Archive | June, 2012

The Supreme Court’s Health Care Ruling: UPHELD!

29 Jun

Right now former President George W. Bush, who appointed John Roberts as Chief Justice, must be having a Dwight Eisenhower moment…

When  Eisenhower nominated California’s Republican governor Earl Warren to be the Chief Justice in 1953, he thought he was appointing a conservative jurist. Later, Eisenhower reportedly said that appointing  Warren, who took the Court in an unprecedented liberal direction,  was the “biggest damn fool mistake” he had ever made.  (Warren is one of the people I profile in my new book, The 100 Greatest Americans of the 20th Century: A Social Justice Hall of Fame).

John Roberts is certainly no Earl Warren. Indeed, his court has been one of the most conservative, pro-business courts in history… but we can be grateful for Roberts’  decision to side with the 5-4 majority to uphold the Obama health care reform law. 

This is a big victory for progressive politics.  The 2010 health care reform bill didn’t include everything we wanted, but it was an historic milestone. It has already relieved a great deal of heartache and suffering for millions and will do even more as the law is further implemented.

As I ask in my article in yesterday’s Huffington Post“Why Did Roberts Side with Obama?” There will be many analyses of the Supreme Court’s ruling, including why Roberts not only sided with the majority, but chose to write the majority decision.  I don’t think it had much to do with Constitutional matters.  My own view is that Roberts was looking at history, at his legacy, and was concerned that future generations would look at the “Roberts Court” as simply a partisan, right-wing pro-corporate court, which it has been so far. Polls show that since Roberts became Chief Justice the American public has lost confidence in the Court. Perhaps he was tired of being seen as a clone of right-wing Justice Antonin Scalia, who wrote a wacko dissent attacking the majority ruling. (The other day, even before the latest ruling, Washington Post columnist E.J. Dionne called on Scalia to resign from the court).

And perhaps Roberts was taken aback by Obama’s State of the Union attack on the Supreme Court for its outrageous Citizens United decision, which has unleashed a flood of billionaire and corporate money into the current election contests, hijacking democracy in the process.

The Supreme Court ruling can only help Obama’s re-election effort against Romney.  That can’t make George W. very happy.

Despite the Supreme Court ruling, however,  the battle for health care reform isn’t over. Romney will continue to attack Obamacare — a remarkable act of hypocrisy given his role in pushing for a similar approach when he was Massachusetts governor. Republicans will run for Congress this year pledging to repeal Obamacare. Progressives and liberals will still need to mobilize support for the idea of universal health care.

We should learn some lessons from the 2009-2010 battle for health care reform, including the necessity of grassroots mobilization, as I wrote in an article in American Prospect two years ago.  Check out this provocative article about what’s needed now, written by Richard Kirsch, who led the grassroots movement for health care reform as head of Health Care for America Now.  When it comes to health care policy, the best analyst is my friend John McDonough, former head of Massachusetts Health Care for All, former health policy  advisor to Ted Kennedy, and now a professor at the Harvard School of Public Health. His column, Health Stew, is required reading, including today’s blog on the Supreme Court ruling.

Teresa Sullivan reinstated!

27 Jun

Sometimes the good guys (and gals) win!! Two cheers for the University of Virginia faculty fighting back against the business-school corporate lackeys! I went to grad school with Teresa Sullivan at the University of Chicago. She was a tough cookie then and, obviously, now. And a first-rate sociologist. The UC, Cal State, and Community College faculty, staff, students, and alums can learn some lessons. Time to fight back against the outrageous budget cuts brought on by the Republicans in the legislature and their right-wing business allies.


The radical Albert Einstein

25 Jun

Did you know that Albert Einstein was a radical who used his world-wide celebrity as a scientist to battle militarism, racism, anti-semitism, and other forms of injustice? One of the fun parts of writing The 100 Greatest Americans of the 20th Century: A Social Justice Hall of Fame, was discovering the radical views and  political activism of many well-known public figures.  Truthout published my profile of Einstein on its website today.

Occupy, Obama 2012, Public Campaign and the fight for a strong progressive movement…

12 Jun

Sarah Jaffe wrote this interesting article in Truthout“What Occupiers Learned from Obama – And What He Should Learn From Them.”

Jaffe claims that many people who’ve participated in the Occupy movement got their first taste of political activism – and learned their organizing skills – in the 2008 Obama campaign.  Many of them are now disillusioned with the president.  Hopefully that doesn’t mean that they’ll stay home on election day in November. In fact, they need to understand that helping re-elect Obama – and getting more Democrats elected in Congress – is key to translating any of their ideas into real public policy.  A Romney win would be a complete victory for the 1%.  An Obama victory – along with wins for progressive Democrats in Congress – would make it possible (though not inevitable) for a wider and wiser progressive movement to put key aspects of their demands on the national agenda.

One of those goals is to eliminate private money from American politics and substitute public funding.  The nonprofit group Public Campaign has been leading that good fight for years.  It is part of the broader crusade for more democracy, fairness and equality, the broad goals of the Occupy movement and its union, community, and faith-based allies – to take the country back from the billionaires, big corporations, and their political allies who do their bidding.

The 2012 Election

11 Jun

The New York Times recently published this provocative article, “Capitalists and Other Psychopaths,” which is worth reading.  Of course not everyone in the 1% are psychopaths or even conservatives. Some are liberals, some are Democrats, and a few are even radicals. But one of the real right-wing billionaire wackos, in the same category with the Koch Brothers, is Joe Ricketts.  The New York Times recently exposed Ricketts’ plan to bankroll  a $10 million series of race-baiting anti-Obama ads that would resurrect clips of Rev. Jeremiah Wright.   Ricketts is the founder of the brokerage firm TD Ameritrade and his family owns the Chicago Cubs.  The Times story triggered an immediate backlash and then Ricketts disavowed the plan.  One reason for the quick apology is that the Cubs are asking the city of Chicago for a huge subsidy to renovate Wrigley Field, and Rickets’ anti-Obama plan angered Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel.  Of course, why should a team owned by the billionaire Ricketts’ family qualify for a subsidy in the first place?  But the controversy over the Ricketts’ plan reveals yet another example of the terrible impact of the Supreme Court’s Citizens United 2010 ruling and the subsequent rise of the Super-PACs funded by billionaires intent on stealing our democracy.

Overturning the Citizens United decision is critical.  That will only happen if Obama gets to appoint at least one more person to the Supreme Court and if he makes it an implicit litmus test issue for his next appointment.  But there’s a potential steppingstone victory in the making.  According to articles in the Chicago Tribune and Politico,  22 states are now backing Montana’s fight to prevent the Citizens United ruling from being used to strike down state laws restricting corporate campaign spending. These states are asking the Supreme Court  to preserve Montana’s law limiting corporate political expenditures.

Giving Obama four more years to appoint a new Supreme Court justice to replace one of the reactionaries and conservatives on the current court is one more reason for the Occupiers and others to get deeply involved in the upcoming election, and to  make voter registration and turnout a priority, especially in the key swing states of Florida, Virginia, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Iowa, Colorado, Nevada, North Carolina, and New Hampshire.


Remembering Bayard Rustin

8 Jun

Bayard Rustin — the trailblazing civil rights activist and the organizer of the famous March on Washington in 1963 — was black, gay, a pacifist, and a radical. Controversy surrounded him all his life. But this year — the 100th anniversary of his birth and 25 years after his death — his name is back in the news. Some of this new visibility is due to the fact that a number of civil rights and gay rights groups are honoring Rustin with conferences, museum exhibits and other events. And part of it is due to the fact that in the wake of President Barack Obama’s support for same-sex marriage, the issue of homosexuality within the black community — including the civil rights movement and the black church — is triggering controversy. As I discuss in my article in the June issue of Commonweal (a version of which also appeared in Huffington Post), as a human rights pioneer Rustin may finally be getting the recognition he deserves, but some opponents of gay rights within the black community are also taking his name in vain. My article discusses Rustin’s life and legacy.


Occupiers want an end to Outrageous Student Debt

6 Jun

Another by-product of the Occupy movement has been the growing uproar over mounting student debt.  This was a key aspects of the Occupiers and it has been getting more and more attention in recent months from President Obama, Congress, and the media, including this recent article in the Los Angeles Times.  It is outrageous that working class and middle class college students are saddled with years of debt, as this Truthout article, “Understanding Student Debt,”  and this editorial inThe Nation“End Student Debt,” reveals.  In many other democratic countries, a college education is free or almost-free – an idea that America’s land-grant universities once embodied.  My wife got  her nursing school tuition paid for by the federal government in exchange for spending a few years working in a low-income area.  (She wound up spending her entire career working in low-income communities).  I think that U.S. should require all young people to spend at least two years doing community service (as an alternative to serving in the military) in exchange for free college tuition for four years.  Doctors, nurses, public health workers, public interest lawyers, teachers, and others who agree to work with and for the poor should get further public support for their graduate education.

More Success for Occupy

5 Jun

More evidence of the effectiveness of the growing protest movement is the recent enacted of “responsible banking ordinances” in several cities, including Los Angeles and New York.  On Tuesday, May 15, the LA City Council voted 13-0 to require any commercial bank wishing to hold city deposits to submit an annual statement of community reinvestment activity in the city, including the number, size and type of small business loans, home mortgages, home improvement loans, community development loans, and banks’ participation in the City’s foreclosure prevention and home loan principal reduction programs. Activist groups can use the information to develop a “report card” on banks that could push the city government, unions, churches, foundations and others to remove their deposits from banks with poor grades. A year ago, the proposal, sponsored by City Council member Richard Alarcon, died on the vine for lack of support. But this year, in the wake of the Occupy movement, Alarcon resurrected the ordinance, which quickly gained momentum, despite the opposition of LA’s banks and business community. The grassroots campaign for the ordinance was led by LA Voice, POWER, SEIU, and the Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment (ACCE).

Other major cities, including Boston, Oakland, Austin, Portland, Kansas City, and Seattle, are now reviewing “responsible banking” laws, which allow cities to use their leverage as large depositors to hold big banks publicly accountable for their reinvestment in neighborhoods, especially in low to moderate-income neighborhoods of color, where predatory lending and bad business practices by big banks have devastated communities’ small businesses and homes. Cleveland has had a similar law for almost two decades.

The same week, the  Oakland (California) City Council  stood up to lobbyists from the Mortgage Bankers Association and the Chamber of Commerce and voted to expand Vacant Property Registration & Foreclosure Blight Ordinance, which will make banks pay when then foreclosure on properties and don’t clean them up.  In San Jose, the City Council passed aPayday Lending Ordinancewhich imposes a cap on the number of current payday lenders (which typically charge rip-off fees to cash checks) and the first to prevent payday lending businesses from opening in or near very low-income areas in the city.

Vital Lessons from the past – the LA Riots

4 Jun

Riots, Protest and Organizing: Lessons From the 20th Anniversary of the LA Riots

The 20th anniversary of the Los Angeles riots have triggered a number of fascinating reports examining the underlying causes of the unrest and the changes (in attitudes and actions) that have taken place in the past two decades. In my latest Huffington Post article, “Riots, Protest, and Organizing,” I discuss some lessons from the effective grassroots organizing in LA over that period, and compare it with the history of progressive activism that I discuss in my new book — from the women’s suffrage movement, to the Depression-era sit-down strikes, to Occupy Wall Street.

Success in the Occupy Movement

3 Jun

Many unions and community organizing groups have been challenging corporate power and fighting for consumers, workers, and communities for many years, but the Occupy Wall Street movement created a new national mood that has given them the self-confidence to be bolder and think bigger.  The movement has paid off in many ways.  As Harold Meyerson reported in his article inAmerican Prospect,  “The Man the Banks Feared Most,” the Occupy movement made it possible for Eric Schneiderman, the New York State attorney general, and Kamala Harris, his California counterpart, to face down the banks and the Obama administration to forge a strong settlement with six major banks to renegotiate mortgages for homeowners that they ripped off.