Rage Against The War Machine Speech / By Chris Hedges

Murder King – by Mr. Fish

Originally published in Sheerpost on February 19, 2023

Hedges spoke at the Washington DC rally on Feb. 19 alongside an array of other notable speakers.

Idolatry is the primal sin from which all other sins derive. Idols tempt us to become God. They  demand the sacrifice of others in the mad quest for wealth, fame or power. But the idol always ends by requiring self-sacrifice, leaving us to perish on the blood-soaked altars we erected for others. 

For empires are not murdered, they commit suicide at the feet of the idols that entrance them. 

We are here today to denounce the unelected, unaccountable high priests of Empire, who funnel the bodies of millions of victims, along with trillions of our national wealth, into the bowels of our own version of the Canaanite idol, Moloch.

The political class, the media, the entertainment industry, the financiers and even religious institutions bay like wolves for the blood of Muslims or Russians or Chinese, or whoever the idol has demonized as unworthy of life. There were no rational objectives in the wars in Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria, Libya and Somalia. There are none in Ukraine. Permanent war and industrial slaughter are their own justification. Lockheed Martin, Raytheon, General Dynamics, Boeing and Northrop Grumman earn billions of dollars in profits. The vast expenditures demanded by the Pentagon are sacrosanct. The cabal of warmongering pundits, diplomats and technocrats, who smugly dodge responsibility for the array of military disasters they orchestrate, are protean, shifting adroitly with the political tides, moving from the Republican Party to the Democratic Party and then back again, mutating from cold warriors to neocons to liberal interventionists. Julien Benda called these courtiers to power “the self-made barbarians of the intelligentsia.”

These pimps of war do not see the corpses of their victims. I did. Including children. Every lifeless body I stood over as a reporter in Guatemala, El Salvador, Nicaragua, Palestine, Iraq, Sudan, Yemen, Bosnia, or Kosovo, month after month, year after year, exposed their moral bankruptcy, intellectual dishonesty, sick bloodlust and delusional fantasies. They are puppets of the Pentagon, a state within a state, and the weapons manufacturers who lavishly fund their think tanks: Project for the New American CenturyForeign Policy InitiativeAmerican Enterprise InstituteCenter for a New American SecurityInstitute for the Study of WarAtlantic Council and Brookings Institute. Like some mutant strain of an antibiotic-resistant bacteria, they cannot be vanquished. It does not matter how wrong they are, how absurd their theories of global dominance, how many times they lie or denigrate other cultures and societies as uncivilized or how many they condemn to death. They are immovable props, parasites vomited up in the dying days of all empires, ready to sell us the next virtuous war against whoever they have decided is the new Hitler. The map changes. The game is the same.

Pity our prophets, those who wander the desolate landscape crying out in the darkness. Pity Julian Assange, undergoing a slow-motion execution in a high-security prison in London. He committed Empire’s fatal sin. He exposed its crimes, its machinery of death, its moral depravity. 

A society that prohibits the capacity to speak in truth extinguishes the capacity to live in justice.

Some here today might like to think of themselves as radicals, maybe even revolutionaries. But what we are demanding on the political spectrum is, in fact, conservative: the restoration of the rule of law. It is simple and basic. It should not, in a functioning republic, be incendiary. But living in truth in a despotic system, one the political philosopher Sheldon Wolin called “inverted totalitarianism,” is subversive. 

The architects of imperialism, the masters of war, the corporate-controlled legislative, judicial and executive branches of government and their obsequious mouth pieces in the media and academia, are illegitimate. Say this simple truth and you are banished, as many of us have been, to the margins. Prove this truth, as Julian did, and you are crucified.

“Red Rosa now has vanished too…” Bertolt Brecht wrote of the murdered socialist Rosa Luxemburg. “She told the poor what life is about, And so the rich have rubbed her out.”

We have undergone a corporate coup d’état, where the poor and working men and women, half of whom lack $400 to cover an emergency expense, are reduced to chronic instability. Joblessness and food insecurity are endemic. Our communities and cities are desolate. War, financial speculation, constant surveillance and militarized police that function as internal armies of occupation are the only real concerns of the state. Even habeas corpus no longer exists. We, as citizens, are commodities to corporate systems of power, used and discarded. And the endless wars we fight overseas have spawned the wars we fight at home, as the students I teach in the New Jersey prison system are acutely aware. All empires die in the same act of self-immolation. The tyranny the Athenian empire imposed on others, Thucydides noted in his history of the Peloponnesian war, it finally imposed on itself.

To fight back, to reach out and help the weak, the oppressed and the suffering, to save the planet from ecocide, to decry the domestic and international crimes of the ruling class, to demand justice, to live in truth, to smash the graven images, is to bear the mark of Cain.

Those in power must feel our wrath, which means constant acts of non-violent civil disobedience, social and political disruption. Organized power from below is the only power that can save us. Politics is a game of fear. It is our duty to make those in power very, very afraid.

The ruling oligarchy has us locked in its death grip. It cannot be reformed. It obscures and falsifies the truth.  It is on a maniacal quest to increase its obscene wealth and unchecked power. It forces us to kneel before its false gods. And so, to quote the Queen of Hearts, metaphorically, of course, I say, “Off with their heads!” 

Chris Hedges spent nearly two decades as a foreign correspondent in Central America, the Middle East, Africa and the Balkans. He was an early and outspoken critic of the US plan to invade and occupy Iraq and called the press coverage at the time “shameful cheerleading.” He is the author of the 2002 best seller, War is A Force That Gives Us Meaning, which is an examination of what war does to individuals and societies. He states that war is the pornography of violence, a powerful narcotic that “…has a dark beauty, filled with the monstrous and the grotesque.” Hedges has also published the following books: What Every Person Should Know About War (2003); Losing Moses on the Freeway: The Ten Commandments in America (2005); American Fascists: The Christian Right and the War on America (2008); I Don’t Believe in Atheists (2008); Empire of Illusion: The End of Literacy and the Triumph of Spectacle ( 2009); and Days of Destruction, Days of Revolt (2012). He writes a weekly column for Truthdig.com

Fanatical MAGA Republicans hold the country hostage over debt limit / by John Bachtell

U.S. Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, R-Ga., speaks about Twitter, April 28, 2022, on Capitol Hill in Washington. Once shunned as a political pariah for her extremist rhetoric, the Georgia lawmaker who spent her first term in Congress stripped of institutional power by Democrats is being celebrated by Republicans and welcomed into the GOP fold. | Jacquelyn Martin

On January 19, the U.S. government reached its debt limit. Without raising the debt ceiling, the government risks defaulting and shutting down functions and services, possibly triggering a domestic and global economic crisis.

Instead of raising the debt limit, which is nothing more than agreeing to pay bills already owed, the new GOP-MAGA fascist House majority is inching to create a political crisis by holding the country hostage. In exchange for raising the debt limit and reopening the government, they will demand a balanced federal budget in ten years, and draconian cuts to Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security, and repeal of the Affordable Care Act, something President Biden, and the Democrats will never agree to.

The fanatical GOP-MAGA House Majority’s first order of business was the passage of a phony populist bill, the “Family and Small Business Taxpayer Protection Act.” The hastily drawn legislation repeals funding for the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) adopted in the last Congress.

If this wasn’t loony enough, GOP-MAGA introduced another even more extreme bill – the Fair Tax Act, which would abolish the IRS, eliminate income, payroll, and estate and gift taxes and impose a 30% national sales tax on all goods and services, which the states would administer.

The GOP knows these bills will never become law. Senate Democrats will let them die, and President Biden vowed a veto if it ever reached his desk. “National sales tax, that’s a great idea,” Biden said sarcastically. “It would raise taxes on the middle class by taxing thousands of everyday items from groceries to gas while cutting taxes for the wealthiest Americans.”

The GOP-MAGA dysfunction and radical agenda have resulted in a 64% unfavorable rating (26% favorability) in the latest polls, matching polling following the January 6 insurrection.

Repealing IRS funding and eliminating income taxes is meant to provide a populist cover for the GOP and MAGA fascists, their billionaire backers, and allied movement’s quest to capture absolute governmental power and the presidency in 2024. The GOP and radical MAGA movement want to undemocratically and violently, if necessary, impose minority rule on the majority.

The MAGA movement and its billionaire backers envision a class, racial, and patriarchal hierarchy and theocratic order that turns back decades of progress on democratic rights and expansion of social benefit programs. Their goal is unfettered capitalism without restraints on profitmaking and wealth accumulation and eliminating social benefits, constitutional democracy, and democratic rights.

And the GOP and MAGA fascists aim to use the state’s power, including the courts and security apparatus, to guarantee their permanent rule through voter suppression, extreme gerrymandering, elimination of citizen-initiated referendums, suppression of organized labor and other democratic movements. The GOP-MAGA movement is imposing this autocratic model in states where they have entrenched power.

Obsession with gaining power

The obsession with gaining power, infighting, rivalry among MAGA radicals, political polarization, obstruction, chaos, and enshrining their permanent rule are hallmarks of fascism. People become alienated, and confidence in government is undermined – fertile grounds for the entrance of a “strong man” to impose order and “restore America to its glory days.”

The MAGA-GOP and their billionaire backers have long vilified the IRS and called for eliminating it. They demagogically claim to be the party of lower taxes for working people and small businesses. But inevitably, the GOP unabashedly cuts taxes on the very wealthy and corporations and then demagogically uses resulting deficits to cut social benefit programs.

The GOP began actively slashing corporate taxes under Reagan and IRS funding under Newt Gingrich and the GOP Congress in 1994. The words of Grover Norquist guide them: “My goal is to cut government in half in twenty-five years, to get it down to the size where we can drown it in the bathtub.”

Today, the GOP is blatantly lying about funding for the IRS in the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA). They claim, without basis, that it goes to hiring 87,000 IRS agents to invade the private lives of ordinary Americans. What’s worse than an IRS agent knocking on your front door while you’re eating breakfast?

In fact, the popular IRA, passed by the Democratic Congress and signed by President Biden in 2022, bolsters the severely underfunded IRS to clear a backlog of unprocessed returns, overhaul technology, and improve customer service, including services to working-class taxpayers needing help.

But the IRA also directs substantial funding to collect unpaid taxes by super-wealthy people and corporations. The non-partisan Congressional Budget Office (CBO) estimates the bill will generate $204 billion in revenues through 2031. Congress also passed a 15% minimum corporate tax as part of the Inflation Reduction Act.

The act is a step toward clawing back from the wreckage caused by Trump and the GOP Congress from the 2017 GOP tax cut to corporations, a massive boondoggle for the rich. The CBO estimated in 2018 the legislation would increase deficits by about $1.9 trillion over 11 years. Repealing IRS funding will add another $114 billion to the deficit over ten years.

The rich get away with not paying taxes because the IRS enforcement division was deliberately defunded and disabled by past GOP Congresses and presidents. Between 2010 and 2018, funding fell by 24%, leading to the loss of 17,000 employees.

“Funding cuts have cost the IRS much of its most experienced staff: the number of Revenue Agents fell by 35 percent between 2010 and 2018, to the lowest number since 1954,” testified Chye-Ching Huang, Director of the Economic Policy Institute, before Congress.

In 2021, the IRS reported that the federal government was losing $1 trillion in unpaid taxes annually, mainly by the wealthy and corporations. The top 5% of rich people avoided paying $307 billion in taxes, and the top 1% alone avoided paying $163 billion.

Voters have rejected the GOP in three straight elections, and Democrats have won the majority vote in seven of the last eight presidential elections. The GOP-MAGA extreme right and fascists know their agenda is unpopular with most American voters and can only achieve it through undemocratic means. Only a mobilized anti-MAGA majority stands in the way of this nightmare scenario. There are signs that the majority is beginning to turn back the right-wing assault, but more on that in coming Peoples World articles.

John Bachtell is president of Long View Publishing Co., the publisher of People’s World. He served as national chair of the CPUSA from 2014 to 2019. He is active in electoral, labor, environmental, and social justice struggles. He grew up in Ohio, Pittsburgh, and Albuquerque and attended Antioch College. He currently lives in Chicago where he is an avid swimmer, cyclist, runner, and dabbler in guitar and occasional singer in a community chorus.

People’s World, January 20, 2023, https://www.peoplesworld.org/

Opinion: If Democrats want votes, they should rain fury on union-busting corporations / by Hamilton Nolan

Starbucks employees and supporters reacting as votes are read during a union election in December in Buffalo, New York. Photograph: Joshua Bessex/AP

Originally published in the Guardian, 8/8/22

We supposedly have the most pro-union US president of our lifetimes. Let’s see him act like it

In June, workers at a Chipotle restaurant in Augusta, Maine, became the first in the company’s history to file for a union election. Less than a month later, the company closed the store. In shutting down a location that was set to unionize, Chipotle was keeping company with Starbucks, which has suddenly undertaken a campaign to shut down several unionizing locations from coast to coast due to “safety” issues, and the health food company Amy’s Kitchen, which last month closed an entire factory in California where workers were organizing. It is, of course, impossible to “prove” that these companies closed these locations to try to crush the union drives, in the same sense that it is impossible to prove that a schoolyard bully meant to punch you in the face: he claims that he was merely punching the air while you happened to walk in front of his fist. Who’s to say what’s true in such a murky situation?

Plausible deniability aside, this is an extremely serious problem. Not just for the underpaid, overworked employees at all of these low-wage jobs, desperately hanging on to financial survival by their fingernails, but for all of us. America is mired in a half-century-long crisis of rising inequality that has been fueled, above all, by the combined erosion of labor power and the growth of the power of capital. The American dream enjoyed by the lucky baby-boom generation – buying a home and sending your kids to college on one income – is dead and gone, replaced by a thin crust of the rich sitting atop a huge swamp of once-middle-class jobs that no longer offer enough to sustain a middle-class lifestyle.

The power of workers relative to the power of the investment class must be rebalanced. Rebuilding the power of unions is the only way out of this trap, unless you are credulous enough to believe that we will all be rescued by the sudden radicalization of the tax policymakers on the House ways and means committee. If you ever want to live in a country where the American dream is more than a cruel, tantalizing joke, you have a stake in the revival of organized labor.

Workers with the union Chipotle United stand outside the chain’s former Augusta, Maine location in June. Credit: Courtesy of Maine AFL-CIO

So when you see a big company closing down operations because workers there want to unionize, you should be pissed. Such coldhearted retaliation against people exercising a fundamental right on the job goes to the very heart of how we got all this inequality in the first place. It is meant not just to derail one union drive, but to strike fear in all the other workers who see it happen: if you ask for what you’re worth, this could happen to you. Shut up and eat your gruel, and be happy that the kindly billionaire CEO is allowing you to earn enough not to starve today. Even if you don’t work at a fast-food outlet or a factory, this should enrage you, as a human being. It is an assault on human dignity.

America’s convoluted and hostile labor laws actually do allow a business to shut down in response to unionization, unless (and this is important) the company is doing so in order to scare its remaining employees out of unionizing – in other words, exactly what big employers like Chipotle and Starbucks would be doing by closing stores where workers have organized, as workers at many other stores across the country looked on. (Government regulators have not yet ruled on the legality of the recent closures by those companies.) Unfortunately, the evil, high-priced union-busting attorneys these companies hire are well aware that the gears of justice in labor law grind so slowly that even on the off chance that they were found to have closed the stores illegally, it would be far too late for it to mean anything to the workers who were laid off and forced to go find other jobs. The scary, unsubtle message to the company’s workforce would have already been sent.

That’s why this stuff is not really a question of law, but of power. The working class, galvanized by the near-death experience of the pandemic, is busily organizing in new industries across the country; the labor movement today is as energized as it has been in two generations. Corporate America is determined to stop this. In the mid-1950s, one in three Americans was a union member; today, that figure is one in 10. Companies know that their ability to extract excess profits will go down as union density goes up. This is going to be a hard, nasty fight. As all of those recently laid-off Chipotle and Starbucks and Amy’s Kitchen workers know, it already is.

It is also a golden opportunity for a Democratic party that has spent the last six years wringing its hands about losing working-class voters to the pseudo-populist (and racist) appeal of Trumpism. Want to get working people enthusiastic about Democrats again? Then the Democrats should help working people. National Democratic politicians should be holding press conferences decrying the greedy chief executives closing these stores just because workers tried to stand up for themselves. Joe Biden should be screaming his head off about billionaire Starbucks chief Howard Schultz’s disgusting union-busting at the same volume that Ron DeSantis is blathering about “woke corporations”.

Republicans are insincere ghouls who want to harvest working-class votes while their policies stab working-class people in the back – but Democrats are ceding the terrain to these scumbags by failing to match their fervor. We don’t need our politicians making anodyne statements about how unions are nice. We need a rain of zeal and fury emanating from Washington, to terrify companies away from closing down their union stores with threats of merciless retributions from the state.

History shows that organized labor thrives when it has the government’s support, and suffers without it. We are supposedly living under the most pro-union president of our lifetimes. So? Let’s hear some damn fire, man. The only reason companies feel so free to abuse their workers is that they don’t believe anyone will make them pay for it.

Hamilton Nolan is a writer based in New York

Guardian, August 8, 2022, https://www.theguardian.com/

The ‘Secret’ That Gets CEOs Rich: Keep Workers Poor / by Sam Pizzigati

Photograph by Nathaniel St. Clair

How far off the charts has compensation for America’s top corporate CEOs soared? Let’s use Peter Drucker as our reference point.

Management theorists today generally give Drucker, a refugee from Nazism in the 1930s, the credit for essentially laying down “the foundations of management as a scientific discipline” after World War II. Drucker’s classic 1946 study of General Motors established him — for leaders throughout business and academia — as the nation’s foremost authority on corporate enterprise effectiveness.

That effectiveness, Drucker believed, had to rest on fairness. Corporations that compensated their top execs at rates that far outpaced worker pay created cultures where a systematic commitment to organizational excellence could never take root.

In the two decades after World War II, America’s leading corporate chiefs by and large accepted Drucker’s perspective. They may have felt they didn’t have much of a choice. From distinguished thinkers like Drucker outside corporate boardrooms came exhortations for fair-minded pay policies. From unions inside the nation’s most powerful corporate empires came fierce pressure to share the wealth.

And that wealth did get shared. In 1965, the Economic Policy Institute notes, major corporate CEOs in the United States were only realizing 21 times the pay their workers were pocketing. That gap would remain fairly modest over the next dozen years, only reaching 31 times in 1978.

But this relatively slight upward nudge unsettled Drucker. Corporate outliers, he believed, were beginning an about-face from America’s post-war corporate pay consensus. A relative handful of top corporate execs, Drucker noted in a 1977 Wall Street Journal analysis, were actually taking in pay packages nearing an until-then unimaginable $1 million a year.

For Drucker, the rationales corporations offered for these new enormous pay packages amounted to “nonsense” and “pure hokum.” Companies faced no unforgiving “need” to pay “market price” for their execs. Stock options did not “promote performance.”

Those options and other maneuvers designed to escalate executive take-homes, Drucker added, were doing “enormous damage.” Excessive rewards for top executives, he explained, nurture the bureaucratic structures that undercut organizational effectiveness.

How so? In any bureaucracy, every level of hierarchy must get compensated at a higher rate than the level below. The more levels, the higher the pay at the summit. Endless levels of hierarchy would remain appealing to executives, Drucker argued, as long as they prop up and push up executive pay. His solution? To make bureaucratic hierarchies less appealing to top execs, limit executive pay. No executives, Drucker believed, should be allowed to make more than 25 times the compensation of their workers.

“A ratio of 25 to-1 is not ‘equality,’” Drucker acknowledged. “But it is well within the range most people in this country, including the great majority of rank-and-file workers, consider proper and indeed desirable.”

Drucker lived long enough — he died in 2005 at age 95 — to see Corporate America make a mockery of his 25-to-1 standard. But research since his death has consistently reaffirmed his take on the negative impact of wide CEO-worker pay differentials on organizational effectiveness.

The mockery of Drucker’s contribution, meanwhile, continues, as the just-released 28th annual edition of the  Executive Excess report details in eye-opening detail.

This year’s Executive Excess zeroes in on the 300 major U.S. corporations that pay their median — most typical — workers the least. At these 300 companies, CEO pay last year jumped an average $2.5 million to $10.6 million. Typical worker pay at the 300 firms increased on average as well, but the increase still left median annual worker earnings at the 300 companies under $24,000.

Overall, CEOs at the 300 major U.S. corporations with 2021’s lowest median worker pay averaged 670 times the annual earnings of their most typical workers, up from 604 times the year before.

Workers at over 100 of these firms did far worse than the average figures. In 106 of the 300 corporations, median worker pay didn’t even keep with inflation.

“Did the workers at these 106 companies lose ground to inflation because their employers lacked the wherewithal to make sure wages kept up with rising prices?” the new Executive Excess report asks. “Hardly. In fact, 67 of these firms spent many millions last year buying back their own shares. These repurchases totaled $43.7 billion.”

So what can we do to restore the reasonableness in corporate compensation that Peter Drucker spent six decades of his life working toward? The new Institute for Policy Studies Executive Excess report offers up a list of concrete steps that could make a fairness — and effectiveness — difference. Given the current make-up of Congress, most of these steps have no shot at near-run enactment.

But Executive Excess 2022 does highlight one step that the Biden administration could implement — to great effect — via executive action. The administration could use that action “to give corporations with narrow pay ratios preferential treatment in government contracting.”

Various federal programs already offer a leg up in contracting to targeted groups, typically small businesses owned by women, disabled veterans, and minorities. These programs sometimes involve set-asides, other times give up to a 10 percent credit in bidding competitions. All these existing preference programs, the new Executive Excess notes, tap the power of the public purse “to level the playing field and expand opportunities for the disadvantaged.”

“Using public procurement to address extreme disparities within large corporations,” the report adds, “would be a step towards the same general objective.”

And a step in that direction, as Peter Drucker told Wall Street Journal readers back in 1977, would do honor to the great achievement of American business in the middle of the 20th century: “the steady narrowing of the income gap between the ‘big boss’ and the ‘working man.’”

Sam Pizzigati writes on inequality for the Institute for Policy Studies. His latest book: The Case for a Maximum Wage (Polity). Among his other books on maldistributed income and wealth: The Rich Don’t Always Win: The Forgotten Triumph over Plutocracy that Created the American Middle Class, 1900-1970  (Seven Stories Press). 

Counterpunch, June 13, 2022, https://www.counterpunch.org/

Labor law failings, workplace organizing challenges, and possibilities for union renewal / by Martin Hart-Landsberg

Trump’s new Medicaid rule prohibits automatic payment of union dues. (Photo: Peoples Dispatch)

If you follow the news it must seem like joining a union is a step outside the norms of U.S. law. Afterall, the media is full of stories about how big companies like Starbucks and Amazon threaten their pro-union workers with dismissal, spy on their employees and deny them the right to meet and share information during legally mandated break and meal times, require their workers to participate in 1-on-1 and group meetings with managers where they are routinely told lies about what unions do and the consequences of unionization, find ways to delay promised union elections, and refuse to negotiate a contract even after workers have successfully voted for unionization.

Yet, the National Labor Relations Act, which is the foundational statute governing private sector labor law, boldly asserts that workers should be able to freely organize to improve the conditions of their employment. As the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) states:

The National Labor Relations Act forbids employers from interfering with, restraining, or coercing employees in the exercise of rights relating to organizing, forming, joining or assisting a labor organization for collective bargaining purposes, or from working together to improve terms and conditions of employment, or refraining from any such activity.

So, one might reasonably ask, how do businesses get away with the kind of behavior highlighted above? One answer is that a series of Supreme Court decisions and NLRB rulings have reinterpreted the country’s labor laws in ways that have given employers a free pass to engage in a variety of anti-worker actions. Another is that Congress has refused to adequately fund the NLRB, leaving the organization unable to hire sufficient staff to do the needed investigations of worker complaints and oversee elections even during the rare periods when the NLRB has actively sought to protect worker rights.

President Biden has taken two actions that offer some hope for a progressive turn. The first is his inclusion of a significant increase in funding for the NLRB in his proposed 2023 fiscal year budget. The second, and more important one, was his 2021 appointment of Jennifer Abruzzo, a former attorney for the Communications Workers of America, as NLRB General Counsel. Abruzzo is pressing the NLRB to ban “captive audience” meetings as an unfair labor practice and to restore the Joy Silk doctrine, which would allow the NLRB to immediately recognize a union if a strong majority of workers signed cards or a petition demonstrating their support for unionization.

It remains to be seen what will come from either action. At the same time, labor activists have shown tremendous determination in the face of corporate opposition and their organizing work appears to be paying off.  We should celebrate their bravery and support their efforts. However, gains shouldn’t have to be so challenging—if organizing to improve working conditions is a guaranteed right, it should truly be protected.

We have a business-friendly labor law

Private sector labor law has, over time, become increasingly business, not worker, friendly. For example, the NLRB originally required employers to remain neutral when workers considered whether to unionize. However, in 1941, the Supreme Court ruled that employers had the right to make their case as long as their actions were not “coercive.” The Taft-Hartley Act of 1947 gave new meaning to the court’s decision by inserting into the NLRA what is known as the “employer free speech” clause, which opened the door for businesses to push their anti-union position in captive audience meetings. In the 1970s, the NLRB decided that it was acceptable for management to use those meetings to threaten workers with a loss of benefits or even employment if they voted for a union. It later also ruled that management had the right to ban union supporters from attending captive audience meetings and even ban employees from speaking during the meetings.

In 1974, the Supreme Court ruled that businesses did not have to agree to recognize a union regardless of the number of worker-signed cards or names on a petition expressing support for unionization. Instead, they could insist that the NLRB conduct an election. Later NLRB rulings have stretched out the time between card filing and voting and allowed companies to further delay elections by requiring that unfair labor practice charges and company challenges to the proposed bargaining unit be settled before voting. Delays, of course, give companies more time for captive meetings, to threaten dire consequences from a positive vote for unionization, and to intimidate and sometimes fire union activists.

Many more examples can be given. Here are just a few recent ones. NLRB rulings have made it easier for companies to reclassify their workers as independent contractors (thereby removing them entirely from the protection of labor laws). Other rulings have given employers the right to deny union organizers access to company parking lots or other public spaces, even if they are open to the general public, such as cafeterias, and workers the right to use their company email system for communicating about workplace issues even if it is regularly used for nonwork purposes.

As Lawrence Mishel, Lynn Rhinehart, and Lane Windham carefully document in their Economic Policy Institute study of reasons for the decline in private sector union membership, “Though these employer-friendly laws were on the books in the 1940s, 1950s, and 1960s, it was not until the 1970s that employers began to take full advantage of their power.” And take advantage they did. In fact, the authors make a strong case that one of the most important reasons for the steady decline in private sector unionism was the ruthless corporate exploitation of the new legal environment.

A weak National Labor Relations Board

Sadly, even at its best, the NLRB has limited power to protect worker rights. A case in point: if the NLRB actually determines that an employer illegally fired a worker for their pro-union activity—a process that can take up to two years because of a lack of staff—all it can do is order the employer to rehire the worker and pay them their back wages (minus whatever they earned while unemployed) and post a sign in the breakroom acknowledging that the worker was illegally fired.

As Mishel, Rhinehart, and Windham describe:

Workers do not receive monetary damages to compensate them for the economic harms inflicted by their illegal treatment. Unlike other employment laws, workers have no right to bring a lawsuit against the employer for violating their NLRA rights; they are entirely dependent on the agency pursuing their case. In contrast, other employment laws, such as civil rights laws, provide much greater penalties and provide for a private right of action so workers can bring cases on their own and collect attorneys’ fees if they prevail.

Here is a recent real-life example of how the NLRB, even when it acts in support of worker rights, is hamstrung by the class-biased framework underlying the NLRA. A regional director for the National Labor Relations Board ruled in April 2022, in response to charges filed by the Starbucks union, that the company had indeed engaged in illegal actions against union supporters. As reported by the New York Times, the regional director found the company guilty of:

firing employees in retaliation for supporting the union; threatening employees’ ability to receive new benefits if they choose to unionize; requiring workers to be available for a minimum number of hours to remain employed at a unionized store without bargaining over the change, as a way to force out at least one union supporter; and effectively promising benefits to workers if they decide not to unionize.

In response, the regional director ordered top management to record a video that can be distributed to all stores making clear that workers do have the right to engage in pro-union activity. That’s it—no fines. And, of course, the company is appealing the ruling. At the same time, it is unlikely that the company would have been found guilty under the regime of the previous NLRB General Counsel.

Some reasons for hope

President Biden’s proposed budget for fiscal year 2023 calls for an increase in funding for the NLRB from $274 million to $319.4 million. If achieved it would be a big deal. The NLRB’s last budget increase was in 2014 and according to its staff union the agency has lost over 30 percent of its staff since 2010. The lack of staff translates into fewer investigations into unfair labor practices and delays in elections.

But it remains to be seen whether Biden will fight for this increase and if so, whether Democrats will stand firm in the face of Republican opposition. The 2022 fiscal year budget included $301.17 million for the NLRB, which the agency said would allow it to add nearly 150 staff. However, at the last minute, the money disappeared from the final budget agreement. As C.M. Lewis explains:

In the deal-making to reach an omnibus spending bill that could secure Republican votes, Democratic leadership made their priorities clear: and they didn’t include defending the right to organize. Congressional leadership and the White House have both demonstrated a willingness to take a victory lap for proposing increased funding while quietly continuing austerity for the sole federal agency tasked with enforcing the National Labor Relations Act.

More hopeful is the work of General Counsel Jennifer Abruzzo. Under her leadership, the NLRB has been aggressive about responding to worker charges of unfair labor practices. More importantly, Abruzzo is pushing the NLRB to reverse its current position on captive audience meetings. According to an NLRB Office of Public Affairs statement:

National Labor Relations Board General Counsel Jennifer Abruzzo issued a memorandum to all Field offices announcing that she will ask the Board to find mandatory meetings in which employees are forced to listen to employer speech concerning the exercise of their statutory labor rights, including captive audience meetings, a violation of the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA). . . . Forcing employees to attend captive audience meetings under threat of discipline discourages employees from exercising their right to refrain from listening to this speech and is therefore inconsistent with the NLRA.

The memo explains that years ago the Board incorrectly concluded that an employer does not violate the Act by compelling its employees to attend meetings in which it makes speeches urging them to reject union representation. As a result, employers commonly use explicit or implied threats to force employees into meetings about unionization or other statutorily protected activity.

Abruzzo has also filed a brief in a case brought before the NLRB by the Teamsters in which she calls for the immediate reinstatement of the Joy Silk doctrine. Under that doctrine, which shaped NLRB policy some 50 years ago, an employer could be ordered to recognize and bargain with a union if the union was able to show that it was supported by a majority of workers in the bargaining unit. An election would be required only if the employer could demonstrate that its refusal to bargain was based on its good faith doubt about the union’s majority status. Currently, as Fran Swanson explains in an Onlabo r blog post, “a bargaining order may only issue in cases where an ‘employer’s misdeeds are so widespread they make a fair election impossible,’ a standard which the brief argues has ‘failed to deter employers’ from interfering with elections.”

Of course, Abruzzo doesn’t have the last word. She has to convince the 5 member NLRB to accept her position on both captive audience meetings and the Joy Luck doctrine. Board members are appointed by the President, with Senate consent, and serve for five years. Each year, the term of one member expires. That means that the majority of the board predates Biden’s election. It is unclear how they will decide.

There is no doubt that if the NLRB receives a long overdue budget increase and Abruzzo is successful, workers will find it easier to organize. At the same time, it would be a serious mistake to believe that changes in labor law by themselves will be enough to ensure the revival of the labor movement. That will require the sustained hard work of rank-and-file organizers. Of course, it’s the combination that offers us the best chance for success. So, let’s keep the spotlight and pressure on the NLRB while continuing to support the kind of smart, aggressive organizing that has companies like Starbucks on the defensive.

Martin Hart-Landsberg is Professor Emeritus of Economics at Lewis and Clark College, Portland, Oregon; and Adjunct Researcher at the Institute for Social Sciences, Gyeongsang National University, South Korea. His areas of teaching and research include political economy, economic development, international economics, and the political economy of East Asia. He is also a member of the Workers’ Rights Board (Portland, Oregon) and maintains a blog Reports from the Economic Front where this article first appeared.

MR Online, May 23, 2022, https://mronline.org/

Science Overruled: How vested interests rewrote the IPCC’s latest report / by Juan Bordera and others

Corporations and politicians edited the Policy Summary to omit the scientists’ most powerful conclusions

Originally published in CTXT – Contexto y Acción, translation published by  MR Online.

The Summary for Policymakers for the April 2022 Working Group III Report of the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) — the third part of the IPCC’s 2021-2022 Sixth Assessment Report addressing Mitigation , is according to UN Secretary General António Guterres, “a litany of broken climate promises.… Simply put, they [the vested interests] are lying,” denying the science, present in the report as a whole but excluded or downplayed in the Summary for Policymakers.

“Climate activists,” Guterres explains, are sometimes portrayed as dangerous radicals, but the truly dangerous radicals are the countries that are increasing fossil fuel production” (malaysia.un.org). These statements–which could belong to any social movement spokesperson–are just some of the strongest statements that the present UN Secretary-General has made in the wake of the official release of the Work Group 3 report, the world’s most crucial climate report hitherto and likely into the future.

The IPCC scientist in Working Group III in charge of proposing a concrete mitigation plan, that is, to reduce emissions and seek viable solutions (technological, economic, and social) to the biggest crisis ever faced by humankind. The science has never been clearer: we must drastically reduce emissions to have a chance of maintaining the climate stability that allows us to live on this planet.

But the Summary for Policymakers and Managers (the SPM), which will be the only thing the vast majority of policymakers and business leaders will read of the report’s 2,900+ pages, does not measure up to the science behind it, nor to the challenge of climate change, the ecological crisis, and the energy transition. The Summary for Policymakers in the IPCC Working Group III document is the only thing that is not strictly scientific. The protocol established by the United Nations allows countries, often pressured by their business lobbies, to make changes and negotiate line by line on the content of The Summary for Policymakers. This is undoubtedly the part of the report that most reveals the duplicity of souls, the lights and shadows, the true character — extremely bipolar — of the IPCC drafting process.

After the last phase of revision of the report, which took several days longer than expected – with its publication was even delayed due to the struggle to modify the Summary for Policymakers—one thing is crystal clear: the mark-up of the Summary of the report by lobbies and governments during the process – also documented by the BBC – is unfortunately and unquestionably real, and the rebellion of a part of the scientific community against this situation is not only more than justified, but, given the inaction, it is essential to try to remedy the situation.

A few months ago, thanks to a collective of scientists (Scientist Rebellion), we managed to publish the leak of the first draft of this group III, and the global impact was immediate. The Guardian, Der Spiegel, CNBC, Yale University, Monthly Review… dozens of media from more than 35 countries echoed the red warning message documented by the leaked draft of the IPCC.

To headline their articles, journalists usually chose between two of the pearls included in the first draft, which only the hands of scientists had touched. One of them, that emissions should peak in 2025 and fall rapidly, remains intact in the final version of this Summary for Policymakers. The other big headline, that all existing gas and coal plants should be shut down in about a decade, has completely disappeared from the summary.

But it is not the only thing that has changed. When comparing the two versions, the surprises are enormous. We have found a multitude of examples of changes that further soften a report that, if there is one thing it is guilty of from the outset, it is great moderation. And above all, if anything, the world has changed, since the report was written. The works analyzed in the compendium have a deadline: October 2021. Since then, we have experienced the first serious shocks of an energy and supply chain crisis that has been brewing for years. A war has begun that has changed politics and economics perhaps forever, and more and more voices are warning that we are on the verge of a major food crisis. When everything accelerates, the validity of the analysis becomes even more ephemeral.

This is probably the last major work of the IPCC that comes in time to guide our societies to maneuver and avoid collapse. Some believe that the direction set out in the report is clear, but reading The Summary for Policymakers, the sense it conveys is more of a civilization that is teetering unsteadily as it lurches forward; a civilization that is sustained by dwindling oil, which has to be phased out, and a glacier that is melting faster and faster. Both climate and energy stability depend on our ability to accept this situation.

In the process, between the version of the Summary leaked in August and the one finally published, the most notable changes are the following:

  • No mention of the closure of gas and coal plants within a decade. Fossil industry lobbies have managed to tone down the overall narrative of the summary directed against their industry. It is known that the delay in the publication of the report was mainly for this reason. Interested countries–notably Saudi Arabia–lobbied to remove this recommendation.
  • The tone is lowered regarding the responsibility of the wealthiest 10%. The leaked summary noted that they pollute ten times more than the poorest 10%.
  • Many references to direct emissions from aviation, the car industry and meat consumption have disappeared. In fact, the word “meat” disappears from the final published version of the Summary. These emissions are reflected in the newly published report in association with other emissions from the sector, and their importance is therefore diluted.
  • The first draft warned of “vested interests” as one of the factors hindering progress on the energy transition. That mention, which appears in the report, has been dropped from the Summary, a victim of precisely those same vested interests that pressure governments. Who says there is no poetry in scientific reports?
  • One of the sentences that most confronted the report’s absolutely predominant techno-optimism is removed: “the cost, performance and adoption of many individual technologies has progressed, but overall deployment and implementation rates of technological change are currently insufficient to meet climate goals”; a statement that clashed squarely with the logic of voluntary carbon markets and big business.
  • On the Carbon Capture and Sequestration mechanism: Saudi Arabia, again, along with other countries such as the UK, has fought to strengthen this controversial point that allows them to continue business as usual, demonstrating utter frivolity. The prevailing techno-optimism believes that a yet-to-be-developed technology will magically come to the rescue and even allow “continued use of fossil fuels”. Much material on these technologies has been introduced to justify the idea of net-zero emissions that has little or no scientific basis yet underpins the report’s central thesis.
  • Any faint mention of the problems with the materials needed for the energy transition, which are indispensable for developing renewable energy, batteries or electric cars, is missing from the summary. This was present in the first draft.
  • Also gone is the mention of participatory democracy as one of the main tools to unblock and accelerate a transition for which there is hardly any time left.
  • The point that “ambitious mitigation and development goals cannot be achieved through incremental changes” has disappeared altogether. The mark-up is applied to the references that seek to emphasize that individual and incremental changes are not enough.

Fortunately, by analyzing the full report of scientists (aside from the Summary of Policy Makers) – since the report other than the Summary is not subject to redaction by powerful interests and thus represents the scientific view fairly free of pressure – we can find a path that leads us to nothing less than a revolution in our energy and socio-economic systems, giving a glimpse of the emerging commitment of part of the scientific community to degrowth. This is the only way left to us to tackle the multiple emergencies in which our societies are immersed.

The word “degrowth” is mentioned 28 times in the full report, compared to zero in the summary for politicians. The sentence referring to the unsustainable nature of capitalist society is also retained, demonstrating the report’s sleekness.

For the first time, the IPCC echoes what civil society has been warning about for years and warns, in chapters 14 and 15, of the obstacle that the Energy Charter Treaty (ECT) and its investor-state dispute settlement (ISDS) mechanism pose for the development of climate change mitigation policies. Having gone unnoticed for three decades, today, this international agreement for the energy sector continues to protect investments in fossil fuels. It allows investors and multinationals–precisely those who have brought us to this crossroads – to sue states when they consider that they have legislated against their economic interests, present or future. The numbers speak for themselves: in Europe alone, the fossil infrastructure protected by the treaty amounts to 344.6 billion euros.

The question is, can we move away from fossil fuels without first moving away from ECT? And why has it not been included in the summary for politicians? At this point, it is no longer enough to include bold mentions in reports whose summaries are then watered down by lobbyists. It is not only natural for a part of the scientific community to rebel and take action: it is more than desirable. This is precisely what we need to provoke a debate we seem to avoid. This debate, the elephant in the room, is that we need to change the socio-economic model, and fast.

We need to act, take risks, and maybe, hopefully, inspire society to mobilize again. We need to abandon fossil fuels before they abandon us.

Climate & Capitalism, April 28, 2022, https://climateandcapitalism.com/

Biden budget: Hike the military, defuse protests by taxing the rich / by Mark Gruenberg

Rep. Pramila Jayapal, D-Wash., the chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, center, along with other lawmakers, talks with reporters. Jayapal is joined by from left, Rep. Katherine Clark, D-Mass., Rep. Debbie Dingell, D-Mich., Rep. Mark Pocan, D-Wis., Rep. Barbara Lee, D-Calif., and Rep. Ritchie Torres, D-New York. Susan Walsh | AP

WASHINGTON—Tax the rich to reduce the nation’s yearly budget deficit but give the military more than ever.

Taxing the rich and making corporations pay more, not padding the military, is the big takeaway Democratic President Joe Biden wants voters—and some centrist lawmakers—to get from his proposed $5.8 trillion spending plan for the fiscal year starting October 1.

But there’s a big problem in Biden’s budget, as far as progressives are concerned: The record amount of money for the military and its dependent war corporate contractors: $813 billion, counting some extra defense spending hidden elsewhere than in the Pentagon’s own budget line.

“Right now, billionaires pay an average rate of 8% on their total income. Eight—that’s the average they pay,” the president declared when he unveiled the budget blueprint on March 28.

“If you make a billion bucks, great. Just pay your fair share. Pay a little bit. A firefighter and a teacher pay more than double the tax rate that a billionaire pays. That’s not right. That’s not fair.”

But on spending, Biden’s numbers contradict his words. As he drums up support for the war in Ukraine and paying for the weapons he is pumping in there, he increases defense spending by $31 billion and reduces non-defense spending—for education, labor, health, fighting the coronavirus, and other “discretionary” programs—by $13 billion, to $915 billion. The president attributed that decline to winding down and ending anti-pandemic aid. He said nothing about whether the budget could allow revival, in whole or in part, of his Build Back Better agenda killed by Democratic Party conservatives led by West Virginia’s Joe Manchin.

And he justified the Pentagon dollar hike by claiming the military needs more money so it can help Ukraine. And even if the Ukraine war is not enough of an excuse to fatten the military budget, he raised the alleged threat the nation faces down the line from China to justify the increase. “We’re once again facing increased competition from other nation states—China and Russia,” he declared.

That analysis irks critics of war spending and gladdens the hearts of the military contractors who dine and drink at the Pentagon’s table.

“At a time when we are already spending more on the military than the next 11 countries combined, no we do not need a massive increase in the defense budget,” Senate Budget Committee Chairman Bernie Sanders, Ind-Vt., said in advance of his panel’s March 30 hearing on Biden’s budget blueprint.

Rep. Barbara Lee, D-Calif. AP

“Appropriators and advocates” must always defend spending “to expand access to health care” while cutting its costs to workers and families, to build affordable housing, to fight climate change, and to combat the coronavirus pandemic, said Congressional Progressive Caucus Chair Pramila Jayapal, D-Wash., former chair Mark Pocan, D-Wash., and longtime anti-war Rep. Barbara Lee, D-Calif., in a joint press conference.

“But such concerns evaporate when it comes to the Pentagon’s endlessly growing, unaudited budget. We will continue to vigorously advocate against this military spending proposal, as we have in years past,” the three promised.

Biden preferred to concentrate on hammering the rich.

“My budget contains a ‘billionaire minimum tax’” of 20%, he said. The top “one-hundredth of 1% of the Americans will pay this tax. The billionaire minimum tax is fair, and it raises $360 billion that can be used to lower costs for families and cut the deficit.”

And Biden would raise the top tax rate on the highest end of income of all the superrich to 39.6%–its level before the GOP-Trump tax cut four years ago for corporations and the rich. The corporate tax rate would rise from the current 21% to a proposed 28%. It was 35% before the Trump-GOP cut.

Biden also would eliminate the “carried interest” deduction, a bonanza which lets hedge fund Wall Streeters pay on their gains at lower tax rates. Killing that tax break alone would raise $406 billion in fiscal 2023, the budget tables show. Biden also would increase estate taxes on the rich—rolling back part of the Trump-GOP giveaway—by $48 billion.

What Biden did not say was hedge fund vultures who claim “carried interest” use the windfall to grab loans to buy and destroy companies, notably newspapers, and lives, all in the name of corporate greed.

Instead, “My budget also ensures corporations pay their fair share. In 2020, there were 50 Fortune 500 companies that made $40 billion in profit combined but didn’t pay a single, solitary cent in federal taxes. My budget raises the corporate tax rate to 28%, far lower than the rate it was between World War II and 2017 when it was lowered,” he said.

Overall, all of Biden’s tax hikes on corporations and the rich, if enacted, and that’s in doubt, would raise $2.5 trillion. But that sum stretches over a decade.

So, for example, the billionaire minimum tax doesn’t kick in—if Congress approves it—until fiscal 2024, which starts Oct. 1, 2023. And it raises only 10% of its $3.6 trillion decade-long total in that fiscal year.

One revenue raiser not in Biden’s budget: The increased money that would come into the Treasury from higher fines and the wider reach of those fines—to corporate honchos and covering more offenses—for company labor law-breaking. The new basic fine for a first-time law-breaker would be $50,000, rather than net back pay to illegally hurt workers. Corporate repeat offenders would pay $100,000 per abuse.

Those higher fines and related provisions, taken from the Protect The Right To Organize Act, labor’s #1 legislative priority, were in Biden’s Build Back Better budget “reconciliation” bill for this fiscal year. They’re not in his budget blueprint.

The Democratic-run House passed BBB on party lines. The evenly split Senate didn’t even debate it. The revenue raisers from BBB carried into Biden’s budget were the corporate and individual income tax hikes and elimination of $45 billion in tax breaks for fossil fuel firms. Those companies benefit in other ways not contained in the budget: Gaining European market share as sanctions hit against Ukraine.

Biden’s budget, like any other presidential spending blueprint, is a political document, intended to set out priorities. “Don’t tell me what you value. Show me your budget, and I’ll tell you what you value,” the president said. So here are some other Biden values:

More money for schools, especially those whose teachers have classes full of low-income kids.

Funds for that program, called Title I, would double, which cheered Teachers (AFT) President Randi Weingarten, one of the earliest union commenters on the budget plan.

“It includes $1 billion to help schools hire additional counselors, school psychologists, and other health professionals to address the mental health crisis,” she added—a crisis the coronavirus pandemic illuminated. And Biden adds $400 million “for the Education Department’s Full-Service Community Schools Program, which aims to bring healthcare and other social service programs onto school campuses.” Adding such wraparound services in schools is a longtime AFT aim.

“It’s clear Biden is making important investments in helping our public schools meet the needs of every child and provide more opportunities for students to recover and thrive after two years of disruption,” Weingarten said.

More money for pro-worker enforcement programs. Biden again seeks $319.4 million for the National Labor Relations Board. That’s $45 million more than this year—and the figure the House OKd before the Senate eliminated that hike, leaving NLRB at $274 million,

And the Occupational Safety and Health Administration would get a record $704 million, which would let it hire 330 more staffers, rising to 2,346. The budget envisions a 7.6% increase in OSHA inspections, from 31,400 to 33,790. That doesn’t count state OSHA inspections.

The NLRB’s staff union welcomed that agency’s hike with “Yes, but…” tweets. The first one noted the NLRB budget stalled at $274 million yearly in 2014. “While this proposal is encouraging, the agency needs these resources now,” the staff union said.

“If the NLRB’s 2014 budget had merely been increased to match inflation, our budget would stand at $328 million this year…We need these resources in FY2022”—the current fiscal year—”to adequately carry out our agency’s mission of enforcing federal labor law.” Its current year total: $274 million, again.

The comparison between military money and domestic spending led to political fireworks when Biden Budget Director Shalanda Young testified on March 29 before the Senate Budget Committee. Chairman Bernie Sanders is labor’s longest-tenured supporter in Congress. He also hates growing the military, especially when the Pentagon outspends the next 11 nations’ military budgets, combined.

“At a time when corporations are making obscene profits by charging outrageously high prices for gas, food, and rent, we need a budget that takes on the unprecedented corporate greed that is taking place in America today by enacting a windfall profits tax and preventing corporations from ripping off working families,” Sanders added.

“At a time when over 700 billionaires in America became nearly $2 trillion richer during the pandemic while tens of millions continue to struggle, we need a budget that demands that the wealthiest Americans pay their fair share of taxes and substantially improves the lives of working families with children, the elderly, the sick and the poor.”

Flak also came from the right. Sen. Lindsay Graham, R-S.C., who will take over the panel if the GOP wins control in November, slammed Biden’s budget, too…for not spending enough on war. “The Biden budget fails once again to fund our national defense at adequate levels,” was one Graham complaint.

Award winning journalist Mark Gruenberg is head of the Washington, D.C., bureau of People’s World. He is also the editor of the union news service Press Associates Inc. (PAI). Known for his reporting skills, sharp wit, and voluminous knowledge of history, Mark is a compassionate interviewer but a holy terror when going after big corporations and their billionaire owners.

People’s World, March 30, 2022, https://www.peoplesworld.org/article/biden-budget-hike-the-military-defuse-protests-by-taxing-the-rich/