Republican governors like Rick Scott (Fla.) or John Kasich (Ohio).

All the while, a small cadre of influential Democrats stood behind her, helping her craft messages on things like her positions on unions (that they are entitled to collective bargaining on salary issues), and trying to fend off attacks from the progressive community (one in particular thwacked her explicitly for her right-wing contacts). But in the last few months, these Democrats — including the group’s vice president of communications, Hari Sevugan, as first reported by education blogger Alexander Russo — have left the group, ceding control to a group of new hires, including president Kahlil Byrd.

Dmitri Mehlhorn, the group’s former CEO, has left to lead Bloomberg Law. Mike Phillips, who served as Rhee’s chief of staff for communications, took a leave of absence this fall to work on Sen. Chris Murphy’s (D-Conn.) campaign, but ultimately never rejoined. Tali Stein, a former Hillary Clinton fundraiser who led StudentsFirst’s development, left two months ago to focus on other projects. Ximena Hartsock, a Democratic lobbyist, also left.

“There were known to be some significant differences on political strategy and policy matters, especially in StudentsFirst’s approach toward unions and partisanship,” said a source close to the education reform community who declined to be named in order to preserve working relationships.

Byrd, a self-described Republican, once directed communications for Massachusetts Gov. Duvall Patrick’s (D) gubernatorial campaign. He brought with him several other new staffers, press secretary Ileana Wachtel and donor relations manager Kellen Arno.

Students First has also come out with its yearly report card on state education systems. As Doug Henwood points out, the grades have nothing to do with student performance and everything to do with how closely they hew to Rhee’s agenda.

StudentsFirst, the school “reform” outfit led by the notorious Michelle Rhee, is out with a state-by-state Report Card on the nation’s schools. Grades were awarded on the basis of states’ conformity to the standard reform agenda—ease of creating charter schools, ease of firing teachers, ease of hiring teachers who aren’t certified in the traditional fashion, and testing testing testing. In the past, there’s never been any evidence that this agenda actually improves educational outcomes—and this report is no exception. Despite Rhee’s love of testing, there’s no mention of how states that do well under her criteria do on standardized tests compared to those that score poorly. That’s no surprise, really, since states that get high grades from StudentsFirst do worse on tests than those that score poorly.

Henwood uses the term “bogosity” to describe Rhee. Quite appropriate.

Can I Also Marry a Corporation?

[ 45 ] January 7, 2013 |

This is certainly an interesting way for an individual to protest the absurdity that a corporation is a person.

When Jonathan Frieman of San Rafael, Calif., was pulled over for driving alone in the carpool lane, he argued to the officer that, actually, he did have a passenger.

He waved his corporation papers at the officer, he told, saying that corporations are people under California law.

Frieman doesn’t actually support this notion. For more than 10 years, Frieman says he had been trying to get pulled over to get ticketed and to take his argument to court — to challenge a judge to determine that corporations and people are not the same. Mission accomplished in October, when he was slapped with a fine — a minimum of $481.

I guess this is silly. But at the same time if we are going to consider corporations to be legal human beings, why wouldn’t they have all the rights and responsibilities of a person?


[ 36 ] January 2, 2013 |

I know the central mission of the Republican Party is to have a membership made up entirely of old rural white people. But you have to be impressed by the blatant to destroy the party throughout the entire Northeast. Refusing to consider disaster relief funding that directly affects the districts and states of some of your most powerful and well-known politicians like Chris Christie and Peter King, well, that takes the cake. Given that the right kind of Republican can win both locally and statewide in these states, it doesn’t seem real bright. But then that kind of Republican is no Republican at all to Grover Norquist and Eric Cantor and Louie Gohmert and Smokey Joe Barton.

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