Monthly Archives: February 2008

A Dimwits Guide to Trojan-Horsing the Protect America Act

Early last week the Senate passed an update/extension to the Protect America Act that included retroactive immunity for the telecoms that aided in–call it what you want, terrorist surveillance or domestic spying, after Sept 11th. There’s the rub: The immunity is only for activities after September 11, 2001. AFTER SEPTEMBER 11, 2001.

From Raw Story, Senate Passes FISA Update w/immunity by Nick Juliano:

The Senate actions would shield from lawsuits telecommunications companies that helped the government eavesdrop on their customers without court permission after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

From Bush Administration’s draft immunity law (pdf):

[N]o action shall lie or be maintained in any court, and no penalty, sanction, or other form of remedy or relief shall be imposed by any court or any other body, against any person for the alleged provision to an element of the intelligence community of any information (including records or other information pertaining to a customer), facilities, or any other form of assistance, during the period of time beginning on September 11, 2001, and ending on the date that is the effective date of this Act, in connection with any alleged classified communications intelligence activity that the Attorney General or a designee of the Attorney General certifies, in a manner consistent with the protection of State secrets, is, was, would be, or would have been intended to protect the United States from a terrorist attack.
(emphasis mine)

I seem to recall a CEO of a telecom (Qwest), Joseph Nacchio, who is currently in jail for not playing ball with the Bushies on terrorist surveillance/domestic spying. I seem to recall he claimed the Bushies came to him prior to September the 11th, 2001 with their demands for access to American citizens’ phone activity, then–maybe–retaliated against him because he said no to their illegal spying program.

From Qwest CEO Not Alone in Alleging NSA Started Domestic Phone Record Program 7 Months Before 9/11 by Ryan Singal:

Startling statements from former Qwest CEO Joseph Nacchio’s defense documents alleging the National Security Agency began building a massive call records database seven months before 9/11 aren’t the only accusations that the controversial program predated the attacks of 9/11.

According to court documents unveiled this week, former Qwest CEO Joseph Nacchio clearly wanted to argue in court that the NSA retaliated against his company after he turned down a NSA request on February 27, 2001 that he thought was illegal. Nacchio’s attorney issued a carefully worded statement in 2006, saying that Nacchio had turned down the NSA’s repeated requests for customer call records. The statement says that Nacchio was asked for the records in the fall of 2001, but doesn’t say he was “first asked” then.

And in May 2006, a lawsuit filed against Verizon for allegedly turning over call records to the NSA alleged that AT&T began building a spying facility for the NSA just days after President Bush was inaugurated. That lawsuit is one of 50 that were consolidated and moved to a San Francisco federal district court, where the suits sit in limbo waiting for the 9th Circuit Appeals court to decide whether the suits can proceed without endangering national security.

From Tinker, Tailor, Miner, Spy by (Slate):

A former telecom executive told us that efforts to obtain call details go back to early 2001, predating the 9/11 attacks and the president’s now celebrated secret executive order. The source, who asked not to be identified so as not to out his former company, reports that the NSA approached U.S. carriers and asked for their cooperation in a “data-mining” operation, which might eventually cull “millions” of individual calls and e-mails.


From my admittedly naive perspective, this information could make retroactive immunity for telecom actions after 9/11/01 a mute point. As long as the language is very specific, and the immunity for actions after 9/11/01, all Congress would need to do is put any and all whistle-blowers (a Mark Klein-type) and telecom execs under oath and have them spill about pre-9/11 domestic spying, I mean terrorist surveillance. And if the coots, codgers and curmudgeons on capitol hill go after the telecom guys and gals with the enthusiasm they had in the baseball steriod hearings, things could get pretty interesting this summer regarding Impeachment hearings for Bush, Cheney and their underlings.



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Filed under Bush, domestic spying, Impeachment, nsa, terrorist surveillance

Yes, We Can Choose Hope Over Hopelessness

I heard about this video (by Will.I.Am of the Black-Eyed Peas) but felt, as I sometimes do, that it was over-hyped and I didn’t want any part of it. Well, I was wrong. This is nothing new. I’ve been wrong time and again, especially in picking my candidate for President. I wanted to draft Gore, then I wanted Edwards to be the guy. With both of those dreams dashed, I kind of tuned out for a couple of days. I voted for Obama on Feb. 5, but like many people I’ve talked to, I wasn’t sure if there was “any daylight” between him and Hillary Clinton.

I’m not wondering any more. I’m all in for Obama. Thom Hartmann said the other day on the radio that something like 93% of voters vote on feeling, emotion, gut-reaction. So be it. Obama speaks with such power and such majesty–I’ve never heard or felt the like in my lifetime. (Here is where some racist and deluded right-winger will make some half-ass comparison to Hitler: “He was a great speaker too!”) This man is inspiring people, awakening people to the political process who until now had been lost, ignored and/or forgotten, and this country needs him as our leader. I haven’t felt “hope” in anything associated with the Presidency of the USA in so long that, for the time being, nebulous promises of “hope” are enough for me. We’ll work out the details of The Hope Agenda in 2009.

Unfortunately, every ying has its yang. Some tech-savvy folks did a spoof/hit-piece of the “Yes We Can” video, replacing hope with hopelessness and Barack Obama with probable GOP Presidential Candidate John McCain. I believe the expression is, “It’s funny, but it’s not funny.”

The battle lines are being drawn; it’s time to decide if you want hope or fear, death, torture* and perpetual war.

*McCain just opted out of matching funds in his presidential bid, and he co-wrote the Campaign Finance Reform Law, which set up the rules for the matching funds system. He says he can’t compete in the general election unless he abandons his Campaign Finance Reform matching funds and joins in the orgy of bundled money, lobbyists and pacs. While I realize comparing this “flip-flop” with his long-held position that torture is reprehensible and illegal (a position he’s held since he spent 5+ years of his life in a North Vietnamese prison camp, being tortured) is a stretch. But how long will McCain be able to withstand the corrupting influence of the D.C. power-brokers, lawyers and lobbyists who whisper in his ear that “enhanced interrogation isn’t torture” and “we need to use every option in the playbook against the terrorists.” Those scum-suckers will parse and spin and needle and cajole and bribe and threaten McCain until he doesn’t know the Hanoi Hilton from the Holiday Inn Express.

h/t to Casey at Open Your Mind’s Eye for the john.I.Am youtube video.

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Filed under barack obama, hope, iran, iraq war, john mccain, perpetual war, torture

The Next Book I’ll Buy: State Of The Unions

Got one of David Sirota’s every-once-in-awhile lists of recommended reading the other day. One book jumped out at me: State Of The Unions: How Labor Can Strengthen the Middle Class, Improve Our Economy, and Regain Political Influence by Philip M. Dine. This book is now on top of my list of books to buy ASAP.


State of the Unions

How Labor Can Strengthen the Middle Class, Improve Our Economy, and Regain Political Influence

By Philip M. Dine

LINK: http://www.powells.com/biblio/62-9780071488440-0

This is a good overview of where the labor movement fits in America’s current political topography, and why strengthening the labor movement is so important to all the economic battles we are now facing as a country. As a correspondent for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Dine is one of the few labor reporters left in the corporate media – and his book draws on his years of experience covering unions to explore their importance in today’s world.

. . .

Synopsis of State Of The Unions:

From steel workers, Teamsters, and coal miners to teachers, actors, and civil servants, union members once accounted for more than one third of the American workforce. At a mere 12 percent, union membership today is a shadow of what it once was. What happened to organized labor in America and what can be done to restore it to its role of the defender of middle-class values and economic well-being?

Award-winning investigative reporter Philip M. Dine takes us on a riveting journey through America’s cities and back roads, its factories and union halls, to answer those questions. From the health care crisis to massive job flight overseas, from rampant home foreclosures to illegal immigration, he clearly shows how virtually every major economic, political, and social trend impacting our way of life is tied to the state of America’s unions.

Combining a compelling narrative with expert analysis, Dine offers firsthand accounts of the union members striving to make their voices heard in a political landscape increasingly shaped by corporate interests, including how:

  • The women of Delta Pride-a major player in the multi-billion dollar catfish industry-went up against generations of racial and economic prejudice
  • Iowa’s firefighters union flexed its collective muscle to score a major political victory in the 2004 caucus
  • The American Federation of Teachers and the AFL-CIO played a key role in bringing down the Iron Curtain
  • The Teamsters enlisted community support to temporarily stop a move by Mr. Coffee to relocate to Mexico and saved nearly 400 manufacturing jobs in the Cleveland area

A reporter who has covered labor for two decades, Dine not only details where labor has gone wrong, but he also offers sage advice on how it can adapt to a global economy to recover the ground it lost over the last quarter century.

I can’t wait to receive the “sage advice” Dine has to offer. God knows organized labor can use more sage advice–and maybe a NLRB that adheres to its orginal mission: conducting elections for labor union representation and with investigating and remedying unfair labor practices.

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Filed under david sirota, nlrb, philip m. dine, state of our unions, unions

My Sales Pitch to "non-union members" in my Local

I have four friends at work who are “non-union” employees of the USPS. I wrote a fairly PC/non-combative sales pitch to them to join or re-join the union. I plan to put the letter in an envelope and just hand it to them at work while requesting they read it and think it over–face-to-face communication just isn’t doing the trick. Also, I offered the letter to my steward for the union to use if it so desired.

You Need the Union and the Union Needs You

I won’t beat around the bush; I’m writing you this letter because I want you to join the American Postal Workers Union. And I’m here to tell you there couldn’t be a better time. Thanks to our new contract, career employees are about to get a level upgrade from PS-5 to PS-6. This means an increase of over a thousand dollars in your base pay, and the perfect incentive to become a dues-paying member of the APWU.

But financial reward isn’t the only reason you should join the union. Membership grants you a place in a brother and sisterhood of workers who are united in continually improving the working class. Our union has a rich history and a promising future that you need to be a part of, and the history of the Union Movement in America is one that needs to be honored and remembered. It is a story of triumphs and tragedies, of the struggles of brave men and women to secure workers’ rights at the cost of their blood, sweat, tears, and sometimes even their lives. Finally, it is the story of how the steel resolve of these workers united in solidarity won every benefit and protection afforded to the present-day American Worker.

Here’s a short, and incomplete, list of some of those hard-won protections: The 40-hour workweek; weekends (or 2 days) off; sick pay; overtime pay; vacation pay; health insurance; disability insurance; good wages; safety standards; pension benefits; prescription drug benefits; family medical leave—and more.

If you like the items on that list, things many workers (union and nonunion) now trivialize by calling “bennies”, thank a union. The best way to do this is to join and become an active, dues-paying member.

However, if you despise those rights, privileges, protections and benefits, and want to work twelve-to-sixteen-hour days, seven days a week, for little or no pay, then you don’t need the union. You have many excellent opportunities for employment in communist China, any third-world banana republic, or at the nearest Wal-Mart.

The prevailing “wisdom” among both management and some non-union workers is that you don’t need the union and that a worker is better off bargaining on his or her own. This, of course, is nonsense. Here are a few concrete facts that demolish that argument:

“The average worker who belongs to a union receives about one quarter more in total compensation than a nonunion worker.

89 percent of union workers have access to health care benefits from their employer, compared with just 67 percent of nonunion workers—and employers typically pay a bigger share of union worker’s health care premiums than nonunion workers’ premiums.

More than two-thirds of union workers have short-term disability coverage, compared with only about one-third of nonunion workers.

Unionized workers receive 26 percent more vacation time and 14 percent more total paid leave (vacations and holidays) than nonunion workers.”

(From David Sirota’s Hostile Takeover, pg. 242)

Likewise nonsense is the notion that unions are corrupt, fragmented, and powerless. As a member of a union, YOU ARE THE UNION: one part of a greater whole. A union is only corrupt if its membership allows it to be corrupted; only fragmented if its members don’t stand together in solidarity; and only powerless if its members remain silent and don’t act.

Charges of union corruption are easily countered. Union corruption scandals are extremely rare and almost always ferreted out by the unions themselves before they do harm. Labor expert Nathan Newman marvels at how clean and transparent unions are and how well their accountability controls work—especially compared to Corporate America. Can you say Enron? Despite this in 2004 the White House implemented new accounting rules that are burdensome and incredibly complex. Many labor experts believe these rules, which often force unions to spend triple what they previously did for bookkeeping, are merely meant to waste union’s precious time and resources. Even the union-unfriendly Hartford Courant had this to say about the new rules: “virtually every dollar spent by the union, and the time allotted by much of the staff, must find its way onto an expanded U.S. Department of Labor form—and it must be placed in a category according to what type of activity it represents. It’s hard to see how this is anything other than administrative terrorism foisted on working people and their representatives.” (Dan Haar, Hartford Courant, 4/25/05)

And unions are not powerless. In fact, they are becoming more powerful. In spite of a hostile administration in the White House, unions are making gains in membership. The percentage of union workers in the workforce increased in 2007 for the first time in 24 years. 310,000 American workers joined or formed unions last year, making the percentage of union workers 12.1 percent of the workforce. These gains are a direct result of the hard work and dedication of union leaders, organizers and activists. Locally, our union, the Springfield Area Local 497 of the APWU, was able to successfully unionize the workers at Alan Ritchey Inc. in Chicopee. In southern Connecticut, the dealers at Foxwoods Resort Casino successfully voted to join the UAW.

You too can affect positive change in your union. All you have to do is get active: become a member; attend meetings; ask questions; challenge policies you oppose and praise those you support.

The union needs you, and you need your union. Please complete the enclosed union membership form and join now.

That’s it. Hopefully I can sway at least one of these guys.

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Filed under apwu, union membership

The Uprising, a new book by David Sirota, Progressive Populist Author and Agitator, due out this May

I bought David Sirota’s first book Hostile Takeover: How Big Money & Corruption Conquered Our Government–and How We Take It Back in January with some Christmas $$$. As I am trying to become a Union Activist for the APWU, chapter 9: Unions, was especially eye-opening for me. I strongly encourage all progressive democrats, and all open-minded, thinking folks, to buy this book.

Sirota’s new book, The Uprising, comes out this May. It is an “unauthorized tour” of the Populist Revolt sweeping the country.

From DavidSirota.com:

Latest News: “The Uprising” Publication Date Set for May 2008; Book’s Cover Now Released

1/27/08: Crown Publishers announced May 27, 2008 as the official publication date of David Sirota’s new book “The Uprising: An Unauthorized Tour of the Populist Revolt Scaring Wall Street & Washington.” The book’s cover has now been released and is viewable to the right. “The Uprising” is a work of investigative journalism. More specifically, it is Sirota’s firsthand narrative account inside the new populist movement sweeping the country, from the streets of New York City to the halls of Microsoft to the Mexican border. The book is now available for pre-order at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Borders, Powell’s, The Tattered Cover, or through your local independent bookstore. For a high-resolution media-ready photo of the book’s cover, click here.

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Filed under activism, apwu, david sirota, hostile takeover, populism, progressive, the uprising, union, usps

Thom Hartmann reads this article sometimes on his radio program. It’s called Day in the Life of Joe Middle-Class Republican, by John Gray, and it basically debunks the “self-made man, rugged individual” myth the GOP and talk radio have cultivated and spread over the years.

Day in the Life of Joe Middle-Class Republican
By John Gray Cincinnati, Ohio

Joe gets up at 6:00am to prepare his morning coffee. He fills his pot full of good clean drinking water because some liberal fought for minimum water quality standards. He takes his daily medication with his first swallow of coffee. His medications are safe to take because some liberal fought to insure their safety and work as advertised.

All but $10.00 of his medications are paid for by his employers medical plan because some liberal union workers fought their employers for paid medical insurance, now Joe gets it too. He prepares his morning breakfast, bacon and eggs this day. Joe’s bacon is safe to eat because some liberal fought for laws to regulate the meat packing industry.

Joe takes his morning shower reaching for his shampoo; His bottle is properly labeled with every ingredient and the amount of its contents because some liberal fought for his right to know what he was putting on his body and how much it contained. Joe dresses, walks outside and takes a deep breath. The air he breathes is clean because some tree hugging liberal fought for laws to stop industries from polluting our air. He walks to the subway station for his government subsidized ride to work; it saves him considerable money in parking and transportation fees. You see, some liberal fought for affordable public transportation, which gives everyone the opportunity to be a contributor.

Joe begins his work day; he has a good job with excellent pay, medicals benefits, retirement, paid holidays and vacation because some liberal union members fought and died for these working standards. Joe’s employer pays these standards because Joe’s employer doesn’t want his employees to call the union. If Joe is hurt on the job or becomes unemployed he’ll get a worker compensation or unemployment check because some liberal didn’t think he should loose his home because of his temporary misfortune.

Its noon time, Joe needs to make a Bank Deposit so he can pay some bills. Joe’s deposit is federally insured by the FSLIC because some liberal wanted to protect Joe’s money from unscrupulous bankers who ruined the banking system before the depression.

Joe has to pay his Fannie Mae underwritten Mortgage and his below market federal student loan because some stupid liberal decided that Joe and the government would be better off if he was educated and earned more money over his life-time.

Joe is home from work, he plans to visit his father this evening at his farm home in the country. He gets in his car for the drive to dads; his car is among the safest in the world because some liberal fought for car safety standards. He arrives at his boyhood home. He was the third generation to live in the house financed by Farmers Home Administration because bankers didn’t want to make rural loans. The house didn’t have electric until some big government liberal stuck his nose where it didn’t belong and demanded rural electrification. (Those rural Republican’s would still be sitting in the dark)

He is happy to see his dad who is now retired. His dad lives on Social Security and his union pension because some liberal made sure he could take care of himself so Joe wouldn’t have to. After his visit with dad he gets back in his car for the ride home.
He turns on a radio talk show, the host’s keeps saying that liberals are bad and conservatives are good. (He doesn’t tell Joe that his beloved Republicans have fought against every protection and benefit Joe enjoys throughout his day) Joe agrees, “We don’t need those big government liberals ruining our lives; after all, I’m a self made man who believes everyone should take care of themselves, just like I have”.

By John Gray Cincinnati, Ohio – <!– var prefix = 'ma' + 'il' + 'to'; var path = 'hr' + 'ef' + '='; var addy82174 = 'jgray7' + '@'; addy82174 = addy82174 + 'cinci' + '.' + 'rr' + '.' + 'com'; var addy_text82174 = 'jgray7' + '@' + 'cinci' + '.' + 'rr' + '.' + 'com'; document.write( '‘ ); document.write( addy_text82174 ); document.write( ” ); //–>\n jgray7@cinci.rr.com <!– document.write( '‘ ); //–> This e-mail address is being protected from spam bots, you need JavaScript enabled to view it <!– document.write( '’ ); //–> – Published July – 2004
Printable version: Click here!

I like this piece. There are a great many things we can do for ourselves, but as this piece cleverly illustrates, there are a great many more things we can’t.

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H.R. 4236 (Mail Network Protection Act) Picks Up More Co-sponsers, but no Rep Neal yet

Rep. Lynch’s H.R. 4236 picked up another 19 co-sponsors since the House resumed in January, for a grand total of 26 co-sponsors. The party break-down is 25 Dems and 1 Repub (Rep. Christopher Smith of NJ–Take a bow, sir. I wonder what his story is?). As of Feb 2. Rep. Richard E. Neal (D-MA) still hasn’t made a move, despite a letter/email campaign from the APWU Springfield Area Local #497 (I’ve sent a letter and made a phone call, and convinced/cajoled about 15 family/friends and co-workers to do the same). Most likely he’s been too busy campaigning for presidential hopeful Senator Hillary Clinton (D-NY); God knows we’ve got about 10 robo-calls from him and the Clinton campaign, plus lots of direct mailings. The Union says they’re arranging a sit-down with him, and hopefully after “Super” Tuesday Neal with settle down to business and support this important legislation.

From APWU website:

Anti-Subcontracting Bill Picking Up ‘Co-Sponsors’

APWU Web News Article #10-08, Jan. 31, 2008

The Mail Network Protection Act (H.R. 4236), which would require the Postal Service to bargain with postal unions before it engages in significant subcontracting, has been steadily gaining sponsorship in the House.

The legislation was introduced by Rep. Stephen Lynch (D-MA) on Nov. 15, and support for the measure has been picking up steam since 2008 began.

Thus far in January, the following co-sponsors (all Democrats) have come forward: Joe Courtney (CT), William Lacy Clay (MO), Joseph Crowley (NY), Mike Doyle (PA), Keith Ellison (MN), Alcee Hastings (FL), Baron Hill (IN), Mazie Hirono (HI), Betty McCollum (MN), James P. McGovern (MA), Ed Pastor (AZ), Bobby Rush (IL), Linda T. Sanchez (CA), Janice Schakowsky (IL), David Scott (GA), Heath Shuler (NC), Peter Visclosky (IN), Tom Udall (NM), and Albert Wynn (MD).

Several members of Congress signed on as co-sponsors in December: Yvette Clark (D-NY), Al Green (D-TX), Raul Grijalva (D-AZ), Patrick Murphy (D-PA), Laura Richardson (D-CA), Christopher Smith (R-NJ), and John Tierney (D-MA).

For more information about the Mail Network Protection Act and the union’s effort to garner support for it, click here.

For the non-postal, the USPS has submitted a proposal to outsource a beaucoup amount of mail to private (for-profit) corporations, in a effort to cut jobs–I mean costs, and jobs. The post office has an unfortunate recent history of doing this, and the results are always the same: increased costs and lost revenues for the postal service, lost jobs for postal workers, and higher costs and lower quality of service for customers. Its what Michael Scott from The Office would call a LOSE-LOSE-LOSE resolution.

You, as a postal customer, can already see/feel the negative effects of the Postal Reform Act of 2006. The Post Office jacked up the rates for odd-shaped parcels, so the calender you mailed grandma in a tube Christmas 2007 probably cost double what it cost to ship Christmas 2006. If you do ebay or half.com, you know that rates for First Class Parcels and Media Mail shot up, probably taking any profits you made on shipping small items. And the Post office is trying to silence dissenting voices/trample free speech/destroy the free press by instituting a massive rate increase for small periodicals, newspapers and journals of opinion–while at the same time giving discounts or a tiny rate increase for TimeWarnerAOL and its stable of mags (Time, Sports Illustrated). Postal Officials even declared that killing small publishers would be a WIN-WIN for the post office:

“If these small publications go out of business, is that a win-win?” Cummings asked James Miller, chairman of the USPS’s Board of Governors, the entity that approved the rate hikes, during one tense exchange.

“That’s a hypothetical,” Miller protested.

“Nah, nah, nah,” Cummings said. “You got a lot of businesses that put out publications that are saying that this is going to affect them in a negative way…. I’m asking you a simple question. If they go out of business, is it a win-win?”

“I would say if they cannot cover their costs, it is a win-win situation,” said Miller. “Let me tell you why I think that. Because other classes of mail would be covering their costs.” He went on to explain that every American letter writer pays 200 percent of the cost of shipping his or her letter because small magazines and periodicals don’t pay their fair share.

. . .

That’s a tradition that goes back to the origins of the nation. The founding fathers saw the press as the lifeblood of democracy—only informed voters could compose a true democracy, they believed—and thus created a postal system that gave favorable rates to small periodicals. (George Washington actually supported mailing newspapers for free.) For 200 years, small periodicals and journals of opinion were given special treatment.

I blogged about this, from a Mother Jones article by Jonathan Stein, in November 2007 here.

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Filed under h.r. 4236, richard e. neal, usps