April 18, 2012
by Randy Shannon, Coordinator
Western PA Progressive Democrats of America
The labor movement’s campaign to oust Democratic Congressman Jason Altmire in the new 12th Congressional District is an important push against the bankers’ foothold in the Democratic Party. United Steelworkers Union President Leo Gerard kicked off a one week labor campaign to mobilize union voters behind their endorsed candidate, Democratic Congressman Mark Critz, who succeeded John Murtha to represent the old 12th District.
Altmire is a former lobbyist for the health care industry and in his six years in Congress worked diligently to undermine the single payer movement, led the attack on the public option, and finally voted against the Affordable Care Act.
More importantly Altmire runs the Keystone Fund, which washes lobbyist money that is flowing into Democratic Congressional campaigns. This money flow to Democrats through Altmire’s Keystone Fund buys votes to prevent national healthcare, to hold back jobs programs to rebuild our crumbling infrastructure, and to approve any and all military spending and bank bailouts.
Meanwhile the 1% is paying the lowest tax in modern history while scheming to liquidate Social Security. Altmire’s Blue Dog strategy helps depress the vote by demoralizing voters. Altmire and the Blue Dogs are helping the Republicans from inside the Democratic Party. A recent investigation showed that Altmire’s phone bank and fund raising campaign is being run by a Republican consultant firm in Washington, DC.
At the rally to mobilize the union vote in the April 24 Democratic primary, President Gerard aimed his remarks at Altmire. “He was a lobbyist.” Someone in the crowd shouted: “He still is” to nods all around.
Pres. Gerard was making it clear that Altmire was not representing the voters of his district but the agenda of the corporate lobby. As Congressman he has the means and the obligation to serve the needs of his constituents. He has done this only in the narrowest sense, providing a reasonable standard of constituent services and aid, but at the same time voting for wider policies that undermine the living standards of all Americans.
President Gerard stated: “We need real Democrats in Congress, not fake Democrats who vote more with the GOP than their own party…It’s not that Altmire is just out for himself and not us. Altmire is working for those who are paying him, and always paid him, the health insurance lobby. He does their work rather than ours.”
If the labor movement can knock off one of the top Blue Dog corporate members of the House, then the ground is shifting and the 1% will be forced to react. Even though Critz is a conservative with a voting record that would make a progressive cringe, his victory in the Democratic primary will alarm the bankers and stimulate a flood of money into 12th District Republican coffers.
The only way Critz can win in November against a wall of Republican money is with a ground game that depends on mobilizing working class voters in the 12th district with a robust program for change. Critz will have to take more progressive positions in order to mount a credible campaign against the Republican candidate.
In the primary Critz has adopted a low key strategy hoping that Altmire’s support is weak. Altmire is responding with a negative campaign criticizing Critz for positions that Altmire himself supports. This combination of caution by Critz and attacks by Altmire both help the Republicans in the Fall.
Critz has not yet found traction with the voters. The media has turned the race into a tit for tat. Neither Altmire nor Critz show that either is feeling the pain of the voters in the 12th CD. What is this pain? It is the pain of rapidly rising prices in the face of falling incomes and falling demand. The prices of homes are still falling but the price of food, fuel, clothing, and health care are rising.
Let me suggest a speech Mark Critz might give if he wanted excite Democratic primary voters and stimulate turnout on April 24th and in November:
Ladies and Gentlemen, I know that many working people are suffering from lower income and longer working hours. Many of you are on food stamps or other assistance because you can’t find a job. Many of your children cannot afford a higher education that would give them a chance to succeed.
We know that this economic crisis was caused by the greed of Wall Street banks that gambled with our future. Nevertheless the corporate criminals are still in power and still harvesting outlandish bonuses. They still have undue influence in the Administration and control the Congress.
Everyone knows that gasoline, food, health care, education, and most necessities are rising in price although most of us don’t have enough money to buy what we need. Why is this happening?
It is happening because the big speculators in commodities have been given a free run of the market by the Obama administration. Although the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform law of 2010 limits the amount of speculative activity in commodities to 30%, speculation is actually close to 80% of the price movement of fuel and agricultural goods.
In March of 2012 and in April of 2011 the President blamed speculators for these rising prices and asked Attorney General Eric Holder to investigate. It is time for the President to fire this Attorney General and hire someone who will enforce the law against the commodity speculators.
We don’t need an election to stop the 1% from driving up the cost of living. We need the President to put up a fight. This is not about passing a law but about enforcing the law that was passed. It is about facing down the millionaires who demand all and sacrifice nothing.
If you elect me to represent you in Congress I will fight this corporate corruption with all of my might. I will make your healthcare, your jobs, and your future security my priority.
Critz will need to take a long hard look at the budget and program of the Congressional Progressive Caucus because that is what will energize the unemployed, youth, workers, students, and minorities in the 12th Congressional District. These Democratic voters were registered and mobilized by the Obama campaign in 2008. When progressives met with Critz in February, Ms. Mtume Imani, the Treasurer of the Beaver County NAACP said: “I have one question. What are you going to do about jobs?”
Critz should pay attention to HR 870 the 21st Century Full Employment and Jobs Act. Critz should also add his name as a co-sponsor of HR 676 the Medicare for All Act. Both were introduced by Representative John Conyers. When Representative Conyers spoke to the coalition of union members, African- Americans, and progressive Democrats at the 2011 Beaver-Lawrence Labor Council Human Rights banquet about his jobs and health care program he received a standing ovation.
We need bold programs to tax Wall Street so we can put everyone to work and provide everyone with health care. We know that this will cost much less than the current program of tax cuts for the 1%. The 1% wants to throw up every obstacle to implementation of the crippled Affordable Care Act. If the Affordable Care Act is found unconstitutional, this would be a tactical defeat, just as the defeat of the public option was a tactical defeat. The pressure was brought to bear by none other than Representative Jason Altmire to force Obama and the health care movement to retreat.
All industrialized nations and many developing nations have national health care. Are we not an industrialized nation? Privatized for-profit healthcare administered by for-profit insurance companies must be abolished. Congressman Critz should sign on as a co-sponsor of Medicare for All to show Democratic primary voters that he means business.
Let’s recall a passage from the first Inaugural Address of President Franklin D. Roosevelt:
Values have shrunk to fantastic levels: taxes have risen; our ability to pay has fallen; government of all kinds is faced by serious curtailment of income; the means of exchange are frozen in the currents of trade; the withered leaves of industrial enterprise lie on every side; farmers find no markets for their produce; and the savings of many years in thousands of families are gone. More important, a host of unemployed citizens face the grim problem of existence and an equally great number toil with little return.
Plenty is at our doorstep, but a generous use of it languishes in the very sight of the supply.
Primarily, this is because the rulers of the exchange of mankind’s goods have failed, through their own stubbornness and their own incompetence, have admitted their failure, and have abdicated. Practices of the unscrupulous money changers stand indicted in the court of public opinion, rejected by the hearts and minds of men.
Faced by failure of credit, they have proposed only the lending of more money. They only know the rules of a generation of self-seekers. They have no vision, and when there is no vision the people perish.
Yes, the money changers have fled from their high seats in the temple of our civilization. We may now restore that temple to the ancient truths. The measure of that restoration lies in the extent to which we apply social values more noble than mere monetary profit.
Our greatest primary task is to put people to work. This is no unsolvable problem if we face it wisely and courageously. It can be accomplished in part by direct recruiting by the government itself, treating the task as we would treat the emergency of a war, but at the same time, through this employment, accomplishing great, greatly needed projects to stimulate and reorganize the use of our great natural resources.
And finally, in our progress towards a resumption of work, we require two safeguards against a return of the evils of the old order. There must be a strict supervision of all banking and credits and investments. There must be an end to speculation with other people’s money. And there must be provision for an adequate but sound currency.
Roosevelt’s words still ring true and still wait for a powerful people’s movement and Democratic candidates with backbone to force their implementation into law.
Former New York Governor Eliot Spitzer recently stated: “I’m not persuaded that this President has really been a voice for reform when it comes to Wall Street. Wall Street has pretended that it has taken its hits, but it really hasn’t.”
In criticizing Obama’s concessions to the bankers Spitzer is refocusing public attention on the issue of the financial oligarchy – the 1% – in this election. His campaign against Wall Street fraud and corruption as New York attorney general gave him durable credibility as a spokesperson for the 99% of Americans in the “politics of economics.” In 2011 Spitzer demanded that Attorney General Holder prosecute Goldman Sachs for blatant crimes or resign. Attorney General Holder and the head of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division were partners in a law firm that represented the criminal banks.
Obama’s chances for victory in 2012 will depend on how far the progressive majority can push the Administration and the Congress to crack down on the banks now. The reality is that a tsunami of foreclosures is about to hit homeowners. Three years of an increasing jobless population and three years of working harder and getting less has put the voters under a great deal of stress. Voters are fed up with speeches. They want the kind of action that FDR threw himself into against the speculators.
The biggest problem for working class voters is discarding the widely accepted concept that the President controls the economic levers of boom and bust; that he has failed to simply bring back prosperity; or that the Republicans are just holding back and will bring prosperity if they win the White House. This has never been less true. The bankers are in control of the government and we must demand that the President and Rep. Critz fight them vigorously. We know that the Republicans will support the speculators. But we don’t know whether Democrats like Critz will fight the speculators.
As Lynwood Alford, the head of the Beaver County Minority Coalition said at the recent candlelight vigil this past April 4th: “The War is on!” He made it clear that the Republican legislation that restricted the right to vote is one front, one issue, in a war that the bankers and their Republican Party are waging against the working people and especially minority Americans.
This is why the murder of Trayvon Martin, a black teenager walking home, by a self-appointed neighborhood vigilante in FL, the tasering and fatal shooting of Kenneth Chamberlain, a black 68 year old retired US Marine with a heart condition by White Plains, NY police, the fatal shooting of an unarmed black college student, Kendrec McDade by two Pasadena, California police, and the fatal shooting of three and wounding of two black residents of Tulsa, OK by vengeful racists – these crimes serve the agenda of the same group that paid for the legislative violence against the right to vote for 200,000 elderly, young, and poor Pennsylvanians, of which a disproportionate number are African-Americans.
This attack on the right to vote happens while the same far right five is radically changing the Constitution by ruling that corporations are people under the law and have the right to unlimited funding of political speech.
The Republican primary has been the crudest most debased mockery of the political process that our founders handed down. Multimillionaires picked up Jokers and set them upon the electorate. The 1% can spend all they want. Now we’re talking a Republican primary where hundreds of millions of dollars were thrown around to flood the media and the voters with reactionary, racist, sexist, dehumanizing “primary contest” rhetoric. One Joker after another drops out as their owners suddenly pull the plug.
Rick Santorum was campaigning vigorously for the far right tea-party agenda. One day he was battling Romney head on for Pennsylvania. The next day his campaign was over. He had suddenly run out of money. Gingrich couldn’t make the Utah primary because his $500 dollar registration check bounced when his moneybags pulled out.
Eliot Spitzer’s criticism of the Obama administration’s accommodation to the Wall Street bankers should be taken up by the Democratic candidates. The Democrats must start attacking the influence of the 1% in the Obama administration as well as the Republican Party. This will help the President strengthen the stalled push to prosecute the banksters for foreclosure fraud. It will clear Wall Street influence that opposes a jobs stimulus, real health care reform, affordable education, and security for the jobless and elderly.
The US needs growth to support its future obligations, primarily Social Security and the debt it incurs to run its military budget, and other entitlements.But the United States economy is not growing. US Total Non-Farm Payrolls averaged 131.08 million in 2011. In 2001, ten years ago, US Total Non-Farm Payrolls averaged 131.83 million . The implications of this lack of growth are quite dire. The population is growing; obligations are expanding; costs are rising. But growth continues to slow.
The Democrats must respond to this problem with the kind of radical programs that FDR fought for. Empty words for working folks and half measures to increase corporate profits will only reap contempt and rejection at the polls. This will only deepen the danger ahead.
About halfway through his April 5, 2012 speech at the Institute for New Economic Thinking in Berlin, US economist Joseph Stiglitz summed up the problem and what’s at stake:.
We always want to keep in mind what the function, the purpose, of the economy is. It’s not to produce GDP. Let me make that clear. The purpose of the economy is not producing GDP.
It is increasing the welfare of citizens, and it is increasing the welfare of most citizens.
And the American economic system has failed, failed very badly. Most Americans today are worse off than they were fifteen years ago. Most American households have lower real income, adjusted for inflation, than they had fifteen years ago.
The income of a full time male worker in the United States, median income, is lower than it was in 1968, almost a half century ago. That’s a full time male worker but hours have gone down…
So, in fact, our economic system has not been delivering and the same thing is true to a large extent for Germany as well.
And now to say that German workers, the workers of Spain, or other countries – in order to make our wonderful system that’s increasing GDP work – all of you have to have a lower standard of living. Most citizens have to be worse off.
I really think you have to defend the system and say ‘why is the system that is making most citizens worse off year after year, why is this a system that deserves support?’ And I think in the end, I think it’s going to be very hard to do that.